The Compulsive Reader: Interview with Nancy Werlin and a Contest!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview with Nancy Werlin and a Contest!

Nancy Werlin is the author of the recently released Extraordinary (read my review here)! Besides being an utterly charming and magical and thoughtful book, it was also an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month! She has also written Impossible, another book I adored! (Read my review of that one here!)

Nancy was kind enough to swing by and answer a few of my questions!

TCR: What led you to incorporate the Rothschild family into your story?

NW: The answer to this question begins with my decision to make Phoebe, the heroine of Extraordinary, Jewish. Of course, Jewish characters are not exactly plentiful in fantasy fiction. Originally, all I was thinking about was making some room at the table for readers who, like me as a teenager, loved reading fantasy but sometimes wondered why there was never anyone like them in it.

But then, as I worked on the book, I discovered that the decision had put me into a strange place of vulnerability and fear. And so a second and thoroughly emotional choice quickly followed: “I’ll not only make Phoebe Jewish, I’ll make her a Rothschild! I’ll make her a member of the most storied Jewish family in modern history!”

I wanted to protect her, I now see. It was pure instinct, because she was going where Jews didn’t go, and where they were—it seemed to my subconscious, which was suddenly demanding to be in charge—not known, not understood, and not welcome. I felt as if I could protect her somewhat, by making her a member of such a powerful, real family. Little did I know how this decision would change the entire shape of the novel, leading me into the family history of the Rothschild family and the discovery of the extraordinary/ordinary theme.

TCR: Was the internal struggle that Phoebe has between ordinary and extraordinary something you planned out at the beginning, or did it take shape as you wrote?

NW: The extraordinary/ordinary theme took shape during my first draft. For better or worse, I am not the kind of writer who does a lot of planning in advance. I throw ingredients that interest me into my first draft – in this case, faeries, Phoebe being Jewish and a Rothschild, a powerful and emotional friendship between two girls – and then I see what happens as I write forward.

It fascinates me how reliably something interesting does happen. In this case, an important strand of the novel ended up revolving around Phoebe’s feelings about her extraordinary family, and whether she rightfully belonged among them. Self-esteem issues popped up everywhere.

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing Extraordinary?

Writing the scenes in which Ryland undermines Phoebe’s self-confidence and self-esteem, trying to get her to admit that she is ordinary . . . that she is nothing . . . This was so hard to write, both emotionally and technically. I had to understand in my bones exactly how, step by step, it happened.

And I do understand. The most uncomfortable thing about being undermined in a relationship is how the very things we have to do to make a relationship work (compromise, meet the other party halfway) give the other person a claim on our psyches. Everyone gives away a bit of themselves, in order to keep a relationship going. You *have* to, in order to be close to other people. In a healthy relationship, this is an exchange, and this is what Phoebe expects. But because Ryland is Ryland, instead he uses what she gives to undermine her. (Readers who pick up Extraordinary and initially see Ryland as a romantic figure will certainly be shell-shocked by what happens at this point.)

But I had to allow the reader to feel really uncomfortable; to feel how beaten down Phoebe is; to feel the reality of it. I did my best to illustrate exactly how this process can work on an inexperienced young girl.
The response some people have to abuse is that if you have it all together, it can't happen to you. The flip side of that attitude, of course, is that if it *does* happens to you, it's your own fault, you’re weak, you should be ashamed. This attitude lets people dismiss the uncomfortable idea that abuse can be complicated and insidious.

It’s been a bit of a shock for me to realize that some readers blame Phoebe for what happens, and call her weak. And it’s also been interesting. I find myself thinking about the news stories about the singer Rihanna, and how many teenagers said they thought she somehow “deserved” to have her boyfriend beat her. The dynamic is similar, isn’t it?

TCR: What was the easiest part about writing Extraordinary?

NW: I so very much enjoyed writing about the landscape of Faerie, figuring out what my faeries looked like, mapping out their connection with nature, and then trying to describe all of it as luxuriously as possible.
And while it was not easy, exactly, I enjoyed writing about the friendship between Phoebe and Mallory. It’s the heart of the book, of course, because Extraordinary is in the end a story of friendship, not a story of romance. Or rather, it is friendship-romance, not romantic-romance.

TCR: Are you planning on writing more books similar to Impossible and Extraordinary?

NW: Yes, I am. I’m working on Unbreakable right now.

TCR: What are some books you read recently you'd like to recommend to your readers?

NW: For realistic YA, I just read and enjoyed The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel, and All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab. For adult fiction, I am among those who loved Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. For nonfiction, I was riveted by Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. Of course I read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins just as fast as ever I could. And I just reread Sunshine by Robin McKinley, which is an vampire favorite of mine from a few years ago.

TCR: I loved Sunshine! I read it for the first time this past summer. (Click here to read my review!) Thank you very much, Nancy!

And...if you haven't already picked up this book (what are you waiting for?), here is a chance to win your own copy! Two winners will each receive a copy of Extraordinary--just fill out the form below!


Charlotte said...

Thanks for the great interview, and the contest! I want to read this one rather badly....

Jen said...

I really enjoyed reading the interview!

Thanks for the giveaway!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

I am such a goober. I left a long post about the awesomeness of this book but accidentally entered it into the address form above. (sigh)

What I tried to say in the other post is that this book is, well, Extraordinary. There's lots fascinating about it but the one aspect that stood out for me was the unflinching look at how one character manipulates a girl to wear her down, bringing her confidence crashing down too. It made me think a real and popular trend in books and websites for boys and men that gives "how-to's" on that very process. It's called "negging" (I am not making this up) and it teaches boys/men how to insult a girl in such a way that she is thrown emotionally off-balance, and therefore, easier to manipulate. To watch a character to that very thing in this book is unsettling but also powerful. I will be sharing this book with my daughter and (hopefully) discuss the subtle (and not so subtle) ways people undermine others in order to get what they want...

latishajean said...

Great giveaway thank you so much for the chance ,this book sounds so good!

Jessy said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, Nancy. I love hearing about books that are author favorites.