Bio: Cidney Swanson is the author of The Ripple Series. She began writing at age seven; her first novel began with “Ouch,” and her characters have been suffering ever since. Cidney lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, three kids, two cats, one dog, and entirely too much rain.
ScriptSuperhero.com: Cidney, welcome to ScriptSuperhero.com as part of your blog tour. We’ve hosted such luminaries as Charlaine Harris, L.J. Sellers, Amanda Hocking, and T.L. Haddix, and we’re proud to add you to the roster. For the uninitiated, start out by telling us a little bit about the Ripple trilogy in general.
Cidney Swanson: The Ripple Trilogy tells a story of a girl who can turn invisible, the boy she’s falling for, and the neo-Nazi scientist hunting them both.
SS: In less than a year, you’ve published your entire trilogy, which includes Rippler, Chameleon, and now Unfurl. How long had you been working on these three novels before you reached the point of publication?
CS: I started on the trilogy in early 2009. The first two novels underwent substantial rewrites over the space of 30 months. I found the third one just fell into place with very little rewriting of the story arc. There was plenty of revision, though! I knew the first two would be very cliff-hanger-y, so I didn’t want to put anything out there until I was confident I could get them all out in the space of six months. As a reader, I hate waiting a year (or more) for sequels. But I figured most readers would be okay waiting three months in between.
SS: Like many writers, you chose to travel the indie path toward publication. Now that you have your first trilogy out on the market, how are you feeling about your decision? Are you pleased with the level of success you’ve attained thus far?
CS: It turns out that it was a great decision for me. I’m thrilled to be where I am today, with a growing readership and some very loyal fans. A big part of my decision to quit my day job and write full time was based on the fact that I thought I could see a paycheck faster going indie than going with a traditional publisher. (A paycheck meaning that I could continue to write—my real goal.) As it was, I went 25 months without that paycheck! So not a whole lot faster than if I’d sold a manuscript within, say, six months of quitting. It was a good time to have to get by on less, though, with so many losing jobs or out of work because of the recession.
SS: One of the major touchstone themes in your trilogy is the idea of abusive boyfriends. Now, in your story, Will is not actually abusive to Sam, but in defending him Sam offers up explanations to her friends that are eerily similar to those offered by victims of actual abuse. This had to be a tricky balancing act; how have readers reacted to your handling of such a sensitive issue?
CS: Poor Will! Such a nice guy. Such an awful set of misapprehensions! (I made sure Will was exonerated half way through the trilogy.) But seriously, once I had introduced the specter of abusive relationships, I felt it was important to treat the subject with seriousness. As far as reader reactions go, most have responded strongly to Gwyn’s treatment of Sam rather than the suspected abuse. I get lots of readers telling me they wanted to shake Gwyn by the shoulders. The other response I see from readers is gratitude that I included both Sylvia’s real back-story abuse and addressed Sam’s perceived abuse. In their real lives, teens have complicated and awful things to deal with, and I think a book can give you permission to be bolder as you work through some areas of your life. At least, that is my hope.
SS: One plot element I enjoyed is how much responsibility Sam tries to take, even for the unintended consequences of the use of her powers, such as how she attempts to help Gwyn pay for damage she caused to a store Gwyn’s family owns, without actually revealing her powers. Responsibility is an important, timeless message. Do you think it’s a message today’s teen fiction readers can connect with?
CS: Absolutely. Most teen fiction readers want to do the right thing. And by the time you’re a teen, you’ve likely had a chance to see how complicated that can become: how you can cause unintended collateral damage when you do one thing right. Also, as a teen, there are so many things that are out of your control. How you spend the bulk of your day. Where you live. What you eat for dinner. But one thing you can control is how you respond things life throws at you.
SS: As a source for your main villains, you turned to World War II and the Nazis as the source of the evil in your story. Given that today’s teens were born in the mid-1990s, which was already fifty years removed from that era, and is now seventy years removed from it, what drove your decision to select these folks as your main villains? Was it to shed light on that era for modern readers?
CS: Not exactly! At least, not at first. I had been aware there was a name for the science that attempts to perfect the human species (eugenics) but I didn’t know a lot about the movement. Once I researched eugenics, I realized my villain would have been completely in sync with the movement which reached its nadir in Nazi Germany. My goal in storytelling is primarily to offer a good read. But having said that, messages will undoubtedly show up because, like everyone else on the planet, I have a certain take on the world. Once I’d “uncovered” the link of my villain to Nazi philosophy, I knew I had a chance to shed some light on an era that teens don’t have an automatic connection to. I’ll actually be blogging on this topic soon!
