ALL FOUR KIDS: An interview with Lindsay Smith, author of SEKRET

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I’m incredibly lucky to be interviewing Lindsay. I read and fell in love with her debut novel SEKRET (Book 1) which debuts from Roaring Brook Press on April 1st.

Sekret-723x1024Here’s a little peek into her novel before we get started:

An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia’s father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But when she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one–not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention–and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

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KOC: So flipping awesome, right? I’m a sucker—and I mean sucker—for historical fiction. That said, I jumped at the chance to do this interview as soon as I read the description above.

Lindsay, this is the first book in a series, right? How many will there be and when can readers expect to see them hit shelves? Maybe I seem to be jumping the gun, but I can’t wait to continue this journey with Yulia.

LS: Yulia’s story is continuing in at least one more book—SKANDAL will be hitting shelves in Spring 2015. I think SKANDAL mirrors and inverts a lot of the concepts in SEKRET in intriguing ways, though I can’t explain more without majorly spoiling the first book. 😉 I’m also working on an ebook-only prequel, of sorts, set in the final days of World War II. That should be out in early 2015 as well.

KOC: Yay! I’m really excited about these two books but am not sure I can wait a whole year. Is it possible to bribe you for an early read? Do you like chocolate?

Okay, so back to SEKRET…there’s a lot to love in this story, but what captured me right from the beginning is your beautifully constructed sentences and your choice of words. Your writing is so descriptive, which I love. Here are a few examples so our readers can get a feel for what I mean.

I am the weed growing through the sidewalk’s cracks, resilient, but knowing I’ll someday be ripped out by the root.

Sunlight dapples the front room, but it looks false, like someone’s shaken an old, stale bottle of springtime and let it loose

And one more because I simply cannot get enough:

Velvet ropes dangle from the ceiling, bereft of their chandeliers like leashes missing their dogs.

I was so drawn in and mesmerized by your words. Is this something that comes naturally for you? It reminded me so much of the writing in The Book Thief.

LS: Thanks so much, Kerry! I’ve always been enamored of foreign languages and linguistics, and I’m a sucker for beautifully written books: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, and anything by Tana French, Dostoevsky, Maggie Stiefvater, or Victoria Schwab. I usually let myself go on a simile spree when I’m writing a first draft, but come revision time, I have to be ruthless.

KOC: I think I could study language for years and never write like this. Brilliant!

Your story is set in the early 1960’s, at the height of the Cold War with the United States. I know a book is exceptional when I have to stop reading so I can Google things to find out what’s real and what’s not. Yours had me Googling for hours. Can you tell our readers how much of SEKRET is factual? The kids as KGB spies? Psychic abilities? Kruschev being banned from Disneyland? And what drew you to writing about this time period?

LS: I’m a huge Russophile—I’ve studied Russian since I was in middle school—and the ebb and flow of America’s relationship with Russia fascinates me. With SEKRET, I tried to always start with a factual basis—like the KGB and CIA actually devoting time and research to exploring the possibility of psychic powers—then take it to fictitious extremes. The Communist Party groomed children early for government service via their youth wing, the Komsomol, and distrusting/informing on their friends and neighbors was a part of that. It was such a dangerous life, never knowing who you could trust, who you could voice your real opinion to. The only safe space the average person had to question their way of life was inside their own mind. Then I thought—what if even that wasn’t safe from the state’s intrusion?

So much of Soviet history is stranger than fiction! There really was a secret secondary Metro line beneath Moscow, Khruschev was denied access to Disneyland for “security reasons” . . . In other instances, I took more apocryphal Soviet legends, like the missing cosmonauts, and ran with them.

KOC: Seriously, I am in awe—especially when you mention not being safe in your own mind! I love your imagination and am so glad you ran with it on paper. Woven in so seamlessly is the theme of genetics—particularly autism. Is this something that is close to your heart or a random selection on your part to thread the story together? Either way, it works so well.

LS: My mother worked as a genetics counselor for a long time, and a number of my close friends have siblings or children on the autism spectrum or with genetic disorders. Even today, their battle for recognition and accommodation often feels insurmountable, and I wanted to highlight that struggle in a historical context, when we were just beginning to make sense of genetics, before we really understood these disorders or even had names for them.

KOC: You definitely nailed what you set out to do. And brilliantly, I might add. One last constant in the book is your use of music—and wow, what a variety. Is music a big part of your life? While I knew much of the Beatles, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash and other American references, I’m blown away at your use of so many Russian symphony pieces, and more particularly, how you integrated them into your story.

LS: My father is a composer, so I’ve been reading music for as long as I’ve been reading words! I gave up piano when it became apparent my hands were never going to be big enough for those Rachmaninoff power chords, but I still love playing the viola, which I’ve played in everything from orchestra to jazz ensembles to my pretentious high school goth rock band. I love a huge swath of musical styles, but the Russian romantics will always be my favorites—sweeping and boastful and threaded with sorrow and strife.

KOC: Your family is as amazing as your book. LOL A genetics counselor, a composer, a writer…you guys are rock stars.

As writers, we know it’s important to read as much as possible. So, I’m wondering, what are you reading right now?

LS: I just finished E. K. Johnston’s inventive and masterfully executed The Story of Owen, about a modern-day Canadian dragonslayer and his bard—seriously, you want to read this book! Now I’m working my way through two literary fantasies, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni (I love her combination of history and myth!) and Rene Denfield’s The Enchanted, about an eerie prison and its vivid, mysterious inhabitants and visitors.

KOC: I’m definitely adding both of these to my TBR pile. Thanks for the recommendations. As this community of Fifteeners is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

LS: Hmm… I don’t know that I’m afraid of “time,” but it’s definitely my arch-nemesis. There are never enough hours in the day or days in the year to explore and create and enjoy life! Although I’m pretty shy and reserved, I’d like to think I’m not afraid of taking risks and putting myself out there when it’s really important to me (like seeking publication!)—I’m trying to embrace this inner daredevil more.

KOC: Yeah, the whole publication thing is like jumping out of a plane and hoping your parachute engages. Having already read your book, I’m confident your chute will open just fine. Thanks for joining me, Lindsay. I wish you the best of luck on your debut and will be watching for the prequel and sequel!

LS: Thank you, Kerry! I’m looking forward to Just a Drop of Water!

ABOUT LINDSAY SMITH:

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Lindsay is the author of the forthcoming YA historical thriller, SEKRET (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s, April 2014). She’s an ex-Oklahoman and an unapologetic Washingtonian, with an unhealthy fascination for foreign affairs–Russia in particular–which fortunately pays for her voracious reading habit. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found nerding out over food, board games, modern history, the Science channel, and all things cheesetacular. She write historicals and fantasies, sometimes in the same book. You can also find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads.

Kerry_Official_Author_PhotoKerry O’Malley Cerra’s career as an author began at age five when she wrote her first story using crayons on the back wall of her family’s house. She later graduated with a Social Science Education degree from the University of South Florida—GO BULLS!—and taught high school history. After meeting her most awesome critique pals, she joined SCBWI, helped launch Whatcha’ Reading Now?, got an agent, sold a book, and the rest is history—which is her favorite subject ya’ know! Her middle grade novel, JUST A DROP OF WATER, debuts on September 2, 2014 from Sky Pony Press. You can follow her on Twitter at @kerryocerra. The book is available for pre-order at Indiebound, Powell’s Books, Amazon, Books-A-Million, and Barnes & Noble.
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