Author Lillian Graves wrote her first story — a piece of Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction — at the tender of eight. Having spent numerous play dates watching boys play video games, she began asking questions about the characters and the worlds they inhabited, and to pass the time, started to script out the missing pieces of the storylines. Along with a childhood friend, who illustrated the stories, Graves would read her literary creations to her neighbors in exchange for milk and cookies.
In her teenage years, Graves turned to poetry, then essays and reviews. And in September of 2014, she published her debut novel, Figure 8, a dark crime thriller about honor and revenge.
I was brought up in a small town environment, where everyone knew everyone else. Unfortunately, my street only had two houses with children, all of them boys, so I was semi-forced to be a tomboy at a young age. It made me tougher. I learned to skateboard off of ramps, climb trees, make explosives, play video games, and not scream when I stepped on random Legos.
How have you and your writing evolved over the years?
Tremendous leaps and bounds. I will explain with an analogy because it will be shorter. We all remember the day we found out we are actual good at something, making us that special snowflake we always dreamed of being. That’s the same feeling as getting a new pair of shoes as a child. You lace them up real tight and make sure to avoid any puddles or mud. And then something happens. You step in your first dog poop and it smells bad.
That dog poop is the day you realize your writing is complete crap, or you detect your first major undetected plot hole, or receive your first rejection letter, or see your first negative review. Each manuscript will be another pair of shoes, but somehow it will always step in poop. The dog poop is inevitable.
We learn being a special snowflake isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Sometimes, I spend whole days digging the dog poop out of my shoes but I learned to do it with a smile — my best skill yet.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
I read very widely so this is a difficult question, but I am a huge fan of Janet Evanovich. I also devour anything YA. But outside of writing and reading, my biggest creative influences come from traveling — seeing different walks of life is so inspiring and refreshing to me. Any chance I get, I travel. My favorite places thus far have been Florence, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland.
What was the inspiration behind the story of Figure 8?
I meet a lot of people in my travels and daily life (commuting in NYC is a plethora of material), so a lot of my inspiration is from observing people. The direct inspiration for Victoria came from a girl I knew growing up. She was hard and reserved yet when you showed her bits and pieces of yourself, she would become the most caring, helpful person. Beneath the hard exterior she’d built to protect herself from life in a broken home and an addict father, all she wanted was to love. She was put on this earth to love others, but life got in the way of her being able to express that to people.
Thus, I wanted to show how hard life would be for someone who’s buried too deep in other people’s lies.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Figure 8?
The most challenging aspect of Figure 8 was writing Casey. Writing about loving an addict struck really close to home for me and it was difficult to dig into those emotions. I found subplots helped relieve that stress in between scenes with Casey and Victoria’s relationship.
What made you decided to self-publish this book and, from your perspective, what were the pros and cons of doing so?
I decided to self-publish mainly because I was tired of spinning my wheels. In order to grow, you have to get feedback and have other people read your work. I wasn’t getting that from the agent query process. So I stopped querying to dedicate more time to beta readers and critique groups. It restored my love for writing and made for a more positive, healthier lifestyle.
How much of yourself is there in Figure 8‘s protagonist?
Not much. I wish I was as mouthy, bad ass, and downright rude as she is at times, but my quiet demeanor would make me feel really guilty really fast. I think female authors have a tough road — we have to fulfill a certain level of femininity and love in our characters, and sometimes through editing and rewrites, their caring and empathy completely overpowers who they are. What we are left with is a girl who is madly in love and a few flaws/skills that aren’t fully fleshed out. I didn’t want to leave those behind with Victoria. I wanted her to be a real person who struggles but also loves.
In the movie version of Figure 8, what song plays during the closing credits?
Oh wow, what a question. I feel like anything Ellie Goulding could fit really well, but I’d be a fool to not say Lana Del Rey would weasel her way into that audition as well.
What does your writing environment look like?
I am a simple girl – my writing environment is usually a tall coffee and a computer. If people are too noisy, I add headphones to the mix.
If you could take a few weeks and go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
If I have infinite funds, I would love to sit in a Bora Bora hut and write my heart out. But if we are being reasonable, I would equally love a trip to Australia. That flight is brutal from New York, but I heard it is well worth it.
What are you working on next?
I have a YA supernatural series debuting in November, called The Unfortunates, about those who die unfortunate deaths having the chance to earn a second life by committing random acts of kindness. The book includes some difficult topics, such as an interracial couple struggling with acceptable and an autistic canon character. I am very excited to share this story — I’ve been envisioning the world for so long I practically live in it!