Will you write others in this same genre?
Leveling Up has two direct sequels, and I have an idea for a sort of spin-off novel as well. So that’s at least a few more books in the same paranormal YA genre. I also have the beginning of another YA series, though it’s fantasy steampunk, not paranormal.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The basic message of Leveling Up is that balance is important in life. Max gets into trouble because he’s been living his whole life in a virtual world. However, the solution isn’t to scrap that completely and only live in the physical world. Instead, he has to apply lessons he’s learned in the virtual to the physical in order to meet his objectives. He doesn’t swap one extreme for another, instead he has to learn to marry the two because there is value in both of them.
How much of the book is realistic?
The key to writing a good paranormal/fantasy/horror/sci fi story is to create realistic characters that have believable reactions to unbelievable circumstances. I learned that from reading Stephen King. So, while Max’s situation isn’t realistic, his response to it is.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot?
To an extent, I have included my own life experiences into the plot. A lot of people have asked me how I managed to capture the essence of a 16 year old boy, seeing as I’m a 32 year old woman. The answer is, oddly enough, that at their core, the two really aren’t all that different. We share a lot of the same base insecurities and fears. And of course I’ve lived through high school, so I can remember what it was like. I remember what I was worried about at the time and how my friends and I reacted to it. It’s easy to channel that into Max and company.
How important do you think villains are in a story?
Villains can be integral to a story – when they’re written well. I’m a fan of multi-dimensional villains. It’s boring when they’re black and white. When they are evil just because. The best advice I’ve heard on the topic is to imagine your villain as the protagonist of his own story. Sometimes people do bad things for good reasons. It doesn’t change the fact that they’re bad, but it sure raises the stakes when readers can identify and sympathize with both sides of a conflict.
What books have most influenced your life?
My all-time favorite story is Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series. It was the first series I read that featured a main character who was, at least initially, kind of unlikeable. That’s pretty gutsy in my opinion. And yet it showed me that you don’t have to love the main character if the story is compelling enough. Something I’ve struggled with—and I think a lot of first-time authors are in the same boat—is creating overly nice and perfect characters. As an author, I kind of fall in love with my characters and it’s hard to remember that everyone sucks sometimes. Nobody is perfect, and even if they were, they wouldn’t be interesting to read about. So you have to give them flaws so they have room to grow and improve.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Stephen King is my favorite author of all time. I started reading his novels when I was 12 and I never stopped. I was nervous at first, worried that his books would be too adult and difficult to follow. That was absolutely not the case and I think it’s because of his skill at character building. I wouldn’t expect a 12 year old girl to be able to relate to 20 and 30-somethings trying to survive in the aftermath of a plague that destroyed over 99% of the population, but I could. Not only could I relate, but I was fascinated by the idea.
Can we expect any more books from you in the future?
Absolutely! I have two more books in the Leveling Up series to finish. Then one more related story, as well as a four book steampunk fantasy series. And yet another idea for a new adult MMA love story. The ideas keep coming, demanding to be realized, so I can’t quit any time soon.
Are there any new authors that have sparked your interest and why?
I wouldn’t necessarily call him a new author because he’s been writing articles online for years now, but Daniel O’Brien just published his first book, How to Fight Presidents, and I’m super pumped to read it. I’ve been reading his Cracked.com articles and watching his web series for years now and they’re some of my favorite writing. His style/writing personality is smart, funny, humble, and ever so relatable.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out?
There are so many great resources available today for writers. There are so many great blogs, online writing communities, writer’s conferences, and more. I’m from the Philadelphia area, so when I was starting out, I went with some friends to the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference where I took some great writing workshops and got to connect with other writers. When you’re just starting out, I think it’s so important and eye-opening to find other people who are doing the same thing as you are and going through the same difficulties. Writing is a very solitary activity, so it’s easy to feel alone and isolated. Connecting with others who understand what you’re trying to accomplish is extremely helpful.
What contributes to making a writer successful?
Perseverance is key for writers to become successful. Writing an entire novel is difficult enough, and that’s only the beginning of the journey if you wish to publish. You have to deal with a lot of rejection, both internal and external. And you have to keep pushing on regardless. It takes guts, and thick skin, and determination.
Max McKay gets a second chance at life when, after a bizarre accident on his sixteenth birthday, he is reanimated as a new breed of thinking, feeling zombie. To secure a spot for his eternal soul, Max must use his video game prowess as well as the guidance of Steve the Death God to make friends and grow up. As if all that weren’t hard enough, Max discovers that he’s not the only zombie in town. As he enlists the help of his new friends, Adam and Penny, to solve the mystery of their un-dead classmate, Max discovers that he must level up his life experience in order to survive the trials and terrors of the upcoming zombie apocalypse. And, even worse, high school.
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Genre – YA
Rating – PG
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