Book Nerd Interview
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
When I was little I never knew I wanted to be a writer, which is strange for a girl who grew up in a bookstore. I always thought authors were “special people” who were somehow different from the rest of us. It was this (very wrong) attitude that kept me from writing for a long time. It wasn’t until an acquaintance read a blog I kept and told me I should consider being a writer that it “clicked”: maybe I could actually do it!
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories are how we learn about the world and other people, and especially how we develop empathy for other people. Seeing their lives, their struggles, reminds us that the world is bigger than ourselves. Stories make us laugh, make us dream, and above all, make us feel.
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?
The answer to this question might change depending on the day you ask me, but right now my all-time favorite book is The Giver by Lois Lowry. I read it as a teenager, and it was the first book that really changed the way I viewed the world and a person’s role in it.
My favorite non-YA book is CATCH-22, for the humor and satire and insight.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
A critique partner once told me “Getting published isn’t difficult. Writing a great novel is difficult,” and that always stuck with me. It helped me shift my head from the priority of getting and agent and getting published to focusing on the craft of writing. Always improving, always growing, always learning.
In your book; The Madman's Daughter, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Inspired by HG Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, the book follows sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau, whose father’s scandal landed her family in ruin. For the last few years she thought he was dead, only to discover he’s alive, living on a remote tropical island with Montgomery, a handsome young former servant of her family’s. She travels to the island and discovers the gruesome and brilliant scientific work he has been doing.
For those who are unfamiliar with Juliet, how would you introduce her?
Juliet is, above all, a survivor. She was plunged into ruin at a young age, watched her mother turn to prostitution, and now that she’s on her own, is determined not to let the same thing happen to her. She’s incredible lonely both because of her social situation, but also because she’s unlike other girls—she cares much more about science than fashion.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The Madman’s Daughter is a trilogy, so I’m hard at work on the second and third books in the series, that continue Juliet’s story. I’m also working on a YA science fiction trilogy called THE CAGE, about six teenagers who are taken by a superintelligent, psychic alien race and put into an elaborate “human zoo.”
What part of Montgomery did you enjoy writing the most?
I love that Montgomery seems like a hero—handsome, noble, kind—and yet there’s a darker side to him. While he’s a good person at heart, he has his own secrets and shortcomings. I loved how conflicted he was, and how he tries to atone for the mistakes he’s made in his past.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Edward?
Edward was a difficult character to write because, like the other characters, he has lots of secrets. Because he’s not very forthcoming about his past, it was difficult to make him mysterious but still likeable. Edward references a lot of classical literature, and it was fun to go back to the classics and find those allusions!
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
People often ask me how I feel about bad reviews, or how I respond to bad reviews. I never really lie, but I never answer this question honestly. It’s a little like asking someone with a traditional job how their latest job evaluation went and if they got any negative feedback on their performance…a question I don’t think many people would like strangers asking. So I usually just keep the answer honest but short: It’s really hard!
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
It’s natural to start by emulating books and authors you admire, but at some point you need to break free of that and discover your own voice. Everybody has their own way of achieving this, but what helped me was by writing to prompts. Every morning, I’d take 15 minutes and write to a random prompt from creativewritingprompts.com. This forced me to try something new each day, and eventually I honed a style I felt was my own.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains where there are lots of summer camps. For about four or five summers during high school and college I worked at an all boys’ summer camp. My friend and I were some of the only girls that worked there, and there were dozens of cute, athletic counselors from Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. We spent our days swimming and hiking and making slushies surrounded by cute boys with cute accents. Best summer job ever!
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Oh, definitely harder to tell someone that you don’t love them back. I don’t think loving someone is ever a mistake, and if you love someone, you should tell them. But I can’t imagine a harder thing than to break someone’s heart.
When was the last time you cried?
I am a sucker for movie previews. It doesn’t even matter if they’re for sappy romances or action movies or thrillers, as long as there’s dramatic background music, I always cry. It usually embarrasses whoever I’m with!
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
Definitely the 1920s. I love the clothes, the energy, the excitement about the world.
What is your greatest adventure?
A few years ago I took a trip overland from Bamako to Timbuktu with a friend of mine. That trip taught me that there are still magical places in the world. We think we live in a super-connected world, but Timbuktu is still incredibly difficult to get to, dangerous (we faced bandits, multiple car break-downs, theft, severe illness), and absolutely fascinating. I never felt so alive.
Where can readers stalk you?
I have a blog (www.meganshepherd.com/blog), a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Megan-Shepherd-Author/151819421593279) and am on Twitter (@megan_shepherd). I love hearing from readers!
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.