Ana: Brigid, an excerpt from your novel “Walking Shadow” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. I remember you had taken the tragic Greek tale of Cassandra - a young woman cursed with prophetic visions that no one will believe - and you’d given it this incredibly modern twist. Your Cassandra is cursed with constantly perceiving the thoughts and emotions of everyone around her, and you really captured the incredible pain and madness that would derive from having no filters on the world around you.
Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?
Brigid: First of all - Hi everyone! And thanks, Ana! I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. As you said, "Walking Shadow" was influenced by my love for mythology - especially Greek. As a kid, I loved reading about all the gods, heroes, and monsters. The stories are all quite dark, but they also say a lot about human nature, and I always found that very intriguing.
Cassandra - the doomed prophetess - is a particularly fascinating mythological figure. My character Cassandra, like her namesake, is also cursed with visions; she catches glimpses of the future and relives the past, she can see other worlds, and she can hear the thoughts and emotions of the people around her. This curse has tormented a long line of Cassandra's female ancestors, who have all eventually succumbed to madness and killed themselves... and seventeen-year-old Cassandra fears that the same will happen to her.
The excerpt from ABNA 2010 covered the first three chapters of "Walking Shadow". We meet Cassandra sitting in her math class, where she is suffering the thoughts of the kids all around her. She recalls her mother's suicide––which happened when she was four years old––and expresses fear for her own sanity. We also meet Jason, a boy Cassandra's age who is dying after a car accident.
Following the piece from the excerpt, Jason bargains with the Lord of the Underworld to get his life back, not realizing that doing so will cause him to become a ghost-like being. To make matters worse, he kills everything he touches. It turns out that Jason is trapped in the Otherworld and that Cassandra is the only one who can see him. Cassandra finds out from a spirit named Celeste that a journey through the Underworld can save Jason's soul and break Cassandra's curse - but no mortal has ever completed this journey. Nevertheless, Cassandra and Jason set out on a quest through the Underworld together.
I see two major themes in "Walking Shadow", although - of course - readers can interpret it in a variety of ways. What inspired me were the concepts of destiny and reality.
One could say that it was fate that caused Cassandra to be cursed, and caused Jason to die and become a ghost. But does that mean they are destined to fail? Or can both of them fight against their seemingly inevitable dooms? I've always wondered whether everything is predetermined, and that's an idea I explore throughout the novel.
My second intention in writing "Walking Shadow" was to question reality. My version of the Underworld is more a state of mind than it is a concrete place. I've always thought that, if something like the Underworld exists, it would be less fire-and-brimstone, and more like a never-ending nightmare. It takes your greatest fears and turns them against you. It shifts and changes around you until you begin to lose your mind. So, not only is the Underworld full of demons, but it's also trying to drive Jason and Cassandra insane. The more they believe in it, the more real and dangerous it becomes. It brings up the question, is anything truly "real", or is the belief in something that makes it real?
Ana: I like that question - and it seems to me that anyone on the verge of madness from being constantly bombarded by other people's thoughts would be especially interested in knowing what is real and what is unreal! What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?
Brigid: What initially inspired me to write "Walking Shadow" was a "Macbeth" quote: "Life's but a walking shadow ... It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." When I first read those words, they jumped right out at me. First of all, I loved the combination of words, "walking shadow", and thought it would make a great title. But I also loved the meaning behind those lines - and the more I thought about them, the more I sensed a story emerging.
As I said in my answer to the first question, mythology also had a significant part in inspiring me. I'd always wanted to write something that involved demons, an Underworld, and so on. I've also always been fascinated by fantasy realism - stories that blur the line between fantasy and reality, such as "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, or Hayao Miyazaki's film "Spirited Away". I love the idea of "stumbling upon" other worlds... only to find out, in the end, that it all might have been a dream or hallucination.
There's a lot of Greek influence in my Underworld - the monsters, the wandering spirits. But like Carroll's Wonderland, my Underworld is pretty "trippy" and can shift into something new at any given time.
I also wrote the original draft of Walking Shadow during my Junior year of high school––a time when I, like Cassandra, sort of felt like I was descending into insanity. It was a stressful time, in which I felt like people were constantly telling me to do things, until I had barely any time to myself. I think all teenagers have felt those feelings of stress and depression - not to the extent that Cassandra feels them (hopefully!), but they can still relate. It also got me thinking about how maddening it would be, if you literally couldn't escape the voices of all the people around you.
