I would like to welcome Aurora Zahni. Author of Ellie Stanton~~Book 1 in the Heller Park Series (This is a YA Book) to CJ’s Book Corner today.
Aurora Zahni is a former rebel who’s trying to bring a little bit of Judy Blume and Sylvia Plath to the Twilight Generation. Over the years she has given half-assed / full throttle contributions to numerous zines and blogs, written a web movie and done significantly well in countless competitive eating events.
When she was in the 8th grade she was on the local evening news. A dead body was being lifted out of the water at a marina by the Meadowlands and you could clearly see her standing in the background watching, looking a bit excited for the camera. Looking back it may have been the highlight of her entire childhood.
CJ ~ Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Aurora ~ I’m about to escape my thirties, relatively intact. I live and work in the New York City area and have most of my life. I have replaced all of my bad or boring memories with song lyrics and trivia.
CJ ~ What inspired you to write your first book?
Aurora ~ I had just broken up my band and needed a new creative outlet. I had always written but was never up to the challenge of writing a novel. It was just time.
CJ ~ How much truth is in your fiction?
Aurora ~ It was all to a large degree autobiographical. In the first book in the series, I am no less than three characters in it and a lot of the events are taken in some shape or form from my life. The second novel is science fiction… and it is still all about me.
CJ ~ If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor and why?
Aurora ~ Do I have to choose just one? I guess either Laurie Halse Anderson, Kurt Vonnegut or Judy Blume. They all taught me important lessons about what stories could mean and showed me different roads to travel when I started writing.
CJ ~ Who is your favorite author and what really strikes you about their work?
Aurora ~ That isn’t a fair question! My favorite current author at the moment however is Laurie Halse Anderson. She consistently puts out wonderful work and her book Speak made such an impression on me as a writer that I scrapped all the projects I had at the time and started from scratch, promising myself to be better.
CJ ~ Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Aurora ~ It’s all a challenge. You get to be a god of your universe and sometimes all that responsibility is daunting, but that’s the fun.
CJ ~ What are you currently working on? What is your next project?
Aurora ~ I just finished up the second book in my series, which is an existential sci-fi romance and have started writing the third, a New Adult story about a girl who misses the last bus home from New York City and has to walk around all night while there is a serial killer on the loose.
CJ ~ Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Aurora ~ I just tend to do a lot of fun research to get in character like eat junk food and marathon watch four seasons of Kim Possible.
CJ ~ How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Aurora ~ Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend? I have taken most of my names from Degrassi, One Tree Hill or songs. I don’t try to overthink it.
CJ ~ Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Aurora ~ Sometimes I actually put on a second pair of pants to write. So yes, pants all the way. I tried plotting once and it all felt so contrived so now I just work from plot point to plot point and revise often for continuity.
CJ ~ What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Aurora ~ Once while riding in a car on the main drag of my town with friends I threw a full Slurpee cup into a garbage can about 15 feet away from the moving vehicle. Everyone was impressed
CJ ~ Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
Aurora ~ I have real issues describing rooms. Oh, and I sorta never physically describe any of my characters. It’s just not important in my universe.
CJ ~ What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Aurora ~ Write the story only you can write and don’t lie to yourself. You are what you are. Never pretend to be more or less.
CJ ~ Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Aurora ~ I’d like to be in nicer pants.
Just some fun questions:
CJ ~ What literary character is most like you?
Aurora ~ I’m a combination of Emma and Satan from Paradise Lost.
CJ ~ Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
Aurora ~ Paris. I’d also like to visit Dubois, PA again. I will pretend I’ve never been there before.
CJ ~ If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?
Aurora ~ A Rhino, duh.
CJ ~ What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
Aurora ~ The Fisher Price Adventure People green van. I stiill have it on my desk. I’m staring at it now!
CJ ~ Do you dream? If so, what do you dream about?
Aurora ~ I occasionally have horrid nightmares where loved ones betray me. Or food dreams. I tend to eat at a lot fancier restaurants in my dreams.
An imperfect, unremarkable girl makes a hero’s journey. Ellie Stanton needed to have a good day. The universe had something else in store. Getting caught shoplifting. Check. Dumping her lame boyfriend. Check. Expulsion from school. Check. Getting kicked out of her house and then stealing her mother’s car while she’s in a New Jersey turnpike rest stop Cinnabon? Check. The only sensible option is to run as fast as she can and never look back. Now Ellie is running going cross country to raise a little hell and maybe along the way learn everything she needs to know about life.
“Why, oh why do you have to turn every confrontation with an authority figure into World War Four?” “Wait, you want to know, essentially, why I can’t deal?” Hilary nodded emphatically, and Ellie continued. “Oh, that’s easy peezy. We can all thank Mrs. Richards.” “Who the hell is Mrs. Richards?” Hilary asked. “My kindergarten teacher. I will never forgive or forget that bitch.” “Why? What did she do?” “I’m glad you asked. See, the first day of school, Mrs. Richards gave us a note to give to our parents, letting them know that parents were responsible for their own kid’s snacks and drinks.” A security guard and two Chickentown employees joined the audience. “So, Tammy, that’s my mom’s name for those who are new to the show here, she reads the first part of the note but not the second. That would be the part which gives examples of what appropriate healthy snacks and drinks are recommended. The word ‘healthy’ was underlined and in bold print. You can see where this is going, right?” She motioned toward Hilary, who smiled and nodded. “So Mommy Dearest stops off at Quick Chek on the way to school and grabs me a Mountain Dew and Twinkies.” There was a collective groan from the peanut gallery. Hilary used the pause in the story to take some orders before allowing Ellie to go on. “Anyway, snack time rolls around, I open my Lion King lunch box and start digging in. Bitch Richards sees my Twinkies and comes flying at me like a hawk. She screams at me, throws away my Twinkies, and then walks me around the room pointing out examples of healthy snacks.” “You’re kidding me.” Hilary laughed, picturing little Ellie being tortured by this teacher. “I would not kid you about snacks. It was like five full minutes of ‘See, Ellie, that’s a banana. Bananas are an example of a healthy snack.’ Finally I snapped.” “What did you do?” “I cried and smashed my lunch box against the chalkboard. When Mrs. Richards said she was calling my mom, I called her a big green bitch.” The entire congregation in the restaurant giggled at once. “Why is that so funny? What the hell does that even mean?” “I dunno. She was standing next to a Statue of Liberty poster. It didn’t make sense, but it was very effective as an insult. That was the first class I was ever kicked out of, and I’ve been a pain in the collective ass