Q&A with Shelli Johannes-Wells: Author of Untraceable
Untraceable – A new young adult wilderness thriller with a missing father, a kickbutt heroine, and of course – two hot boys. To Be Released: November 29th
Enjoy this Q&A with the lovely author herself, Shelli Johannes-Wells, in which she tells you all about the characters: the good ones, the smelly one, and the cute ones. And look forward to my full review of the YA thriller soon!
How would you describe Grace as a character?
Grace is independent, caring but awkward. She connects with nature more than she does with people. She’s a total introvert and would be happy alone for days at a time.
I will say she is impulsive and annoyingly reckless. Exactly like I was as a teen. I didn’t think about the effects of any cause. I didn’t think of consequences, I just did dumb stuff and got lucky. That is Grace. She acts and then thinks.
But no matter what she does, her heart is always in the right place.
How would you describe Wyn as a character?
Wyn is a city boy stuck in a country world. He is very social (unlike Grace) and wants to get out of his small town and go away to school. He’s loyal and adorable. Wyn is not hot cute – he’s cute cute. The one that slides under the radar for a while. The guy you miss at first but somehow starts to shine later. He loves Grace but doesn’t want to lose their long friendship. He tries so hard to not like her, which I find sweet. He is definitely NOT a nature boy. He hates bugs and mud and to sweat J
Are any of your characters based on real people?
I plea the fifth.
Just kidding – there are pieces of everyone in my life in that book.
For example my hubby is from England and loves the woods. Sometimes I think if he didn’t have me and the kids – he would go and live out there like Mo. He’s been on excursions in Africa and ice climbing in Switzerland. He can make a fire out of nothing and flyfish for days with no one around.
Are there any similarities between you and any of your characters?
Sure I think most writers have pieces of themselves in their characters. Am I Grace? No. But I have traits of her. I am a little awkward in social situations (or at least I FEEL awkward though it may not show). I am impulsive when it comes to helping someone. I’m not as much of a nature girl in that I would never live out in the woods but my heart connects with nature and animals. And it bothers me when they are not respected or taken care of.
I also think I’m snarky like Grace, which isn’t always a good thing.
Was it a struggle to write from the point of view of a character who is in the midst of the grieving process?
Not really. I’ve had times where I was rock bottom and getting Grace there was therapeutic for me in a way. When I’m sad – I have sad moments but I always try to pick myself up. Grace does that too. As long as I am doing something productive, I can move through the grieving process a little faster. I’m also at a stage where my parents are getting older so I feel that panic under the surface of losing them someday – I pulled on that feeling of panic.
Grace knows a ton about the forests, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Did you put a lot of researching into making her knowledgeable, or are these hobbies of your own?
My husband LOVES the outdoors. Since I’ve been with him, I’ve really connected to nature again because we take the kids out into nature. So I have to pretend I want to be out there. But once I’m there, I have a blast and connect to myself in a way that has been lost in this technology world. I don’t think like a nature girl but I can be a nature girl if you stick me out in the wild (well, as long as there aren’t bugs or bears J)
I did my own research on wilderness survival, took flyfishing classes, and we have spent a lot of time in those mountains with the kids. Though I have never seen a bear – thank goodness.
But at the end of the day, I must admit – I don’t like to get dirty or be uncomfortable. J
Did you enjoy making Grace into a tomboy, instead of girly girl? How do you think your readers will relate to this kind of heroine?
Well, I’ve always been a tomboy. When my friends were doing nails and hair, I was out playing football and soccer. Don’t get me wrong, I always WANTED to be the petite girly girl but when I tried I ended up being “Awkward Tomboy Pretending to be Girly Girl.” So it didn’t fool anyone and I was just plain uncomfortable – until I was outside, playing sports with my brother’s friends, or bumming in jeans.
I’m not sure how teens will react. I’ve been told by editors that teens won’t connect to Grace as this tough girl unless she is in a dystopic world or have magical powers. I have always disagreed with that. I personally think girls can be a tomboy and feminine all at once. And I think there are girls out there like that. Grace likes pink, she likes boys, and she likes to shower. She’s not a woodland creature but she does love them and appreciates the simple things in a world that is consumed with distractions. She doesn’t crave computers or cell phones – she can use them but she loves nature and can take care of herself.
So I hope readers appreciate her – Grace is different but she is real. She’s all contemporary in a dystopic and paranormal world. I just wanted to create a strong girl character that could be strong in today’s world.
What would you do if you met Skyler in real life?
Oh gosh – I have met so many Skylers in my life. It’s every snobby girl that didn’t like me because I was different. The girl that seems to have everything. The one you always feel is prettier, smarter, and has it all down pat. But later find out – is so insecure, she can’t help but be mean. I think teens will see that Skyler doesn’t always get her way.
Skyler will have a much bigger role with Wyn in the next book. At one point, Grace will have to take care of her, which is so funny (though Grace doesn’t think so). We will see that Skyler is just as insecure as Grace. She just hides it well. So Grace actually feels sorry for her in some small way.
Did you enjoy giving the villains of your book bad BO and embarrassing speech impediments?
What’s funny is I have met those 2 guys in the backwoods of Georgia and North Carolina. They are villainous but so real. What makes them scary is that they really feel justified in their actions against nature and against Grace. Which to me – is what makes them extra scary. I remember watching the old movie Deliverance and being scared of those men in the woods because they had no rules out there. IN the wilderness, people become wild, they lose sense of reality, and they revert back to primal days. When someone doesn’t care or thinks they can do what they want and get away with it, they are so haunting to me. Monsters don’t scare me but uneducated people do.
Al and Billy were fun to write. But they are based on real guys.
Who would your dream cast be for Grace, Wyn, and Mo?
That is hard for me to pinpoint down.
I can tell you who I had in mind look wise. When I write, I look for pictures of people that remind me of my characters and hang them on my writing wall. I get photos of bad guys and settings so the book is pictorially there with me.
I’m not sure of age or the toughness – but Zooey Deschanel reminds me of Grace in many ways. How deep her voice is, how awkward she is, and how she looks.
I always pictured Wyn like Shia Labeouf especially his character in Transformers. I loved how Sam was tough but would always scream like a girl first – even before the girls. I never thought Shia was that cute until I saw that movie. By the end of the movie – I thought he was hot. That’s Wyn – you don’t look twice but he grows on you b/c he’s funny and sweet and makes you laugh because he thinks he’s tough but he’s really not.
Mo – I always pictures a mix of Hugh Jackman and Brody Jenner. I know sounds crazy but it was what I had in mind. My hubby is English so when Mo talks – I hear my hubby in my head. Everything Mo says, my husband has said to me at some point. So it was easy to get the voice down.