SS: Most of Rippler was set in California. Book two, Chameleon, took us to Paris. Give us a brief idea of where the action of Unfurl is set, and how important setting is to your narrative.
CS: I am definitely one of those authors who believe setting is an additional character in a narrative. Unfurl occurs simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. We revisit the imaginary town of Las Abuelitas, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of central California, as well as hopping around in Europe: from Paris to Rome, from Nice to Carcassonne and Montpellier, and finally returning to the Loire Valley in France.
SS: Your books feature some amazing cover art. Tell us about your cover artist.
CS: Claudia of www.phatpuppyart.com is the cover artist for the series. Isn’t she awesome? I fell in love with her style and have squeeeed over everything she’s produced for me. Plus, she’s a wonderful human being!
SS: In the past year, you’ve gone from unpublished to the author of a complete trilogy. How has this experience changed you as a writer? What have you learned from the journey?
CS: Hmm. Big questions. I’ve learned that it is okay to trust my instincts. I mean, I had this crazy story idea. A girl who turns invisible? Really? Where are her fangs or wolfish boyfriends? We all know we aren’t supposed to write for trends. That we should tell the story we have inside us. So I did, but it felt pretty scary at times. Would anyone want to read it? (Thankfully, yes!) Another huge revelation for me: I have learned that I can write on deadline! I’m now confident that if the work needs to be done, I know how to get myself to do it. (Mostly the BIC method: butt-in-chair.)
SS: Is Unfurl the last readers will see of this set of characters, or could some of them turn up in future works?
CS: Unfurl is the last in the series. But these characters haunt me as I’m working on my new stuff. So, never-say-never.
SS: If you had to describe the Ripple Trilogy to someone who has never read any of your work before, give us some reasons why they might be interested in your trilogy, and what it offers that set it apart from other big names in the YA paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre.
CS: Ha! What people tell me is that the creepy back story really draws them in. Next, I’ve had both serious runners and serious non-runners tell me the descriptions of running made them want to get out and pound the pavement. Readers also love Will, my guy-hero, quite seriously. (And he’s totally blushing, shaking his head, and walking off as I write this.)
As far as what sets it apart? Well, I think the fact that boy meets girl doesn’t instantly = omigod-I-heart-you-forever is pretty appealing to a lot of readers. And while the tale is fantastical, it leans in a Michael Chrichton-esque direction rather than in the magical-creature direction. I get a lot of “I’ve never read anything like this before” and “A breath of fresh air in a genre that can feel stale.” So, um, that’s pretty nice! If you like a little mystery, a little action, a little maybe-love story, and some invisibility, you might like this.
SS: I realize it may be a bit early, since your focus right now is on the conclusion of the Ripple trilogy, but can you tease us with an idea of what your fans might expect from your next project?
CS: Tease? Abso-frickin-lutely! I’m revising a piece right now that has pointe shoes and hobgoblins and Russian food. I also have a first draft of a sci-fi novel that’s aging. As in, set aside to improve the flavor. Like wine or cheese.
SS: Which character in the Ripple trilogy did you find to be most like yourself as a teenager?
CS: Hmm. There are bits of me in all the characters. Some of them were fairly hidden when I was a teen. For instance, I have a fair bit of Sir Walter, but you can bet your skittles I didn’t let that show when I was in middle-school or high school. I tended to hide my Will-ish bits as well. (Love of learning, and history.) I struggled with confidence, like Sam, but I was secretly very sure about some things, like Gwyn. Not a great answer, huh? Mostly, these characters were all pretty different from who I was as a teen!
SS: And now we’ve reached an important point in our interview. In celebration of Barbara Walters, who famously once asked President Jimmy Carter what kind of tree he’d like to be, while he was still in office and wrestling with important matters of state, I always like to include in my interviews a “completely out of left field, non-sequitur question. Are you ready?
CS: Um . . .
SS: Here goes: Star Trek, Star Wars, or Doctor Who? Explain your choice.
CS: Star Trek. Totallistically Star Trek. Something to do with being inoculated by Kirk, Spock, and Uhura when I was only three, I’m sure, but Star Trek has always been my deep and enduring addiction. Through the years, I’ve loved me some Jean-Luc and Cisco, too, and even Janeway grew on me. But looking back, Uhura was such a positive role model for me; I loved seeing a woman-astronaut. Yes, the show was camp-y and yes, it’s dated. But the idea that Russians and Asians and African-Americans and Caucasians and Vulcans could all get along and (gasp!) learn from one another? Now, that’s some good stuff there.
SS: I’m afraid that’s it. Thank you for your time, and best wishes with the ongoing success of your trilogy.
CS: Thanks so much for the opportunity to visit with you and your readers, Craig!