Book Nerd Interview
My writing history: I’ve been involved with children’s publishing for the past 11 years now — I got my start right out of high school, just after turning 18. Since then I’ve published eight books for children and young adults, with six more currently scheduled for release and in various stages of being written and edited. I’ve also contributed material to ten or so other books by other authors and have put out a short story or two.
My most recent release was the debut of my original YA sci-fi seriesDeviants. The first book, Vesper, was released in stores everywhere in January 2011, with the next two books coming out in Jan. 2012 and Jan. 2013, respectively.
Some brief bio basics: I was born on a US military base in Nuremberg, Germany on July 15, 1982. Currently I live near Seattle, WA, where I am lucky enough to work as a full time writer. Much like the main character of theDeviants series, I’m a pop culture geek who loves to indulge in books, movies, TV, and video games when I’m not working on my own stories.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
You know, we authors get this question a lot, so I should have an answer ready to go by now. But I totally don’t. Truth is, I don’t just have one favorite book. I read an incredible amount as a kid and teen, so when I think back I remember absolutely devouring books by Bruce Coville, Lloyd Alexander, William Sleator, Madeleine L’Engle, John Christopher, and countless others. I couldn’t begin to pick one book that I loved the most out of all of those, though some like, say, House of Stairs, A Wrinkle in Time, and Ender’s Game stick out. And more modern writers like Neal Shusterman, Katherine Applegate, and Michael Grant were also hugely influential to me.
As for outside of my genre, well, I guess that would encompass mostly adult novels! Off the top of my head, most recently I really enjoyed The Magicians by Les Grossman, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and anything by Joe Hill and Brian K. Vaughan.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I used to sell gumball and candy machines for a living. It wasn’t quite as Willy Wonka-ish as it sounds. But we did have a popcorn machine.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born on a US military base in Nuremberg, Germany, but grew up in Texas and Washington State in the US. I currently live in Seattle, WA and don’t have plans to leave anytime soon!
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
How to BS. I’m serious! I aced every single English class I took by developing the skill to cater what I wrote to a teacher’s tastes. That helps a lot when it comes to writing books.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote since I was a kid. I had an overactive imagination and still have folders filed with drawings and stories of crazy (if derivative) fantasy worlds I made up. One world was called Marsiputal. It sounded good at the time.
I started writing in earnest as a teenager, and I got my first real writing gig at 18, right out of high school. My first book was published right before I turned 23. So tl;dr: Forever, but professionally for about 12 years now.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Well, going along with the whole hyperactive creative kid thing, I wanted to be an actor for a long while. I did a lot of plays and a musical or two as a kid and tween. For a while as a teen I thought I might go into graphic design. I always wanted to write, too, but back then “authors” seemed like these mystical beings who existed on some super smart plane that I could never hope to reach. Once I got that first gig at 18 and realized it was possible for me, of all people, to actually make some money by making up silly stories, I decided then and there this would be my career.
For those who are unfamiliar with your Deviants Series; Havoc, how would you introduce it?
Deviants was intended to sort of subvert the whole werewolf genre by taking it into a very strange sci-fi direction. To that end I created a shy, geeky girl named Emily Webb who comes of age and gains confidence after discovering she was genetically engineered to be a werewolf.
There are other wolves that she needs to find, shady organizations, creepy shadow creatures stalking her, and other genetically altered teens with totally different powers. I played this all close to the vest in the first book, Vesper, because I thought it might be fun to appear like I was playing with the usual bag of werewolf tricks and then pull the rug out at the end. So there’s a brooding bad boy (who turns out to be a massive red herring), a semi-typical progression of transformation, and a man with a gun… and then at the end I hint at something stranger.
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done that and instead got to the crazier stuff much sooner – live and learn! I also wish I hadn’t mistakenly been shelved in Paranormal Romance since, er, these aren’t romances, but sadly I don’t have any control over that.
Not that I don’t still think Vesper is a fine book. The book and the series in general doesn’t take itself too terribly seriously, so I think it’s pretty fun, funny, and surprising if you’re willing to go along with it. Havoc picks up where Vesper leaves off and jumps into all the craziness right away. I’ve actually heard of some readers skipping the first book and just starting with Havoc and not having much of a problem following it. So if the gradual reveals of Vesper doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps starting with the more action-packed Havoc is the way to go!
What was your inspiration for the series?
1 – Five and a half years ago I was sitting at ALA (a publishing trade show for librarians) waiting to do a signing, and my editor at the time and I were discussing series ideas. She said to me, “What about werewolves?” I said, “Sure, but only if I can make it totally insane sci-fi.”
2 – I had a lot of geeky influences as a teen, specifically “girl power” genre shows like Buffy and Alias (which I realize must both seem ancient to current day teens). I decided to just put all my geeky obsessions into this series. I think I got it out of my system now. There are not nearly as many pop culture references in book 3 as in book 1, for instance!
3 – At the time I was developing the idea, I had recently had a falling out with a really close friend of mine. I needed some outlet to just filter through those thoughts and feelings. So I devised a multi-book character story for lead character Emily and her best friend, Megan. I’ve seen people wonder why in the first book Megan seems so hateful and why Emily would bother spending time with her, and the reason is because you’re seeing the beginning of the end of their relationship. In the end – and that would be book 3, Ravage – it’s the story of their long friendship falling apart that is one of the driving factors of the whole story.
I put those three things together and the series was born.
Which character have you enjoyed writing the most?
Well, lead character Emily mostly. All of my characters start out as a fragment of me so that I have at least one piece of their personality to relate to, Emily more so than many others. So slipping into her voice and thoughts was fairly easy and enjoyable. I also really liked writing prissy class president Tracie Townsend and super bitchy Amy Delgado.
