Monday, November 7, 2016

J.Q. Coyle Author Interview

Photo Credit: Ashleigh Crawley Photography

J.Q. COYLE is the joint pen name of Julianna Baggott and Quinn Dalton. Quinn is an acclaimed writer who has published two short story collections and two novels. Julianna is the author of over twenty novels, including Pure, a New York Times Notable (2012).

Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott has published more than twenty books under her own name as well as pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. Her most recent novel, Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (2015). Her novel Pure, the first of a trilogy, was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (2012) and won an ALA Alex Award; James Ponsoldt, the director of Smashed and The Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller, penned the screenplay while it was in development with Fox2000. There are over one hundred foreign editions of Julianna’s novels published or forthcoming overseas. Her forthcoming young adult novel, The Infinity of You and Me, will be published this fall by St. Martin’s Press under the pseudonym J.Q. Coyle, the joint pen name Baggott shares with novelist and short-story writer Quinn Dalton. Baggott’s work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Modern Love column, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The International Herald Tribune, Glamour, Real Simple, Best Creative Nonfiction, Best American Poetry, and has been read on NPR’s Here and Now, Talk of the Nation, and All Things Considered. Her essays, stories, and poems are highly anthologized.

Baggott began publishing short stories when she was twenty-two and sold her first novel while still in her twenties. After receiving her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she published her first novel, the national bestseller Girl Talk. It was quickly followed by The Boston Globe bestseller The Miss America Family, and then The Boston Herald Book Club selection, The Madam, an historical novel based on the life of her grandmother. She co-wrote Which Brings Me to You with Steve Almond, A Best Book of 2006 (Kirkus Reveiws); it was optioned by Anonymous Content with a screenplay penned by playwright Keith Bunin.

Her Bridget Asher novels, published by Bantam Dell at Random House, include All of Us and Everything, listed in “Best New Books” in People magazine (2015), The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, The Pretend Wife, and My Husband’s Sweethearts, also previously optioned by Anonymous Content.

Although the bulk of her work is for adults, she has published award-winning novels for younger readers under the pen name N.E. Bode as well as under Julianna Baggott. Her seven novels for younger readers include, most notably, The Anybodies trilogy, which was a People Magazine summer reading pick alongside David Sedaris and Bill Clinton, a Washington Post Book of the Week, a Girl’s Life Top Ten, a Booksense selection, and was in development at Nickelodeon/Paramount. Other titles include The Slippery Map, The Ever Breath, and the prequel to Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and Jason Bateman. For two years, Bode was a recurring personality on XM Sirius Radio. Julianna’s Boston Red Sox novel The Prince of Fenway Park (HarperCollins) was on the Sunshine State Young Readers Awards List and The Massachusetts Children’s Book Award for 2011-2012. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming, aforementioned Infinity of You & Me.

Baggott also has an acclaimed career as a poet, having published three collections of poetry – This Country of Mothers, Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees, and Lizzie Borden in Love. Her poems have appeared in some of the most venerable literary publications in the country, including Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and Best American Poetry (2001, 2011, and 2012). Her fourth collection of poems, Instructions: Abject & Fuming, will be published this spring.

She is an associate professor at Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts and holds the William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross. In 2006, Baggott and her husband, David Scott, co-founded the nonprofit organization Kids in Need – Books in Deed which focuses on literacy and getting free books into the hands of underprivileged children in the state of Florida. David Scott is also her creative and business partner. They have four children.

So I have something for you. I’m holding it out to you like a kid holds out a painted clay lump: This is for you, this novel, Midnight Bowling.

One night almost twenty years ago, a friend of a friend was telling me about his teenage years in his small hometown that has since been swallowed up by a sprawling southern city.

Friday nights at the local lanes it was midnight bowling — house lights down, music up, disco ball throwing stars. Jukebox, popcorn, beer. He snuck joints in the bathroom, beer from car trunks.

Stoned, dreaming between rolls, he looked at the spinning lights and pretended he was someplace else. Did that again and again. And then figured out that he had to leave.

And when he talked how he’d wanted to leave, well, somehow I felt a connection with him, this person I barely knew. Who hasn’t wanted to leave?

His story got in my head and heart. And so arrived Tess Wycheski, a teenage star bowler from Sandusky, Ohio, coming of age in the seventies. And the boy she loves. And her father Joe, who wants her to love the art of the sport. And her father’s former coach Leo Florida, who has a plan to make Tess a pro — and a secret that involves them all.

