Friday, October 2, 2009

Interview with Rachel Hawkins and Review of Her Book HEX HALL

In late August, I was sent a package by one of my friends Molly Thomas at Disney Hyperion (Hi Molly! *waves* Thank you for this! I love you!!). In it, was gold. I mean, not literally gold. Books. Lots and lots of books. Included in this amazing pile-o'-books was the Advance Reader's Copy of HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins.
First of all, I love ARCs. Not only do I like knowing things before other people do (hehe), I also love feeling like in some way, I am apart of the process. ARCs are the things that first made me realize that I wanted to become apart of the writing and publishing world. I'm not kidding. This site was STARTED so that I could receive the ARC of E. Lockhart's TREASURE MAP OF BOYS (There you are folks, my secret confession. I would feel bad about it, but I kind of fell in love with blogging).
Below is a picture of me with my ARC co
py of HEX HALL. I personally cannot wait to see the real cover art!
I pulled out HEX HALL and read the back cover and wanted to start reading the book immediately. Here is a synopsis from the back of the book. (How amazing are my segways?)
"Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father- an elusive European warlock- only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tag along ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her."

Unfortunately, society created this little annoyance called school and therefore I couldn't get through it as fast as I wanted to (even though I did have permission from the author herself to read in school). But then along came a golden Saturday where all I had to do was read. I sat down and finished HEX HALL in one hour, then ran up to twitter and have been gabbing Rachel's ear off about how amazing the book is. It has spawned an obsession in me equal to if not greater than those I hold for the Twilight, Harry Potter and Mortal Instruments Series.

But let's talk about the actual book instead of my obsession with it, shall we? Rachel has created one of the funniest books I have ever read while still maintaining a mature enough writing style that I feel like it is appropriate for me to be reading it. This is something I have found less and less common in the YA section of my local bookstore. Fans of The Mortal Instruments and Sarah Mylnowski's Bras and Boomsticks series will love this book. Full of suspense while still maintaining a level of teen aged angst, this book grabbed me and hasn't really let go of me yet.
The characters are some of the most realistic ones I have ever met. I feel like they really are my friends. I know them as well as I know most of the girls I sit with at my lunch table, if not better than those girls. I ask Rachel to send them my regards on Twitter (am I going crazy? It is possible. I am talking to fictional characters...). This is an incredible feat that requires superb dialogue, something that definitely is apart of HEX HALL, considering the book is narrated in first person by Sophie, the main character. Speaking of Sophie, she is one of the relateable characters I have ever met. While reading the book, I really "became her." I mean yes, she is a different person than I am. But I could just see myself saying the kinds of things she says, because I love sarcasm, and doing the kinds of things she does, like being completely awkward and getting away with it (most of the time) and just being a strong person. She made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to and let me tell you, that is an awesome feeling. She is very much a real, average girl living in a crazy, magical world. Sophie lands herself at a boarding school for wierdos and feels like she is "a freak among freaks." While learning about this magical world that she has been thrown into, she also learns about the father she has never met, and things about herself that were kept from her since birth.
She has a crush and an enemy who are in a relationship together (Why does this ALWAYS happen in real life? I don't understand it, but it sucks. A. Lot.), she has homework (this is one of the first books where the author actually took into account the fact that fictional characters cannot possibly have all of these adventures if they don't finish their homework!! Props to Rachel, the former teacher who knows that school isn't as easy many books of the age make it look.) and she has quirky friends (i.e. Jenna. Jenna, I love you. Don't let the world getcha down. See, I am talking to the people inside the book. HELP!).
Just a side note, one thing I really enjoyed about reading this book was that one of the "mean girls" of the book grew in complexity as the book goes on. You know when you meet someone and you really just can't help but hating them and then you realize that you actually can't help but like some of the things about them? Yeah, that's Elodie. Multi-layered antagonists are something I am starting to see more of in YA literature and it gives a book an extraordinary amount of depth.
And then there is Archer (*swoon*). The guy who annoys the h*ll out of you but you love them anyways and you don't exactly know why. He is cute (edit: hot) and sarcastic (*sigh*). You love him one minute and hate him the next. He is charming and cocky but he still cares, even when he doesn't show it. I am officially in love with Archer (*Archer- will you marry me?*).
In addition to my obnoxiously long review of this book (people, it is just THAT good. I. do. not. lie.), Rachel agreed to do an obnoxiously long author interview with me!!


Speed Round Biography:

What is your full name? Rachel Moore Hawkins

Where did you grow up? Dothan, Alabama

How old are you? 29

Where did you go to school? Houston Academy in Dothan for HS, Auburn University in Auburn, AL for college.

Do you have any siblings? Nope! I'm an only, so it's all about ME ME ME! Just kidding. Kind of.

