Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands is afraid of everything—the dark, heights, the ocean—but her fearless older sister, Justine, has always been there to coach her through every challenge. That is, until Justine goes cliff-diving one night near the family’s vacation house in Maine, and her lifeless body washes up on shore the next day.
Though her parents hope that they’ll be able to find closure back in Boston, Vanessa can’t help feeling that her sister’s death wasn’t an accident. After discovering that Justine was keeping a lot of secrets, Vanessa returns to Winter Harbor, hoping that Justine’s boyfriend might know more. But Caleb has been missing since Justine’s death.
Soon, it’s not just Vanessa who’s afraid. All of Winter Harbor is abuzz with anxiety when another body washes ashore, and panic sets in when the small town becomes host to a string of fatal, water-related accidents in which all the victims are found, horrifically, grinning from ear to ear.
Vanessa turns to Caleb’s brother, Simon, for help, and begins to find herself drawn to him. As the pair try to understand the sudden rash of creepy drownings, Vanessa uncovers a secret that threatens her new romance—and will change her life forever.
Who is your favorite character from Siren?
I love them all, but Vanessa’s probably my favorite. I love how she struggles to be brave—how she HAS to be brave—despite fearing pretty much everything. I also really like Paige and Raina. Paige is so sweet and innocent and friendly, and Raina, her mother, is the exact opposite. I especially enjoyed writing their dialogue!
Why did you choose to contrast Justine and Vanessa in terms of fearlessness?
I liked the idea of Vanessa believing she could only survive scary situations with her fearless older sister by her side, and then learning the hard way that she could do it on her own. I also liked the idea that you can spend years thinking you know absolutely everything about a person…only to find out you don’t know nearly as much as you thought.
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
Besides Vanessa, whose fears were inspired by some of my own, not so much. This was a first for me, as almost every character in the Maggie Bean books is based on someone I know or knew growing up.
What part does the sea play in your life?
I’ve lived near water most of my life, except for the four years I spent surrounded by mountains in college. And during that time, I always loved going home for breaks so that I could go to the beach—even in the middle of winter! Now I’m lucky enough to live a short walk from a beautiful bay, and even have views of the water from our second-floor windows.
Are you as fearless as Justine? Or are you more like Vanessa?
I’m definitely more like Vanessa. I don’t like heights, I dread flying, and I slept with a nightlight until I was in high school. And despite having spent a LOT of time in and around water since childhood, I’ve developed a relatively new fear of creatures of the deep. This actually helped spark the idea for Siren.
Which character do you resonate most with, in Siren?
Vanessa, for all of the above reasons!
What was the message that you tried to get across to your readers with Siren?
I mostly want my readers to have a fun, gripping, exciting read, but if they come away with anything else, I hope it’s that sometimes, the only way to get over a fear is to face it head-on.
What would you have done if you were in Vanessa's place?
I hope I would’ve done exactly what Vanessa does! It’s hard to be sure, though…and I hope I never have to find out!
The cover is very beautiful. Did you have any input in it?
I’m so happy you like the cover! I do, too. That was all Egmont, my publisher. They had the idea of a watery face with silvery eyes from the day they bought the book, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.
What's the most interesting thing a reader has ever said to you?
I’ve received several emails and letters from Maggie Bean readers who said that Maggie’s story (about an overachieving, overweight ‘tween who tries to shed pounds while preparing to try out for her school’s synchronized swim team) either helped them feel better about themselves OR realize that a little kindness goes a long way. Which is just what I hoped Maggie’s story would do!
What’s up next for you book-wise?
Ruby’s Slippers, about a sweet ‘tween' who moves from Kansas with her old-fashioned mother to live with her hipper grandmother in Coconut Grove, Florida, will be out right after Siren. And in the meantime, I’m working on the Siren sequel as well as a fun new middle-grade idea.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Hunger Games! I read it in one sitting, and my personal copy continues to make the rounds among friends and family.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks so much for reading Siren—and for inviting me to participate in such a great interview!!!