Author Exclusives
Author Exclusives

BAM! Interviews: Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of the Lost Cities

November 11, 2019
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Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she learned—among other things—that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She’s studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series, Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. She answered a few of our burning questions about the latest in the Keeper series, Legacy.

Sophie Foster wants answers. But after a lifetime of lies, sometimes the truth is the most dangerous discovery. Even the smallest secret comes with terrifying new responsibilities.And Sophie's not the only one with blank spots in her past, or mysteries surrounding her family. She and her friends are part of something much bigger than they imagined—and their roles have already been chosen for them.Every clue drags them deeper into the conspiracy. Every memory forces them to question everything--especially one another. And the harder they fight, the more the lines blur between friend and enemy.

As much as readers will debate Team Keefe versus Team Fitz (or Team Dex!), ultimately they are definitely Team Sophie. What qualities in Sophie do you think allow readers of so many different backgrounds and personalities to find her so relatable?

Ha, this is the kind of question that always makes me sound like I think Sophie's actually real—and I promise, I do realize she's a character that I created. But, at the same time, she does feel very real to me. I know her hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities and strengths and weaknesses. And I realized right away that I was writing the kind of character who could far too easily come across as "too perfect" or "too powerful" if I wasn't careful. So I work very hard to show Sophie's struggles, both internal and external, and I let her make mistakes—because Project Moonlark or not, elf or not, she'll still always be a girl caught between two worlds, trying to figure out where she fits. And I think that's something everyone can relate to—especially at the middle grade reading range: trying to figure out where you belong while still staying true to who you are is definitely not an easy task. And Sophie's there to show us that you don't have to have it all figured out or get everything right. You just have to try your hardest and keep going.

Did you have any idea when you first created the series that readers would respond so passionately to Fitz and Keefe and the love triangle between Sophie, Fitz, and Keefe?

Honestly? That tooooooootally caught me by surprise. I mean, don't get me wrong—I knew Fitz and Keefe were both awesome characters. But I definitely wasn't planning on starting any Team Wars. I was just trying to stay true to the characters themselves and stay true to the middle grade experience. When I was that age, it seemed like it was always that your crush had a crush on someone else—and then that person had a crush on yet another person, and it was a big mess of unrequited feelings. So I threw some elements of that into the first book and it just kind of grew from there, and now here I am, writing a love triangle, and living in fear of the day when readers rise up against me. :)

The series is packed with so many rich mysteries and questions. Do you ever find that you have to change the timing of when certain reveals occur based on twists in the books that surprise you as you’re writing them?

Pretty much all the time. I start every new book in the series by making a list of all the secrets I still have to reveal, and then I come up with a rough outline that can basically be summed up as, "I'M GOING TO DO ALL THE THINGS!" And usually once I start writing I realize how ridiculously ambitious my plan was and it's more like, "I'm going to do HALF the things!" Plus, when I really dive into the story and start asking myself, "okay, what are the characters going to do?" they always come up with very different plans than what I was thinking—and that's a good thing because that's how I spot the plot holes. Whenever a character won't cooperate, I realize, "ohhh, it's because I forgot about THIS!" So basically, my characters are smarter than me. Who knew?

Your series has such a wide breadth of characters. Are there any characters who are especially fun to write?

They're all fun—and challenging—in their own way. But I think the most fun to write is Silveny. I mean ... I get to spend my day imagining what it's like to be in the head of a sparkly, flying, telepathic alicorn. That's my job. And I get to abuse all-caps and exclamation marks so it's basically the best. thing. ever.

On the flip side, are there characters who are especially challenging to write?

Honestly, Fitz and Keefe are both some of the most uncooperative characters in the series—and not just because they've dragged me into an epic love triangle. Keefe tends to be a scene stealer—and to want to make everything a joke—so I usually have to go back and rein him in a bit, so he doesn't end up seeming annoying. And Fitz has the opposite problem—he always starts out very reserved, and I have to go back and draw him out a little more. So when it's a scene with both of them? I can pretty much guarantee I'm going to end up rewriting it four or five times.

If you could have any of the abilities your characters have, which would you choose and why?

Teleporting! Given all the travel I have to do for book tours—and my general hatred of airplanes and airport security—I would love to just drop into the void and appear anywhere I want. And yes, I realize that teleporting involves jumping off a cliff—that's how much I hate airports. (And yes, I also realize that light-leaping would do the same thing, but my mind is very good at wandering, so the odds of me being able to concentrate long enough to not fade away aren't good. Teleporting would be muuuuuuch safer!)

Can you give a hint about any characters who haven’t been as prominent until now, who we might see more of in Legacy?

Hmmmm. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I won't say much, but I've always known that Maruca was going to play an important role in the series. I just had to wait until a few things clicked into place before I could start putting that plan into action—and that finally happens in LEGACY. We learn something new about Maruca, and it makes her very valuable.

You've written eight quite lengthy books with Sophie now--how do you feel she's grown and changed throughout the course of all those pages?

Ha, another question where I'm going to make it clear that my characters are way too real to me, but ... MY LITTLE GIRL IS GETTING FIERCE AND MAKING HER AUTHOR-MAMA SO PROUD! (ahem) Sophie's always been a brave character, but her confidence in LEGACY is a truly wonderful thing. I can't tell you how many times I'd go back and reread a scene after I'd written it and find myself thinking, "Go, Sophie! You show them!" She's been through so much at this point that she's basically just done being pushed around. It's beautiful to see. *tears up*

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