Dec 5, 2010

Unearthly - Interview with Cynthia Hand

If you haven't read my full REVIEW, please do so! Unearthly is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it!

This is your debut novel, how many manuscripts did it take for you to get published?
One. It's a unique story, one I've been a little hesitant to tell, since I think perserverance is one of the must-have qualities for a writer, and yet it seemed to go so smoothly for me with this book! Since I went the "school route" as a writer, studying creative writing for both an MFA and a PhD, my big rejections came from university programs, fellowships, and smaller publication outlets. I've been a literary short story writer for years, published a few stories and poems here and there (which is how I got my agent--she read a short story of mine in a literary journal and contacted me), and wrote about half of a literary novel. Then I didn't write for a long time. I was busy with life, having a baby, moving for my husband's job, etc. . . And suddenly, seriously out of the blue, I had the idea for Unearthly. I didn't even know it was a YA novel at the time; I just started writing it and figuring it out. When I finished a draft I sent it to my agent, and everything just kind of unrolled from there.

Unearthly is set in Wyoming, what drew you to that location?
The short answer to this is that I love Wyoming. I grew up in Idaho, not very far from the Wyoming border. My home town of Idaho Falls is a couple of hours away from Jackson Hole, so it’s a place I know very well and also one of my favorite places on earth. When I was writingUnearthly, I knew pretty early on that there was going to be a forest fire, so Teton National Park, in Wyoming, seemed like the perfect place to send Clara. It’s a place I wanted to go back to, both in person and in my mind, as I wrote.

Clara has only known for a few years that she is an angel blood, why not let her know from the beginning?
This has to do with Clara's mother, Maggie, who is very insistent that Clara and her brother Jeffrey live like normal children/teenagers for as long as possible. When you know about something as big as "I'm part angel," it's very difficult not to let it slip out to other people, especially your close friends, as Clara finds out. So Maggie doesn't tell them until they're older, both so that their secret stays a secret, and so that they can experience life without having the pressure of being part of the divine put on them at an early age.

There are two wonderful men in Clara's life, how difficult was it to finally write Clara's 'choice'. Lol, I hadn't really thought about that before, how difficult it was to write. I wrote the scene where Clara makes her choice fairly early in the writing, one of the few scenes I wrote out of chronological order. Then I returned to it later, and had to tweak it a lot because by then I knew so much more about Clara and Tucker, and I think that was pretty painful to contemplate then. I do remember that I felt so sorry for Clara in that moment, because it's really a lose/lose situation in her mind, and the stakes are so incredible high, and when I wrote the scene after the fire I teared up a few times.

I'm not too sure about Clara's friend Angela, should I be worried? 
Angela's one of my favorite characters to write, because she's so delightfully complex and unpredictable. I think Angela means well, for the most part, but she's so focused on discovering all she can about herself and the angel-bloods that she brings trouble down on herself at times, which often enough brings trouble down on Clara, too. There's also a natural rivalry that springs up between Angela and Clara every now and then, as they each develop their powers and pursue their purposes in different ways.

You discover your son is a Black Wing...what is your first reaction?
Well, to get nit-picky, it's impossible to discover that your son's a Black Wing. Black Wings are full-blooded angels, who've been around since the beginning of time. And my son is three years old at the moment, although he has his moments where I wonder if he's a little angel or a little demon, hee hee. But if I were an angel-blood like Maggie, and discovered that my son's wings had darkened, which means that he's not doing well, spiritually speaking, I would be very alarmed and probably try to talk to him and see if I couldn't help him work through whatever was messing him up. That's a really tough situation, one I've explored a lot through Maggie in the course of writing these books. It's so hard to let go of your children, to let them make mistakes that have lasting consequences, to let them lead their own lives.

Where is your favorite place to write?
I have this fabulous little nook off my kitchen that overlooks my back yard, that is really the perfect place to write. But this year, as I drafted Book 2, my best place to write was at the library at Pepperdine Univeristy, where I teach creative writing classes. I'd go there, find me a good comfy upholstered chair that overlooked the ocean, and put my feet up and write, write, write. It was such a great place to write, no computers, no distractions, no noise, the smell of books, the amazing view from the windows. I wrote probably more than half of Book 2 out longhand from that library.

Tour plans for Texas? ;)
At the moment, I have no tour plans for Texas, although I would LOVE to go there. I'm having a baby in March, so HarperCollins is going easy on me, tourwise, keeping me fairly close to home. I will probably tour a lot more with Book 2. . .

THANK YOU Cynthia! Best of luck with the new baby and we can't wait for book two!

Happy Reading!