What to Give this Holiday Season: The Hotel Between

It’s the holiday season, which means I get to pepper our readers more than usual with book recommendations AND introduce you to the authors! Yay!

Today’s pick is a lovely, lush novel by author Sean Easley: THE HOTEL BETWEEN.

HOTEL weaves the story of Cameron and Cassia, who have never known their parents. Cass thinks their father abandoned them, but Cameron is certain something happened to him. When Cam discovers THE HOTEL BETWEEN, where there are endless doors that open into countries all over the world, his instinct tells him his father’s story is there, in the hotel, and he’s determined to stay long enough to figure out what happened and find his father.

This story has magic and intrigue, international travel and fascinating people,  an intricate plot, and a dash of wry humor. (NOTE: Sean is a former Mixed-Up Files contributor.)

“In the end, people are just people no matter where they’re from and no matter what they look like. It’s how they treat one another that matters.”

One of the things I love about this blog is getting the chance to go behind the scenes with authors, being able to add to the depth and texture of great scenes by seeing them from the writer’s perspective. Here’s what Sean Easley had to say about writing THE HOTEL BETWEEN.

Author Interview: Sean Easley

The Origin Story

MUF: Of course as authors, when we love a book a lot, we always want to know the origin story. How did you come up with this world and with Cam and Cass, Agapios, Nico, Rahki, and everyone else?

SEAN: There were several factors that led to me writing this book, I think. Part of it came from growing up the son of a foreign language teacher and a world-class athlete—my sister and I were always meeting people from all over the world.

Then, one night I had a dream about a place that was a hodgepodge of halls and rooms from all over the world. The next morning I set aside another project I was working on at the time and went to work figuring out how a place like that would work. As for the characters: they’re largely the product of people and friends I’ve known over the years, all mashed up together with bits of myself

MUF: Is it okay to say I see echoes of HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE here? If so …. May I also say, I see so many lovely differences as well. Cam is desperate to unravel the mystery of his father’s disappearance and his mother’s death, so there is definitely a similar relationship theme. But there is also the best friends and chosen family theme with Nico, the moral relativity theme with when do you tell the truth to protect someone—and on that front, I found it much more sophisticated in many ways than HOWL’S. What are other themes in addition to these you hope readers will be affected by?

SEAN: Compared to the amazing Diana Wynne Jones? You flatter me too much, but I’ll take it!

When I started working on the book, I was enamored with this idea that magic—real magic—would be rooted more in the emotional/relational side of the world than in the physical. I didn’t want the kind of magic that plays out like a manipulation of the laws of physics, like fire and ice and all that. I wanted something that would be deeply, inextricably tied into the magic of who we are as human beings.

With that as a base, it just made sense to me that a magic that bonds and connects things together would also be used to bond people and families as well. Out of that came some really strong feelings of friendship and family—something that’s so very important at that age. The family we’re born with determines so much about who we are, and the family we choose determines who we are becoming.

The Magic of Best Friends

MUF: The moment when Cam and Nico bind each other as blood brothers—this was middle-grade perfect. I remember doing that with my BFF back in the day. Do you have a friendship that you modeled this relationship after?

SEAN: That part was one of my favorites when it happened during writing too. And it did just “happen”—when I was drafting I hadn’t originally planned for Nico to do that, and then all of the sudden he starts talking and the next thing I knew they were making up a contract.

I can’t point to any specific friend as the impetus for that scene in particular, but it’s always been a big thing for me to let important people in my life know that I’m not going to “drop” them. I’m typically a pretty intuitive judge of character, and when I find those folks that fit with me I want them to know.

But Nico himself does remind me a lot of a long-time friend who’s always brought a bit of trouble and mischief wherever he goes.

The Antagonist

MUF: The character of Stripe is delicious in ways I won’t reveal so as not to give spoilers. But I have to ask … did you have fun creating him?

SEAN: For sure. Interestingly, Stripe is a character that came out of a different dream way back when I was a kid. In the dream, I was with a bunch of friends when our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. Of course back then few people had cell phones, so we had to walk somewhere to find a landline telephone. We ended up knocking at the door of this incredible mansion on a hill, where a man in a pinstriped suit and cane opened up. He kinda reminded me of Mr. Peppermint, if you ever saw that show. The man welcomed us into his mansion and said that of course we could use his telephone, but first he wanted to give us the grand tour of his home.

To say much more would be to give away big spoilers for the book, but it’s safe to say that the dream version of Mr. Stripe is very like the one who made it into the manuscript.

The Editing Process

MUF: What parts of the book stayed the same through the editing process?

SEAN: Is it a cop out to say “nothing”? That might be a little dramatic, but it feels that way.

The scene you mentioned above with Nico and Cam might be the only bit that stayed largely the same from the early drafts to the final copy. It’s the hinge-pin of the book for me, and even for the whole series (seeing as how my editor is working on book two with me right now). Aside from that, I think the Budapest scene stayed pretty close to the original, as well as the events at the Monastery, though there were some significant tweaks in both.

A fun tidbit: while working on early versions of this book, I was able to share the manuscript with a group of around fifteen middle school students who told me what they liked and what they didn’t. Kids that age are effusive in both their praise and their criticism, and a lot of how the book ended up is thanks to their brilliant input.

A Great Holiday Gift

MUF: Since I’m recommending this book as a holiday gift, can you tell us what about the book lends itself to the spirit of the season?

SEAN: The Hotel Between takes place over a holiday break from school. Cam even visits a Christmas market in Hungary, and there’s a pivotal scene that happens when New Year’s Eve becomes New Year’s Day.

Aside from that, there’s an undercurrent of togetherness in the book that I think really fits with the holiday season. Of family, and friends, and the important moments that bring us all together—and not just the people we know, but people from all over the globe. It’s all tied up in this idea that we’re all just people, living together across the world. We’re all the same in the ways that matter, and we all deserve to be cared for and connected to those we love.

MUF: What is your favorite part of the book?

I’d love to say it’s one of the poignant moments in the book, but it’s actually the scene at the Hotel pool. I had so much fun imagining what a pool-type area would look like with all the magic of the Hotel at their disposal, and every time I got to editing that piece of the story I ended up smiling.

Congratulations, Sean!

Sean Easley started writing in third grade because he was looking for adventure. He’s worked with kids and teens for well over a decade, listening to their stories, and somehow ended up with a Masters degree in education along the way. Now he’s a full-time writer living with his wife and son in Texas, where he stubbornly refuses to wear cowboy boots. Visit him at seaneasley.com and on Twitter and Instagram @AuthorEasley

Heather Murphy Capps
Heather Murphy Capps has always had a deep appreciation for comfort and elegance. She and Claudia would have run out of money quickly together but would absolutely have been on the same page about taxis and nice restaurants. And of course, solving mysteries about beautiful art. That said, Heather also appreciates Jamie’s love of complication, which is why she spent several years living in rural Kenya and then became a television news reporter, which involved standing for hours in the middle of hurricanes and political battles. Now she’s raising middle-grade readers and writing for them. She loves to read and write books with lots of great science, magic, mystery, and adventure. Heather is the communications coordinator for Mixed-Up Files, as well as creator/curator for our We Need Diverse MG series. She is committed to creating more diversity in publishing.