Katie: As soon as I read the pitch for The Scourge I was instantly jealous. What's more gripping than sending a blind girl out into the zombie-like fleshies for water everyday? How did you come up with the idea for this story?
A.G.: Thanks for having me on your blog, Katie! I'm thrilled to be here. I got the idea for The Scourge while traveling through the bayous of Louisiana. Initially I just imagined two groups at odds with each other, some in the trees and some on the ground, and then threw in some zombie-ish creatures for good measure. So, the Lofties, Groundlings, and the flesh-eating Scourge (or "fleshies" as the people call them) were born first. I wasn't sure who the protagonist would be, other than a girl. I think the idea for having Fenn be Sightless (the word I used instead of blind in the book) came after, er, fleshing out some of the details of the world. I started thinking it would be cool to have a main character with a disability. You don't see it a lot in fantasy—at least not many that I can think of. The other twist is that Sightlessness is considered a gift in Fenn's world because it protects her from the Scourge, and so gives her more status with her Groundling community.
Katie: I was also greatly impressed that you managed to have a whole novel written with first person narration using no sight imagery what-so-ever. What were the struggles of writing without sight?
A.G.: The biggest challenge was trying to remain vigilant about avoiding all visual references while I wrote. I found myself unconsciously adding things Fenn would never have known about because she couldn't see them. Things like colors, or even small non-verbal gestures like shrugging, frowning, glowering, glaring, pointing, etc. I think these are learned behaviors we tend to do in certain situations after seeing others do them. Of course, people could have described things to her, but how often would that really happen, and how well would she be able to incorporate it into her own perceptions? I know a few visuals slipped through despite my vigilance! Another challenge was including as much rich sensory description as possible. I discovered that I'm not very good at describing smells (pop quiz: describe the smell of water). Finding good similes/analogies that didn't rely on visual imagery was harder than I expected, too. It was challenging to write from the perspective of a blind character, but it also added a lot of possibilities for conflict and drama that I hadn't counted on initially.
Katie: Some people say dystopian is on its way out. What do you see for the future of speculative Young Adult fiction?
A.G.: Yeah, I've heard that, too. I like to believe it's not true. Like great books of any genre, a great dystopian will always find its way into the hands of readers. As for speculative YA, I think it has a strong future. It's such a broad category. There's lots of room for new takes on old themes, or original ideas. Heck, I've been reading speculative YA for years, and haven't had my fill yet. I doubt I'm alone in that.
Katie: The Scourge has been a big success. What are your marketing strategies? What works and what doesn't?
A.G.: This question makes me laugh, because sometimes I think The Scourge has succeeded in spite of my marketing strategies! I actually published it as an e-book back in January on Amazon without having a website or blog set up, no Facebook page, no Twitter. Pretty much no avenue to market. I would not recommend releasing a book this way. I honestly think a combination of timing and luck was responsible for me selling more than a couple copies of the book to my kindly friends and family. Timing, because the release of The Hunger Games film in April seemed to spur readers to look for more YA dystopian reads, and luck, because I was very fortunate to get good reviews early on that convinced other readers to take a chance on The Scourge.
I would definitely recommend choosing an evocative cover and title (see a little book called The Breeders by author Katie French for a great example), using graphics and typeface that can easily be seen in thumbnail size, taking the time to write a great blurb, and pricing the book as low as you can stand. Those three things are your plumage to attract readers on Amazon and other e-book retailers. Make like a peacock and use them to your advantage.
A.G.: Yes! I'm working on the sequel now. It took me a while to embrace my new identity as an author (reference my utter lack of marketing/planning savvy described above), so it was slow going at first. But the word count is rising steadily and I should be in editing phase very soon. The sequel picks up almost immediately where the first book leaves off - I don't want to say too much about it because I'm prone to spouting out spoilers. Let's just say that Fenn and Peree aren't sipping cocktails and toasting their success in an exotic locale just yet. If you want to be notified when the sequel is released, shoot me your email through my website (www.aghenley.com) and I'll add you to the list.
Katie: Now that The Scourge is doing well would you take a publishing deal if it was offered?
A.G.: Heh. The way I see it, the greatest thing about being an author right now is all the choices available to us: Indie publishing, traditional publishing, a hybrid mixture of the two depending on the project, going with an agent, going without an agent, doing everything yourself, subcontracting everything you don't want to do. I did sign with an agent this summer, the fabulous Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I love having her and ABLA in my corner. Otherwise I'm staying open to all options, and would certainly consider the right publishing deal.
Katie: What advice would you give to indie writers out there?
A.G.: Unfortunately I don't have any earth-shattering new advice. I've found three things to be true for me:
1) Write the absolute best book you can. Then fork over the cash to get it edited (line editing and substantive editing) because the best book you can produce will always be even better after professional editing. Always. No joke.
2) Make smart and professional choices on cover, blurb, and pricing. See #4 above. Also have your blurb edited. I'm actually shocked at how often I see simple spelling or grammatical errors in Indie book blurbs. Presenting a professional image as an Indie is super important, IMO.
3) Give your readers a way to find you - what that way can be up to you. Just be sure you're easy to find and then set up a way for people to keep in touch with you, if they so choose. I use an opt-in notification list so I can let my readers know when future projects are ready for release, or when I'm doing a give away or something else that's fun, but I'm sure there are other more clever ways, too.
Oh - and one thing I definitely advise is to ask readers who enjoyed your book to post a review for you wherever they bought their book (or anywhere else they want to post it. They're welcome to tattoo it on their forehead, not that I've had anyone offer to do this. Maybe I should offer up my forehead?) Put this nicely worded request in the back matter of your book, so when they turn that last amazing page they might be inclined to do it right then.
Katie: When you're not writing, what would we find you doing?
A.G.: Avoiding making dinner. I hate cooking. No, seriously . . . actually I am being serious. But you're also likely to find me spending time with my family and friends, seeing clients in my other work as a clinical psychologist, reading, exercising in the sunny Colorado outdoors, and fantasizing about having a personal chef. Not kidding about hating the kitchen.
Thanks again for having me, Katie!
Katie: Thanks, A.G. You can find A.G. on her website, GoodReads or on Facebook. You can find The Scourge on Amazon.
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