Back Home With…
is a new feature here at To All The People Back Home, and my way of interviewing like-minded bookish creatives, where they can share their tips, tricks, experiences, and realizations so that you might walk away feeling inspired and motivated. We’re going to focus on balance, creative freedom, envy, love, and why we cherish the stories we do.
It’s so easy to feel alone in our struggles with our projects, especially for writers, I think, so this is my opportunity to show you you’re not alone. The people I will feature on this website have big dreams to go with their large hearts and vibrant personalities.
In today’s interview, we’re getting all the inside scoop on Sky in the Deep, an upcoming YA-viking fantasy, and the authoress behind the book,
Here’s what Adrienne had to say about herself:
The very first time I was told I was a writer was by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Zweig. But the first time I believed her was in fourth grade when I wrote a poem of retribution to the class bully for tearing the pages out of my math book. Even the principal paid me a compliment before giving me detention.
Writing is a sanctuary for a solitary soul—an opportunity to leave this life and tell the story of someone else’s. Fact or fiction. I have found myself transfixed, creating heroes and building the walls of a fantasy world with the keys of my laptop. The sun goes down, the coffee is poured, the sweater is donned, and I am gone. I am following the breadcrumbs of something waiting to be chiselled out of the storm of words swirling around in my head. And good grief, do I love it.
Above all other inspirations, I am enraptured by the human spirit and the potential in all of us to change the course of history by opening our minds to what it is that lives inside of us and connects us to everything else on this planet and beyond. In the past, I’ve loved to tackle this quite literally by discussing spiritual, cultural and social issues, particularly as they relate to women. But my favorite thing to do is to explore these aspects in fictional characters.
I have enjoyed immensely the opportunity to share my writing with the readers of Darling Magazine in print and online at the Darling blog. I also had the incredible opportunity to serve as a writer, assistant editor, and member of the creative team for The Pink Room, an Emmy Award-winning documentary investigating child sex trafficking in Cambodia.
These days I am fully immersed in the imaginary worlds of my true love—my young adult speculative fiction manuscripts.
A: Hey Amara – Just got settled with my cold brew and I’m ready when you are!
Me: Haha, same here! Thanks so much for being here! Truly appreciate you taking the time.
A: Of course!
On creativity where you are:
Me: So, you were born and raised in Texas, but you ended up in California and you’ve been there for over a decade, and the first thing I’ve got to know is: What’s that change been like? I mean, you’ve probably grown accustomed to it by now, but still the two places seem sooo different from my East Coast perspective. How has becoming a California girl effected your day-to-day and creativity?
A: Yes! Transitioning to California life was really an interesting experience. There are so many things I absolutely love about Texas but the culture is quite different. I think that in California, you have just so many different kinds of people that all interact and live among each other. So I think it widened my view of the world and of people quite a bit. Creatively, I think it gave me a lot of freedom to kind of realize how big the world was outside of the one I grew up in.
But I was also really young still, like 19 or 20, so some of that is also just growing up and maturing, too.
Me: Gotcha! And it seems like you’ve been to some EXTRAORDINARY places as a result. One of the things that instantly drew me to you online was all of the pretty pictures to go along with equally beautiful captions on your Instagram. You have all kinds of posts, like when you spotlight your historical book collection, but some of my favorites feature your tarot cards and totems and crystals. Do you find that these things free up your creative energy very often? Do you have sort of like a go-to routine when it comes to pulling these things out while you work?
A: Yeah I totally do, and that’s something that is newer as far as my process. Maybe a couple of years ago I started trying to incorporate my love of these beautiful, mystical things into my writing. I’ve used digital visuals like Pinterest for a long time, but I realized that having visuals in front of me that I could reach out and touch was really inspiring. And I love to collect “found things” so I get inspired by that stuff often.
More than anything, they unleash my imagination, I think.
Me: Sometimes I feel like I live on Pinterest, so I can relate. You mentioned “found things,” which is such a storyteller way of naming your collection, and I love it. I, like so many others, got completely sucked in and fascinated by your recent hunt through an old bible on your instastory. I felt like a movie was playing out before my eyes, what with mysterious deaths and locks of hair. You tend to go to antique fairs too… How did this get started for you, the collecting and investigating? Where does your interest in history come from and how has it grown over the years? (I mean, you’ve written a Nordic fantasy!)
