In one of the many different contests I entered my fantasy novel, I met Sonia Fuderer and we hit it off right away. She is here to share her writing process and tell us how she met her agent.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Sonia. Let’s jump right in, shall we? What inspired you to write your first book?
My husband and I were watching the TV show “Joe Rogan Questions Everything” about a possible biopocalypse when the idea for THE LAST FLOCK flooded all of my thoughts. I was watching in terror as the scientists spoke about how quickly an outbreak could spread and wipe us all out, and I started thinking about what lengths I would go to in order to protect my family. My book was born from those thoughts and fears. When I write my acknowledgements I feel I owe Joe Rogan a thank you, because I can honestly say that I began this journey as a result of him scaring the crap out of me.
I love watching TV shows like that. You mentioned the title of your novel is THE LAST FLOCK. How did you come up with it?
The title actually took me a while! I couldn’t come up with a title until I had written over half the book. My story revolves around Reese and her family, who are among a group of people that were saved from a biological attack by a man named Joshua, the creator of the shelter they are surviving in. As he attempts to become their leader and the fate of the rest of the world is unknown, all he wants them to do is follow him without question – to be his flock. And could they be the last people left on earth? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Well, based on what you just summed up for us, the title is perfect. Do you have a specific writing style?
I visualize scenes from the book while listening to music, and once I get all of those out of my mind, I go back and connect them. (Check out my website for the playlist!) I wrote the book last summer while on summer break with my kids. I would think about the book often during the day, even typing notes in my phone when an idea hit me, and then once they were tucked in bed I would sit down with my laptop and write. It took me about two months to write the book and another three to edit it.
Music is a big part of my writing process as well. Time for a serious question. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The overall message of my book revolves around trust. The question I asked when querying my book was, “If the world and your life changed in the blink of an eye, would you know who to trust?” It seems so simple and straight forward as the book begins – of course Reese and her family can trust Joshua. Someone wouldn’t create a self-sustaining biological shelter if he didn’t have everyone’s best interest at heart, right?
Trust is key in any relationship, but throw the biological warfare end-of-days vibe into the mix and trust is everything. How much of the book is realistic?
Everything that transpires in the book could actually happen in real life. I took great care when writing the characters, so that readers can relate to them and feel like they understand everyone and their interactions. It was important to me to present the aspects of love as realistic as possible as well. In my book, Reese and Lucas take their time falling for each other, no one is dominate or scared of the other, and although they are stronger together than apart, no one’s life will end if the other’s does. It’s a beautifully balanced love story.
The best books are the ones that make you think because they could happen. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My main character, Reese, has attributes that I pulled from a couple different people. She is a dancer, reader, and loves children, which are things she and I have in common. She’s also a cancer survivor, and that’s a tribute to my sister-in-law, who battled leukemia as a child. I wouldn’t have known the struggles of being a cancer survivor without having Jenna in my life. The pressure of being a role model and keeping up a strong exterior while being consumed by anxiety that it could come back or what the side-effects of the treatment will be…these are feelings I took from real-life and I wrote in Reese, which make her an extremely complex person. She struggles with finding the balance between embracing her past, which makes her an inspiration, and also just wanting to be treated like a normal teenager.
Your character is definitely complex, which is awesome. What books have influenced your life most?
I have two very different books which have influenced me. The first is the entire Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I was an elementary teacher when the first Harry Potter book hit the shelves and it fascinated me to see my students talking about reading with such enthusiasm. My students devoured those books, so of course I read them as well. I was (still am) in awe of the world she created, the characters who seem real, and the complexity of the relationships among those characters. I admire her ability to tie events from the final book all the way back to the first one so flawlessly…she’s inspirational.
My husband encouraged me to read UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand, which is far from my middle grade/young adult fiction comfort zone, and I’m so thankful he did. Talk about a story of survival and overcoming incredible odds! Not to give any spoilers, but near the end of the book a reporter asked Louie (the man whose life story is told in the book) to sum up his experiences, and his response was that he would rather die than live through it again. His statement was brutally honest and not what I expected to read. I kept that in mind while writing Reese, so there are times when her strength helps her overcome the odds, but she also has moments of weakness and doubt.
