A compulsive liar, constantly telling fantastic stories to garner attention and approval, Mitchell can only wish this were just one more of his tall tales. But it isn’t. It’s all too real. Together, as they confront unexpected and life-threatening dangers, Mitchell and his friends must overcome their bickering and insecurities to learn what happened, where they are, and how to get back home.
The answers can be found only in the mysterious little girl with the blue, hypnotic eyes. The one they had each dreamed of three nights in a row before arriving here. She is their only hope. And, as they eventually discover, they are her only hope.
And time is running out.
You know, I actually believe this is the other way around–I don’t believe I wanted to be a writer so much as the writing chose me. Ever since I can remember, I have felt a need to capture something–my perspectives of the world, of nature, of relationships, of reality–and put it down on the page. I believe the need to express yourself via the written word is innate, inborn, something you are called to do.
2. What inspired you to write The Eye-Dancers?
Several things! First and foremost, when I was in high school, I had a dream one night. It wasn’t the sort of dream you forget or brush aside. It stayed with me for years.
In the dream, I felt compelled to look out my bedroom window. When I did, there was a girl out in the street–perhaps seven or eight years old. What was she doing out in the street at night, alone and unsupervised? But those questions seemed unimportant when I noticed the light of the streetlamp filtering straight through her, as if she were only partly there–more spirit and ghost than flesh-and-blood girl.
She beckoned for me to come outside, and I knew, knew, that she intended to take me somewhere, lead me somewhere–perhaps to a place from which there was no return.
I woke up then, the bedsheets a mess, kicked aside, my skin slick with sweat. After gaining my composure (I was shaken up–it was such a vivid dream), I immediately jotted down some notes about the dream–little details I didn’t want to forget. Even that night, I felt a need to write about this “ghost girl” of my nightmares, to revolve a story around her, somehow.
The trouble was, I didn’t know how. I tried writing a short story with the dream sequence in it, and it fell flat. I attempted another story and then another, and then another–still, nothing seemed right. Frustrated, I decided to file the “ghost girl” away in a mental vault of ideas, hopefully to be mined later. At the time, little did I know just how much later “later” would be.
Fast-forward two decades, to 2009, and I had the same dream. Unasked for, unplanned–out of the blue, out of my past . . . Only this time, when I woke up the next morning, I had the germ of an idea, and I knew–this was the one. This was the “ghost girl’s” story. The dream sequence meshed with other ideas, interests, passions of mine (coming of age, childhood, friendship, discovery, comic books, parallel worlds, exploring the very concept of what we term “reality”), and eventually I had a full-blown novel to write. It was exhilarating.
3. What attracted you to the YA genre?
Actually, I write in many genres. I’ve written several novels (though The Eye-Dancers is currently the only one seeing the light of day!) and many short stories, which encompass several genres–mainstream, literary, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, historical . . . I enjoy the YA genre, too, primarily because of the coming-of-age aspect, something we can all relate to and remember, no matter what our age. Also, there is something special about the friendships we form in childhood. The Eye-Dancers explores these themes, along with others.
4. How long did it take to complete The Eye-Dancers?
The first draft took over two years to write, and, start to finish, including the editing stage and rewriting stage, the book took nearly three years to complete.
5. Is your final product different than the original idea you had for the book, or are they roughly the same?
That’s a great question, and the answer is–a little of both! When I started, I had a broad, general idea of the story and where I wanted it to go. However, when I begin a novel, I don’t do an outline and try not to pin myself down with any specifics. The reason for that is, as I write a long piece of fiction, the characters will eventually surprise me with some of the things they say and do. I never want to restrict their growth and development. There were many times over the course of the writing process where things turned out differently than I originally would have thought. That’s one of the joys and mysteries of the creative journey.
6. What genre of literature do you prefer to read?
Any and all! I love to read–fiction, nonfiction, you name it. Put a book in front me, chances are good that I’ll read it!
7. In The Eye-Dancers, one of your protagonists is dealing with the stress of his parents’ marital conflict. Do you think a lot of kids his age could identify with him? How about the character who is overshadowed by his more popular older brother? Or the unpopular only child?
I hope so! One of the aspects of The Eye-Dancers that I hope resonates with younger readers, readers around the same age as the protagonists in the novel, is the relatability of the main characters. I hope young readers will empathize with the characters in the book, and perhaps see some of themselves–their own struggles, confusions, thoughts, feelings–in Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski.
8. The Eye-Dancers does a great job of exploring the Butterfly Effect and the theory of multiple universes. What are your beliefs on these theories?
I believe everything is connected, even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant of things. I also believe, as Mitchell himself points out at the end of the novel, that people, places, events that seem so far away, a universe away, are, in actuality much closer to us than we ever dared to think.
