Interview: Kentucky Author Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond is a Lexington author whose debut novel, Blackwood, launched in September. I had the pleasure of meeting her when I went to her launch party at Morris Book Shop, and she was nice enough to let me interview her for my very first HerKentucky post! First, here's a little info about her book: 

On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundred of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda Blackwood, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips Rawlings, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.

Doesn't that sound GREAT? (It is. I personally vouch for its awesome-ness, as well as that of its lovely author. I mean, it combines one of my favorite American mysteries with 1. young adult audience, 2. alchemy, and 3. KISSING. Because of course.) If you're interested in grabbing your own free, signed copy, I'm giving one away this week on my blog

And now, eight questions with Gwenda!

1. Where'd you get the idea for Blackwood? How long did it take from the time you came up with the idea to the time the book made it to the shelf?

The Lost Colony story had been rattling round in the back of my head ever since I first encountered it in elementary school. It’s a tantalizing bit of history that you breeze past in a few minutes, moving on to less mysterious topics. I’ve always loved unsolved mysteries, strange historical topics, etcetera. My husband and I were on a road trip to visit friends in Raleigh and passed a sign for Roanoke—Virginia, of course, not Roanoke Island, but something about seeing the word brought what was an almost fully-formed idea into my mind. I asked Christopher is anyone had ever done a story where there was a disappearance like the original one, but on modern day Roanoke Island. Neither of us could come up with one, and so when we got back home I started developing the idea.

And I managed about 50 pages before I stalled out, because I had no clue how I was going to link the modern mystery with the historical one. I didn’t know what solution the book would propose. I put the manuscript away and worked on other things for several years, finally returning to it a couple of years ago. This time around, I encountered a mention of John Dee, the famous (or infamous) alchemist and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, early in my research and that brought everything together.

2. I've always been fascinated with The Lost Colony, and I love that you found a way to tell a story that feels like it COULD have happened. Did using such a well-known American mystery make things easier or harder for you? How much pressure did you feel to stick to the facts?

This is an excellent question. I definitely wanted to know enough that I knew where the leaps were being made; I wanted there to be a sense of history infusing the book, and to incorporate some little-known facts. So I did do a great deal of research and reading. This being such a well-known subject made it very easy to find vastly different approaches to the history, and being a tourist destination made doing research on modern Roanoke Island easier as well. But I also was aware that by proposing a supernatural solution—by bringing fantasy into the mix—I’d be departing from reality, obviously. So that was freeing. Many of the leaps I make in the book involve the fantasy elements. And there’s a long and grand tradition of people riffing on the Roanoke Island story, using history but also speculating. The most famous example is the long-running The Lost Colony production, which made it perfect to include in the book.

3. I love Miranda and Phillips (and of course, Sidekick), Blackwood's main characters. Do you have a favorite character in the book?

So hard. I love all three of them, too. Sidekick is based on our sadly departed golden retriever George the Dog, so I have a completely sentimental attachment there. But I think Miranda ended up being my favorite to write, because it took me a while to get under her skin and figure out what she was about. And it was fun writing a character who’s into lots of nerdy things.

4. If you had to pick a theme song for Blackwood, what would it be?

Probably “Devil’s Playground” by Gram Rabbit, for reasons that will be obvious to those who read the book.

5. Tell me about your favorite writing spot. Do you have a certain routine to help you get in the mood for writing?

The closest thing I have to a routine to get me in the mood is lunchtime walks, where I listen to the playlist for whatever I’m working on. Other than that, I do most of my writing early in the morning, during lunch, or occasionally in the evenings in the back yard. The back yard is actually my favorite place to write—especially when I’m stuck, since there’s no wireless—but I don’t do it nearly often enough.

6. What's been the most rewarding part of your writing career so far?

I would definitely have to say getting to know so many wonderful book people. This includes other authors, writers of other types (bloggers, reviewers, reporters), and readers. Both YA and science fiction/fantasy have such active and enthusiastic communities. It feels very tight knit and supportive. Meeting so many wonderful new readers and booksellers and librarians (and other authors) has been the most fun part of having a book come out.

7. What's it like being an author in Lexington? 

Lexington is a secret literary hotbed, I think. We are tremendously lucky to have such a vibrant scene. There are many wonderful writers of diverse styles around here, and lots of readers to boot. I believe that Kentuckians truly value storytelling and support it, in a way that’s unusual. And just look at our thriving bookstore scene! In a time when many places are losing their independent stores, we have the venerable Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the new and just as exciting Morris Book Shop, not to mention an even newer entry The Wild Fig (owned by fab author Crystal Wilkinson), plus a Barnes and Noble, and a host of good used bookstores. Our libraries are fabulous, and the Carnegie Center is an excellent hub of literary activity. I have been completely overwhelmed by the level of support for Blackwood locally. I pause to blow kisses at Morris and Joseph-Beth and the Carnegie Center, in particular.

8. What's next for you? I know Blackwood was a standalone title. Can you tell me about the book you have coming out next year?

Happily! The Woken Gods is a bigger book than Blackwood in many ways, and should be out in July of next year. Here’s the set-up: Ten years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world. Now, in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity, a 17-year-old girl must find a mysterious missing relic and navigate intrigue involving dangerous gods to save her father. I have been known to describe it as Raiders of the Lost Ark meets American Gods, but with more teenagers.

Thanks so much for the interview!

Gwenda Bond's debut novel, Blackwood, was released in September as a launch title for the new young adult imprint Strange Chemistry. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, and guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online. She grew up in Eastern Kentucky--Jackson County, to be precise--and did her undergraduate work at Eastern Kentucky University. She also holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe (an Adair County native), and their trio of pets adopted from local rescue organizations.

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Books In Progress Conference

A couple of weeks ago, I finally utilized a gem in Lexington, The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning. As someone who has a goal to write a book but no idea if I'm on the right path, I thought the Books-in-Progress Conference sounded perfect.

The conference featured sessions for writers of all types: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, YA, and more. Bestselling author and Kentucky-native Barbara Kingsolver led the keynote session where she answered a variety of questions from the group about her inspiration, research, writing, and editing process. Literary agents Sorche Fairbank and Janet Reid were on hand to have individual sessions with authors, and also to speak about the querying process.

The sessions were fantastic and I left not only with inspiration to write, but also feeling that you don't have to be a literary whiz in order to call yourself a writer. 

The Carnegie Center offers classes both online and off throughout the year, and also provides writing mentors for consultation. If you have any interest in writing, check them out as we continue to hold Kentucky as the literary arts capital of Mid-America. (Here's a great article from Business Lexington about local authors)

Learn more about the Carnegie Center on their website. To read about more of HerKentucky's favorite Kentucky-writers, check out this post.