Lenore Appelhans and Megan Shepherd on Their Daring Debuts
As the number of young adult book readers continues to grow, more writers are making their debut as first-time authors. We talked to Lenore Appelhans, author of "Level 2," and Megan Shepard, author of "The Madman's Daughter," about their experience writing for this expanding audience. So what's next for these authors? Lenore will be publishing a sequel to "Level 2" and has a children's book she wrote under the name Lenore Jennewein called "Chick-O-Saurus Rex." Megan has already inked a deal for a series called "The Cage" which is "about these psychic all-powerful aliens who take some kids and put them in a human zoo for observation." The two revealed to Bookish how they generated their ideas, how they benefited from online communities such as the Apocalypises and what they think the next big YA trends will be.
Bookish: Tell us how you came up with the ideas for your books?
Megan Shepherd: My book, "The Madman’s Daughter," is a young adult graphic thriller retelling of H.G. Wells’ "The Island of Doctor Moreau." Even though it’s a retelling of a classic, I got the idea for it because of my love for the TV show "Lost." I was so obsessed with the idea of a mysterious island and really wanted to bring something new to that. That’s when I remembered "The Island of Doctor Moreau." It has so many ideas that are still relevant and there was plenty of room to do a spin on it and tell it with a totally fresh perspective.
Lenore Appelhans: In my case, "Level 2" is about a girl who finds herself in a stark white afterlife where she relives her memories of life over and over again via a memory chamber, until a boy she knew in life breaks her out and tells her that there’s a rebellion brewing and they need her help. My first idea for a book was something to do with memories and how valuable memories might be in the afterlife. I thought about that for many years but never really had an idea of how to develop it into a novel until I started reading a lot of young adult books for my blog, "Presenting Lenore." I really got into dystopian [novels]. One day, I was in the shower--where I get all my good ideas--and I thought, “What would a dystopian afterlife look like?” And so that, combined with the first idea of memories as currency, came together to form the basis for "Level 2."
Bookish: Tell us about how you got involved with debut groups and working with the Apocalypsies in particular?
LA: As a book blogger, I was pretty aware of these groups. So, I’d known every year when the new class came out. I looked at it and saw what they were doing, and I’ve always been excited for debuts and supporting debuts. I read a lot of books from debut authors in the past, and then I knew as soon as I got my deal--that’s one of the first things I did, I joined Apocalypses, which was the group for 2012. That was one of my moments of “Oh, I’ve made it now, yay! I can join a debut group!”
MS: The online communities are just fantastic. I found out about it just from being an aspiring writer and following other author’s blogs. So, I followed their journey and learned about these debut groups and, like Lenore, I felt like I had made it when I joined the Thirteeners--the lucky thirteens. Getting to know the other debut authors is so incredible because you don’t always realize how much you don’t know about the industry. I think our editors and agents are great, but they have been through this so many times, they also forget that [debut authors] don’t really know what’s going to happen or what the expectations are, what all the terminology is. To have a place where you can connect with hundreds of other people who are going through the exact same thing as you is incredibly helpful and inspiring.
LA: It's great, too, because you have a sort of built-in friend group all over the world. When I came to Asheville for a signing, Megan actually invited me to stay at her house, so that was great. And I love to tell the story because I read "The Madman’s Daughter" while I was in her guest bedroom, which doesn’t have any curtains, and the atmosphere was so freaky, I was just thinking, “Ahh, I should not read this here.”
Bookish: What is your least favorite trend in young adult lit right now?
MS: I would say that sometimes things are just so big that you just get kind of tired of them. In the same way that we all got a little paranormal romance fatigue after "Twilight," now, I think, we’re all feeling a little dystopian fatigue. Which is such a shame because I love dystopians, those are some of my favorite books. But I think that there’s just so many right now, it makes them harder to stand out and ideas start to feel familiar. I’m kind of hoping that those will tail off and then there will be a resurgence later when we are more fresh for that again.
LA: I’m a huge dystopian reader. I’ve probably read approaching 200 dystopian books [by] now. A lot of them keep bringing out these familiar tropes. It has to be really fresh or different for me to get interested. I think I groan the most when I see… people are really trying to find new paranormal creatures for human girls to fall in love with. So it’s like, “Oh, no, she falls in love with this half troll, half unicorn!” And I’m just like, “Really? Um, no.”
Bookish: In two words, what do you think that the next big trend in young adult lit is going to be?
MS: Gosh, two words. I’m going to say half-troll, half-unicorn. Please no. I’ll go out on a limb and say historical fiction.
LA: I feel like it's time travel--I see a lot of those coming out and I’m really excited about those.