Wednesday, July 7, 2010

INTERVIEW: Kristina McBride - YA Author of "The Tension of Opposites"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with YA Author, Kristina McBride. She was a HS English teacher at Springboro High School in Springboro, Ohio and a year book advisor for eight years. She has a B.A. and Master’s Degree in Education from Wright State University.
She now lives in Centerville Ohio with her husband and two young children.

Her debut novel, THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES is about a haunting psychological thriller of a very serious subject of child kidnapping. It also shows the emotional aftermath on the victim, and the people that were left behind.

Tagline: What happens when your best friend is kidnapped - and returns home two years later?

Short Summary: Two years ago Noelle disappeared. Two long years of no leads, no word, no body. Since the abduction, Tessa, her best friend, has lived in a state of suspended animation. She has some friends, but keeps them distant. Some interests, but she won’t allow herself to become passionate about them. And guys? She can’t get close—she knows what it is like to really lose someone she cared for.

And then, one day, the telephone rings. Noelle is alive. And maybe, just maybe, Tess can start to live again, too.

Excerpt: Sometimes I saw Noelle sunning herself on a tropical beach, away on an endless vacation. But like my old therapist had told me, it isn’t healthy to ignore reality. Most of the time, I envisioned Noelle in a dark basement, chained to a moldy wall. But that went directly against the information I had found online the day the crisis-intervention speaker came to our middle school and tried to soften the blow of Noelle’s absence. In my worst moments, I pictured Noelle’s clean bones peeking up from a pile of damp leaves in the woods.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Kristina McBride today -- the woman behind the book “The Tension of Opposites”?

Kristina McBride: As a teenager, I was an obsessive journaler. I loved my friends, and was the one who kept everyone on track – my nickname was Clipboard. Needless to say, my love of writing and intense need for organization have helped me move into the world of publishing. My first real job was at a local pizza joint called The Flying Pizza, where I worked for several years in high school. I loved it; pizza is one of my favorite foods! I think the most important thing about any job is that you love what you do. This is one thing that I have always used to gauge what I am doing in life; if I’m not loving something, I make a change. After college, I went on to teach high school English for eight years. While I loved that job so very much, I decided that being a mother was more important, and quit teaching when I had my first child. It was at that point that I really dove into writing and focused on my life long dream of getting published. As cheesy as it might sound, paying attention to my inner-self and being true to my needs and desires has been the best guide for my life. And, luckily, it has been a very good life so far!

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing YA novel that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Kristina McBride: You use a wonderful word, I am definitely enchanted with YA literature! First, let me say that I am blessed with an intense need to write. Always have been, which makes it easy to continue, even through the tough stuff. Writing is something I would do regardless of it being my official profession. I’m just lucky enough to have gone through the long struggle of acquiring an agent (it took me 3 manuscripts and 2 ½ years), perfecting my manuscript (another 11 months), and garnering the attention of some amazing editors (3 offers in 3 weeks!). Having taught high school for eight years, I simply feel more connected with YA literature. The characters offer so many various struggles that the options are endless when I’m plotting a new idea.

E.I. Please tell your YA readers about “The Tension of Opposites.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about the book?

Kristina McBride: The Tension of Opposites is the story of sixteen-year-old Tessa McMullen whose best friend was kidnapped two years ago. The book starts when Tessa learns that Noelle has been found alive and is coming home. We follow Tessa through her struggle to reconnect with her friend, who returns as a distant and self-destructive version of her old self, and to also reconnect with a life she has felt too guilty to live while her friend was missing. There’s also a love interest, a new guy in town named Max, who tries to help Tessa along her journey. Through the book, there is much question as to whether or not Tessa will succeed at regaining her friendship, her life, and if she will allow herself to open up to Max, the first guy she has ever had any real interest in.

The inspiration for this story came to me one day while my daughter was napping and I caught an episode of Oprah. This is the day that I learned the story of Shawn Hornbeck, a young man who was kidnapped at the age of eleven and returned to his family four years later. I was in awe of this young man’s strength and fortitude to have survived such a traumatic ordeal. Soon after, the character of Tessa started speaking to me.

E.I. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Tessa McMullen', and yet you keep her so fast-paced and interesting? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

Kristina McBride: Dirty Little Secret: With the guidance of my agent, I revised this book for nearly a year. Six months into revisions, I deleted all but five chapters and started over. I think I got to know Tessa through all of the writing, revising, and re-writing, which helped immensely. It’s essential to really know your characters as you write. The fast pace was difficult to handle. I wanted the book to flow well as I showcased the tension of all the opposing forces. As I write, I do some initial plotting and character study, but have to wait until I’ve written a few chapters to really work out all the kinks. And then, of course, there are a lot of changes to be made once the first draft is complete. The main thing here is to have a pretty intense desire to see it through to the end.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably believable and captivating really interesting characters: Noelle (Elle) Pendleton, Tessa McMullen, Max Kinsley, Cooper Pendleton (Noelle’s brother) and that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Kristina McBride: Thank you so much! I’m glad you like the characters! I try not to think too much of the reader as I’m writing. I’m not sure if that’s bad to admit, but it’s true. I just write the story as it needs to be told and cross my fingers that others will like it. As for my creative process, I’ve already talked about it a bit, but I hover between outlining and flying by the seat of my pants. I outline a little and fly a lot in the beginning. But as I really dig in (around the 100-page mark) I start to really plot things out to make sure everything is weaving together nicely and that it will all come to a close by the end of the book.

