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November 9, 2015

We were so excited to run a Twitter chat with YA author Ryan Graudin on November 4th, whose latest book, WOLF BY WOLF, came out on October 20, 2015.  Did you miss it? Don’t worry --- we reposted some of our Tweets back and forth, below! AND, because we only got to chat for half an hour, Ryan graciously agreed to answer our remaining questions via email. You can see those below, too --- which format do you like better?

P.S.: Curious about the hashtag #MBFGraudin? The MBF stands for the Miami Book Fair, who helped put this together. Ryan will be speaking there on November 20th, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check her out!

@Teenreads:Let's start at the VERY start of your career - can you remember the first story you ever wrote? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: The VERY first story? It was called the Evetchers of White Wolf. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I was 6, maybe 7 years old when I wrote it. It's illustrated and everything. I wrote it in my dad's old tax ledger. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I still read it sometimes, and realize how cheap mortgages were in the 90s. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. Cool! What was it about? #MBFGRaudin

@ryangraudin: The villain was a man who controlled lightning named Dr. Vogestein. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:.AMAZING. He sounds terrifying.  #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: The heroine was, (you guessed it) an anthropomorphic white wolf. She had evetchers. (Adventures. Mispelled.) #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: It's actually a short story collection. There are quite a few stories about White Wolf and her family. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. Were you a big reader growing up? What were some of your favorite books? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I was a HUGE reader growing up. REDWALL by Brian Jacques was a really huge staple. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I used to pretend I was a hare from Salamandastron and get in swordfights in the woods as a child because I <3 Redwall so much. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I also loved Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Prydain Chronicles, the Abhorsen trilogy... #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Dark is Rising... #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:.  You studied creative writing in high school & college, so you knew pretty early on this is what you wanted to do. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I've always wanted to be an author. There was never a point in my life when I didn't. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: There was a point, in college, where I questioned the practicality of that career goal. But then I said screw it & went for it. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I took every creative writing class I could. They helped SO much with form and learning how to take critique. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: That being said, there's only so much you can learn from a class. Being a big reader really helped me become the writer I am. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:.  So no "eureka moment," you just always knew? If only we could all be so lucky! #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I've watched my brothers both struggle post college trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I count myself fortunate. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:.On that note, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?  #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: My advice for aspiring writers would be don't stop writing. It takes A LOT of words to become publishable. A lot. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: Also, read everything you can. And read outside of your comfort zone genres! #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: Find what inspires you and keep doing it. Travel is one of my big inspirations, so I do everything I can to make it possible! #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. Your most recent book, #WolfByWolf, is an alternate history where the Axis Powers win WWII #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. And #TheWalledCity takes place in the historical Kowloon Walled City. Have you always been interested in history? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: History. Yes, I've always gravitated toward it. Ironically I had some pretty terrible history teachers in HS. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: My US History teacher hated war, so we skipped a lot of the "conflicts" in favor of flappers. It was terrible. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I was homeschooled before that though, so I had a lot of self-motivation when it came to researching history on my own. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: The very first thing about #WolfByWolf that came to me was the opening prologue: "Once upon a different time..." #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. Yael can shape shift! Did you always know #WolfbyWolf would have fantastical elements or did that surprise even u? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: The skinshifting was always a part of the book from day one. #MBFGraudin#WolfByWolf

@Teenreads:.Did you do any "method writing" for the skinshifting part of #WolfbyWolf & pretend to be somebody else for awhile? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: Not for the skinshifting part. I did ride motorbikes and shoot WW2 rifles though. #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I got so many bruises from learning how to operate a motorcycle. I do not envy my characters in the least. #MBFGraudin

@Teenreads:. What! Tell us more about the motorcycles, please! Awesome, terrifying or both? #MBFGraudin

@ryangraudin: I Awesome. I've always wanted one, but I'm too risk averse to actually ride much. #MBFGraudin

______________________________________________________ I loved how in WOLF BY WOLF, Yael’s (the protagonist’s) tattoos symbolized the people who she has loved, been inspired by and lost. Why did you decide to make Yael's past such an important part of her present?

