By Fully Booked Staff Writer

Photo from AuthorPaulaStokes

Paula Stokes write stories about flawed characters with good hearts and in her recent novel, Girl Against the Universe, we are introduced to one of them—her name is Maguire. Find out more about her story as we chat with the author herself. 

FULLY BOOKED: To start off, here’s a challenge. Since you already wrote a full-length story of Maguire in Girl Against the Universe, we challenge you to boil it down to just one sentence. Okay? Go! 

Paula Stokes: A girl who has survived multiple bad accidents and believes she is bad luck to people around her works through her fears with the help of a therapist, her family, and some new friends at school.

What inspired you to write Maguire’s story? 

PS: I had a couple of bad things happen around me on a vacation I took back in early 2014 and, like Maguire, I experienced survivor’s guilt, though to a much milder degree. I kept thinking about what I could have done differently to prevent the accidents, and because I often work through personal pain and confusion in my contemporary books, eventually my contemplation turned itself into a novel 😉

Are there any similarities between you and Maguire? 

PS: Yes. I am also introverted and prefer the safety of hanging out alone to the “risks” of being social. I can relate to her fear of hurting others because I worked as a nurse for several years and used to have nightmares about accidentally hurting someone. I also often feel unlucky. I like books, I like tennis, I like rock-climbing, I like nice guys with great hair. As it turns out, Maguire and I are a lot alike.

What was your inspiration for Jordy? Did you decide from the beginning that Jordy would be a handsome and famous tennis player? Is he, in fact, a real person? 

PS: It’s funny because I specifically tried to describe Jordy as not a super-handsome guy (too tall, crooked nose, etc.) because I wanted him to feel attainable to the majority of readers. He’s also purposely never described as having nice abs or big muscles. Yet in all the reviews, people are describing him as this perfect boy. What I was going for is that you can be a little awkward-looking but have a personality that makes you stunning to people around you. I didn’t base him off any tennis players or celebrities or anything. I suppose he was inspired a little by a doctor I used to work with. I didn’t know this guy well at all, but he was tall and not traditionally handsome, yet he was this effervescent, funny guy and everyone loved him.

If Jordy weren’t a tennis star, what do you think he would turned out to be? 

PS: I totally see him teaching tennis to little kids or working as a personal trainer. I’m not sure if he’d be able to make it as a gym teacher because getting certified in education requires successfully completing a challenging four-year degree and passing a lot of exams, but I think that’s another job he would like.

In the story, it was mentioned that everyone is afraid of something, which rings true for us and probably everyone else who has read it. What are some of your personal fears? What are you afraid of the most? 

PS: The first things that come to mind are cancer and public speaking. While working as an oncology nurse, I witnessed first-hand the way cancer strikes all sorts of people. Some chronic illnesses can be avoided by eating right and exercising, but cancer doesn’t care if you’re doing all the right things, and that’s terrifying. Public speaking is a different type of fear, obviously, but it’s something I wrestle with a lot. Most authors probably feel butterflies the day before an event. I did an event in April that was set up last year and I was anxious about it for over six months.

A story that deals with sensitive topics like teenage anxiety needs a certain level of attention to detail. What sort of research did you do in order to describe Maguire’s situation? 

PS: I could write pages about this, but no one probably wants to read all that, so I’ll just give you the highlights 😉 My research started with introspection about my own anxiety—what does it feel like to have that gnawing nervousness that’s always there? How is it different with a panic attack? Then I reviewed the Master’s thesis on text anxiety in nursing students I wrote a few years ago, and the journal articles I used as sources. I did additional Internet research on anxiety, PTSD, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and survivor’s guilt, reviewing both academic articles and real-life stories. I checked out the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to make sure I wasn’t portraying anything inaccurately. I also did in-person interviews with people who have had CBT and then had medical professionals beta-read the book, doing further research according to their feedback. Finally I gave an early version of the ARC to a couple of book reviewers who talked openly online about struggling with anxiety and/or PTSD, just to make sure the book felt authentic and wasn’t unintentionally offensive.

What’s next for you? We heard you have a new novel coming out soon. 

PS: I do! My sci-fi thriller Vicarious is releasing from Tor Teen on August 18, 2016. And I’m working hard on revisions for my next HarperTeen contemp, which is scheduled to release next spring. Thanks for featuring me at Fully Booked! My readers from the Philippines are some of the most passionate, devoted, supportive people I’ve never met 😀 Someday, I hope to visit your beautiful country 😉 In the meantime, I love you guys!

Thank you, Paula! Before we let you go, we need to prove that you are indeed a human being. Would you mind taking a photo of yourself right now for your fans? 

Paula Stokes Fully Booked

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes is available at Fully Booked.

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