Monstrous Beauty Blog Tour- Interview

Elizabeth Fama and Short and Sweet's Sarah at the Monstrous Beauty release party! (Yoinked from Elizabeth's site which is linked to below)

 We are very happy to be hosting today's stop on the Monstrous Beauty Blog tour!  Today we are getting the inside scoop about Elizabeth Fama's new book:

Let's start with something basic- where did the inspiration for Monstrous Beauty come from?

The inspiration for Monstrous Beauty came directly from two of my children. (Can I call them children when they're taller than me?) Seeing my lack of success with quieter manuscripts after Overboard (2002), they dared me to "write a blockbuster paranormal like Twilight. It'll take you two weeks." Of course it didn't take two weeks, it took almost a year to write it, and I don't think it will make them as rich as they hoped it would.

But they didn't just abandon me with their dare: Sally and Eric also helped me devise the plot. On long jogs to the lake in the summer of 2009, the three of us tossed out as many ideas as we could think of. Each day I'd go home and cram the ideas into an outline, and on the next morning jog I'd tell them any problems I had encountered so that we could brainstorm anew. 

I had a few goals that I was committed to as I wrote the outline. The first was that the novel should pay homage to Holes in having a historical event that was key to the contemporary character's problem. I also wanted it to be a fantasy that stayed true to the monster/horror genre in a way paranormal romances sometimes (but not always) shy away from. And finally, I knew that I wanted to have a strong, smart heroine who understands her difficult choices and rises to the challenge forced on her. Those three goals, along with all the brilliant elements my kids threw at me, are the core of the book.  

Most of the mermaids we see today are much more Disney's The Little Mermaid than Syrenka- tell me how her character came to be- was she inspired by a specific figure or character?

The Publishers Weekly review of Monstrous Beauty is the only one to whisper something that I hoped all readers would feel: "[Syrenka's] plight tugs at the same heartstrings as that of another monster, Frankenstein's." That's not to say that I modeled Syrenka after Shelley's monster, but I think I was influenced by the injustice and misunderstanding that are so palpable in the book/movie. Syrenka is definitely neither human nor mermaid--she's painfully caught between those two worlds. Looking back, I see so many influences on her character: some of the mythology is based on old mer-folk traditions (for instance, Ondine is soulless and immortal until she gives birth to a human child); her rough edges are based on Mike Mignola's vision of mermaids in the short story "Three Wishes" in Hellboy: Strange Places; and parts of her personality come from my own head, and from strong women I've known.

The narrative in MB jumps back and forth between time periods- and a lot of clues are hidden throughout the book- how did you keep all of the facts and small details about the story straight?

I couldn't have written this story without a detailed outline. Normally I write using a somewhat seat-of-the-pants style, sketching out only a rough list of plot hurdles late in the manuscript (when I finally realize that I need a map to get me out of the mess I've put myself in). The interweaving of past and present in this manuscript made that method impossible. There were too many details to keep track of. But it turns out that working from an outline produces a very different sensation than composing willy-nilly each day: the outline is comforting in that you always know what you should be writing each day, but I felt my language was less inspired because of the lack of total freedom. As a result, I spent a lot more time re-crafting sentences (after laying out a chapter) than I've ever done before.

One of the challenges in dropping clues was deciding when the reader should know a piece of information and when Hester should. Rather than write a straight mystery, I wanted some of the joy of reading to come from anticipating Hester's discovery. Incidentally, I find it interesting that some people think Hester is slow to catch on. The reader has the distinct advantage not only of seeing privileged information first, but also of knowing before Hester does that she lives in a world where mermaids and ghosts exist!

MB is very much a ghost story- and a frightening one at that... what is the scariest story you have read?

I'm supposed to say "The Yellow Wallpaper" here, according to my son, who has been nagging me to read it. I think I must naturally avoid scary books because I can't think of even one! But I scare myself all the time with movies. I wrung my poor brother's T-shirt sleeve to a wrinkled, stretched-out rag while watching the original (1982) The Thing I still can't watch huskies run without cringing.

How has the writing world changed since you published Overboard?

