So, in the grand tradition of authors being really excited about other authors, this is going around the internet. It’s a questionnaire about our next books, which we get to pass on to the other people we want to hear from.
I was tagged by Elizabeth Wein, author (most recently) of the utterly awesome Code Name Verity, which I reviewed here. I’d like to hear from my hubby James Bow, because I want everyone to know about Icarus Down. I am also tagging RJ Anderson, Zoe Marriott, and Kate Milford.
RJ wrote Ultraviolet, about a girl named Allison who ends up in a mental hospital after confessing to the murder of the most popular girl in town — specifically, disintegrating Ms. Popular with the power of her mind. But that couldn’t be real — could it? But if it isn’t, what really happened to the missing girl? What’s really happening to Allison? Is she crazy, or is there more to it? (Spoiler: there’s more to it.)
Zoe Marriott wrote Shadows on the Moon, which I reviewed here. The high-concept line is “a Japanese Cinderella,” but that doesn’t do it justice. This “Cinderella” sets out deliberately to seduce the prince — and she has good reason to want that kind of power.
Kate Milford wrote the spooky and baroque The Boneshaker, a depression-era “devil comes down to Kansas” story with automata, travelling circuses, snake oil salesmen, and an abandoned town that is Not What It Seems. James read it to me and it’s a gorgeous read-aloud. He reviewed it here.
These are authors that I’ll read anything from — and I’m looking forward to hearing what they’ve got cooking. And here’s what I’m up to:
What’s the working title for your book?
A short synopsis?
Sorrow’s Knot is about a young woman named Otter, who inherits her mother’s power and responsibility to bind the dead with ritual knots so that they will not return to prey on the living. Otter is proud of her power and certain of her future - until her adopted grandmother dies and her mother’s power starts to go wrong.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
The image came to me of a proud, powerful, lovely-but-awkward girl with her hands bound in a red cat’s cradle. I knew her name, too: Otter.
My stories always seem to start like this, with the compelling glimpse of the lead character and a bit of what I call original equipment — something that’s a bit less than a premise. In this one, I knew about women who had power over knots, and used them to protect their people from the restless dead. I knew that Otter’s mother, Willow, was one of these binders, and that she’d become so strong that she was dangerous. I knew about the dead, and the forest that they lived in.
For a long time, that was all I knew.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a fantasy for young adults
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, gosh. I never get out to the movies - I’ve got mom-of-little-kids syndrome — so I don’t know young actors well. And I can think of even fewer who aren’t white! So I’m having trouble casting Otter and her best friend Kestrel. The dancer Gus Carr can play Cricket.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am represented by Emily van Beek at Folio. The novel is already sold to Arthur A. Levine books at Scholastic, and we’re doing the last line edits right now! It will probably be out next fall, but there’s no release date yet.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started it back 2002 or 2003. I didn’t get very far - the novel stalled out early. I wrote three books and had two kids before restarting in the spring of 2009. I finished it at Christmas 2010. (I am a slow writer, though I am speeding up.)
BUT! I got my editorial letter nine months later - clearly it was a doozy of a letter, taking a while to write - and in the end I fixed the book by throwing out the first first draft and starting it again. The second first draft took me seven months.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I asked my husband James this and he said: “It’s Ursula K. LeGuin meets The Forest of Hands and Teeth.” We laughed and he said: “No, but seriously. It’s Earthsea with zombies.”
I argued that the Ones with White Hands aren’t properly zombies, but James says they can be for the pitch. I usually try to sum up my writing as Garth Nix (for the creep) meets Philip Pullman (for the literary approach) - but I might switch to James’s version. LeGuin’s a god.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Can I talk about a where?
In 2003 and 2004, the story wandered around Fantasyland, picking up rangers and monsters and swords, and never really came together. I had only that girl, Otter, with the red cords between her hands, and the feel of the haunted, holy forest that surrounded her.
And then I found the forest: the Black Hills in South Dakota. The Black Hills today are trying to be all Deadwood and Rushmore - Americana High Tourist Kitsch - but they are not that. They are holy, they are the center of the world. A casino town? White presidents carved into the very body of the mountain? They should not be there. If you go there, you can feel it: that the land is holy, and that is being used wrongly.
After I found the forest, the rest of the story seemed to come into focus. It was as if I’d found Otter’s whole world - and I had.
I will note that I haven’t tried to create a faithful version of any indigenous culture. For one thing, very few of them are plagued by zombies, or feature magical powers that pass mother to daughter. For those more magical aspects I took inspiration from the Celtic, and the Japanese, and I flat-out made stuff up. But still - in that day in the forest, climbing the little devil’s tower above a high mountain lake, I found Otter’s world. When I get stuck I go back there, and the world is still waiting for me: all holiness and beauty and unease.
What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?
How bout a sample?
It was louder under the trees: the branches rustled and murmured above as if talking to each other. Otter had lived all her life in sight of this forest, but she had not stood in it before, not in a trackless place, not alone, not like this. The thick light shifted and coiled as the high branches moved. The trees spoke. And the dead: Otter’s bracelets stirred and twisted.
Otter pulled the yarns free and cast a cradle star between her fingers: a knot to detect and repel. The loops burrowed like leeches toward the soft places between her fingers. The crossed strings pulsed and tugged. But there was no direction to that tug. It was as if something was — everywhere.
She lifted the cradle-star as if it were a torch.
There was nothing near enough to see.
But the pulsing strings, her prickling skin, told her differently. If the cradle had been a torch, it would have cast a circle of light. And right outside that circle, the cords told her, there would be something watching.