Thursday, February 20, 2014

SP Library: Podium Finish by Beth Pond + Author Interview

Maybe I'm a nerd, but I like timing my reads to events, and holidays.  I read more romance around Christmas and Valentine's Day, and more horror around Halloween. It's just one of those things.

So, what could be better than featuring an Olympic themed novel during the Winter Olympics? Not much, if you ask me.

Podium Finish
by Beth Pond

With six months until the Olympic Games, seventeen-year-old Harper's life is pretty much perfect. She's fighting for the starting spot on Team USA Women's Hockey, and for the first time ever, she has a crush on a guy who likes her back. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world, until she runs a risky play at practice and breaks her knee, thereby sentencing herself to six weeks in a cast and possibly ending her Olympic dream before it even starts. 

For seventeen-year-old Alex, being anything less than the best is unacceptable. That's why, after a miserable debut season at the senior level, the former junior national singles champion switches to ice dance. Her skating partner, Ace, is an "all skating all the time" type of guy, which would be fine, if he'd stop keeping secrets about the real reason he and his former partner broke up. Now is not the time for second thoughts, but how can Alex skate her best if she can’t trust her partner…or herself? 

As the pressure to make the Olympic team builds, the girls must rely on each other, because if there’s one thing they both know, it's that the only thing harder than skating to the top is staying there.

Author Interview with Beth Pond

Can you give us the Twitter pitch (under 140 characters) of PODIUM FINISH?
I am terrible at twitter pitches! My publisher and I have been using the phrase “Skate like the whole world’s watching” and “The only thing harder than skating to the top is staying there” in our tweets. Those apply to both girls. If I had to do an individual pitch for each of the girls, Harper’s would be “Just when 17y/o Harper thinks she has her spot on Team USA hockey sealed, injury strikes. So does romance.” Alex’s would be “Caught between a micromanaging dad and a skating partner with secrets, Alex decides if she wants to medal, she must skate for herself.”

How would Alex and Harper describe each other in one sentence?
Harper would say that Alex is girly and would claim Alex’s half of the Olympic Training Center dorm room they share looks like a Pepto Bismol factory exploded. Alex would say Harper’s the smartest, most prude tomboy she’s ever met.

In the acknowledgements for PODIUM FINISH, you say that this story has been with you since high school. What about it stayed with you so long?
PODIUM FINISH was inspired by the 2006 Torino Olympics. Back then, I was a couple months shy of 16. I was truly excited about the premise and had absolutely no clue how many drafts and revisions a book actually goes through before it is ready for publication. Luckily, that initial enthusiasm for the story never faded. There were so many times when I thought I was “done” with PODIUM FINISH, but then I’d get more ideas about ways to improve it. I worked on other projects, but couldn’t get Harper and Alex out of my head. I think part of the reason I stuck with it so long was because I believed in the manuscript and felt I owed it to myself to stay with it. 

Was it challenging to write a novel with such an emphasis on athletics while still keeping the characters the central focus?
Sports have always been a large part of my life, so even though I’ve never competed in figure skating or hockey, I had plenty of personal experience to draw on. I know what it is like to be part of a team, to win, to lose, to pour yourself into your training. Capturing the girls’ athletic sides was easy for me, but even though sports are the heart of this story, it is also a story of friendship. Yes, they are elite athletes, but Alex and Harper face issues that plenty of non-athletes readers can relate to—meddling parents, first kiss anxiety, college applications, “frenemies,” etc. To be honest, when I started writing PODIUM FINISH, I was doing it for fun. I wasn’t really thinking about craft, so the early drafts were almost entirely focused on sport. Over time though, I realized I had to scale back on the sports scenes and bring the girls’ other issues to the forefront in order to achieve a more balanced narrative. It was a fun challenge, one that I believe helped me grow as a writer, as it taught me about subplots and complex characters. 

Alex and Harper have to rely on each other to hopefully make it to their PODIUM FINISH. How does their friendship affect their journey to discover themselves?
Part of what makes Harper and Alex’s friendship work is that they both understand how demanding the schedule of an elite athlete is; however because they compete in different sports, there is no rivalry between them. They genuinely support one another. Harper has her teammates, and Alex has her skating partner Ace, but sometimes after a long day, the person they need most is each other, someone who understands, but can also be objective. 

What's your favorite Winter Olympic sport to watch?
As much as I love figure skating and hockey, my favorite Olympic sport to watch is short track speed skating. I had to put it in PODIUM FINISH somehow, so I decided to make Harper's boyfriend, Rye, a short track speed skater. 

What about YA draws you to write it?
I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I was a teen that I realized I wanted writing to be part of my career and not just a hobby. Part of the reason for this came because I discovered some wonderful books during these years, books with vivid imagery, characters I could relate to and root for, basically books I couldn’t put down. As a teen, it seemed natural to write about teens, and even though I’m older now, I’m still drawn to writing YA. It’s a period of self-discovery, and there are so many story opportunities one can draw from that concept. 

Which YA book has affected you the most?
 It’s a bit of a cliché answer, but the Harry Potter series has affected me the most. I read the first book when I was in the fourth grade and couldn’t wait for the following installments. All of the Harry Potter books are stories that you could read many times and get something different out of the experience each time. 

What is your advice for writers planning a multiple POV story?
Voice is key with all writing, but especially when you are writing a multiple POV story. Harper and Alex have very opposite personalities, so most of the time creating distinct voices for them was pretty easy. Even so, getting the voices “right” took polishing. One of the best tips I was given pretty early on in the drafting process was to make a list of words and phrases that only Harper would use and another list for only Alex. This exercise was really helpful.

If you had to be stranded with only three books, what books would you bring with you? 
It’s going to sound like a weird list, but ON THE JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta, because it’s just such a lovely read, CATCHING JORDAN, by Miranda Kenneally, because it’s sporty and funny, and lastly, to throw a little nonfiction in the mix, THE BOYS OF WINTER: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A COACH, A DREAM, AND THE 1980 OLMYPIC HOCKEY TEAM by Wayne Coffey.

And the most important question: what's your favorite flavor of cupcake?
I recently had chocolate chip cookie dough flavored cupcake. It was delicious, but incredibly rich!

About The Author: Beth Pond

Beth Pond graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Hendrix College in 2012. In 2013, she taught in South Africa for 9 months as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grant. Pond is currently completing her coursework at the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing MFA program. Her debut novel, Podium Finish, was released by Astraea Press in November 2013. When she’s not writing, Pond enjoys martial arts (she’s a 1st degree black belt) and serving as a volunteer coach for her brother’s special needs baseball team.

Author Links
Twitter: @BethPond90

Thanks for stopping by today Beth! 

Kristen is the co-founder of Pen and Muse Press, and mostly writes YA + NA.  You can find her at Twitter (likely discussing author marketing, bacon or book boyfriends), Facebook, or her website

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