by Cecilia Gray
Publication date: November 13th 2013
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
Take a journey into the gritty world of political espionage through the eyes – and lies – of one extraordinary girl. A wholly original tale of friendship and betrayal from the author of The Jane Austen Academy series….
Sasha has a secret – that she can make you spill your secret with nothing more than a question. Her strange gift makes her a burden to her foster family and a total freak of nature. Not that Sasha cares. Why should she when no one cares about her?
Then the CIA knocks on her door. They want to give Sasha a new identity and drop her into a foreign country to infiltrate a ring of zealous graffiti terrorists. They want to give Sasha something to care about.
To survive a world where no one is who they seem, Sasha needs to make people trust her. But when that trust blossoms into love, Sasha is forced to decide between duty and friendship, between her mind and her heart, and whether to tell the truth or keep her secrets.
Tell us about DRAWN.
DRAWN is about Sasha, a girl who has the strange ability to make people tell the truth and because of that ability, she's been abandoned by her parents and studied and used by the government. When the story opens, she's being reassigned to work overseas with an undercover CIA agent who has a daughter – Sasha's age – who doesn't know the truth about her CIA father or what Sasha does. Sasha has to use this girl in order to complete her mission and lines start to blur between her mission and her cover, between what is real and true and what is a lie, and what Sasha is willing to do in order to complete her mission.
It has comic illustrations at the start of each chapter, a fiercely intelligent and independent heroine and despite the paranormal bent to the premise, quite a bit of realistic spy craft.
You've also written The Jane Austen Academy series of lighthearted romance-heavy contemporary novels but DRAWN is a dark spy thriller – why the change?
I love stories about girlfriends and girl dynamics, so while The Jane Austen Academy series is romantic contemporary and Drawn is a spy thriller, both stories deal with complicated female relationships and navigating girl dynamics where you aren't sure how much of yourself to share or how much to trust new friends.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for DRAWN?
In Drawn, Sasha is assigned to find local graffiti artists and convince them do jobs for her so I took a how-to-graffiti class. It was taught by a real graffiti artist Jeremy Novy who does the coi fish sidewalk graffiti in San Francisco.
He taught negative stencil graffiti which finds the picture by spraying its negative space. So for example, if you want to stencil a donut, you would do it by painting what is NOT the donut. It's kind of a mind boggling thing for me because I'm a terrible artist and can barely draw what I want to draw, much less not draw what it is I want to draw.
It was also great to get a sense of the teaher's political feelings and priorities which came out a bit during class and that led me to read up on graffiti artists and watch a few documentaries. While Sasha isn't a graffiti artist, she interacts with some in the book and I wanted to represent their commitment to this way of life and self-expression.
It was also kind of fun, if nerve racking, to be incognito with a can of spray paint.
Drawn also takes place mostly in Brussels, Belgium and I lived there for a few years when I was the same age as Sasha. A lot of the culture shock she goes through is stolen straight from my life.
How did you get the idea for DRAWN?
Drawn has a real mix of inspirations. I wanted to write a spy thriller – that was first – and I wanted to write one because I like spy thrillers. I basically wanted Tom Clancy for teenagers, where there was a focus on the mission but also on the character.
My first draft for Drawn had her involved on the ground in infiltrating this foreign country but it became a little too unrealistic. I had to give her ground training that might be fun and exciting, but drew the story away from being a realistic contemporary to a more fantasize spy story. I didn't want Sasha to be good at martial arts or shooting people.
At the same time, I was developing a little bit of an obsession with graffiti. I live in San Francisco, and there are tons of beautiful graffiti displays around the city – particularly in the Mission District of San Francisco where two entire streets are set aside for graffiti. Sasha happens to not be very in touch with her emotions, so I got to thinking, what if Sasha liked to express her feelings through drawings?
Then, in real life, Egypt was underdoing political turmoil as a result of public reaction to graffiti. One of the subsequent riots even resulted in public takedown of their leader. Those three things combined nailed it for me – that Sasha would draw, that the government would want to take advantage of graffiti artists to incite political turmoil – and that these two elements would clash in Drawn.
Who did the illustrations for DRAWN?
Not me! I'm a terrible artist. I can't even draw a circle. The comic book illustrations for Drawn were created by Sherry Leak, an incredibly talented artist. I gave her the script as well as scene descriptions and she made all the sketches happen. I also think she did a great job of creating a bit of an unfinished look because the idea is that Drawn's heroine, Sasha, created the drawings herself in between going to school and working for the FBI, so they aren't perfectly polished and inked.
Is there a sequel to Drawn? What's next for you?
Drawn was imagined and written as a standalone, and I really like where I left Sasha at the end of the book, but I have had some grumblings for more stories in this universe so I could see doing a spin-off although I haven't planned one.
My next release will be the final two books in The Jane Austen Academy series and I'm also working on a dark contemporary thriller for 2015, which thankfully feels like an eternity away.
Cecilia Gray lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she reads, writes and breaks for food. She also pens her biographies in the third person. Like this. As if to trick you into thinking someone else wrote it because she is important. Alas, this is not the case.
Cecilia has been praised for “instilling a warmth and weight into her characters” (Romancing The Book Reviews) and her books have been praised for being “well-written, original, realistic and witty” (Quills & Zebras Reviews).
Her latest series of young-adult contemporary Jane Austen retellings was named a What’s Hot pick (RT Book Reviews magazine) and is a Best of 2012 pick (Kirkus Reviews) where it was praised for being a “unique twist on a classic” and offering “a compelling mix of action, drama and love.”
She’s rather enamored of being contacted by readers and hopes you’ll oblige.