Book Nerd Interview
Leah Bobet drinks tea, wears feathers in her hair, and plants gardens in back alleys. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don't think I ever had any moment where I sat up and went, "I want to be a writer." I wrote as a kid (my parents have a box of the kind of crayoned stories four-year-olds write hidden somewhere in their house, saved for a special blackmail moment) and I picked it back up after high school.
Mostly, though, I just wanted to write. I wanted to be myself, who wrote. Being a writer -- the whole selling stuff to magazines to be published thing -- mostly happened because spending so much time writing things and not doing anything with them seemed a bit anticlimactic. Also, I was pretty poor at the time. Things I could get grocery money for were not to be sneezed at. And selling fiction, well. It's addictive.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in a suburb about half an hour north of Toronto; the kind that used to be subdivisions with no fences between the backyards and fields you could toboggan in, and is now subdivisions with fences and strip malls and condos. I moved into the city when I was 18, and these days I live in the west end of Toronto, in a hundred-year-old house that has nice creaky wood floors and a fireplace in my room that doesn't work.
How do books get published?
That...is a very, very big question with about as many answers are there are books on the shelf. First, though, you write the book and revise it until it's as good as you can get it. Then you might query literary agents, or you might submit to a publisher directly if you think they're a good fit and take unsolicited submissions, or you might enter a contest, or you might study up on self-publishing, or you might just look at the thing six months later, say, "Not good enough," and go write a different book. I know people who have done all these things, sometimes in combination.
Each one of these approaches may work out or fail at any given time.
The point I'm trying to make here is that there is no One Way that books are published. The best thing to do, if you have one and want to see it in print? Research the benefits and drawbacks of each of the ways it might happen, think carefully about them, and decide which way fits best with how you want to spend your time.
What about theYA genre interests you?
One of the nicest things about working in YA is that there aren't strong genre marketing categories like there are in adult fiction. You can write books that are a mix of literary and fantasy and horror, or historical and science fiction, or anything you want, and they're all still shelved in YA.
What was your inspiration for Above?
The idea came together out of three things. The first was an essay in Eli Clare's Exile and Pride, which I was reading for a philosophy course: the author standing, as a kid, in his underwear in an examination room under bright lights for what felt like hours because the doctors were using the diagnosis of his disability to teach student doctors. That passage hit me right between the eyes: the way it was worded, and all the emotions leaking through. That feeling of being Other.
The second thing was an argument with, of all things, the 1980s Beauty and the Beast TV series and the trope it best embodies: the whole Secret Society of Mutants Living Underground thing. I felt like nobody really thinks about that: the logistics of living underground and hidden, and how you're getting your power and water, and how you're not just going to die of scurvy or pneumonia in the first three months. So I started thinking about how it would really go, and who would really live in that kind of society, and, before I realized it, started building Safe in my head.
The third thing was the right kind of music. I'm built that way anyway -- I make soundtracks for everything I write -- but the music gave Above, and Matthew, a voice. And then I had enough to start writing..
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
Because it was there, ghosting around my head and knocking on the walls. That's really the only reason you need.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Matthew?
It doesn't come out much, because the events of Above are, in some ways, Matthew's Very Worst Week Ever, but he has a very dry, understated, kind of snarky sense of humour. Occasionally he is hilarious.
If you could introduce Ariel to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
...I was about to say "A good therapist," which is kind of inappropriately smartassed, but then it occurs to me it'd be Lea Tillim from Eliot Fintushel's Breakfast With the Ones You Love. They have so much in common in certain ways. They'd either hate each other or hold each other up until the end of the world.
What is the name of your most recent book and if you had to sum it up in 30 or less words, what would you say?
