ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Tess Sharpe, author of FAR FROM YOU

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Today, I’m talking to fellow Disney-Hyperion author, Tess Sharpe, about her riveting, intense, and beautifully written debut mystery, Far From You. If you like Veronica Mars, Rian Johnson’s criminally underappreciated film, Brick, or anything that explores high school’s seedy, noir underbelly, you don’t want to miss this one.

First, a little bit about the book:

far from you cover Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

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MM: Far From You dazzled me. It’s a mystery, it’s a love story. It’s a book about addiction, friendship, murder, and trust issues. There are, like, three different timelines in it. It’s very scary, but also very moving. How did all of these elements come together in one book?

TS: Thank you so much! Far From You is inspired by Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, which takes place in the past and the present, and watching those to timelines merge on stage was very powerful for me.

I’ve always been fascinated by the aftermath of events—probably because the aftermaths in my life were so influential. I like to examine the before and after, contrast and compare the then and now. There is so much change that occurs in the four years of high school and in the transition from junior high to high school, and I wanted to really dig into the many phases of these characters’ lives and the shifting balance of their relationships and problems, and I’m not sure I could’ve done that with a linear plotline—though maybe a more talented writer could.

Also, I just like to make people cry, if at all possible.

MM: And the book also kind of wrecked me. Sophie is so alone and she’s lost so much, but she’s such a tough, resilient character. What was your favorite thing about writing her? What was the hardest part?

TS: I really love Sophie’s stubbornness. She and a mule have a lot in common. She wasn’t the character I struggled writing—Mina was. In the book, all the characters’ views of Mina are not only colored by the fact that she’s so secretive, but also because when someone dies, especially tragically, the people left behind grieving often gloss over the dead person’s faults, and Mina is full of them. Getting her ruthlessness and manipulation across clearly without condemning her or eliminating her sweetness was difficult. Hopefully I pulled it off.

MM: Sophie’s struggles with addiction are a really important part of the book. How did you decide that your main character was an addict, and what informed your decisions about how to write about that?

TS: Chronic pain and disability is a big part of my life; Sophie’s car accident injuries are based on my father’s, who had back and knee injuries when he was hit by a drunk driver when I was a kid. When I was in college, he made the decision to take himself off the heavy narcotics he’d been prescribed in favor of a more natural approach because he didn’t like how they were affecting his daily life. The last three months he was tapering off the narcotics, I helped take care of him because the withdrawal made him quite ill. It was a difficult time for him, and a very painful time, and his strength really impressed me and influenced how I approached Sophie.

Introducing physical pain into Sophie’s life when she was already in so much emotional pain was a combination that, as a I saw it, would lead to her addiction because she has an obsessive, tunnel-vision personality—which can be great for some things like solving murders, but not so much for resisting the oblivion she found in the drugs.

When she’s first adjusting to it, she sees her disability as taking a lot away from her. Being young and in that much pain is no fun—I know from personal experience, you feel angry a lot of the time—and I wanted to explore addiction that stemmed not only from an emotional place, but from a physical place. I also liked the parallel, because in many ways, loving Mina is Sophie’s first addiction, and finding her killer is her last.

MM: Okay, enough heavy questions. Far From You is such a great whodunit. What are some of your favorite mysteries (real or fictional ones)?

TS: I am a huge Hitchcock fan, movie-wise: Rear Window is one of my favorite movies of all time. I also love Charlaine Harris’s Shakespeare series featuring Lily Bard, one of the most complex and strong female characters I’ve ever encountered. And a great YA mystery/thriller I’ve come across lately is Find Me by Romily Bernard—teen hacker + mystery = BEST THING EVAH! Also, the relationship between the sisters in it is so great.

MM: What was the best piece of advice or critique you got while you were writing Far From You?

TS: In the first draft, Sophie didn’t garden, and one of my critique partners very rightly pointed out the girl needed something to do other than be really sad and solve mysteries. I’m so grateful for this because it let me layer in a lot of softness and depth that  was missing in the first draft. (Thanks, CP Allison!)

MM: And lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

TS: I am irrationally afraid of drowning. Like Sophie, I was a competitive swimmer as a teen as well as being a surfer, so it’s a pretty silly fear. I am not afraid of spiders at all. I pick them up with my hands and take them outside when they sneak into my house/bathtub.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

tess sharpe author picBorn in a backwoods cabin to a pair of punk rockers, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural Northern California. Following an internship with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she studied theatre at Southern Oregon University before abandoning the stage for the professional kitchen. She lives, writes and bakes near the Oregon border.

marymccoyMary McCoy is the author of DEAD TO ME, which will be published by Disney-Hyperion in March 2015. She loves books where crime is perpetrated and/or solved, secrets are buried and/or uncovered, and vengeance is sought and/or justice is won. She lives in Los Angeles.
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