Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Constance Sayers and Amy Reed


[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Constance Sayers and Amy Reed and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Constance Sayers!]

What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel, The Ladies of the Secret Circus

As soon as I’d finished my first book, A Witch in Time, I knew I wanted to write a book about a French circus—I had this visual image of it in my mind.  I’m fascinated by lore and really wanted my character to have ties to this rumored, dark circus that may or may not have ever really existed.  A big inspiration for me was HBO’s Carnivàle.  At the heart of the story is a woman whose fiancé disappears on their wedding day.  I wanted her to be thrust into soul-searching about her whole life and this idea that there was a dark legacy with a stake in her future.  

I will say though that the mechanics of this book have odd beginnings.  I borrowed characters from an old novel that I’d finished and completely reworked it.  Since I have a day job, I’m very economical about what I write, so the idea that I had a manuscript sitting there with fully developed characters felt like a waste to me. For me as a writer, it was easier because I knew Lara and Ben so well as characters that I almost instinctively knew how they would react in any setting. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

Definitely Lara.  While I was never left at the altar, the idea of questioning everything has certainly happened to me. I created the town of Kerrigan Falls as a composite of my old hometown of Brookville, Pennsylvania with a little bit of Culpeper and Middleburg, Virginia, near Washington DC, where I live now. Lara also has my old job, a midnight-to-six DJ at a radio station.  It’s a lonely job that makes you reflect quite a bit on life around three am in the morning! 

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

As with any memorable fiction, it starts with characters, especially now during a pandemic.  I think we’re all a bit lonely, so a character is like a good friend that you invite into your home. 

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it?

I’m re-reading Jane Austen’s Emma right now.  Beyond Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility I really hadn’t read Austen since college and hadn’t really appreciated her novels back then.  In the fall (during my bread-baking phase), I decided to watch all the Jane Austen television shows and movies and started with Emma then decided to read it as well. As for adaptations, I highly recommend the visually stunning 2020 version of Emma directed by Autumn de Wilde as well as Sanditon on ITV and Lost in Austen which is not a direct adaptation but is incredibly entertaining and my personal favorite. 

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

What’s next?  After finishing a book, I’m always a little spent, so a take a few months off and let my mind wander a bit (see the bread baking and Jane Austen watching question above). I’ve got another book in the works which will take place on a film set in the 1960s in Amboise France but also the 1890s (as well as modern-day).  I’m also tossing around the idea of sequel/prequel to A Witch in Time.  

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

It’s so tough to focus on just one.  Certainly, I owe a great deal to Anne Rice for making me want to write.  Nicola Cornick is probably my favorite writer right now.  I just get so immersed in worlds she creates and they’re pure indulgences for me, especially when I’m writing. The Phantom Tree is a classic!

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Never, never give up.  My first book did not sell, and I was so discouraged after 15+ years of writing that I nearly quit at that point.  I took time to mourn and then started on something from scratch that became A Witch in Time.  Working with journalists during my day job, I’ve learned that your writing is not precious. They have such an amazing attitude about their work and just re-tool and rework until it is ready for print. You need the same discipline same for fiction.  Listen and really “hear” what is not working in your book and be prepared to address it.  Had my first book sold, my career would have gone down an entirely different path. That rejection forced me to switch my entire genre into one that was much more authentic for me.  

Up next, Amy Reed!
Please describe the content of Tell Me My Name and what can readers expect from it.

TELL ME MY NAME is a gender-swapped, feminist retelling of The Great Gatsby set about fifty years in the future, on a rich, exclusive island off the coast of Seattle. Ivy Avila is a troubled child star who befriends Fern, a sheltered girl who is hungry to experience something exciting in the summer after high school. Like GATSBY, the book is full of wild nights and extravagant parties, attraction and obsession, and it is also about the dark side of the American Dream, who it leaves behind, and the desperate measures some will take to chase it. It’s a twisty exploration of what it means to want, about friendship and desire, and the courage it ultimately takes to reclaim ourselves. 

What was your inspiration behind Tell Me My Name?

I reread The Great Gatsby a few years ago, a couple of decades after I first read it, and I was amazed at how different it was from the first time. We were in the middle of the Trump presidency, the environment and social justice were (and are) in crisis, and personally, I was just a lot more aware of things than I was when I first read GATSBY. I still loved the book, but I also saw some holes I didn’t see before. I wondered, where was I in this story? Where were girls? How are the pressures that Gatsby experienced different for people whose stories the original novel didn’t tell? What role does the media, sexuality, addiction, the environment, the government have in all of this? And how do the big themes of GATSBY relate to the world as it is now, and as it might be in fifty years if we continue on the trajectory we’re on? Plus I also just really wanted to write a cool story about girls empowering themselves, which is what I always want to write about. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

I see parts of myself in both Fern and Ivy. Luckily, I think I’ve let go of most of Ivy’s more self-destructive attributes. But for a lot of my life, I operated from that same place of being ruled constantly by craving and shame, always chasing that next high, always needing external validation to tell me I was worth something. But now I think I’m a little more like Fern—thoughtful, empathetic, wanting to do the right thing, and loyal to the people I love (sometimes to a fault). 

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I think we all, especially when we’re young, feel like outsiders, like we don’t fit in, that there’s just something in us that makes us different than everyone else, so we like to read about quirky and unique characters who feel that way too. What’s great is when we can see these characters finding power in their uniqueness, showing us that it’s cool to not fit in all the time. Because what does trying to fit in actually get us? Look at The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby did everything he could to fit in with the rich and powerful, and it destroyed him. 

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I’m actually working on an adult novel right now, for the first time in my life. I was little scared at first to try this new thing, but something cool I realized in this process is that, for me, all great stories, regardless of the age of the characters, are coming-of-age stories just like YA. They’re all about people changing and growing in some way. So I’m still writing a coming-of-age story, only this time the character is twice as old as the characters I’m used to writing. 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi and fantasy during the pandemic because I’ve needed an escape, and I was absolutely blown away by N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. It’s adult fantasy, but I think it’s totally great reading for teens, too. I’ve always thought of myself as a reader of realistic novels, and that’s certainly what I’m known for writing, but I also have a big love for sci-fi and fantasy. Great genre fiction can tell us a lot about who we are right now and often comments very directly on the world we’re living in, but somehow it feels a little less stressful to read these truths in a world that looks nothing like the one I’m in at the moment. 

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Read and write often, and diversely. Read outside of your comfort zone, outside of your genre and identity. Try on the styles and techniques of other authors and see what feels true to you. I think about finding your identity as a writer kind of like how I used to try on different identities in middle school and high school. One week I’d be a skater girl, the next week a little goth, the next week a hippy. Sometimes we have to dress up in costumes to find what feels authentic. Just be free with your writing; play and try not to have too many expectations of yourself right away. Don’t let your inner critic squash your creativity before you even get started. Save that critic for later, for revision. 

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