Tell us about the book.
Opal gets a dirty old suitcase for her birthday. She’s not impressed. Her grandfather tells her she’ll need it, because she’s going to live with her great aunt on Broken Shell Island. Opal wonders if her grandfather hasn’t gone senile, because Broken Shell Island is a made-up magical place that their family friend Flora Fritz writes picture books about.
What inspired the story?
At age four, my favorite book was about a witch who opened a tea house and served blueberry pancakes. I think witches have been on my mind for a long time, and the idea of magic speaks to something creative and curious inside us all, something that craves wonder.
I’ve watched so many nature documentaries, and yet I continue to be amazed by the fantastic creatures that exist all over our little planet. It’s a challenge to write fiction and make up things that are even stranger than what exists in reality, but I wanted to try.
When I thought of this girl, travelling to a magical island, I got excited about reading the story. I figured that excitement would make the writing even easier, and unlike work. (That did not happen, but it’s nice to trick yourself!)
What is your plan for the story and the characters?
My plan is for a series with the same characters, in an ongoing story. There are things touched on in the first book that are not fully explored, though the first is a stand-alone, complete story. I don’t want to spoil the story, but Broken Shell Island does not cover very much time. There is still much to tell and discover.
You pitched the book as “Anne of Green Gables meets The Wizard of Oz.” Have your other books been influenced by literature you’ve read?
I love Jonathan Franzen’s metaphors and messed-up characters. I love how Douglas Coupland incorporates pop culture and realism into his work. The narration style of Eleanor Rigby (by Coupland) influenced the style of Smart Mouth Waitress, though my book was in a completely different genre.
I read Odd Thomas not long before I wrote Zan and Swarm, and I tried to learn from the way Dean Koontz (the master!) uses suspense. For commercial women’s fiction, The Help is a great read and a perfect example of multiple mini-hooks of mystery used throughout a book.
You have written several series but they’re all different. How do you keep them organized in your mind?
The series scare me. I tape up sheets of paper and write on them with different-colored Sharpies. I also do some pretty exciting outlining in spreadsheets, but mostly I rely on my memory. I have a good memory, and now that my first drafts are closer to what I want, I don’t do as many massive “reality shifts” that fragment the story into alternate realities in my head.
I hear some people use Scrivener, but I haven’t jumped in yet. I should. But I’m one of those stubborn people who doesn’t like to change things on the computer if everything’s working.
Speaking of “my mind,” it does play funny tricks on me. I gave a character the same name as a friend, and then I later named the character’s husband with the same friend’s husband’s name. Completely unintentionally. Someone else had to point this out to me. To which I said, “Oh, good one, brain! You totally got me!”
Do you find it hard to jump from genre to genre when writing your books?
My books don’t feel like different genres to me, I guess because my style isn’t that different across them. If you look at my mix of description or backstory to action and dialog, it’s similar from book to book.
Deciding on a Point of View is always a challenge. I went omniscient with Broken Shell Island, and it’s mostly close-limited third person, with some shifts in POV and a few omniscient details. There is a LOT to play around with in omniscient. I had to rein myself in, in a way I didn’t have to with my first person stories.
My biggest struggle with this one was the length. I so, so, so wanted to write a big, thick, 100,000 word fantasy novel, but it’s coming in at around 75k. Mid-way through the first draft, I had some panic (the sleepless nights kind) because the story was drawing to its conclusion much sooner than anticipated. Finally, I bowed down and surrendered to the story, accepting the story would be the length it wanted to be, and I would not serve watered-down coffee for thirteen chapters mid-book just to meet my arbitrary word count goal.
What’s going to be your next project?
Blue Roses Aren’t Blue, another Life in Saltwater City novel. I haven’t written a single word of it yet, because I like to focus on one book at a time.
Dalya has very graciously agreed to giveaway some eBooks of Broken Shell Island.