2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with A.G. Howard

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in for 2014, and the winners have been announced– and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with A.G. Howard, who is on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list for Splintered.

Could you describe what your journey has been like from working in a school library to published author? Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

Before Splintered, I had already written several adult books that I still haven’t submitted to publishers. But it was while working at a middle school library that I was exposed daily to young adult novels. Once I started reading them (the covers were too hard to resist!) I fell in love because they were fueled by emotion and drama, the perfect venue for coming-of-age elements and social issues. What attracted me most to YA, though, was that crossing genres was not only acceptable, but encouraged. There aren’t many formulaic limitations like a lot of adult genres have.  This was perfect for me because my voice and stories often blur the lines between commercial and literary / urban and epic fantasy / horror and gothic romance-not an easy thing to ascribe one genre to. So with YA, I knew I’d found a safe haven to let my imagination run free. :)

As for me “always” knowing if I wanted to be a writer? No. I always liked dabbling in words, and English Lit was my favorite subject, but I’d never written a novel when I was young like a lot of writer’s have. In fact, I didn’t take my writing too seriously until after I’d married, had two children, and lost my grandfather to brain cancer. The night he died, I sat down and wrote a tribute to him and his life. My family read it and it touched them so much they asked that it be part of the eulogy. Once I realized I could connect with people’s emotions through my writing, there was no turning back. I hold my grandfather up as my inspiration, because the end of his journey was to be the beginning of mine.

You’ve discussed in previous interviews that you are a very visual author. Were there any particular images or movies that really stick outsplintered in your mind as inspiring you during the writing process for the Splintered series? Can you explain how you use them as inspiration for your stories?

I knew I wanted my main character, Alyssa, to be able to converse with bugs and flowers, because the talking flower scenes in Carroll’s two books, the Disney cartoon, and the Tim Burton/Disney movie rendition, were some of my favorites. Also, I always remembered the scene from Through the Looking Glass when Alice is riding a train through the countryside and has a conversation with a gnat. Those were such quirky and indelible images, that I just had to incorporate them somehow.

Also, I wanted a colorful/vivid world edged with creepiness for my Wonderland setting, like the Tim Burton/Disney version. To help me visualize, I started gathering pictures into my Splintered folder which I later transferred to my inspirational Pinterest board. When I Googled for images, I sought out “Gothic” Alice themes. I found that I was drawn to pictures tinged with an “aura of Alice”, but completely different from the original. This led me to go one step further and not only warp the settings, but warp the original characters in unexpected ways-enough that it would throw my heroine and hero for a loop when they first saw them. But there needed to be an explanation for “why” everything was so different, so I came up with one. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is. ;)

It was so fun listening to the Splintered and Unhinged playlists on your website! What does the creation of these playlists look like, do you create them before starting the book or do they just come together throughout your writing process? Are there any songs or lyrics from the Ensnared playlist that you could share with readers while we wait for its upcoming release in January?

Thanks! I create the playlists while I’m in the planning phases of the book, before the real writing begins, but I build upon them as I’m writing, too. So I usually end up with 100+ songs. These I keep on private playlists that no one can see but me. When I’m ready to reveal them officially, I whittle each playlist down to a more manageable size of around 30 or so. I’ll be revealing a few songs from my official Ensnared playlist during my virtual book tour, so I don’t want to give away too much here. But I’ll be glad to share the chorus from one of the songs on my private Ensnared list that’s not going to make it onto the official one. Alyssa is no longer running from her mistakes in book 3, and this song demonstrates her determination to have the courage to do what’s right:

Stand My Ground by Within Temptation

Stand my ground, I won’t give in
No more denying, I’ve got to face it
Won’t close my eyes and hide the truth inside
If I don’t make it, someone else will
Stand my ground.

If you could spend one day in the real world with one of your characters, who would you choose and why?

Hmmm. Since you didn’t specify “which” world is the real one. earth or Wonderland.  I would choose to hang out in Wonderland and fly with Morpheus, though I’d miss out on all of the amazing sights because I’d have to keep my eyes closed ( I’m terrified of heights), and then here in our world, I’d ride with Jeb on his motorcycle along some country roads. I’d keep my eyes open for that one. ^.^

What is the one question you wish people would ask you and how would you answer it?

If there were any book you wish you could’ve written, what would it be and why?  And my answer: Jane Eyre. Because, in my opinion, it’s flawless. The dark mood, the mystery, the gothic undertones and heart-wrenching romance, the characterization, the era / setting, and the prose. I can’t get enough. I have read that story over and over and over, and still cry at the end. I hope to write something that amazing one day. In fact, Jane Eyre is actually playing a role-mood-wise-in the Phantom of the Opera YA spinoff I’m beginning. My book is set in modern day, but there’s a definite Victoriana / gothic feel to the isolated school where it takes place. I will be rereading both Jane Eyre and the original POTO to inspire evocative and gloomy old-world settings as I dive into the writing.

Did you know that Splintered is trilogy? Check out the book trailers below for Unhinged and the final book in the series to be released this January, Ensnared. 

~Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

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Katie Shanahan Yu

Katie Shanahan Yu is a Media Specialist for a middle school in Rockville, MD. Find her on Twitter: @kakakates