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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with Anastasia Hopcus, author of Shadow Hills!

Fab little treat for my lovelies today; author Anastasia Hopcus stopped by Book Rat to chat about her book, Shadow Hills, and which is worse, a life without chocolate, or a life without chips...
I'd suggest you cuddle up with a serving of your favorite (or both!  My manager swears by chocolate covered chips!).  Enjoy!

Book Rat: There is no shortage of "boarding school books" for the YA set -- how do you feel you set Shadow Hills and Devenish Prep apart?  (I have my own opinion on this, it's question #2...)
Anastasia Hopcus: I've always found boarding schools fascinating, and I think a boarding school makes a great setting for a book.  It gives it a nice enclosed feeling, like a world apart.  But while I wanted the book to be paranormal, I didn't want the school to be one where a group of people with paranormal abilities train for that paranormal ability.  I think that's one thing that sets Shadow Hills and Devenish Prep apart.  There are students with super abilities and also just regular students.  What I find interesting in a paranormal book is reality coming up against the supernatural.  Like tectonic plates rubbing up against each other, that's what creates the action.  For the same reason, I wanted Phe to have different abilities from Zach.  I like that juxtaposition; he's a surprise to her, but, hey, she's a total surprise to him, too. (That's where that mixture of science and supernatural comes in, so I'll leave that for the next question.)  

BR: [Side note: this next question makes me sound more than a little weird, but seriously, it's so fascinating.]

Something I was surprised (and really, really pleased) to find in Shadow Hills was the genetics aspect, mingled with the history.  It's a great juxtaposition (modern genetics and science + historical plagues and witchcraft), and it uses one of my personal favorite bits of history, the town of Eyam and there seeming immunity of sorts to the plague (and more current diseases).  I was so excited to see this come into play.  How much research did incorporating these elements involve, and why did you choose to go in this direction?
AH: I'm so glad you liked this aspect of the book!  Obviously, it was something that fascinated me.  Going into the story, I knew that I wanted the abilities of my characters to be something new and different---not witches or werewolves or vampires---and I wanted their 'powers' to have some sort of basis in science.  I was intrigued by the possibility of a group of people having enhanced abilities that might have developed over the years, and I came up with the idea of having a sort of isolated community that back some time ago had survived an epidemic, and they had then interbred over the years, causing their enhanced abilities to become even stronger.  I had always been interested in genetics, so I think that was the main reason I went in that direction.  I did a lot of reading about the brain and how it develops and how it adapts to injuries.  And since I was using an epidemic, I also did a good bit of research on the Black Plague.  Even though the Shadow Hills epidemic was not the Bubonic Plague, it was the best example I could think of for how a sweeping illness worked.  In that research, for the first time I read about the community of Eyam in England and its extraordinary history, and it just seemed to mesh perfectly with my story.  There were so many things during my research that boggled my mind because they fit in so well with Shadow Hills.  
So why are Phe's developing powers more mystical?  Well, there's more to the whole story than just the science.  I think there's definitely a hint of that in Shadow Hills, and there will be more explanations in the future, I hope.  I like mixing up reality and possibility.  I like the creative opportunities it offers, as I mentioned in the answer to the first question.    

BR: Music is woven throughout the story of Shadow Hills, and Phe and Zach's story especially.  How did you choose the music you included?  Are they personal favorites, or did you "research" by listening to lots of new bands, trying to find 'Phe' or 'Zach' or other characters in them?
AH: I never thought of it as research, but I definitely listen to new bands all the time and have done so for as long as I can remember.  The first music I ever got was a Michael Jackson tape I bugged my mom into buying for me when I was about four.  I wore that thing out.  But I also loved to listen to all the music my parents played, so at the same age I was also singing along to the Beatles and Buddy Holly and Bruce Springsteen.  I can remember my cousin's husband being absolutely amazed by my singing a Sam Cooke song as we were driving to a family reunion when I was about five.
My musical preference is closest to Phe's, but I've listened to and like at least some of the songs of all the bands I mention as various characters' favorites.  One of my main considerations with each character was what sort of music that person would like.  I even have playlists on my personal blog that I made up for Phe, Adriana, and Toy.

BR: If Shadow Hills were to become a movie, who would you cast?
AH: Aaron Johnson for Zach.  I also like Logan Lerman.  For Phe, I like AnnaSophia Robb.  For Brody, my favorite guy is Johnny Simmons, and for Toy, I like Ellen Wong.  The rest of them,  I'm not sure on.

BR: There's obviously more to Phe's story -- any chance of a teaser for book 2?
AH: I'd love to do a sequel to Shadow Hills, but there's no official word on that yet.

BR: Any plans for non-Devenish books?
AH: Yes, right now I'm working on a non-Devenish book that grew out of an idea I had for a YA  paranormal historical.  

Random fun:

BR: Zombie name?
AH: Anastasia the Ravenous
BR: Best Halloween costume?
AH: A"Pretty Woman" costume with the red dress, white gloves and (homemade) gold opera glasses.
BR: Worst Halloween costume?
AH: A generic pirate one that I got at the last minute.
BR: If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
AH: I think I'd go with Mary Shelley.  Her life was really fascinating; she was very unconventional for the time she lived in.
BR: Would you rather...
 -- give up your iPod or your favorite book?
Even though music  is extremely important in my life, I think the iPod would have to go.  I wouldn't want to be without my favorite book, which is like comfort food to me. 

 -- have super hearing/strength/mind-reading abilities, or be able to contact the dead?
I'd rather have those Shadow Hills townie's abilities of super strength/mind reading, etc.  I think I'd just as soon not contact the dead.

 -- spend the night in a haunted house or a cemetery (alone in both cases, obviously...)
Oh, wow.  I think I'd take the cemetery.  It's more open, with a better view of what's coming at me.  

 -- give up chocolate or potato chips for life?  (<--- scariest question yet.)  
I'd give up potato chips.  No question.  
BR: Reader Q: Giada wants to know: What is the first book you remember reading, and has there ever been a book that changed your life?
AH: The first book I remember reading was the first book in a series called Fabulous Five by Betsy Haynes.  After getting some constructive criticism about the weak structure of the first draft of Shadow Hills, I bought Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.  It really helped me to rewrite the manuscript, and I was then able to get an agent for it and sell it, so that book definitely was life-changing.  

Anastasia Hopcus is the author of the debut paranormal YA book, Shadow Hills.  Stay tuned to Book Rat for my upcoming review, and check out the teaser here!



  1. Great interview. I want reallly want this book.

  2. Another interesting author and thank you for the awesome interview! ^O^

    -- give up chocolate or potato chips for life? (<--- scariest question yet.)
    I'd give up potato chips. No question.

    Same here!!! LOL

  3. Nice interview. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile.


  4. I LOVE her hair!

    Great interview!

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