Today, I’m focusing on the talented YA writer, Andrea Murray. She has several YA books out and a new book on the way. Andrea and I made a connection this summer through our publisher, Dragon Moon Press. I read her YA novel, Vivid, in record time. Below, you’ll find a brief interview with her as well as an excerpt for Vivid.
I’m honored to host Andrea on my blog!
What motivated you to write your first novel?
Like most writers, I’ve always written stories, but I decided to write my first novel, Vivid, after the death of my brother-in-law, who was killed in a hunting accident at a young age. He had a brand-new baby and a bright future, and it was just so tragic. I knew it was time to stop making excuses, and that’s when I began tossing around the idea. I didn’t actually commit until a bit later after I had a particularly spunky group of students (mostly girls) in one of my afternoon classes. I created Vivian, the protagonist in Vivid, in honor of those girls. They were crazy about paranormal romances, and I found that all of those novels featured females being rescued by males, who had ALL of the powers. I wanted to reverse that and create a strong, female protagonist who could save her boyfriend one minute and look fabulous at prom the next!
What strange things do you do when you write? Do you listen to music? Watch television? Eat Cheetos?
I definitely don’t listen to music. I don’t know why, but music distracts me more than anything. I think it’s because I want to sing along! I usually have the television on when I write. I watch a lot of paranormal shows, ghost hunting stuff, and the murder channel (aka Investigation Discovery). I like to have a big glass of something to drink, preferably coffee with tons of creamer, and I like it better when no one else is home.
What was your greatest challenge writing this story and how did you overcome it?
Each of my novels came with their own challenges. With the Vivid Trilogy, balancing Vivian’s personality with her growth as a character proved difficult. I wanted her to stay herself but to evolve and change, too. She discovers so much about herself and her family that she HAD to become something new by the end. In the Omni Duology, I was attempting to retell a famous story, the myth of Paris and Helen from Greek mythology but in an ultra-modern society. I had to both limit and expand on the original story and create characters the reader could recognize if he/she is familiar with the myth. The manuscript I’m currently proofing is a ghost story and completely out of my wheelhouse. I’m accustomed to romance, and this one is most definitely not that. I don’t read that much horror/thriller, and I sort of started from nowhere (except my own creepy experiences in my house).
If you could spend the day with one of the characters in this book, who would you choose and what would you do?
If I had to choose a character to spend a day with, it would be Pierce from Omni. He’s dreamy, and I had a bit of a book crush the whole time I worked on those two novels! He’s the Byronic hero from my favorite Romantic and Victorian novels, tortured and sigh-worthy.
What’s next for you and your writing career?
I’m not quite sure what’s next. I’m pretty sure I’m taking a bit of a reading break. I love to review novels, and I’ve neglected that lately while trying to finish my ghost story.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
I get inspired by so many things. Kids at school, my own children, tv, movies . . . everywhere! I don’t really sleep well, and many of my ideas come at night while I’m waiting for sleep. I keep a notepad by my bed for that reason.
What is something you are not good at doing?
I’m horrible at all things athletic. I’ve never had any abilities in that area. I always wanted to be athletic, but alas, it was not to be. I’m also not good at letting things go. I beat myself up over every mistake and second-guess myself constantly.
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
One constant thing that I always hope is that readers are so entertained they hate to see the book end. I don’t write for deep-seated meanings. I think novels should be about escape from your everyday world, and I just want people to love the worlds I’ve created.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m probably grading papers. I teach junior high English, and that occupies a great deal of my time. I also have two children, and I coach my eleven-year- old’s Odyssey of the Mind team, which tends to take up what’s left. When I do get some “me” time, I enjoy reading (like most authors) and watching all the shows I’ve saved on my DVR. I’m ashamed to admit how much I enjoy television.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Find out what your character doesn’t want to happen then make that thing happen. My husband is a huge MASH fan, and on a reunion show, one of the writers said that. I’ve never forgotten it. You have to know your character that well, know her secret fears, and then torture her with them!
What are your favorite characters that you have created?
I love Vivian. She’ll always be my favorite. There’s a piece of me (the sarcastic, potty mouth part probably) in her.
What is one piece of advice you would give to your teenage self?
Stop trying to control other people. I thought controlling others was the only way not to get hurt, and though I still struggle with this, I’ve learned you can’t control others. You can only control your response.
