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Monday, August 23, 2010

An Interview with Susannah Appelbaum: A Blog Tour Stop for The Poisons of Caux

Visit Susannah Appelbaum's Official Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to be a part of the blog tour for The Poisons of Caux: The Tasters Guild. Today we have an interview with Susannah Appelbaum, the author of this dark YA trilogy.

There are other blog tour stop throughout the week:
Tuesday, September 24th –
Wednesday, September 25th –
Thursday, September 26th –
Friday, September 27th -

A big thank you to Susannah Appelbaum and all the folks at Knopf.


Can you introduce yourself to the readers of Fantasy Book Critic and give us a little background on you, your novels and other things you'd like us to know about you?

My name is Susannah Appelbaum, and I am the author of The Poisons of Caux trilogy from Knopf. The first in the series is The Hollow Bettle, and the second, The Tasters Guild, was just released. The books are a dark adventure in botany—the story of poisons and tasters, and ultimately, the battle over ancient knowledge of nature. They feature a girl named Poison Ivy, and her taster-friend Rowan.

What made you choose to write in the YA/children's genre or was it something that just sorta happened?

I am one of those writers that have always wanted to write. There was a lot of unstructured time in my childhood, which I spent either reading or writing little stories. (In fact, the genesis of one of my characters in Caux—the trestleman—is from a story I wrote when I was seven!) As an adult, I write what I prefer to read: YA fantasy… but, I really believe that good YA is really for readers of all ages.

Did you always envision yourself as a writer or did you think you'd be something else?

Well, I think I jumped the gun and answered that, above. But I should add that while I always wanted to write, I also went out and did many other types of work—my first job was as a bookie at Off Track Betting when I was sixteen, and I worked in several bookstores, in the fashion industry, and then finally as an editor.

What made you fascinated with potions that it became such a huge part of the novels that you write?

What’s not to love about a good potion? I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’ve long held poisons, and their respective antidotes, as an infinite source of entertainment—if kept to the confines of the page. That said, a family legend says that when I was very young, I picked and ate a mysterious flower from my aunt’s garden, and spent the rest of the stay in the hospital. So... perhaps the roots of my obsession grew from this?

You have this cool “Ivy’s Guide” on your website. Can you tell us more about it and how it fits in with your novel?

Ivy’s Journal is one of my favorite things about the website. It’s such a great window into her person. And it’s also only backstory, since Ivy’s own writings don’t make an appearance in the trilogy—it’s almost our little secret. It’s a great teaching tool; when I visit schools to discuss the books, I often hold writers workshops. I like to bring up her journal on the display to show the kids about character development. Soon, Ivy will be blogging from this page as well—detailing her adventures and dispensing potion advise.

There’s another book on my website, and this one does feature greatly in the Caux trilogy. This is Axle’s Field Guide to the Poisons of Caux—the preeminent reference guide to those alive in Caux, who wish to remain that way. In fact, Poison Ivy, the heroine of the series, consults it many times throughout her adventure—always with surprising results.

On your webpage, your editor has written about how the first sentence in your book had her hooked. “It’s an astonishing feat that young Ivy Manx was not poisoned during Mr. Flux’s tenure as her taster.” Was it a sentence that you wrote over and over or did it just come naturally? Did you think it would have such an impact on readers?

I think everyone strives to write the perfect opener. I have to say that that one came quite easily, and intact—not always the case for my many other days at the desk.

If you could make any potion to do whatever you wanted in the world. What would you make and why.

Oh, I suppose I’d love to fly. Wouldn’t anyone? Birds feature heavily in my series—Ivy’s main companion is a crow named Shoo. But Ivy’s elixir—that would be a second choice. She makes a tonic that can cure seemingly anything.

It’s a great question—and the next time I have a reading or signing I’ll be sure and ask it of my fans.

Some of the character names within your book are pretty creative. Is there any meaning behind any of the character names and could you give us a few examples of why you named a specific character something?
I try to draw my character names from the plant kingdom. Some examples: the fiendish Sorrel Flux is named for both the herb sorrel and the slightly toxic fluxweed. And of course, Poison Ivy. Her friend Rowan is named for the rowan tree. The Deadly Nightshades—the evil rulers of Caux—well, they are obvious. Vidal Verjouce—the wicked Director of the Tasters’ Guild—comes from the word verjuice, which means a bitter, undrinkable potion.

But not all the herbs and flora in Caux are real. I’ve had fun making a lot up—although it might be hard to tell which are which (some of the funnier weeds are actually quite real, like butter-and-eggs and toadflax). Also, I get a kick out of typos—sometimes just writing something wrong makes a really funny word…and I keep a list of these, and use them often as names…Streets need names, towns need names, and the better they are, the less explaining a writer needs to do.

This is your second novel in a trilogy. Most writers grow with each book that they write. Did you experience that with this second book, and did you take any readers feedback into consideration while writing this second novel?

I found that I enjoyed writing the second book, The Tasters Guild, more than the first—for a strange reason. I was suddenly freer to move about Caux, to take the characters into darker places, and throw more obstacles at them, since a lot of what went in to writing the first, The Hollow Bettle, was establishing the setting and story, and introducing the characters of the book, and the books to come.

I adore my readers—and their feedback consists mainly of who not to poison in the next installment. I can’t say I always honor their wishes J.

Are you a writer who plans everything out or do you let the novel take over and go where the characters take you?

A bit of both. I have extensive outlines—the first book’s was 60 pages by the end. But I’m free to deviate from the plot if something better comes along, and it’s always quite enjoyable when it does.

What one character would you be hanging out with in real life and why?

Oh, I like Rowan, the young taster, quite a bit. He’s a fiercely loyal friend, and also—once he gets out of his own way—has a lot to teach.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us! May you have great success with your novels!

Thanks—this was fun!


Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

AWesome interview! these books look so great!!

Cindy said...

The first book took some time for me to get into. But it kept pulling me in as I read. Which I loved!

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