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5 / 30 books. 17% done!

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Author Chat: An Interview with Laura Bickle

Happy Halloween, everybody!  I'm so excited to welcome Laura Bickle to my blog today.  She's the author of a new YA dystopian series that takes place in Amish country.  So intriguing, right?  After I read The Hallowed Ones and its sequel, The Outside, I had to know more about Laura and how she came to write these books (both of which I enjoyed immensely).  Here's how our conversation went down:

Me:  You've written several books for adults (under the pen name Alayna Williams). What made you decide to write for teens? How is it different than writing for an older audience?

LB:  I began wanting to write a rural fantasy – something a bit different from the urban fantasy I had
been writing. I love urban fantasy very much, but I wanted to turn it around a bit and see what
darkness is like from a rural perspective. Once the story was complete, I sent it to my agent. I
thought about whether it would work best in the contemporary fantasy or the horror market.  

And to my surprise…she said I’d written a YA novel.

So I re-read the book, and it began to come together for me. I never explicitly gave Katie an age.  Katie was dealing with many of the issues that young adults deal with: questioning authority, creating her own identity, and developing her own moral compass.

It was a happy serendipity. I’d wandered into new territory for me, territory that’s challenging and also really exhilarating.

Me:  What made you switch from the urban fantasy genre to horror? And, why vampires?

LB:  Most of the fantasy I’ve written has something of a dark side, so it was a short leap to horror for me. I love writing about things that go bump in the night.

Vampires are admittedly a hard sell right now. But I wanted a supernatural adversary for Katie that would challenge her faith and have some historical aversion to religious symbols and holy ground. Old school vampires are that, and if I avoided using them because of market saturation, I would not have been doing a service to the story.

Me:  In THE HALLOWED ONES and its sequel, THE OUTSIDE, you write about Amish people living in a secluded religious community. Do you have any experience with the Amish? What kind of research did you have to do in order to get all the details right?

LB:  I spent some time visiting the Amish settlement near where I live. I also did a good deal of reading…there are a lot of great books out there that look at the Plain way of life from a sociological perspective. National Geographic has also done a number of very good documentaries about the Amish. Many of the ideas were very foreign to me. For example, the Amish do not wish to be connected to the outside world, so power lines, phone lines, and electricity aren’t used. That kind of voluntary isolation is fascinating to me. The only parallel I can draw in my own life is when storms came through our area and we were without phone, cable, electricity, and internet for a week. It was very still and very peaceful.

I’m acutely conscious that I can’t know or understand everything about the Amish, never having lived in an Amish community. But I learned enough to develop an immense respect for the Amish way of life.

Me:  What intrigued you about this kind of setting? How does it make your vampire story unique?

LB:  I grew up not too far from a large Amish settlement - my parents would take me to visit on weekends when I was a little girl. I really admired the self-sufficiency of the Amish, how they remained separate from the modern world and kept very close to the earth for survival.  When I was creating this series, I thought that they’d be uniquely-equipped to survive a large-scale disaster. The isolation became some interesting material to work with, as they know that something terrible has happened to the outside world in my story, but they don’t know what it is.

Me:  You don't see a lot of YA books (especially horror novels) about faith and religion, yet this is actually the thing that intrigued me most about the story. Granted I'm not a teen, but still ... were you nervous about how a more philosophical/spiritual story would be received by your target audience? And, how do you think teens will relate to Katie?

LB:  Yes – I was nervous about how it would be received. Katie is unlike any of the heroines I’ve written before, as her religion is an integral part of her life. I didn’t want to minimize that or be untrue to who she is as a character.

Katie’s story is very much a coming of age story as she figures out what she believes and why.  Katie goes through many trials as she grows up, and I wanted to explore the tension of her becoming an individual from a very collectivist society. I think that’s something we all can relate to – becoming our own person, distinct from our family and the people around us. We ultimately have to make our own decisions and decide where the good of the many outweighs our own personal good.

Me:  Speaking of Katie, she's a very relatable, unique character. How did you make her feel SO real?

LB:  Thank you! I wanted her to be believable in her reactions and the way she tries to make sense of the world. She always approaches her decisions with compassion, which I think is an admirable trait. She’s much more compassionate and much stronger than I could ever dream of being, but she questions herself…which is something that I believe all thinking people do.

Me:  I love the question that lies at the heart of THE HALLOWED ONES and THE OUTSIDE -- If God doesn't exist, does it really matter what we do? Katie obviously thinks it does, but how would YOU answer this question for yourself?

LB:  I think how we act is what matters, bottom line. What we do has great impact in the world, and I think it’s important that we act with integrity and compassion, regardless of what might be waiting for us in the afterlife.