Andrea Murray’s love of English didn’t begin until high school. In fact, in elementary school, she hated reading and never read a book unless she was forced to read. She found her joy as a ninth grader when she began reading classic short stories like “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. After that, she knew she wanted to study English and teach kids like her who weren’t entirely thrilled with English. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in the same little town where she still lives and earned a BSE in English and an MA in English from Arkansas State University, where she also earned honors as the Outstanding BSE graduate in English. Andrea has now been teaching English for twenty years. She’s taught journalism, freshman composition, every level of junior high and high school English, and Pre-AP and AP literature. Andrea is also a two-time teacher of the year. She lives in Arkansas with Chris, her high school sweetheart and husband of twenty plus years; their two children, Olivia and Wyatt; and their rambunctious German Shepherd, Claus, in a possibly haunted house. She co-coaches her daughter’s three-time state champion Odyssey of the Mind team. She loves Victorian British literature focused on that when earning her MA. Her first true love is historical romance. She can remember sneaking her mother’s trashy romance novels when she was a young teenager and reading while mother was grocery shopping. Her favorites were always the Medieval and pirate stories, but she also loves young adult literature and just about anything paranormal or with a superhero. She’s a proud Mensan and is addicted to television. When she isn’t watching bad science fiction movies, she spends her time reading. In addition to her young adult paranormal romance series The Vivid Trilogy, she has written The Omni Duology, a young-adult dystopian duo. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Darrell Award and a runner-up for the Book Country About the Book Award.
“Damn, damn, damn!” I fumble with my lock. This is my fourth lock of the year—a new record—and all the combinations and number patterns from the previous fatalities keep pushing their way to the front of my mind. I smack my hand against the front of my locker as though it’s responsible for the jerks who keep forcing me to buy new locks.
In this high school if you aren’t one of ‘them’ then apparently you deserve whatever punishment ‘they’ feel is necessary to weed you from the pack. Call it a survival of the fittest check-up.
In my case someone keeps stealing my combination or just cutting my lock but that only happened to lock number two, probably because it required a key, not a stolen combo. I always try to remember to roll the dial on the lock or shield my hand when I put in the combination, but someone is way too interested in vandalizing my stuff.
I never understood that. If they hate me so much, why do they waste their time on me? I mean, it makes no sense that someone they see as unworthy occupies so much forethought in their group conscience. (I firmly believe they must all share the same brain.)
I’m not their only victim. I’m just the only one who ever fights back, fights that typically aren’t physical but are always a pain in the ass and somehow end with me in the principal’s office while the flawless, plastic-people never seem to get caught, making me look like a ‘troubled teen’.
It started in junior high when we all moved from the separate middle school campuses. The haves versus the have nots, the cool versus the losers, the populars versus all the rest of us who weren’t blessed with perfect features, perfect bodies, and perfect lives. In the center lives the queen bee, Trista Parmer, blonde, tall, tan even in winter, and totally vicious. I’ve never figured out why she hates me, and at this point, I don’t even care anymore. I simply want to stay out of her line of fire.
I’ve just put my forehead on the cool, blue metal locker, ready to give up, when my salvation arrives in the form of a plump, curly-haired blonde, pushing up her purple-rimmed glasses at the same time she pushes me away from the locker.
Abby Johnson has a way of making her 5-foot presence seem much larger. We’ve been best friends since this nightmare started in seventh grade when I helped her pick up her books after Trista knocked them out of her hands in front of half the school. We take care of each other. She memorizes my locker combos and gives me rides since I have yet to get a car even though I’ve had my license since I turned sixteen last April, and I, well, I’m not sure what I do for her unless you count insisting she stay at my house when her useless parents are away (and they are always away). I’ve lived with my Aunt Charlotte since I was five. She took me in when my mom was killed, and we’ve kind of adopted Abby, made her an honorary member of the family, not that that means much.
As Abby’s fingers fly over my lock, I notice her new, expensive jeans with the rhinestone hearts swirled on the back pockets and her pink shirt that cost more than I spend in a month. She has one of the qualifications to be a ‘them’. She has money. Her parents are loaded because her dad is some kind of investment broker, and her mom is a big shot executive. They travel sometimes as many as four days a week, but since the housekeeper found a bottle of tequila in Abby’s room three weeks ago, they’ve made a “new commitment to Abby and the family,” at least that’s what her dad told her. So basically this means they’re trying to stay home more and snarl at each other less.
They didn’t even punish Ab for the alcohol she took from their own den. She thought if she showed up at the Valentine’s Day lake party that Trista was throwing earlier this month she might finally be accepted by them, and they might leave her alone.
