I wanted to capture that particular feeling of being out of place.

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cover of sweet unrestBacklist Bonanza offers a look at books published more than two years ago that are worth a read or a re-read!

Lisa Maxwell joins us today to talk about her 2014 book Sweet Unrest, an atmospheric story full of history, mystery, and romance, and its 2015 companion novel, Gathering Deep.

In Sweet Unrest, Lucy Aimes has been plagued by a dark, recurring dream of drowning for as long as she can remember. But when her family moves to an old plantation outside New Orleans, she starts having intense new dreams, vivid scenes of a bygone era filled with people she shouldn’t know but does. Searching for answers to her haunting visions, Lucy reluctantly descends into the city’s mystical culture. What she finds is Alex, a charming but mysterious boy who behaves as if they’ve known each other forever. Lucy shouldn’t be so drawn to him . . . but she is. As she tries to solve the mystery surrounding Alex, a centuries-old vendetta unspools around her, resulting in a vicious murder. Now trapped in a dangerous crossfire, Lucy must act fast to save her future and everyone she loves.

Gathering Deep follows the story of Lucy’s friend Chloe after the events of Sweet Unrest. Both books are available now.


The lush history, culture, and landscape of New Orleans is practically another character in Sweet Unrest and Gathering Deep. What inspired you to choose this setting? How did you go about developing it?
I chose the setting, at least in part, because I discovered that one of the first daguerreotype photographers, Jules Lyon, lived in the city. I also chose it because, at the time, I’d recently moved to the Deep South from growing up in the North, and I wanted to capture that particular feeling of being out of place. But New Orleans was also my pick because of its history, which plays into Sweet Unrest, and especially its companion novel, Gathering Deep. I did a lot of research—history, ethnographies, and also going to NOLA twice to walk around and make sure I had it right.

How does it feel to look back on stories you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on these books evolved with time?
Sure. There are things I wish I had been brave enough to do with Sweet Unrest. At the time, I didn’t see a lot of YA with diverse characters in it, and because my Master’s is in African American Lit and Ethnic American Literatures, I wanted to help add to it. Now, with the amazing growth of We Need Diverse Books and Own Voices, I’m not sure I would have made those same decisions.

How have readers responded to Sweet Unrest and Gathering Deep? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
Honestly, I rarely read reviews, so I’m not sure about that aspect of it. I love when readers find parts of themselves in my book, but I really feel like once the book is out in the world, it’s not *mine* any more. I try to keep my eyes on my own paper and just do the work of writing whenever I can.

In Sweet Unrest, Lucy uses her camera to see things that other people miss. What made you choose photography as Lucy’s passion?
It actually started with one of my wedding pictures. The photographer said that a smudge in the print (this was pre-digital) was a “ghost.” My husband and I have argued about whose grandmother it might be for 14 years now, but that ghost in the picture gave me the beginnings of Sweet Unrest. My dad was also a photographer when I was growing up. He had a black and white darkroom in our basement, and I spent a lot of time in there with him

Has your approach to writing changed since these books? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
When I first started, I didn’t think it was going to work—or at least not that fast. I was writing out of pure need (to find a job, to make money, to keep my brain from atrophying) and for the thrill of it. I still am, to some extent, but with Sweet Unrest, I was writing on instinct and now I’ve spent a lot more time learning about craft. I think that’s made my later books much better in terms of plotting and pacing. But I still write very atmospherically. I still want readers to sink into the world of the book.

What have you worked on since these books? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
Sweet Unrest has a companion novel, Gathering Deep. I also have Unhooked, which is a dark and twisty Peter Pan retelling with a sexy pirate. My most recent book, The Last Magician, is Gangs of New York with Magic, about a time-traveling thief who has to travel back to Old New York to stop a magician from destroying a book that could save the future of magic. It just hit the New York Time’s List!

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to The Last Magician. The title hasn’t been revealed yet, though.

Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
You have to be authentically kind and recognize that the people around you are your colleagues and not your competition. Keep your eyes on your own paper, don’t worry about what’s happening with everyone else’s career, and work on writing that next book. Publishing is fickle and there is SO much of it that depends on luck, but you can’t have that luck if you’re not working hard and ready for the opportunities to find you.

Who do you hope will find these books?
Anyone who likes a good ghost story. 🙂

Did you know: we first featured Sweet Unrest in 2015!

 

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About Author

Lizzie Cooke has been an avid book reader, ice cream eater, and tree climber since a young age. Today, she pens essays for adults and fiction for children and teenagers. She is represented by Eric Smith of the P.S. Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter, her website, or chiyawriters.com.

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