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Q & A with Mystic City Author Theo Lawrence

January 23, 2013

Today we welcome author Theo Lawrence to Random Acts of Reading. He joins us to talk about Mystic City, the first book in the trilogy set in a future New York in which much of the city is underwater, politics is a dangerous business, a rebellion may be on the horizon and star-crossed lovers must find each other. He’ll also share some thoughts about writing, music, snacks, and dachshunds.

Mystic City

What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

I loved S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I also remember thinking everything by Roald Dahl was both hysterical and frightening.

What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?                                                                                         
Probably that I trained for many years as an opera singer! I also have a mild obsession with dachshunds.


Dachshund coasters resting on one of my bookshelves

Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?

I do! You can find me on Facebook and I tweet as @tlawrencebooks. You can also visit me online at I love being able to interact with readers and other authors, and being able to share about upcoming book events or other things I’m excited about.

What has your favorite event experience been so far?

I had a fabulous time in Princeton, New Jersey recently with Elizabeth LaBan. It was a small event, but most of my family was there—including my grandmother—which made it very special.


My grandmother, Eileen Honigman, at the Barnes & Noble in Princeton, New Jersey

What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?

Probably adult murder mysteries. I loved to read inappropriately gory books under the covers with a flashlight. I remember reading Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and being scared for weeks afterwards. In fact, I’m still scared just thinking about it.

What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?

Swedish Fish. The red ones!

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I do, though sadly it’s not anywhere exotic. It’s just at my desk, which is in my bedroom. But it’s a very nice desk!

Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?

I usually listen to music right before I write, or while I’m revising. I actually have a Mystic City playlist—and here are a few selections from it:

“Cold War” by Janelle Monáe

I love the cool tones of Janelle’s voice, plus the funky beat of this song. The line “Do you know what you’re fighting for?” was something I thought about a lot as I wrote Mystic City.

“Love Is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse

For me, this is Davida’s song. The dark, sultry tone of Amy Winehouse’s voice never grows old. She is able to capture such heartbreak, and this is what Davida feels regarding Hunter, who loves Aria—not her.

“Us Against the World” by Coldplay

Toward the end of the novel, this is 100% how Aria and Hunter feel. Sometimes it really does come down how much you’re willing to fight for what you want when the odds are stacked against you.

“New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra

Although this standard was originally performed by Liza Minnelli in the Scorsese film of the same name, the Frank Sinatra version is my favorite. It celebrates the city of Manhattan . . . so it’s the perfect song to encapsulate Mystic City!

Do you plan to continue writing for teens, or do you think you might write for adults at some point?

I hope I always have the opportunity to write for teens. I am currently working on the sequel to Mystic City—titled Renegade Heart—and there will be a third book in the series after that. And then, who knows?

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

My advice would be … plot! The more you think about what your book is going to be about, and what events are going to occur, the easier it will be to sit down and write.

What inspired you to write Mystic City?

Mystic City was inspired by a trip to Venice. I remember thinking how beautiful the city was, and wondering what Manhattan would look like if it had canals instead of streets …

Can you give us a preview of Book Two, Renegade Heart?

Renegade Heart picks up a few weeks after the end of Mystic City. Even though Aria’s struggle to reclaim her lost memories is over, and she now remembers Hunter and their romance, Manhattan is basically going up in flames … a revolution has broken out and everyone is taking sides. Aria has to determine what—and who—she is fighting for.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thanks to everyone who has picked up a copy of Mystic City and enjoyed it. I can’t wait to share the next part of Aria and Hunter’s story with you soon!

In addition to the Q&A, we have a bonus from our author today—below you will find Theo’s “Walking Tour” of the New York of Mystic City.

Theo Lawrence: My New York

In my debut novel, Mystic City, the city of Manhattan is a character itself: this Manhattan is a magical, technological marvel. The rich and powerful live in the upper reaches of buildings—known as the Aeries—moving via bridges and magical “lightrails.” The poor live in the Depths, traveling the flooded roadways and tunnels—a result of global warming—via motorized gondolas, fearing and hating the ruling class.

Although much of the landscape in Mystic City is fictional, parts of Manhattan do make special appearances throughout the novel. I’m a native New Yorker, and some of my favorite spots in the city inspired certain locations in the book.

