Sharing the joy of children’s books

Alyssa Sheinmel

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Regular readers of Gobblefunked will know we were recently impressed with Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel, a candid account of one young teen’s experiences after a tragic accident. Well, on the eve of the book’s publication in the UK and Ireland we got to chat to Alyssa Sheinmel about Faceless and how she got her start in the industry.

1. Alyssa, we absolutely fell in love with Faceless — congratulations on writing such a beautiful story. What inspired you to write it?

First of all, thank you so much! I’m so glad you love Faceless. It’s a story I wanted to tell for a long time. In fact, a while before my first book was published back in 2010, I began drafting some notes for a book about a girl who got into an accident that changed her face forever, who would discover how much of who she was was tied to what she looked like. Soon, I had pages of notes tucked away in the ‘ideas’ folder on my desktop.

A few years passed, and I kept coming back to this idea — but I was never quite ready to start writing, never quite sure how I wanted to tell this story.

So, when my American editor Emily Seife approached me about writing the story of a girl who’d survived a horrific accident, a girl for whom a face transplant was her best hope at having a normal life, I was immediately intrigued. I know it sounds corny, but I honestly felt like it was meant to be, like this was the story I’d been waiting to write.

2. There are lots of young aspiring authors out there who love hearing about an author’s road to publication. Tell us, how your first story become a book?

I had a pretty traditional road to publication: I wrote a draft of a novel, got notes from some very generous friends who offered to read it, revised it a few times and then began querying literary agents to represent it. When I signed with an agent, she submitted my book to several publishers and eventually we found a home for it.

But I think my experience was a little bit unusual because I’d been working in the publishing industry since I graduated college — first as an assistant to a literary agent and then in the marketing department at Random House Children’s Books. I think I was very lucky to have had a background in the industry before my own stories began to get published — I knew what to expect (and what not to expect!), and I had very supportive friends and colleagues.

3. As a child and teenager, what were your favourite books and why?

The first books I ever really loved were Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. I even wrote my college admissions essay about those books, because they were the books that turned me into a reader and being a reader is such a huge part of who I am.

I also loved (and continue to love) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and everything by Frances Hodgson Burnett. As a teenager, I loved Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby. I also loved reading memoirs about young women like Prozac Nation and Wasted.

4. Literature is exploding with talent these days. In your opinion, which authors are the ones to watch in 2016?

Oh my goodness, what a tough question! There’s so much to look forward to in 2016; my ‘to-read’ list is growing longer by the second. In addition to new books, I’m also big on re-reading some of my favorite books. Each year, I try to find the time re-read Pride and Prejudice as well as the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings series.

5. Writing is often a very lengthy process. What is your writing process like? Do you stick to a schedule or only write when inspiration strikes? Do you listen to music or need complete silence? Tell us all!

I like to give myself a schedule. I set myself with a goal — usually one chapter a day — and I tend to write mostly in the mornings. (Most days, I try to reach my word-count-goal by noon.) Of course, inspiration might strike at any hour of the day, so I always carry around a notebook (or my phone) so I can make notes no matter where I am.

I can’t really listen to music while I’m writing — I always get the singer’s voice in my head when the voice I should be listening to is my narrator’s! But I do love having music on when I’m editing.

“I’m also big on re-reading some of my favorite books. Each year, I try to find the time re-read Pride and Prejudice as well as the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings series.”

6. Let’s talk about Faceless. The heroine goes through a horrible trauma with catastrophic results. A lot of the story happens in a hospital room. Did you have to conduct any special research in dermatology or burn victims before writing this story?

The first piece of research I read for Faceless was an article my editor gave me from a February 2012 edition of The New Yorker about a full face transplant. I’m pretty sure I underlined more of the article than I left blank! My favorite line came from a plastic surgeon, who explained that while other surgeons made you well by taking you apart — by cutting out the parts of you that are no longer functional, that are diseased, that have turned toxic — plastic surgeons make you well by putting you back together. (Of course, a version of that explanation made its way into Faceless.)

But that article was just the beginning. Soon, I was making lists of questions for very nice doctor-friends and friends-of-friends to answer. I don’t think I fully appreciated how specialised this branch of medicine was until I began my research: more than a few of the doctors I talked to didn’t even know that a face transplant was a real procedure. They thought it was something I’d made up, or at least an idea I’d gotten from a movie.

Some of Alyssa Sheinmel's books

7. Teen friendships in movies, books and TV are often fraught with tension, backstabbing and gossip. While Maisie does come across some snide remarks and gossip upon her return to school, she has some strong, positive friendships to keep her on track. How important was it to you to include these positive friendships in the tale?

Very important! I wanted Maisie to have true friends and allies; hers is such a difficult story and her friends — especially Serena and Adam — are some of the few bright spots. I think we talk a lot about toxic friendships, especially between girls — and of course, it’s very important to talk about those relationships, because they can be really damaging — but it’s almost important to talk about the friendships that stand the test of time and get us through the rough patches in our lives, about girls and women who support each other instead of turning against one another.

8. Did you come across any writer’s block while writing Faceless? If so, how did you overcome it?

My number one cure for writer’s block is reading. There are a few writers whose work always inspires me. Whenever I’m feeling blocked, I pick up a book by one of my favorite writers (Alice Hoffman, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway … it’s a long list!) and before long, I’m back at my computer, typing up notes for my story.

“I think we talk a lot about toxic friendships, especially between girls — and of course, it’s very important to talk about those relationships, because they can be really damaging — but it’s almost important to talk about the friendships that stand the test of time and get us through the rough patches in our lives …”

9. If you were ever to meet one of the characters in the book, who would you like it to be and why?
No offense to Maisie, but I think my favorite character in Faceless is Serena, Maisie’s best friend. (Though Adam and Marnie are close seconds.) Serena just exudes positive energy, and she’s such a loving and loyal friend — the kind of person I’d love to have in my life!

10. Can you give us a sneak peak into what you’re currently working on and what’s in store for all of your readers?

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl and The Awakening of Sunshine Girl. I have a few ideas percolating at the moment — I’m honestly not sure what’s going to come next! I’m also wrapping up the second book in a series I co-author with the lovely and talented Paige McKenzie called The Haunting of Sunshine Girl. The second book in the series, The Awakening of Sunshine Girl, publishes soon. We can’t wait for fans to read it!

If you haven’t yet, read our review of Faceless here — it really is very good — or you can find out more about Alyssa Sheinmel on her website.

Faceless is published by Chicken House and available now. 

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Gobblefunked

Books, glorious books! That’s what Gobblefunked is all about: sharing some of our favourite books and hearing about some of yours! Postings by Anne and Linda.

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