Welcome to my stop on the Rewritten blog tour. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Tara Gilboy, author of the Unwritten series.
I fell in love with Unwritten in 2019 and quietly hoped I’d get to spend more time with Gracie, Cassandra and all of the other characters whose lives began in Gertrude Winters’ imagination. I got my wish with Rewritten, which was released in April 2020. Now I’m not so quietly hoping for a third book in the series.
Thank you to Emily from North Star Editions for organising this blog tour.
Once Upon a Blurb
After learning the truth about her own fairy tale, twelve-year-old Gracie wants nothing more than to move past the terrible things author Gertrude Winters wrote about her and begin a new chapter in the real world. If only things were going as planned. On the run from the evil Queen Cassandra, the characters from Gracie’s story have all been forced to start over, but some of them cannot forget Gracie’s checkered past.
Even worse, Gracie discovers that as long as Cassandra has her magical book, the Vademecum, Gracie’s story is still being written and none of the characters are safe, including her mum and dad. In a desperate attempt to set things right, Gracie finds herself transported into another one of Gertrude’s stories – but this one is a horror story. Can Gracie face her destiny and the wild beast roaming the night, to rewrite her own story?
Hello Tara. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Congratulations on the publication of Rewritten, the second book in the Unwritten series. Although it’s marketed as a middle grade series, as an adult I’ve also found so much to love about it. Unwritten made you an I Must Read Everything They Ever Write author for me and Rewritten has only reinforced this.
One thing I absolutely love about this series is the complexity of your characters. No one is all good or all bad. Personally I have a soft spot for Cassandra and hope she gets her own happy ending just as much as I want the story’s heroes to live happily ever after.
Thank you so much for having me and for your kind words about the Unwritten series. I had so much fun writing it, and it always makes my day when I hear others have enjoyed reading it! (I have a soft spot for Cassandra too…)
Where did the idea for this series come from?
The Unwritten series started in a rather unusual way. I had written a different book for my MFA thesis, and I found an agent for it pretty quickly, so I really had my hopes up when it went out on submission, and then …. Nothing. It didn’t sell. This shook my confidence as a writer, and I was starting and stopping a lot of projects and feeling insecure about my writing. Finally I decided to write something just for fun, something that was just for me, that I never planned on showing anyone, as a way to make writing fun for myself again. Unwritten was my “just for fun” project.
At the same time, I kept having this recurring nightmare where some sort of supernatural entity was coming after me, and I had to pack up whatever I could fit into my car and run away forever. That dream was initially my starting point in the story; in the early drafts, the story opened with a stranger arriving in the middle of the night and telling Gracie and her mother that they have to flee. (I think my original opening line was “The pounding shook the house” as this stranger knocks on the door.) Later, as I continued working on the novel, I realized that in order for readers to feel invested in that moment, they needed to know more about Gracie first, so the scene got pushed back into what I think is now chapter four or five, and it eventually evolved into something completely different. But the origin of this story was me exploring who Gracie was running from and why, as well as giving myself permission to play around with these ideas without pressuring myself to write something with the end goal of publication in mind. I think because of the premise of the book, people often assume I must have started with the “story-within-a-story” idea, but that actually wasn’t the case.
Which character do you relate to the most and who is the most fun to write?
It’s so funny to me how much my answer to this question has changed between the first book and the sequel. After Unwritten came out, whenever someone asked me about this, I would always immediately respond “Gracie” or “Gracie’s mom” because these were the two characters I related to the most. After the second book, though, I realized how much of myself I was putting into all the characters: Gracie, Gertrude, even Cassandra. There are parts of me — weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, random ways of thinking – in each and every one of them. I suppose in this way, I am probably most like Gertrude, who coincidentally (or rather, un-coincidentally) does the same thing when creating her own characters.
The character who was the most fun to write, though, was definitely Cassandra, especially in Rewritten. There were so many moments when I was sitting at my computer giggling to myself and trying to think up the most evil things I could make her say and do. There were times when I even phoned a friend to say “Guess what I just made Cassandra say?!” Villains are always a lot of fun to write.
Gracie is a storybook character come to life and the events written for her by the author of her story affect her, from the way she sees herself to the way she behaves. Do you ever think about what could happen if any of the characters you’ve written showed up on your doorstep?
Oh boy, I would probably need to offer them huge apologies, as I’ve made a lot of bad things happen to my characters…. I think the thing I would be most curious about is whether they were truly the way I imagined them, or if there were certain things I didn’t know about them. My characters often surprise me as I’m writing, and I imagine meeting them in person would be the same way.
Which character that you’ve created would you most like to meet?
Probably Gracie. She’s the character I feel closest to; a part of me feels as if she’s a real person already, even though I know she’s fictional. I would say that I’d like to meet Cassandra the most, but I have a feeling that could be dangerous, as we saw what she did to her author, Gertrude Winters, after meeting her in book one….
If you had a Vademecum and could travel to another world, what would it be like?
Ooo, this is a great question! I am a total history nerd, and I’ve always wished I could travel back in time to experience different time periods myself. If I had a Vademecum, I’d likely go into a historical novel.
Gertrude Winters is the author of Gracie’s story. Is there a Gertrude Winters story that Gracie hasn’t visited yet that you’d most like to explore with her?
