An Interview With Paula Stokes

GATU FINAL COVER 11.17.15

Title: Girl Against The Universe
Author : Paula Stokes
Genre : Young Adult, Contemporary
Publication Date : May 17th, 2016
Publisher :  HarperTeen
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Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

Today I’m so excited to be interviewing Paula Stokes, author of Liars, INC and recently, Girl Against The Universe!  Apart from being one of the coolest authors I know, she also has a super amazing book coming out this month, and I can’t wait for everyone else to be able to read it!  And if the gorgeous cover & synopsis hasn’t won you over already, check out the interview and the excerpt!

Interview

  • I love the entire plot about Maguire thinking of herself as bad luck. Most of us have moments where we think like this, but Maguire lives with this thought. How did you come up with this, and what made you write an entire story about a person like Maguire?

I actually got the idea for this story back in February of 2014 when I went on a solo vacation to Mexico. Two bad things happened during that trip—one at the beginning and one at the end—and I was the only connecting factor between the incidents. Even though I knew it was irrational, I felt guilty, like maybe if I hadn’t gone on a trip that these things might not have occurred. I came home and blogged about my feelings and it got me thinking. Two might be a terrible coincidence, but three is a pattern. What if more things had happened and what if the bad things had been even more serious? How would that have made me feel? How would that have made sixteen-year-old Paula feel? That was the genesis for the story.

I wasn’t sure if people would be able to relate to Maguire, or if they would be annoyed by her worries and self-blaming, but as the story evolved, it became more about PTSD and anxiety and fear. I feel like even if a lot of readers can’t relate to Maguire’s specific issues, they’ll be able to relate in a more general way. Like you said, we all feel like bad luck sometimes.

  • I can’t even imagine what your search history must look like! Can you tell me about the strangest superstitions people believe in that you came across?

Believe it or not, the most unusual good luck ritual I found came from India—certain mosques in Karnataka and Maharashtra apparently perform a yearly baby-dropping ceremony. Imams drop small children from the balcony of a shrine onto a blanket stretched out below that is held taut by men. People believe that dropping the children will assure them good luck, good health, and prosperity. Several groups have tried to get this practice banned, so I’m not sure if it’s still being done.

I also learned more about common Western superstitions. For example, I didn’t realize the reason people throw salt over their left shoulder for luck is because that’s believed to be the side that the devil peeks over and throwing salt in his eyes will blind him. I also learned a lot about faerie legends, though that angle ended up getting cut in revision.

  • Without spoiling anything, can you tell us about your favorite scene to write in GATU, and why you loved it!

There are so many scenes that I really liked writing. The first one that comes to mind is a scene between Maguire and her stepdad, Tom, where he discovers her crying late at night and they have a talk. This scene is special to me because I didn’t write it until revisions. My editor asked me to further develop the Maguire-Tom dynamic, and this is one of a couple scenes that I came up with, and it’s now one of my favorites. I also especially enjoyed writing the scene at Joshua Tree National Park because it’s such a desolate but beautiful place and the scene at the amusement park because I really enjoy the character interactions there.

  • Maguire is burdened with so many insecurities with her superstitions. And understandably, because she’s seen more tragedy than most of us see in a lifetime. But apart from that, she has normal, teenage-y stuff to deal with, the type we’re all familiar with. And you’ve written those in such a relatable, real If you were to give any advice to teens struggling with living happy lives, what would it be?

 Oh man. Your teenage years are not the best years of your life, so quit listening when old people tell you that. As a teen, you have all these feelings and questions and desires, but your power is so limited because you have to go to school and listen to your parents, etc. There is so much waiting for you in your twenties and thirties, so don’t lose hope. Just embrace the possibilities of youth and explore who you are and who you want to be, so that when you do have more freedom you’ll have figured out some of the hardest stuff already 🙂

  • Where Liars, INC was dark and gritty, GATU is fluffier with a serious side. Was it easy switching gears like that?

 I generally work on two or three stories in any week, so it never feels like switching gears to me. There are definitely times when it’s easier to work on my latest dark and gritty book or my latest warm and fluffy contemp, and whenever possible I try to work on the story that is coming naturally. But deadlines are deadlines so sometimes I gotta do what I gotta do, you know? 😉

  • What are your plans for the rest of 2016? Is a GATU companion novel on the way? ;D

Ha. I honestly don’t even have an idea for a GATU companion novel. I did have ideas for both The Art of Lainey and Liars, Inc., but the publisher passed on them—probably for the best as drafting the Vicarious sequel has reminded me just how much I love standalones. This year I’ll be revising a less-fluffy contemp book for HarperTeen, revising the Vicarious sequel for Tor Teen, and revising my fluffy new adult romance for publication in late 2016 or early 2017. I’ll be pitching new ideas to both publishers this summer and hopefully getting started writing 2018 releases in the fall, but I’ve also got an adult murder mystery idea I might work on if any downtime presents itself 😉 Thanks for your support and for having me on your blog, Rhea 😀

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EXCERPT

Chapter 1–Session #1

There’s a thing that sometimes happens in your brain when you’re the only survivor of a horrific accident. Part of you is happy because you’re alive, but the rest of you is devastated. Then the sad part beats up the happy part until nothing is left, until all you feel is terrible sorrow for the people who didn’t make it. And guilt. Guilt because you wonder if the Universe made a mistake. Guilt because you know you’re not any better than those who died.

This is what my therapist says, anyway. Since I don’t feel like talking, he’s talking for both of us. I hate people like that, people who think they know what you need to hear, people who think they can read your mind, anticipate your responses. “We’re not all the same,” I want to shout. But I don’t, because if I talk, then he wins. And I have lost enough already.

“Tell me about the car accident.” Dr. Leed leans toward me.

I glance down at my lap. He doesn’t need me to tell him about that. He spent almost an hour “just chatting” with my mom. I’m sure she filled him in on the gory details.

It happened almost five years ago, when I was eleven. My dad, Uncle Kieran, my brother Connor, and I were heading home from a day of rock climbing at a park outside of San Luis Obispo, where I grew up.

Connor and I were fighting about this boy who lived down the street when I saw the giant truck veer dangerously into our lane. The driver must have lost control of his rig as he navigated the twisting mountain road. Dad tried to swerve onto the shoulder at the last second, but we were driving along the side of a hill and there was just a few feet of concrete and a flimsy guardrail. The back of the truck clipped us and sent both vehicles straight through the guardrail and down the incline. Our car flipped end over end and landed in a rocky ravine. Dad, Uncle Kieran, and Connor were dead before the paramedics could get to us.

I didn’t even get hurt.

I was still in the ER when the newspaper people found me. They called me the miracle kid. I’ll never forget how they buzzed around, asking prying questions about what I remembered and why I thought I got spared. I had just lost three members of my family and these people wanted to talk about the luck of the Irish.

My mom tried to shield me from the reporters, but eventually she gave up and posed with me for a few pictures so they would go away. She said focusing on how I was alive would help everyone cope with losing my dad and uncle, two of the town’s most decorated firefighters. It didn’t help me cope. All I could think was that I should have been nicer to Connor. He was just teasing me. How can something feel so crucial in the moment and then seem completely trivial after the fact?

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Paula Stokes 2 web res

Paula Stokes is the author of several young adult novels, most recently Liars, Inc., which received a starred review from Kirkus. Paula has two new YA novels releasing in 2016 and two more scheduled for 2017. When she’s not writing (rare) she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and having adventures in faraway lands. Paula lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find her online at www.authorpaulastokes.com.

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