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.
What was your first introduction to YA literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
I was a voracious reader as a kid and teen, and every one of those books influenced my love of children’s and YA literature. I think the big turning point, though, were the late ‘90s book series by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant: Animorphs, Everworld, and Remnants. I loved how they wrote commercial fiction that wasn’t just mindless action, but included true character growth and philosophical discussions. I was lucky enough to be asked as a wee 18-year-old to help develop a few of the Remnants books, and at that point I was hooked – I knew I was meant to be writing genre-bending adventure books for kids and teens. I haven’t stopped writing them since.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
When I was a teenager, Neal Shusterman (who you probably know as the author of the very popular Unwind!) wrote a short story based on me and two friends. We were in a chat room with him and one of the friends and I kept typing basically the exact same thing at the same time. It was like we had merged brains. The story is called “Mail Merge” and is in his collection called MindBenders: Stories to Warp Your Brain.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Last time you asked me this, I said it was the ability to BS, and I stick by that! I’d say a second was probably discovering my love for all things creative. I had a lot of great teachers who let me express myself through more than just worksheets, especially in 5th – 8th grade. We produced plays and school wide Ren faires, and a few specific teachers even used role playing to make subjects come alive. I have a lot of respect for teachers who put so much of their own time and energy into making school engaging for kids, especially knowing how little they’re paid for all their hard work!
Did you learn anything from writing the Deviants Series and what was it?
I learned a ton. The main thing is that apparently I and everyone I worked with on the first book have a very skewed sense of pacing – I was told constantly prior to publication of the first book that it breezed along at a fast pace… but then half the reader reviews said it was ridiculously slow. I think I should have been more upfront via interviews and flap copy that this was a werewolf series. And I also think I made a mistake in splitting up the main first arc of the series – now a one and done trilogy – over three books. If I could do it over again, I’d take the story from the final trilogy and put it all in one book. I think a lot of the cool ideas and twists I had planned just weren’t readily apparent in the first book, and so people were just kind of meh on it.
Not to say that the Deviants trilogy is bad! In fact I’m glad the third book is finally out – now the entire story can be read back to back without huge, year-long gaps in between each book, which I think will make for a better, more engaging reading experience.
What do you feel is the most significant change since Vesper?
Well I wrote the first book when I was 24, and I’m 30 now – that’s a lot of life to live and a lot of growing up to do between volumes. I think I’ve started to work through my influences more, which means less references to ‘90s media in Ravage as compared to Vesper. (I kind of worry that Joss Whedon ruined a whole generation of YA writers; we all say we’re influenced by him and want to write the next Buffy – myself included! – but the fact is we’re not him and we should be trying to be us.) And I’ve started to learn some new tricks and skills that I think have deepened my writing. I’m not sure how apparent it is in Ravage, though there are a few specific chapters where I can really see it, but my time on this series definitely helped strengthen my writing for future books.
Story-wise, well, a whole lot has changed between Vesper and Ravage. I was telling a friend about the plot of Ravage and he stared at me all, “How did you end up there?” Which is the exact reaction I wanted!
For those who are unfamiliar with Emily, how would you introduce her?
Emily is a shy, quiet girl who, due to bullying in middle school, is a bit emotionally stunted and prefers to escape into books, movies, and TV. She’s not quite sure how to fit in with everyone else her age, who she feels grew up to be Real Teenagers while she got left behind.
Until she finds herself waking up at night as a wild and reckless version of herself who likes to climb out of her bedroom window and cause trouble. Which turns out to be a prelude to becoming a full on, genetically engineered wolf-girl.
Over the course of the series, Emily starts to reconcile all three parts of herself as she is forced to deal with new friends and new foes, while also dealing with losing her only friend from who she was before. In Ravage, Emily finally comes into her own as an awesome, kick ass hero taking on some truly unexpected villains.
Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing the Deviants Series?
Emily is always going to be my favorite, but I surrounded her with a cast I wish I was able to explore further in more books. I really love Tracie Townsend especially, as a close second.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Emily to Max, the yellow Labrador hero of my other series, The Last Dogs (which I write as Christopher Holt). I think she could go full wolf-girl and the two would have a grand time running through fields. Plus they’re both loyal and brave characters, and I think Emily would like to have such a kindred spirit as a new pet!
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
I’ll share my favorite bit of advice to those readers who also want to be writers and are just starting out: Don’t worry about writing THE book. Just write A book. That means, let go of the notion that what you’re writing must be the next great novel or you’ll drive yourself crazy and never get anything done. Don’t stress the imperfections and power through. Because the most empowering thing as a writer is finishing that first, messy book. You’ve proven to yourself that you can actually write a whole manuscript, which relatively few people can do. And that makes the idea of writing more books much less frightening and stressful.