All the best stories are love stories. I really don’t care to argue about it. Here’s mine.

Quinn Dalton is the author of a novel, High Strung, and two story collections, Bulletproof Girl and Stories from the Afterlife. Midnight Bowling, a novel forthcoming from Carolina Wren Press on March 1, 2016.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be David Mamet, the playwright, when I was around 13 or I was in love with him. Or something.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
It’s how we get past our insulation and expose our humanity. Our vulnerability – the stories we’re willing to hand over to each other – are our greatest most precious currency.

In your book; The Infinity of You & Me, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Alicia is having a rough time – panic, anxiety, weird episodes where she fades out and hallucinates. Hafeez is her best friend, helping her navigate high school where her neighbor Sprowitz is making her life hell. But at the same time, in one of these recurring hallucinations in a strange decaying world, she falls for this guy… and when she finds out that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations but real other worlds, all hell breaks loose.

For those who are unfamiliar with Alicia, how would you introduce her? 
She’s smart. She’s messed up and overmedicated. She’s struggling. She loves Sylvia Plath poems. She misses her absentee Dad, but hates him too for taking off.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m working on something new – I hope it’s good. I’m not sure.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I feel like inviting Katniss into any book is a good thing. She’s going to help you kick ass.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Alicia?
She’s tougher than I thought. The more I threw at her, the more resilient she became.

When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
I’m such a spiller. I just spill it. There’s lots I’d never say online or in print, but if my best friend is asking me something, I spill.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
Ballroom dance instructor next door to a karate studio.

Tell me about your first kiss
Wow. Okay. I think it was on a school ski trip? In a doorway? There was an adult dating group at the same hotel – for tall people. And I remember everywhere I went, I felt so very very small.

When was the last time you cried?
Choked up today. I’m a reader for a web site that puts up short personal essays. I cry over one every day.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?

I have to say the later the better. I’d want to avoid all wars with drafts, all major epidemics and depressions. I’d have to go with 90s.

What is your greatest adventure?
Getting robbed in the south of France.

What if every life-altering choice you made could split your world into infinite worlds?

Almost fifteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds—strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is while trying to save the people and worlds she loves. J.Q. Coyle’s The Infinity of You & Me is a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate.

Chapter One

The beginning is always a surprise. (The endings are, too.)

I never quite know what I look like. I’m myself, yes, but differ- ent. Never tall and leggy, but my hair might be long and tied back or cut in a short bob. Sometimes I’m in jeans and sneakers. Once or twice, a dress.

I’ve been alone in a field of snow.

I’ve woken up in the backseat of a fast car at night, my father driving down a dark road.

I’ve been standing in the corner at a party where none of the faces are familiar.

This time, noise comes first. A clanging deep inside the hull of a ship—a cruise ship. I’m running down a corridor of soaked red carpet.

The ship lurches.

Someone’s yelling over the crackling PA speakers—I can’t understand the words over the rush of water. Alarms roar over- head.

I shoulder my way down another corridor, fighting the flood of people running in the opposite direction, screaming to each other.

Some part of my brain says, Me? On a cruise ship? Never. But if I was so lucky, it’d be a sinking one.

The rest of my brain is sure this isn’t real, no matter how real it feels.

I run my hand down the wall, the cold water now pushing against my legs. I’m wearing a pair of skinny jeans I don’t own. I know someone’s after me—I just don’t know who. I look back over my shoulder, trying to see if anyone else is moving against the crowd like I am. 

No one is.

Where’s my mother? She’s never here when I go off in my head like this.

A man grabs me roughly by the shirt. My ribs tighten. Is this who I’m running from?

No. He’s old, his eyes bloodshot and wild with fear. He says something in Russian, like the guys in the deli at Berezka’s, not too far from my house in Southie. I shouldn’t be able to understand him, but I do. “Run! This way. Do you want to die, girl?” I don’t speak Rus- sian. I’m failing Spanish II.

But then I answer, partly in Russian. “I’m fine. Thank you. Spasiba.” The words feel stiff in my mouth. I can barely hear myself over the screaming, the water rushing up the corridor, and the groaning ship.

The man keeps yelling, won’t let go of me, so I rip myself loose and run.

A glimpse of gray through a porthole, only a sliver of land and heavy dark sky.

I see myself in the porthole’s dark reflection—my hair chin length, my bangs choppy, just a bit of faded red lipstick.

