Amber is addicted to trashy reality television, sour candy, loud pop music, and the scent of fresh lilies. Like Auntie in Meridian, Amber finds inspiration in quilting and baking. She likes to write with book-specific playlist going in the background (for this book pine and fir-scented candles and Celtic fold and rock music). She lives on an island with a menagerie of animals and too many yet-to-be-read books.
Amber's debut novel ONE BUTT CHEEK AT A TIME, was named a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age. She loves to visit school and book clubs and she enjoys hearing from readers.
How did you come up with the name Meridian for the main character?
Character names are very important to me and usually that's one of the first things I know about a story-who is in it and what are they called? I knew Meridian's name from the very beginning, but it wasn't until we got to know each other (sounds strange to non-writers, I know!) that I realized her name has all sorts of levels to it. Meridian can mean a midpoint like midday. It can also be the center of an object. It's used when talking about the longitude of Earth. In Chinese medicine Meridians are the energy pathways used in acupuncture. So it can have many connotations-what the reader should take from that is that our Meridian is caught-she lives-in the middle of life and death.
Actually, all the characters in this book have names that "mean" something to me as the writer and might resonate with readers who like to dissect deeper levels in a story.
Tens, the male lead, is a Protector and as such knows things about Meridian that he doesn't really know how he knows. His full name is Tenskawtawa and comes from a Shawnee religious and political leader from the 18th century. He was Tecumseh's brother and he was also known as "The Prophet". With our Tens's backstory, and gifts, I knew it was the perfect choice and it felt right.
Also to find Fenestra and Aternocti, I played with all sorts of different languages and took inspiration from Latin primarily. I wanted names that could be pronounced even without knowing the meaning but here's my definition of both:
Fenestra is a human with Angel DNA that is triggered if they are born at midnight on December 21st. Fenestras are "Windows to the Afterlife"-they literally become windows for dying souls to get to the good place (call it Heaven or Enlightenment or Nirvana).
Aternocti are "Dark Nights," also human with Angel DNA of a different nature. As they are corrupted they lose their humanness, but Aternocti thrive on disaster, fear, destruction, and cruelty. They shepherd souls to a bad place (call it Hell or Ignorance or the Underworld).
What element(s) make(s) Meridian unique?
Honestly, I think it's the origins of the idea. I didn't set out to write a paranormal story and fit al the bits around that. This book is very close to my heart--the idea came from sitting vigil as my grandparents died (about 18 months apart). They both had very different dying experiences, though in both cases, as a family, we choose to work with a wonderful hospice organization (St. Vincent's Inpatient Hospice Care, in Indianapolis, IN).
With everything in life, I like to know as much as possible so I read and did a bunch of research on dying, the physical process itself, the psychological process, and people's near-death experiences.
For this story, I wanted to explore the idea that the "light" people talk about as they die is an actual person and what that might mean. For the story, Meridian looks like just a girl, until a soul is dying and then she becomes the bright light, the window they can take to the afterlife, the next step.
What if everyday of a person's life was that of being a window to beyond? I wanted to give a face to death that wasn't the Reaper's, wasn't something out of nightmares. And saying "God" is there in death doesn't say much--what does that mean really? How does that look?
And from a science aspect we're all energy. Where does that energy go? And isn't a soul of any animal or plant worthy energy? How does that look? How does that fit with the major religions and cultural norms?
And I also wanted to explore some organized religion as fear based--the idea that people hide behind religion because they're afraid or upset or angry. How does that twist what can be profound and comforting in faith. The mob mentality is so easy to manipulate if you're good at it--I wanted a character (Perimo) who was good at it and used it.
Of course readers don't have to know any of that-but that's where I came up with the question I tried to answer in this book!
Did you always want to be an author?
No, I didn't. My freshman year of college I developed a rare nerve disorder in my legs. You can't tell by looking, but I deal with a ton of whacky and weird symptoms including really tough leg pain on a daily basis. So I had to change my plans and figure out how to have a career that was flexible and didn't rely heavily on my legs cooperating on a schedule.
I took a friend's writing workshop and by the end had a story idea I wanted to keep working on, the first manuscript was born! Then it's about studying the craft and practicing it like an Olympic athlete or a concert Painist. It's not easy, it takes discipline and determination to be a published author. It takes writing when you can't even remember how to spell "Muse."
Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere and anything! I love to eavesdrop at the mall or standing in line. You'd be shocked at the things people talk about in public! Magazines, music, art exhibits, trashy TV, history-it's all fair game and really how it comes out onto the page sometimes has very little to do with how it went into my brain. Music plays a large part for me-I always have a playlist for a project that helps me get into the zone that much faster. And scented candles-I have different scents for different books and if I'm burning the wrong one-it totally messes with my mojo!
