Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Interrogation Room #19: GINA DAMICO, author of the CROAK series

OK. Confession.

We've been a little worried here at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis this week.

You see, we'd sent YA author Gina Damico a summons, and we were planning to haul her into the Interrogation Room today.We had her chair set up in the little room, and the light set to "moderately blinding." We had a list of intense questions prepared.

Then we found out she's currently off on a "Slapdash Road Trip Book Tour," Unbelievable! She's a person of interest, and she skipped town!

Personally, I was worried because I know Gina, and I happen to know that she doesn't drive much. And I know that she's never attempted a road trip of this magnitude before. And that she set off one morning this week with an accomplice (allegedly a sister, but who knows), the sketchiest of plans, and some strange talismans placed on the dashboard (a skull named Yorick. And a stuffed cupcake? What is that about?) The thought of her on the lam, racing toward Texas via Chicago and God knows where else, made me shiver.

But because I know Gina, and because I follow her blog and her books, I know there's nothing slapdash about her. I decided if anyone could pull off this crazy stunt -- and write dazzlingly about it -- it would be her.Yet with Gina road tripping, who would come to explain her secrets of blending mystery, suspense, and humor in CROAK, a darkly funny trilogy about crime in a town of grim reapers?

A source tipped us off that she'd be sending her proxy. Yeah. This guy.

I know, I know. Don't fear the reaper. But, see, I kind of do.

So I was relieved when, thanks to the miracle of ubiquitous wi-fi, Gina showed up in our Interrogation Room after all!

First, while she catches her breath, here's a little bit about CROAK (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, published March 2012):
Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex's parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach Lex the family business. She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can't stop her desire for justice - or is it vengeance? - whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

And here's a little bit about the next book in the trilogy, SCORCH (which is, literally, hot off the press -- out this week!)
Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home. To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

And here's my interview with Gina!

Diana: Did you always know there would be a detective story in Croak, or did the mystery work its way in after you started?
Gina: I always knew I wanted to do a mystery, but the motives and the particulars changed along the way. At first, Lex and Driggs [a fellow grim reaper, a cute boy she sleuths with] were the only ones who knew that a crime was being committed, and they were the only ones who were doing the sleuthing -- but somewhere amidst the second or third or forty-second draft, I realized that there was no reason to leave the other Junior Grims out of the fun. Once the secret was out and everyone started working on it together, that's when the whole detective thing really started to hum along.

Diana: Will Scorch also feature scythe-wielding sleuths and dastardly detective methods? 
Gina: There isn't as much of a murder-mystery-type-dealy in Scorch, but there's still a bit of sleuthing -- the gang must decode a cryptic note, which only leads to more clues, to more clues, and . . . well, I like puzzles. That becomes obvious pretty quickly.

Diana: What's the most challenging part of writing a mystery plot? Did you encounter any mystery-plotting problems in writing Croak or Scorch, and if so, how did you solve them?
Gina: Oddly enough, in Croak I didn't have as much of a problem with the intricate nuances that a mystery plot requires, but rather with the actual motive of the killer in the end. At first, it had all been a sort of a cop-out, and the killer didn't have very strong reasons to justify the things they did. Once I revised it, though, it all got a little stronger -- and in fact, those edits gave the mystery plot a lot more depth and twists and turns in the end, so I'm glad I made those changes.
Poe: so emo?

Diana: I love that Edgar Allen Poe (along with a raven!)* appears as a character in the Afterlife -- especially since he's the father of the American detective story. Are you a big Poe fan yourself? What's your favorite Poe story? (*disclaimer: no actual ravens were harmed in the writing of this novel).
Gina: I am a big fan of Poe -- and my portrayal of him as an emo, sad-sack kind of guy probably isn't entirely accurate, but it's always fun to think of him as such. I like a lot of his stuff, but for some reason at the moment I'm thinking "The Gold-Bug.” It isn't nearly as dark as some of his other work, but since it's so heavy on cryptography, it appeals very much to the puzzle nerd in me.

Diana: One of the most wildly inventive scenes in Croak (a novel in which EVERY scene is wildly inventive!) involves an insane mash-up of just about every board game invented, from Twister to Battleship to (my favorite), Clue. I love how Lex bonds with her grim reaper friends over this ongoing game, and it's a wonderful mix of the fantastic and the mundane -- one of these great details that makes Lex seem ordinary and relatable despite her extraordinary circumstances. Are you a board game aficionado like Lex? What's your favorite game? Can we expect a Croak board game someday, and if so, what would it look like?
Gina: I am a HUGE board game fan. Between my husband and I we have over a hundred, and they live on a giant shelf in our dining room. We even had a board game-themed wedding -- tables were named after games and were labeled with Scrabble tiles, and the cake toppers were black and white Sorry pieces. As for my favorite, I really like a lot more obscure ones that people probably won't recognize -- but among the classics, you can't go wrong with a good game of Clue. And I don't know how a Croak board game would work, but I bet it would involve a lot of mysterious red blotches all over the place.

Diana: What's the grimmest part of the writing process for you? And the most heavenly part?
Gina: Grimmest part -- the first draft. That's always tricky, getting stuff onto the page for the first time. But that always leads to the heavenly part -- revisions. Well, I'm not sure they're heavenly, exactly, but that's where the story always starts to come together for me, where all the little details get filled in and it seems like more of a book.

Diana: How do you get this peculiar alchemy of humor and terror in your writing? 
Gina: One of my main goals in writing Croak was to somehow blend a strong element of funny with something a little darker--and there's just something inherently hilarious about grim reapers. I mean, look at them. Those wacky hoodies, those scythes. They're neck-deep in death every day, yet that's their job, day in and day out. You've got to be able to inject some levity into that kind of lifestyle.

Diana: Our sources have unearthed evidence that you used to hang out with a gang of suspicious-sounding character called The Committee for Creative Enactments. A group involved in, ahem (*shuffles papers*) murder mystery improv comedy. Is this group responsible for putting you on the past to writing morbidly mysterious novels about grim reapers?
Gina: Actually, it is. We wrote these ridiculous, over-the-top murder mysteries, none of which would be readable in a book form but that at the time were incredibly entertaining. (To us, at least. I'm not sure the audience was ever able to follow along completely.) But that gave me a good sense of how to blend funny with murder, and when the time came to write Croak, I certainly drew back upon those superpowers of mine.

Diana: How many yoctoseconds* does it take you to write a page? (*read the book to learn about this unit of time!)
Gina: 9.0 x 10^26.

Diana: What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh light of this interrogation room? 
Gina: Sometimes I talk to my cat while writing. He approves of everything I do, which is nice.

Diana: Thanks for coming by, Gina, and good luck with the series!
Gina: Thanks for having me, and happy reaping reading!

Here's where Gina lurks online:
Her website
Her hilarious blog (read it and reap!)
The Apocalypsies (how apt!)
Twitter: @ginadamico

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