Interview at 17 Scribes

Earlier this year, I joined a really wonderful group called ’17 Scribes. Everyone is a 2017 debut author, and it’s been an invaluable resource for asking questions, sharing experiences – and making friends! I’ve got an interview about The Wardrobe Mistress on the ’17 Scribes website, and I’d encourage you to check out the other interviews as well. There’s a lot of amazing talent and diverse projects in this group. All my Book Addiction posts since February have featured other 2017 debut authors and their excellent books – more to come in the fall, as well.

Flash Fiction – Haunted

The story that came out of this eye-catching photograph wasn’t quite what I expected, but I think it turned out better that way. It reminded me just how much I love writing flash fiction.

Photo via Visual hunt

As I unfold the silky blue cloth wrapping keeping them safe, the fragrance of the daisies drifts through the air; sweet as grass, clean as raindrops, haunting as the pages of an old book. Fresh enough that if I close my eyes, the image of a sun-kissed meadow, scattered with the confetti of wildflowers, forms in my mind and lulls me into a sense of peace.

Exactly as they’re meant to. It startles me, shaking off the drowsiness, and I bring the flowers closer to my face, inspecting them. I guess I didn’t really believe, even though I let myself be tempted into buying them. It seemed like a good story, to buy supposedly magical flowers from the witchy lady at the Renaissance Faire. She sold jewelry too, rings twisted to silver flowers and ravens and Celtic knots, everything as dramatic and beautiful as the pentacle at her throat. Her ears, glinting with gold earrings, tapered almost to a point, and as her papery voice whispered about dreams and escape, I believed her. Head spinning with overpriced mead and an edge of adrenaline, I’d laughed and agreed, lumping the flowers into the cost of the bronze ring now curled around my finger.

“They’ll bring peace and inner calm,” she’d said.

“Who doesn’t need that?” My voice rang, brash and hard, drawing too much attention. Her mouth smiled in response but her eyes stayed slated as mirrors.

I want it now. Tranquility, a reprieve from the curl of nervousness that pinches my stomach and dries my mouth. Even a placebo effect will be enough to give me a moment of peace, if I believe hard enough. I put the flower in my tea, as instructed. It shrivels in the hot water but tastes purer than chamomile.

My heartbeat slows, a steady drumbeat instead of the thrum of a hummingbird’s wings. Warmth steals through my veins, droops my eyelids. I sling my body against the couch cushions, half-listening to the sound of music drifting through the open window.

I wake with sourness and a needle-jab at my temples. My ears hum. Slowly, the nervousness creeps back, sharpened to an edge now that I’ve lost another day and success matters all the more now.

I work all day to make up for precious lost time, dragging my attention from one task to another with methodical resignation. My bones ache with weariness, thoughts drifting like obscuring mist over a mountain peak. At night, I drink a glass of wine, resolutely focusing on the rest of my to-do list, ignoring the flowers.

At bedtime, my resistance crumbles like chalk, and I lift the second flower to my mouth. Its white petals are velvet against my lips before I swallow it whole and let blissful ignorance and apathy wash over me. Dreams don’t exist; I float as nothing, forgetful and calm.

The after effects linger much longer this time, and on the fourth day, I stare at the last flower for ten minutes before gritting my teeth and lifting it into the flame of a lighter held over the sink. The heat stings my thumb, and as the bittersweet smoke curls into the air, I drag it into my lungs.

The shadowy peace twirls out of reach, nagging at the corners of my eyes, fidgeting its way through my fingers. Destroyed, it won’t work again now, and after moment of mourning, a sense of relief rinses over me. The anxiety comes back, but I embrace it because it feels like something. The shining moments need darkness to make them gleam like a pinprick of light.

 

Book Addiction: The Waking Land

I just finished reading The Waking Land by Callie Bates, and this lyrical novel is my latest book addiction. Growing, up, I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series and The Waking Land captures a similar vein of magic through a vivid, well-drawn universe and a heroic and likable protagonist, with a bit more of a grown-up voice.

Beautifully written and evocative, The Waking Land is the story of Elanna, raised as a hostage in a rival kingdom. She grows to view the king as a father, but when he’s poisoned and she’s accused of his murder, Elanna finds herself back in her homeland of Caeris, where everyone is counting on her to lead a rebellion. Full of magic, romance, and dangerous encounters, it’s a tale of torn loyalties and adventure that will keep readers turning the pages ceaselessly. I particularly loved the fresh twist of Elanna’s magical connection with plants.

Callie Bates has kindly agreed to an interview to talk about her debut novel. Welcome, Callie!

What was your inspiration for The Waking Land?

I wanted to write a story about a young woman, raised as a hostage, who’s taught to despise her people and homeland, but still has an indelible connection to them due to her forbidden magic. I also wanted to use that magic to play with the symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world. And then I wanted to have some fun with romance, rebellions and poisonous mushrooms! 🙂

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Before I signed with my literary agent, I completely rewrote the book from third person past tense to first person present tense! This was much more than a line-by-line change; I reworked the voice, pacing, character arc, and much of the storyline. I really enjoyed the challenge.

What was your favourite scene to write?

