An Indies Introduce New Voices Q&A With Makiia Lucier

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Makiia Lucier is the author of A Death-Struck Year (HMH Books for Young Readers), a spring 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices title and a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Lucier grew up in Guam and holds an MA in Library Studies with a specialization in literature for children from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in Moscow, Idaho.

A Death-Struck Year takes place in Portland, Oregon, during an outbreak of the Spanish influenza. As everything shuts down in the city, 17-year-old Cleo decides to ignore the quarantine placed on her boarding school and volunteer for the Red Cross.

“Challenging readers to think critically about what each of us would be willing to endure when the people around us are dying, A Death-Struck Year is a well-researched and amazingly written account of an event in American history that is often overlooked,” said Sara Hines of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

What drew you to write about the Spanish influenza outbreak after the First World War?

Makiia Lucier: I read a wonderful book by John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. But it was difficult to find more on the topic, especially when it came to fiction. How could that be, I wondered, when so many lives were affected? The lack of information bothered me. It made me want to dig deeper.

What do you enjoy most about historical fiction?  

ML: Historical fiction is a fantastic way to armchair travel. L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” And it’s true. With a well-researched story, anyone can experience life in the past without having to worry about the inconveniences and dangers — those nasty chamber pots, for instance, or a lack of penicillin.

What advice would you give a young adult interested in writing?

ML: Write, read, and daydream, of course. But it’s also important to finish what you start. Starting a novel is very exciting. But finishing it, wrestling that hideous first draft into something beautiful (or at least readable), takes courage and discipline and plenty of sweat.

A Death-Struck Year’s Cleo shows herself to be a strong character. Do you think there is a trend in YA to portray strong, independent female characters?

ML: I think there have always been strong female characters in literature. Anne Shirley comes to mind. Even Jane Eyre had the courage to walk away after that crazy wife debacle. I’ve always preferred reading about tough, resilient people, both male and female. Whether or not I enjoy a story depends on how much I care about its characters. And it’s very hard to root for a wimp.

Are you working on anything now?

ML: Yes. It’s still a little early to talk about in detail, but my next YA book should be cheerier than A Death-Struck Year. I think that’s safe to say.

When you travel, do you stop at bookstores? Any particular indies make a lasting impression?

ML: I can’t help but stop at bookstores; sometimes it feels like a compulsion. Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, always makes an impression. It’s so big they give you a map. And Nantucket Bookworks is a great place to visit if you’re planning a trip to the island. But my favorite indie is my own — BookPeople of Moscow. It’s a beautiful store, right on Main Street, and the people who work there — Carol, Jessica, and Nick — might actually love books more than I do.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three titles would you want to have with you?

ML: I’ve been meaning to finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Norton Book of Travel, and Moby Dick for decades. A deserted island might actually do the trick.

If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say YA readers just must read?

ML: I loved Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, about teens trying to survive an alien invasion. The characters are just as I described above — tough and resilient — and the pace is nerve-wracking. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

If you could invite three authors (past or present) to a dinner party, who would they be? What do you think would be the topic of conversation?

ML: Mark Twain, Diana Gabaldon, and Dr. Spock. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure our conversations would veer back and forth between racy and practical.

A Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier (HMH Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9780544164505). Publication Date: March 4, 2014.

Learn more about Makiia Lucier on

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