Author Interview with Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Today, I have the honor of interviewing Jodie Lynn Zdrok, author of Spectacle and the upcoming sequel Sensational. You can read my review of Spectacle here.

First, here’s a bit about Jodie:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History (Providence College, Brown University) and an MBA (Clark University). In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. She is represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

And here’s a bit about Spectacle: 

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day’s new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine.

That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered…from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine hours later, Nathalie realizes there is a killer haunting the streets of Paris—and her strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover his identity. Her search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the chilling depths of the Parisian Catacombs.

Nathalie must follow the clues in her visions to discover the truth about who is murdering the young women of Paris—before she becomes a target herself.

And now for the interview!

Your debut novel Spectacle is set in 1887 France. What did your research process look like?

So much research in a historical! My academic background is in history, so I had a good foundation of general knowledge about late 19th-century Europe. My research included graduate school materials, books, articles, and newspaper accounts (e.g., the Pranzini element in the book is based on actual events, and I looked up a newspaper article to get a feel for the scene at what ends up being one of the final sequences in the book). Photography wasn’t too big at the time, and some things that I wish I could have had photos of (e.g., the morgue at that time, the Catacombs at that time) either don’t exist or aren’t readily available. 

Beyond researching cultural details, both the big picture ones and everyday life ones (how people lived, what a building was called in 1887 Paris, etc.), I spent a lot of time examining the language I used. As much as possible, I tried to use words in both the narrative and in dialogue that existed in 1887 (you’d be surprised how many things we rely on now weren’t in use at that time, even small things like “ok” and “fine”). I checked etymology a lot and mostly avoided the use of idioms. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over the course of 97K words, being mindful of that adds another layer of complexity. 

Spectacle is one of very few books that I’ve read where the main character has a pet (and the pet lives!). Why was it important to you that Nathalie had a cat?

Stanley is near and dear to my heart! Originally, Nathalie did not have a cat. Real life inspired his presence: My beloved white cat, Stasiu Kitty, died while I was doing revisions for my agent. I was heartbroken, as you can imagine. So I decided to give Stasiu Kitty literary life as Stanley (Stasiu is Polish for Stanley). It is a bit unconventional, but Stanley has become quite a character in his own right! Many readers have a soft spot for him, and I think that’s because lots of people know the feeling of having a cat or dog on the bed, following you, gently “interrupting” conversations, all the things that pets do. I also think we get to see a different side of Nathalie’s home life through Stanley. He adds a little something fun and homey to the dynamic with Nathalie and her parents. (Although I probably don’t give enough credit to the amount of shedding a white cat does.)

Spectacle is genre-blended with historical, mystery, and fantasy elements. What was the biggest challenge of writing a story like this?

The challenge with writing a genre-blending (and bending) novel was making it all work seamlessly, so that all three elements integrated organically. When I first conceived of it, Spectacle was a historical mystery. It didn’t have enough bite, somehow, and I felt as if something was missing. Even though it was inspired by the Jack the Ripper case, that style of mystery alone didn’t have the right feel for me. I wrote the first draft with magic in it, but it wasn’t until revising and really digging deep into the “origin story” of the fantasy element that everything clicked. 

Another challenge, unrelated to the writing but to the novel itself, is that genre blends aren’t for everyone. People who want a straight-up historical, mystery, or fantasy may not find it to be their cup of tea, precisely because it’s a little of each. So it can be a difficult book to describe. I’ve found, however, that people who truly enjoy it thoroughly embrace the genre-blending. 

What has been your favorite types of scenes to write?

Over the course of many drafts, I discovered that I most enjoy writing the “creepy” scenes and the character moment ones. Scenes in Spectacle that were among my favorite to write: the Catacombs scene, the hypnotism scene, a few of the intense conversation scenes, and all the Aunt Brigitte scenes. Those were also the scenes that needed the least revision throughout the process, so I feel like I “got them right” early on, more or less. 

I also experienced that affinity for creepy scenes and intense character scenes again while writing the sequel, Sensational. That’s what, in part, informed my direction for my option novel (a boarding school ghost story/mystery set in 1920s Rhode Island). I tapped into the kind of scenes and writing that I found most enjoyable and satisfying (and ideally readers agree!). 

What has been the happiest moment of your debut year?

Seeing the pride of my boyfriend, parents and brothers. It’s been wonderful to celebrate with family, friends, readers, social media pals, and fellow writers. My innermost circle, those who’ve known me the longest, witnessed my journey and my life, and understand everything that went into achieving this goal…having them participate so completely and genuinely in my joy has been a highlight of my life. I’m grateful for that.

