The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Shelby Bach

The incredibly talented author of the EVER AFTERSCHOOL series, Shelby Bach, took some time between book promotions and edits of her next book to answer our questions. I loved the opportunity to get to know her a little and pick her brain. The result was a wonderful interview that I know you all will enjoy!

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Middle Grade Mafia: Your bio mentions that you spent a brief time working for a major publishing house. Did that experience prepare you for when you were ready to pitch your first book?

Shelby Bach: Absolutely! I feel really lucky that I was able to work in the industry for a little while. I was already passionate about the way stories can change young lives, but working as an editorial assistant helped me learn the publishing lingo and trained me to translate my passion for books into achievable goals. My experience came in especially handy when I had to conquer the dreaded query letter. While working in the industry, I was given the opportunity to draft flap copy for several titles (a.k.a. the description on the inside flap of a hardcover). Then the editorial director on the team revised what I’d written to make it snappier. Later, when I’d finished revising an early draft of my first novel, I started freaking out about drafting a query letter…until I reminded myself that it was basically the same process as writing the flap copy.

Ever-afters

MGM: Your EVER AFTERSCHOOL series are about a girl you finds herself in an after school program for fairy tale Characters. What was the inspiration for this great concept?

SB: I feel like I need to give a brief disclaimer: Revealing the idea that sparked the entire story would be a MAJOR spoiler for Of Sorcery and Snow, so I tend to give a slightly different piece of the answer each time I’m asked this.

But a bunch of different elements came together to create Ever After School. I wanted to write a story that both the characters and the reader think they already know, but which starts to diverge off the beaten path. Fairy tales came instantly to mind, because I’d taken a course in college where we read hundreds of the original tales from Grimm, Lang, and Andersen. For the story, I envisioned a big group of kids who weren’t necessarily friends yet, and I also wanted some of their parents to know about the program being magical and some parents to be clueless. An afterschool program seemed like the perfect setting for that.

MGM: What is your style when starting a new project? Did you have an idea how the series would progress or have you taken each book one at a time?

SB: While I was revising Of Giants and Ice, I sketched out a rough series synopsis, figuring out how many books I would need to tell the whole story, which fairy tales each Character would be get, etc. So, I’m definitely a plotter, but a lot of my favorite scenes haven’t been planned.

What usually happens is that I have a good idea of the first scene and the last scene, and I’ll have a glimmer of what needs to happen in a handful of key scenes in the middle. Then I figure out how I’ll get my characters from one scene to the next during the writing process.

MGM: Writers are known for writing about what they know, be it a setting or specific characters. What have you taken from your life and put into your stories?

SB: My real life usually shows up in very random details. Every time my mom reads a book in the series, she giggles over these details like they’re inside jokes. Here are a few:

  • Chase’s fear of bones comes directly from MY fear of bones…except he has a good reason for his phobia. Mine is completely irrational.
  • Like Rory, I was a new girl in sixth grade, and the way she goes about making friends was very similar to the way I went about making friends.
  • Rory is allergic to horses no matter how magical they are. I am also super allergic to horses, and since fantasy has a long-standing history of horses being heroes’ valiant steeds, I wondered how being allergic might affect a quest.
  • In the second book, I took some of Ben’s corniest dialogue directly from my father. For example, when Ben has to turn down Fey fudge pie due to a gluten allergy, he says, “It’s all right. I’m watching my girlish figure.” My dad says that ALL the time. Don’t tell him I told you, though—he is slightly embarrassed to be immortalized in fiction for something so silly.

MGM: Your main character, Rory, is just a normal girl who happens to be on these amazing adventures. Do you feel there is a lesson the young reader can learn from her?

SB: Oooo, I’m so glad you asked this question!

Middle grade fantasy has a strong tradition of kids confronting evil with their own magic, and that always bothered me a little. As much as we would like to have wands or to inherit powers from our parents, readers won’t have magic when they face wrongdoing in their real life.

It was important to me that Rory is an ordinary kid, but like in many of the original fairy tales, she does collect magical tools, such as her magic sword. Rory uses her wits, her courage, and her tools to get out of bad situations, but sometimes, she can’t use those tools for some reason. Then she must confront the villain all on her own.

MGM: What were some of your favorite middle grade books from when you were young? Are there any stories you read recently that stand out for you?

SB: The Harry Potter series was a huge part of my childhood, but besides those, my very favorite books of all time are Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

I’ve also read a ton of fantastic books that came in the past couple years. Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series is a new favorite, and I also loved Heidi Schulz’s Hook’s Revenge, which is about Captain Hook’s daughter having adventures in Neverland. Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, a novel-in-verse about basketball-playing twins, made me cry in an airport terminal this May—in a good way!

MGM: Kind of an abstract question… If you had to cast a young actress to play Rory in the movies, who do you see filling that role?

SB: Actually, since Hollywood is so important to Rory’s family, I definitely had a certain young actress in mind while I was writing. Some readers, though, have mentioned that they didn’t want to know who this person was—it messed with the image of Rory they had in their heads. So, maybe you could reveal the answer to this question after a cut?

(If you don’t want to the answer, do not click MORE)

Anyway, the child actress who most resembles Rory Landon is…

Chloe Grace Moretz!

She is an immensely talented young person. I love the fact that she is always challenging herself as an actress, and what I love about her work is that she shows more emotion than her dialogue and the script actually calls for. I like to think that she has that in common with Rory.  🙂

Thank you to Shelby for sharing her thoughts and insights into her books. She has been awesome to interact with and we look forward to catching up with her in June 2015 for the release of her next installment in the series OF ENEMIES AND ENDINGS. To learn more about Shelby’s books, check out her website and follow her on Twitter.


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