The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, by M.G. Buerhlen, came out on the 20th of February and is a fast paced, compelling read full of mysteries and questions. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this awesome book as an ARC and absolutely devoured it. It’s just one of those reads that is impossible to put down—check out my review here if you want to know exactly what I found amazing about it!
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair. But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them. It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife.
Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories. Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever. And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.
1– First of all, let’s talk about the woman behind the book: who is she? Is she a cat or dog person? Salty or sweet? Chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? Does she prefer the city or the countryside? Favourite movie? Do you like to write in silence, or with the TV on, or do you prefer to have music playing?
Both dogs and cats. I currently have two cats and one dog — they are all the same size, and they all think they’re human.
I crave salty the most, but now and then I NEED THE SWEET.
Chocolate everything, basically.
Countryside for living, city for fun.
Oh boy, the movie one is tough. But if I can only pick one, I’d have to say The Princess Bride.
I write fiction in total silence otherwise I get too distracted. But when I’m writing posts like these, or working on a book review, I’ll have the TV on or a playlist blaring.
2– Have you always been writing stories (in your head or on paper), or is it something more recent? Did anything in particular trigger your writing of The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare or was it something you had been working on for a while?
I’ve always been writing stories and plays and trying my hand at writing songs. I even wrote a satirical newspaper sort of like The Onion when I was in 6th grade. I was bitten by the story bug at an early age and was never cured, thankfully.
The basic premise for 57 LIVES has lived in my head since I was 16 years old: a girl wakes up in a different time period and must learn to navigate the complexities of that culture and era without screwing things up. I could never figure out the reasoning behind premise, though. Was she cursed? Was there a magical spell? It wasn’t until I became a fan of Doctor Who and saw Blink that I realized my character was a time traveler. Everything clicked from there.
3– Why write about reincarnation and past lives? Do you believe in it? Do you have info on each and every one of Alex’s past lives?
No, I don’t particularly believe in reincarnation and past lives, but I wanted to do something different with my time travel. I didn’t want Alex traveling by machine or, again, by some kind of curse or spell, so I racked my brain until I came up with a unique premise. Souls traveling to their past lives was the outcome.
Yes, I do have info on all 56 of Alex’s past lives. I have dates, names, locations — I’m a very thorough world builder. 🙂
3a—I now have this image of large stacks of notes surrounding you when you work! Will we get to see a lot more of Alex’s past lives in the next book? I must admit I’m curious to see what other lives she has had!
I actually have them all written out in files on my computer. There are even timelines. 🙂 And oh yes, you’ll get to see a few more past lives in the sequel. As well as the rest of the series. Though, probably not all fifty-six. The series would have to be mega-long to accommodate that, I think. 🙂
3b—Did planning for all her past lives take a lot of research? Was it something you enjoyed having to do?
I love researching her past lives. I think that’s one of the things I love most about working with this particular character. There are so many routes I could take and choosing the best one, the one that doesn’t feel cliched, or the one readers may have never considered before, is so exhilarating. It does take up quite a lot of time, though. Time that should be spent writing!
4—You said that you had had the idea for this story floating around your head since you were 16 years old. Do you think that’s why Alex is the age she is? Or would you have written her that way either way? Is she at all a part of you at that age?
It might be part of the reason she’s that age. But I think the story lends itself well to that age, no matter what. Writing about teens frees you up in a lot of ways. Teens aren’t saddled down with too many responsibilities, and they haven’t had time to become too jaded with life just yet, so there is a lot more freedom for the author.
There are parts of Alex that definitely remind me of myself at that age. She’s a tech geek and likes being alone, she feels misunderstood, and she’s fiercely loyal to her family. But I wasn’t anywhere near as gutsy, and I never had the courage to say what was on my mind like she does.
5—The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is a YA book that I don’t really want to give a genre label to. What do you see it as being, or is the story just what it is? Did you always want to write a YA book or did it just happen? And do you think there is a difference in between YA books and those found on the ‘adult’ shelves, and if so, what is it?
As far as genres, it’s definitely a mash-up of several. It’s part contemporary fiction, part historical fiction, with some WTF sci-fi thrown in for good measure. I like a good genre mash-up. 🙂
I tried my hand at writing adult fiction, but like I said earlier, the characters weren’t as free or exciting (to me) as teen characters, especially if you’re writing about real life in a contemporary setting. In YA, authors have a lot more freedom to create a full-throttle adventure. Teens have a lot less to lose, most of them haven’t been rooted to one place like adults. They have wings and an intense passion for discovery. For me, that’s much more fun to write about.
5a—I like the fact that The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare was a genre mash-up, it definitely gives it some of what makes it such a unique read. Was there a particular author or book that served as an inspiration for this?
