Today we welcome Maggie Lehrman's debut young adult novel, The Cost of All Things (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins). Maggie is one of VCFA's Keepers of the Dancing Stars, and we're delighted she could stop by for a chat!
What would you pay to cure your heartbreak? Banish your sadness? Transform your looks?
The right spell can fix anything.
When Ari's boyfriend dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and Win, the boyfriend she can no longer remember.
Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy. Part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama, The Cost of All Things is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.
Hi, Maggie! Wow, what a fresh, intriguing story. What was the spark that ignited this book?
The first glimpse I had of this book was a moment: two teenagers, in love, dancing. The next thing I knew about them was that the boy was dead and the girl had forgotten he ever existed. From there I had the great fun of figuring out what type of world would allow a girl to forget her dead boyfriend, why he was dead, and what the girl had to give up along with her memory. The world spun out from there. Who made the spells? Who else mourned the dead boy, and how did they feel about the girl forgetting him? What else could spells hide or change?
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the four POV characters' stories intersected, and when each character knew certain pieces of information and how they discovered those pieces. I wrote the entire first draft of the book by hand (see photo of the trusty notebooks) and so once it was in the computer there was still a ton of work to do crafting it into the shape of a book. It may not come as a surprise, considering I was dealing with four interrelated stories that all need to come to a head at the same time, but the ending was the hardest part to finesse. I must've re-written it dozens of times. But I'm pleased with how it came out. It needed those dozens of revisions!
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
I love Jandy Nelson and Nova Ren Suma's sentences. I admire anyone who can craft a plot even a little bit, but some masters for me are Melina Marchetta, Ellen Raskin, Gabrielle Zevin, and E. Lockhart. Libba Bray is quick and brilliant with characters, as are Terry Pratchett and Jaclyn Moriarty.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?
I wouldn't call it too weird, but I googled a ton of ballet things when writing The Cost of All Things, went to the ballet a bunch of times, and watched every ballet documentary I could get my hands on. I even took a class taught by New York City Ballet dancers. But even from your home there's so much online to get a sense of the behind-the-scenes life of professional dancers. My absolute favorite thing is watching videos of toe shoe preparation.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
A.M. Jenkins, who kicked my butt and who's the person I imagine conversations with when I feel like I'm losing my way. Rita Williams-Garcia, whose enthusiasm and guidance made me excited about writing and finishing things. Franny Billingsley, with whom I started this book, and who made me really think about the costs of magic in my critical thesis. Tim Wynne-Jones, who convinced me to put this aside (he was right), and who encouraged me not to settle.
In so many ways. I went to VCFA because I wanted to step up my skills and learn some solid craft, and I did, but the real surprise legacy for me has been the community. My class and the other students I've met there are an incredible support group, backbone, cheering squad, advice mavens, whatever you want to call it. The connections with the faculty are inspiring and priceless. I'm so, so grateful to have all of that.
Thanks for stopping by, Maggie. Huge congratulations on your stunning debut!