“I honestly felt like it was meant to be…this was the story I’d been waiting to write.” – An Interview with Alyssa Sheinmel

Congratulations on Faceless! What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve honestly been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my big sister and I used to carry around notebooks to write in the way other kids carried around stuffed animals and art-pads. (Though we carried that stuff around, too!)

For those who haven’t read the book, could you try and describe it in 10 words?

Wow, that’s tough! How about: Maisie is a ‘normal’ girl whose life changes after a tragic accident. (Okay, that’s twelve words. I tried!)

Where did the idea for the book come from?

A while before my first book was published, I began drafting some notes for a book about a girl who got into an accident that changed her face forever, who would discover how much of who she was was tied to what she looked like. Soon, I had pages of notes tucked away in the “Ideas” folder on my desktop. A few years passed, but I kept coming back to this idea. Still, I was never quite ready to start writing, never entirely sure how I wanted to tell this story.

So when my American editor approached me about writing the story of a girl who’d survived a horrific accident, a girl for whom a face transplant was her best hope at having a normal life, I was immediately intrigued. I know it sounds corny, but I honestly felt like it was meant to be, like this was the story I’d been waiting to write.

How did you come up with the character of Maisie?

I heard Maisie’s voice in my head from the very first page! She was an interesting and fun character to write because she and I are so different. Maisie is very competitive, she’s a runner who hates yoga. (Meanwhile, I’ve been practicing yoga for over ten years now.) I knew I wanted her to be smart, and funny – I thought a sense of humor would help her survive everything that happened to her. One of my favorite things about being a writer is the chance to play ventriloquist, getting to go inside someone else’s head and say the things they say and think the things they think.

Was the story difficult to write at times?

Definitely. I loved Maisie, and there were times when I knew I was making her life harder, her journey tougher. Sometimes I wanted her to get to have her old life back, even just for a day or two, just as much as she did!

Did you draw any of the book’s plot from points in your own life?

Despite our differences, I really related to Maisie. Most of us – thankfully – will never find ourselves in situations as extreme as Maisie’s. But a girl who doesn’t look the way she thinks she should – that was a concept I had no trouble wrapping my head around. I spent so much of my own adolescence and young-adulthood wishing I was thinner, shorter, that I had lighter hair or thicker lips and on and on. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I was actually surprised to discover that I hadn’t changed through sheer force of will.

How do you write books? Do you have a set process?

Honestly, it’s a little different for every book I’ve written. I wrote my first few novels without outlines, and then I wrote a novel with an outline and suddenly I loved outlines. Then, I decided to try writing without an outline again. Lately, I think I’ve struck a bit of a balance – I might begin an idea without an outline, just with a voice or a setting in mind. I write a few chapters – sometimes as many as ten or fifteen or twenty, and then I find I hit a bit of a wall in terms of plot. Which usually means it’s time for me to stop writing the novel and take a stab at writing a synopsis or an outline instead. When I’m working on a first draft, I set myself with a goal each day – usually a word-count goal or a chapter-a-day goal, depending on my deadline.

Do you have any favourite books that you recommend?

So many! Anything by Alice Hoffman, Joan Didion, Jandy Nelson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Laini Taylor, Rainbow Rowell, Ernest Hemingway … my list of favorites goes on and on and on.

What’s next for you?

My current work-in-progress is the story of two girls: one named Eliza, who recently passed away under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and another girl named Ellie, Eliza’s childhood best friend. Before her death, Eliza bullied Ellie for reasons Ellie never understood. Now that Eliza is gone, Ellie is determined to discover what really happened to her former friend.

What tips do you have for any aspiring writers who may be reading?

My number one tip is never stop reading. I really do believe that every single thing I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to tell a story – books that I’ve loved and books that weren’t exactly my cup of tea. Novels and non-fiction. Essays and articles. Everything has something to teach you – or at least, I feel like it has something to teach me. Ideas can come from the most unexpected of places. A textbook taught me to insert humor into a dry topic. Magazine articles have prompted (sometimes totally unrelated) story ideas. Novel after novel has shown me beautiful and unexpected sentences. For me, the important thing isn’t always what I’m reading – sometimes it’s just enough that I’m reading. I suspect it will always be the piece of advice I most often give to myself about writing: Stop what you’re doing, sit down, and read.

Thank you to Alyssa for answering our questions! Faceless is available to buy now.

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