One of the books I enjoyed reading lately is The Crowd by Alleece Balts. Today, Alleece joins me to talk more about what inspired her to write The Crowd and what we can look forward to when Ella’s story continues in The Journey.
ME: I find that a story is often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write The Crowd?
ALLEECE BALTS: What if you found yourself the victim of bullying, but not at the hands of just one mean kid – what if an entire school was against you? What could you do on your own? That’s a pretty heavy subject matter, but I didn’t necessarily want to write an angry or brooding book because I feel like there are already a number of dark books out there that deal with bullying. So for The Crowd I really strived to write something entertaining that was a little lighter and more approachable but still got readers thinking about the topic of bullying and what they – as an individual – can do. We also tend to focus only on the victim and the bully in those situations and I wanted to look beyond that to the bystanders and onlookers witnessing bullying who often have more power than they think. There are a lot of young people and even adults who possess the social capital necessary to stand up for another person, or change the subject when faced with gossip, or question a racist, sexist or derogatory “joke” and break the cycle of bullying.
ME: I think you’re right – that’s a really heavy topic, and a really important one. You definitely managed to address issues of bullying without letting the story become dominated by those darker elements. I liked that there was a lot of lighter content. One of my favorite characters was Ella’s Aunt Meg. What inspired you to create her or include her in the story?
ALLEECE BALTS: I think there is a little bit of the writer in every character and Aunt Meg was such a fun character to write for that reason. I am a big tea drinker (with a growing obsession with sweet tea) and Aunt Meg always seems to have a steaming cup of tea in her hand. Also like me, Aunt Meg enjoys a quiet life. It was interesting to imagine how I would react if a teenager showed up unexpectedly on my porch and announced that she had come to live with me! Throughout the story, I really wanted to show how Aunt Meg and Ella’s relationship progressed from that first moment on the porch to them slowly becoming at home with each other. Not only did Ella grow through that experience, but Aunt Meg did as well – at a time in her life when she probably thought she was done developing personally.
ME: That’s a good point, and I think it added a lot of depth to the story to have that relationship between characters develop like it did. Do you have a favorite character? Were there things about your favorite character which couldn’t be included in The Crowd?
ALLEECE BALTS: It is surprisingly difficult to pick a favorite! But in telling the story, I was able to share a lot about each of my main characters. There is more to Ella, Jack, Lucas – and even Aunt Meg – than initially meets the eye when we first see them on the page. Just like in real life, there may be a moment in your past or a certain way you look or place where you’re from that defines you to those around you – fair or not. Whether you’re seen as a criminal or a nerd or a playboy, it can be difficult to scrub those past labels off ourselves and be accepted for who we truly are now. It was an interesting challenge to slowly reveal each character to the reader and adjust the expectation of who that character was. Also, one great thing about writing in a series is that I have the opportunity to continue to grow and expand my characters as they encounter new trials.
ME: Very true. I’m interested to see where the story takes the characters next! Do you have a favorite scene or moment from The Crowd? What makes it special to you?
ALLEECE BALTS: Although it isn’t an especially intense or dramatic scene, one of my favorites is a chapter towards the middle of book where two characters are making Christmas cookies together. As they cut and frost the cookies, they each describe some of their yearly family traditions like singing carols or reading A Christmas Carol. It is a really sweet moment of openness between the two of them, and it’s special to me because I share some of those same experiences with my own family. I know that many of those traditions may not mean a lot when you’re young, but as you get older, those memories will become very precious – particularly if you have lost someone associated with those memories.
ME: Yes, definitely. Sometimes those heartfelt moments are just as important as the big conflicts. Are you working on the sequel to The Crowd at this point? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ALLEECE BALTS: Yes, I am about 230 pages into the sequel, The Journey, which I’m hoping to release in December 2016. The original story for The Crowd was actually what will be the plotline for the first two books. When I began writing The Crowd, it became clear that it was just too much for one book. Then, as I was working on the second book, the idea for the third came to me, making it a trilogy. The series may end up being longer, depending on where the characters take it. We’ll see!
ME: Yay! It’s always fun to read more about characters we fall in love with. I’m excited to see where you take the second and even possibly third book. A lot of your readers probably have questions, too. What is one question about your novel you are often asked by your readers?
ALLEECE BALTS: The question I get the most from people who have read the teaser at the end of The Crowd is “When can I read the sequel???” But, beyond that, music is a big part of the book and I’ve had lots of inquiries about song lyrics from the band Wicked Youth, and readers have been especially curious about the lyrics to Songbird. I will say that there are some lyrics in the manuscript of The Journey so a few of those questions will be answered in the next book.
ME: Yes! I wondered about the lyrics, too. I loved the way the song was used in the story. It will be great to see those in the next book.
Alleece Balts is an American YA fiction author best known for her debut novel, The Crowd, the first in a trilogy she is currently penning.
When she’s not writing, you can find her studying the Bible, reading a novel with a strong heroine, or drinking (another) chai tea.
Alleece lives in Minneapolis with her cheesehead husband, three sticky children, a spoiled cat, and a shamelessly flatulent dog.
Find out More About The Crowd by Alleece Balts
Whitfield Preparatory Academy ought to be the perfect school…
Not only does the Academy boast a distinguished faculty and lavish campus, it is also home to the privileged youth of the upper class. They will one day hold the reins of power in the business world and political arena – but for now, they exercise absolute authority at the Academy.
For seventeen-year-old Ella Parker, acceptance into the prestigious Academy is a dream come true. But her delight quickly turns to dread when she finds herself in the crosshairs of an elite group of ruthless students dubbed “the Crowd.” Ella’s been at the center of unwanted attention before – but never like this – and she’ll do anything to make them stop. Anything, that is, apart from accepting the advances of popular and wealthy playboy Jackson Montgomery, the leader of the Crowd.
Will Ella be humiliated, or triumph over her tormentors?
An irresistible story of faith, friendship, betrayal, and romance, The Crowd will immerse readers in Ella’s tumultuous struggle from the very first page.