Oh, there are so many, it’s hard to pick just one! I did actually start writing some scenes that take place after the events of Rewritten, in a romance novel Gertrude wrote. There’s a line in Rewritten — “what could be dangerous about a love story?”– that’s meant to be ironic because people do such crazy and unpredictable things when they’re in love. I have a feeling that the world of a love story could be the most dangerous place yet, and I would love to explore this world more, as well as the impact it would have on the characters.
One of the ideas that sparked my imagination in Rewritten was when I learned Gracie has quotes from books in glow in the dark paint on her bedroom ceiling. What quote would you paint on your ceiling?
There’s a quote from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz: “You had the power all along, my dear.” I think this would be a good reminder to myself, when I’m struggling with fear or self-doubt, of how much I can accomplish when I put my mind to it.
What do you want readers to take away from Gracie’s story?
I hope that readers take away the idea that we are all a mixture of good and bad — one of the reasons I care about Gracie so much is that she is a flawed character. One thing that concerns me lately, especially with what I see on social media, is that we are starting to lose the ability to see shades of gray in people. If someone does something wrong, we often label them as a “bad person” and dismiss or shame them without compassion or consideration for “why” the person might have done the things they did. Everyone makes mistakes – we don’t say or do the right things all the time, but the important thing is being able to learn from those mistakes, move on, and try to do better next time. People are so much more complex than the labels we ascribe to them. I hope readers will be inspired from my book to offer compassion and forgiveness when others make mistakes, and consider the whole person, rather than simply the mistake. We are all flawed, but I believe most people truly want to be good.
I always wonder whether sequels are easier or more difficult to write than the first book in a series and imagine it’s a bit of both. On the one hand, you have readers who are already emotionally invested in your characters’ lives. On the other hand, you have readers with expectations they may not have had when they began the first book. Did you approach writing Rewritten differently than you did Unwritten?
That’s a tough question to answer because you’re absolutely right: in some ways sequels are easier to write and in some ways they are harder. Rewritten was easier to write in that I already knew my characters very well, and I already knew my premise and the “magical rules” of the world I was creating. A lot of the hard work was already done. But it was also harder because since I had resolved Gracie’s character arc in Unwritten, I had to really think hard about what she needed internally now that she had figured out who she was. There’s always an inner journey and an outer journey every character goes on, and I struggled with solidifying hers when I first started writing Rewritten. I also struggled with finding the right balance of meeting reader’s expectations and offering them something new and fresh: Rewritten had to be similar to Unwritten in some ways, but it also had to be unique and different. The best thing about writing the sequel, though, was all the feedback I was getting from readers about Unwritten. Often when I was feeling discouraged about Rewritten, I’d see an enthusiastic review of the first book, or hear from a reader who loved the first book and was eager for the second one, and it would always give me that boost I needed to get back to my keyboard and keep working on the novel.
You’ve mentioned that middle grade novels are what got you into reading in the first place. What were some of your favourite books when you were growing up?
It’s funny because now I read more fantasy novels, but as a kid, I rarely read fantasy. My favourite books were always historical fiction. I loved The Little House on the Prairie series, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess were also some of my favorites.
Asking a reader what their all time favourite book is can feel like asking someone to choose their favourite child. If this is impossible for you to answer, what is a book you’ve read recently that had a significant impact on you?
You are absolutely right – it is way too hard to choose a favourite book! Mine keeps changing all the time. A book I read (actually reread) recently was Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I read it for a class I teach on writing children’s books, and I am blown away by how skilfully Pfeffer handles the diary format. It’s also a bit staggering how close to home some parts of the book hit. It’s about what happens when the moon gets hit by an asteroid and is knocked closer to Earth. Some of the scenes (particularly a scene where there’s a run on the grocery stores) were all too familiar during the current crisis.
You also teach writing for San Diego Community College’s Continuing Education program. Do you have a favourite piece of advice that you share with your students?
I teach so many wonderful and talented writers, and it always breaks my heart a bit when I see how much pressure they put on themselves. I’ve seen many writers give up because they expected their manuscripts to be publishable right away, but that’s just not the way the writing process works. So my advice is: Write crappy drafts. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write great first (or second) drafts. All my early drafts are terrible, which is fine because it takes me a few drafts to figure out what my story is about. A lot of these pages will get thrown out anyway, and if you worry too much about making every sentence perfect, you’re not going to be willing to do all the cutting and heavy revision that a novel requires. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The first draft is really about telling the story to yourself. Focus on getting to the end of the story. You can revise later.
Are there any other projects you’re working on that you’re able to provide a teaser for?
Lately I’ve been starting and stopping a lot of projects, but I am working on a spooky mermaid story that I am really having a great time writing….
That sounds like so much fun. I can’t wait to read it! I love the first two books in the Unwritten series but I’m greedy for more. Am I able to get my hopes up for a third book?
I certainly hope there will be more books in the Unwritten series! Gertrude Winters has lots more stories for Gracie and Walter to explore!
It’s been an honour to talk to you today. Before we go, is there anything else you’d like readers to know that we haven’t already covered?
If there are any teachers who are using Unwritten or Rewritten in their classes, I am happy to do Skype or Zoom visits/Q&A’s with your classes. I always have a blast talking to readers!
Thank you so much for having me!
About the Author
Tara Gilboy holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of British Columbia, where she specialised in writing for children and young adults. She teaches for San Diego Community College District’s continuing education program. You can find her at taragilboy.com.