A year ago, Penny Berne thrived in the spotlight, surrounded by her theatre friends, starring in the school play, and falling for her onstage love interest Wes – until she abruptly left that life behind. Now, Penny is part of the popular crowd, top of her class, and seems to have it all, but behind the scenes everything is falling apart. Her mom is fresh out of rehab, her old friends won’t speak to her, and Wes can’t even meet her eyes. When a bolt of lightning steals her memories of the last year, Penny doesn’t know how she went from drama geek to ice queen – or why. As she pieces together the puzzle of her life, Penny must decide who she really is and who she wants to be. Q&A
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always been drawn to books & stories as a way of expressing myself. I loved pretending with Barbies, making movies with my sister’s video camera, and reading as many book as I could (Babysitters’ Club Forever!). At first, I think I was writing to explore characters, worlds I wanted to live in (but didn’t), and just loved to play. Later, as I moved on in my life and explored various roads, I kept writing – always. When I wrote, Infinite Days, I wrote it just for myself. I guess I had a vague notion I could try to publish it, but I wrote that book to explore the story of a character who needed to seek redemption. That word, need, is very important in my life. I needed to be a writer. It’s part of who I am!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was on a panel the other night and we were asked about this. I think that many people would say that they finally considered themselves writers when they got that first book deal or some national exposure for their work. I think I would be lying if I said I didn’t also feel this way. It’s hard not to fall into that “validation” trap. I was at The Writing Barn in Austin, TX (Amazing!! If you can, GO!!) recently and a brilliant woman writer there said that after the end of the weekend, she no longer felt that she was a writer with a little w, but was now a writer with a capital W. I love that. It’s about community and support more than anything else.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I think I touched on this in the first question, but I wrote Infinite Days from a really emotional place. I heard Lenah in my head really clearly and she was old & tortured but looked 16. She wanted to be human more than anything but knew it wasn’t possible. That’s how I found the vampire aspect of Infinite Days. I had never really read any vampire stories before. So I wrote it, followed my intuition, Lenah’s voice, and just wrote the darn thing. That’s the best piece of advice I can possibly give. When I finished Infinite Days I was convinced the book couldn’t possibly sell. When I did finally explore the genre, Twilight’s New Moon had just come out and my book was nothing like those stories and not to mention that Stephenie Meyer’s books were so popular (still are!). But the book did sell. Trust your characters, trust that the work is good, and that it’s enough. It is. I promise.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I would say that my style is voice driven, which is ironic given that sometimes I have a lot of problems with consistency of voice when I am revising. One of the ways I access my world and the characters in my world is when I can hear his/her voice as I am drafting. Some of the ways I find voice when I am stuck or blocked is handwriting the scene. Sometimes I write a letter from the character to me or to another character in the book. At times, I find that an antagonist can read as a bit two-dimensional, so it’s always interesting to side-write (a term coined by A.M. Jenkins which means to free write) from that character’s perspective. Even if the scene doesn’t focus on the antagonist, it’s important sometimes to know what that antagonist’s motivations are so you know how your main character should react.
How did you come up with the title?
I wish I had a cool answer for this. It’s a phrase that came to my head when I was drafting. These fireflies come into the town for a magical season. Scientists try to explain it, but no one knows for sure. Many times we try to explain why random acts occur – why is anyone struck by lightning? It’s a mystery.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That only you are responsible for the choices you make. Sure, when we are younger we don’t have as much agency as we would like. Our parents make a lot of our decisions. But even our parents don’t get to blame us for their mistakes. One of the phrases in this world that I find so damaging is, “you made me do_____”
Really? Am I a sorcerer who forced you to make a choice and a decision? I think a lot of times kids shoulder blame where it’s just not appropriate. So that’s what I would give a reader of this book, if I could. It’s not your fault. You can’t make anyone do something that they don’t want to do.
How much of the book is realistic?
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Alcoholism is very real in families as is mental illness. Sometimes people medicate with alcohol as a way to cope with depression – it’s not often, it’s not always, it’s different for every single person and every situation. But that particular combo is real for many people and for many teenagers living at home in an environment that includes both of these factors. That circumstance is something I wanted to explore in this book. A lot of times children growing up in homes with mental illness don’t often have any way of explaining what is happening at home as it’s not as simple as saying something like, “My mom is sick with _____.” You can’t always see mental illness. Penny’s mom suffers from mental issues but also struggles with alcohol abuse. That combination is what fuels a lot of her reason to abandon her friends. It’s so important if that’s happening to someone out there that you find help, speak to a counselor, an adult you trust, or contact a reputable organization like http://al-anon.alateen.org/
What books have most influenced your life most?
Oh this is a hard question. Probably the following (in no particular order. Not all of these are for young adults).
- Amy Hempel’s collection of short stories.
- Sherman Alexie’s ANYTHING but in particular, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (a collection of short stories), as well as Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
- John Green’s Looking for Alaska.
- Alice Hoffman’s Turtle Moon
- Gennifer Choldenko’s Notes From A Liar and Her Dog (I wept like a baby after this one)
What are you working on now?
I just sent a synopsis (which I truly suck at writing) and a sample to my editor. It’s similar in genre to Fireflies in that it’s set in the contemporary/realistic world but things happen you go…wait a second…did that really happen? That’s all I can say for now J
A Season for Fireflies is a thoughtful look at the search for identity that comes with adolescence, complicated by the reality of a parent who suffers from mental illness and addiction. Maizel’s honest and heartfelt approach to these issues will resonate with readers who face a similar situation, while Penny’s social struggles will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been a teenager. As she works to figure out where it all went wrong, Penny discovers that sometimes life gives you a second chance – and even though she can’t undo the past, she’s the only one who can decide her future. According to Kirkus, “Maizel delivers a satisfying and fairly distinctive twist on the trendy teen-amnesia novel. Cloaked in the glow of a mysterious and almost magical influx of fireflies, it’s a fresh take with a familiar feel.”