E.I. How did you pull the readers into Noelle’s life, when she returns to Centerville, Ohio two years after she was kidnapped by a pedophile? The distress and raw emotions behind her that follows is such a raw story that makes it so hard to imagine what Noelle had to live through day to day in order to survive.

Kristina McBride: Elle was a difficult character to handle. I wanted the reader to get to know what she had been through, but it would have been way out of character to force her to just open up and share her traumatic ordeal. One of the main devices I use to help the reader learn about Elle is her journal. Through the journal entries written by Elle, we learn about the time she spent with her kidnapper, and get to dive deeper into her story. I tried not to be too heavy handed with these entries, not wanting to divulge too many details, because I wanted leave the reader some room to wonder. I felt that this was important because it’s a true feeling that most of us experience when we hear these stories in the news.

E.I. Tessa is a completely believable character, you’ve written her in an almost painful manner, having given up much of her own life after Noelle’s disappearance. Tessa had become more of a loner and finds herself fading away as much as her best friend did. How did you write this character while playing her in your head?

Kristina McBride: Okay, this might make me sound a little crazy, but I have to be honest, right? When I’m writing, it’s as if I am the character. So, to answer your question, Tessa kind of just flowed out of me. Her thoughts, emotions, and dialogue just came naturally. Here’s another secret, I originally tried to write this book from Elle’s perspective. But she wouldn’t talk to me until I started listening to Tessa. From the start, the characters knew this was Tessa’s story to tell.

E.I. Ms. McBride, you as an author of this book, you have done a phenomenal job describing Tessa’s emotions, struggles, and trials that she went through with Noelle’s disappearance and re-immersion into society. I loved hearing the story from the best friends’ perspective. I think, people sometimes forget that others that were left behind are just as hurt when someone disappears. How did you overcome these challenges creating Tessa’s emotions?

Kristina McBride: Thank you again – I love this praise! One of the hardest things for me to do was deal with the emotions of these characters. I thought the book would be easy to write, emotionally speaking. But as I researched kidnapping, it became more real. And more difficult. I began to really care about these characters, and hated writing some of the scenes because I knew they were struggling. But I just had to keep going. I wanted to write them out of their conflicts so they could find some sort of peace. At the end, things certainly aren’t perfect, but there is more of a balance in regards to the tension of opposites pulling Tessa in different directions. (To find out where Tessa finds that balance, your readers will have to go get the book!)

E.I. Max's journey with Tessa is so inspiring, though, he pushed Tessa a little bit too far at times, but he’s a pretty decent young man. He is really a determined and knows what he wants and will go for it. Although he begins to fail the same tension and battle as Tessa- except he's fighting to keep her while she struggles to keep Noelle. Is Max character based on a real life experience of a victim’s friend or family? Did you find it difficult to write Max’s character?

Kristina McBride: Max was a blast! He is not based on anyone I know or have ever known. Like Tessa, he just hopped into my mind one day and started hanging out. I loved him from the start! He’s this intense guy who just wants to make things right for Tessa.

E.I. How many years of research did you do to create the realistic events in the kidnapping? Did you speak to any real life survivors of a similar trauma, their Psychologist, victims family, etc?

Kristina McBride: I did a ton of internet research, and also watched countless television shows on the return of a kidnapped child (interviews with Shawn Hornbeck and several others were a huge inspiration for me).

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “The Tension of Opposites” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Kristina McBride: I have done several public readings, and when I planned for those, I always had a difficult time. I wanted to find a passage that would showcase the tension of opposites within the book. However, each time I came back to the same thing, this book starts with Tessa learning of her best friend’s return, which sets up all the following scenes. If I had to choose, I’d definitely start at the beginning.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Kristina McBride? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Kristina McBride: I signed a two-book deal with Egmont USA, and am working on the next book right now. The only thing I can say is that it’s totally unrelated to The Tension of Opposites.

E.I. Ms. McBride, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

Kristina McBride: Thank you so much for having me and introducing my book to your readers. For any aspiring writer out there, the main thing I can say to you is to never give up. Keep writing. Learn how to break into the business (finish your novel, query agents who represent your work, and know that you will face rejection). The key is in not allowing rejection to get you down (at least not for more than 24 hours – eat lots of chocolate), and to think of each pass as a step closer to that desired agent or editor. For more advice on this matter, people can check out my blog post “Query Away! 3 Essentials That Helped Me Land My Dream Agent” or my blog series “One YA Author’s Journey to Publication”. I hope this can help someone out there!


Photo of Kristina McBride courtesy of Easterling Studios
To learn more about Kristina McBride, please visit her website
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