(I want to add that I was told this 15 years ago by Katherine Applegate, aka the super smart lady who just won the Newbery. If you can trust anyone’s advice, it’s hers!)
Who was your first girlfriend?
I’ve never had a girlfriend. I knew from very early on I didn’t swing that way, so I didn’t want to lead any girls on!
Tell me about your first kiss
It was a friend of mine. He suggested we give a try, since why not? At that point in life I had never really experienced anything romanticle since you couldn’t be out in high school, and I was also previously very chubby and awkward, so I just never even considered the possibilities of kissing someone. But I’d grown up and lost weight and learned how to dress myself, and here someone was asking to kiss. At first I nervously shrugged off the offer, but then decided to go for it. There was that frantic, anxious pounding in my chest, and I was warm all over, and it was awkward and moist. I like to imagine I’ve since gotten much better at it.
What is your happiest childhood memory?
I was all about being an actor as a kid. I once went to audition for a theater company for a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My entire family was with me, and it so happened they needed someone to audition for the dad role. They asked my dad to read for the part – and while I didn’t get cast, he did, just by being a random bystander. But that didn’t stop me from going to every single rehearsal just to soak up the experience, and ultimately they threw me a bone and gave the dorky kid hanging out for no reason some minor roles. I never got to spend a lot of time with my dad as a kid since he was in the military and later my parents divorced, and I was always a weird creative kid he didn’t seem to understand. So it was really cool to have that shared experience with him.
What's the most memorable job you've ever had?
I once worked for a web company selling gumball and candy machines plus all the goodies that go in them. We worked in this big loft space in downtown Seattle and I had machines set up everywhere and candy samples on my desk. My co-workers were really cool, and it was all very laid back. Outside of writing, it was my favorite day job.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I’m going to stick with the decade I actually was a teenager: the ‘90s. I think a whole lot has progressed in a positive way in the past 13 years, but post 9/11 there’s been this sense of division and dread casting a shadow over everything that darkens me enough as an adult; I can’t imagine what I would have felt as a teen. I remember the ‘90s feeling glossy, progressive, prosperous, and even if things as a gay teen were still frightening and stressful, there was also this sense of hope for things to keep getting better and better. I miss that a lot, even if that’s just my rose-colored memories of what life was like.
When was the last time you cried?
I don’t think I’ve had a reason to cry due to real life circumstances for a very long time, thankfully. But great stories of all types can move me. Most recently, I got teary reading the end of Every Day by David Levithan, which is an amazing book.
Where can readers stalk you?
My soon to be revamped website can be found at http://www.jeffsampsonbooks.com
On Twitter, I’m @jeffmsampson (don’t forget the M!)
I just started a Tumblr at http://jeffmsampson.tumblr.com (there’s that M again)
You can friend me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jeffmsampson
And emails are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Since she first came into her mysterious new superpowers, Emily has watched one of her packmates disappear through an interdimensional portal; she’s been hunted by creepy, body-snatching Shadowmen; she’s managed to form an alliance with the same telekinetic cheerleaders who once tried to take her down; and she’s discovered that her believed-to-be-dead mother is one of the BioZenith scientists responsible for her strange abilities.
Now it’s up to the Deviants to put together the last pieces of the puzzle, which includes tracking down the final, mystery member of their kind and forcing their parents to reveal why they mutated their own children. Emily fears the answer is far more sinister than anyone ever thought: after all, why would a parent risk a child’s life unless the stakes were high…scary, world-ending high?
Tired of being at the mercy of adult conspiracies, Emily forms a plan with the other Deviants: Destroy BioZenith before anyone can use the knowledge within the facility to aid the Shadowmen. But that’s only if BioZenith—or something worse—doesn’t capture them first.
When Emily started noticing that her former best friend, Megan, began appearing in places she goes, Emily can’t help but feel that she is being haunted by her. And she can’t quite piece it together if she means harm or not. Meanwhile, the Deviants are certain that information collected within the walls of BioZenith laboratories must be destroyed. Joining forces with the telekinetic cheerleaders, Emily strategizes an attack on the lab. What they are about to find completely turns to the unexpected in a way that only author Jeff can bring.
The plot line in each installment has always been a standout each time around. The final book presented so many answers from questions that the first two asked. With the first few words in the first chapter, Jeff grabs the readers and immediately throws them into story where it had left off. Although the Deviants were victorious from their encounters of their enemies, there were still much to learn. The character interactions moved the story quite well and Jeff’s writing style is so hypnotic that stepping away from the story is just simply not an option. The book packs so much action in each page that it feels that it will burst out. The twists and turns that Jeff dazzlingly navigates the reader through is a rush of excitement and intrigue. The Deviants trilogy comes to a close that endorses satisfaction and more fun titles from Mr. Jeff Sampson