You have a non-writing day job. How do you make the time to write, and how do you find balance?

I’m not sure that I do find balance, to be honest. It’s very difficult to give up lunch hours, come home from a day in the office and find the drive to be creative, and forego weekend activities in order to write. When I’m on deadline, I do what I need to do, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of discipline and motivation under pressure. When I’m not on deadline, it’s less overwhelming, but it’s still a challenge and there’s some guilt if I go too long without writing. 

Burnout is real, no doubt about it, and it’s unavoidable for me at times when everything but work and writing go out the window—thankfully those are relatively short stints over the course of a year. I put a lot of effort into restorative well-being immediately after a deadline or big push, and I always schedule a massage, getaway, dinner out, spa day…something. 

On a day-to-day, steady-state level where I simply need to write and chip away, I reset through exercise. That run, bike, swim, or fitness class is my hour to take a breather, think through plots points and what I’ll be writing that day or week, and be offline for a while. And let’s be honest, I have a sweet tooth. So the working out helps offset that, too. 😊 

Thank you so much to Jodie for her time!

You can check out the relevant links below!

Add Spectacle on Goodreads

Add Sensational on Goodreads

Buy Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s books

Follow Jodie on Twitter

Author Interview with Shaun David Hutchinson

Today, I am totally freaking out over the fact that I got to interview Shaun David Hutchinson.

First a little bit about Shaun:

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of many queer books for young adults. Find out more information at He currently lives in Seattle and watches way too much Doctor Who.

And here’s a little bit about his most recent fiction work, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

And now for the interview!

In the past, you have referenced The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley as being your relaunch/rebrand as an author. Can you speak more about this?

Sometimes 2008 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when I wrote and sold my first novel, The Deathday Letter, the YA landscape was so very different than it is now.  I honestly wasn’t sure that anyone would be willing to take a chance on me if I wrote books with queer narrators or focused on the things I cared about, like mental health.  I have a special place in my heart for my first two books, but they also aren’t totally representative of me.  They’re more representative of who I believed readers wanted me to be.

The irony is that neither Deathday or FML did particularly well, and they certainly weren’t reviewed positively.  It wasn’t until I had nothing to lose that I wrote The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley.  With Five Stages, I wrote a book that I believed was one-hundred percent representative of who I wanted to be as a writer, and I figured that if publishing rejected it that it was a sign I wasn’t meant to be writing.  It was kind of a fatalistic attitude because we all know that one book doesn’t decide a writer’s future, but I found an agent who believed in Drew’s story, an editor who believed, and readers who were hungry for more stories about people like Drew.

In that way, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley really was a bit of a rebirth for me as an author.  I had put myself out there, fully embracing my weirdness and queerness and honesty about mental health, and readers had welcomed me into their lives.  The Deathday Letter and FML will always be part of my history, but I sort of think of them as the books I wrote before I found the courage be myself.

In addition to your full length novels, you have been an editor to some unique anthologies (Violent Ends and Feral Youth) which tell an entire story through multiple short stories by different authors. What were the challenges and rewards of undertaking such an ambitious project (twice!)? 

I loved working on those anthologies, but they definitely were challenging.  The major challenge was wrangling all of the stories together and drawing the connections between them.  Violent Ends was more difficult than Feral Youth, but I was extremely fortunate that the authors in both anthologies were so passionate and supportive about what I was trying to do.  They often worked together to create those connections and to build the shared world the stories existed in. I guess in that respect, the challenges were the same as the rewards.  Because while it may have been a tough job to build that shared world, getting to stand back and see how it all came together remains one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Several of your recent works dealt with the end of the world in some way while your upcoming 2020 work The State of Us seems to be a departure from that thematic element. What drove this decision?

I remember being a teen and feeling how everything kind of felt like the end of the world, which is probably why I’m so drawn to it as a plot device.  It’s such a great way to explore problems that might otherwise feel mundane to readers.  But you can only end the world so many times before you begin to bore readers. At the same time, the last couple of years have exposed the hateful underbelly that exists in our world.  It was always there, but much of that nastiness was confined to the shadows. And now, unfortunately, it’s felt emboldened to step into the light.  With the world as dark as it is, I began gravitating toward stories that feel a little lighter.  Stories that envision the world I want to live in rather than the world we actually live in.

