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Courtney Summers Author Interview!

My first introduction to Courtney Summers occurred inside my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. I saw the cover of her debut novel, CRACKED UP TO BE, which featured a headless teen girl stretched out on a bench with a soccer field behind her. I was curious. Why is that girl missing her head? Does she play soccer? Is she thinking about playing soccer? Does she dream about a world without soccer?

Curious, I picked up a copy and read the first chapter. I was then introduced to Parker Fadley, a girl who was smart, sarcastically hilarious, and didn’t take crap from anybody. But what really got me was the writing. As a reader, I clicked with the no-marshmallow, to-the-point, no-apologies way Ms. Summers writes. It was refreshing and made me a fan right then and there. Although, I did find out that CRACKED UP TO BE has nothing to do with soccer.

Since then, Courtney has written three young adult novels, SOME GIRLS ARE, FALL FOR ANYTHING, and her new book coming out on Tuesday, June 19th… 

Here’s a description from Ms. Summers’ website:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, everyone’s motivations to survive begin to change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life–and death–inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

I’ve already had the pleasure of reading this book and you can read that review here. (without spoilers) But basically…I LOVED IT!

I asked Courtney if she would stop by my website and answer a few questions about her writing, her books, and about THIS IS NOT A TEST. I was floored when she said yes. And I was humbled when she offered to send a free copy of THIS IS NOT A TEST to one lucky person for a giveaway! So keep reading for your chance to win!

Let’s get started…

Instead of going for the standard, survivalist-type horror heroine, you went the opposite way with Sloane. In the book, she starts off as a character who really wants to die. How did you come up with that choice? Was it the way you always envisioned Sloane or did her character change as you were writing the book?

I thought about how I’d (honestly) react during a zombie apocalypse. I like to think I’d be totally awesome at it but if I lost everyone that mattered to me, I’m not so sure I’d want to keep going. I always envisioned Sloane as girl who didn’t want to survive. How much she wanted to die became more pronounced from the first to second draft, but the core of her character, her motivations, remained the same.

One central element of this book is how the characters relate to each other and how that shifts throughout the story. My favorite relationship is between the twins Trace and Grace. Why did you pick a set of twins?

Thank you! I think of Trace and Grace as the characters the other characters want to be. Everyone in THIS IS NOT A TEST is aching for their family and those two represent what the others have lost. I thought having siblings would emphasize this void and I chose twins because I felt that would also intensify it.

What is your favorite horror film? And why?

I love Kairo (Pulse). It’s J-horror and it’s brilliant. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it but I made myself watch it again and it blew me away. The pacing is very slow, but it’s incredibly atmospheric and so lonely. It’s about ghosts and they’re taking over the living world through technology, forcing those who come in contact with them to commit suicide. It’s chilling.

Why do you like to write young adult fiction? What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

I love writing YA fiction because the stories demand an immediacy and intensity that is so fun to explore. I also love writing YA because I love reading it. So many YA books out today are fresh and exciting. I also adore the community–it’s so supportive and enthusiastic.

When faced with a new book, what’s your writing process?

My process is all over the place, to be honest! It really depends on the book. I could outline, I could just dive right in. I never know. THIS IS NOT A TEST was outlined extensively twice, for example. The book I’m working on now has been outlined more than that. Right now it looks like I settle into a new book with outlining, but Book 6 could change that up!

Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why?

That’s so hard to pick! I adore Luna Lovegood. She operates on this whole other level and nothing seems to touch her. I love every female protagonist Melina Marchetta has written because they’re always so honest and realistic. Andrea from Blake Nelson’s Girl has an incredible voice and is so likeable and wonderfully flawed. I’d read any book she narrated.

You write very compelling female heroines. Sloane in THIS IS NOT A TEST. Eddie in FALL FOR ANYTHING. Regina in SOME GIRLS ARE. Parker in CRACKED UP TO BE. Of these four fictional characters, which one is the closest to the real Courtney Summers?

Thank you! I don’t think any of them are by the time I’m finished a book, to be honest! I relate to some of my female leads more than others, but all of them are pretty far away from the type of person I am… I think. 😉

You can tell this next question is a bit…leading. But, if you were given a choice between an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas or one to Volcano National Park in Hawaii…which one would you choose and why?

Hah! WELL. Volcano National Park all the way! Best ever.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m wrapping up the first draft of my fifth book, ALL THE RAGE, which is due out in 2013. It’s about a girl who blackmails a rich classmate and then wakes up on a dirt road with no memory of the night before.

To wrap things up, I would like to borrow five quick questions from the great James Lipton, host of Inside The Actor’s Studio. Here we go.

Now, Courtney…

What is your favorite word?
Fisticuffs!