It’s hard to answer this question without spoilers—there’s a scene at the end that’s my true favorite!—but I’m very proud of the prologue. It took a lot of finessing to cram enough backstory into it, keep the perspective of a seven-year-old, and maintain growing tension as she’s taken hostage!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I write my first, loose drafts by hand in a notebook, then transfer to a computer to rewrite and revise. I try not to be too strict or ritualistic, so that I can write in any place and at any time of day. Though I have a desk, the couch is probably my favorite spot!

Do you share an affinity for plants, like your protagonist Elanna? What’s your favourite flower?

I did give Elanna my own love for the natural world–though, alas, I don’t have her magic with plants! And I am not much of a gardener. I love roses of all varieties, especially wild roses. I love wild mushrooms as well—some of which are deadly, and inspired a scene in the book!

If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you suggest?

The Waking Land would pair well with a malty Scottish whiskey, or perhaps some lovely mead!

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I post updates on all my social media feeds: I’m @calliebywords on Twitter and Facebook, and @callie_bates on Instagram. You can also check my website, calliebates.com! 

From the book jacket:

In the lush and magical tradition of Naomi Novik’s award-winning Uprooted comes this riveting debut from brilliant young writer Callie Bates—whose boundless imagination places her among the finest authors of fantasy fiction, including Sarah J. Maas and Sabaa Tahir.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder—and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition—powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Author Biography:

Callie Bates is a writer, harpist and certified harp therapist, sometimes artist, and nature nerd. When she’s not creating, she’s hitting the trails or streets and exploring new places. She lives in the Upper Midwest. THE WAKING LAND is her debut fantasy novel and first in a planned trilogy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Diamond Deception – a free short story

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, comes out in less than a month! Set during the French Revolution, it’s the tale of Giselle, an aspiring dressmaker who works in  Marie Antoinette’s household. When she’s asked to spy on the queen, she jumps at the chance, but as she becomes torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolutionary cause, she risks losing everything…maybe even her head.

To share my excitement, I’ve got a free short story for you. Called The Diamond Deception, it’s a prequel to The Wardrobe Mistress by about three years, and centers on the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair‘, a real event in history where a diamond necklace was stolen under the pretense that Marie Antoinette was buying it in secret. Though the queen was an innocent victim in this crime, it still damaged her reputation.

How do you get your hands on this short story? Just sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive a confirmation email with a downloadable pdf of the story.

My newsletter goes out a few times a year and contains book news, snippets of what I’m currently writing (that I don’t share anywhere else), book recommendations, and related historical items of interest.

Already subscribed? Don’t worry, I’ll be sending The Diamond Deception out to existing subscribers as well.

 

Stay tuned next week for an amazing new Book Addiction, and in the weeks leading up to August 15th, the publication date of The Wardrobe Mistress, I’ll be sharing lots of Marie Antoinette themed posts. Ever wondered if she really said ‘let them eat cake?’ I’ve got that answer for you, and plenty more, too.

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th with St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pre-order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Book Addiction: Girl Last Seen

Nina Laurin’s enthralling debut, Girl Last Seen, comes out today and I had the excellent luck of being able to read an advance copy. Most of the time, my Book Addiction posts have a focus on amazing historical fiction, but I’m diversifying this time because I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately and Girl Last Seen is utterly compelling and highly recommended.

Laine, the novel’s vulnerable but determined protagonist, struggles to cope with her past abduction, a crime that has never been solved. Now, thirteen years later, a second girl goes missing, one who could be the image of Lainey at age ten. Dark and full of serpentine twists, Girl Last Seen is an addictive books that makes for such captivating reading that you might find  yourself still turning pages when you should be cooking dinner, or looking up from the book and realizing that it’s suddenly past midnight. (Full disclosure: both of those things happened to me).

Nina has kindly agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Nina!

What was your inspiration for Girl Last Seen?

I was researching some true crime for another story and fell down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I came across a particularly chilling story of a true crime that just stuck with me. I may have read too much about it, because I had actual nightmares for a couple of days. I can’t give you the link, because it would in itself be a spoiler. But some time later, the main character of GIRL LAST SEEN just appeared in my mind, and I simply had to tell her story.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It was the manuscript that made me realize psychological suspense was my genre! At the end of 2014, I was facing a crossroads that no writer wants to face. I had broken up with my previous agent that summer and was disheartened by constant rejection, which made me question whether I was writing the right books—and whether I was really meant to be a writer at all. I don’t know what exactly possessed me, but I took out the first version of what would become GIRL LAST SEEN and started to overhaul it. To my surprise, it took off! And then I was writing the scene at the abandoned house where Laine is being stalked in the dark, and after a very long writing slump, I felt the energy come back into my fingertips. I felt like a writer again. I felt like I could write something good.

What was your favourite scene to write?

