Kate Karyus Quinn Talks Dark Themes & Another Little Piece

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Today's guest for the SAT is fellow Class of 2k13 member and Harper-mate Kate Karyus Quinn, author of ANOTHER LITLE PIECE. Kate has two college degrees - a BFA in Theatre from Niagara University and an MFA in Film and Television Production from Chapman University. In addition, her short romantic fiction pieces have been published in Woman’s World magazine.

ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE is a gorgeous, dark and daring story. There are so many elements involved that there are times the reader literally has no idea what is going on -- and personally I loved that experience. Too often our reader-brains are so good at discerning where the plot is going that authors can't surprise us anymore. But you certainly did! How did you manage to keep your readers in the dark, yet still entirely engaged in the story?

The twisty plot for ALP developed organically… which is to say that I was making it up as I went along. I wasn’t going completely by the seat of my pants, because I had a notebook where I would write little notes for the next five to ten scenes. Of course, sometimes something would happen in one of those pre-planned scenes that I wasn’t quite expecting, and I would have to adjust a little. The one thing I did to make sure the story didn’t go completely off the rails and stayed somewhat focused was that I made sure to coming back to Annaliese and what her goals were. Anytime I got lost, I brought it back to Annaliese trying to find the truth of what happened to her and understand exactly what she was.

My writer-brain was fascinated by the concept you present in ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE. It starts out feeling like a contemporary crime drama with psychological twists, then veers into paranormal elements and a sweet romance out of left field -- all with a very unreliable narrator. Did you ever wonder where the heck in the bookstore this thing was going to land, genre-wise?

I honestly wasn’t worried about where it would fit on the shelf, because I knew it was young adult and one of the things that I truly love about writing YA is that such a broad spectrum of books all fit together under one big umbrella together. However, I was concerned about my book ever making it onto any shelf at all due to language, sex, and violence (you can read more about that here. I knew that I was stepping pretty close to the line of what was appropriate for the genre and I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t gone soaring over it. So I started looking for other YA books that were pushing the boundaries to see how far they’d taken things… and maybe to also just feel a little bit less alone.

Some of the books on that reading list were:
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

I also read a trilogy of novels that some of you may have heard of, called The Hunger Games. By the third book when characters flesh was melting off, I felt fairly reassured that the level of violence in ALP was okay.

You take a brave step in making your love interest a not-so-dreamy dude. Your male MC has issues of his own, and doesn't have movie star good looks or a hunky hell of a body to make up for it. Were you worried that writing the less-than-perfect male love interest would be a problem?

As a reader I enjoy a hero with a healthy dose of hunk in him, especially when paired with the violet-eyed perfect size 2 wisp of a heroine. There is a certain amount of wish fulfillment that is really satisfying when reading that kind of romantic dynamic. However, when I sit down to write, my heroines turn out more like me – not the fairest in the land and not the warty-faced witch, but instead somewhere in between. Of course, you can still match the perfect guy with the less than perfect girl – and I love that dynamic as well (hello Twilight!). 

In the case of Annaliese, she is just such a messed up girl and broken in so many ways, that I think she needed someone equally messed up to match her. I guess that guy could’ve had a six pack and bulging biceps, but instead as I wrote, Dex came out tall and gangly and… oddly charming. I liked him. Annaliese liked him. I could only hope that readers would respond to his nontraditional brand of charm as well.

Self-awareness, deep-seated desires and wish fulfillment play a huge part in the plot of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE. Are these elements that you think help draw in teen readers, or do you think that adults can fall under these spells as well?

I think half of my teenage years were spent lost in a daydream. I crushed on guys I barely knew, which was convenient because the reality of their teenage boy stuff never intruded on my fantasies. The handful of guys who showed interest in me, I couldn’t run away from fast enough. Even so, I often felt like I was missing out on the whole having a boyfriend rite of passage, but anytime I got close to it, it looked so different from the way I’d imagined that suddenly it didn’t look so great anymore. 

I’ve been guilty of this as an adult as well. I think anytime you get sucked into the idea of the perfect anything whether that be a boy, a dance, or a dream house – you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Annaliese’s fall, though, is a little rougher than most. And in the end she has to decide what is really the most important thing to her.  

So I think both teens and adults can find different things to talk about there, but maybe just approaching it in slightly different ways and with two slightly different perspectives. I also think some discussion between adults and teens can be generated by another big theme of the book. Annaliese has this feeling that she is a monster and doesn’t feel as if she fits in her life. I think teens can relate to that, and from the adult side, I think parents will nod in recognition of the feeling that their sweet little baby has grown into a (sometimes monstrous) teenager that seems completely different from the child they once knew. 

Overall, I think there are some themes that universal and that almost anyone can relate to them no matter where they happen to be in their lives.