Ryan Graudin: One of the main questions I strive to ask and address in WOLF BY WOLF is: “What makes people who they are?” So often we judge by outward appearances and preconceived prejudices… It only takes a tenth of a second for our brain to gather a first impression of someone. But we are not our faces. Yael cannot remember her original face, due to some horrific things she was put through as a child. In order to survive, she must slip into the identities and faces of others, never truly owning her own skin. The only thing Yael has to hold on to is her past experiences: the people and situations that have formed her into the person she is. I know that, in my own life, the people I’ve known, the experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve been… all of these have been integral in shaping me into the person I am today.

TRC: And part two: who were some of your biggest influencers...people who maybe deserve a tattoo on YOUR arm?

RG: My parents, certainly. My brothers as well. Family is so, so important. My late father-in-law was definitely another one of my heroes/inspirations. My husband. My friends, both near and far. My writing mentors. Honestly, there are so, so many people who’ve loved me and supported me and formed me into the person I am.

TRC: Do you have any tattoos yourself?

RG: I’ve never been brave enough to commit to a single design. I’ve had ideas in the past, but I always like to wait a few years and see if I'm still as enamored with the design. So far, there’s been nothing that’s stuck. I do like the idea of getting something done in white ink. Something subtle and meaningful.

TRC: You've traveled all over the world. How have those experiences influenced your stories?

RG:Psychological studies have shown that traveling abroad changes your very personality. Once people have spent an extended amount of time engaging with other cultures, their openness to new experiences, agreeability with others and general emotional stability are all heightened. I didn’t start traveling extensively until college and beyond, but I can definitely see the changes it’s wrought in my worldview, as well as my empathy for others. The most life-changing trip I took was to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when I was 20 years old. The program I went with strove to help college students experience, and therefore better understand, third-world poverty. I lived with a host family in the slums and couldn’t do anything they wouldn’t be able to do for six weeks. It was eye opening. It was humbling. It was the very beginnings of what would later become Jin Ling’s story in THE WALLED CITY.

TRC: Do you ever write while on the road?

RG: I love writing in airplanes, probably because I’m too cheap to pay for GoGo internet and so I have no contact with the outside world/distractions. I do sometimes work in hotel rooms, especially if I’m on tour. Some trips however, I put away the laptop and live. We went to Iceland this summer for three weeks and I didn’t even think about my writing projects/social media/email. It was SO relaxing. Sometimes you just need to rest and soak your experiences in.

TRC: Where is the next place you plan to visit?

RG: I still haven’t been to Australia, so I definitely want to make it there in the next few years. I would love to go to Turkey as well. I might have an opportunity to go to Cuba in a few months, so I’m hoping that will pull through.

TRC: You write in so many genres; fantasy, action, history, thriller. Is there a style that comes most naturally to you?

RG: Growing up, I was a huge fantasy reader. The genre was my first love, and when I first began writing longer pieces, I was always drawn to setting stories in high fantasy worlds. THE WALLED CITY was my first true departure from that. (I’d always had some magical element to my stories before, but it never really fit in TWC, no matter how many times I tried to incorporate it.) I was honestly completely surprised when THE WALLED CITY turned out to be a thriller. I’d never set out to make it that way. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve learned to just sit back and let the story tell itself, no matter what genre it ends up landing in.

TRC: You have to research a lot for your books. Do you do that first and then write, or do you do both parts at once?

RG: A little of both. There’s a lot of base research that has to be done before pen can be put to page, especially when history is involved. For THE WALLED CITY I did extensive research on the nature of the Kowloon Walled City, which my fictional version is based on. I learned so many small details that really helped me bring the setting to life when I started writing it down. For WOLF BY WOLF I had already had a lot of base knowledge of World War II from years of research, but I had to do a lot of reading on Hitler’s vision for the world once he won (ie. the New Order). It was grim.