A: Ok, so I have a completely insane obsession with ANYTHING old. Like, if you tell me a spoon is 200 years old, it’s precious to me. I’m fascinated by things that outlive people. Furniture, dishes, linens, jewellery… but books are at the top of that list because I feel like with books, it’s not just something that someone held or flipped the pages of. It’s something that became a part of someone in a way that a shoe or a teacup can’t. I’ve always loved antique, since I was a little girl and my love of that stuff has only grown as I’ve gotten older.
On our love of history:
As for history… I guess that’s kind of connected, because I love learning about anything that happened in the past. The idea that a moment existed and now it’s gone – and that someone was there, living and breathing in it – experiencing it. And now it’s all gone, except that it’s not. I studied art history in college (I also LOVE art!) and that was a way for me to look at history from a really human perspective. The nordic inspired world of SKY IN THE DEEP is definitely an extension of that, but there are so many worlds I could write about that I really love.
Sorry I don’t want to get all emo and philosophical on you, but I could seriously gush about this for days! My heart literally races when I think about it. Hahaha.
Me: Absolutely not!! I’m a BIG history lover, too, so I’m sitting here, nodding my head frantically. I’m not quite up on all the facts all the time, but I have such a passion for the storytelling aspect of it, of knowing that there are stories we won’t ever know and yet we keep trying. Again, it’s a big part of why I got so excited to discover you online and your upcoming work!
A: Yes! So true – stories that will only ever belong to the past. Insane to think about.
On the book deal & dealing with rejection:
Me: And I can’t wait to get more into the Norse side of things. So, HUGE (and belated) congratulations on getting picked up by Wednesday Books! Your book is now in the company of books by Roshani Chokshi and Rainbow Rowell, who are some of my favorite authors. What was that moment like, hearing the news about being picked up for two books?! Where were you and how did you react?
A: So, it all happened so incredibly fast and I wasn’t really prepared for that. My agent went out with it and like a week later, she held an auction for everyone interested. Little did she know, she scheduled the auction on my birthday. So, that morning, I woke up early and spent half the day on the phone with her, going over the offers and discussing. It was so surreal. I was at home in my pajamas and my husband was getting the kids ready and out the door for school. Then two friends came over to celebrate with mimosas.
I was literally smiling for like three weeks. My cheeks hurt.
As you know, this is the inaugural year for Wednesday Books, so something about that was really exciting to me. There was a lot of energy and I had a great connection with the editor.
Me: I enjoy so many books under Macmillan and all it’s imprints, so it’s so amazing to hear this book will be joining such an incredible lineup. But you’ve also been really transparent on social media that you’d been on your way to giving up the publishing dream. That you were scared of never having your stories published. Had you been rejected a lot along the way to this point? How did you end up overcoming all that fear and rejection?
A: Oh man, the road authors take to getting published is SO BRUTAL. I always had this secret dream of getting a book published, but I never even spoke that dream aloud until I was like 25 or something. When I decided to get serious, I had no idea how truly difficult it would be. I wrote a YA fantasy and did the whole querying thing and I probably got almost 100 rejections on it when it was all said and done. But I had done a lot of things wrong and didn’t know it. I had to learn a lot more about craft, about the industry, and about what kind of agent or publisher I even wanted. I was really shooting in the dark and learning along the way.
I worked on a few other books after that, but didn’t really finish them. When I got the idea for SKY IN THE DEEP, it was like a bolt of lightning and I just went for it. Using everything I’d learned, I approached querying so much more strategically. I got interest right away. I started querying fall 2016 and signed with my agent in February.
There were two or three times when I seriously considered that seeing my book on the shelf wasn’t going to happen. That is such a hard thing to navigate.
Me: Was it about not admitting it to the people around you? To yourself? Fear of rejection from the people closest to you?
A: Failure! I have always really struggled with the fear of failure, like if I say this is what I want, and then it doesn’t happen… I will have failed completely and I didn’t think I could deal with that.
Me: So then what finally got you through? At what point did you say enough is enough, I really want this? How did you set that deep fear aside?
A: It’s so vulnerable when you’re dealing with art. Because you are creating something and asking the world to see it and understand it. I felt like my heart would be so broken and that I’d never be able to create anything again.
It all changed when I met a friend who was also secretly writing. She was the first person to really read my fiction and really encouraged me to pursue it. We kind of banded together and were like, “we’re doing this!” and it was so much easier having something by my side to figure stuff out with. She’s still my critique partner.
She also kind of ratted me out to my friends and family – and once everyone knew what I was trying to do, they all pushed me along. She’s like the best jerk ever.
On writing advice:
Me: I’m a big advocate of having friends who write to bounce things off of. The art kind of becomes a little communal instead of entirely individual, so you get a blend of perspectives as opposed to just your own. You’re a big fan of the drafting process, right? Any tips for those of us struggling to balance so many different aspects of our lives while wrestling the story beasts down onto the page?
