Feature: Interview with Alicia J. Novo, Author of 'Unwritten (Zweeshen Chronicles #1)'
Alicia has a weak spot for happy endings and transformative journeys. She spent her teenage years in Argentina and Europe, speaks several languages and loves to travel.
An eclectic reader, she grew up on a diet ranging from Lucy M. Montgomery and Jane Austen to Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, Hermann Hesse, Jorge Luis Borges, and many classics. She's never been cured of reading a bit of everything and is as likely to geek out about Mr. Darcy as Dr. Who.
She is a history and astronomy aficionado, who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, completed her Masters in the Netherlands and worked for Google in Ireland. She decided to become a writer at six but took a full, winding road here. Along the way, she learned if there’s one thing that cuts across cultures, one unifying thread that pulls everyone together, it's a good story.
A big-city girl, she now lives in the Midwest, where she occasionally picks apples and pretends witches exist.
AUTHOR LINKS: ALICIANOVO.COM | GOODREADS | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK
Unwritten - Synopsis
Books whisper to Beatrix Alba. But they aren’t the reason she has never fit in. Bullied at home and school, she keeps a secret—a power of violence and darkness.
When the spell that keeps her hidden fails, she’s catapulted into the Zweeshen, a realm where all tales live, and her dream of meeting her favorite characters comes true. But wishes are tricky, and behind its wonder and whimsy, the Zweeshen is under attack. A character is burning bookworlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers. To succeed, he needs a riddle in Beatrix’s possession.
Now he’s hunting her down.
Joining forces with William, a cursed conjurer, Beatrix must face an enemy who knows her every weakness in a realm where witches play with time, Egyptian gods roam, and Regency heroines lead covert operations. And with her darkness as the only weapon, she may have to sacrifice everything to save a world that rejects her.
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What do you love most about ‘Unwritten?’
I love that Unwritten is magical and fun, but that it also can be read at a deeper level and addresses issues that matter to me, like discrimination and rejecting what’s different.
My favorite part is the Zweeshen, the world of Unwritten. To have all characters ever written in one place opens up so many possibilities. I wanted to write an immersive, whimsical story, a place—because I do think of books as places—where one could go when in need of refuge and adventure. The Zweeshen is such a unique and eclectic place, diverse and wacky and playful. But it can also be dark and a bit oppressive. I enjoyed playing with those contrasts.
What do you feel makes your novel unique?
I think Unwritten has fun with itself. There is an offbeat, tongue-in-cheek element to it. Because it is the world of stories, devices from multiple genres are weaved into the story. Darkness and light are balanced, and there is a hopeful message. The combination of those things makes it different from a lot of what’s out there right now. It is a wild ride, a high-stakes fantasy adventure set in a book lovers world.
If you had to describe Beatrix using her three strongest personality traits, what would they be?
Beatrix’s character was fascinating to write because she has this big dichotomy within her: she is bullied but powerful, strong but insecure. She is loving, but her rage overpowers her. I had to find a way to portray that and make it believable. I needed to connect those opposing reactions to the driving force within her, the one thing that defines her, which is her determination. Beatrix finds her way by being unrelenting in her quest. Her core attributes are her resilience and her willingness to be brave both against violence and danger but also against the hurts and risks of love.
If time were running out for your favorite bookworlds as a reader and you could visit just one, which would it be and why?
Such a difficult question. I change my mind about this depending on the day. That’s the great thing about bookworlds; we can always visit one that fits our mood. Today, I’d say I would visit Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Rivendell of the elves. I’ve always found it enthralling in a very romantic, evocative way. And I love the idea of beings who’ve had many centuries to learn.
If ‘Unwritten’ had a playlist, what genre would be most prominent? What’s one song that would probably be included?
By force, it would have to be a mix of genres. I think finding a way to combine the old and new, the upbeat with the more soulful, voice with instrumental. One song that really resonates and speaks to some of the underlying themes in Unwritten is Runaway by Aurora.
I read on your blog that your publisher also optioned a sequel. Is that something you’re looking ahead at yet?
Yes, absolutely. Unwritten was created as a series—and while it can be read as a standalone—there is an overarching world arc and pending questions meant to be answered in future installments. I’m busy working on the sequel.
What quality is the most critical for you to enjoy a story?
I need a story to transport me. Some authors accomplish that through amazing settings, others with characters that squeeze our hearts or get under our skin. Others give you a plot so riveting you can’t sit still. I want a writer to guide me away from my life so that when I’m done reading, I will look around and only half-recognize my house.
What’s a book you’ve read that made you take a step back and think differently about fiction?
It was a long time ago, but as a teen, I read The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges. It is a short story, so not even a novel. But it made me realize stories could be something different from what I had thought. There is a need to have conflict and interesting characters, but beyond that, an author has the freedom to go in many directions, even down a rabbit hole that forces one to think. Stories are a way to make the complex simple, to tell hard truths through make-believe. The concept of the Aleph changed me. It is not a coincidence that a similar idea makes an appearance in Unwritten.
Your author bio says you love history and astronomy. What’s the most obscure history or astronomy fact you can think of?
I don’t know if it’s obscure, but for history, what never stops surprising me is that things we assume are set in stone weren’t always so: In the early middle ages Catholic priests married, people didn’t sleep the night through but had a first sleep and second sleep, and in between they met with neighbors, did chores, and chatted—all in the middle of the night.
As far as astronomy, I love that when we look at the sky, we’re observing the past, like through a time machine. And the idea that every element in our chemical makeup was created in the heart of a supernova. We’re not just stardust; we’re the afterlife of stars. Oh, and scientists believe that in Neptune, it rains diamonds.
Since you’ve lived and explored numerous places around the world, what would you say in your personal experiences might be universal between the cultures you’ve encountered and their approach to storytelling?
The love and need for stories are what’s universal. Nothing connects people as much as stories, and we’re lucky to live in a time with access to tales from many places. I think the differences are in the style. In America, we do a lot of “show, don’t tell.” In other places, the “telling” is still in vogue, and it can be very beautiful because it creates a distance that feels otherworldly. Pacing is something that varies too. Here things are faster. Some stories from other cultures take more time, pay more attention to small things, describe more with a critical eye. It is hard to generalize, and genre plays a role, of course. But in truth, the differences are in the details. Tales unite us because of the human experience we share. Everywhere in the world, from the beginning of civilization, what we want is the same. To be safe, to be accepted, and to be loved.
What’s something memorable you experienced during your travels?
A few years ago, I walked the Way of St. James, a 500-mile pilgrimage road that winds from the Pyrenees in France to Compostela in the North of Spain. I did the journey on foot with just a backpack, staying at hostels. It took me six weeks, and it was such a demanding and wonderful experience.
You get worried you might not hit the next hostel before they run out of room, you get rained on, you get blisters under your toenails. But then you eat at a lady’s living room where she shows you pictures of the husband she lost. You meet a torero and a Japanese Opera singer; you encounter a Dutch guy with cancer who does 20 miles a year but is determined to complete a trip. You sleep in a convent with fifty people, and you participate in an impromptu dance on a cobblestone street. You share tapas with strangers who spill their secrets to you.
That, to me, is what makes traveling memorable, the moments that open you up and show you glimpses of others with very different lives. I tried to capture that surprise and wonder in Unwritten.
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