By L.J. Sellers
Kirkus Reviews called DON’T TURN AROUND, the first book in the Persefone trilogy, “A pulse-pounding scary great read…Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for preteens and teens, a surefire hit.” Now readers of all ages anxiously await Michelle Gagnon’s second installment, DON’T LOOK NOW.
In this taut thriller, former foster kid Noa Torsen is on the run. Having outsmarted the sinister Project Persephone, Noa and her friend Zeke move stealthily across the country, rescuing runaways before they become test subjects for horrific experiments. Until the final explosive confrontation, where Noa and her team become trapped in the one place they thought was safe.
With cover copy like that, Gagnon’s new YA thriller should be another huge success! The bestselling author of novels such as THE TUNNELS and BONEYARD tells us how she keeps upping her game with each new story.
What motivated you to start writing YA thrillers? Is it working for you?
I was having lunch one day with a friend who’s also a book editor. She pointed out that in nearly all of my adult thrillers, there’s a teenager who not only has a POV, but plays a major role in the story (like Madison, the fifteen-year-old kidnapping victim in THE GATEKEEPER). This friend recommended that I take it a step further and narrate an entire book from a younger perspective. So I gave it a shot. And it was like a breath of fresh air; I ended up finishing the rough draft of DON’T TURN AROUND in eight weeks.
Plus, it’s been so much fun doing teen events. Teens these days are not only enthusiastic readers, they’re also very precious with their books. They want hardcover editions, and they really cherish them. They create their own fan fiction, fan art, and fan book trailers. It’s been revelatory on a lot of levels for me.
How many of your adult thriller readers have followed you to the new series? What is different about your thrillers now that they have a new label?
Hopefully most of them, but it’s hard to know! The Persefone series isn’t intended specifically for any one age group. Like THE HUNGER GAMES, the storyline is dark and the characters are in serious, life threatening peril. The only real difference is that the two main characters are half the age of Kelly Jones and Jake Riley (from my other series). One of my favorite reviews so far came from a fan who wrote, “I am a senior, and I say this book is great for any age.”
Where did the idea for this trilogy originate?
An editor and I collaborated on the underpinnings of the story. At the outset, we knew that Noa would wake up on an operating table with no memory of how she got there, and that Peter would have his house broken into after hacking a website. But from there, it really progressed in fits and starts. I’m not an outliner, so one idea just led to the next. When I sat down to write every day, I rarely knew how Noa was going to get out of her latest predicament unscathed—for me, that’s always the fun part (while simultaneously being the most terrifying!)
Tell us about Noa, your young protagonist. What kind of research did you do to get her character just right?
I did a lot of research on teens who grow up in the foster care system here in the U.S., which unfortunately frequently fails them. I also worked extensively with Bruce Davis, a hacker who served as my beta reader/IT expert; the hacking details were definitely the scariest part for me, since I’m a Luddite (and weirdly, I suffered a computer meltdown with each and every book in this trilogy. I’m calling it the Persefone curse).
What do you want readers to know about DON’T LOOK NOW that they won’t find in the book’s description?
One of my all-time favorite poems is “Persephone, Falling” by poet laureate Rita Dove. And thematically, it was perfect for this storyline; I was dying to use it for the epigraph. But Harper was having a hard time getting permission, so I contacted Ms. Dove myself through a friend of a friend, and she agreed. Not only that, but after the book was released she sent me a lovely letter extolling the book. I’ll always treasure it.
How did you get involved in Rising Tides, and what does it mean to you personally?
I found out about Rising Tides via friend who knew that my new series focused on the failings of the foster care system. I had been actively looking for a way to help kids like Noa and discovered that sadly there were few resources available. Rising Tides is a new crowd funding non-profit that provides financial assistance to teens who are aging out of the foster care system. When a foster kid turns eighteen, they’re basically shoved out the door, often with no diploma, no family, no money, and no place to go. It’s an utter travesty. Within two years, many of these kids end up homeless, incarcerated, or pregnant. Rising Tides gives them a chance to achieve their life goals. Plus, 100% of every donation goes directly to the kid it’s meant to help.
Your bio lists “modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer” as former occupations. Which was your favorite? Least favorite?
Russian supper club performer was my favorite, hands down. I actually enjoyed all of the random jobs I’ve held over the years, but walking dogs through Central Park during a blizzard was not my favorite day at the office.
What can readers expect from you next?
DON’T LOOK NOW is the second book in a trilogy, so definitely the third and final book—DON’T LET GO—which will be released in August 2014. I also have an “adult” thriller that I’ve been chipping away at on and off for the past few years. It’s become both an albatross and my white whale. My goal is to finally finish that by the end of the year!
Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. To the delight of her parents, she gave up all these occupations for an infinitely more stable and lucrative career as a crime fiction writer.
Michelle’s novels have been published in North America, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Argentina, and Australia, and have been IMBA top 10 bestsellers. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS, about a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system beneath a university, has been described as “Silence of the Lambs meets The Wicker Man.”
To learn more about Michelle, please visit her website.