Saturday, June 10, 2023

Q&A with Mary Pascual




Mary Pascual is the author of the new young adult novel The Byways. She lives in San Jose, California.



Q: What inspired you to write The Byways, and how did you create your character CeeCee?


A: I was inspired by a couple of things. The first inspiration was my son. He was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD) when he was around 3, and he has ADHD as well. ADHD and some neurodiverse aspects run through my family anyway, so it was very familiar for me. (I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.)


The second inspiration was Alice in Wonderland. As I was navigating therapies and the school system with my son, I was also rereading children’s books so we could read together. When I read Alice, I immediately recognized her hyperactivity and impulse issues as someone like my son.


That’s when the idea for The Byways began and ideas kept developing as I saw other ND children go through their own experiences, especially girls. Eventually I knew I wanted to highlight a girl’s journey, and explore how the reputations that attach to girls just seemed to last a lot longer than it did boys.


I decided to rewrite Alice, or my version of her, as neurodiverse and I imagined a grittier, reframed Wonderland.


It's funny, because when I started to create CeeCee, I knew I wanted her to be feisty and have a temper, but no matter how well I think I know the character going in, there’s always a point where I struggle with, “Who is this person?” I was having trouble accessing her voice. I also didn’t want her to be a flat Alice knockoff.


Then I started listing out CeeCee’s attributes—stubborn, overly physical, loyal, compassionate, sullen, funny, etc.—that gave me a way to flesh her out and get to know her better. When I can start having conversations with a character in my head then I know they feel like real people to me, and I always want my characters to feel like real people.


Q: How did you create the world in which CeeCee finds herself?


A: I wanted to create a world that was part of the regular world, but hidden, with all of the same type of challenges that are part of everyday life. I also wanted to explore when someone falls through the cracks in our systems or runs away, and ends up on the street.


Then you add in the element of magic and magical people who can’t live anywhere else, and who build their own society in these hidden alleys. Which is the fun part, because I just let my imagination go wild coming up with things found only in the byways, and, of course, the Alice in Wonderland characters were redone and set in a grittier reality.


But I really wanted the sense of being able to see out, but not being able to get out of the byways. I also wanted to build a feeling for the reader that magic could be just around the corner. There could be a hidden door into the byways anywhere.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I thought I knew where it ended! I had an ending in my head, but probably about halfway through writing I realized that the story didn’t end where I thought. I kept writing and another ending developed that worked better for CeeCee’s journey. I turned the previous ending into a pivot point for CeeCee.


Actually, something surprising developed in that pivot point that might end up in a future story, so it worked out all around! I find that I often have the beginning of a story and the ending, or close to the ending, before I start writing. Then I have to figure out what goes in between.


 A big part of writing, at least for me, is the process of discovery. With The Byways I definitely made some changes along the way. Either the scenes weren’t working or, in one case, I had some scenes with two characters I loved, but I had to cut them because it slowed the pacing down.


This was also the first full-length novel I’d ever attempted—I mainly wrote short stories and poetry before—so I had a big learning curve.   


Q: The writer Sean Stewart said of the book, "For anyone who has ever felt miscast or bypassed, set down or let down, this story about a girl who feels just a little too much is exciting and weird and beautiful and wise." What do you think of that description?


A: First of all, I am such a fan of Sean Stewart! His books were a huge influence on me when I was dreaming of being a novelist. He had a way of bridging magic and the real world in his books and those books made me realize I wanted to tell stories like that, too.


So I wrote to him (and I admit, I gushed like a fangirl), and I was over the moon when he agreed, first, to take a look at my book, and then, second, he came back with that amazing blurb!


I love it so much. He managed to capture all that I hoped to convey in my story, in one sentence. He also mirrored some of the way I was playing with language in the book, so that just felt really, really cool and fun. I felt seen! I’m secretly hoping he’ll read my next book, too.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m just at the beginning of a new novel, another contemporary fantasy. I’ve got lots of notes and a tentative outline. I’m not great at outlining but I’m trying to plan ahead more. I can’t talk about it too much yet, just in case it changes radically from my outline, but I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done this summer.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have another YA book coming out in May 2024! It’s called Walk the Web Lightly and it’s about a 14-year-old girl named Naya and her artist family who can secretly see time.


Naya’s family expects her to follow in their footsteps, creating art and keeping their heritage and powers hidden, but Naya wants to be a doctor and she can’t do that if she’s hiding all the time.


It’s a coming-of-age fantasy story, with some twists, and I’m really excited that’s on the horizon.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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