I’m delighted to take you on a little “walking tour” of my top ten Manhattan highlights:

1. Central Park

In a city with so much brick and glass, it’s a comfort to find a serene place full of greenery. I love to go to Central Park and sit out on the lawn or take a walk or run around the reservoir. In Mystic City, Central Park has been renamed the Magnificent Block, and it’s not exactly a place of grandeur: it’s where the registered mystics are forced to live in a ghettoized community. Check out Central Park when you visit New York and enjoy some relaxing time at the zoo or outside in the Delacorte Theater for a show.

2. Time Warner Center

In Mystic City, the Time Warner Center has been reimagined as the Circle, a shopping hub of several buildings enclosed by a glass dome to ward off the heat and connected by tiny bridges with mystic slidewalks that move beneath your feet. Although the actual TWC isn’t that high-tech, it is a great place to shop and have a few fantastic meals with your friends.

3. South Street Seaport

A historic part of Manhattan, South Street Seaport is near the lower tip of the island, where Fulton Street meets the East River. In Mystic City, Aria follows her servant Davida down to the Seaport and discovers a secret entrance to the rebel mystics’ underground hideout. While you might not find that if you visit the Seaport yourself, you certainly will discover lots of fantastic places, like the South Street Seaport Museum and the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse. During the summer the Seaport Music Festival attracts thousands of people.

4. The Upper West Side

Aria Rose’s family dominates this side of Manhattan. If you visit the Upper West Side, you’ll be able to take a serene walk along the Hudson River, stroll through the quad of Columbia University, stop off for a cool beverage at the West 79th Street Boat Basin Café, or even attend a concert at Symphony Space.

5. The Upper East Side

Aria’s fiancé, Thomas Foster, lives on the Upper East Side, along with his family and their supporters. If you were to walk these streets, you might attend a lecture at the 92nd Street Y, stop in to examine some art in an intimate setting at the Frick Collection, absorb some history at the Museum of the City of New York, or even rest your feet at the famous Pierre Hotel.

6. Lincoln Center

One of my favorite spots in Manhattan, Lincoln Center comprises several magnificent theaters, including the Metropolitan Opera House, one of the most famous opera houses in the world, which seats almost four thousand people; Alice Tully Hall, a fantastic concert spot; and the Walter Reade Theater, a movie theater used by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Other theaters present Broadway shows, ballets, and more. If Lincoln Center existed in Mystic City, I bet Aria Rose would have loved it.

7. Chelsea Market

Although Chelsea Market doesn’t exist in Mystic City, I draw on it for inspiration in Renegade Heart, the second book in the series (coming soon!). Chelsea Market is a food court, shopping center, office building, and TV production facility housed in what used to be the factory where Oreo cookies were first made! Go figure. I love going down to Chelsea Market on the weekends and taking a walk through the halls, visiting bookstores and card shops and tiny bakeries with delicious pastries.

8. The 86th Street Subway Stop

In Mystic City, the underground subway system has been abandoned, and this is where the rebel mystics who have refused to have their powers drained hide out from the government. In real life, the subways in Manhattan work properly. This stop is my favorite because it’s the closest one to where I live, but if you visit New York, any subway stop will do—go through the metal turnstiles, take a ride, and see where this silver bullet full of passengers will take you!

9. Grant’s Tomb

In my version of Manhattan, this historic place has been destroyed. But you can still visit it! One of my first apartments in Manhattan was right near the General Grant National Memorial, a stunning mausoleum containing the bodies of Ulysses S. Grant (eighteenth president of the United States) and his wife, Julia. For inspiration, I would visit the site and spend time in Riverside Park, sitting on a bench and watching passersby. The Hudson River is nearby, providing a beautiful landscape for daydreaming.

10. The Empire State Building

To get an idea of what some of the skyscrapers in Mystic City might look like, why not end your tour at the Empire State Building, certainly one of the most famous spots in all of Manhattan. Built in 1930, this 102-story skyscraper is located in Midtown and is an American cultural icon. It was designed in the Art Deco style and has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The beautiful floodlights that illuminate the building at night partially inspired the lightposts in Mystic City, where drained mystic energy is stored.

I hope you enjoyed this tour as much I did! And don’t forget to check out Mystic City


Many Thanks to Theo Lawrence for joining us today, I’m already looking forward to Renegade Heart!

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

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