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Spotlighting: AJ Paquette

via the author’s website

No matter a person’s past, they always have the power to shape their destiny. This is the lesson I took away from A.J. Paquette’s powerhouse novel, NOWHERE GIRL. A little slice of one scrumptious YA pie, NOWHERE GIRL is chock full of tension, while at the helm of the novel is the power of a secret and the redemption of love.

Paquette shares what inspired NOWHERE GIRL, how darkness can breed light, and why character is vital to any great story.


Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she's ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she's always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.

What inspired you to write about a girl growing up in a Thai prison? It’s such a unique and surprising idea.

The early inspiration came from reading a mention in a news article of a young boy who had grown up with his mother in such a prison. That idea lodged itself in my head—how would this kind of isolated upbringing shape and mark a child who grew up there? Of course, there are many ways in which this could have been a much darker story than it ended up being; I consciously gave my character a somewhat idyllic slice of this macabre world. My intent was not to focus on her past and its many lacks, but on how this young character could experience such a turbulent past and still find within herself the ability to shape her own future, to go forward into her own destiny somewhat in defiance of all that has come before. That’s the journey that Luchi faces throughout NOWHERE GIRL.

Did you have to be fearless to pursue Luchi’s world? (And do you think that a writer has to be fearless in their craft?)

There was definitely a moment where I had to make the conscious decision that I couldn’t be too easy on my characters. There are some aspects of human nature, and some turns that Luchi’s road has to take, which I wouldn’t wish on someone I love. One of my friends told me that at a certain critical moment of NOWHERE GIRL, she found herself so upset at the dark turn taken by Luchi’s fortunes that she wanted to call me up and give me a piece of her mind. But I think it takes those dark times to properly show up the light, the sweetness, the growth—how could we ever appreciate the one without having known the other first?

NOWHERE GIRL is a story layered in death, secrets, and finding one’s way. How powerful do you believe a secret is?

That was definitely one of the subtexts I explored within the story—the power of a secret to shape a person’s life, and how choices can be narrowed through very simple decisions. Of course I have my own views on the matter, but as the story unfolded what I really tried to do was bring Luchi herself to life in the fullest way possible, and then let her find her own way on the page, to make her own mistakes, to discover through this who she really was.

What do you believe makes a great story? How do you incorporate this element into NOWHERE GIRL?

I think a great story must begin with a great character, who is or who quickly becomes involved in something bigger than they are properly able to handle. I personally love stories that have some element or mystery, danger, or tension that keeps me turning the pages. These are elements which I tried to infuse into the storyline of NOWHERE GIRL, and I hope readers will agree!

How important are the elements of love and letting go to NOWHERE GIRL?

Very important! There’s love that spreads outward and love that comes in, too—accepting yourself, understanding that it’s okay to be just the person you are. No matter what. And letting go, of course, is a huge part of Luchi’s journey. But if you want much more on that, you’ll have to read the book!

How important are the ripples of one small incident to the whole of a person’s life?

I am a big believer in the ripple effect. I can personally trace back some very small decisions in my life—even ones which felt a bit like a metaphorical coin toss, and could really have gone either way—which ended up having very wide-ranging repercussions in the path my life took. It’s always a little alarming to look back and realize how easily things could have gone a completely different way, and the effect this would have had on everything that came next.

Do you have set ‘writing rules’?

There are a lot of very smart rules out there which I wish I followed more assiduously. The truth is, though, the only thing that’s consistent about my writing is the writing itself. Different times of day, different amounts at a time, different genres, different age groups—I’m a varied writer and the variety itself does a lot to feed my creativity. I definitely respond to deadlines, whether self-imposed or otherwise. I like structure in my writing and am a strong believer in outlining. Most of all I write what I’m passionate about—if I don’t love this more than anything else in the world, why am I doing it?

Will you share a little about your writing process? How much time your invest in revisions and what the biggest distractions are for you?

As mentioned above, I don’t have an especially rigorous process, but I do tend to find it hard to tap into my writing brain when I’m at my own desk. I work from home, so I just tend to be on a business track in that familiar environment. When I really want to get in the writing zone, I go to my local coffee shop, which flips the creative switch and puts me in the right frame of mind for fiction. The downside, of course, is that I can’t go to the coffee shop every day, so when I have a writing deadline I am trying to train myself to be equally productive in other settings: the couch, for example, or the easy chair. It’s an ongoing process.

Finally, if you had to live inside of a book, which story would you choose?

This is the kind of question that I could spend hours—days!—deliberating, so I think the best thing I can do is say the first thing which pops into my head, and that is the amazing world that Jasper Fforde has created in his Thursday Next novels, where one can flit in and out of all sorts of books at will. Wait, is that like wishing for another wish?

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