Log in

No account? Create an account
05 May 2010 @ 01:55 am
Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready, author of SHADE  

Today I’m thrilled to interview Jeri Smith-Ready, whose debut YA, SHADE, was released yesterday.  SHADE features a girl with a dead boyfriend in a world in which teenagers can see ghosts.  Jeri already has many fans from her previous adult novels, including the urban fantasy Wicked Game series, but I predict that SHADE will win her a huge following among YA fantasy fans as well.

SHADE is about a world exactly like ours, except that everyone 16 and under can see ghosts.  Do you think of the book as happening in the near-future?  Or do you think of the setting as being NOW, except with this one change?

It's definitely now, or now-ish.  I mention contemporary bands, and other than the ghost-related technology like the BlackBox, technology is pretty much the same (phones, video games, etc.).

I loved the little world-building details in your book – like the fact that ghosts don’t like red, but because of that teenagers know that wearing red marks them as under 16, so they have to choose between getting into clubs and avoiding attacks by ghosts.  And in the meantime, red has become the most popular clothing color marketed to teens, and the main character sees it as a boring color.  Did you plan these details all out in advance?  Or did they just come to you as you wrote?  (And as a side question: Why RED?)

The color concept is based on the visible light spectrum, though I don't specifically mention it in the book.  The ghosts are violet, which is the highest-energy light, while the shades are probably in the ultraviolet range and therefore appear black or invisible to human eyes.  Red is at the other end of the visible light spectrum, so there's a (super)natural repellant effect to the ghosts.

Not coincidentally, red corresponds to the first chakra in traditional Indian medicine.  The first chakra is supposed to be located at the base of the spine and represents life and the physical world (and sex).  Violet corresponds to the seventh chakra, which is the top of the head and represents pure thought.  So they are naturally opposed.

I had this figured out, and had already chosen obsidian as the anti-ghost material because I read that ghost-hunters wear it to ward off evil spirits.  Then I found out that obsidian corresponds to the color red AND the first chakra.  Cool, huh?  I love happy world-building accidents.

Music and the music business play a role in SHADE, as well as in some of your other books.  Were you secretly a rock star before you became an author?  Are you STILL a rock star by night?

I wish!  When I was a kid, I used to stand in front of my sofa (the audience) and sing into a hairbrush along with Pat Benatar and the Go-Go's (not at the same time--heh, can you imagine?).  Sadly (or maybe fortunately) my only connection to music is as a fan.  However, I once played a rock star onstage in college, as Crow in Sam Shepard's TOOTH OF CRIME.  Still one of the highlights of my life.

You published several adult novels before SHADE, both urban fantasy and high fantasy.  What made you decide to write a YA novel this time around?

I started my first YA in 2003 before I sold my high fantasy trilogy (ASPECT OF CROW).  I kept working on the YA over the next few years and finally finished it in 2006.  A sequel to my 2001 urban fantasy REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL, it featured the daughters of fallen angels Lucifer and Beelzebub as high school seniors.  When I finally had time in 2008 to revise it for submission, I found that the second half was awesome, but the first half was terrible.  The main characters were totally unsympathetic, even for half-demons.  

Meanwhile, the idea for the ghost world had been percolating in my head for about two years, but with no main character in mind (and besides, I know zilch about the law, so that was a dead end, no pun intended).  When I decided to make the main character a teenager who worked at the law firm after school, everything suddenly clicked.  I was much more excited about this idea than the demon one, so during the summer between drafts of my second vampire novel, BAD TO THE BONE, I put together the proposal for what became SHADE.

Sorry, that was a really long answer!  Maybe I should just say, "I dunno, I thought it would be fun." ;-)

Some ideas just work better for me with teen characters and others with adults.  Right now, I have the beginnings of a new idea that hasn't decided which it wants to be.  

Were there any notable differences between the process of writing, editing, and selling adult books, vs. doing the same for a YA book?

The writing process was the same as it is for my adult books:

1. Set unrealistically high word count goals.
2. Meet those goals for roughly two weeks.
3. Burn out.  Panic.  Despair.
4. Reexamine plot, make changes to the outline, and move on with a more realistic deadline.
5. Finish filthy first draft and send to critique partners, praying they don't wonder which hole my talent crawled into to die.
6. Do massive overhaul second draft.  This is where the real writing happens for me, where I discover the true story.
7. Submit to editor.

