Q & A with Amy McNulty

Last month, I requested a book from Netgalley, entitled Fall Far from the Tree. I enjoyed it very much, as indicated in my review. I was even more delighted when the author emailed me and granted my wish to have an interview with her. I immediately relayed the good news to Dessa (my blog partner), and we had a wonderful time thinking about meaningful questions that would satisfy our bookish curiosity. Now, without further ado, we happily present our interview with Amy McNulty, with the hope this would encourage other bookworms to read her outstanding novels.

  1. What is your inspiration for each protagonist in FFftT? And do you love each character equally?


“Rohesia was the first character I came up with and she’s probably my favorite (don’t tell the others!) because I love stoic, kick-butt characters, particularly when they’re women! I especially love what little emotion she shows around Sherrod, her toady of a ‘guardian/assistant.’ She’s not a great person, though, because she does some pretty evil things, but I love morally ambiguous characters. There’s more to her than she’d like people to know. She doesn’t want to have emotions, but she can’t help but have a few.


“I wanted a playboy/huge flirt who could lighten the mood of any scene he was in and that was Fastello. There was more depth to him in the end than I originally planned, but that’s definitely a good thing. Playboys aren’t always as confident as they appear on the surface.


“Cateline had to exist because I knew Rohesia wouldn’t be receptive to Fastello. (Rohesia is asexual in my mind.) I wanted a girl who might be open to falling in love with Fastello, but it couldn’t be that easy, so she had to be prejudiced against him, to begin with, and stubborn to a fault. Her relationship with her religion made for an interesting way to show how evil can even masquerade as good, as she’s basically been brainwashed into accepting the bad parts of her religion and can’t view them objectively.


“I created Kojiro to have someone respond to how I’d probably respond to being raised by evil—anxiety, and terror. At the same time, part of him wants to prove himself because he’s been told how worthless he is his entire life. I already did a European-ish medieval fantasy setting for my The Never Veil Series, so I wanted to add a fantasy setting inspired by another culture to FALL FAR FROM THE TREE. I’ve been fascinated by Japanese language and culture for decades, so that’s why Hanaobi is (mostly, but not entirely) inspired by medieval Japan.”


  1. Religion plays an important part in your book. With that in mind, what inspired you to explore the dichotomy of the Sun and Moon?


“I’m one of those weird people who’s happier when it’s overcast than when it’s sunny. I feel more alert after nightfall. So I thought it’d be interesting if one of the characters stays awake all night and sleeps all day, and that’s how Cateline’s religion came about. (She doesn’t, of course, stick to that schedule for long once the events of the story begin.) I had to think of a reason why her religion asks its practitioners to stay awake at night, and it seemed like worshipping the moon and the stars were the ideal reason. Plus, with Hanaobi being based on Japan and the importance of the sun in Shintoism and Japanese culture, it made sense to have Cateline’s religion in direct opposition to what Kojiro’s people believe in.”


  1. What’s the hardest part of writing and publishing a book?


“For me, it’s writing the first draft. I go months without writing fiction at all, which is not something I want to happen, but it’s just so hard for me to get in the groove. Once I get over the hurdle of the first 20,000 words or so, I can usually (but not always) finish the manuscript. It’s just a matter of getting there. That’s why something like NaNoWriMo in November really helps me, but I can’t currently write 50,000 words a month throughout the year.”


  1. How is your reading life? What are your favorite books? Do you have any particular reading habits?


“I love YA, especially fantasy, but I’m sadly years behind most of the hottest books. (I have 5 Sarah J. Maas books on my shelf to read, for example—and I’ve yet to read a single page of any of her works! Yet somehow I knew I’d love them enough to collect that many…) I’m a slower reader than a lot of my friends and only manage to read for fun between 20 and 60 minutes a day on average and I usually read in bed before going to sleep. My favorite books ever are the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series (but I know those are common choices!), all the works of Jane Austen, almost all the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights.”


  1. The characters in your book generally have despicable parents/guardians. With that in mind, what message do you want to convey about the concepts of family and parenthood?


“The book was inspired in part by Marvel Comics’ Runaways, which I found compelling—it’s also about teens whose parents are all villains. (In the case of Runaways, their parents are all in an evil league of supervillains together.) There’s not a single good (living) parent among any of the four main characters’ parents in FALL FAR FROM THE TREE, so I don’t mean to make a message about family and parenthood in general. However, when it comes to abusive parents and toxic families, I think these characters represent some of the ways abuse can be overt and some of the ways it can be more subtle—and the conflicting feelings children raised in these environments will have, especially as they near adulthood and could potentially break free more easily. They couldn’t view their lives objectively before this because they’ve never known any different. The title is not just a play on the idiom “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” it’s an instruction to these four characters: “Do fall far from the tree.” Break away from the rotten roots of your parents. You may be stuck, but at least try to get as far from what’s expected of you as you can and maybe someone will come along and pick you up and offer a helping hand.”


  1. What advice do you want to give to aspiring YA novelists?


“Read a lot of YA books (which you’re all probably already doing!) to get a feel for the genre. Write as much as you can, but also don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t stick to a schedule like writing every day. Write when you can and don’t expect every draft to be brilliant. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words before I finally had a finished book I could be proud of.”