Posted December 13, 2017
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September 12, 2017
Ever since sixteen-year-old Natalie Payson moved away from her hometown of Bernier, Maine, she’s had nightmares. And not just the usual ones. These are inside her, pulling her, calling her back, drawing her to a door, a house, a place, a time. Full of fear, full of danger. So this summer, Natalie’s going back to Bernier to face up to a few things: the reason she left town in the first place; the boy she’s trying hard not to trust; and the door in her dreams. But once she goes through the door, into a murky past, she’s entangled in someone else’s world. And only Natalie can help right the wrongs of both the past and the present. Breakthrough author Gillian French skillfully weaves together themes of small town bullies, unsolved murders, time travel, and the force of the spirit in The Door to January, the gripping paranormal YA thriller that just released last week.
Growing up in rural Maine led Gillian French to believe that the mystery of the past is all around. She uses her surroundings as a setting for her dark stories that often have a creepy twist. While she’s never seen a ghost, she’s pretty sure she’s heard ghostly footsteps in the night. French’s short fiction has appeared in various publications and anthologies. The Door to January is her second YA novel; her first being Grit from HarperTeen. French holds a B.A. in English from the University of Maine and is perpetually at work on her next novel.
We recently had the opportunity to interview her:
Q: There’s a time travel element to The Door to January we really liked. There was something strangely unsettling about Natalie’s trajectory from witness to participant. Not all time travelers can actually intervene in past events. How did you make the decision about whether or not your character should be able to affect past events, what you wanted your character to go through, and how the reader might be able to relate to this?
FRENCH: I knew I wanted to write a story about a modern-day girl getting the chance to right past wrongs; I think we’ve all wished we could go back in time at one point or another and change the trajectory of our own lives, but getting an opportunity to save the life of a stranger—while putting your own at risk—really intrigued me. I wasn’t sure how readers would respond to the shift from Natalie’s present-day POV to the flashback sequences, so it seemed vital that the intensity, “the realness,” escalate with each visit to the past. In the end, I hoped readers would be as invested in trying to change the timeline as Natalie is.
Q: Your first book, Grit (HarperTeen, May 2017), was a realistic novel, that Booklist praised with a starred review, noting your “keen plotting, evocative writing, and dynamic characterization.” We felt this was an excellent description of The Door to January, too, even though The Door to January is a paranormal story. You took some stylistic chances that we really enjoyed, including changes in perspective and dual plot lines. Did you start out with that intention? Or did you start the story, and then it sorted itself out as you wrote?
FRENCH: Thank you for the kind words! I never go into a book knowing exactly what’s going to happen; often there are big mysteries that reveal themselves in the process, and characters who come totally out of the blue and end up playing major roles. I’m not an outliner, and only occasionally use brainstorming or character sketches. The best part of writing a novel is the discovery, letting it take its own path—which is not to say I don’t agonize over the journey, too! The Door to January was the product of many drafts over many years, with lots of characters and plotlines torn out or drastically changed over time. With the guidance of my wonderful editor at Islandport Press, Melissa Kim, it’s now the strongest it’s ever been.
Q: Is there something about Maine and scary storytellers? The King of Horror himself lives there. Your novel reminded us of his legacy in American letters. Did any of his stories or books inform your writing when you wrote this book?
FRENCH: I am a huge SK fan. I went through his early stuff like a whirlwind when I was in high school and college, and The Shining remains one of my favorite books of all time. The character development is amazing, so detailed and powerful. When you grow up in Maine, Stephen King is just this larger-than-life force—a force for good, positivity, and humanitarianism. He really sets the bar for who an author should be to his community.