I just recently had the pleasure of reading Shimmer by Alyson Noël, a supernatural story that’s a fun and entertaining read which you’ll want to add to your reading lists, if you haven’t done so already! It’s the second novel of her series about Riley Bloom, who is a ghost who assists other ghosts in crossing over to the Here & Now. The first book in the series was the best-selling Radiance, and Alyson spun off this cool series from her Immortals series, featuring Riley’s older sister, Eve. Shimmer will debut on the New York Times Children’s bestseller list at #6 for the week of April 3rd.
Alyson Noël agreed to do an interview with me, and I want to thank her for the chance to ask her some questions that I’m sure all of her fans and future fans will want to know the answers to!
Douglas R. Cobb: Alyson, your Riley Bloom series of books is a very interesting one, and I liked it that Riley is your typical twelve-year-old girl, who uses expressions and slang that an average pre-teen girl might use. What made you decide to spin off a series based on Eve’s younger sister? Also, could you give our readers an idea about what your series, the Immortals, is about?
Alyson Noël: The Riley Bloom series is a spin-off of my bestselling Immortals series, which is an epic romance about two star-crossed lovers, Ever and Damen, whose attempts to be together are thwarted again and again over the course of four centuries. After meeting in this lifetime, they’re determined to risk everything in order to beat the curse that’s kept them apart, and claim the happily ever that’s always eluded them.
While writing the first Immortals book, Evermore, I wanted Ever to have some connection to her family even though she’d just lost them in a terrible car accident, and so the idea of Riley, her ghostly little twelve-year old sister was born.
I didn’t intend for Riley’s part to become as big as it did, but Riley just kept showing up—usually in some crazy costume and wig (she’s a bit of a scene stealer!)—and she was so much fun to have around, I kept allowing it.
When I reached the end of Evermore, I was sad to make Riley move on, so when my publisher asked if I’d be interested in creating a series just for her, I jumped at the chance, and I’m so glad I did, because Radiance and Shimmer have been enormously fun to write.
Ghosts and the supernatural are two of my favorite subjects to read about, both when I was a pre-teen and teenager myself, and still now, that I’m an adult with my own teenage daughter (who also loves Shimmer, by the way). Have you always been interested in writing about ghosts and the supernatural? And, have you ever had any personal spooky experiences happen to you?
I’ve been a fan of all things paranormal since I was a kid—Casper the Friendly Ghost was my favorite cartoon—so in a way it seems strange that my first seven novels were realistic contemporaries. But as my stories are often inspired by my own life experiences, it wasn’t until a few years ago, after losing several loved ones in a very short time, and then nearly losing my husband to leukemia, that I was ready to really delve deep into the subjects of life and death, mortality and immortality, the soul’s journey, the afterlife—and Ever and Damen’s story was born from there.
As for my own supernatural experiences . . .I’ve definitely experienced enough unexplainable phenomenon to make me believe that there is much more “out there” than meets the eye!
In Radiance, Riley gets her first missions from a group of ghosts called the Council. She meets her spiritual guide, a teenage boy called Bodhi, and along with her dog, Buttercup, she solves a matter about the Radiant Boy. Who is the Radiant Boy? Could you tell our readers a little more about this book before I get to questions about Shimmer?
Riley resides in a place called the Here & Now, where instead of the eternity of cloud lounging and harp lessons she’s expecting, she’s been assigned a job as a Soul Catcher. And so she returns to earth, alongside her dog, Buttercup, and her guide, Bodhi, in order to coax and convince lingering ghosts to move on to where they belong.
Her first assignment, the Radiant Boy, is a terrifying ghost who’s been haunting a castle in England for centuries. At first, Riley is a little daunted by the fact that many Soul Catchers before her have confronted him and failed in their mission, but when she learns that he’s younger than her, she scoffs—assumes it’s going to be easy-peasy (her words!)—only to discover that it’s anything but.
Why does Riley have a greenish glow, or shimmer, in Shimmer, and why do some other ghosts have an even brighter shimmer to them?
As Bodhi explains it to Riley, there are many levels to the Here & Now, each one even better than the next, and each level has a corresponding color that represents it. As Riley is a newcomer, her glow is light green while Bodhi’s is deeper.
Riley is a very independent-minded person, even as a ghost. She doesn’t always listen to what Bodhi asks her to do, and instead, uses her free will. This gets her into difficult situations sometimes, doesn’t it?
Riley is definitely feisty, and spunky, and brimming with an over abundance of confidence. She has her own ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong, and she’s very competitive—she loves to win above all else—and is determined to be the best Soul Catcher the Here & Now has ever seen (though her goals are often hampered by her refusal to listen to others, namely Bodhi). So when Bodhi warns her not to go after Rebecca, Riley refuses to listen, and of course it’s that very refusal that lands them all in a big heap of trouble.
So who is the ghost Rebecca in Shimmer, and why did you decide to base her character and her story on a real historical slave revolt?
As for Rebecca’s story, it’s loosely based on a slave revolt that took place on St. John Virgin Island back in 1733. While researching haunted places, I came across the story of a former plantation owner, who along with his daughter, were reputed to be among the first killed during the slave revolt, and I thought it was the perfect backdrop for the story I wanted to write.