Legitimate questions about her book, HEX HALL, and being a writer:

Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? What made you first start writing?
I always loved making up stories as a kid; my first was a truly epic Barbie "play" involving divorce, kidnapped kids, and hallucinogenic drugs. I was about 5. No lie. I think a lot of writers are just "hardwired" that way. Our brains naturally make up stories.

What is your favorite part about being a writer? So many parts! My husband says that I get to live in two worlds, and that's probably the best part.

What advice can you give to young adults who want to write proffesionally when they are older? Read, read, read. And write, obviously, but reading is a HUGE part of developing your style as a writer. You'll figure out what you like, what you don't like, what kind of stories resonate with you. And do your research RE: the publishing biz. You can save yourself a lot of time by diving into things prepared!

How did you go about getting your book published? The traditional way. Wrote it, started querying agents, and was lucky enough to find one in about two weeks! (This is what I mean about being prepared!) I always like to stress that I knew NO ONE in publishing. I was a teacher in a tiny town in AL, writing the book at a folding table in my bedroom.

How did you come up with the idea for HEX HALL? I'd read Anne Rice's THE WITCHING HOUR, and I really dug the creepy, Southern Gothic vibe of that. Also, I was teaching 12th grade English, so I was around a lot of teenagers and reading a lot of YA. All of those things, plus my love for a good old fashioned creepy boarding school story, contributed to making HEX HALL!

How did you come up with the characters for HEX HALL? Are any based off of people you know? No character has a direct correlation to anyone I know, but I think pieces and parts of my friends (and some people I DON'T feel so friendly about, haha!) made their way into HEX HALL. Some characters, like my main character, Sophie, came to me immediately and pretty fully-formed. Others, like Sophie's roommate Jenna, and her crush, Archer, only showed up after I'd written the first half.

Is there going to be a sequel to HEX HALL? If so, what and when should we look forward to seeing in it? There will be! Disney-Hyperion bought 3 HEX HALL books, so Sophie still has 2 more adventures to go! I see the books as one big story told over 3 books, so Book 2 will see Sophie dealing with a lot of the stuff that happens in HEX HALL, as well as some new threats.

Who is your favorite character in HH? My favorite character in HH is definitely Archer, the warlock Sophie crushes on. And it's not just because he's a hot guy, although that helps. ;-) he didn't exist in the 1st draft, and when I came up with him, the whole book really came to life.

Who was your favorite character to write in HEX HALL? I love writing Elodie, Sophie's nemesis at HEX HALL. She's so different from me, so it was a good time getting into her head. Plus I enjoyed giving her a little more depth and substance than your regular mean girl!

If you could choose one character from HH to be real, who would it be? Cal, the "groundskeeper" at Hecate Hall. He has some pretty awesome powers that I think would come in handy!

If you could be one character in HH, who would it be? Sophie, of course! She's the star after all! (See above RE: only child.)

While reading your book, I could really relate to your character, Sophie. Sometimes she feels like she is an outsider, even among outsiders, she feels weird around the guy she likes (who doesn't), she is sarcastic and witty and as much as she might not want to, she cares what others think about her. Which of the characters in HEX HALL do you most relate to? First off, I LOVE that you could relate to Sophie! That was my goal in writing her, that she's a regular girl in a crazy, crazy world. So I think she's the one I most relate to, too. I'm not nearly as bold as she is- I never talked back to a teacher in my life!- but I was voted "Wittiest" in my Senior Who's Who. ;-)

What are you most excited to tell us about your book/writing/reading? I am excited about all of it, haha! Mostly I just can't wait for other people to meet Sophie and Co. Whenever people ask me what I want readers to get out of my book, I always say I want them to A) have fun, B)not regret wasting time/money on me! and C)wish they had more time in that world. That's the dream, right there!

What are some things you were surprised about during the publishing/editing process? That it is soooo slooow! Seriously, patience is a virtue if you want to be a writer! I sold in April 2008, and HEX HALL hits the shelves in March 2010. As for editing, I was surprised at how much FUN it was! I know that makes me sound ever-so-dorky, but I have a genius editor in Jen Besser, and all of her suggestions were made of win and covered in awesome-sauce. It was a ball to get back in there and feel like the book was such a collaborative effort.

There are many different kinds of Prodigium at Hex Hall: Witches, shape shifters, werewolves, vampires, faeries and more. If you could be any of those, which one would you be and why? Witch! Vampires have all those pesky restrictions, faeries are a little on the formal side, and weres/shifters? Yuck! All the hair! Or hairballs!

If you could cast any spell, what would it be for? I'm a Mama, so I would probably cast some sort of protective bubble around my kid so that he'd never get hurt. (Again, with the dorky! Sigh…)

Where did you get the background for your Prodigium and magical world? Did you make it up or were there fairy tales, books or folklore that you took from? Oh, wow, so many sources. Some of it was from Ye Olde Wikipedia, some from books (I've always collected books on unsolved mysteries/supernatural stuff), and a lot of it I just made up!

