Interview with Author Demetra Brodsky: The World of YA Lit and Writing Thrillers for Teens
Demetra Brodsky is the author behind the exciting, dark, and surprisingly funny new thriller Dive Smack, which releases on Tuesday, June 19th. Not only is Brodsky one of the most hilarious and down-to-earth authors I have had the chance of interviewing, but she is also very insightful, having plenty of advice for aspiring writers both young and old. Below I have included the highlights of our conversation at the Ontario Teen Book Festival as well as a short deleted scene provided by the author herself.
What first inspired you to write about diving and mental illness in your debut novel, Dive Smack?
The diving was inspired by a friend I had in New York who was an Olympic springboard diver, and I was always fascinated by Greg Louganis growing up. Diving as a metaphor for someone’s life spiraling out of control appealed to me. There aren’t that many sports books about springboard diving or water sports, and I wanted to bring something different into the marketplace.
The ADHD in the book is really inspired by both myself and my daughter. We put my daughter on this medication that I questioned. What if there was something different in these pills, something that had an opposite effect? Or [what if there was a] doctor that wasn’t a good person and was trying to do an experiment? That’s how those two [ideas] came together.
How much research went into the diving terminology used throughout Dive Smack?
So much research went into the diving [aspects of the novel]. I had [Dive Smack] proofread by Karen LaFace who was in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for the USA, and she said I nailed it; you can’t get a better compliment than that from an Olympic springboard diver. I had to learn the scoring: how they score, what they subtract, what they add, and what they are looking for. I know more about springboard diving than anyone afraid of heights should ever know.
How would you describe the writing and publishing process for your debut?
I started writing Dive Smack in 2011, and it’s coming out in 2018. I took feedback from a bunch of agents who were interested but didn’t think it was ready, and I wrote this book thirteen times, so it was a long, grueling process. I had actually given up on it and written something else, and I put this aside. But my friend who is also a writer, Robin Reul, was going on sub with a book and said, “Why don’t you sub with it again?” So I did a small revision on it and put it out on sub, and that’s how I found my agent.
Did you choose the title of this story, and were there other working titles during the process?
Yes. There were no working titles; I called it Dive Smack from the get-go. A Dive Smack is when a diver loses control of the dive completely and they land on their back. I thought landing flat on your back for something that you’ve done for your whole life was a good image for what happens to Theo when he finds out the truth about his own life.
Do you have a favorite scene from Dive Smack without giving away spoilers?
The title scene of the book when Theo smacks at the quarry with his friends. [This scene] is a good point for readers to see what’s really going on in his mind. I think it really brings everything [together]: the girl he loves, his best friend, and the stuff he is trying to hide from people. It’s like when you smack on water; you can’t hit the bottom, but it’s as close as a diver can get to hitting the bottom.
How would you describe writing from the point of view of a teenage boy?
I thank my high school friend for that. I’m kind of a smart aleck and kind of a punk. It was really easy for me. But strangely, he just came to me as a boy. It never [even] occurred to me to write this from a girl’s perspective. I just embodied Theo. I don’t think the things he’s going through are gender specific.
How did you balance the humor and intensity found in Dive Smack?
I feel like life is just a lot of things you just have to do and things coming at you. If you don’t make a joke, life can be a really sad thing. It can’t all be doom and gloom; you have to have that one character that is like, “It’s okay… we can go get whatever after this.” It’s just life; life doesn’t always have to be so dark.
Are you currently working on another book? If so, what details can you share?
I am working on another book. All that I can say is that it’s about alien abduction and a wilderness therapy camp. I love [this] book. And I’m also working on a proposal with my editor at Tor Teen about a book about siblings who are preppers.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
[Don’t] give up, and keep writing. Keep a notebook, and if you see something that you think is funny or strange, write things down that will help you. It is a very rare author that writes a first book and it gets published, so if an idea isn’t working and you love it, keep revising that story; learn, go to conferences, keep educating yourself.
Check out a deleted scene from Dive Smack:
Sinister laughter echoes above me as I walk across a red tongue carpet, entering the Fun House through a giant clown’s mouth. The ride seems all too anxious to suck me into its belly by way of a revolving barrel, flashing and spinning with lights. I bump into the moving walls as I stumble to the middle, trying to keep my balance. I pause and give the situation some thought. I bet if I turn to face the wall and run like a hamster on a wheel, I can really get this thing spinning. Not that I’d get anywhere. But isn’t that the point of that contraption, to make that tiny creature think he’s getting somewhere when he isn’t.
I find my footing and move toward a heavy black curtain at the end of the barrel where the ground is steadier. I look around, unsure what to do next. The circular edge of the barrel rotates and flashes around me like a hypnotic hula-hoop as I wait for a prompt that doesn’t come.
