COURTNEY: Congratulations on your debut! What has been the most surprising or memorable thing about preparing “Mind Games” for publication?
SHANA: The most surprising AND memorable thing for me has been being chosen for August’s YA Book of the Month box! This has been a truly wonderful experience. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the Instagram and Twitter posts, getting tagged in stories, and having readers find my book who may not have otherwise heard about it!
COURTNEY: How did you choose your character names? My twin sister’s name is Arden, and it’s a name that is rarely found in books, so I thought that was really cool!
SHANA: That’s crazy that your sister’s name is Arden because it’s not even in the Top 1000 on the Social Security list! When I was in high school, I was a camp counselor and there was a little girl in camp with the name Arden. The name always stuck with me because I thought it was pretty awesome! When I was pregnant with my daughter, I’d narrowed down her name to either Quinn or Arden. We ended up going with Quinn and since she’s an only child, I decided to give my first book baby the name instead! As for Sebastian, I knew I needed a name with a nickname that started with a different letter to make it easier to differentiate between Present Sebastian and the version in Flashbacks, who I dubbed Bash. Fun fact: most characters’ last names come from building names at Syracuse University, my alma matter.
COURTNEY: What inspired you to write “Mind Games”?
SHANA: The reason I dedicated Mind Games to my dad is because he inspired me to write it. He loves sci-fi and often brought astronomy or Physics text books to the beach. Growing up, he would regale me wild theories about time travel, aliens, etc etc. At one point we created a crazy sci-fi idea that I never got to write back then. As an adult, I finally sat down to write it. Though the initial seed of the idea changed drastically, it still became the basis for Mind Games!
COURTNEY: How long did it take you to write the first draft?
SHANA: The first draft took about 3 months to write, but the revision process took a lot longer. Not including the revisions I did prior to working with Macmillan, my first editorial pass with my editor was a major overhaul where I rewrote probably 75% of the book from scratch. I removed subplots and replaced them with others. I combined characters. A major change was giving Arden more agency throughout the book. After that, there was another big round of developmental edits to clarify and move scenes around–I had most of act 3 in the wrong order and reorganizing it amped the tension and increased the stakes. And then finally there was a round of line edits to spruce up sentences. From start to finish, the revision process took approximately 9 months.
COURTNEY: Which character changed the most from the first draft to the finished copy?
SHANA: Zoey probably changed the most from the first draft to the final draft because she was originally two different characters, Zoey and Charlotte. It became clear during revisions that having two friends for Arden was distracting and unnecessary and so I combined them. Additionally, Teddy’s project was entirely different in the first draft as were his motivations. The original project is no longer in the book. I love the final version way more!
COURTNEY: Who would be your fan casts for a film adaptation? (C’mon A&E!)
SHANA: When I wrote the book, I pictured Vanessa Marano as Arden. I think Nick Robinson would make a great Sebastian–not exactly the right hair color but I think he could nail the role. For Zoey, maybe Dove Cameron and for Teddy, perhaps Trevor Jackson.
COURTNEY: Will we see characters from “Mind Games” pop up in any of your other books? (Or do they take place in the same universe?)
SHANA: My next book is THE CON CODE and sadly, no MIND GAMES characters pop up because it wouldn’t make sense plot wise, but I do like to think of characters existing in the same universe. My girls Arden and Fiona would get along great if they ever met up! They have a lot in common. One steals memories, the other steals art forgeries. Maybe one day I’ll write a short story featuring their meet up…
COURTNEY: Which scene was the hardest for you to write?
SHANA: Without being spoilery, the hardest scene to write was definitely toward the end of the book when Arden is in the motel room and realizes she’s going to have to make the hardest decision of her life. I knew the scene needed to hit the emotional punch and show enough that hopefully the reader feels as conflicted as Arden does. The other scene that was hard to write was the Epilogue, simply because I had to pack a lot of information in a very short space.
COURTNEY: Was there a scene that you absolutely loved that you had to end up cutting from the final draft? If so, can you tell me anything about it?
SHANA: I deleted a LOT of scenes over the course of writing this book. Probably more than a book’s worth of content. This includes entire subplot–like there was once time travel in the book! One of the saddest scenes I lost though happened very late during revisions. It was actually a subplot where Arden watches a party scene through several people’s eyes. Each time she watches the scene, she sees things from a new perspective and reveals a bit more info. I loved the idea of showing the same moment through a variety of different perspectives. Ultimately this scene got cut though because the scene was intended to show that Arden and Bash were in fact in a relationship and that knowledge was edited out of people’s minds. By the time this revelation came in the book, it was obvious to the characters and the reader anyway, so it wasn’t actually necessary to have a party scene to show all this. So now the only thing left in the book about this party scene is a quick mention by Sebastian when he watches one of Arden’s memories. I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to post this deleted subplot somewhere!
COURTNEY: Did you always know the decision that Arden was going to make at the end of the book, choosing between her past and her future? Or did you figure it out as the book progressed?
SHANA: I always knew this was the choice she was going to make and it’s what I wrote toward! In turn, I always knew the mystery solution before I even started writing! This helped me plant clues and red herrings throughout the book.
COURTNEY: Did Bash really sign a contract to participate in both parts of the projects, like Arden’s mom claimed at the press conference?
SHANA: Yes he did. When he signed the contract, this was what he wanted. He only backtracked on that desire later on.
COURTNEY: Did Arden’s dad know about Zoey’s plan to combine all three projects? Do you think he would have wanted to be brought back? In the memory flashback, I’m not sure if they were just talking about Teddy and Leo’s, or all three.
SHANA: I had to think about this one for a while! Here’s what I think: I think her dad only knew about her plan to combine Leo and Teddy’s projects. She only add Arden’s to the mix once Arden’s dad died and Arden’s mom was desperate to get him back. As for whether or not he would have wanted to be brought back–I don’t think he would have. Not like this. To have his cancer cured? Yes, definitely, but not to be replaced by a clone.
COURTNEY: How did you go about writing the reverse memories? Did you write them in order first and then transcribe them backwards?
SHANA: Yes–good catch! I wrote them forwards first to block out the actions and then I mapped out what the opposite of each action would be. I also tried to think of very visual scenes to convey what I needed to convey. The hardest part was reducing the dialogue down to as little as possible because these scenes worked best when they were mostly action, little dialogue.
COURTNEY: What (if anything) can you tell me about your next book, “The Con Code?”
SHANA: I’m so excited about this book! The Con Code is about a stealthy girl named Fiona who works with her dad (they have a very Veronica Mars/Keith Mars relationship) to track down clues her mother left behind in forgeries before she went on the lam. They hope the clues will help them find where she’s hiding. But when her dad is arrested, Fiona puts together her own crew to steal the remaining forgeries and find the last clues. Her crew involves an incredibly sexy rival con artist named Colin who has a vendetta against her (he was sooooo fun to write! So much banter!), her BFF named Natalie who can disguise herself as anyone and has a warped idea of right and wrong (poisoning someone = right!), and the Natalie’s love interest Tig: a girl who can hack into anything but can’t get up the courage to say how she’s really feeling. Together, the motley crew infiltrate a teen tour to lay low and must dodge the encroaching FBI, a nosy roommate, and counselors who enforce ridiculous rules they must conspire to break in order to perform the heists and find her mother.
COURTNEY: Anything else you’d like to add? (Questions/answers you wished I would’ve asked, etc.)
SHANA: This was a fantastic interview! Thanks for having me!!