Sonya Mukherjee shares her inspiration for “Gemini”


A few years ago, I watched a documentary about Abigail and Brittany Hensel, twin sisters who are conjoined in a side-to-side position, sharing just two arms and two legs. At the time, they were high school students living in Minnesota. The documentary showed quite a few different aspects of their lives, from the medical concerns when they were born to how they shopped for clothes. But through it all, there was a strong sense that despite being conjoined, these two girls were basically very typical, all-American teenagers—normal, well-adjusted, and comfortable with themselves.

Sonya Mukherjee photo

I was immediately impressed with the Hensel twins, and with their family, who clearly had done an amazing job of allowing them to become independent, confident, and well-integrated in their community. And a few years later, when Abby and Brittany starred in a reality TV series that showed them finishing college, I was, if anything, even more impressed with their transition to adulthood. They were driving a car, playing volleyball, and interviewing for teaching jobs, and they were doing it all with confidence and grace.

That first glimpse into the Hensels’ lives got me thinking a lot about their situation, and feeling very curious about what it would be like. I also found myself thinking that in many ways, Abby and Brittany seemed more like my image of regular teenaged girls than I had ever felt myself to be in my own teen years.

In adolescence, I often felt awkward, odd, and unsure of myself. I am actually a pretty average, typical person, residing in a pretty average, typical body. But unlike the Hensels, who cheerfully describe themselves as being “just like everyone else,” I never felt that I was just like everyone else. And I actually had very mixed feelings about that. While one part of me feared being too weird, another part rebelled against normalcy, feeling that I wanted to be unique, and that normalcy represented stultifying conformity and convention.

To be clear, I have not met the Hensel twins, and their documentary and reality series are all I know of them. For all I know, one or both of them may also have a complicated relationship with normalcy. I’m sure they have private thoughts and feelings that they didn’t share on camera, and I have no way of knowing what those might be. I only know the personalities that they presented to the cameras.

Those public personalities, though, form a stark contrast to the confusion of self-doubts, insecurities, and internal rebellions that I felt as an outwardly very ordinary teenager. And so, in watching them, I started to wonder: What if someone more like my teenage self—congenitally anxious about being too weird, and simultaneously chafing against the requirement to be normal—were in the situation of being a conjoined twin? What would that be like?

That question was the beginning of the inspiration for Gemini. It put me on the road to researching much more about this condition and the experiences of many different people who have lived conjoined lives. Not surprisingly, their personalities have varied a lot, and their experiences have, too.

In writing this story, I’ve tried to be true to what I’ve learned about those experiences, and to the feelings that real conjoined twins have talked about, while also creating two distinct protagonists who are not based on any specific real people—except that each of them, of course, has some of me in her.
I can only hope I’ve done justice to their story.

Gemini

Marisa Reichardt interviews Amy Spalding

Vector Blank Traffic Sign isolated on whiteAmy Spalding is the talented author of four YA novels, The Reece Malcolm List, Ink Is Thicker Than Water, Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys), and her latest, The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions). Amy joined Sixteen to Read author Marisa Reichardt to talk about her debut experience, getting from Book 1 to Book 4, and how her love of musical theatre helps shapes her stories.

Marisa Reichardt

Marisa Reichardt

Marisa: Hi Amy! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat. Because Sixteen to Read is a group of debut authors, we’d love to know more about the beginning of your writing career. Can you think back to your querying process and tell us what it was like for you? How about your first call from your agent, Kate Testerman?

 

Amy Spalding

Amy Spalding

Amy: I was terrified of the querying process since I had spent about six months leading up to querying researching it. I kept seeing tiny percentages of partials and fulls actually requested, so I figured I was signing myself up for a hopeless venture. I am very delicate and thin-skinned so I was not in any way looking forward to the deluge of rejections I pictured zapping themselves toward me. Then I began the process and, very quickly, received my first rejection, and I realized 1) I was fine, and 2) the process worked! And then, not too many days later, I received a partial request from my top agent pick, Kate Testerman! I couldn’t believe it.

To save time, I won’t go through every detail, but the short version is that I ended up revising my manuscript based on notes from another agent, and it prolonged the process a bit. Luckily it must have gone well, because I was offered representation! I was in shock but my call with Kate went extremely well, and I knew nearly right away she was definitely the agent for me. She was friendly and I assumed we’d get along well, but more importantly she knew the business, had connections, and had smart notes on the manuscript. Sometimes, honestly, I still can’t believe it.

Marisa: Do you have a day job or are you a full-time author?