What is your least favorite word?
Lolling.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Fearlessness.

What sound or noise do you love?
Thunderstorms.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Snoring!

And we will leave on that noisy note. Courtney, thank you so much for stopping by!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Doug!

Courtney has allowed me the honor of giving away one copy of THIS IS NOT A TEST to one lucky reader!

To enter, all you need to do is leave one comment on this post by Midnight (CST) on June 16, 2012. I will announce the winner on June 19, 2012. Please list your e-mail on your comment so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I will not use your e-mail for any other purpose.

You can only enter once. UNLESS…you mention this interview on Twitter or your blog and I’ll give you one extra entry! BUT please let me know you did this by either adding my twitter name (@DougSolter) to your tweet. Or put a link to your blog post inside your comment to get credit.

This giveaway is for US/Canada entries only. Sorry. :(  

Good luck!

The Austin Film Festival

This is the fourth time I’ve been to the Austin Film Festival. The last time was in 2003 when my script THE VETERAN was a second rounder in the screenwriting competition. The Austin screenwriting conference is held in conjunction with the film festival and it’s one of the best conferences for screenwriters in the country. A-list writers from Los Angeles and other parts of the country descend on Austin, Texas to talk craft, bitch about Hollywood, and enjoy tasty beverages.

I haven’t been able to go in a while since I made the switch from screenplays to novels. However, the perfect storm began to form earlier this year when my brilliant screenwriting teacher, (I’m not exaggerating) Max Adams, moved from LA to Austin. Max teaches online classes through her Academy of Film Writing website and runs screenwriting group 5150. Most of her students have never met face to face, so getting such an opportunity to meet Max and all these awesome people in person…was just too good to pass up.

Friday of that weekend, I drove eight hours and reached Austin around three o’clock in the afternoon, then I headed straight to the classic and cool Driskill Hotel. Everyone knows the bar in this hotel is the beating heart of the festival. No VIP areas here. Everyone is equal and welcomed. I find my teacher Max and classy writer friends Kitty, Jacqueline, and Deborah surrounding a leather couch, just hanging out.

At first, I thought I would have to introduce myself, but within seconds they yelled, “Doug!” It was like we were all best friends forever. I couldn’t believe how happy they were to see me. After multiple hugs, I sat down with my friends and we had a long night of drinks, friendship, and plenty of laughter.

That night I met the awesome Julie Howe, a student of Max’s who won the best screenplay award last year at Austin. Her script JASPER MILLIKEN was picked up by producers and director Jonathan Lynn (MY COUSIN VINNIE, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS) just signed on to direct the film. Hopefully it’ll be coming to a theater near you.

I also met Michael Canales. What a bubbling personality and so full of energy. Michael’s the type of person that lights up a room when he enters. I have a sneaky feeling he’s good at pitching his scripts in front of Hollywood execs.

Saturday I got up early and caught two morning screenwriting sessions. The first had a group of authors who wrote screen adaptations of their work. Tom Perrotta, wrote the book ELECTION which the Alexander Payne movie with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick was based on. Another author, Pamela Ribon, is also a writer for the television series SAMANTHA WHO and has developed many other television series. Cool stuff.

The second morning session I went to was with BONES show-runner Hart Hanson and author Kathy Reichs who writes a book series the television series is based on.

Lunch was an adventure. I teamed up with my friend Deborah Chesher and a few other new writer friends and walked into one restaurant, but the manager wanted me to dump out my Starbucks coffee and also search the girl’s handbags for smuggled food. Seriously? I don’t know why he thought twelve hungry people would smuggle food into a restaurant. So we go to the bustling Irish Pub on the other side of the street. The Irish stew was delicious.

Saturday afternoon begins with a panel about writing fantastic horror movies. Rhett Reese who wrote ZOMBIELAND was there. And the most awesome screenwriter ever, Alvaro Rodriguez, the writer of MACHETE and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3. I’m excited because Alvaro was in Max’s 5150 workshop and has been so cool about supporting me and a lot of other writers.

The last panel I go to is with four television show-runners. Rodrigo Garcia who runs HBO’s IN TREATMENT and has directed episodes of SIX FEET UNDER. Rob Thomas who created VERONICA MARS. Donald Todd writer/producer of  SAMANTHA WHO, ALF, and CAROLINE IN THE CITY. It was moderated by Barry Josephson. Quite a panel of heavy hitters.

That night, I went to dinner with my friends. We find a nice Thai restaurant and discover our waitress is brand new and has trouble understanding English. You see where this is going. Luckily most of us did get what we ordered, except for Max.  Instead of the Thai version of beef stew with bread that she ordered, out comes a bowl of pond water with colorful veggies floating on top. Yuck. But soon things got cleared up and Max got her bread and something that looks like it had beef in it.