I push a heavy black curtain aside and take a peek; there’s only darkness. I didn’t expect it to be so dark. Neon graffiti spray painted on the walls tells me to Go Back. Beware. I stare at the warning and the paint starts to drip down from the letters. I take a step back; shaking my head, then move forward. A slack-jawed skeleton hanging from a noose drops to eye-level and my heart jumps into the hollow between my collarbones. Hundreds of tiny black spiders scurry inside its deep eye sockets. I yelp, stumbling backward, and the heel of my running shoe catches on the lip of the barrel. I fall, flailing my arms, and land on my back. The spinning wall rubs my skin raw, and I groan from the fiery pain. I’m too busy scrambling to my feet, fighting the ride’s persistent effort to turn me into a bingo ball, to care if anyone outside heard me. Once I’m on steady on the platform, I lean over to catch my breath. Then I push the clattering bones aside.
My heart thumps harder against my ribs as my mind starts playing to my fears: suffocation, isolation, and my greatest fear of all: fire. There are no visible exits in the adjoining hallway. My throat tightens. Is there enough air in this space? I hear heavy breathing and a heartbeat that’s not my own. Something bumps into me, pulls at my jacket, and I spin around.
A few pinholes of red light ray across the space like lasers. One wrong move and I might be sliced to bits.
I freeze and sinister laughter echoes from outside, mocking me, followed by a witch’s cackle.
It’s just a ride, I tell myself. A mindtrip, like Chip said.
The rays of light begin to retract and a reddish-brown demon illuminates on the far wall. Each vein in its massive, life-like wings pulsates with life as it rocks back and forth. I approach with caution, then startle when its holographic face morphs into a twisted version of my own.
I glance over my shoulder for an alternate way out, but there’s nowhere to go. The wall behind me has slid forward, leaving only a foot of space between my demonic reflection and me. The unyielding, sporadic laughter grates on me. I extend my arm, hoping to activate another door, and the holograph demon dissipates through my fingers like smoke.
The wall ahead opens with the metallic scraping of chains being dragged across the floor, daring me to step further into the abutting chamber.
I duck under a web that swoops low in the middle. Insects zoom around inside. I can’t see them, but the hum of their wings drones like the faint buzz of chainsaws. And then they stop—abruptly—as if ensnared by the web.
I stop, too, like another fly caught in the web of this awful ride.
Shattered mirrors plaster the walls, giving me insect vision. My slightest movements magnified by my hundreds of reflections, covering the walls in a Mackey collage. Organ music continuously pipes into the tight space, heavy and menacing, rumbling my chest.
I push a single shard of glass and it turns liquid beneath my hand and rushes down the wall. I turn and push the wall on the left and it melts too. Every wall I touch waterfalls, filling the space to my knees. I keep turning, looking for a spot that might trip the next passage, but water is already at my waist, quickly rising to my chest. My heart hammers in fierce beats in time with the music. I need to get out of here. I slosh forward; ready to push my way through a waterfall.
Until I see the fin. Gliding around in the rising pool. I freeze and it circles me until it’s created a vortex. Any minute now I’ll be sucked down the hole. Swallowed alive. I close my eyes and wait for the worst.
The sudden din of shattering glass echoes above me. My eyes snap open as the mirrored walls reappear, splitting open from the top like flower petals. Each one slides under the floor in an arc, cracking and groaning as rigidity fights flexibility.
The water retreats and the first thing I notice is that I’m bone dry. Limbs intact.
But not for long.
Grey fog flows into to the space from the cracks in the floor like poisonous gas. I look over my shoulder and see Iris through the haze. She’s about to slip through a passage when a hand reaches out and grabs her by the hair. I shake my head, wondering if it’s just another holograph, or maybe a distortion caused by my own reflection, my own hand reaching out. I’m no longer sure what’s real.
The organ dispatches a death march, several octaves below a round of tortured screams and the pounding of metal on metal. I hear my name being called through the racket and plow forward in that direction, searching for the passage Iris walked through. But there’s only a pane of mirrored glass. I turn back but nothing looks the same.
I start to crouch down to catch my breath and a curtain slides open, exposing the outdoors. Finally. I speed walk toward the light with sinister laughter and fog chasing me through the exit. Once I’m on the metal scaffolding outside, I grip the railing and take a huge breath.
Screw the Fun House.
“You look like you saw a ghost in there.”
I startle at the sound of Uncle Phil’s voice. He’s standing behind the trailer, sipping a cup of tea. The white tag floats in the air with a puff of his breath as he lifts the rim to his mouth
“I don’t know what the hell happened in there. But it wasn’t fun.”
Admitting that out loud to Uncle Phil makes me feel a little less nuts.
Shrinks are sort of like priests for the non-religious—nothing beats a good confession—but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to spill my guts. One step at a time.
“The fun in Fun House is something of a misnomer then,” he says.