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Canadian-based indie author Sophie McAloon launched her debut YA novel in the United States this spring , TOP CHOICE is an exciting and thought-provoking story of first love and rebellion. It takes place in a near-future world where strongest and biggest and most ruthless has been replaced by smartest and fairest and most committed.You can check out a review by Rebecca Bryant Here
But first here is an…
Interview with Sophie McAloon
1. So Sophie McAloon Where or how did you come up with the idea for this book ?
With the powerful surge of the Time’s Up movement and focus on gender equality, I saw this renewed wave of interest in dystopian stories depicting worlds where women are suppressed or objectified and battling to come out on top. They were different stories, but often with the same formula. So I got to thinking: what if we reversed these stereotypes? What would that world look like? If, God forbid, women took our current battle for equality to a shocking extreme – how would guys handle being on the flip-side of the coin? Then I used that gender-reversal idea as a jumping board for what I felt would make a unique and engaging story. I love a good enemies-to-lovers romance, and this concept lent itself perfectly to that: a girl on the cusp of great power and a pinup boy leading a secret life as part of a rebel group trying to overthrow the matriarchal society that controls him. It makes for a complicated, fraught, but swoon-worthy romance for sure.
2. When you sit down to write do you have an idea where you are going or does it just happen as you’re sitting there? Or is it actually the Characters writing the story?
With this book (TOP CHOICE), I had a fairly specific outline drafted before I started writing. Inevitably, the characters ended up leading me down a few twisty, turny alleyways – but I was conscious of always reigning them in and keeping my focus on the story I’d set out to tell.
3. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
It’s a toss-up, for sure. The first part of Chapter 13 where Tag and Ali go for a late night swim in the sculpture garden then spend the night together was just so much FUN to write – it pretty much wrote itself. I hadn’t planned how that first “real” kiss would play out and I loved how it unfolded. But then Chapter 26 was also super exciting to write. It’s one simple page, and yet so much happens on that page. Up until this point, Ali has shared the storyline equally with Tag. And then bam! In Chapter 26, she basically announces that she is going to claim the remaining pages. We take a sharp turn and the story is no longer about Tag opening Ali’s eyes any more, it’s about her opening his eyes. His and everyone else’s too. It’s the point where Ali really comes into her own. It was a tough chapter to write though – because I knew the shorter it was, the more impact it would have. And short and concise is always harder for me!
4. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Most of it is imagination, but there are definitely shadows of my own experiences in there. For example, the struggle that Ali has with determining what constitutes a comfortable, healthy balance in a relationship. That’s something I remember going through in my first intimate relationships: deciding how much vulnerability to share; understanding that showing vulnerability can mean giving someone else power over you – but it’s also essential in gaining their trust. It’s a very scary trade-off, but it’s also what leads to the most meaningful, fulfilling relationships. It’s a fear that I have for my own daughter, for sure: that she is being raised in a time when we are so focused on telling girls to always be strong, be in control, be a leader, be utterly fearless – that she may not understand that she will never be truly happy if she doesn’t also learn to be vulnerable sometimes too. So yeah, those themes of vulnerability and power are definitely elements that I took from my own life.
5. What is your favorite quote from a book of fiction?
I could never choose just one… Also, depends on what I’m reading at any given time.
6. On that vein who would be your favorite Author? What writers influenced you?
Favorite YA authors would be Tahereh Mafi, Julie Murphy, Huntley Fitzpatrick, Katie McGarry, Marie Rutkoski, Maggie Stiefvater… I could go on! In non-fiction: Brene Brown, Oliver Sachs, David Brooks… but usually I choose non-fiction reads based on subject matter or recommendation rather than author. Same with fiction. I’ll read the gamut from Gillian Flynn to Margaret Atwood and everything in between.
7 Do you have a favorite fictional character?
Wow – so many! But if I had to pick just one, I’d go with Eeyore, I think (if a donkey counts as a character. Which he should.). There is so much personality stuffed into that soft barrelly body of his. And it’s a hard thing to do: write a grumpy, thoroughly gloomy character who is still really loveable. And relatable. The scene where Eeyore falls in the water during a game of Poohsticks in The House at Pooh Corner is still one of my favorite bits of writing ever.
8. What five words describe you?
Day-dreamer. Indecisive. Loyal. Emotional. Private.
9. What if any project are you working on now?(go ahead promote away!)
The YA dystopian manuscript I’m working on right now is about a future world where creativity has become a commodity. Kids who show creative potential early on in life are sent to The Creative Institute, where they are essentially left to run wild and free in an environment most likely to encourage pure, unfiltered creativity – and result in outlandish and awe-inspiring masterpieces that can then be sold for millions of dollars. The story is about a teen girl who has struggled her whole life to make it into the Institute but never made it in, and a boy who was raised within its walls from an early age – but was recently banished for not living up to his full potential. She is cynical, cautious and intent on keeping to herself. He is reckless, playful and not afraid to stand out. But, she soon realizes, he is also very damaged. And when he becomes the main suspect in a gruesome murder, she is not sure what is crazier: the inner working of this boy’s mind, the fact that she believes he is innocent, or the fact that she may be falling in love with him.
10. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
When you have several people give you the same criticism, it can hurt but at least it’s useful – and it gives you a pretty good idea what areas you need to work on to improve your story. But contrasting critiques essentially just cancel each other out, leaving you with nothing but a whole lot of frustration. They’re the worst! For example, you might get one editor tell you, “I loved the story and how relatable the characters were, but the dystopian world didn’t feel well developed to me” – and then get another editor tell you, “I loved how every aspect of the dystopian world was so well fleshed out, but I just couldn’t relate to the characters.” Gah! I think those are every author’s pet-peeve.
11. What has been the best compliment?
Any time someone talks to me about one of my characters as if they were a real person – I love that! It’s a sign that as a reader, they were fully immersed in a story and world that I created. It’s the best compliment because that is ultimately my main goal: to simply provide a form of escapism for a few hours.
12. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
I wrote a book several years ago that sat a little too closely at the cross-roads of several genres – which I’ve learned is a really tough sell for a first-time author. I had one agent who wanted to rep the book but asked that I do some edits to beef up the gore factor and market it as a thriller. And then another agent who was also interested but felt I needed to pull back on the thriller angle and make it more of a book-club read. In the end, I decided to just put the manuscript aside and focus instead on writing YA – which is a genre I’m much more familiar with anyway. But who knows – maybe someday I’ll revisit that thriller manuscript that’s just sitting there now collecting dust.
13. I think I know your answer but , what’s more important to you Characters or plot?
Characters, for SURE!!!
14. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m a hard-core road-tripper (as long as I have good music, I can drive for days!), and I’m a total board game nerd (some weekends, my three kids and I have been known to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner at our local board-game cafe). And obviously, I am an insatiable reader (mainly YA and non-fiction, but I also dabble in pretty much every genre).
15. How about a snippet from your book that will hook a prospective reader and make them want to read your book.
I pause by the door and turn to look back at him. He’s still sitting on the mattress with his legs bent and his muscled arms resting on his knees. He looks… perfect.
And suddenly I long for him not to ruin the illusion by going off and doing things that are so far from perfect – so far from even being right.
“Please don’t go through with it.”
I say it quickly, stumbling over the words like it’s a plea called out seconds before a damning catastrophe. But I can tell from the expression on his face that he knows exactly what I’m talking about. His eyes crinkle into a mischievous grin. “Be my guest… By all means – try and stop me.”
He says it like he’s drawling out some suggestive pickup line at a bar, sexy and provocative. He doesn’t think I’m serious. He doesn’t even believe I’ve got a plan.
The joke’s on him then.
I return the smile before walking towards the door.
“Oh, I plan on it.”
And I do.
16. What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
I think it’s probably subjective, but for me, good dialogue is THE most important thing – particularly in YA. I can love the concept of a story I’m reading, get into the storyline, and then run into a paragraph of stilted or awkward dialogue and it ruins it for me. I can’t keep reading. Good dialogue is what brings the characters to life and what makes their story believable. It’s a game-changer. In terms of must-have tools for writers, I would say arm yourself with a good collection of your favorite books on writing – and keep referring back to them: Libbie Hawker’s “Take Off Your Pants”, “On Writing” by Stephen King, “Writing Past Dark” by Bonnie Friedman, Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”, and any of the hundreds of other amazing writing books out there.
17. How did you get into writing? Is this what you always wanted to do?
I’ve always loved writing but didn’t have the guts to pursue it as an actual vocation until just a few years ago. You need to have thick skin to be a writer – be able to take a hit (and another hit, and another hit) and keep getting back up… without plunging into a sea of depression. So I think I just needed all those years to toughen up and prepare. I’m a big wuss by nature, so I’m really glad that I persevered: I’m kind of a bad-ass now : )
18. Any last thoughts for our readers?
A huge thank you to everyone who’s read TOP CHOICE! YA fans really are the best. Please drop me a
line anytime at my website: sophiemcaloon.com.
Sophie McAloon grew up in small mining towns across Quebec, where thankfully, picking after-school activities meant choosing between playing pretend in the woods, on the mountain behind the mining pits, or in someone’s back yard. Imagination reigned supreme… and a love of story-telling began.
Sophie moved to New Brunswick to attend University and fell so in love with the friendly Maritime lifestyle that she still lives there today with her amazing husband, three awesome kids, and Waldo the dog.
To find out more about Sophie or to see what projects she’s working on next, you can go to her website at www.sophiemcaloon.com