What a great question! The biggest change is the existence of online bloggers and book sites. The world is sharing book talk with itself in a giant, sometimes daunting, sometimes nutty, but wonderfully free-entry network. Daily (or nearly daily) self-promotion is de rigueur now, too (via author blogs, Twitter, facebook, Tumblr, etc.), whereas my primary promotional strategies in 2002 were school visits and local book fairs. (It's much harder to be reclusive now, even thought that's my inclination!) I think there are more plot-driven YA books with the explosion of fantasy and paranormal, and it feels like series are more common, though I don't have data to back up either of those observations. And lastly, YA authors have gotten a lot younger since I published Overboard

How are you celebrating the release of Monstrous Beauty?

The day Monstrous Beauty came out (9/4/2012), we had a book party at the local indie bookstore, 57th Street Books, two blocks from my home. (Photos are here.) We had food, wine, soda, and a keg of beer that my writing partner's sons provided (they co-own a micro-brewery). It was a rollicking good time, and it's so nice to have your first signing happen in a room with dozens of people who already love you and don't care that you've started crying during your speech.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren't writing?

As Chachic says, "She's so sporty!" I jog every day, play tennis two or three times a week, and swim every day that the lake is warm enough. I love to cook, but my young-adult kids have also grown fond of it so they seem to be head chefs in the kitchen lately (I'm welcome to wash dishes). For a few years my daughter, my son, my dear friend Katy, and I had a fun little band called The Wah Wah Girls (that's me on the right), until my daughter moved to New York for school. We sang Boswell Sisters songs exclusively--arrangements from 1925-1936 that were never written down by the Bozzies themselves, which my daughter transcribed from old recordings, hoping to revive their wonderful music. Like everything we do, it was kind of a nerdy endeavor.

What is one question you would want someone to ask you about your book (or what is something about your book that you want everyone to know)?

I'd love it if every reader knew before he or she opened it that it's not an easy read. There's a formality and a complexity to it, plus some very dark edges. I tell anyone who will listen that I don't think of this as a "mermaid book." If you go into it expecting that, you'll be disappointed. Similarly, if you avoid it because you dislike mermaids, you might be making a mistake! It's also not for younger or more sensitive teens. And I want to shout at the top of my lungs that boys will like this book!

Give me five reasons why my readers should go get your book right now!

1. Hester is a smart, resourceful heroine, not a pushover.
2. Ezra says stuff like, "I believe I would be your friend even if you heaped abuse on me every moment of our acquaintance."
3. Where else will you find historical fiction blended with killer mermaids?
4. There are so many layers, it stands up to more than one reading.
5. It's a great book to read before you give it to that teenage relative you supposedly bought it for. 

Thank you for hosting me on One Minute Books, Coranne! I had such fun with your questions.-Elizabeth

 Links you need:
Coranne's Review of Monstrous Beauty
Buy Monstrous Beauty at Book Depository or Amazon
Where to find Elizabeth Fama:  Webpage ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Want to Win a Copy of Monstrous Beauty? Yes you do!

Enter the Rafflecopter below to win!  Giveaway ENDS 9/30 at 11:59pm!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Christina K. in the rafflecopter

    How cool that Elizabeth's kids helped her brainstorm!!

    I was wondering what parts of the ghost story did her kids help her out with? What types of ghosts did they like?

    Thank you! Great interview and it sounds like an awesome story:)

    1. Hi Christina! I can't answer this question without revealing massive spoilers! Let's just say that my son Eric (our resident monster lover) and I had a lot of discussions about how a ghost is created and how it, er, dies.

      P.S. to everyone: I'm off to Utah today for my talk at The King's English Bookshop tomorrow (9/13). If you live near Salt Lake City, come see me!

  2. Thanks for a very fun post and congrats Elizabeth on the release!!!! I've have been reading such awesome reviews for this book!!!! What a cool thing that your kids "helped" you with this book :)

  3. I like the sound of a mermaid story just because I haven't encountered many. They sound like intriguing creatures! Congrats on your book release.

  4. Thanks for the great interview! I like that this book is a mermaid story, but also a ghost story. It's definitely not like anything I've ever read before! I will be reading it soon for sure : )

  5. Thanks for the interview. I love learning about new authors.
    magic5905 at embarqmail dot com

  6. Loved the interview!!

    Do you have a favorite gothic novel?

    1. I guess I have to say Jane Eyre, but mostly, it's the only gothic novel I've ever read? (Is that even possible?! Embarrassing!)