That night we found another leather couch and hung out at the Driskill bar where I met screenwriter Terry Rossio. Terry is an A-list screenwriter and such a nice guy. I just listened as he talked about his Hollywood war stories.

Sunday Morning I decide to check out the Texas Book Festival on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. It was packed, but it was nice to see so many kids at a book festival. There were a lot of exhibitor tents with food, games, entertainment for the kids, and a big list of authors. I was so happy to see that young adult writer superstar Ellen Hopkins was going to be there that day.

Ellen’s panel took place on the floor of the House chambers inside the Texas State Capital. The audience got to sit in the large leather chairs the representatives use, each of us with a fancy wood desk with a metal panel that had Yay or Nay buttons for voting.

Sunday afternoon I returned to the good old Driskill Bar. Deborah Chesher finally had time to show me her short film END OF THE INNOCENTS. She ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund it and I tossed in a couple of bucks. The movie is so freaking good and she did a fantastic job directing it. The cinematography, the directing, the acting, everything was exceptional. Deborah made the short film as a visual calling card for her feature-length screenplay version of the story. Go to her website to view the trailer.

Deborah will be submitting END OF THE INNOCENTS to film festivals and I’m confident you will be see this film making the rounds. Keep your eyes out for it.

Late Sunday afternoon and the screenwriting conference is wrapping up. The bar at the Driskill gets quiet. Alvaro Rodriguez and his friend Jose sit down with me and we talk about writing. Alvaro is writing this cool western that I hope gets made because the premise sounds awesome. Jose is a trip. He’s from Philly and we bitch about the same things. As he told me later, it was a very cathartic conversation.

Sunday night comes and I must say goodbye to all my friends, old and new. Reluctantly, I steer my car North towards Oklahoma, convinced I’ve just had one of the best weekends of my life.

As my friend Trevor would say…Good People, Good Times.

Barcelona, Spain – Travel Blog #1

 

Imagine yourself…walking through these old streets, the hustle and bustle of a city echoing off the brick walls on either side of you. Conversations in Spanish are everywhere, some heated in tone, some quite friendly, some filled with laughter.

The pedestrian only street that you walk on now empties out into a small plaza. One of many in this central part of  Barcelona. The plaza has a couple of Tappas restaurants, their tables outside under large umbrellas.  You sit down at one table and relax. Don’t worry, the waiter that pops in and out of the restaurant will get to you eventually. Remember, you’re in Spain. This isn’t Chili’s where the servers are instructed to fly into your face the moment you sit down so the restaurant can get a fast turnover ratio on their tables.

Sitting at the next table over, three young guys are laughing and drinking wine. They talk Spanish but soon you figure out they’re goading one another to get up and talk to some girls sitting next door at the adjacent outdoor restaurant. At another table, a couple enjoys coffee while they each read a book. They somehow shut off all the noise from the plaza. Perhaps they’re too used to doing this day after day.

The waiter comes to your table.  When he realizes you don’t speak Spanish, it’s not a big deal. He patiently helps you with the menu and you order that glass of wine you’ve been craving ever since you got off that nine-hour ordeal the airline calls a flight.

A street musician stops near your group of tables to play a few songs for you.  Luckily, this one is talented and knows how to play the flute, so you give him a couple of Euros when he comes around for tips. He was much better than the last musician who was off-key on that Lionel Richie song. Maybe he should learn how to play.  Picking better material wouldn’t hurt either. Another man tries to sell the couple next to you flowers, even though another flower guy came by their table only five minutes earlier. Your favorite guy was the man selling ridiculously huge sunglasses that had flashing lights inside them.   Seriously dude, this is Spain.  Not the Las Vegas strip.

The plaza is alive with people. Teen lovers holding each other, just hanging out under the twilight of a day that’s winding down. People crossing the plaza on their bicycles. Some are going home. Others are just going somewhere because they can. Stray dogs meander around. None of them are vicious. They just take in the view and move on to the next place where a stranger might toss them a juicy morsel or even a whole steak.  Hey, even stray dogs have dreams.

Your nose breathes in a distinct smell from the streets.  Not a bad one. It’s a smell that reminds you of a mixture of spices. Although you can’t pinpoint exactly what they are.  But that sent has been on every street that you’ve walked today and its uniqueness has stuck with you, like when you were a kid and first smelled freshly baked bread in the oven.

Your glass of red wine finally arrives and you take a large swig, letting the tangy flavor coat your tongue. And you then convince yourself that you could sit a this small plaza for the rest of your life.

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Not all my travel blog entries will be written in this manner, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I was experiencing the first day in Barcelona.

Coming next: The Hotel De Jardi – The best little hotel in Barcelona.