Young Adult: When did you decide to start writing?
Tonya Hurley: I don’t think there was ever a specific point in my life when I decided to write. I always loved storytelling as a child. When I was in kindergarten, I discovered Maurice Sendak. I would check out Where the Wild Things Are every week from the library. We didn’t have much money, so at the end of the year the librarian gave me the book as a gift. I memorized the words by this point, so I put masking tape over them and made up my own stories to Sendak’s illustrations. I still have the book with the tape over the words sitting on a shelf in my office. I went on to study writing in college and then screenwriting at NYU. Professionally, I thought I’d probably be a screenwriter and that was really how I got started — writing for film and TV. ghostgirl started out as a film script and was optioned by Tribeca Productions – Robert De Niro’s company. I found that I couldn’t stop writing the story, and so the ghostgirl series was born. I’ve been focused on YA fiction ever since.
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YA: Tell us a little bit about your latest work.
TH: The Blessed is the story of three wayward Brooklyn teenage girls, an epic storm, a shuttered church and a mysterious guy. A sort of reimagining of the ancient martyr tales of Agnes, Cecilia and Lucy. The story is set in modern-day Brooklyn. At its core, I think it’s about some very universal themes: identity, self-acceptance and the power within each of us.
YA: What are some of the qualities in your latest work that set it/you apart from what’s currently our there on the market?
TH: I am not interested in re-writing someone else’s book. I couldn’t do that if I tried. I just write about things that fascinate me and mix it with a dose of real life grittiness. The Blessed is dark, edgy and violent at times, but only in service of the story. It’s not a theological thriller, but faith does play an important role in the narrative, which I guess is considered controversial for the young adult genre for some.
|YA: What attracts you to the Young Adult genre specifically?
TH: Teenagers tend to think and act with such urgency. Drama permeates every part of their lives. Their emotions are so close to the surface as they try to make sense of who they are, who they aren’t, and their place in the world. The funny thing is, we spend our whole lives trying to figure these things out, but for me, it all seems to start in the teenage years. They are the best of times and the worst of times. I also love the passion and honesty you get from teenage readers.
YA: Who would you count among your strongest influences, and why?
TH: Most of my heroes come from music and I’ve even been lucky enough to have worked with some of them. I guess I would list Patti Smith, Paul and Jane Bowles, Tim Burton, Laurie Anderson, Edward Gorey, Sylvia Plath, Oscar Wilde, Gilda Radner, Andy Warhol, Miranda July, Karen O, The Cure, Wes Anderson, William Burroughs, Wes Craven, Edith Head, Stephen King, The Sex Pistols, The Smiths, Alexander McQueen, Hitchock… I could go on and on. All of them are originals, I think: storytellers with something meaningful and original to say.
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YA: Do you have pursuits outside of young adult fiction?
TH: I write and direct for film and television and have been fortunate enough to create two TV series and see a few of my shorts screened at major festivals around the world and on television – PBS, IFC. I completed a stop motion program in NYC, and I’m in love with building and shooting my own armatures. I am a very visual person.