Interview with Elise Stephens

You might have already heard: there’s a new book out! Elise Stephen’s Forecast is a new YA title out from Booktrope and edited by yours truly. Here is the official blurb:

Calvin isn’t a teenager, not really; instead, he’s spent his life trying to protect his mother and sister from his alcoholic father. Calvin keeps a knife close and sleeps with one eye open, even years after his father has left the family. A summer vacation spent at their late grandfather’s estate promises him and his sister the chance to leave their problems behind.

Instead of blissful freedom, they find the old house harbors secrets at every turn, like a mysterious stone door in the forest with rumored powers to give its entrants the gift of future-seeing. When Calvin faces the return of his seemingly-reformed father, he throws himself through the door to receive the gift of foresight. But the door offers more doubt than certainty, and the future he sees is riddled with disturbing confusion. With a revenge-obsessed lawyer hunting him down and a secret society out to control him, Calvin must figure out how to stop what he’s started before he loses what he holds most dear.

As he battles the legacies of his past and the shadows of his future, Calvin must accept help from unlikely sources, give trust he never thought possible, and learn that the greatest challenges lie not in the things to come, but in the present moment.

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Elise is a wonderful writer, and by that I mean both that she has a talent for language and story and also that she has a healthy attitude towards revisions. We went through several rounds to ensure that the novel was at its very best before publication. That meant some tough decisions, like taking out a few characters and rewriting some crucial scenes. I never doubted that it was for the best, especially because every revision Elise sent me was stronger than the previous draft. Despite our several deep conversations about the book, I realized I still had some questions about Forecastand Elise was kind enough to answer them here.

1.        Forecast is the story of twins who find a door that gives them the gift of seeing the future. Where did you get the idea for the story?

It was definitely a combination of things. I’ve always been haunted by one of the opening scenes in the film Jumanji, where the magical board game is buried or drowned in order to banish its powerful magic. My own fear of the future played a large part, too. I tend to obsess with what could or might happen, and I have trouble enjoying the present moment I’m living in. I started with the idea of burying something forbidden for my very first scene in the book, and interwove it with my own personal worries about future events.

2.       The nature of twin-ship comes up a lot in the novel. What made you decide to write about twins?

My closet sibling is four years younger than me, and the idea of growing up with someone exactly my same age is fascinating. Also, I’ve noticed in my friends who are twins, that often your identical age doesn’t matter—one twin will very often assert dominance over the other as if he or she were several years older. The irony of this made me want to explore it, along with the eerie, sometimes supernatural bond that twins report having with each other.

3.       Forecast spans America in its setting: the protagonists are from Chicago, but their family core is from New Jersey, and the novel also includes a segment in Oregon. How did you choose the settings? How do you think the setting interacts with the rest of the story?

I’ve lived my entire life on the west coast of the US. I wanted to place my story somewhere that held “more” history than my familiar stomping grounds, so I settled on the east coast. New Jersey called to me. I’ve traveled several times to Chicago to visit family, so Calvin and Cleo got this for their home. Oregon was the forested wilds of the US that I wanted for the second half of my book’s journey. Settings are characters in themselves—I realize this more and more. Especially the town of Camswick and Humboldt Manor in New Jersey. These settings developed lives and secrets of their own, which made entry and exit from these places more exciting and full of complications.

4.       You and I went through quite a few revisions together. What was your favorite thing about the revision process?

I liked reading your suggestions, then let them mull about in my head for several days before I changed one word of my current draft. With this technique, bits of my story floated about freely in my head and my emotions settled before I went in with my “editing knife” to cut things up. This helped me be much more confident in my work (a huge plus!), and it was a new process for me.

5.       Were there any darlings that you had to kill, and are you happy with your decision or do you regret it?

You bet there were.  The most traumatic darling was the complete deletion of a mentor character that I had created for my protagonist, Calvin. The character I “killed” was a crusty, grumpy art thief who had already stolen a special place in my heart during the writing process. However, you showed me how this character could be combined with another.  After I lost sleep and suffered a couple mini panic attacks at the thought of losing him, I realized you were right.

I was shocked to see the book get stronger as I carefully went through, deleted this character, and worked several of his traits into the other underdeveloped character that you’d pointed out to me. Early readers of the book told me that the newly developed character was their favorite in the entire book, without knowing any details of what had happened behind the scenes. That makes me smile. My lost character isn’t totally gone, just repurposed. I still think he might emerge in another story of mine.

6.       The novel has quite a few major themes: family loyalty, past vs. present vs. future, and addiction. Was any one of those themes more important to you writing the novel, and is there any one theme that you most hope readers will consider?

The core message of Forecast is “Live in the present” which is a ridiculously hard lesson for most of us, and nearly impossible to put into practice. The themes of family loyalty and addiction are related to this main theme. Cleo and Calvin’s family was stuck running in fear from past events and mistake, causing them to project their terrors on the future. The addictions in the story were broken solutions to forgetting the past or trying to deal with the unknowable future. I hope that readers find themselves challenged by how much time they spend each day living “somewhere else” whether it’s the past or the future, and if they’re brave enough to plant their feet firmly in the present and live it for what it is.

7.       Your first novel, Moonlight and Oranges, is contemporary fiction with strong romantic elements—not YA fantasy. What was it like writing in a new genre?

The genre I’d prefer to give my writing is “high stakes adventure” which isn’t technically a genre that I’m aware of. Moonlight and Oranges, although a love story, was a high stakes adventure of trying to repair trust and reunite with the one you love in the face of enormous obstacles. I’d also classify Forecast as a high stakes adventure, though it’s better situated for the fast pace. Forecast felt more natural and easy for me to write than Moonlight and Oranges in many ways. I liked the “thriller” feeling of some of my scenes, as well as the freedom to make very magical things a part of the real world.

8.       What else was different about writing your second book?

I am a very ambitious person and I attempted literary feats about five times more complicated than I’d attempted with my first book. This made the process harder and more grueling, but also more satisfying by the time I was done. I also didn’t feel quite so exhausted with my story by the time I was done revising and editing it, which was encouraging. I wasn’t totally sure that my first novel was good by the time I’d finished the revisions, but I feel more confident with this second one.

9.       Any ideas which genre you’ll choose next?

Heh. You ready for this? Though I can make no promises, there is a good chance my next genre will be sci-fi. I’ve been playing with some near-future concepts, including a component of virtual reality and video games that’s been a long-time fascination of mine. There will always be a dimension of human drama and conflict, because relationships hold center stage in all my stories, but sci-fi is the current realm that’s calling to me. We’ll see where it leads!

Thanks for answering my questions!

Buy Forecast now on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

To learn more about Elise, visit her website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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