Debut author Makiia Lucier chats about research, romance, and her YA novel, A Death-Struck Year. Check out the interview for a chance to win a (very) advanced copy of this gripping novel!
Hypable’s Interview with Makiia Lucier:
Could you tell us 5 random facts about yourself?
1) I can’t dance. I’ve tried; I’ve even taken lessons, but it’s hopeless. I think my husband was trying to be nice once when he said, “You look like you should be graceful.”
2) I spent a term studying abroad in Italy. My plane landed in Rome on my twentieth birthday.
3) If you offer me a package of Jumbo Red Vines, I will eat them until I’m sick.
4) I have never been able to finish Moby Dick.
5) But I’ve read Jane Eyre more times than I can remember.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
I never planned on becoming a writer. I went to graduate school because I wanted to be a librarian. Specifically, I wanted to be Nancy Pearl. I think she’s awesome. But after two years of studying literature for children and young adults, ideas started running through my brain in a never ending loop. A pretty girl driving a Ford. An angry exchange with a soldier. Mt. Hood in the background. A flu epidemic.
Finally, to quiet the voices in my head, I drove to Office Depot. I picked up some pencils, bought a few notebooks, and thought, How hard can it be? I still laugh when I think about it.
What has surprised you about writing and publishing?
How much of a collaboration it is. Sure, I wrote the story, but so many others have helped turn it into an actual book. My agent, my editor, copy editors, publicists, book designers, web designers… it’s humbling to realize how many people think your story is worth the effort. It’s an incentive to try not to screw it all up.
Why do you feel drawn to the stories you write?
I’ve always loved historical fiction and coming-of-age novels. Anne of Green Gables was a childhood favorite. And ever since I watched Charlton Heston (aka Ben-Hur) discover his poor family in the Valley of the Lepers, I have been fascinated by plagues. The Black Death, Hansen’s Disease, cholera epidemics, the Spanish influenza, and how they wiped out whole families – whole communities, even – just like that.
A Death-Struck Year evolved over many drafts, but the premise remained the same. I wanted to know what would happen if I took a young woman – a perfectly ordinary teenager wondering what life had in store for her after graduation – and brought the Spanish influenza to her city. What would she do?
What is your approach to research? What role does it play in the creative process?
I started by reading everything I could on Spanish flu and on how Americans lived, ate, and dressed in 1918. I poured over old pictures, maps, postcards – anything I could get my hands on. I tracked down a 1918 timetable from a train museum in California, downloaded Census records, read archived copies of The Oregonian. I also spent time just wandering around, trying to get a feel for the city.
I think research plays a critical role in the creative process. You never know when some obscure historical fact will send your imagination spinning. An article about a theater being turned into an emergency hospital, for example, or the fact that the gas tank for a 1917 Ford Model T was located under the driver’s seat. Or an old photograph of a house with windows shaped like giant keyholes. These details have nothing in common except that they fascinated me. And somehow or another, they ended up in the story.
Did anything surprise you about the culture of Oregon in 1918?
Who knew Portland was so cosmopolitan a hundred years ago? I pictured something a little rougher, a little more Wild West: cowboy hats and lots of spitting on the street. That wasn’t the case at all.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
My editor didn’t like my epilogue. It didn’t fit, it wasn’t necessary. And deep down, I knew she was right. The story works much better now without it, but still. It was a hard thing to get rid of.
What has been the best compliment?
One reader said that the relationship in the story reminded her of Anne and Gilbert from the Anne of Green Gables series.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
Upstairs in my office, in an old blue chair.
How do you approach writing villains or antagonists?
I think villains are more interesting when they’re not 100% evil. Most people aren’t born awful, like Damien or that girl from The Bad Seed. A villain who has depth, who is sometimes good, but mostly not, can be very cool.
How do you construct the world and tonal environment of your story?
Research is important. You want to be sure your characters are acting and speaking and dressing in a way that is believable for the time period.
As for the tone, it’s a balancing act. On the surface, A Death-Struck Year is a dark story. There’s war and influenza. Bodies are piling up everywhere. It rains a lot. I had to remind myself that there was light as well as dark. A loving family, true friendships, incredible bravery. It was a tricky thing, trying to balance the story’s gravity with the happier moments that come even during hard times.
Which is easier to write: The first line or the last line?
I wrote the final line without even thinking about it. It was more of a, “Oh, hey, I just wrote the last line.” The opening paragraph, on the other hand, was rewritten a thousand times.
What is your favorite chapter or scene you’ve written recently?
There’s a scene where the main character has to stay in a boarding school and she’s not happy about it. It was fun to write, because all I had to do was remember my year as a college freshman in the dorms. I’m not a fan of communal living. I think that comes across quite clearly.
Which one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light is fantastic. It’s about a girl who dreams of leaving her small town and going off to college despite enormous pressure not to.
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you sat down to write your novel?
I think it’s good I was ignorant. If I’d known how much work was involved, or how many drafts I actually had to write, or how many times I would hear the word “no” before I finally heard a “yes,” I would have just sat down and cried. I would have quit before I’d even started. And then I would have gone to look for a real job.
Do you have things you need in order to write?
Just coffee, plenty of it.
What are you working on now?
A historical fantasy for young adults. I’m in the very early stages.
Finally: Would you rather be a book, or a computer
A book! Always.
About ‘A Death-Struck Year’:
In the grip of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, not even the strong survive.
The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast–but Cleo Berry knows it is a world away from the safety of her home in Portland, Oregon. Then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode–and into a panic.
Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she cannot ignore the call for help. In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history, and leaves readers asking: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?
A Death-Struck Year will be released on March 4, 2014, but enter our giveaway for a chance to read it before anyone else! This giveaway will end on Friday, Sept. 13 at 11:59 pm, and is open to readers in the USA.