That said, explorations of sexuality and mental health will always be important to me.  In The State of Us, Dean is struggling to find his place in the queer world as he explores being demisexual, and both boys struggle with how to square their feelings for each other with the differences that divide them.  I’m just approaching those topics from a different angle these days.  One that lets a little more light in.

You transitioned from writing while maintaining another job to full-time writing. How has your writing process changed since this transition happened?

Oddly enough, my process hasn’t changed much.  When I had a day job, I did the majority of my writing in the morning before work.  I still do that.  And I still generally get up between five and six in the morning to do it.  The major difference is that I just do more of it.  I’m able to work longer.  Instead of finishing and then going to work in an office, I finish my morning writing and then go to a coffee shop to do more writing.

The biggest change has honestly been in my approach to future projects.  When I had a day job I was able to spend a couple of months working on a project that might go nowhere because I knew if it didn’t sell, I still had a paycheck coming in.  Writing full time means that I don’t always have that luxury.  If I’m going to commit my time to a project, I have to at least believe there is a good probability that I’m going to be able to make money off of it or I could find myself unable to pay my bills. It’s forced me to be a little more pragmatic about the projects I take on.

But I do make sure to set aside time for those weird passion projects because you never know what’s going to come out of them.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley began as a passion project.  As have other books, including one I recently sold that I can’t talk about yet but that I think my readers are really going to enjoy.

Brave Face is an absolutely stunning memoir that deals with a lot of tougher topics, including some very intense mental health challenges. What made you decide to relive these moments and write about them?

Thank you.  That really means a lot.  Even now, months after it came out, I still worry whether I should have published it. But I think that kind of fear is probably pretty natural when putting something so personal out into the world.

The idea actually came about because I was nearing the 20th anniversary of surviving my suicide attempt.  A lot of me goes into my books, but I wondered if it might be helpful for teens to have an account of that time—what I went through with coming out and depression—to both help them see that they aren’t alone and to help those who might not have experience with coming out or mental illness gain some understanding of what others might be going through.  I emailed my editor at Simon Pulse about the idea, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought I might have something worth saying.

The idea of writing a memoir was terrifying, and the only way I got through it was by telling myself that if only one person read it, and it helped them, then that was enough. That would make it worth it. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

On Twitter, you post about baking a lot. How and why did this hobby come about?

Sorry!  I have a tendency to jump from one obsession to another.  Sometimes those obsessions stick around and become full-blown hobbies. Sometimes they turn into a career. I started baking last winter when my mom came to visit. It was my first winter in Seattle, and it was a cold, wet one.  My mom didn’t want to spent much time outside, so we spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment where he was watching The Great British Baking Show.  I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down to watch an episode.  That show hooked me and reeled me in with its big heart and joyfulness, and I remain a fan of the show despite three-quarters of the original hosts leaving.

After my mom went back home, I found myself spending more time inside due to the weather, and I was looking for something to do. Inspired by The Great British Baking Show, I decided to give baking a try.  My mom baked quite frequently when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I’d enjoy.  Much to my surprise, I instantly fell in love with it.  I think, for me, baking is a creative outlet that’s stress-free.  I enjoy the process of baking immensely because it helps calm my hyper-active and over-imaginative mind while also keeping me physically moving.  Plus, the end results make people smile.  Show up to a gathering with even the ugliest cake, and people will still smile.  Right now, baking is an oasis for me in this messy, messed up world.

Finally, what are some books that need to be on our radar? (This can be already released books and/or upcoming releases.)

Definitely The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper and How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.  I’m about to get started on Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, and the first page has already got me hooked.  Ryan La Sala’s Reverie is out soon, and I’m dying to get my hands on it.  Camryn Garret’s Full Disclosure and Saundra Mitchell’s All the Things We Do in the Dark are both out October 29th, and they’re at the very top of my reading list.  I also had the opportunity to hear Ryan Douglass read from his horror/thriller Jake in the Box, and he was amazing. I can’t wait to read the whole book.

There are always so many more books that I want to read than I have time for—the curse of every reader!—but we’re lucky that there are so many outstanding and diverse books out there now with more headed our way.

Thank you so much to Shaun for his time!

And always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Shaun David Hutchinson Links
Check Out Shaun on Goodreads
Make Shaun supremely rich and buy his books/enhance your own life too
Follow Shaun on Twitter

The Books Shaun Mentioned
Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add How to Be Remy Cameron to Goodreads
Add Surrender Your Sons to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Reverie to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Full Disclosure to Goodreads
Add All The Things We Do in the Dark to Goodreads
Add Jake in the Box to Goodreads