Calgary bestselling author Suzy Vadori is the Program Manager for the literary festival, When Words Collide. Moreover, she is a Young Adult author who has built an incredible fanbase with her books The Fountain and The West Woods. Wanting to learn more about her career and her book series, I was able to interview Vadori for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Suzy Vadori: As a tween, I read Gordon Korman’s McDonald Hall, Lois Lowry’s Anastasia books – these are the books that inspired me to want to write, and I read them over and over, even starting a few novels during that time, which I never finished. Now, I hunt down copies of these (the Anastasia series isn’t easy to find!) to share with my own kids.
From those middle grade stories, I graduated right to books that were downright inappropriate at eleven, such as VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I wrote more about this issue, and how the birth of Young Adult books has provided the new generation so much more to read, here: https://suzyvadori.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/what-are-your-kids-reading/
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to have a career as a professional writer? Was there a single moment that crystallized this for you?
Vadori: I always knew I would write a book one day, but I had no idea it would be for young adults. Every idea I got excited about and wanted to write was either too personal, or too edgy to fit with my career, and the future role I hoped to play as a mom, so I didn’t write them. My husband said, “write under a pseudo-name, nobody will ever know it’s you!” But I knew enough about myself that I would want to be involved in the promotion of whatever I wrote, and that’s hard to do if you’re in hiding.
Young adult books started gaining steam and cross-over to adult audiences about the same time as I became a mom. That seemed like the perfect fit for what I wanted to achieve – to write something meaningful and personal, yet something I’d be proud for my own kids to read someday.
Yanes: You live in Calgary. What is the writing community like there? Are there any coffee shops that writers have to visit?
Vadori: The writing community in Calgary is amazing. When I finished the first draft of The Fountain, in 2013, I was on maternity leave with my third child. I looked around for a Young Adult writing community to figure out what I needed to do next – how to get the darned thing published. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I stumbled upon an amazing multi-genre festival called When Words Collide. The festival is held every August, and it was only April, so I attended one of their Board’s planning meetings to see if there were some resources they could point me to.
And point me, they did. But they also appointed me – as Program Director, for Young Adult Programming at the festival (despite my protestations that I was new to the scene and wasn’t sure how I could help). They gave me a list of thirty topics that might be good at the upcoming festival and told me to ask around for Young Adult authors who might want to present at the festival. Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I contacted every Young Adult author I could find in Alberta. Soon, I had all thirty topics filled with presentations, panels, workshops… you name it. I came to the next meeting with a list of fifty authors who were coming to the festival to present on Young Adult topics – all authors I was dying to meet.
I was met with dead silence, and then a standing ovation. The Chair of the committee, Randy McCharles, admitted he’d given me a list of thirty topics, but they’d only ever had enough interest for 2-3 panels per year. We never looked back. Since then, we’ve had over a hundred young adult authors attend the festival, from the far reaches of North America, and they’ve become my friends, my colleagues, my community. I’m very lucky to be counted among such amazing talent. The festival grew from a strong fantasy and sci-fi base, and has adopted the expansion approach with other genres, including Literary, Romance, Poetry and Mystery.
Coffee shops? I write first drafts in public whenever I can. Something about the buzz keeps me motivated. But I’m more likely to be found typing away at a counter with a glass of red wine than sitting in a coffee shop. One of my favorite places to write is The Vin Room West, in Calgary, with a plate of meat and cheeses.
Yanes: You are currently writing novels in what you’ve titled The Fountain series. What was the inspiration for this series?
Vadori: I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love having the kids sneak in and out of the dorms and wander the campus at all hours of the night. The idea for the fountain itself came when I looked at the generation I was writing for, including my own kids. They have the world at their fingertips, and we as parents, want to give it to them. What if we could? What if all the wishes they ever made came true? That is what The Fountain Series is about, at its core.
Yanes: As you developed The Fountain series from idea to written work, were there any characters or subplots that took on a life of their own?
Vadori: One of the themes in the original draft of The Fountain was platonic love. I have no idea why I thought readers might want a story about characters that supported each other unconditionally, with a love that isn’t romantic. I still might write that one day, I find it a difficult and fascinating approach to young adult relationships. But I got overruled by alpha and beta readers, saying it was unrealistic for there to be no romantic connection.
Two different plotlines in The Fountain emerged. When The Fountain was released, it became known for being a touching romance, and found readership with teens, but also with women who enjoy YA fiction. And that was terrific, because I have to admit, I love a good romantic plotline. With the overwhelming reception to the romance in The Fountain, my publisher (Evil Alter Ego Press) and I had to scramble to make sure The West Woods had a strong romantic plot as well, so as not to disappoint our readers.
Yanes: What are your long term goals for The Fountain series? Do you see it having a definitive ending? Also, would you like to see it as show or movie one day?
Vadori: The Fountain series has one more installment, Wall of Wishes, which will be released in 2019. This book is the one that readers are waiting for, as the first two left many questions unanswered. The first 2 books have been nominated for an Aurora Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. I am so honored and proud that these books have been recognized by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.
I’ve had some interest in foreign translation of the series, which is exciting. And yes, The Fountain Series would make terrific movies. I hope someday to see Courtney – the girl who gets wished away – played out on screen. She’s a terrific villain who still gives me the chills when I bring her into a scene.
Yanes: The second novel in The Fountain series, The West Woods, was published in September, 2017. How do you feel you’ve improved as a writer from the first novel to this one? Any suggestions for upcoming novelists?
Vadori: The Fountain took me two years to write, and another two years to find a publisher and edit. The West Woods I managed to write, edit, and publish in one year. This year I’ll have written two books. I’m definitely learning, but part of being a writer is making the time for your craft and sticking with it. That’s my advice for those wanting to write a novel. The most important part is writing it, and taking feedback, and making it the best it can be.
Yanes: You have masterfully constructed Ava Marshall. Is she based on anyone you know? Additionally, what steps do you take as a writer to make sure that Ava can make mistakes while still being likeable to the readers?
Vadori: Ava isn’t based on anyone I know, though I think she has more of my own attributes than any other character I’ve ever created. Making Ava likeable was one of the trickiest plot points to solve when I outlined The Fountain. She makes a terrible wish, and the only way we’ll still like her is to have the person she wished away truly deserve it!
Courtney had to be so terrible that we forgive Ava for wishing her away. That was difficult to do in three chapters, before Courtney disappears, but that’s when I knew she needed her own story, and I formed the plan for the series arc, to write them out of order.
Yanes: To me, The Fountain deals with a young person learning to be careful as to what she wishes for. What do you feel are the main themes in The West Woods?
Vadori: The West Woods is really a story about testing friendships. I have my teen beta readers to thank for asking me to write it that way and pointing out where the friendships could be stronger.
Yanes: When people finish reading The West Woods, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Vadori: Courtney is such a strong character when she appears in The Fountain that she’s stemmed a bit of a following. I now give workshops on writing villains, by request of my fellow writers, as a nod to her. Knowing her as I do, I always knew what tremendous pressure she was under, what life choices she was struggling to make. This is the story told in The West Woods – her story. After reading The West Woods, I really hope that readers can forgive her, for the things she does later.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Vadori: Wall of Wishes, Book 3 in The Fountain series, will be out in 2019. For readers who are waiting for the conclusion of the series, don’t worry, this book will answer all of your questions, though I can’t promise it won’t create a few more…
I’m also working on Book 1 of a new Young Adult Fantasy series for 14+. I’m currently looking for a home for this trilogy.