Did you learn anything from writing Emily and what was it?
I learned that trying to write a pop culture geek character is a good way to show you don’t know modern day teen pop culture, ha! I first started this series at 24 and now I turn 30 in like a month, so trust me when I say time just flew by and now I feel epically old.
Actually, to be serious, since I started writing a book with a female lead character I’ve found myself reading and absorbing more and more discussions on feminism in YA literature. I don’t get involved in the discussions since it’s not really my place, but I’ve certainly taken the opportunity to listen and learn to help improve how I portray female characters. So in that regard, writing three books with Emily as the first person narrator has been an education.
If you could introduce Spencer to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Well I’m in the middle of reading BZRK by Michael Grant (which is intensely unique and awesome), so maybe I’d let Spencer hang out with some of these super twisted programmer kids to show you can be a computer nerd and still be totally chill.
What chapter was the most memorable to write and why?
Well there are two chapters in the third and final book that are instantly memorable to me, but I can’t really talk about that yet! (Though I will say one is right after the middle-book climax and the other is at the very end.) As for Vesper, the nightclub scenes leading into Emily’s first real wolf transformation were fun to write, just to capture that energy of sweaty nightlife and then to segue into a totally different POV. And in Havoc the last several chapters are super memorable to me, mostly because they were one of the first sequences I ever outlined and the series had been building to those moments from page one.
Where did you get your idea for Dalton?
Well, teen books always gotta have the “hot jock” character, right? I decided I wanted mine to be a really nice guy with a not so nice dad. Dalton’s internal conflict is his worry that he’s going to end up as much of an abusive asshole as his father, and he fights that aggression constantly. Unfortunately, he can’t really control that side of himself as a werewolf, and neither can Emily in her own way, so I thought he’d make an interesting foil to her.
What is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Everything ever. Mostly the internet. I’ve always been a bad procrastinator, though I’ve been getting better at it lately.
Actually, with Havoc specifically I was in the hospital for a while during the time I was supposed to be writing, so it was sort of a crunch getting it done. But I’m happy with how it all came together.
What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
You know, no one ever geeks out and asks me if two characters are ever going to get together. I have no shippers! Granted I didn’t write a romance, but there’s romantical stuff there. Let’s throw together some cutesy portmanteaus and form teams already!
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
I always try and answer as truthfully as possible. So I’m not sure. Maybe a question about my life in general. Then I might exaggerate the truth a little. Being a writer isn’t all that exciting, sadly.
Do you have any fun Halloween experiences you can tell us?
When I was like 9, I was a bunch of grapes. I had purple sweatpants and a purple sweatshirt on, and we blew up dozens of purple balloons and safety-pinned them all over. Then we painted my face purple and plopped on a green hat. I remember being in a costume contest at the mall. I’m pretty sure I lost out to some store bought costume.
If I came to your house and looked in your closet/attic/basement, what’s the one thing that would surprise me the most?
Probably that instead of clothes, my closets contain boxes of books, old computers, video games, and a bunch of Animorphs merchandise from when I was a kid.
Where can readers stalk you?
Jeffsampsonbooks.com is my occasionally updated website. You can follow me on Twitter @jeffmsampson (don’t forget the “m”!), friend me on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffmsampson (there’s that “m” again!), or friend me on GoodReads at goodreads.com/jeffsampson (no “m”!). Deviants also has its own fan page, and I’d love it lots if you Liked it: facebook.com/deviantsbooks
Emily Webb thought life would go back to normal after she and pack-mate Spencer Holt killed the man who tried to murder them and their fellow “Deviants.” Or as normal as it could be, after finding out she has nighttime superpowers . . . and she’s a werewolf. But when Emily wakes up one night to find an otherworldly shadowman watching her, she knows the danger has only just begun.
Determined to find answers, Emily and Spencer, along with the third member of their pack—football player Dalton McKinney—set out to find the people who made them what they are, and why. And as Emily and her friends get closer to the truth, they realize they aren’t the only ones in town with special powers: The most popular girls in school just might have a secret of their own—and they just might have it out for Emily.
But other kinds of Deviants will be the least of the pack’s problems if they can’t get their own powers under control. With each nighttime shift, Dalton’s behavior grows more erratic, and Emily’s transformations begin to evolve in mysterious ways. With shadowy beings stalking the Deviants at every turn, a mysterious company doing all it can to keep the truth hidden, and the secrecy of her strange new identity in jeopardy, life threatens to spiral out of control for Emily. And soon all these dangers will come together in one terrifying confrontation that may force her to make the toughest choice of her life.
The second book in the Deviants Series by Jeff Sampson is an interesting story about a normal teenage girl named Emily. Her normalcy only occurs during daytime and changes into an alternate nighttime personality. Let’s not forget one tiny detail, she’s also a werewolf. She’s not alone as she belongs to a “pack” of other kids having the same three alternate personalities. When bizarre Shadowmen begin to appear and harasses Emily, her pack is determined to figure out their reasons which lead to discovering others with extraordinary powers.
The idea of kids having three different personalities makes for an interesting read. It is even more interesting reading how Emily tries to fuse them together. The second book offers more insight into all of the different events happening. Emily and the crew have grown into a close-knit group of friends that rely on each other for everything.
Even with new characters, newly discovered adventures and deeper story development, Jeff’s writing style makes the book easy to read. He continually adds more creativity to an already imaginative story. The mixture of supernatural and science is refreshing and gives readers an incredibly entertaining and exciting book. The Deviants Series shaped out to be a good story in the first book, Vesper, and Havoc proved it to be outstanding. With the third book approaching, I can only imagine the story’s direction to going one way: Amazing!
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