Not from the genre mash-up perspective. I think time travel tends to lend itself fairly easily to genre mash-ups. Just look at Doctor Who. Sometimes that show is 100% sci-fi craziness. Sometimes it’s a period drama. Sometimes it’s contemporary with lots of pop culture references. I just love that. OK, so I guess you could say Doctor Who inspired it. 😉
5b—I’ve seen a lot of people around bashing YA books for not being as complex as adult books (which I think couldn’t be further from the truth, personally). What do you think of that? Do you agree with the idea that a book is a book is a book and that the age of a protagonist should not necessarily define who reads the book?
I definitely believe that. Take a look at The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the writing, the lush setting, the cadence of the prose, and the wonder of the story. Harry Potter was absolutely riveting to me as a 20-something. And not every YA book is going to take you back to relive your high school years, which, I think, is the fear some adults have when approaching these books. (Or maybe it’s the fear of appearing immature?) Either way, I love this quote from C.S. Lewis on the subject:
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
6—What is your favourite part of the writing process? Least favourite? What sends you running for the hills—anything to escape the dreaded page?
My favorite parts are the research and the first draft. During the research, I feel like an archaeologist, digging up amazing bits of history to bring to life on the page. And then when I draft, I get to uncover all the secrets of the story and where it’s going to lead me. I do have an outline before I start writing, but I give myself plenty of room for surprises. Those surprises are what keep me writing until the sun comes up.
There really isn’t a part of the process I dread, except maybe when you start to doubt your talent and the quality of your work. That is the WORST phase an author can go through, in my opinion. It lays you flat, and it wrecks your progress. I wish I could avoid that pitfall, but it happens with every book, usually many times.
7—When you were writing the book, did you imagine the different scenes as they would be in a movie or did they come to you differently? Which actress do you imagine would make a good Alex, what about an actor for Blue or Jensen? Any other of your characters that you ever envisaged as a particular actor or actress?
I definitely see the scenes like they are playing out like a movie. When I read a book, I want to lose myself in a scene and feel like I’m there, right in the thick of it. If I feel that way while I’m writing it, then there’s a good chance the reader feels that way while reading. That’s what I strive for.
You know, I’ve tried to find actors and actresses who might look the part of Alex, Blue, Jensen, and the rest. I’ve scoured the Internet and have yet to find the exact right people. What it comes down to, I think, is whether or not the actor can pull off the characters’ unique personalities properly. Looks aren’t the most important part to me. If the actor can make me believe he’s Jensen with his smile, manner of speaking, turn of phrase, then it wouldn’t matter if he looks exactly how Jensen is described.
I can tell you that, even though their looks are not 100% spot on, Carrie Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who certainly inspired Alex’s character and personality, and Matthew McNulty as Fisher Bloom in Larkrise to Candleford certainly inspired Blue’s.
But, ultimately, I want the reader to picture the characters however they want. I want them to have that freedom and not be locked into the confines of one actor or actress.
8—I found the way you portrayed Alex’s bullying at school to be very realistic: was it something you ever experienced yourself? I also found it very interesting when we get Jensen’s perspective on how he is treated. Did you find it important to show that boys can be victim of the same type of bullying girls are usually victims of (with him being painted as a kind of ‘man-slut’ by his friends even though he is nothing of the sort)?
I definitely experienced my share of bullying at times. The scene where Tabitha and her friends corner Alex in the gym locker room? That happened to me in middle school. It wasn’t about the same sort of circumstance (boys), but it stuck with me, and I still remember how it felt to be cornered, outnumbered, and threatened. Luckily I was brave enough to stand up for myself and hold my own, just like Alex.
While girls may be victims to a different type of harassment than boys (generally speaking), boys suffer from their own brand as well. I’ve read a lot of books about boys getting bullied and beaten up at school, but not so many about girls. I wanted to show that side of the coin. Along the same spectrum, I wanted to show the ‘other side’ when it comes to the popular crowd. They have their fair share of rumors and bullying too. We often forget that, especially when we’re standing on the outside of any social or cultural group. Everyone has it rough in some form or another. We need to exercise seeing both sides, not just our own. That’s one lesson Alex is still learning, and she’ll do a lot more learning throughout the series.
9—Now that The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is out in the world, what’s happening with book two? What stage is it at? Who can we expect to see from the original cast?
I’m currently, very feverishly, drafting the sequel, which is due soon. It is due to release Spring 2015. I don’t want to give too much away, but you can expect a lot more traveling and a few more past lives visited. The entire cast will be along for the ride, including one or two newbies. 🙂
When she’s not writing, M.G. moonlights as a web designer and social media/creative director, and she’s the current web ninja lurking behind the hugely popular website YABooksCentral.com, a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers.
Places you might find M.G. hiding: in her creaky old house nestled in Michigan pines, sipping coffee on her porch, playing in leaf piles, cooking over campfires, and dipping her toes in creek beds.