Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Author Interview and Giveaway

 All About the Author (#2)
Spotlight on Sonia Gensler and The Revenant

      I was so excited when I heard this book was coming out.
I recently met Sonia Gensler at an   
Oklahoma Writer's Conference, and she is
 such a nice and genuine person. She is in the same
 critique group as someone I teach with at the high
school. Besides the cover,
what drew me to this book was that it
takes place in Oklahoma (where I live!) and
the main character pretends to be a teacher (what I do, but for real!) This book had everything: a creepy haunting, beautiful prose, and a great love story.  
Read below for Sonia's thoughtful answers to my
questions and for a chance to win a signed copy of her book!
"When Willie arrives in Indian Territory, she knows only one thing: no one can find out who she really is. To escape a home she doesn't belong in anymore, she assumes the name of a former classmate and accepts a teaching job at the Cherokee Female Seminary.

Nothing prepares her for what she finds there. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated and more wealthy than she, and the school is cloaked in mystery. A student drowned in the river last year, and the girls whisper that she was killed by a jealous lover. Willie's room is the very room the dead girl slept in. The students say her spirit haunts it.

Willie doesn't believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn't sure anymore. She's also not sure what to make of a boy from the nearby boys' school who has taken an interest in her—his past is cloaked in secrets. Soon, even she has to admit that the revenant may be trying to tell her something. . . "
-Good Reads

(On your book The Revenant:
1. How did the original idea for The Revenant come to you?

It started brewing in my imagination when friends Brandi and Martha gave our critique group a tour of Tahlequah, OK (Brandi had recently relocated there). Part of the tour took us by the Northeastern State University campus and its beautiful centerpiece, Seminary Hall. When Martha explained that the building was once a Cherokee girls' school, I HAD to know more. My research inspired the setting and conflicts of The Revenant.

2. What genre would you classify this novel as since it has elements of historical fiction and paranormal romance?

It's definitely a mish-mash of genres. I personally like to call it a Gothic mystery, but booksellers usually classify it as paranormal romance.

3. Some readers may find it hard to believe that Willie passes for a teacher at 17 years old. What details did you provide for readers to make the situation plausible?

These days teachers must be college grads to get hired, but have you seen 22-year-olds lately? They look 17! Seriously, though, I tried to focus on Willie's dramatic flair to show that she was playing the role of a teacher. Mrs. Crenshaw comments on how young she looks, and how younger teachers have trouble holding themselves apart from students who are near their age, as if it's a common problem. Seminary graduates often returned to the school to teach (like Olivia Adair did), so young teachers wouldn't have been unusual at all.
4. Why did you choose to make one of Willie’s most prized possessions a volume of her father’s Shakespeare books?

It goes along with her dramatic flair. Her father was an actor, and her strategy for dealing with new and uncomfortable situations is to perform her way through them. She also sees the world through the lens of Shakespeare's characters and conflicts, so it seemed natural that she would treasure those books.

5. What do you like most about Eli Sevenstar?

I like how he switches back and forth between gentlemanly and dangerous behavior. He's a rule-breaker. He certainly keeps Willie on her toes!

6. The details about the haunting were quite descriptive. Did you have fun writing the suspenseful parts of the book?

It was hard work and required a lot of tweaking and revising. I guess it was too technical of a process for me to actually scare myself, but at times it was quite entertaining.

7. The style in which the book is written suits the time period well. It reminds me of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte type prose. Who are your favorite authors and were they inspirations to you in the writing of this novel?

Austen and Bronte will always inspire me. Bronte's Villette, which is about a young teacher in a foreign city, was a huge inspiration behind The Revenant. Other 19th century writers who shaped my style include Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder. More recently I've been inspired by the historical fiction of Jennifer Donnelly, Libba Bray and Saundra Mitchell.

8. Among the issues this novel brings to light is the discrimination toward full-blooded Cherokee girls by girls who were half-Cherokee, half-Caucasian. What part of your research led you to believe this prejudice existed?

Devon Mihesuah, a professor in the Global Indigenous Nations Studies program at University of Kansas, wrote a very detailed account of the school and the various conflicts the girls experienced. I made extensive use of her book, Cultivating the Rosebuds: The Education of Women at the Cherokee Female Seminary, 1851-1909 in my research. The school admitted girls who were as little as 1/128 Cherokee, so it wasn't just a half vs. full blood quantum situation -- in truth, there was a lot of diversity, including some students whose cultural heritage included other tribes in addition to Cherokee. Mihesuah found evidence that the girls who were fairer-skinned and more acculturated often considered themselves superior to their darker-skinned, more traditional cousins, and this fostered resentment within the school. However, Richard Allen, policy analyst for the Cherokee Nation, reminded me that tensions didn't arise solely from racial discrimination -- there also were various socioeconomic biases, same as you see in schools today. I tried to touch on these issues in The Revenant, but hopefully in a manner that was sensitive and didn't overpower the mystery.

9. Have you visited the actual seminary that is portrayed in The Revenant?
Oh yes. I attended a Haunted Seminary Hall tour in 2008 and have returned to explore the building since then. As it's now a part of Northeastern State University, the building has been renovated quite a bit, but there's still a cool historical feel to it.

10. I heard rumors of a second book related to The Revenant. Can you tell us what it’s about?

I wonder who started that rumor? I do have a second book coming out from Knopf, but it won't be a sequel to The Revenant. I hope it will be another Gothic mystery, but the similarities end there. Several readers have expressed interest in a sequel, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. Maybe someday I'll write a short story -- one that gives us a peek into Willie's future.

For more information on Sonia Gensler and her writing, check out her blog by going to

For our 100 Followers Giveaway, Alex Sokoloff, author of The Space Between, is providing one e-book copy for a lucky reader. We are now adding an additional prize to the pot for that same reader: an autographed copy of Gensler's book The Revenant.

If 50 people enter, I'll throw Stephanie Perkins' new book in the mix:

Please leave a comment on this post for the author then click HERE to officially enter the giveaway. The deadline is October 14th at midnight.


hernameisavril said...

I love your idea for this book it really makes me want to read it :D

Brandi said...

What an insightful interview, Jenna!

Can I answer #5 about what I like most about Eli Sevenstar? My answer: Everything because he's my imaginary boyfriend.

Sonia, please, please, please write that short story you mentioned. I'd love to see what happens to the characters.

Getting Your Read On said...

I enjoyed the interview. I like learning about authors and books I haven't heard about. Thanks!

Christin said...

I'm very curious about the haunted seminary tour. Great interview!