We’re on the Dnieper River. It’s like this: I know things I shouldn’t. I don’t know how. 

A woman falls. I reach down and help her up. Her head is gashed, her face smeared with blood. She nods a thank-you and keeps march- ing against the current, soaked.

I wonder if she’ll make it. Will I?

I’m looking for my father. I want to call out for him, but I shouldn’t. The people chasing me are really after him—I know this too, the way you know things in a dream.

The ship lists, hard, and my right shoulder drives into a wall. Stateroom doors swing open. The sound of water surging into the hull is impossibly loud.

And then my father appears up ahead—shaggy, unshaven, his knuckles bloody. I love seeing him in these hallucinations. (That’s what my therapist calls them.) It’s the only time I ever see him. I even love seeing him when he looks like hell, and older than I re- member him, more worn-down. But he always has this energy— like his strength is coiled and tensed.

“Alicia!” he shouts. “Down!”

I fall to my knees. The water is up to my neck and so cold it shocks my bones.

My father raises a gun and fires. Some men fire back.

I put my head underwater, and the world is muted. I hold my breath, can only hear my heart pounding in my ears. My face burns with the cold, my back tight, lungs pinched. I swim toward the blurry yellow glow of an emergency light.

When I lift my head, a tall and angular man slides down a wall and goes under, leaving a swirl of blood. My father shot him. This should shock me, but it doesn’t. My father, who’s really a stranger to me, is always on the run and often armed.

Another man, thick necked and yelling, returns fire from a cabin doorway.

My father disappears around the corner up ahead, then lays cover for me. “Get up!” he shouts. “Move now!”

I push through the icy water, wishing my legs were stronger and tougher, feeling small and easily kicked off-balance.

“Just up ahead,” he says, “—stairs.”

But then a little boy with a buzz cut doggy-paddles out of a cabin. The water’s too deep for him.

I reach out, and he grabs my hand, clinging to my shirt. “Alicia, get down!” my father yells.

Instinctively, I shield the kid. A gunshot.

I feel a shattering jolt in my shoulder blade. I can’t breathe, can’t scream.

The boy cries out, but he hasn’t been shot. I have. The pain is stabbing. “He shot me!” I shout, shocked. I can only state the obvi- ous, my voice so rough and ragged I don’t even recognize it.

My father pulls me and the boy into a tight circular stairwell, the water whirling around us, chest deep. As he lifts the little boy high up the stairs, I glimpse the edge of a tattoo and skin rough with small dark scars and fresh nicks on his wrists. “Keep climbing!” he says to the little boy.

Wide-eyed with fear, the boy does what he’s told.

The water is rising up the stairs, fast, but my father props me up with his shoulder, and we keep climbing. I try to remember what it was like before he left my mom and me. Did he carry me to bed, up the stairs, down the hallway, and tuck me in?

“We’re going to get out,” my father says. “We can jump.” “We can’t jump,” I say. Off the ship?

“Trust me,” my father says.

I’ve never trusted my father, never had the chance. After he left, he wasn’t allowed within five hundred feet of me or my mother. “What the hell am I doing here?” I ask.

My father stares at me. “Is it you? Really you?” “Yes, it’s me,” I say. Of course it’s me!

My father looks stunned and scared and relieved somehow all at the same time. “You’re finally here.”

“Finally where?”

“Things have gotten too dangerous,” he says quickly. He reaches into his pocket, and in his hand I glimpse what looks like a strangely shaped shiny wooden cross about the width of his palm, but it’s not a cross, not exactly. “You’ve got to get lost and stay lost.”

I am lost, I want to tell him, but the pain in my back is so sharp it takes my breath.

As the water pushes us up the stairwell, my blood swirls around me like a cape. I can’t die here.

I look up into cloudy daylight.

The ship’s listing so hard now it seems to be jackknifing. Sud- denly I’m terrified we’re all going to drown.

I expect to see the little boy’s face at the top of the stairs, but he’s gone. Instead, there’s a group of men with guns trained on my father and me.

“Ellington Maxwell.” The man who speaks is the one who shot me. In the hazy glare off the water I see a jagged scar on his cheek. “Welcome to our world. This time we hope you stay awhile.”

I look up at the sky again and abruptly it swells with sun. My right hand hurts and I know this signals an ending . . . Bright, blaz- ing, obliterating light.

And I’m gone.

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