All of my editors have been phenomenal, but Annette Pollert, who edits the SHADE series for Simon Pulse, has blown me away.  We did a "global edit," where I revised the big-picture issues, and then we did a line edit, where she had me wring maximum power out of each sentence.  I loved having an editor who is as much of a perfectionist as I am, and I'm a better writer now because of her.  No exaggeration.

That’s awesome. My fabulous editor also definitely made me into a better writer!

Okay, last question:  I noticed a lot of the “legal” stuff came through, with the whole issue of whether ghosts and shades have rights, and the trial as a way to help a ghost rest.  (I talked about your book at a panel on Boskone about legal world-building, and the other lawyers on the panel all agreed that ghosts must make the MOST annoying clients.)  Did you have to do any legal research before writing that aspect of your world?

The basic philosophy of "peace through justice" is that the living can affect the fates of the dead.  They have a choice to help them or just ignore them.  

In the effort to not make any huge mistakes, I gave the completed manuscript to a lawyer friend of mine who corrected some procedural points in the courtroom scenes.  But overall, I didn't do a ton of legal research, because that wasn't the focus of the book.  I wanted to keep the story centered around what Aura felt and experienced as a result of Logan's death and ghosthood.  

This brings up a key difference between YA and adult speculative fiction.  With YA, the world-building never gets in the way of the story and the characters.  It’s why I love to read it and write it.  I find a lot of adult sf/f to be too in love with ideas or with the intricacies of magic systems for my taste.

I think speculative fiction is at its best when it explores what it means to be human.  I try to do that with both my YA and adult fiction—because I write what I like to read—which is probably why teens make up a large portion of my adult books’ readership.  I don’t believe in wasting time on the boring stuff.


Thanks so much for having me to the Enchanted Inkpot—I love this blog!


I also love to hear from readers, so I encourage people to come visit me at www.jerismithready.com, or even better: www.facebook.com/jerismithready or http://twitter.com/jsmithready.



annastanannastan on May 5th, 2010 12:50 pm (UTC)
Great interview! SHADE sounds fascinating - definitely not your typical ghost story! I love what Jeri said about the difference between YA and adult speculative fiction.
Jeri Smith-Ready: Shadejer_bear711 on May 5th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I think there's also more freedom to do cross-genre work within YA sf/f. Not nearly so many boundaries, which is incredibly exciting. I saw a panel last week with Holly Black where she said that readers that age haven't formed all their mental boxes about different genres, so they just read the books they like. In many stores (less these days, sadly), all YA is shelved together, rather than being separated by genre. Which I love!
Lena Goldfinchlena_writes on May 5th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
What a great interview! Thanks, Jeri! And thanks, Leah, for all the really great questions. The rock star one made me smile :)

Jeri, your writing process was fun to read about too. It makes me wonder if your sense of humor finds its way into your books.
Jeri Smith-Ready: Shadejer_bear711 on May 5th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
The humor definitely does infect my work, especially in my adult vampire series, the WVMP RADIO books. SHADE is a little more serious but has its humorous moments.

Doesn't Leah give great questions? I had so much fun answering them. :)
Jana Olivercrazywritergirl on May 5th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
LOL. Your writing process sounds painfully familiar. Great interview! Thanks for letting us know your thoughts behind the new series.
Jeri Smith-Ready: Aurajer_bear711 on May 6th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
Glad I'm not the only one who works in such a convoluted way. ;-) Thanks for stopping by, Jana!
(Deleted comment)
Jeri Smith-Ready: bear cubjer_bear711 on May 6th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Cindy! Leah asked some great questions, which made it a really fun interview to do.
Mirth & Matter: The Journal of Elizabeth Bunceelizabethcbunce on May 6th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Great interview! I love your use of color in the world-building. Red and blue are also frequently cited in European folklore for their abilities to attract or repel supernatural forces. It's fun stuff, that color folklore!
Jeri Smith-Ready: Aurajer_bear711 on May 6th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Elizabeth! I agree that colors are powerful elements in a story, whether it be modern or folklore. They also make the cover artist's job a lot easier. ;-)
Jessica Spotswoodjessica_shea on May 7th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Great interview! The explanation of colors and chakras is fascinating. I just picked up a copy of Shade yesterday, and now I can't wait to read it!
ext_233929 on May 7th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a good book!
anesbetanesbet on May 9th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Now I'm really eager to read this book! Thanks for the interview, Jeri and Leah -- the world of SHADE sounds fascinating.