Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review/Interview Eleanor: The Unseen

Eleanor is a teenage girl who is trying to fly under the radar. She gets B’s on her report cards, never speaks in class, and uses her hair as a barrier to all eye contact. Perhaps she is hiding because her mother is dying of cancer. From the beginning it’s obvious Eleanor’s afraid she’ll be taken away and put into foster care, but there’s something else.  A tension builds through every page as Eleanor’s world slowly comes into focus. The people in her small Wyoming town think she’s odd, but they can’t begin to understand just how different this girl really is…

When I finished reading the ARC of Eleanor, I had to contact the author immediately. It was one of the most lovely pieces of literary fiction I’d ever had the pleasure of reading. The words glided effortlessly into my mind and touched my heart. The story was so beautiful and unassuming. Hat’s off to you, Mr. Worthen, for a job well done. I was so impressed with this novel, I decided to sit down and pick his brain. Not in a literal sense. That would be gross, but figuratively.


J: Thanks :-D The book is very dear to me. I’m glad you liked it.

A: Your love was evident on every page. How long have you been writing?

J: I’ve been writing all my life. However, I made a conscious decision to devote my career to it in 2012. I’ve been fulltime since then. I wouldn’t recommend it, not if food is important to you, but it has allowed me to achieve goals I’ve had all my life.

A: It's a hard path for sure. As writers, we grow attached to our imaginary friends. I could tell that both Eleanor and Tabitha were very near and dear to your heart. Can you tell me about the connection?

J: We’re all vulnerable and sensitive, afraid to be ourselves, hiding those things that make us different and trying to blend in. I understood that very much about Eleanor. I understood too the needs of Tabitha to try and safeguard her daughter from the worst the world can throw at her. Trying so hard, weak and impoverished, she does the best she can, which isn’t much. In the end, all they can offer each other is love. That’s all they have and it is enough. It unites and strengthens, enlightens and liberates. There is much of my own experience in these characters, my grandmother in Tabitha, my niece in Eleanor, my hopes in both.

A: I find it beautiful that you've made those connections. What was your favorite aspect of writing Eleanor?

J: I liked how the mystery unfolded. You sense that something’s wrong, but it’s a slow burn, an unhurried reveal. The paranormal aspect is thus muted and the human story rises. The mircale is then freed to be the metaphor I wanted it to be instead of the center of the story. Eleanor is the center. It’s not a three act piece, it’s a fable, a coming of age story of an extraordinary girl wishing she could be ordinary.

A: Speaking of fables, I too have studied the legends of the Skinwalkers and other shapeshifters. The most flooring facts I discovered was how similar the stories are regardless of their origins. What kind of stories did you unearth in your research?

J: After I saw that most cultures shared a shape shifter myth, I pretty much abandoned my research. I knew that Eleanor wouldn’t incorporate any one of them, but all of them. I postulated that each different story was a different perspective on the same miraculous event, colored by prejudice and point of view. All of them confirming something strange, but none of them understanding it or describing it accurately. For the story it was always a metaphor for the drastic and terrible changes a person has to go through.

A: Pretty fascinating stuff. Do you believe they walk among us? 

J: I’d like to think so if only because it makes one a little humble to think they’re not on the top of the food chain any more.

A: Agreed. Eleanor is the first book of a trilogy. When can we anticipate Celeste and David?

J: Eleanor’s past is explored as she faces an uncertain future. Nothing is ever as it appears. People and places, dangers and safety, all shift in a changing landscape of perception and fear. Eleanor’s struggles are not over, she’s far from safe. David’s family is threatened, along with Jamesford itself. I delve into religion, prejudice, forbidden love, power and murder. There are new enemies and old friends, silent allegiances and bitter betrayals, all while Eleanor struggles to understand her own needs, turning from timid to bold, scavenger to predator.

A: I can't wait to have the story unfold. What is in your current reading queue?

J: Copper Descent and a few other books I’m behind on. I’m going to re-read Huckleberry Finn to prepare for another YA book I’ll start in the Fall.

A: I like your first choice. I've heard it's a pretty good read. If you could travel back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?

J: Buy more Apple stock.

A: No kidding! Coke or Pepsi?

J: Coffee.

A: What inspires you?

J: Death. Knowledge of my own eventual demise lies at the bottom of everything I write. Everything.

 There you have it, folks! Isn't he amazing? If you would like know more about Johnny Worthen and Eleanor: The Unseen, you can find him in these places:

JOHNNY WORTHEN graduated with a B.A. in English and Master’s in American Studies from the University of Utah. After a series of businesses and adventures, including running his own bakery, Worthen found himself drawn to the only thing he ever wanted to do—write. And write he does. When he’s not pounding on his keyboard or attending writers conferences, Worthen spends his time with his wife and two boys in Sandy, Utah.

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