Shootin’ the Breeze With Tessa Gratton & Brenna Yovanoff

Food For Thought, Interviews

I’m admitting it here and now – I’m not a lover of short story anthologies. That is, until now. And it’s all in thanks to the Merry Fates – Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. Through their short story collection titled The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories. (If you haven’t read my review than you should check it out here)

But my love or lack thereof for short stories is neither here nor there. It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I adored The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories. This collection not only inspired me but provoked a lot of, well, curiosity. Armed with questions,  I knew what I needed to do.

I reached out to two of the three Merry Fates – Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff and asked if they’d be gracious enough to spare some time to answer a few questions for all of you, my fellow readers.   They graciously agreed and below you will find all their answers to my burning questions!

BookBandit (BB): Can you tell us about yourself, and about yourself as a writer?

Tessa Gratton (TG): I’ve been writing since I was very little, though took breaks in high school in college where I focused more on acting and the politics, and am (of course) a life-long reader. I’ve lived in three different countries and visited Asia and Europe pretty extensively. I love having adventures and learning about people.

Brenna Yovanoff (BY):  I was homeschooled until I was 15, which gave me a lot of time to work on the things I was interested in. I’ve been writing since I was pretty young, but didn’t seriously consider the possibility of doing professionally until I was in my early twenties. Once I decided that I was going to be a writer and it was nonnegotiable, I spent a few years learning how to finish novel manuscripts and how to revise, and writing a flock of short horror stories on the side.

BB: The Curiosities is an anthology of short stories. What’s the biggest challenge you faced, as writer, writing said stories?

TG: The sheer number of them – we started out writing a short story and publishing it on our website every week. I’ve written around 80 short stories in 4 years, and that is so so so many ideas. It was very hard keeping them interesting, fresh, and fun. (Sometimes I failed.)

BY: I think if we’d said ahead of time that we were going to publish an anthology and so we each needed to write ten stories, it would have been a lot more challenging to follow through on. Even though as a group, we’ve written easily over two hundred stories, each individual story still happened a week at a time. I think the fact that it was a sustained effort kept it from becoming unwieldy.

BB: The Merry Sisters of Fate started originally as a blog where you would post your stories for the world to read. Was there is fear that someone would take your work? Where there any reservations you had with the idea of The Merry Sisters of Fate from the get go?

TG: We weren’t worried about people stealing. It rarely happens, and once we put them on our website, we had published them and they were under our copyright. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and even if somebody stole an idea, they’d write it so differently it wouldn’t matter. I had no reservations at all – it was a thrilling challenge!

BY: I honestly don’t feel like the issue of someone taking our work ever really came up. I think the biggest worry early on was whether the blog would be something we could sustain, because committing to a story a week is a pretty big undertaking and it’s one of those things where you don’t really know for sure that you can do it until you try.

BB: Do you have any plans or intentions to expand upon any of the short stories you wrote within the anthology? Any plans or intentions to turn them into full-fledged novels?

TG: Several of my stories are already involved in my future novels – I used the place as a playground to have fun in worlds I was working in already. There are two of my other stories in particular that will definitely be novels some day!

BY: I think most of the stories in the collection offer a least the possibility of expansion—some character to borrow or world to explore. While I don’t know that I would ever use any of these stories verbatim, there are definitely characters and situations I’d like to see more of. I’d like to write more about the kids with the really sketchy magic powers, for instance.

BB: What have you learned, writing wise, from you fellow merry fates?

TG: Brenna has always been excellent at creating atmosphere with a few perfectly chosen words, and Maggie can tell you everything you need to know about a character in a few sentences. I’ve tried to learn their techniques for that.

BY: From Maggie I think I’ve learned to be a lot more economical in my characterization, and thanks to Tess, I think I’m much, much better at world-building than I was starting out.

BB: Each of the stories within The Curiosities starts out with intros, how was it decided who would write which intro?

TG: Oh, very haphazardly. We went through and picked the ones we wanted to do, and any left-overs we fought over.

BY: Honestly, the process wasn’t very scientific—the three of us basically sat in different corners of a room and read through the manuscript, then called out the titles of the stories we wanted to introduce. We didn’t have a rule about only one person being allowed to introduce each story, either, so it really could be whichever ones we felt like talking about, and that’s why we’ve doubled up on some of them.

BB: I love The Curiosities layout, it feels very personal, almost like a journal, with bonus commentary and illustrations. Did you have any input in the book layout and design? Was it always your intention to present The Curiosities in a way that feels so personal?

TG: We designed the whole book ourselves! Either from scratch, or with extensive input. Our editor and the publisher let us basically do everything. We always wanted it to be fun and as interactive as possible.

BY:  We definitely knew from the beginning that if we were going to publish an anthology of stories that were already available online, we wanted the end result to have a little something extra. From early on, we talked a lot about the idea of margin notes and the possibility of using some sort of mixed media or visual component. Our editor at Carolrhoda, Andrew Karre, was the one who found us the special digital pens that let us write directly on the paper manuscript.

BB: Speaking of illustrations, one of which was depictions of your personal work space. Do you feel that your work space has any affect on your writing?

TG: I’ve trained myself to be able to work anywhere – I think it’s important not to be trapped in a routine that means I can’t work at any time and any place. So… no! Though I do prefer to have windows, and my office is all windows.

BY: Honestly, I think the answer to this is going to be way different for everyone. I don’t actually have any sort of dedicated workspace. I like to write in coffee shops and places that are a little bit busy, but I also write from the kitchen table and the floor and my couch, and on airplanes, so it’s hard to say whether the actual location has a real impact for me.

BB: If The Curiosities could be described by a musical play list, what songs would be on this list?

TG: Oh, I really can’t answer this. I am NOT musically inclined and rarely listened to music when I was writing Merry Fates stories. I’m sure, though, it would be very eclectic.

BY: Ooh, this is a tough one! I’d say the playlist would have to have at least one song by The National, and probably some Florence + the Machine, and maybe A Perfect Circle. Also, the Silversun Pickups. And Firewater, but mostly just because I really like them.

BB: Of all the stories featured in this anthology, which story would best describe you as a writer? Which on do you think would best describe your fellow Merry Fates?

TG: Mine would probably be “Death Ship” or “Date with a Dragon-Slayer.” For Brenna, I think “The Madness of Lancelot” or “Cut,” and for Maggie it would be “A Murder of Gods” or “The Last Day of Spring.”

BY: A story that’s the most representational of my general aesthetic is probably “Girls Raised by Wolves,” or maybe “Auburn.” Maggie’s is almost certainly “A Murder of Gods,” or else “Heart-Shaped Box,” and for Tess, I think it would be “Death-Ship,” or “Date With a Dragon Slayer.”

BB: Can you tell about any new and upcoming projects?

TG: I have a book out on August 28th called The Blood Keeper, a stand-alone companion to my first book. It’s about curses and monsters on the Kansas prairie. In May my new series begins, called Songs of New Asgard with the first book The Weight of Stars. It takes place in the United States of Asgard, an America founded on the tenets of old Norse religion instead of Christianity. There’s muscle cars and high school, trolls and trickster gods.

BY: My next novel is called Paper Valentine.  It’s a serial killer story with ghosts, and will be out from Razorbill/Penguin in January.

BB: What advice could you offer to aspiring writers?

TG: Go out and have adventures! Travel and learn about how people live and what they feel! That will make your stories real.

 BY: My biggest piece of advice is probably just to read a lot (lot lot lot), and also to learn to finish things, which was something that for me definitely took awhile.


A BIG Thank You to both Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions for The BookBandit Blog! It is greatly appreciated!

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