“Call it a peace offering,” she had said as we drove out to the party in her car. I didn’t bother to get out, hadn’t even changed out of my ratty sweat pants and hoody. She was dressed in what she calls her ‘skinny-girl’ outfit of jeggings and a low-cut sweater. She wanted so much to make a good impression, the impression she thought they wanted to see. But the whole thing was an epic failure when she came back to the car, unopened bottle in hand. They’d all been wasted and laughed at her. I don’t know why she wants to be accepted by that bunch of fakes, but that’s just Abby I guess. She’s not even close to being as tough as she wants to appear. All of this races through my mind as she opens the door and turns to me, lock in hand.
“Bad day?” Abby sighs.
“You have no idea.” I run my hand through my long, reddish-brown hair. That’s my nervous habit, and if this year doesn’t end soon, I may end up bald.
“So spill. What happened this time? The dime squad?” That’s what we call the popular girls, all those cookie-cutter ‘10s’ – identical, disposable, and easily-tossed around. Ok, maybe not that last one, but a girl can dream.
Instead of answering, I hand her the rumpled paper I’ve been gripping in my left hand and tug on my t-shirt in frustration. She smoothes the paper enough to see the red writing on the top of the page.
“You are the only person I know who stresses over a 98%. It’s not normal, Viv. Normal people WANT good grades. Let me guess”—she rolls her eyes—“highest in the class?”
When I just turn and stare at the back of my locker, she shakes her head, smiles, and lays her hand on my back.
“I don’t get it, V. If I were like genius smart, I’d smear it in all of their faces! Don’t give me that look, Vivian Cartwright. Why pull your punches? Why do you even bother to try at all if you won’t let yourself make the grades you’re capable of making? I know, I know. I’ve heard it before.”
She stops and does the air quote thing which she knows drives me crazy and tries to make her voice sound like mine. “You ‘don’t want any attention,’ at least not more than you already get.”
“I am not that whiney, and it’s not just the grade.” I run my hand through my hair again. “It’s the lock and the grade and the fact that this morning Mr. Thompson asked me to serve on prom committee,” I say, ticking off each catastrophe and throwing my hands up in surrender.
Abby turns my shoulders, forcing me to face her and gasps, “Prom committee?!” Her blue eyes are wide, her expression unbelieving. “I thought prom committee had been chosen a long time ago. I mean, this is like the end of February; prom’s in two months. Haven’t they already been meeting? Do you have to? What are you going to do?” With each question, her eyes get bigger and bigger, and she seems to be holding her breath, waiting for my reply.
“Yes, no, and definitely not happening,” I say in answer to her questions. “Apparently, Taylor Johnson can no longer serve because of some issue with grades, and Mr. Thompson thought it would be good for me, help me out of my shell.” I roll my eyes at the stupid cliché. He’s not the first teacher who has tried to help me, to save me from my future life as the lonely cat lady. Teachers think they have to make a somebody out of everybody. Don’t get me wrong; Aunt Charlotte is a kindergarten teacher, so I know how hard they work and everything, but come on! Some of us just want to survive this hellhole and move on without their interference.
I feel the need to continue reassuring Ab if for no other reason than to return her eyes and breathing to normal. “You know I don’t need any more hassle with Trista and her acolytes.”
“Oh, thank God!” She releases her breath with a whoosh and grabs me in a bone-crushing hug, and I know she thinks I made the right choice. Prom committee would most definitely put me on the dime squad radar even more than I am already. She pulls away from me so quickly I might have tripped backward if she hadn’t held on to my upper arms. I may be three inches taller than Abby (a whole 5’3”, thank you very much), but she definitely can hold her own, as Aunt Charlotte says.
“Come on; let’s go to lunch. I brought you a cupcake.” She shakes her polka-dot lunch tote and talks to me like Aunt Charlotte used to when I was little and wouldn’t eat my veggies. “The kind you like with the super-sweet icing.”
She tugs my shirt as I grab my black, nylon lunch bag, slamming my locker with my free hand and not even bothering with the lock since I can’t remember the combo anyway.
As we wind our way around the hall stragglers, I wonder how she does that, how she makes me feel better and seems to know what I need. As long as I have Abby, the dime squad, the jocks, the emos, all the cliques, can kiss my ass. Just a year and four months and I’ll be gone, out of this town. I’ll earn a great scholarship, and finally go somewhere new, somewhere better. I can do that. I can survive that. And I suddenly wonder just who I’m trying to convince.