Welcome to a new year of Watch City Readers! This program is brought to you through a grant from the Waltham Cultural Council and the Mass Cultural Council. My goal is to promote literacy by discovering new books each months, along with behind the scenes views of the literary world. On the second Sunday of each month at 6pm EST, I produce a Facebook live video cast that focuses on a particular genre. This month's exploration takes us to YA supernatural fiction, with "Night Sky," by Suzanne Brockman and Melanie Brockman. The authors graciously provided this interview. Happy reading!
Watch City Readers Interview
Suzanne Brockmann & Melanie Brockmann
Night Sky Series
Tell us a little about yourself:
We are a daughter/mother writing team! Suz is Melanie’s mom. We collaborate on the Night Sky series of books.
What genre do you write:
We write a variety of genres separately—Suz writes a lot of romantic suspense, and Melanie’s written both suspense and rom-com—but together, we write young adult paranormal.
Do you have any connection to Waltham:
We do! We lived in Waltham for quite a few years, from 2002 through around 2009, in a big old pre-Victorian house that sits in an old part of town known as “Piety Corner.” Suz nicknamed the house “Apple Pie-ety House.” Not only were we right across the street from a church, but town records indicated that an alternative church held their services right in our house’s front parlor back in the 1850s. Part of our house was built in the early 1700s, but most of it was built in 1850, and was rumored to be a safe stop on the Underground Railroad. More cool facts about our house: It burned, quite badly, right about the time of the Civil War (the 1860s), and the back staircase that led to Suz’s office had the original wooden steps that still contained charred marks!
Have you ever attended the Watch City Steampunk Festival?
No! This is the first we’ve heard of it. Heading off to google it, to find out more...
Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything in your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
When we sat down and outlined the first two Night Sky series books (Night Sky and Wild Sky), we decided to tell these stories through the first-person point of view of Skylar, the sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old main character. That worked really well for the first book, which included a romantic triangle subplot for Sky. So we see what she sees and we feel what she feels, because the entire story is told through her words, her eyes.
But the second book, Wild Sky, has a romantic subplot for Skylar’s best friend, Calvin. We wanted to keep this book in Sky’s first-person point of view, so we had to figure out creative ways for her to be present for those heart-melting romantic scenes between Cal and his love interest. It was kind of awkward for Sky to be witness to some of those moments, which ended up making those scenes both sweet and funny, so what started as a challenge ended up being one of this book’s strengths!
How much of your book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your life?
Ooh, this is a pet peeve of ours—the idea that fiction writers base characters on people they’ve known in their lives. And yes, some famous literary writers have done that in books that we think of as fictionalized autobiographies, but it’s really not something most genre fiction writers do! Yeah, we tend to be observers of human nature and behavior, and if you do something particularly eyebrow-raising while we’re in the room—especially if it’s Darwin-Award worthy—it may end up in one of our books. But the idea that, for example, Skylar’s mom in the Night Sky series, could be based on either Suz (as Melanie mom) or Melanie (as her own son Aidan’s mom) or any other mother we’ve met in our lives, is extremely unlikely.
What we do, as writers, is learn—through experience or observation or frankly, plain old research—what it’s like to be the mother of a particularly exceptional teenager, and the stressors and anxiety and (ahem) control issues that might go hand in hand with that. And then, as we’re fleshing out the character of Sky’s mom, we make choices as to just how stressed and anxious (or content or accomplished or satisfied or...) this particular woman might be. And then we ask questions like, “How can we shape Skylar’s mom into a character who is going to be challenging for Sky to live with?” Because our job as storytellers is to create conflicts for Sky, so you-the-readers can watch her react, empathize with her, and hopefully come to like her.
We do this exact same thing for every character who appears in the book—from very minor characters like Skylar’s overwhelmed music teacher to the little girl that Sky babysits, to Calvin, Sky’s best friend. These characters were created expressly to help and/or hinder Sky as the dramatic events of the book unfold. It would be hard to include someone real—someone we know—and have every piece of who they are fit perfectly with the challenges we need to throw at Sky.
As for the realistic nature of our books... We write futuristic paranormal. In Night Sky, our main character, Skylar, discovers that she is something called a “Greater-Than” when her latent superpowers begin to come online. So that’s not very realistic. Yet, the rest of Sky’s life—dealing with her super-controlling mom, moving to Florida from New England and being the new kid in a new high school, making friends, making frenemies, crushing on a cute boy... All of that is very teenager-realistic.
Any advice for young writers?
Read and re-read books that you love, to discover exactly what the writer did to spark the connection you feel to those stories and characters. Likewise, pay attention when you read a book that doesn’t particularly work for you. Can you find the place in the story where you lost interest? Try to figure out why you lost interest, and ask yourself what you would’ve done differently to keep yourself involved.
We do this same thing with any fiction we’re engaged with—even movies and TV shows.
Our second piece of advice is to look at your own writing and learn to identify your strengths as a writer. So often we focus only on the negative. And while you should be aware of the areas in which you need to improve (all writers strive to continue to improve whether we’ve written one book or sixty!), it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the parts of your writing that shine!
Do you have social media links or contact information you would like to share?
There’s a fun interview via YouTube, embedded on the Night Sky Series page at https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/night-sky-series/
Twitter: @SuzBrockmann and @MelRaeYA