Interview with Tricia Wentworth, author of The Culling

On a normal day midweek, I received an unsolicited message from someone who introduced herself as an about-to-be-published author who had questions for “the only real author I know.”  A mutual friend of ours who knew I was an author had referred her to me, and she was hoping I could help her.  Still feeling somewhat new at the whole author business myself (when does one finally feel experienced?), I was surprised but supportive.  I’d received help and mentoring from my own literary super hero, Sharon Kay Penman, so how could I not help others as I had been helped?

This started a friendship culminating with my new mentee (or my “young padawan” as I call her) to publish her first book.  You can read my review of The Culling here.  With her new author status firmly established, I thought it would be fun to interview her, giving her a stage upon which to introduce herself to my readers.

The Culling is very unlike my own books.  It is YA dystopian, but I really enjoyed it and think readers across multiple genres will enjoy it as well.  So without further ado, I introduce you to Tricia Wentworth, author:

Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me, Stephanie! I’ll answer these questions and then you must get back to my dear Casmir. Yes, I have a book crush on Stephanie’s character and it’s alllll her fault.

First of all, tell us a little about the book itself, the plot and the characters.

150 years after the viral apocalypse forever changes the face of the world, Reagan Scott finds herself competing for the chance of a lifetime. A Culling is called and will bring the country’s brightest young men and women together for one goal, a new Presidential Couple.

With most of the population dead, the United States government had to disband. So they formed an elected monarchy of sorts. Candidates would be elected young to serve until death, retirement, or impeachment. They would be tested to the extreme to ensure their leadership abilities, and then voted upon and elected. In order to promote population growth, a man and a woman, a Presidential Couple, would be elected into the honor. A Culling was their method of acquiring a new Presidential Couple.

Reagan Scott is an underdog going into the State of the Union’s 5th Culling. Not only is she the youngest candidate at 18, but she is also from the smallest township. She leaves the only home she has ever known and has to compete against 49 other girls, and then there are, of course, the boys. As if trying to compete and be tested for the Culling isn’t enough on its own, she has to try to find a partner within the pool of boys…a partner for life.

Now tell us a little bit about the journey you took to write this book – Why did you do it?

To begin with, my love for books brought it about. Call it a hyper-active imagination, but I had always sat and wondered on my favorite characters in books…if there was an alternative ending, or a different plot twist their stories could have gone on, or what happened after “the end” of the series. After explaining to an 8th grade girl I was nannying for that I would have done a few things differently in the Hunger Games series, she said something like, “You should write a book!” I laughed and laughed. And then I did it. The Culling is actually not my first book. I have a very rough draft for a book in a different series I will hopefully get back to one day, but this is the story that I couldn’t shake. The story I just had to get out.

Where did the initial seed idea for the book come from?

Two things really. First, it stemmed from my love of history and being a history teacher. I enjoy learning about different forms of government. And I had a thought along the lines of, “how could I turn the US into a monarchy, but a good one?” The natural answer was to kill everyone off via biochemical warfare and a beast of a viral weapon. Ha!

The second thing was that I had really gotten into apocalyptic type books but felt I was wanting to read a post-apocalyptic book that takes place long after the threat is done and the dust settles. There were a ton of books or movies about governments being overthrown or zombie take-overs, but I personally had been wanting to read about what happened after that…years after that. How would government work? What would towns look like? What would become the new normal?

So I guess I fused those two ideas together into this story.

Reagan Scott comes from Omaha.  Is there a deeply complicated reason you chose Omaha, or is it because you were born and raised in Nebraska?

Not complicated at all. I was born and raised in small-town, Nebraska. Reagan comes from Omaha, which is no longer a city, but the agriculture powerhouse of the six townships. Being a farm girl and growing up in “the Good Life” myself, I just knew this character needed those rich, neighborly roots. Reagan is very perceptive, a trait I felt would be honed growing up in a small town environment.

The book is YA, but was there a specific audience you were speaking to when you wrote it?

