Book Nerd Interview
Elizabeth Norris briefly taught high school English and history before trading the southern California beaches and sunshine for Manhattan's recent snowpocalyptic winter.
She harbors dangerous addictions to guacamole, red velvet cupcakes, sushi, and Argo Tea, fortunately not all together.
Her first novel, UNRAVELING (Balzer+Bray, April 2012), is the story of one girl’s fight to save her family, her world, and the one boy she never saw coming.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where were you born and where do you call home?
For the past few years I've lived in New York, so that's where I would call home. I live uptown near the park in an apartment that I love (I really lucked out!). I love the city. There's so much to do and so many interesting people.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I went through stages. I have a sort of obsessive personality so when I was younger, I would get really drawn into something for months before moving onto something new. After I took my first vacation in an airplane, all I could think about was flying. I wanted to be a flight attendant or a pilot or someone who worked at the airport. Really I just wanted to travel. I volunteered at an animal shelter in high school and college, and at first I wanted to be a vet, only I can stand blood or medical procedures, so that wouldn't work. Then I wanted to run my own shelter or even my own wildlife preservation center with lions and tigers. But I always did love to read and write. I think that everything that I've loved over the years, the constant has always been books.
What inspired you to pen your first novel?
Well, I wrote my first novel in the back of my Biology class in ninth grade, so I think in part it was boredom. I was painfully shy in school and my parents were strict so writing was an exciting way that I could be adventurous without any risk. The novel was about four girls (also in 9th grade) who all belonged to different social groups but became secret best friends because they were each dealing with some terrible issue like anorexia or drug addiction. I would write the story in the notebook during class and type it up when I got home. It took almost the whole school year, but I finished it. A few months later, my parents got a new computer, and I lost the novel. I was devastated at the time, but I'm glad now. That's something that shouldn't see the light of day.
What were your feelings when your first novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of Unraveling?
When my agent told me we had an offer on Unraveling, I actually started to cry. I'm not even sure what I felt.
When I saw the cover, it was really exciting. I love the numbers and the way they incorporated them. I'd seen a concept and the pictures of the models, but seeing everything together really made the book feel like a real thing.
Why YA? What are some of the challenges of writing for this age group? How does YA differ from adult?
I read so much YA fiction, and I think I'm a fifteen year old girl on the inside which both make it more natural for me to write YA than adult. I think there are challenges though. As an adult, it was important to me that the book didn't read like I was talking down to teenagers or like I'd simplified the plot so they could understand it. One of the great things about my favorite YA novels is how complex they are. They might have teenage characters and deal with issues that teenagers face, but they're just great books with great characters and engaging stories--they're books anyone can read.
For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; Unraveling, how would you introduce it?
It's about Janelle, a seventeen year old girl who gets hit by a car and dies. Only then she wakes up again, and there's a boy she knows vaguely from school standing over her, and despite how crazy it is, she knows she was dead and he brought her back to life. Meanwhile her father is an FBI agent, and he's got a really tough case he's trying to figure out. The more Janelle investigates both the case and this boy, the more she starts to think they're connected.
Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
I've written a sequel to Unraveling which will come out in 2013.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
It was the kind of book (light science fiction) that I really wanted to read, and one weekend after a pretty exhaustive argument with my long distance boyfriend, I just started writing. Emotionally, it was helpful to put a lot of my current relationship issues into a story that was a lot more exciting than my real life.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Ben?
Ben is a lot like my boyfriend. When I was writing Unraveling, my boyfriend and I were doing the long distance thing, and several people had said to me, "But you live in New York, you can't find a guy you want to date there?" But I'd gone on dates and no one seemed to even come close to measuring up to this guy. By writing the book I think I answered for myself why no one else measured up. I'd found someone intelligent who shared my interests, challenged me, made me think, and made me laugh.
If you could introduce Janelle to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Taylor from Jellicoe Road. I think they would be really good friend. Taylor is trying to solve several mysteries, come to terms with her identity in the world, and keep from falling in love. And I think Janelle would get that.
What chapter was the most memorable to write and why?
One night when I first started writing Unraveling, I was trying to go to sleep, but I kept thinking about Janelle and Ben, so finally at 2:30 am, I got up, opened my laptop and started to write. I ended up writing a scene that comes much later in the novel. Ben comes to Janelle's house and it's raining outside... (and that's probably all I can say). I wasn't at that point in my draft (at all), but I just knew that scene had to happen.
Which author would you love to co-author a book with?
Truthfully I would probably be a terrible co-author. I don't take criticism or other people's ideas very well which I imagine would make it really tough for someone to work with me. Some of the authors I admire most are Meg Rosoff, Franny Billingsley, Melina Marchetta, but I think they write books that blow me away so their genius should probably remain untainted.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
When I was younger, I broke my nose, and for weeks, everyone was asking me how it happened. I told everyone something different.
What do you normally eat for breakfast?
A lot of times I skip breakfast and just go to a coffee shop and get some kind of wonderful drink. I used to eat Lucky Charms every morning when I was in middle school and high school. Now sometimes I eat a grapefruit.
What are 4 things you never leave home without?
My iphone. I'm one of those people who is connected to their phone 24/7. I also always have a book, chapstick, and my wallet.
List 3 of your all time favorite movies?
The Hunger Games
Where can readers stalk you?
Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn't possible, she knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.
But her revival, and Ben's possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what's right in front of her: Everything that's happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben's sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she's going to need to uncover Ben's secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.
From debut author Elizabeth Norris comes this shattering novel of one girl's fight to save herself, her world, and the boy she never saw coming.
The sci-fi nonstop action Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris possesses a plot that is truly original. It follows the life of ordinary high school teenager Janelle Tenner. Her ordinary life is ultimately changed when she’s hit by a pickup truck and killed. She doesn’t stay dead for long as Ben Michaels mysteriously brings her back to life. Janelle has no idea how Ben resurrected her life but she is certain of it. More bizarre things arise for Janelle. Her father, who works for the FBI, is heavily invested in solving a chain of unusual murders linking to radiation burns. She discovers that Ben and his two friends, Alijah and Reid, are associated with the bizarre murders and the plot really picks up as the countdown to learning the truth nears.
The characters are skillfully created. Janelle is a very strong protagonist with very real emotions. Janelle is the real deal and totally believable. Her relationship with Ben doesn’t feel doctored and there is an instant sense of sincerity with how they feel for one another.
The action displayed in the highly detailed pages will literally jump out at you. There is drama, paranormal, sci-fi aspects, and enough action that would put a big budget movie’s action sequences to shame. Author Jennifer Norris is a master of mixing an array of suspenseful mystery, action, and love and putting them together to make a wonderful “countdown-to-the-finale” type of book. I am entirely awed with Jennifer’s writing etiquette, the levels of mystery built-in, and the passion put into Unraveling. It is a great read that will satisfy all that you’ve hungered for in a book. With the praise already received from Unraveling, the next book is guaranteed to be a success.
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