I’ve featured Tom Leveen before, and he always has such super-smart things to say. So when I found out his new book SHACKLED came out August 18, I immediately ordered it for my library system and contacted him for an interview. Have a look:
Sixteen-year-old Pelly has a master plan. After years of therapy, medication, and even a stint in a mental hospital, she’s finally ready to re-enter the world of the living. Pelly has been suffering from severe panic attacks ever since her best friend, Tara, disappeared from a mall six years ago.
And her plan seems to be working, until an unkempt girl accompanied by an older man walks into the coffee shop where she works. Pelly thinks she’s seen a ghost, until the girl mouths “help me” on the way out, and Pelly knows she’s just seen Tara.
Too shocked to do anything, Pelly helplessly watches Tara slip away again as she steels herself against a renewed spiral of crippling anxiety. But rather than being overcome by anxiety, Pelly feels more energized than she has in years. Determined to track down enough evidence to force the police to reopen Tara’s file, Pelly’s master plan takes a turn for the dangerous.
Pelly decides she cannot be shackled by her past—and the anxiety, fear, and grief that comes with it—any longer if she wants to save Tara. But in seeking answers through whatever means necessary, she’ll come face-to-face with true evil. And not all the shackles are in her head…
Tom was also kind enough to answer some follow-up interview questions:
I love that you’re addressing PTSD issues in SHACKLED. What inspired the story, and what do you hope teens gain from reading it?
The suspense/thriller aspects of SHACKLED were originally inspired by a strange dollhouse display at the library where I used to work. It had a furnished attic…but no way to get to it. I thought that was an odd detail to be left out, and imagined two people noticing it and talking about who might be secreted away in such a place if the dollhouse was a real house somewhere. That led to a story about a girl being kidnapped while running away from home and finding this part-time library job, which ultimately morphed into the plot of SHACKLED. As for the thematic elements of Pelly’s psychological issues, those are completely based on my own experience. After a lifetime of distressing and disruptive symptoms, I’ve finally been diagnosed with PTSD stemming from some things that happened in childhood; additionally, I had a severe panic disorder for many years in my twenties which has since mostly resolved. Combining those two elements is where the novel finally sprang from.
The greatest stories are derived from personal experiences–and you always bring such unique perspectives to your work. Your last book, RANDOM, had a brilliant tagline: “Not guilty doesn’t mean you’re innocent.” In what ways does this relate to Tori’s story, and how did it develop as you wrote it?
The thing about RANDOM that I wish I’d made more clear at the outset is that Tori is, in literary terms, the villain of the piece. She is certainly the protagonist, but she is also a villain. She refuses for most of the novel to accept her role in a tragedy, like so many people do. Whether or not a court would find her guilty of a crime is one thing; whether or not she’s morally culpable – whether by action or inaction – is another thing altogether. I did not set out to write a novel about the redemption of a bad guy, and it’s “easy” to write from a victim’s point of view. I was interested in getting into the head of a villain and trying to figure out her motives. Tori is very young and has a lot to learn; I think the story of RANDOM is only the first step in her learning to accept the wrongs she’s done, and how and why she can make better choices in the future.
I like that she doesn’t fit into any particular mold–I think that’s what makes your protagonists so compelling. In our last interview, you mentioned a possible supernatural YA in the pipeline. How has that project developed since?
Yes! I’m happy to announce that my novel HELLWORLD has been picked up by Simon Pulse for a Fall 2017 release. It basically asks the question, What happens if all literal hell breaks loose and there’s nothing you can do about it? A group of teens goes looking for their ghost-hunting parents who went missing five years ago and inadvertently open up a hellmouthy kind of portal that unleashes Lovecraftian monsters into the world. Thematically it’s about how we deal with things that we cannot control, like illness or other tragedies. Apart from that, it’s a pretty scary horror story!
Oooh, sounds fantastic! Thanks, Tom, for yet another excellent interview!