Published by Entangled Teen on April 3rd 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.
Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it.
When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.
Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.
Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.
I recently had the chance to read The Castaways, Jessika Fleck’s YA debut novel. I absolutely loved it (review to come tomorrow) and was so excited that she was willing to let me interview her.
1. What was your inspiration for writing The Castaways?
First off, I’m so excited to be here at Spinatale Reviews! I love the blog and am a total fangirl over every gorgeous photo posted on the Spinatale IG! Big thanks to Tara for having me and for reviewing THE CASTAWAYS!
I was inspired to write THE CASTAWAYS in two parts. The first was when a friend of mine was dealing with the horrible truths and consequences of her daughter being relentlessly bullied at school. The stories… How it was stealing her innocence and her self-worth… How the school wasn’t handling it as they should and sort of brushing it off as a ‘girls can be mean’ thing… How if it was happening to her, it was happening to countless others. All of this stewed in my mind for a while because I knew there was an important and emotional story there. A few months later, my husband and I took our daughters to a pumpkin patch for Halloween. Of course we had to go through the corn maze. It was a quiet, sunny day and at some point we split up and decided to race and see who could get out first. I had our youngest daughter with me (who wasn’t in a real hurry or at all concerned with winning) and I let her lead the way. As we ambled through, hitting several dead ends, turning sharp corners, and circling back around to where I was sure we’d already been, thoughts of, ‘what if I turned a corner and was in another place and time’ began to play at my imagination. Then it hit me: corn mazes are creepy in a pretty wonderful, labyrinth way—what a great place to go if you have something to run from and need to hide. After that, the rest of the story spiraled into place.
2. Can you describe your journey from first coming up with the idea for The Castaways until now? What do you wish you’d known at the start?
When I write, the process unfolds in waves. THE CASTAWAYS was no different. It was the fourth novel I’d ever written, so, I’d say, I had a pretty good system by then, but still winged it much more than I do now. First came the idea: a girl who’s being bullied runs into a corn maze and is transported to an island. From there, I expanded on my knowledge of Olive. I have to get to know my main character before I can tell their story. Once that happens, things usually fall into place relatively quickly. I knew I wanted her to go on a life-changing adventure. I hoped for her to have her eyes opened to new people and possibilities and ways in which to live by. It went through several rounds of revisions before it evolved into the present version, but I’m extremely pleased with the final story. What do I wish I’d known in the beginning? Probably that Olive was much stronger than I originally wrote her. She was more timid in earlier versions and I should have been more confident in the warrior within her. She showed me!
3. How did you come up with Olive Maxi Gagmuehler’s name?
Olive and Maxine are actually my husband’s grandmother’s names. I think they’re lovely, but they worked well as modern bullying fodder (though, of course, it’s never really about a name (or a look… or crooked teeth… or where someone’s from…, right?). Olive’s last name was a simple Google search: names with gag in them. I found a few and then blended a couple of them together to get Gagmuehler.
4. How did you come up with the other characters on the island? There’s such a wide variety of them! I loved how you wrote the relationships between all of them.
I love creating characters. It often keeps me up at night. Honestly, they come to me so organically, I swear, it’s like magic. I know it sounds weird and it’s maybe even a bit cliché, but, in a way, they choose me to tell their stories. As for this book and this cast of unlikely kids being thrown together… I knew I wanted a wide variety of characters on the island and most of them to be from different places and times. At first, in the very early stages, everyone was going to be from Texas, but I soon realized that wouldn’t work for a variety of reasons. So, first came Will. I needed someone to be in charge, a leader and provider for these kids. Next was Jude, the tough guy with something to prove, but who has a super soft heart. Then Lewis and Tilly to sort of round out his rough edges. I wanted there to be pseudo-Lucky for Olive to relate to=Charlie. Then, Bug. Bug’s one of those characters that (no pun intended) hits me like lightening. I’d love to write Bug her own story. As for the Panthers’ side… Duke was a given and a great, multi-layered antagonist. He had to have a couple of henchmen, hence Henry and Noah. And the twins were just so fun to throw into the mix. Lastly, I wanted a strong, brilliant girl who was running a lot of the show on that side=Shiloh.
5. Part of this book focuses on bullying (there are some pretty brutal scenes). What made you decide to include that in the Castaways?
As I mentioned earlier, much of this story was sparked by a friend’s experience with her daughter and, in general, by what happens in schools daily right under the noses of teachers and counselors and other students. It’s heart-breaking and it isn’t right. THE CASTAWAYS, at its heart, is the story of a girl finding empowerment after she’s been pretty brutally broken down. Olive discovers a strength she wasn’t aware she possessed, not only by digging deep on her own but through the eyes of her new comrades on the island. She’s able to come out on the other side of this journey her own version of a warrior, one who stands up for herself and those around her. I definitely don’t take it lightly that I’ve included these important, often difficult to address themes in my book. I very much thought of my own daughters reading this story as I wrote it, and how they might receive it’s messages, from the more subtle just be to the more blatant finding your strength. My hope, at the end of the day, is that kids who read Olive’s story, despite where they might fall on the bully-bullied-observer spectrum, will be inspired to stand up for what’s right and speak up for those with smaller voices.
6. Which tribe on the island would you belong to?
Team Lions. Foreva.
7. What are five books that you’d recommend to others?
Oh my goodness, this is always hard, but here you go… The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness, and The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. Oops, that was six! 😉
Jessika Fleck is a writer, unapologetic coffee drinker, and knitter — she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. Until then, she continues collecting vintage typewriters and hourglasses, dreaming of an Ireland getaway, and convincing her husband they NEED more kittens. She’s never been known to pass up a good cup of coffee or a great pair of boots. Her work verges on fantastical and dark with a touch of realism. She is a regular contributor to the fantastic kidlit blog, The Kidliterati. Her YA fantasy, THE CASTAWAYS (Entangled Teen) debuts April 3, 2017. THE OFFERING (Swoon Reads/Macmillan) releases in the fall of 2018. Jessika is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
You can find her at the links below!
Pre-order THE CASTAWAYS: https://www.amazon.com/Castaways-Jessika-Fleck-ebook/dp/B06XK9CW4H/