Sounds like Reese is a well rounded character thanks to your UNBROKEN reading, which I am now adding to my growing TBR pile. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’d love to! Here’s the first page of THE LAST FLOCK:
That would be my response if you asked me the following question:
If you knew in the beginning what you do now, would you still have saved yourself?
Although, if I hadn’t escaped down here, I never would have met Lucas… which complicates the question to the point that you may as well go ahead and change my previous answer to a completely honest, “I really don’t know.”
It’s a tough trade off, one I rarely allow myself to think about – lives for lives.
I often catch myself thinking back to the day my life above was ripped away from me; the time before our descent.
I remembered reading this intro in a contest and thinking I wanted to read it then. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would choose Neal Shusterman as my mentor. I’m currently reading the third book of his Unwind Dystology (UNSOULED) and can’t turn the pages fast enough. I love everything about his writing, from the way the chapters jump to different character’s perspectives, how it’s written in present tense so I feel like I’m living through it rather than being told what happened after the fact, and that it’s set in a recognizable, yet terrifying, near-future. He’s absolutely amazing at what he does.
Authors really don’t grasp how much they inspire people with their books. Soon enough, you will be in the same position–inspiring others. What are your current projects?
My current WIP is the second book of my trilogy and the working title is THE LAST FLOCK: EMERGENCE. I love the definitions of words. I even include the definitions of the titles in my books as each section begins. So to set the tone of what I’m working on now, the definition of emergence is:
- the process of coming into view or becoming exposed after being concealed
- the process of coming into being, or of becoming important or prominent
I love reading trilogies. I have a hard time leaving characters after one book. So, tell us who the lucky agent is that snagged you up.
My agent is Ella Marie Shupe of The Belcastro Agency. I met her through traditional querying. I had just been rejected from the first Twitter contest I had ever entered when later that same day she requested my full. Just a few days later I got the email that she wanted to have “The Call!” I burst into tears and called my husband. After speaking with her on the phone, everyone wanted to know what it was like and I told them all, “It was like talking to the president of my book’s fan club.” Two weeks later I enthusiastically accepted her offer of representation and have enjoyed every minute of working with her. My manuscript is currently out on submission to editors and I’ll keep you posted!
I remember cheering you on from the sidelines. Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice for other writers is to write what you love and don’t try to fit into a niche or follow trends. Set aside time to read. Read not only the genre that you write, but as much as possible. As hard as the rejections are, don’t take them personally. It’s not you – it’s that your book wasn’t the right fit at the time. And last, “Clear your mind of can’t”
Great advice. It’s hard to follow when you’re in the querying trenches, but it’s so true. Do you have a favorite line one of your characters says in your book?
Reese has a younger brother, Ethan, who’s dealing with the circumstances how I imagine most fourteen-year-olds would…armed with humor. He has so many great lines and this is one of my favorites.
“If this is what the next year is going to be like then I’m going to start digging myself out soon,” Ethan whispers to me late one night.
“I’ll be right behind you,” I whisper back.
“You might not want to be right behind me, though. I’ve had a pretty consistent diet of canned beans lately.”
Fart jokes never get old. Never. Would you tell us some more about THE LAST FLOCK:?
Seventeen-year-old Reese survived cancer as a child, but when a biological terrorist attack is unleashed on America, she finds herself fighting for her life again – spending what should’ve been her senior year of high school sealed in a shelter beneath the Rocky Mountains. Her broken family struggles to adjust to this new life, one without her missing older brother, and the only bright spots are the friendships that form below. Even falling in love with fellow shelter-dweller Lucas comes at a price – reconciling the awful truth that everyone she left above, including her boyfriend, has perished.
To make matters worse, Reese begins to suspect Joshua, the charismatic founder of the shelter, has not gathered their group below entirely by chance. As fear and doubt bloom in the community, Reese embarks on a mission to discover what secrets Joshua is hiding. What she uncovers is unimaginable: the greatest threat may not be in the outside world at all, but instead sealed in the shelter with them. With uncertainty breaking bonds, Reese must decide what to do with the information she has uncovered, and most crucially, who to trust.
This book needs to hurry up and sell so I can read it. What’s all your social media links to share with readers?
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/sjfuderer