Today, I am delighted to be sharing an interview with Cylin Busby as a part of the book tour for her book Blink Once!
West is a high school senior who has everything going for him until an accident leaves him paralyzed. Strapped down in his hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, West is terrified and alone. Until he meets Olivia. She’s the girl next door—sort of. A patient in the room next to his, only Olivia can tell what West is thinking, and only Olivia seems to know that the terrible dreams he’s been having are not just a result of his medication. Yet as West comes to rely on Olivia—to love her, even—certain questions pull at him: Why has Olivia been in the hospital for so long? And what does it mean that she is at the center of his nightmares? But the biggest question of all comes when West begins to recover and learns that the mysterious girl he’s fallen in love with has a secret he could never have seen coming.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
I was working as a children’s book editor at HarperCollins when I came up with an idea for a middle-grade series. I took the idea to the my boss, and she said, “You should write this yourself.” At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a writer, but she saw the potential in me and encouraged me. The book I wrote at Harper was my first book!
It's really cool how you went from editing to writing a book! Previously, you've worked as an editor for several book publishing companies, and you've written for other genres other than YA before. How have your experiences influenced your writing?
When I worked in publishing, I loved editing YA novels. Then I changed jobs and became the Senior Editor at Teen magazine—writing articles and short stories for teens was a dream job for me, and I learned a lot about my audience, what they liked and didn’t like, by writing something new for them every month.
What inspired you to write the story of a patient with West's condition?
In the memoir that I co-wrote with my dad, The Year We Disappeared, he tells the story of his near-death experience and how it felt to be technically “dead” for a few moments. His story started me thinking about what happens when you are not on this Earth, or in your physical body anymore…especially when your body is being kept alive for you. What if you were a teenager, confused about life anyhow, not fully formed as person, and found yourself in that place where Dad was—somewhere between Here and There. And what if you weren’t alone….This thinking led to the idea for Blink Once.
That is an interesting topic to think about, and you did a wonderful job exploring it with West's story. What did you learn while researching for Blink Once?
It’s hard to answer this without revealing any spoilers, but I’ll try! I interviewed former patients who had a condition similar to West’s. I was amazed at the things they told me—what they remembered during their recovery, what they didn’t remember. I also spoke to several doctors who deal with paralysis and the current treatments. You’ll see in the acknowledgements for the book that lots of research folks are thanked; all of their stories lend an authenticity to the patient experiences in Blink Once that would not otherwise be there.
West falls in and out of consciousness, and he has large memory gaps. What kind of challenges did you face in telling his story while keeping it real and relatable?
Great question—this was one of the toughest aspects of this novel, putting all of West’s experiences in place around that twist in the middle of the story so that all the pieces come together. Some early readers of this book asked me, “Will teen readers be able to understand what’s going on here? It’s so complicated!” but I know from working with teens for many years that you should never underestimate YA readers—they are far more sophisticated than people give them credit for.
So true. Both West and Olivia landed in the hospital after a traumatic experience. Is there a particular reason why the two meet after having had these experiences?
I’ve found that people are drawn to others with similar experiences, even if you aren’t aware of it on the outset. It’s a common bond, an unspoken awareness of each other that serves as a basis for a relationship—in this case, West falls in love with Olivia without fully knowing her history, though you could argue that part of him does know, always knew, what she had been through and that drew him to her.
Many of the characters reveal another side to them as the story progresses. Is there a character that surprised you in particular?
Yes, the nurse who takes care of West, Nurse Norris. She is a sympathetic nurse, and cares deeply for her patients, so maybe it should not have surprised me when, at the end of the novel, she so willingly believes West and what he tells her about his experience while in the hospital. She embraces him and never doubts him, although everyone else in his life (his best friend, his mom, etc) all tell him he’s wrong and his memory is faulty.
I love Nurse Norris! She's an awesome person. What are you working on right now?
My new project is about to be announced, so I can’t say too much about it yet. It’s a Southern Gothic horror series, set in Tennessee. I hope my readers are something a little bit more spooky than Blink Once!
Oooo.... I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for interviewing with me, Cylin!
Since both of her parents were born in Maine, and she went to high school there, Cylin Busby thinks of it as her home state. She can also do a mean Downeast accent. She is the author of fiction and nonfiction books for young readers, numerous magazine articles and short stories. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.