The scene at the abandoned house that I mentioned above, but also, the finale. It was breathtaking to write! I’m usually terrible at writing action and fighting scenes, but by then, I was invested in Laine and what happened to her. So writing that final showdown, where she faces her demons for the first time in ten years, was also heartbreaking in a way. And I think it gave the action sequence the super-high emotional stakes that made it easy to write.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

It depends on the project. I wrote the first draft of GIRL LAST SEEN in a couple of months, but the second and third drafts took a little more time and a little more discipline. It wasn’t about getting the words out anymore—it was about making them make sense. Which is (I think most writers will agree with me) a lot more difficult. Sometimes the writing flows, and other times, I have to force myself to get behind my desk (or motivate myself with chocolate… or bacon).

If you could pair your book with any reading snack or drink, what would you suggest?

Milk oolong tea (that’s a tea that tastes faintly creamy, not tea with milk in it—I’m sure some people like that, and that’s their business…) and dark, dark, dark chocolate. Together.

Stay updated on Nina’s book news:

Author website | Goodreads | Twitter 

From the book jacket: 

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.

I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.

If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…

I’ve spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.

Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn’t been another girl.

And now there is.

Author Biography:

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada.

 

Flash Fiction – Goodbye

For some reason, the word ‘goodbye’ popped into my head as soon as I saw this picture. And then a story about a mother and daughter grew from there.

Photo via Visualhunt.com

When I took that photo, Sierra was thinking about how to say goodbye. I understood that now. The oversized burgundy sunglasses shielded her eyes, but her lower lip drooped in the way that meant she cringed inwardly. Usually it meant I’d said something embarrassing – which seemed to happen often enough, in spite of my efforts to be a ‘cool Mom’.

Last week, when we’d taken advantage of the slanting golden light for a photo session, I thought she was merely pouting for the camera.

“We don’t need new photos already,” Sierra had complained, glancing up from her pink-cased iPhone. The silvery glitter on her nails gleamed as she scrolled. “My portfolio is fine. And Instagram is better anyway.”

“I know, but it can’t hurt to take a few more. You can put some on Instagram, too. It might be nice to post a few more before Nationals.”

She’d sighed, but that was nothing new, really. Teenagers sighed all the time. She flexed her foot en pointe and tossed her phone on the counter. Even that motion looked graceful. “Whatever. Let’s go now, then, because I have to do my barre exercises still and then I have math homework.”

“We’ll have plenty of time.” I tried to sound encouraging. “We can stop for Chinese takeout one the way home.” Even as I said it, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible, not with Nationals coming up.

Sierra rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. I can’t eat that right now.”

“I’ll make grilled vegetables and some fish,” I said, talking too fast, trying to cover my mistake.

Without her, the emptiness of the townhouse crushed in around me, and the tick of the clock echoed, knocking on my spine until I could hardly bear it. I imagined Sierra at her dad’s house, curled on the couch in the basement. I’d seen it once, when I picked her up. It was grey and soft. Maybe she’d be perched on the edge, eating pizza and laughing with her friends. She’d told me that he was letting her have a sleepover to celebrate her moving in with him.

“Are you coming back?” I remember how much I’d hated the tremor in my voice when I asked.

She lifted her hand to chew her thumbnail, a habitual nervous habit, and then dropped it again. Her lashes covered her eyes. “I don’t know. Not for a while.”

Panic bubbled in my chest, threatening to shatter. “What about Nationals? Are we still going?”

Her face scrunched up and she looked at the ground, kicking her toes against the corner of the tile. “I don’t know. No.”

The pain in my leg stabbed, sharper than the steady ache I’d been left with after a car accident smashed my bones and my own ballet dreams. I hobbled to the living room, and stared blankly at the muted TV.

Flash Fiction – Whispers

Now that it’s finally spring, I wrote a winter story for some reason. Still, it’s a pretty picture and I loved the idea of hearing eerie whispers in this setting.

 

His legs ached as he plodded forward, snow churning around his shins. Every gasping lungful of air squeezed his chest, and the exhales frosted his glasses. He focused on the nearest crooked pine, determined to pass it, and the next, each a landmark of laborious progress. The effort frustrated him, though it’d been his idea to go outside. His weakness felt unavoidable, almost appropriate, because it matched the stagnant crush of his repetitive days.

He was breaking that pattern, though, so it made sense that it hurt. Breaking something meant jagged pieces, cracked foundations. Painful rearranging. The thought unfurled a burst of energy and he charged forward in a cloud of snow. This was a good workout, if nothing else. After everything his sister said about nature and healing – well, it made sense to her; she did meditative yoga, too. The idea sounded dumb to him. And yet, here he was, voluntarily freezing and sweating at the same time, stumbling around in the dark.

Reaching the top of a swelling hill, he lurched to a halt. The heavy stillness of the clearing helped ease his breath. A hissing sound skated through the air, and he whirled, heart leaping. Only the friendly silhouettes of the trees circled, nothing else. A flicker of movement lifted his gaze, and he saw the sky, painted red and green. Mesmerized, he watched the colours sway across the stars and realized with an awed pang that the noise poured from the sky. The auroras crackled and whistled. Goosebumps prickled his skin.

It was just the sky, and it wasn’t. It was vast and cold but vital. The moment burned, imprinted on his bones, echoing through the trek home and through every step tomorrow. Just like hiking past the trees, the small milestones could make him free.


Here’s a link to a video if you want to hear the eerie sound of the northern lights.