A: Ah! I’m probably not the best to give advice on drafting because I feel like I have some pretty unhealthy habits. But it works for me so I haven’t changed it. I have to totally give myself over to the story when I’m drafting. That means writing for hours on end, sneaking away to get words written, and kind of cutting myself out of reality. My head has to kind of swim in it and I don’t want to jump out or I start feeling like I’m losing momentum. So, when I’m drafting, I’m not social, I don’t watch TV or movies, I don’t listen to music that’s not on my book’s playlist, and I don’t read anything at all. So, it’s like a total departure from my life. But! I work really fast when I’m drafting, so it doesn’t last that long.
I literally have to set alarms on my phone to eat when I’m drafting. Yikes.
Me: That’s so incredible, though! That makes sense to me, because I hate removing myself from the situation, especially when I’m in deep flow. The fact that you can settle yourself into that deep flow of productivity and creating is astounding. (It might be unhealthy, but… I mean, the stories) Do you write full-time then?
A: Yeah, I have four kids, but I treat my writing like a full time job and have kind of set hours.
Me: Four kids and writing full time?!? You are officially my hero! I’m a nanny and I deal with two pretty much daily and I can’t imagine trying to balance two more. This has me curious now: what’s a day in the life look like for you?
A: I’m up with my kids early, and we get them ready for school. I still have one at home during the day, so once the big kids are at school, I usually try to get admin stuff done – emails, website, social media, etc. In the afternoons, I try to keep up on my reading, and if it’s a work night, I leave as soon as my husband gets home and I’m gone late, writing/revising.
I also take a few writing retreats a year to stay ahead. I usually write two nights a week and then most of the day Friday.
But if I’m drafting, it’s all hands on deck and our lives pretty much revolve around that until I finish that last chapter.
On cover, characters, & themes:
Me: Wow! When you decided to go for it, you REALLY went for it, which I can now give double the congratulations on the cover reveal for Sky In the Deep with so much more admiration. Sky in the Deep has got so much I’m a BIG fan of: blood feuds and clans clashing, betrayal, romance, and VIKINGS. For those reading who haven’t heard of the book, what’s the first thing you want people to know and get excited for?
A: I think the biggest thing for me is a fierce female character who’s not made of stone. Eelyn is a girl who walks away from killing clansmen on the battlefield and confronts her complicated relationship with grief and loss. I tried to write a really strong girl who is still really vulnerable, and I really hope that is something that draws people.
Equally important is the family dynamics of this story. The characters really have to redefine what makes a family which I find really interesting.
Me: Oh my god, YES. This might be weird, but I like to think that being strong is kind of like when you apply eyeliner: strong doesn’t have to mean harsh, it just means being clearly defined. And having a stone-cold, fierce character is one of my biggest setbacks when I’m trying to fall into a story, so I’m even more excited to meet Eelyn and see how she stands apart! I think for this, and many other reasons, I feel called to this book. I’m so happy you mentioned family because it ties into my question of what does family mean for you and how has it impacted this book? Why is family such an important theme? I noticed the ending line in the book summary and this has been on my mind a lot.
A: I think I’ve spent a lot of time realizing how important family is in the last several years. But I have also seen people become family to me who I’m not tied to by blood. I love that idea that we can choose to be family to other people. And the book kind of grapples with this idea that nothing is stronger than family but also that family can mean many things.
My own family has been through a lot the last few years and I’ve been able to see how we are bound on such a deeper level than shared life experience. There’s a soul-level connection and it’s a really supernatural thing.
Me: Speaking of your family, I’ve GOT to know: why Vikings and Nordic fantasy? Are there roots in your family? Or is it just what the story seemed to demand? How hard was the research?
A: We do have Viking ancestry somewhere but we don’t know a lot about it. The reason we know is because there’s a bone condition that appears in my family that is an indicator of Viking heritage.
I also just LOVE Viking anything and wanted to see more of that in YA. The research was really time consuming, but I really enjoy research. And I had a grid for it because of my art history studies.
Me: How much of the language do you incorporate in the book?
A: Not a ton, but it is a thread throughout for sure. It’s so hard with Old Norse, because it’s not like in use anymore. It’s really hard to know if you’re really getting it right. But it’s definitely in there!
On what’s next:
Me: Gah, so excited! So, I I know you’re working on a couple of things, like the companion to Sky in the Deep, and I believe there was another secret project worked in. Now that we’re going to start wrapping up, what can you talk about that’s on the horizon for you? How is tackling these new projects different from your first?