  7. Is Monstrous Beauty going to be a stand alone or part of a series?

    Lindy Gomez

    1. Hi Lindy! Monstrous Beauty is a standalone. But for fun my son and I drew up a (very very rough) outline of a possible sequel. Not because I think I'll write it, but because we got another idea while jogging and I didn't want to forget it.

  8. Hi everyone! I'm home for a few days between tour stops, and finally checking back online with all the blogs! Thanks for these supportive comments. It has been such a lovely ride so far!

  9. Elizabeth,
    I'm curious if your children often help you with your books? Like giving you ideas for stories or just chatting about them and in turn they give you their opinions which may or may not affect the outcome.

    Montrous Beauty sounds really good. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!


    1. Hi Pam! My kids help with everything in my life. For my book signings, my younger daughter made Monstrous Beauty buttons that I've been giving away to readers; for the launch party in Plymouth my son made a colorful giveaway map of all the locations in the book; my other son illustrated a graphic novella (a prequel to the book) that will be released on the MacTeen web site; and most recently my oldest daughter consulted with me about circadian rhythm research for my latest novel (working title Plus One, due out from FSG in January of 2014). Beyond that, they force me to stay current in pop culture—we are Doctor Who, Studio Ghibli, and Game of Thrones addicts—and they read my work and comment on it with a young-adult eye. They also help me cook dinner, to the point where I'm almost not cooking dinner. So to all of you young mothers out there...hang tight, because the lost sleep and diaper changes are going to pay off in spades.

  10. Thank you Elizabeth for answering my question :)

  11. Great interview! Really looking forward to reading this! :)

    So my question is, how long did it take you to write Monstrous Beauty?

    1. Hi Dragongirl! I wrote the outline for MB in a month or two. (I had never worked from an outline before, but I knew this book needed one!) That was the summer of 2009. When I sat down to write the manuscript, it took about 9 months (including revisions after my critique group read it). I sold the book on October 29, 2010, and it took 23 months from that point to edit it and get it on bookshelves.

  12. What a wonderful review. I am so excited to read this book!

    My question would is, if you had to pick one theme song for this book, what would it be?

    1. Hi LeeLou! Since I can't seem to work with music in the background, I never had a theme song in mind while I was working. So I guess I'll just have to plug my son's song, My Dream Girl is a Monster. His album(s) are free and the music is awesome, so you may as well download them...

  13. You should totally read The Yellow Wallpaper because it's a pretty good read. It's short story as well so a quick read. It is psychological but not really scary. It's more of "What is going on here and why is she doing that." I love that story.

  14. How would you react if they made your book into a graphic novel?

  15. This sounds really cool! I'm excited to read it! What was the hardest part of the writing process for you Elizabeth?

    1. Truthfully, Hannah, I loved every part of writing this book. But I always find getting the first draft out to be a bit more difficult than working on revisions. When I have words on the page to work with and manipulate, I feel more comfortable and confident than when I'm creating from scratch.

  16. Do you ever get tired of answering the same questions over and over from readers?

    1. Haha! Cute. But really, the answer is genuinely no, I don't mind answering the same questions, because I'm the world's most inquisitive person and I generally pester other people with questions. I'm on the Fierce Reads tour, for example, and we took a tiny propeller-driven plane from Charlotte to Asheville. When the flight attendant told us that the captain had requested most of us to move to the back of the plane I had to know why. I waited to disembark last so that I could quiz the crew about the balance/ballast/aerodynamic issues of too many people in the front of the plane. :)

  17. I really need to get my hands on this book! It sounds amazing and such a unique plot, have not read anything like this. Thanks so much for the chance to win

  18. I think it's pretty awesome that your kids help you with your books! Were any characters based off of them?

  19. Hi, Jen--
    Hester shares some traits with my grown daughter: highly analytical, cool, but with an undercurrent of passion. I didn't actually see the resemblance until after I had finished the novel and a beta reader who is her age (and friends with her) said, "The fact that Hester is Sally is creeping me out." Ha!

  20. Thank you so much for stopping by Elizabeth! I have been DYING to read your book!

    I think it's interesting that a detailed outline is so important to her. I know that every time I try to make an outline, I tend to sway from it then forget about it entirely no matter how much effort I put into it because my mind comes up with new things to write as I go along. It's not easy! lol


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