I’m excited to feature an interview today with author Rebecca Maizel. Her book A Season for Fireflies came out in late June and it’s a perfect summer read. It’s a contemporary novel with just a hint of magic and I really enjoyed it!
About the book:
A year ago, Penny Berne was the star of her high school’s theater department, surrounded by a group of misfit friends and falling in love for the first time. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, her new best friend is the most popular girl in school, and her first love, Wes, ignores her. Penny is revered and hated. Then, in a flash, a near-fatal lightning strike leaves Penny with no memory of the past year—or how she went from drama nerd to queen bee.
As a record number of fireflies light up her town and her life, Penny realizes she may be able to make things right again—and that even if she can’t change the past, she can learn to see the magic where she never could before.
Check out our interview with Rebecca Maizel. We talk about A Season for Fireflies, writing, lightning, and her favorite childhood books:
What inspired you to write A Season for Fireflies?
I’ve said this in other interviews, but I think that mainly I was inspired by the idea of second chances. How many times have you made a decision that was a monumentally BAD idea? Sometimes those choices come from a place of pain and we can’t share why we do what we do. I was interested in exploring those kinds of decisions. There’s that old adage – “you might not remember what someone said but you’ll always remember how they made you feel.” I think this is true for our deepest, youngest memories and traumas. What if your memory was erased? You could potentially still access the way you felt or the pain you experienced when you were very young, but you might not be able to explain it. I very much wanted to access Penny in a deep emotional place. Penny has to heal herself emotionally first – only then can the rest of her life fall into place. Also, I loved the imagery of a fireflies taking over a town.
One thing I loved about A Season for Fireflies is that it tackles issues surrounding a parent’s addiction. What did you find most challenging when writing those parts of the story?
Penny’s Mom struggles with mental illness as well as some addiction issues, which ultimately sends her to rehab during the story. When Penny is struck by lightning, she doesn’t remember that Mom ever went to rehab and it’s revealed to her throughout the course of the book. One of the things that I wish for any reader who picks up Fireflies is that they experience Penny’s story not only with her friends, but also her journey to realize that her mother’s struggles are not her fault. She didn’t cause them & she didn’t make them happen. I would say any scene where the mother and Penny interact was difficult to write (especially those scenes at the start of the book). Hurting Penny (which meant I had to be hurt too because I’m putting her through all of this!) was hard because I had to feel it. I tend to protect my characters while drafting, but it’s how they grow! It’s so counter intuitive to think that a parent could be so capable of hurting a child or put themselves before their own child, so those scenes were emotionally rough to write.
What did you enjoy most about telling Penny’s story?
Panda. Any time he was in a scene, it was a gift. He added humor when some scenes were too dramatic. Also, Penny and Panda have a true bond. He experiences the same kind of rejection at home that she also feels.
What was your strategy while writing? i.e. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I think my strategy has evolved over time. I definitely have to know the emotional arc of the character or know where I think she is going to go. I also used to write linearly and I found that it completely inhibited my creative process. My mentor, A.M. Jenkins (Damage, Beating Heart), once told me to write only the scenes, which were speaking to me emotionally. It’s like she unlocked an entirely new way for me to write. It really spoke to me because if I delayed a scene I was really emotionally connected to for something that had to come next, then it’s possible by the time I finally got around to the scene I actually wanted to write, I could have lost the momentum or the emotional access. Writing non-linearly is messy, but I think you should follow your heart (cue cheesy music), follow what scene is dying to get out, and it translate powerfully onto the page.
I really enjoyed seeing Penny’s two different worlds and how they intertwine. Did you have to do any research on the aftermath of being struck by lightning to make the transitions realistic?
I did a lot of research. I spoke with lightning strike experts, meteorologists, storm chasers, neuroscientists, doctors, and read oodles from strike victims on many forums. The most conclusive fact I found was this: nothing is “standard” in a lightning strike. Every single person can have a wildly different experience. Lichtenberg Figures don’t last as long as Penny’s do, but that’s part of the “other worldly” experience of the book. I loved playing with the “magical” things that happen throughout Penny’s story.
If you could have lunch with a character from A Season for Fireflies, who would it be and why?
Panda and Richard. In terms of my writing process, when I wrote my first book, Infinite Days, I literally heard my main character, Lenah, in my head. She came out of me so easily that it almost felt like I channeled her. It’s the same for Panda and Richard. Panda is so loving and Richard is generous and forgiving (and insanely talented), that I can see them at a lunch so clearly. They would make me laugh, entertain the whole restaurant, and at some point I know everyone would be singing.
What was your favorite book when you were a young adult? Did that influence your own writing at all?
BABYSITTER’S CLUB 4 EVER
Seriously though, those books were the BEST. I don’t know if they influenced my writing, but they certainly influenced my love for stories. When I was a kid I loved reading and writing my own stories, movies – pretty much anything narrative. But Babysitter’s Club was one of the first times I remember reading a book and the characters felt like they could be my friends. I am dying to get my hands on the graphic novel version. I’m a huge Raina Telgemeier fan so I need to read them.
I also loved Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. I have a challenge for you. Go find a book you haven’t read since you were little. Re-read the whole thing. I did that recently with these books and they are so wacky. But I had a flashback, almost like sense memory. It was weird. You get transported back to your child mind just for a moment. (Editors note: I love this idea!)
Can you tell us what is next for you?
I just sent a synopsis (which I truly suck at writing) and a creative sample to my editor. This new idea similar in genre to Fireflies in that it’s set in the contemporary/realistic world but things happen and you say to yourself… wait a second…did that really happen?
That’s all I can say for now :)
Find A Season for Fireflies:
Thank you Media Masters Publicity for setting up this interview and to Rebecca Maizel for taking the time to answer our questions!