Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interrogation Room #39: Elisa Ludwig, author of PRETTY SLY

Today marks the release of our very own Elisa Ludwig's PRETTY SLY, the sequel to her heart-pounding debut, PRETTY CROOKED, about teenage thief Willa Fox.

PRETTY SLY, called a "crackling-good adventure" by Kirkus, asks the question, "What would you do if your mom disappeared and forbade you to come after her?"

In between celebrations for her launch, Elisa bravely agreed to an interrogation about her writing process.

1) Something I'm dying to know: How did you research the terrific scene where Tre teaches Willa how to pick-pocket in PRETTY CROOKED?

Heh heh. I used a combination of my own real life experience as a pickpocket victim, some shady websites and some very cool YouTube videos—there's a great BBC series called The Real Hustle, which gave me some interesting ideas for mixing up the thieving scenes. The reality is there's a lot of criminal how-to out there for the reading, but that could be a good thing, if people use it to avoid being victimized.

2) Can readers expect to see some familiar faces in PRETTY SLY (besides Willa and Aidan)? Did you pluck any smaller roles from the first book and give them a larger presence in the second book?

Yes, the principle characters are all there, though the Glitterati only have a bit part, which turns the catty quotient in this sequel way down from the first book! I don't know that anyone has a larger presence but even the main characters in the first book are pretty mysterious and secretive, so the second book deepens our understanding of them—but also raises many new questions ...

3) How much downtime did you have between books? Was it easy or difficult to return to characters from the first book? 

I think I finished PRETTY CROOKED in February and started PRETTY SLY in May or June. Not too much time had elapsed, and I was working on copyedits and things while drafting the sequel so that helped keep everything fresh. I loved coming back to the same characters. It was so much easier to start a book in a place where I already understood my characters and their motivations. Sometimes that process alone will take a few drafts. It allowed me to focus on the increasingly more complicated plot!

4) Was your high school experience anything like the experiences of your characters? Was there a clear-cut line between the haves and have-nots?

My high school experience was only similar in that I went to a private school and, as a middle class student, was very aware of class distinctions and how students communicated their status through clothing, cars, etc. While the mean girl behavior in my high school was much more subtle, there was certainly a sense that some (but not all) of the most privileged kids "ruled the school" socially. But I was definitely more of a fringe-y character than Willa. Like the Say Anything dudes say, "by choice, man." Or so I told myself!

5) What challenges did you face in writing SLY that were different from writing CROOKED? Was anything easier the second time around?

I think the challenge with SLY was to make Willa's experience more difficult and keep turning those screws. This book has much higher stakes: she's in greater danger and she's also facing some really difficult emotional truths. The tone here shifts as a result, and keeping that in balance with Willa's bubbly personality and the lighter feel of the first book was at times tricky. On the other hand, I felt really lucky that SLY sends things in such a different direction that it truly felt like a whole new adventure to write. As I said, the characters were much easier the second time around, and I think I had a much better handle on the structure of the story from the very beginning. Also, it certainly didn't hurt that I was working with the same brilliant editors, so I always had their voice in my head when I was drafting, keeping me on course.

6) When you wrote PRETTY CROOKED, did you always know it would have a sequel, or did you envision it as a stand-alone? If you did map out the sequel early on, how much did the finished product of PRETTY SLY compare to your original plan?

I always knew it would be a trilogy. Parts of PRETTY SLY were imagined originally as part of PRETTY CROOKED (through the first leg of their road trip, basically), but as time went on it became clear that Willa's time at Valley Prep really deserved its own book. That being said, all of the key clues except maybe a couple we added in copy edits were already in the first book when it came time to write the second. The third book was much more vaguely conceived going into it, and it probably changed the most dramatically in revisions—down to the actual answer to the mystery!

7) Besides Willa's vicariously satisfying Robin Hood-esque scheme of "spreading the wealth around" at her school, there is a second, overarching mystery about Willa's mother. When you have two (or three!) separate mysteries going on, how do you keep track of each person's head space at different points of their respective time lines? 

Oh, man. That's only the tip of the iceberg with this series! It can be tough, that's for sure. I wish I was one of those people who used Post-Its or a big magic marker or something, but truthfully, I just used a lot of Kanye West all-caps-esque notes to myself in the text as I wrote. Stuff like "REMEMBER: SHE ONLY KNOWS X,Y and Z, HERE!!!" and "HOW THE HECK IS SHE GOING TO COME TO THIS CONCLUSION?!!"

9) PRETTY CROOKED resolves certain plot elements perfectly, while still serving as a cliffhanger. Did you get any angry letters about the ending? Was it difficult to write a conclusion that leads directly into a new adventure?

Yes! Maybe not super-angry, but a lot of teasing and frustrating ones. My editors and I went back and forth about where to leave things, and ultimately decided on the cliffhanger, which has its old-fashioned charms. I wouldn't say it was difficult to write that ending but I maybe felt a bit guilty to do that to readers. I hope PRETTY SLY will satisfy them!

10) I love Aidan and Willa's banter, as well as Willa's friendship-chemistry with Cherise and Tre. Do you have particular techniques you draw on to keep your dialogue so sharp? 

Thank you so much! I like to read dialogue out loud (if no one else is in the house!) to get a feel for how someone might really say something. And it's definitely something I fine-tune in revision, stripping it back more and more, because most people speak much more efficiently than I actually write.

11) When is book #3 coming out?

March 2015!

Check out the trailer for PRETTY SLY, below, and then enter to win a free copy of BOTH BOOKS!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I'm looking forward to starting the series. I just finished reading Also Known as not too long ago where the MC is a safe hacker which I really liked so I think I'll really like the Pretty series.

  2. I am so excited for this sequel! The book trailer is amazing!

  3. Trailer Looks fantastic I loved Pretty Sly I just finished a few days ago <3 <3

  4. Hooray! Thanks for these comments and your kind words!


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