High School aged teenagers were always my original thought. Before my boys were born, I used to teach junior high aged kids and LOVE that age. I know, I know. Junior high-ers are WEIRD. But I love them! I have always read a lot of YA too, keeping up with what my students were reading or into. I have a feeling YA will always be what I am drawn to write; it’s the teacher in me. 

What types of books do you read when you aren’t writing?

I’m not genre prejudiced…so a little of everything. When I’m writing my own YA stuff, I read cheesy romances because I need something distinctly different and kind of mindless. If I’m working out a serious plot twist in my own stuff, I don’t want anything too unexpected in what I read. My poor mind can only take so much!  

Without giving any spoilers, what was the hardest part about writing this book?

Oh my word, the love triangle. Totally the love triangle. I hate love triangles. Correction, I hate it when love triangles are used as a means to extend a series. (…So maybe I secretly love them but just don’t want to admit it?) I didn’t want to do a love triangle, but at the same time, my plot afforded me the most perfect opportunity. I just couldn’t resist. Writing it the first time, I felt Reagan’s choice was obscenely obvious. So then I went through and told myself I was changing her choice. There were a few times I almost thought about doing it too! That’s when I knew I was finally getting somewhere. Creating Henry and Lyncoln was a bit difficult though. They are so similar and so NOT. So giving them each situations in order to explain that frustrated me to no end! There is a lot more dialogue in this first book than there probably needs to be, but I felt the best way to establish that love triangle was to let each man speak for himself.

Was there anything about the plot or characters that surprised you as you wrote it?  Something unplanned that worked out surprisingly well or not so well?

There came a point when a main character is put in a situation and has to kill or be killed. I knew there was going to be a dire situation, but when I got to that point in the story, I found it just had to be done. And it terrified me. I didn’t want this character to have to go through that and it was a bit darker than I had intended to go, but the character didn’t have an option so neither did I. It was that point I, the writer, felt like I was just along for the ride. My characters felt so real, the story was ramping up, and I was just their muse.

What can we expect in the second book and when will it be out?

The Fracturing has an expected release date of Fall 2018. We will pick up right where we left off with the final four of the Culling. The final four will take us on a tour to the six townships so we get to see more of how the world has changed. And, of course, there is some serious stuff about to go down. (Cue the ominous music.)

This book was actually my favorite to write of the three. I wrote it in less than three months. I knew exactly what had to happen and what needed done. There are a few things that happen in this book that will blow some minds, two things in particular that are keeping me up at night. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I think I’m more terrified for the second book than the first! I’m in the middle of the editing trudge now…so send tea and cookies STAT.

Fantastic!  I can’t wait!  So could you please finish the book NOW?  And to help, I’ll stop asking you questions.

Thank you, Stephanie!  I know your set of readers are probably different from my normal readers, i.e. high schoolers. We have very different styles, but I respect that within this art form we call writing, we can do that. We each have our own unique voice, our own thing. Like I told you a few weeks ago, if our writing styles were weapons, yours would be a sleek, beautiful sword and mine would be a grenade launcher. I think all of our readers, whether they are reading your writing or mine, will find themselves dropped in alternate realities with characters that are relatable and feel real, regardless of our genres.

Now, back to my dear Casmir you go! Shirtless on a horse, perhaps? …Hey, just trying to help. 

I am about to do that, yes (not the shirtless on a horse part though, sorry).  Poor Casmir has found himself in some trouble, so I had better go rescue him (but I’ll have to do it carefully, because kings aren’t known to humbly ask for help).  Now go write!

Tricia Wentworth began writing at a young age but didn’t realize it was her jam until after college. She is originally from small-town Nebraska. She currently resides in Texas with her husband, two sons, and an English bulldog. When not reading, writing, or momming, she can be found squeezing in a run or feeding her sugar addiction by baking something ridiculously delicious.

To learn more about Tricia visit her website, www.triciawentworth.com, or follow her on Facebook.

 

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