Swanky Seventeener Heather Fawcett spoke with Rebecca Podos, whose contemporary YA mystery was just published by Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as troubled waters.
When Imogene is seventeen, her father, now a famous author of medical mysteries, strikes out in the middle of the night and doesn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. She decides to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of her father’s books to track down a woman she’s never known, in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Podos is a graduate of the Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, where she won the M.F.A. Award for Best Thesis. Her fiction has been published in Glimmer Train, Glyph, CAJE, Paper Darts, Bellows American Review, and Smokelong Quarterly. Past Awards include the Helman Award for Short Fiction, the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Prize for Young Adult Writers, and the Hillerman-McGarrity Scholarship for Creative Writing. She works as a YA and MG agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston. She’s represented by the excellent Lana Popovic. You can find her at rebeccapodos.com.
BUILDING A ‘MYSTERY’
What inspired you to write “The Mystery of Hollow Places”?
My inspiration for HOLLOW PLACES actually began with my day job as a YA and MG literary agent, where I was on the hunt for a mystery. I’ve always adored the genre, in part because, as Imogene says in the book, you know that whatever burning questions you have, they’ll be answered if you just hang in there till the last page. That’s such a satisfying narrative when you think about it! So then, I was looking for something more specific in this book: a detective who truly believes in that comforting narrative structure, to the point where she uses it as a guide to navigate her own story. But as she goes along, real life intrudes, challenging what she thinks she knows about mysteries and about herself as well.
And because I’d fallen in love with this pretty particular idea, in the end, I thought I’d write the book myself. So that’s what I tried to do.
What was your writing process like?
I guess I’d describe my process as … plodding. I had this concept, and then my main character, my “detective” Imogene Scott, and a vague idea of the major plot points. Armed with these and no actual idea of how to write a book, I wrote a sentence. Next, I deleted it and wrote a different, maybe-very-slightly better sentence. I finished the paragraph, then deleted that and wrote a maybe-very-slightly better paragraph. So it went with the first chapter, a quarter of the book, one half. By the time I’d lumbered across the finish line nine months later, it was technically a first draft. But it was a draft involving countless rewrites and tons of rearranging along the way, so I felt pretty good about it.
How did you find your agent?
I’m extremely lucky because I knew my agent, the wondrous Lana Popovic, before I wrote the book. We were in grad school together at Emerson, and at the exact same time, we started at two different agencies in Boston, representing the same genres. We’d talk about the books we were working on, and because she writes YA too (her debut novel comes out in ’17!) we’d talk a little about our own projects. She asked me to send her the beginning of HOLLOW PLACES. Miracle of miracles, she liked it. Signing with Lana was a no-brainer; she’s a sharp business women, a smart editor, an amazing support system, and like me, she’s totally and completely in love with Young Adult literature.
What were some of your favourite books as a teenager, and why?
It wasn’t that long ago (I swear) but even when I was a teenager, there weren’t too many books marketed specifically as YA. I always loved a post-apocalypse/pre-apocalypse, so 1984 and Brave New World and On the Beach were in rotation (when I was nineteen I added in A Brief History of the Dead, still a favorite.) I liked Stephen King, who taught me to love horror, and read every book of his shelved at the Torrington Public Library. I started the whole Tomorrow series by John Marsden in middle school and kept reading—it’s about these Australian teens waging guerilla war on an invading army. I adored it because in reading, I felt truly respected as a teenager. The novels were thoughtful, morally complex, and dealt in very real consequences in their investigation of life, death, sex, survival, trauma and love.
Oh, and of course, Harry Potter, because … because Harry Potter, you know?
LIGHTNING ROUND QUESTIONS
Favorite writing snack/beverage?
You can’t go wrong with a good writing cheese.
Strangest place you’ve ever travelled to?
Maybe Harajuku? Strange, yet amazing—I felt like a muggle among wizards.
Katniss or Hermione?
Surprise: it’s Hermione! She’s brilliant, passionate, has inflatable hair, is willing to be obnoxious, and never apologizes for who she is or what she wants. Hermione Granger was the hero preteen-me needed, and sometimes still needs.
It depends! If I had to listen to one musician forever, it’d probably be Tom Waits or Joni Mitchell. Bieber’s been on a hot streak lately, though …
Writing in a coffee shop or in a quiet room at home?
A quiet room at home. Too many distractions otherwise. Now my greatest nemesis is Netflix.
What form would your daemon take?
I didn’t know, so I sought help—according to a super comprehensive test on Hello Quizzy, it would be a swan. But it could very well be a sloth, too.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Heather Fawcett’s Himalayan-inspired YA fantasy novel, Even the Darkest Stars, is forthcoming from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray. She earned a Master’s in English Literature from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has a background in archaeology, and drinks a lot of tea.