When we last caught up with Elisabeth Donnelly and Stuart Sherman, the married writing team that uses Alex Flynn as their nom de plume, they had just published their first YA novel, The Misshapes. In Doolittle Falls, where The Misshapes is set, superpowers are all over the place, but some of them are more super than others. For 15-year-old Sarah Robertson, who can control the weather with her emotions, sometimes having a supernatural ability just plain sucks. Robertson, barred from the prestigious Hero Academy, is forced to attend school with other Misshapes, students with not-quite-good-enough superpowers, but eventually finds value in her unlikely gang.
In their follow-up, The Misshapes: Annihilation Day, Robertson must contend with a Doolittle Falls thrown into madness by a recent Presidential election. It’s a smartly written page-turning adventure, one that grapples with the broader struggles of growing up as a young woman, and we at HG are big fans. So we decided to chat with Sherman and Donnelly about their latest Misshapes adventure, what it’s like to write together as a married couple, and what the third book in the Misshapes trilogy will tackle.
How was working on the second ‘Misshapes’ book different than on the first one?
It was a wild ride, to say the least. First, Stu had a very serious accident shortly before we started writing and was bedridden and in physical therapy for a good deal of the time spent writing the early drafts. Secondly, Elisabeth’s wonderful and inspiring mother, after battling cancer for years, stopped responding to chemotherapy and we both moved to Massachusetts to be with her during her final days. Working on Annihilation Day through this time was a true labor of love amidst the hardships.
When writing these books together, what’s your process for co-authoring?
Plotting and planning ahead is essential. We kind of treat the process like a TV writing room, if a TV writing room had abundant wine and an impertinent cat. We start by brainstorming ideas, talking about where we want our characters to go, ideas we’d like to explore and, most importantly, the overall journey the main character will take throughout the novel. Once we start to refine the ideas, we break the book down into sections and list the events and arcs that are happening. We try not to lay out specific chapter by chapter outlines, because often a scene or series of events may take more or less time, so it’s best to give the writer of that section the space to breathe. Then we divy it up based on our strengths and our interests and then plug ahead.
And when we’re done, we have a messy, nearly incoherent first draft. But a first draft which we can mold into a novel.
What are the superpowers that you wish you could have? What are the ones you do?
Stu: Right now, I’m on a big Lucha Libre kick, especially classic Luchadores, and have been reading a lot (and trying to hunt down comics on) Luchadores like El Santo, Demonio Azul and (my favorite) Tinieblas. I’ve also always been into magical object-based powers, so I think I’d want a Lucha Libre mask that gives me the ability to fly.
I think my superpower is curiosity. I’m eternally curious, about the world, about the people around me, and about myself. I often fall into deep holes of obscure knowledge, beyond mere wikipedia searches, to hunting down rare tomes at libraries (I Love Interlibrary Loan System and Worldcat).
Elisabeth: A really useful power in this day and age would be the ability to see into men’s souls. I will admit that I have gotten one of those “aura reading” photos in Chinatown and I think it would be pretty neat to be able to see that kind of stuff for real. In real life, people give you clues, but wouldn’t it be easier and weirder if someone had a purple cloud circling their head?
My superpower may be being basically a human IMDB—if you tell me the year, I can tell you what won Best Picture at the Oscars. I’m not too shabby on the other awards, either. Recently a friend was talking about the classic movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, and like clockwork my brain went Best Picture, 1957. Haven’t thought about the movie in years. But I was totally right.
Any hints for what’s going to be in the next installment?
All-out civil war. Book two ends on a cliffhanger and book three starts a few months after in the fallout of what happened. The country is in a state of utter chaos, with a corrupt government and two sides trying to overthrow it, one good and one bad. It’s going to be a story about power: Butters becomes incredibly influential at the risk of his sanity, and Sarah finally comes into the full flower of her gifts.
(Image courtesy authors)