Me:  THE OUTSIDE ties everything in Katie's world up in a very satisfactory way, BUT I already miss the characters. Will we be seeing more of them in future books?

LB:  No plans just yet for further adventures! I never rule anything out, but I think that Katie has come full circle in her story.

Me:  What are you working on now?

LB:  I have another YA project and another contemporary fantasy project in the works…I can’t say much about them now, but stay tuned for details!

Me:  Since today is Halloween, I have to ask: do you love the holiday, hate it or fall somewhere in the middle? What was the best costume you ever wore? Or the biggest Halloween scare you ever experienced?

LB:  I love Halloween. When I was a kid, I think I was Wonder Woman for five consecutive Halloweens. I loved running up and down the street with my friends, clutching a sack of candy.  What’s not to love?

Today, I just pass out the candy (often in costume). We have a giant inflatable black cat that we set up on our porch for Trick or Treat night, and the neighborhood kids really enjoy him.  Here’s a picture of me last year, dressed as Chell from the video game Portal.

I don’t know what this year’s costume is going to be, but I’m sure we’ll have fun!

Me:  Thanks so much for visiting BBB today, Laura!

Mormon Mentions: Laura Bickle

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture. 

Here goes:

It's natural that a book about what happens to one girl's faith as she faces the apocalypse would discuss religion, in all its various forms.  In the beginning of The Outside by Laura Bickle, the three main characters—Katie, Alex and Ginger—are discussing what different religious groups teach about the end of the world.  Alex says

"Mormonism has the idea that darkness will cover the earth, and that evil will burn in fire."

"If we were only that lucky," Ginger muttered.

(Quote from Page 21 of ARC)

Darkness blanketing the earth and the wicked being burned during the Last Days are not beliefs specific to Mormonism.  Both are, in fact, found in the Bible.  Darkness is discussed in Isaiah 60:2, a verse which seems to refer to both a literal darkness over the land and a spiritual darkness in the hearts of the people.  Anyone who's studied the Bible knows that light/darkness are used often as symbols, the former referring to Jesus Christ/righteousness, the latter to Satan/wickedness.  The wicked being burned as stubble is talked about in Malachi 4:1.  Whether this is a literal burning or a figurative term for sins being judged, I have no idea.

As grim as the so-called "Signs of the Times" are, Mormons and other Christians believe that these events are harbingers of Christ's Second Coming.  Thus, they should be anticipated with hope, not terror.  Mormons have always been urged to prepare for the event, both temporally and spiritually, for "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30).  The LDS people have also been told repeatedly not to dwell on the frightening aspects of the Lord's Second Coming, but to look forward to the Last Days with courage, faith and joy.  I think this statement from Joseph Smith, whom Mormons honor as a prophet of God, sums it up quite nicely:

 “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” 

Looking for the Perfect Halloween Read? Your Search is Over ...

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Outside, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Hallowed Ones.  As always, I recommend reading a series in order.)

With blood-thirsty vampires haunting the land, feasting on anything that moves, it's more dangerous than ever to be "outside."  But Katie can't stay in her isolated Amish community.  She's been banished for helping an "English" man, for putting his life above those of her people.  Now, she's heading north with Alex Green, the 24-year-old Canadian who's stolen her heart; Ginger Parsall, an older woman who's determined to find the family she hasn't heard from since the vampires took over; and Katie's valiant horse, Horace.  Alex is leading them across the border, where he hopes to find his family alive and well in Canada.  If only they can make it in the same condition.    

It's a brutal new world outside, one few survive.  Just when it looks like Katie and Co. won't make it either, they are rescued by unlikely angels.  The glowing band of luminescent people seem to have the perfect solution for keeping vampires at bay, but at what cost?  Does altering themselves make them just as inhuman as the blood-suckers they're trying to exterminate?  In a world where nothing is safe, who can Katie look to for guidance and protection—the God who has abandoned her?  Her superhuman saviors?  Alex?  Or is it simply up to her to save herself and those she loves?  

Like The Hallowed Ones before it, The Outside by Laura Bickle is a character-driven horror novel that asks important questions about faith, family and what it takes to survive—humanity intact—in a world gone mad.  Katie continues to be a sympathetic character, one who's more mature than the average YA heroine, yet whose struggles to know and remain true to herself feel authentic.  Her story rages on in The Outside, just as heart-poundingly intense as ever.  Original and satisfying, this series begs to be read for so many reasons.  If you're looking for a chilling, Halloween-worthy tale, look no further.  Bickle's YA Amish horror novels are guaranteed to please.    


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  

 for language (no F-bombs), violence/gore, and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received and ARC of The Outside from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Thank you!    
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