Amy: I have a day job. I am a big believer in the day job! It has health insurance! And different things work for different people, but for me, it is very important to leave my apartment every day and have to put on clothes that aren’t t-shirts and sweatpants and talk to people who are not my pets. Sometimes I hear people worry aloud that you’re not a “real writer” if you still have a dayjob, but “real writers” come in all varieties.

Marisa: You are involved in improvisational comedy in Los Angeles. Have you found ways that improv has influenced your writing?

Amy: Absolutely! I think improv helps you get better at making decisions and justifying them, because that’s what all improv scenes are. You’re literally making things up and then justifying them with your subsequent moves. I think it makes you more open to changing scenes as you write them, v. how you initially pictured them. I also think improv teaches you to start as late in a scene as possible and to get out on a high note, which hopefully can make you tighten your writing more and learn to self-edit more on the page. I think it teaches you just how creative you can be out of nowhere, which means with writing when you actually have time to think you can bring even MORE to it.

Marisa: Music tends to play a big role in everything you write. Do you have a musical background? Band? Theater?

Amy: I played piano and sang in choir when I was a kid and teen, and play around with the guitar a little. I really wanted to get into musical theater but growing up I felt like, unless you were societal-conventionally BEAUTIFUL or had one of those voices that STOPPED TRAFFIC you might as well never try. And since that wasn’t me I just didn’t. In recent years I’ve really regretted not putting myself out there more, which is something I really discovered doing improv, because I love being on stage. This is one reason I had a one-woman cabaret show last year, to let myself live that dream for one night! So even though this wasn’t exactly my background, I have so much love and enthusiasm for it, I love writing characters who’re living it.

Marisa: Can you share your writing routine? And has it changed over the years as your writing career has developed?

Amy: I’m not sure I really have a routine. Or if I do, it changes day by day, even minute by minute. I’ve outlined, I’ve written as I’ve gone, I’ve ended up with first drafts so messy I have to fix them before even a friend sees them, and I’ve written first drafts that go almost untouched straight to my agent. I write during pieces of free time, and I also write when I’ve carved out chunks of my day specifically for it. I think I expected my process to really get fine-tuned the more books I’ve written, but each book is its own thing, and I sort of have to find my way to each one anew.

Marisa: Does one of your books have a very special place in your author heart? If so, why?

Amy: The Reece Malcolm List was a book that was a part of my life for many years before its publication, because in many ways it was the book that taught me how to write a book. I’m so glad it ended up being my debut novel because I wanted it to have this really special place in my life.

Marisa: Do you have any advice to those going the traditional publishing route?

Amy: Be patient; this business takes forever. (Except when your copy edits are due.) This is a marathon, not a sprint, but since running is HORRIBLE, let’s say it’s a marathon of eating nachos, not a sprint of eating nachos. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking everyone else; focus on your own path. You’ll get there.

Marisa: Your fourth novel just hit shelves. Can you talk about similarities and differences between putting Book 1 out into the world versus Book 4?

 Amy: Putting out Book 4 is way more chill. I recommend it! I still care deeply about this book and about it finding readers, but I’ve done this before! I know I can come out alive! So it’s much easier now in so many ways. But, again, each book is its own thing! So I still have my own very specific wishes and dreams about readers loving Jules and Alex and this story, the way I’ve wanted this for the characters in all of my books. And when I hear from readers, it still means as much each and every single time. It’s like the newness of that refuses to wear off.

Marisa: We’d love to hear more about your newest release THE NEW GUY (AND OTHER SENIOR YEAR DISTRACTIONS). What should our readers know about this next amazing book of yours?

NewGuy jkt des.1.inddAmy: My main character Jules has been described as “a teenage Leslie Knope” and “a nice Paris Geller” which I think tells you what you need to know about her. But also! Cute dogs! A former boyband member! Descriptions of donuts! And of course lots of kissing.

Amazon,   Barnes & NobleIndiebound

 

 

 

Lightning Round Questions:

 

  1. Your favorite time to write?  WHENEVER I CAN! When it’s flowing easily, that is my favorite time.
  2. Favorite place to write?  WHEREVER I CAN! (Sense a theme?) I write a lot on my couch but I’m also in favor of coffeeshops and lunchbreaks at my desk.
  3. Favorite writing snack?  I can’t really snack while I write so I’m usually drinking water or chai.
  4. Last book you read?  Robin Talley’s wonderful What We Left Behind.
  5. Favorite book?  BOOK? SINGULAR???? Fun Home, Middlesex, A Summer to Die, A Little Life, Borrowed Time, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, The Secret History, Wild, the Betsy-Tacy series, When You Reach Me.
  6. If you could live in a fictional world, what world would it be?  Well, not the Hunger Games world because I’d get killed immediately trying to snag a Diet Coke at the Cornucopia.
  7. If you could be a character from a book for a day, who would you be?  Lola from Lola & the Boy Next Door if only just for the outfits and wigs!!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Amy! It was great to get your perspective! Be sure to look for Amy’s latest book, The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions), available wherever books are sold!