A: I have SO MANY projects in my head all at once, but I have to be strategic about what I work on and when. I’m currently working on the second book in the SKY world and I’m really excited about it! That’s pretty much all I can say. Haha. And as for the other projects, all I can really say is that I might be venturing into other age categories like adult and middle grade. But I think my heart will always belong to YA, and I have at least two more series waiting to be written right now.
Me: Did you know you were going to end up in YA with this one? Had you always been drawn to the category?
A: Definitely. There is something about this age group you really can’t get anywhere else – the passion-filled self-discovery and reckoning of what you knew with what you learn. The identiy aspect is just huge for me. I love it so much and as a writer, it’s like home for me. If I had to speculate, I’d say my focus will always be YA.
Me: I hope it keeps you there for a while, though I like to read in pretty much any age group. But, it’s like you said, YA has really unique qualities. What do you hope to communicate to readers who’ve never heard of you or read your glorious snippets online (which, your newsletter has some gorgeous little clippings of your writing too)? What are you trying to do or evoke by creating these new worlds and characters?
A: A big focus for me is how girls are portrayed and widening the view when it comes to how we see them. I don’t think I’ll ever get away from that. But some themes that are always reoccurring for me is growth and love. Growth in the sense of not being afraid to change and grow and being open to it. And love as in, the definition… what it really means to love people and yourself.
I’m never only writing for entertainment’s sake although that is a big part of storytelling. I’m always, always saying something, and usually, it’s something I’m saying to myself.
Me: That’s already so evident from our time together here. Thank you SO very much for chatting with me, Adrienne. It means the world that you could take the time. I only hope that people are inspired to create, and inspired to read what you’ve created, after reading about you. Thank you!
A: You’re welcome! Thank you so much for reaching out. I’m so excited about getting to connect with readers through platforms like yours.
Here’s a sneak peek into Sky in the Deep:
I looked down the row of Aska hunched against each other, ducking behind the muddy hill. The fog sat on the field like a veil, but we could hear it. The blades of swords and axes brushing against armor vests. Quick footsteps in sucking mud. My heart beat almost in rhythm with the sounds, pulling one breath in and letting it touch another before I let it go.
My father’s rasping whistle caught my ears from down the line and I searched the dirt-smeared faces until I found a pair of bright blue eyes fixed on me. His gray-streaked beard hung braided down his chest behind the axe clutched in his huge fist. He tipped his chin up at me and I whistled back—our way of telling each other to be careful. To try not to die.
Mýra’s hand lifted the long braid over my shoulder and she nodded toward the field. “Together?”
“Always.” I looked behind us where our clansmen stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of red leathers and bronze, all waiting for the call. Mýra and I had fought for our place at the front.
“Watch that left side.” Her kol-rimmed eyes dropped down to the broken ribs behind my vest.
“They’re fine.” I glared at her, insulted. “If you’re worried, fight with someone else.”
She shook her head, dismissing me before she stood to check my armor one last time. I tried not to wince as she tightened the fastenings I’d intentionally left a bit loose. She pretended not to notice, but I caught the look in her eye.
“Stop worrying about me.” I ran a hand over the right side of my head where my hair was shorn to the scalp under the length of the braids.
I pulled her hand toward me to secure the straps of her shield onto her arm by memory. We’d been fighting mates for the last five years and I knew every piece of her armor as well as she knew every badly mended bone in my body.
“I’m not worried,” she smirked, “but I’ll bet my dinner that I kill more Riki than you today.” She tossed my axe to me.
I pulled my sword from my scabbard with my right hand and caught the axe with my left. “Vegr yfir fjor.”
She settled her arm all the way into her shield, lifting it up over her head in an arc to stretch her shoulder before she repeated it back to me. “Vegr yfir fjor.”
Honor above life.
The first whistle cut into the air from our right, warning us to get ready and I closed my eyes, feeling the steadiness of the earth beneath my feet. The sounds of battle rushing toward us bled together as the deep-throated prayers of my clansmen rose up around me like smoke from a wildfire. I let the words march out under my breath, asking Sigr to guard me. To help me bring down his enemies.
I reared back and swung my axe, sending it deep into the earth and launched myself up and over the hill, flying forward. My feet hit the dirt and I ran, punching holes into the soft ground with my boots, toward the wall of fog hovering over the field. I kept track of Mýra in the corner of my eye as we were swallowed up by it, the cold rushing past us like a spray of water until dark figures appeared in the hazy distance.