Once I feel like I have a good footing in the world, I’ll start writing, but that hardly means the research stops. There are so many things to fact check while you’re writing: clothing, language of the time, plaza names, dates. Even when I finish writing the rough draft of the story I’m still researching, still having fact checkers and cultural readers go over my books and point out things that need rewriting.

TRC: And what are your thoughts on outlines --- do you use them, or plot as you write?

RG: I’ve done both. Both ways work, but I’m beginning to think that having outlines beforehand really adds to the pacing and suspense of the finished product! If I have a lot of time on my hands I’ll plot as I write, since I love watching the story piece itself together in that way.

TRC: Do you have a favorite place to write? A favorite drink or snack while writing?

RG: I require a hot beverage at all times. Usually black coffee or herbal tea. My writing location migrates depending on the day: desk, dining room, coffee shop, husband’s office, airplane. I write where I can!

TRC: I hear you make playlists while writing. What song or songs dominated while writing WOLF BY WOLF?

RG: The total WOLF BY WOLF playlist is 104 songs long! Of course, I had a few songs that stood out above the rest:

“Looted Fires” by Jenny Dalton --- I listened to this song a lot when I was doing research for WOLF BY WOLF and forming the world/brainstorming. There’s a very desolate yet frantic sound to it, which is how I wanted the landscape of this Axis-ruled world to come across.

“The Home We Made, Pt. II” (feat. Dylan Owens) by Crywolf --- This song was the main theme for Chapter 15 and Chapter 19. Something about the mood of the music and the lyrics reminds me very much of Yael’s relationship with Aaron-Klaus, her fourth wolf.

“Glory and Gore” by Lorde --- My husband was actually the person to discover this song and tell me, “This would be PERFECT for WOLF BY WOLF!” while I was drafting. Lorde has a very mournful voice in general, and the lyrics to this one are pretty spot on!

“Tiger Dust” by Hybrid --- I love Hybrid. They’re an amazing soundtrack/instrumental artist and have made many appearances on my novel writing playlists. To me, “Tiger Dust” encapsulates the feel of the Axis Tour: motorcycles roaring along kilometers of dusty road. Best listened to while reading Chapter 12.

“Love Can Kill You” by BT --- “Love can kill you/Love can save us all.” is a line from this song that really resonates with the theme of this book, and Yael’s relationships in general.

“Nice To Meet Me” by Zack Hemsey --- Zack Hemsey is an artist I first discovered when I was writing THE WALLED CITY. (A lot of his instrumental pieces made it onto my playlist for that novel). As I was drafting WOLF BY WOLF he came out with an album called Ronin. Most of the songs made it onto WbW’s playlist, but this one in particular seems to encapsulate Yael’s journey. It fits well with most of Chapter 34.

“Run Boy Run” by Woodkid

This song is best listened to at the end of the book (from the end of Chapter 34 to Chapter 36). iTunes tells me I have listened to it 693 times while writing that part of the story!

TRC: What's the best fan interaction you've had so far?

RG: Every fan interaction is surreal. It still amazes me that people I don’t know are reading my stories. One of the most memorable fan interactions for me so far was doing a library visit and meeting a girl who was in the middle of reading THE WALLED CITY. She was so visibly excited --- fangirling, even --- and I couldn’t help but be humbled at her reaction to the story.

TRC: Your husband is a photographer. Do you think you influence each other, creatively?

RG: It’s funny. My husband would tell you he’s not particularly artistic (though he is, he’s just in denial!). When we first got married, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his career, and I was quick to encourage his budding interest in photography. It’s been really cool to watch both of us pursue our individual creative careers, and we both realize how fortunate we are to be able to make a living doing what we love.

TRC: And a quick hint...what are you working on now?

 RG: I have a few projects in the queue, but one I’m really excited to dive into is very sci-fi in nature. (Yes. A new genre!) We’ll see where it goes!