Author Interview with Isabel Strychacz

SP: Hey Isabel! So excited to have you on the Spinning Pen! Before we get started, we want to hear about YOU and your writing journey! What made you want to write and what’s a fun fact you don’t mind sharing? 

Hello! I am so excited to chat with you. So I have always been a huge reader and loved telling stories, and I started writing down my tales as soon as I learned to write!  I truly feel that writing is just a part of me—I constantly have stories and characters and dialogue in my head— and it was my dream from a very early age to be an author. Fun fact— both my parents are authors, too! My mom is a mystery author and my dad writes academic books, so I grew up understanding that being an “author” was an actual job I could work towards. 

SP: Let’s talk publishing for a second. What was your path to publication like? 

My path to publication was fairly straightforward — I queried agents and was found through the “slush pile!” I started querying in early 2018 and soon after received a reply from one of my top wish-list level agents saying she loved my book. A week later, she officially offered representation! STARLING’s plot was originally a lot more sci-fi-heavy than it currently is, and when we went on submission an editor loved it but just didn’t think she could sell the sci-fi elements; however, my agent and I really felt that this editor connected with the heart of the story, so we pulled the book from submission and dove into months of developmental edits. We sent the revised manuscript back to the same editor at Simon & Schuster in September 2019, and almost immediately she offered a book deal! I can’t even explain how excited I was. Getting a book deal had been a dream for so long that I almost couldn’t believe it was real!

SP: Now, for the exciting stuff. Tell us about STARLING, which comes out with Simon Teen/November 9th 2021!! We want all the deets! How and where did this story come from? 

The seed for STARLING came about in my senior year of college— I was in my creative writing class and we were given a writing prompt: “There’s a cake lying in the middle of the road.” We were supposed to write one page around that prompt. I turned in a seven-page scene about two sisters, Delta and Bee, who were on their way to rescue an alien— Starling Rust—who had fallen from the sky into their backyard. In the scene, I used the imagery of a smashed wedding cake in the road as a way to show the tragic elements of Delta and Starling’s feelings for each other. The main characters seemed to spring onto the page fully-formed, and even though that scene is not in the novel anymore, the characters and their complicated feelings stayed the same throughout the editing process. I love stories that take what could be big dramatic supernatural plots and then focus on the human, character-based aspects of it. I was fascinated by the idea of “what would REALLY happen if a boy from the stars fell into the backyard of sisters in a rural town?” I wanted to strip away all the action-flick elements and weave a down-to-earth story sprinkled with the speculative. What would the sisters actually do, how would they actually feel, how would it affect their relationship with each other and with others in the town? I tried to take this impossible event and then write about it in a very honest, contemporary way. I like to say that the only part of STARLING that’s sci-fi is the fact that he’s from the stars— besides that, the book is simply a grounded, speculative contemporary story with themes of growing up, first loves, and finding your own way.

Blurb: 

Edward Scissorhands meets When the Moon Was Ours in this enchanting, lushly romantic novel about two teen sisters who fight to protect the mysterious stranger who literally fell from the stars and into their backyard.

Strange things have always happened in the small town of Darling…

Yet Delta Wilding and her sister Bee are familiar with the peculiar. Raised by an eccentric father always on the hunt for the spectacular, they’re used to following weather patterns that twirl onto strange paths, a car that refuses to play any artist but one, and living in a sentient house with whims of its own. But when a mysterious boy falls from the stars into the woods behind the Wilding sisters’ farmhouse, nothing can prepare them for the extraordinary turn their lives are about to take. 

Extraordinary, and dangerous. 

Starling Rust is not from this world and his presence in the Wilding home brings attention. As the terrified locals, Delta’s ex-boyfriend, and the unscrupulous mayor descend onto the Wilding’s home, both Delta and her sister go to incredible lengths to protect their mystical visitor–especially as Delta’s growing feelings for Starling could prove the greatest risk of all. 

Filled with atmospheric prose and lush and vivid descriptions, Starling has the spectacular waiting with every flip of the page.

