Sweet Sixteener Kali Wallace recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Alexandra Sirowy about her debut YA thriller, THE CREEPING (August 18, 2015 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers).
About the Author:
THE CREEPING is Alexandra Sirowy’s first novel. She was born in Northern California and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended a women’s college as an undergraduate and has a graduate degree in International Studies. She lives in Northern California with her husband.
About THE CREEPING:
Stella Cambren is the lucky one. When she was a kid, Stella and her friend Jeanie vanished while picking strawberries. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.
Eleven years later, Stella is over it—mostly. She can’t remember a time when people didn’t look at her with a question in their eyes. All Stella wants is to have the best summer of her life. Jeanie’s fate is lost in the black hole of her mind. It’s nothing but the past.
That is, until the fresh corpse of a little girl is found, one with eerie similarities to Jeanie, and Stella’s memories start coming back. As Stella uncovers the truth about the day Jeanie vanished, she discovers a trail of disappearances going back generations. Stella thinks remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t. And before the summer is over, Stella will learn that if you hunt for monsters, you’ll find them.
Kali: Congratulations on the publication of THE CREEPING! I would love to learn a little bit about how this story came about. How did you put together this blend of small town history, creepy folklore, terrifying mysteries and very personal trauma for your characters?
Alexandra: Thank you, Kali!
I started with the characters and the mystery. I knew that I wanted my seventeen-year-old protagonist, Stella, to have survived a mysterious event that she would have complex feelings about. Once the woods and the mystery surrounding Stella and her childhood friend, Jeanie, were fleshed out, I began thinking about their environment. What kind of place did these girls live in that one of them could have disappeared without a trace? The answer wasn’t an obviously dangerous place. It was a seemingly idyllic forest-fringed town where kids play in the woods and where everyone believes that nothing like this could ever happen to them. It was the kind of place that I grew up and played in the trees with my siblings.
Places have history as much as people and families do, and I’ve always found historical accounts of small or isolated communities responding to tragedy with superstition and panic fascinating. Even in the modern era people are capable of responding to fear with superstition, violence, and mania. Think the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 90s or McCarthyism in the 1950s. In college I studied some early Colonial history and my imagination (and horror) was really captured by the many gruesome accounts of what occurred when colonists decided that they’d take North America from people indigenous to the land. When I began creating the history of Stella’s hometown, I didn’t need to look far for inspiration to fictionalize. These elements of small town panic, mysterious disappearance in the woods, and eerie town history, culminated in the folklore that Stella and her friends gradually uncover.
Kali: The friendship between the main character Stella and her best friend Zoey is such an important part of the story, and it fascinates me because they’re very close and loyal–but they also have a tendency of reinforcing each other’s worst traits. It’s a complicated friendship and not always pretty, which is exactly what makes it interesting. What made you decide to write the central friendship this way? Do you have any more thoughts on the portrayal of female friendships in YA literature?
Alexandra: It was important to me to make the friendships in THE CREEPING as authentic to the characters as possible. Stella is bright, academically successful, and can be brittle and haunted. Zoey is charismatic, socially successful, and has very much protected Stella and helped her heal over the eleven years since Jeanie’s disappearance. I wanted this central relationship to be honest and make sense given the girls’ histories. Having lived through what they did, I could see them being fiercely loyal (as I think many female friends are).
The complexities of their friendship stem from the complexities of them as people. Is Zoey an anti-hero? Absolutely. She has demons in the form of insecurities. She is trying to do the right thing and she often does. Stella has been shaped by her childhood and her small town’s response to the disappearance shrouded in mystery.
I can’t speak to the portrayal of female friendship in YA literature, other than to say that I’ve read a number of recent releases where the friendships struck me as multi-layered and fully realized, ones that I could see my younger self in.
I will say that I take issue with our society’s tendency to judge women and girls – and by extension their friendships – by how sweet or likeable they are rather than by the merits of their minds, senses of humor, and courage. I wasn’t interested in producing a one-dimensional, fluffy, and unrealistic friendship. Stella and Zoey have teeth; so do their feelings for each other.
Kali: How has your experience as a debut author been so far? Any advice for writers just starting out on the path toward publication?
Alexandra: The experience has been remarkable, world-altering. One of the most enjoyable aspects has been meeting other authors and reading their books. The children’s lit community is really welcoming and full of intelligent, funny, and compassionate people.
Advice is tough because I think everyone needs to hear something different. Friends and family are important if you’re embarking on this journey. It can be a baffling process and it helps to be able to share the ups and downs with loved ones who know you best and know (hopefully) just what you need to hear. But ultimately, you need to be your strongest advocate. If writing is what you love to do, never stop.
Kali: What can we expect to see from you next? Do you have any other novels in the works?
Alexandra: Thank you for asking! My second YA thriller, A CROOKED LIKENESS, will be out from Simon & Schuster BFYR summer of 2016. I’ll be sharing the cover and a little more about the plot in early fall.
Lightning Round Questions
Favorite time and place to write?
Dusk and looking out my office window at the blackening trees.
If you were a wizard, what would be your Animagus form?
Favorite book when you were sixteen?
The Poisonwood Bible
What are you reading right now?
TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton and SIMON vs. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli
Favorite time of year?
If you got the chance, what message would you send to your teenage self?
About the Interviewer
Kali Wallace studied geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. After a lifetime in Colorado, she decided on a whim to trade the mountains for the beach and now lives in Southern California. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. In her YA literary horror debut, SHALLOW GRAVES (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, Winter 2016), a murdered teenage girl is resurrected as an undead creature with dangerous powers, and she must find a way to reconcile memories of her old, normal life with the magical underworld to which she now belongs, a world populated by monsters from international folklore as well as the people who hunt them.