NewGuy jkt des.1.indd

 

Happy book-birthday to “Crossing the Line” by Meghan Rogers!

CROSSING THE LINEThe Sixteen To Read sisters would like to wish a very happy book-birthday to CROSSING THE LINE by Meghan Rogers!

If Jason Bourne were a teenaged girl…

Jocelyn Steely was kidnapped as a child and raised in North Korea as a spy. When her agency sends her to the U.S. to infiltrate the very group her parents once worked for, Jocelyn jumps at the chance to turn double agent and finish off her kidnappers once and for all. She convinces the head of the American spy agency to trust her, but it’s not quite as simple as that: Jocelyn has to fight the withdrawal symptoms from the drug that the North Koreans used to keep her in line, and her new fellow spies refuse to trust their former adversary. Worst of all, there might be some new information to uncover about her parents – if she even wants to find out.

Here’s what some of us are saying about this kick-ass spy novel featuring a teenage girl heroine.


Michelle Cross

What a thrilling read! I was hooked from the start and couldn’t put it down. I loved Jocelyn and the whole cast of characters (looking at you, Travis!); they were so much more than I expected. If you like stories with intensity and high stakes, be sure to pick this up! –Michelle Andreani, author of THE WAY BACK TO YOU


crossingtheline2In Crossing the Line Meghan Rogers creates a teen heroine who puts her integrity first, beyond all of the men, boys and institutions that want to control her. Jocelyn Steely is a powerful role model for YA readers of all genders to look up to. –Jennifer Bardsley, author of GENESIS GIRL


jenn di Crossing

As Jocelyn struggles to come to terms with her past and gain acceptance in her new organization, Rogers creates an undercover world so realistic that I could easily picture every step of this thrilling adventure. –Jennifer DiGiovanni, author of MY SENIOR YEAR OF AWESOME


 

Laurie cross

As a heroine, Jocelyn is a total badass. I don’t just mean that because she’s a highly trained spy who literally kicks ass—she struggles with serious inner demons and has more emotional baggage than most people who live a whole lifetime. I totally loved her relationship with Scorpion, which was fraught with tension—at first, just distrust, then some intense chemistry. –Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, author of FIRSTS


ORDER NOW: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  Books-A-Million,  Indiebound, and more!

 

Say hello to “Poppy Mayberry, The Monday!”

FINAL COVER WITH BLURB (1)

Over here at Sixteen To Read, we are beyond-the-moon excited to share the gorgeous cover of Poppy Mayberry, The Monday, by Jennie K. Brown.

What if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday”? In the quirky town of Nova, all of this is normal, but one thing is not—Poppy Mayberry. As an almost-eleven-year-old Monday, she should be able to pass notes in class or brush her dog, Pickle, without lifting a finger. But her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that’s not hard enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send her to remedial summer school to work on her powers! It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday.

– Coming September 13, 2016 from Tantrum Books!

Add to Goodreads or preorder on Amazon.

UNDERWATER Makes Her Debut in the UK

We are thrilled to announce the release day of Underwater by the ridiculously talented Marisa Reichardt. Lucky UK residents get this gorgeous, sparkly book decorating their bookstores today.

  1. Breathe
  2. You are okay
  3. You are not dying
  4. YOU NEED THIS BOOK (okay, that’s not on the jacket, but still)

Feast your eyes on this beauty and tell all your friends across the pond!

UW

UK Release: THE GIRL WHO FELL

Today is the UK release for THE GIRL WHO FELL and we couldn’t be more excited that more people will be able to read this important book.

BookRiot calls this debut “a gripping story of manipulation…a shoo-in for one of the best reads this year.”

School Library Journal writes, “Parker’s powerful cautionary tale highlights a terrifying reality for many teens. Zephyr’s story outlines warning signs that may be a lifesaver to others in similar situations. VERDICT-An invaluable addition to any collection. (*STARRED REVIEW* January 1, 2016)

We know you’ll agree. Pick up your copy today wherever books are sold!
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