On the cover, there is a design of skulls in the back that seems to lead into a door. Does this have any meaning for the book or was it simply added by the illustrator? And if it does have a meaning, anything you can share?
Isn't that the coolest cover? And the metallic additions they've added make it glow in the sunlight. I'm so impressed by the designer's vision and the artist's interpretation. And if you take a look at the cover, the girl is a painting. She's not a real girl, she's the artist's idea of what Meridian looks like based on my description in the book.
Meridian is a Fenestra-a Window to the afterlife--so the door behind her is a window like what she becomes for the dying. The skulls are a hint that where there is a good, there is also evil. Everything on this cover is found in the book-even red roses--I'm very lucky-readers know what they're getting when they pick it up!
I hear you love to bake (of which I'm so jealous!). If you could make any kind of cake (the dream design if you will) what would that be? Also, would you ever want to see your book cover on a cake (or have you already)?
Thanks! Yeah, I really find baking a cake is a great way to work on a book-just like gardening or quilting which I do as well-while I've got a story stewing in my brain.
Honestly, I think everyone can bake if they can follow directions-if you can follow instructions for hooking up a new appliance or computer you can do the steps in a recipe. Really. It's chemistry which seems like magic and of course there are levels of difficulty, but anyone who likes to eat food should know how to prepare it!
I have to say I'm totally hooked on TLC's Cake Boss-Buddy is amazing with cake and fondant. I wish I could intern in his bakery (okay, I'll be honest, I wish I could shot in his bakery!) and learn from his expertise. I love getting a request and then trying to translate that into cake-like a Goldfinch or a Bat from the book Bat's in the Library. But the wedding cakes that are modern and goofty are my favorites to play with. Of course, there's more pressure there to come out with a good cake when it's for a wedding! Everybody should play with luster dust and lemon extract-painting the most amazing, beautiful designs on cookies is just so fun and the colors are incredible (and edible!).
A dream design? I guess it would be more like working with a cake artist who I really respect and learning from them-like Buddy on Cake Boss, or Colette Peters who has fabulous cake books (her recipes turn out just like they say they will). CAKES TO DREAM ON is my favorite and a great place to start. I know enough about cakes to be dangerous, but taking it to the next level would be fantastic!
They've come a long way with putting art on cakes and it's actually really simple to order a book cover on a sheet cake-they "print" them with edible food colors. But what I'd really love is to have a Food Network Challenge with four of the best cake artists interpreting Meridian in cake! That would be awesome! I'm so in to judge that competition!
Your two young adult novels are very different. Do you prefer the end result of one over the other? Did you have more fun writing one than the other?
The funny thing about being a writer is that I'm always in love with whatever project I'm working on in the moment-which means I'm years ahead of what readers are looking at and reading! Trying to pick a favorite is like trying to pick a favorite flavor of ice cream-not possible!
Do you find yourself relating to any of your characters? If so, how?
There are always parts of characters that I feel on a gut level--Gert cracks me up. She hates high school and I did too (for different reasons in some cases but still loathed most of those years!). Meridian's struggle with grief and death is something I completely understand-again differently, but it's the emotions of the characters that I relate to more than anything else.
Tell us about your most recent/upcoming release.
Meridian Sozu is a Fenestra-a Window to the Afterlife. She lives between life and death and must shepherd dying souls across. Of course, it's not easy and her own life hangs in the balance as she learns how to do this. Here's what's on the jacket:
Meridian has always been an outcast. It seems that wherever she goes, death and grief follow. On her sixteenth birthday, a car crashes in front of her family's home-and though she's untouched, Meridian's body explodes in pain.
Before she can fully recover, Meridian is told that she's a danger to her family and is hustled off to her great-aunt's house in Revelation, Colorado. There she learns the secret her parents have been hiding for her entire life: Meridian is a Fenestra, the half-angel-half-human link between the living and the dead.
It's crucial that Meridian learn how to transition human souls to the afterlife-how to help people who died. Only then can she help preserve the balance between good and evil on earth. But, before she can do that, Meridian must come to terms with her ability, outsmart the charismatic preacher who's taken over Revelation, and maybe-if she can accept her sworn protector, Tens, for who he is-fall in love. Meridian and Tens face great danger from the Aternocti, a band of dark forces who capture vulnerable souls on the brink of death and cause chaos. But together, they have the power to outsmart evil.
Readers can find the first three chapters of MERIDIAN on http://www.meridiansozu.com/
Thanks so much for a fantastic interview Amber! I personally love watching Food Networks Last Cake Standing! Also, I thought I was excited for MERIDIAN before, but now it sounds even better! I can't wait until August 11th!