Why does Rebecca have a difficult time moving on to the Here & Now? Why does she enslave others, and why is so angry and unwilling to let go of her anger?
Rebecca is a brat. She’s spoiled, self-righteous, and thinks everyone exists in order to serve her (though it’s not entirely her fault). With her mother long dead, and her father too busy to pay any real attention to her, she was overindulged with material things instead of the love that she craved. She’s so deeply mired in her anger and outrage, she’s determined to trap everyone who died in the revolt alongside her, determined to see them all pay for what she lacked in her life.
Even Bodhi needs help from others, we learn in Shimmer. When Rebecca enslaves or traps Bodhi, what does Riley do to help rescue him? Who is Nicole?
Bodhi is there to guide Riley and help her learn the Soul Catcher trade, but at the same time, he has his own issues to deal with (he’s only fourteen!). He’s haunted by the memory of his failure to intervene when a girl named Nicole, a girl he harbored an unrequited crush on, took her own life in response to the relentless bullying her classmates put her through.
Like Nicole, I too was bullied as a kid, and it went on for 5 years until it finally stopped. I know first-hand just how demoralizing it is and how the effects can linger well into adulthood. It’s a topic that’s very important to me, and with the rise of cyber-bullying and all of the terrible tragedies that have occurred as a result, I thought it was an important topic to address in this book.
It seems to me that Shimmer is influenced by some Buddhist beliefs, though the theme of knowing thyself is a universal one. Naming one of your main characters Bodhi is just one example I mentioned in my review of this, and another that I liked reading about in Shimmer is the idea that freeing yourself from your own mind and past is sometimes harder than freeing yourself from a jail. What does Bodhi mean? Can we look forward to reading more about Riley’s growth as a person and as a spirit in future books?
While the books don’t subscribe to any particular belief system, I do believe that we’re too often held prisoner to our own thoughts. Caught up in the incessant soundtrack of our minds, which just love to relieve past regrets, past betrayals, and whatnot—when really, the past is just that—past. Choosing to cling to it keeps us from moving toward something better.
As for Riley’s own advancement and growth—well, there’s no doubt that she has a long way to go. But she’s extremely ambitious, so if she can just learn to channel her emotions, and, on occasion, consider the advice of others, I’ve no doubt she’ll be to realize all of her dreams and then some!
What were some of the favorite things you liked to do as a child? Were you captivated by books at an early age, or did you come to it later in life? Who are some of your favorite kids’ and Young Adult authors who influenced you?
My mom was an avid reader, and she passed on that love of books to me. I was a total bookworm from an early age, and later, after my parent’s divorce, books served as a sort of refuge from a tough childhood and adolescence. It was after reading Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret that I knew I wanted to be a writer too, and after reading JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in high school, the dream was sealed.
You have such great characters in Shimmer; another one I really enjoyed reading about is the Prince. Who is he, what does he represent, and what does Riley do to save him from Rebecca? Will we read more about him in the future?
Oh, I loved writing Prince Kanta! For me, he represents wisdom, and acceptance, and forgiveness in its purest form. He’d managed to free himself of Rebecca’s trap many years before, but chose to stick around until all of his brothers and sisters were freed. He turns out to be a really great mentor for Riley, as he shows her how to free herself of her own anger, to live in a state of acceptance of the things she can’t change, and how to silence all of the mind’s endless chatter in order to find the small quiet space where negativity cannot exist. Once Riley masters this, she’s able to teach the others to do the same.
One final question: How long did it take you to write Shimmer ? Can you give us a glimpse about what the next book in the series, Dreamland, will be about? Also, do you have plans to write more books in the Immortals series, and if so, when might we expect the next one to be published?
While my debut novel, Faking 19, took 15 years to write (no, that was not a typo!), I’m happy to say that I’ve since found a much better plotting system, and Shimmer only took me 3-4 months. Though I should also say that writing is now my full-time job—one that I work at every day, all day, including most holidays and weekends!
In Dreamland (in stores 09.13.11), Riley goes in search of the place where dreams are created, and stumbles upon a boy who’s been manufacturing nightmares and sending them to unsuspecting dreamers. It was an especially fun story to write—and I really hope readers enjoy it as much as I did!
As for the Immortals, the sixth and final book, Everlasting, will be in stores on 06.07.11—and I have to say that typing “the end” was a bittersweet moment. I’d spent so much time with the characters over the past few years that they became very real to me—like imaginary friends—and I’m sad that their journey is over. Though I do think I’ve tortured them enough, so they definitely deserve a break from me!
And while the Riley Bloom series will continue with Dreamland and Whisper (April 2012)—I’m really excited to start working on my new YA series, Soul Seekers, set to debut in Summer 2012!
And . . .I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that the dramatic rights for all 10 books in the Immortals and Riley Bloom series have just been optioned by the amazing Summit Entertainment!!
Alyson, you gave some excellent answers to my questions! I really enjoyed doing this interview with you, and learning more about your life, your influences, and your writing! Congratulations on how rapidly Shimmer is rising up the bestseller list, and I and the entire staff here wish you continued success in the coming years!