SP: Edward Scissorhands meets When the Moon was Ours…and a stranger who falls from the stars…um, just wow. (Please tell me arcs will be available!) So, what was the most challenging part of writing this story? Did you have to do a lot of research?  

I wrote STARLING in three months, with the first half being written during NaNoWriMo in 2017. It was only after I finished the drafting process that the real challenges began! It felt like I wrote STARLING in a whirlwind— the story came so easily— but then turning that whirlwind of characters and emotions and plot into a more cohesive narrative that reflected the journey I wanted my characters to take was definitely a challenge! Even though some of the larger developmental edits were difficult at the time, looking back I’m so happy I pushed through as they ultimately made it a stronger book. Funnily enough, I didn’t have to do much research! Overall, the story itself is grounded in reality and I take a lot of poetic license with the speculative elements. However, I did research the idea of “thin spaces” in the world!

SP: The cover for STARLING is an absolute dream. It instantly made me star-eyed and want this book, what was your first reaction to it? 

I was OBSESSED. I still can’t believe it’s my cover! It captures the vibe and aesthetic of the book so perfectly. I was sent the concept and cover artist, and then soon after I saw a rough draft in pencil of the main image—Starling and Delta embracing. Even in sketch form I was completely enamored. When I finally saw it in full color with that beautiful starry sky, I was blown away. The cover is now my phone’s lock screen so I can look at it all the time!

SP: Your Instagram says you are a Californian in England. How did this happen and what’s your favorite part of living abroad?

I am! My dad is actually British and I’m a dual citizen of the UK & the USA. It just so happened that my fiance Henry— who I met in California— is from England too, close to where my dad grew up. We were long distance for a year and a half but after I graduated from college I moved to England so we could live together! We have a flat in the Midlands and I’ve been here almost four years now. I love living close to gorgeous places like the Peak District and the Lake District, and the UK’s pub culture is pretty great too. Although I do miss In-N-Out…!

SP: Deadlines. I just finished with one (late no less) and realized the kind of stories I write need time to simmer and steep. What are your thoughts on deadlines?  

For me, deadlines can actually be super helpful as long as they’re not some crazy-tight turnaround! I can be a bit of a procrastinator, even with projects I’m really excited about working on, so if I know that I have to finish the book in, say, two months, I’ll actually get down to business. But I definitely agree about stories needing time to simmer—now, I only tell my agent about a new idea if I’ve already sat with it privately for a few weeks and have figured out all the characters and plot points and important scenes. That way, when it comes down to a deadline, I have all the main aspects worked out already and can just jump in.

SP: Last question before the lightning round! What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish your first draft! Editing those first chapters until they’re perfect can actually be a trap— because even shiny, edited beginnings are just that: beginnings. You can’t edit what you haven’t written, so I always say to get a complete draft finished, and THEN you go back and edit it to your heart’s content to get it polished for the next steps in the journey to publication.

SP: Lightning round time! Favorite or most interesting pet? 

I really love golden retrievers! I’m planning on getting one in the future and naming it either Beau or Bingley.

SP:Coffee or tea?

Big cup of coffee in the morning, and black tea with a bit of oat milk for the rest of the day!

SP: Word you can never spell? This may be a trick question…

 Omg. License. I always put another “s” in the middle of the word— usually I just spell it however my fingers feel like spelling it and then I let spellcheck do its thing!

SP: Trilogy or duology? Or standalone?

STARLING is a standalone but I’m a big series fan as well! I hope to write a series one day for sure, and I currently have a duology in the works!

SP:Finally, where can we go to read more from you? Find you?

Well, STARLING is on Goodreads and is now available for preorder wherever books are sold!

As for me, I’m most active on my author instagram @bookishlybelle! You can also check out my website isabelstrychacz.com, or connect with me on Twitter at @IsabelStrychacz and TikTok at @bookishlybelle. 

SP:Alright, thank you so much for joining us! We are super excited for STARLING to come out and wish you all the best!

Thank you so much for having me!

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