Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Interview with Sibella Giorello

Fifteen year old Raleigh Harmon's life has enough complications - a rebellious older sister, her mentally ill mom, snobby classmates, and hiding things from her dad, like her weekly dinners on the bad side of town with her best friend, Drew. 

Her already crazy world turns upside down when Drew vanishes. What's worse - no one takes her disappearance seriously. Only Raleigh believes that Drew didn't run away. Determined to find her friend, Raleigh turns to a trusted teacher and her love for geology to help track down Drew. 

Raleigh's efforts to help find Drew fall on the deaf ears of the local police department, and she has to rely on her own determination to find Drew.

I love Sibella's Raleigh Harmon novels, but Stone and Spark is her best book yet. Raleigh's adult life is shaped so much by her father's unsolved murder - I loved getting the chance to see her dad and their relationship. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Sibella about her newest book.

1.What made you decide to write about Raleigh's teen years?

            Life imitates art, they say. Or the other way around. But in my experience, life dances with art and the cha-cha in my days are teenagers: two boys, one girl. And a stint as youth group leader.
            All those teenagers taught me just how crucial these teen years are. They’re old enough to realize some really profound things, but young enough to still search for an identity.
            Normally that’s plenty for me to write about.
            But readers kept asking for a prequel to the first Raleigh Harmon mystery. The first book opens--“The Stones Cry Out” -- opens with Raleigh already working as an established forensic geologist for the FBI, and her dad’s already dead.
            The cha-cha went to a tango: Raleigh’s teen years meshed into a prequel. Readers meet her dad, and they get to see her figuring out how geology can solve crimes.
            But it all started with the teenagers in my life. That’s what I mean by the dance between art and life, it goes back and forth.

2.  How much of your teenage self did you put into Raleigh's character? Is she a lot like you, or completely different?
            Raleigh’s both me, and not at all like me.
            My mom was difficult to live with. I ran for miles to keep sane. And my dad was also the world’s coolest.
            But I grew up in Alaska--not the South. My best friend wasn’t at all like Drew Levinson --although I would’ve wished for her--and I pretty much hated science. 
            The list goes on, but I think it’s that dance again between art and life. Writers have to draw from the well God gives them, and they also draw from their imaginations.
3. How is writing a YA book different than writing an adult novel?

           It’s like the difference between talking to teens and talking to adults.
            With teens, you better get to the point quickly--and with some charm--or they’re gone. They also hate anything phony. Which is another reason I love teenagers so much.
            But this YA series keeps all the strong elements of the adult mysteries: Whodunnit, how, and why. But the chapters are punchier and shorter.

4.  You changed things up with publishing this book. Tell us a little about your decision. Also, how are things different between publishing this series and publishing your other books?

       Traditional publishing has some difficult changes ahead. Everyone has an opinion about what’s going to happen, but nobody really knows.
            And I don’t care.
            Seriously. I just want to write.
            I was fortunate that two publishers picked up the Raleigh Harmon series. Revell nominated the first book for a Christy award, and miraculously, it won. Then an editor at Thomas Nelson really shepherded the series; she never shoe-horned it to match every other mystery series out there. She let Raleigh be Raleigh--warts and all. I’m really grateful for all of that.
            But I also wanted to write more books, and in different genres. The traditional model forces a writer to justify the book before it’s even written. That doesn't allow for much agility. And it kills the fun for me.
            Now I’m with Cool Gus Publishing, a kind of indie-writer house. They work like a publisher doing the editing, designing, and publicity. But I own the books. I've got total freedom to tell the stories that come to me. This meant I could launch this YA series and see how it goes. Or change things up again. It’s gone so well the series will continue for quite some time.
5. What's next for Raleigh and your writing?

            The new freedom means there’s plenty of things coming up on the horizon.
            For Raleigh Harmon, it’s the next teen mystery which will come out this winter, followed by a third in summer. The adult series is going to pick up where “The Stars Shine Bright” left off. And I’m starting a new mystery series, set in my home state of Alaska.
            But there’s another interesting twist, and it’s called “Great Battles.”
            For years my husband has taught a class for middle-grade boys on Great Battles in world history, everything from the weapons and tactics to the warfare and leaders. The boys absolutely love it! And now Cool Gus is going to publish it as books for young readers. Three volumes will be out by October. I’ve been helping with the editing and all I can say is, Wow! These are pulse-pounding tales of battle, that also show teenagers the character qualities for fighting them: courage, valor, tenacity, strength. 

            Which is what we all need, every day. 

You can find Stone and Spark here.


  1. Amanda, thanks for inviting me over. This site is a cool find. Consider me one of its new Followers.

  2. Yes! I'm a fan-girl. :) So glad Stone & Spark is doing great and I hear great things about it. Thanks for the down-low on how you made this choice, Sibella. And so NEAT to hear of your hubby's series, as well. Sounds like something boys would totally enjoy, and there aren't enough books out there for them.

    Thanks for the interview today, gals!

  3. Whoohoo! Great series, and I'm a fan! Loved the post, and the info about Cool Gus pubbing. Love the sound of your hubby's books!

  4. Good interview, Amanda, and Sibella, I enjoyed reading about your books. Definitely ones to add to my reading list.

    Thanks again.

  5. Thanks everyone! If you haven't checked out Sibella's work, grab a copy of Stone and Spark - it's a great introduction to her work!

  6. By the way, our library doesn't have Stone and Spark, but it has Sibella's other four books. I decided to start at the beginning and put a hold out for The Rivers Run Dry, unless someone wants to recommend another book to read instead. (The Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library has a great collection of Christian fiction, and when I suggest a book for purchase, they follow through at least three out of four times. Not a bad selection of Christian non-fiction either.)