Paula’s debut novel, a YA contemporary, was just published by Candlewick Press. She talked about it with fellow author JC Davis. Paula is a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online author group for young adult and middle grade authors debuting this year. JC Davis rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paula Garner spends most of her time making narratives, despite being surrounded by an alarming TBR pile and a very bad cat. Her debut YA novel, Phantom Limbs, comes out from Candlewick in 2016. Paula is represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Lit, and lives in the Chicago area with her family. Website: paulagarner.com
ON ‘PHANTOM LIMBS’
JC: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Paula: A combination of things inspired Phantom Limbs. The swimming came from my real life—I was spending a lot of time at my son’s high school swim meets. The content came from trying to work out some issues from my own past. My mother lost a child before I was born (and like Mason, he was three when he died). After I had my own children, it was hard to stop reframing my whole past, hard to stop thinking about how much of what was wrong in my childhood was probably the result of my mother’s unresolved grief. Writing Phantom Limbs was a long exercise in imagining and trying to understand the multi-faceted trajectory of grief, and the many ways it manifests in all the people it touches.
JC: What was your research process and was there anything that really surprised you?
Paula: The most interesting part probably was researching amputation and phantom limb pain. I learned it is not always experienced as pain, but sometimes as other sensations, such as heat or motions or distortions in the sense of the size or length of the limb. It was much more complex than I realized. I remember a video I watched where an amputee tried to illustrate what the pain could feel like—including things like fire and vice grips. I will never forget those things.
JC: Is Phantom Limbs the book that landed you an agent? If so, can you tell us how long the writing process took, how much the book changed (or didn’t) after signing with your agent?
Paula: I wrote a couple of middle grade books before Phantom Limbs, which was my first YA, and yes, it is the book that landed me an agent. I worked on it for maybe six years before I signed with my agent. We did two rounds of revisions (trimming a whopping 25,000 words) and then out it went. It sold quickly.
JC: What is your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
Paula: Best things about being a writer: the people. The friends I’ve made. Having a great agent who is always there for me. Having a brilliant and devoted editor whom I LOVE. My critique partners. Readers! Having people I don’t even know read my book and have feelings about it. The people. The people the people the people.
Worst things: all the good things I do less of now—getting out, cooking, baking, entertaining, seeing IRL friends.
JC: What is your favorite writing spot?
Paula: My screened porch. Winters are rough. J
JC: Do you make playlists for your books (if so, is the playlist for Phantom Limbs posted anywhere?)
Paula: Generally I don’t make playlists for my books or even listen to music while I write, but songs do seem to find their way onto the pages anyway! I compiled some of the songs referenced in Phantom Limbs as part of my blog tour, and the official playlist can be found here: https://novelnovice.com/2016/09/15/phantom-limbs-paula-gardner-official-playlist-blog-tour-contest/
JC: What is your favorite book ever?
Paula: I am patently incapable of naming favorites, so I’ll tell you three books I love: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, The History of Love by Nicole Krause, and Benediction by Kent Haruf. Benediction made me cry harder than any other book in memory (except for The History of Love). 😉
JC: I know from your Twitter stream that you have a bit of a cocktail obsession. What is your favorite cocktail?
Paula: There are TOO MANY great cocktails to choose a favorite, but it would be something intense and challenging.
JC: A writing resource or writing craft book you can’t live without?
Paula: My CP, Audrey Coulthurst, is the resource I most can’t live without. J
JC: Pantser, Plotter or hybrid?
Paula: Pantster. This is due to an inability to plot. Please do not mistake it for a recommendation.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
J. C. Davis spent her childhood inventing secret worlds and finding forgotten places. Busy reading her way through the local library, she never imagined writing books of her own until one day, all grown up, she fell in love with a children’s book and decided to rediscover a few of those secret worlds she’d invented. Her debut novel, CHEESUS WAS HERE, takes place in a tiny Texas town, which really is a strange world all its own. In addition to writing, J. C. is an amateur photographer, runs a Harry Potter meet-up group and embraces all things nerdy. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, two kids, a pair of rowdy dogs, an incontinent cat, a hamster with a ridiculously long name, and two adorable hedgehogs who want to take over the world. You can find J. C. on Twitter @JCDavisAuthor, Facebook facebook, and through her website: jcdavis-author.com.