Above's my most recent (and, well, only so far!) but I'm working on something tentatively titled On Roadstead Farm; and that's a title that'll change. It's a post-apocalyptic, post-epic fantasy novel about a girl and her farm and the war veteran who comes to stay on it, and all the trouble that gets everyone into.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
This might sound horribly pretentious, and I promise it's not, but I actually try not to lie whenever I can dodge it. Lying means having to keep your story straight forever, and having to keep track of what you told to who, and that's really a lot of work when you get right down to it. Telling the truth's just easier.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
There was a blogger who wrote a review of the book the other day, and among other things, she said, "I took this as a commentary on how we treat the homeless and the mentally ill – or just anyone who doesn't fit into our idea of what a good society should look like. This story really moved me and it really made me want to do something!"
Saying something that motivates another person to get out there and do something? I could pack it in right now if I had to. That's the most amazing thing on Earth, right there.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your teen readers. What would it be?
Oh, this feels not a little like being put on the spot! Hmm.
Well, how's this; here's the thing I'm figuring out in the past month or two, because, you see, I'm still growing up too here: Lots of people are going to have opinions as to what you should be doing with your time and your life and so forth. Do the things that fill you up inside. Ignore the things that suck your joy away.
Not always easy, but...rewarding, y'know?
Which author would you love to co-author a book with?
Oh, I wouldn't. I tried co-writing twice, and I'm terrible at it. I'm much too married to the picture in my head and would need to learn to play well with others.
What is your favorite Quote?
"I don't say we all ought to misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could." -- Orson Welles
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
At my desk at home, or in one of a few coffeeshops in the Annex or on Queen West. I just found a place in Chinatown that has beanbag chairs, nice wood communal tables, wifi, and awesome little noodle bowls (noodles!), so I bet I'll be lurking around there until the weather gets warm enough to take my laptop out to Kensington Market and my favourite bar, and its nice shady patio.
As for when, it's pretty much whenever I can get the time at this point. For the next little while, at least, I still work full-time, so writing happens around that, house chores, and the rest of my life.
Favorite DC or Marvel comic character?
Batman. Every time. I will fight anyone who denigrates Batman.
Do you have any fun Halloween experiences you can tell us?
Not really? When I was a kid it was, well, the 'burbs, and so you'd trick-or-treat until people gave you the dirty eye for being fifteen and still trick-or-treating, and then you'd loiter about and set fires in garbage cans (hey, it was the burbs), and then I got old enough and moved downtown, and you'd just go to parties, mostly. Last year I'd just got home from a ten-day trip out to the west coast, and I was jetlagged and exhausted, and I don't think I did anything.
Very boring. Sorry.
Where can readers stalk you?
I'm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Leah-Bobet/166519580075007?sk=info, and on Twitter at @leahbobet, predictably enough!
An extraordinary debut urban fantasy about dangers outside and in.
"Above pulls off that rare trick of being convincing and utterly magical at the same time."
- Emma Donoghue, NYT bestselling author of ROOM
"Leah Bobet's ABOVE is that rarest of creatures, combining the outspoken honesty of a good first novel with the craft of a seasoned professional." - Elizabeth Bear, Hugo Award-winning author of DUST
Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee's wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above--like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.
But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe's history and the shadows' attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home--not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.
ABOVE is the debut of an amazing new voice.
In Above, Leah Bobet describes a world where imprisoned monsters with extraordinary powers escape and find sanctuary within our sewer system. The underworld is called “Safe” where Matthew the Teller was born. He is assigned to collect the history of Safe so future generations will have knowledge of their home. In his course of gathering tales, Matthew finds himself exiled with a group of refugees from Safe and now he must help them return to their home.
The writing is superb that looking through the eyes of Matthew that this outrageous underworld seemed to come alive and you start to believe that Safe is an actual place. The style is beautiful and vibrantly brilliant. Bobet has a way of turning words into life.
The relationships between the characters felt real. Ariel, the winged girl that Matthew has rescued is the center piece of the story. She is a girl with a very disturbing past and Matthew slowly learns how to comfort her. This urban fantasy has a lot to offer. From heartaches, pain, and a grand adventure, it surely can’t be missed.
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