I know that some authors draw their ideas from other stories, such as Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, which was influenced by Romeo and Juliet. Were there any particular books that HH was either based on or influenced by? I don't think so. I mean, it's definitely in the tradition of spooking boarding school books, but I can't pinpoint one specific thing.

What are some of the books that have most influenced you as a writer/person? What were your favorite books growing up? What are some of your favorite books currently? Any favorite authors? I can't even start to list them all! There was the standard Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley High. The Little House books were big, too, and a lot of Anne Rice/Lois Duncan. In fact, Lois Duncan is probably my primo influence. She should get more love, darn it! A GIFT OF MAGIC? STRANGER WITH MY FACE? LOCKED IN TIME? Classics!

Sophie magics up an incredible dress for the Halloween Ball. If you were going to the same ball, what would you have worn? Ooh, I would have to steal Sophie's dress, haha! It's insane and over-the-top, and that is SO my thing, too!

What should readers look forward to from HEX HALL? The funny! Seriously, if there's one thing I want people to know about HEX HALL, it's that it's funny! Okay, so there are scary things. And yes, some death. And angst and chaos. But there are laughs amidst all that, I swear! ;-)

Are there any character quarks you would like to share? For me or the characters? Ha!
Random personal questions:

What is your favorite movie? Favorite TV show of the moment? I'm weirdly obsessed with the TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You right now (Y HELLO THAR, PATRICK VERONA!) As for movies, there are lots, but the one that is in pretty regular rotation is Marie Antoinette.

What was you favorite/ least favorite part of high school/being a teenager? My favorite part was the anticipation. Life IS more exciting when you're a teenager. There's all this endless potential, not just for what you'll do with your future, but what could happen on any given night, haha! That zing when a boy you like shows up at a party, or the fun of driving around w/your friends, singing at the top of your lungs? That was awesome. But the flip side of that is all the uncertainty that comes along with the potential.

Favorite song/artist of the moment? Okay, looking at my iTunes, these 3 songs have been played an embarrassing amount of times: 1) "Luv" by Travis, 2) "Stay" by Safetysuit, and 3) "Bust Your Windows" from Glee.

Favorite color? Green

Have any pets? Nope! Had a cat, Nadia, from the time I was 13-26. When she died, it was just too hard to think about getting a new one. I may be a one-cat woman.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? London. I visited that city in 2001, and fell in love. Looooove. But only if I had enough money. London is quite pricey!

If you were trapped on a desert island and you could only bring 3 items and 1 person with you, what/who would they be? 1) A book, probably Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, 2) some sun block (fair-skinned redhead) 3)my Velveteen rabbit, the imaginatively named "Velvy." (Shut up, I was 6.) As for a person, my husband. He's a hiker/kayaker/geologist/solider/Superman-type, and he would have us a raft made out of coconuts in no time!

If the world was being invaded by aliens and you just won five million dollars in the lottery, what would you do with it? Paaaartyyyyy! Seriously, I'd have the most fun feast/blow-out ever. I mean, why not?

I joke that Rachel could probably have written another novel in the time it took her to answer all of these questions. So thank you Rachel for providing epic answers to my epically long interview!! I really appreciate it as you have become one of my favorite authors! And thank you for writing this book! In case you haven't noticed, I loved it. I wouldn't be surprised if you end up having a cult following for this book. Thanks for letting me be one of the first screaming fan-girls.

You can find out more about Rachel on her blog or by following her on twitter.

100/10 stars. I'm serious. It's that good.

More to come,


P.S. There will be three books in Rachel's series as Disney Hyperion bought a 3 book deal!!


Mardel said...

wonderful review. it made me want to read the book. it's great that this book really made you feel for the characters and feel like you knew them even. I can relate to having real life interfere with reading also. with you it's school, for me it's working in a school - until 6 p.m. Then, lately I'm too tired to do anything but read books to my granddaughter.
Have a great weekend, and read some more!

Liza said...

Wonderful review and interview! I am adding Hex Hall to my TBB list right now. March seems so far away, but from what you have said about Hex Hall, it looks like it will be worth it.

Jessica Secret said...

I can't wait!

Rachel Hawkins said...

This turned out so well, if I do say so myself! Thank you SO MUCH for your enthusiasm for the book! It means more than I can say!!

Lydia said...

Great review and interview! I'm so jealous you've read the book! I can't wait until it comes out.

Anonymous said...

Great interview and that book sounds awesome - it reminds me a little of the Bard Academy series, which is one of my favorite ever - so I'm definitely going to be on the look out for it.



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