9. Your protagonists travel to an alternate universe in a very unusual way. What gave you that idea?
I would say it stemmed from that old dream I had, back in high school–the one that served as the impetus for the novel. In my dream, much as with Mitchell’s to begin the novel, the “ghost girl” had blue, swirling eyes. I suppose the thought just came to me–suppose those eyes were far more than “just” eyes; suppose they were pathways to a faraway place on the other side of reality . . .
10. Three of the four “eye-dancers” has one sibling. Sibling relationships are also an important recurring theme in The Eye-Dancers. Do you have siblings? If so, did you base any of your characters on them?
I do! I have an older sister and two older brothers. I didn’t consciously model any of the sibling relationships in The Eye-Dancers on my relationship with my siblings, but, as with anything with creative writing, sometimes aspects of our lives, nuances, points of view, bleed into our fiction almost without our being aware of it.
11. Is Bedford based on your own hometown or a different town?
It’s actually an amalgamation of several of the places I’ve lived. I grew up in western New York State, which is where The Eye-Dancers is set. So–Mitchell’s house is modeled after the house where I grew up. Bedford itself is modeled after an Erie Canal town where I lived later on, and so on and so forth.
12. Based on the conversation and banter among the protagonists, I get the impression that you work, volunteer, or in some way spend time with that age group. Are my impressions correct, or is the conversation just based on memories of your own childhood?
Thank you! That is very good to hear. Actually, I don’t spend that much time with junior-high kids these days. The banter in The Eye-Dancers stems from my memories. The characters of Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc are all inspired by friends I knew growing up. We had a lot of playful arguments and conversations back in the day. I had much of it stored away in my mind, and it was a joy to let it out in the novel!
13. One of your protagonists often makes up wild stories as a way to get attention. Is the group’s adventure symbolic of Mitchell’s “escape into fantasy?”
In this case, I don’t think so–at least not intentionally, though it’s fantastic that readers would consider that. Mitchell’s wild stories are nothing more and nothing less than an extension of his character, manifestations of a deep-rooted insecurity and a gnawing, pervasive feeling that he isn’t good enough the way he actually is. It is one of the major stumbling blocks he must overcome over the course of the novel.
14. Another protagonist has an almost supernatural way of communicating with dogs, a symbol of loyalty. Was this intentional on your part?
It was. Joe can be acerbic, and not everyone likes him! But his love of dogs, his desire to protect the innocent and the weak are traits that show, beneath his bravado and propensity to throw a punch before thinking things through, Joe is a very loyal person who always has his friends’ backs.
15. Monica Tisdale calls to Mitchell and his friends and explains that they are the only ones who can hear her? Do you care to explain why these boys were chosen?
That is one of the mysteries of the novel, something Mitchell himself questions at the end. There really isn’t a hard-and-fast answer to the question. In some ways, the question can best be “answered” with another question! What is it that can, inexplicably, cause two people, or a small group of people, to be psychically linked, even over great distances? The answer is a mystery, elusive, like trying to grab a handful of a flower-scented breeze–but just asking the question, acknowledging and appreciating the mystery is, in itself, a kind of answer . . .
16. The four boys experience a lot of culture shock when they quite literally travel to another world. Have you ever traveled somewhere different and experienced culture shock?
That’s a great observation, and I am hoping it’s one of the things that will resonate with readers. The journey to another world in The Eye-Dancers is more extreme than anything we could ever experience, of course, and yet–we all, over the course of our lives, travel to “other worlds.” Remember your first day of junior high? Talk about a parallel universe! Or the first day on a new job? Or moving to a new state or country? There are so many things . . . Hopefully each reader will be able to relate to the feeling.
17. I love the cover. Who designed it?
A lifelong friend, Matt Gaston–who does fantastic work. Matt, who I’ve known since I was eight years old, also served as the inspiration for one of the supporting characters in the novel!
18. Does your family support your writing career?
They do! They always have, and for that I am very grateful.
19. Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you give us a hint to what it’s about?
I am working on the sequel to The Eye-Dancers! Five years have passed between the end of the first book and the beginning of the second, which gives it a different flavor. The protagonists in The Eye-Dancers are seventh graders. In the sequel, they are about to enter their senior year of high school. And Monica Tisdale is featured more in this book–she becomes one of the POV characters herself. And is she ever in a bind!
20. Any other thoughts you feel like sharing?
I would just encourage anyone who wants to write to pursue the subjects, ideas, themes, and characters that resonate for them. Don’t write for “the market.” Don’t try to mimic what’s “hot” or in vogue. Write from the heart. Let out the stories that are kicking and screaming within, that demand to be written. Write your stories, in your voice. Your readers will be glad you did.