Ana: Telepathy is a common theme in fantasy literature - from the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels to the “Twilight” series - but I love how your excerpt has really followed the concept through to its bleak conclusion. It seems almost inevitable that you’d go mad under the constant barrage of every thought and emotion experienced by the people around you, with no reprieve whatsoever. If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?
Brigid: It's interesting you bring that up... I was nervous about writing from the point of view of a mind-reader, because I knew comparisons to "Twilight" were inevitable. So, I felt pressured to put an original spin on it. But more importantly, I wanted to make it as realistic as possible.
For example, Edward Cullen - although angsty - seems rather calm and put-together for someone who can supposedly hear everyone's thoughts all the time. That seems to be a trend with a lot of fictional psychics, while I've always thought that mind-reading would be absolutely maddening. After all, people's thoughts aren't like essays; they don't have a logical order. We think in fragments and images, and our ideas skip around like crazy. So when Cassandra reads minds, it's just this storm of thoughts all around her, throwing random words and images at her.
I'd say her mind-reading abilities remind me less of Twilight and more of the "Chaos Walking" trilogy by Patrick Ness - which is a series about a colony of people who leave Earth to live on another planet, only to discover that something in the alien atmosphere causes all the men to constantly read each other's minds. So it becomes this never-ending stream of thoughts, which they call the Noise. It's an amazing series, and Ness describes the mind-reading in a very believable way. I wouldn't say "Walking Shadow" is very similar to "Chaos Walking", besides that aspect. But Ness is definitely one of my biggest inspirations.
Other than that, I can't think of anything specific I can compare to "Walking Shadow". There are definitely parts of it that are common in fantasy - psychic abilities, curses, monsters, journeys through the Underworld, etc. But I can't think of one particular work that has all these aspects... Of course, that's probably a good thing!
Ana: Haha, probably so - but I'm going to have to check out that "Chaos Walking" trilogy! Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?
Every time I write a new book, I feel like it's a lot different from the rest of what I've written. It's like having a bunch of children - you can see a few similarities between the stories, and you can see the pieces of yourself in them... but they're all individuals, too.
Not only is "Walking Shadow" my greatest success so far, but it also changed the way I think about my writing. Before, I'd been more insecure about my writing style. But "Walking Shadow" was my first stream-of-consciousness-type book; I thought writing it that way would add to the "descent into insanity" aspect. And it paid off. I discovered that when I let go of inhibitions and didn't censor myself as I wrote, I came up with more interesting and original descriptions than I normally would have. After experiencing that, I've become more confident in myself and in my writing.
As for future plans... Well, I just finished my eighth novel and now I'm stuck in the limbo where I don't know which story to focus on next. I'm juggling several stories at the moment, but I have no idea which one will end up being novel number nine. But I'm trying to finish editing "Walking Shadow" one more time, so I can start sending it out again. Also, I recently started to plan its companion book, "Sweet Sorrow", which I hope to start writing within the next month or two.
Ana: I definitely agree that stream-of-consciousness works well for mad narrators. I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?
Brigid: Oh, boy. Where do I begin? It's kind of a crazy story!
The funny thing is, I wasn't planning on entering ABNA 2010 until about three weeks before the deadline. I'd heard of the contest the year before, but I'd forgotten about it since. Then one of my awesome writer friends, Amy, mentioned that she was entering it so I decided to check it out. I'd only finished Walking Shadow about a month before, and I didn't think it (or any of my other novels) were good enough to submit––besides, it was 20,000 words over the word limit and I didn't think I'd have time to edit it. Luckily. all of my friends convinced me that I could do it, so I decided to take the challenge... and wow, what a life-changing decision that was!
In the next few weeks, I frantically edited out the extra words and put together a pitch for the ABNA contest. Then when the deadline came, I uploaded my materials and tried not to think about what the results would be. I thought maybe I'd make it to the second round, maybe the third round (the quarterfinals) if I was extremely lucky. I knew that the quarterfinalists would receive reviews from Publishers Weekly reviewers, and I remember thinking how it would be amazing if I made it that far... but I probably wouldn't.
As it turned out - not only did I make it to the quarterfinals and get that Publishers Weekly review, but I got a fantastic review and made it to the semifinals - the top fifty Young Adult entrants out of several thousand! When I'd first submitted, I never would have believed that I'd make it that far. When I saw my name on the semifinalists list and read the review, it was really a dream come true - clichéd, I know, but it's true. My mom and sister and I were all dancing around the kitchen, screaming! And after that, I was still shaking with excitement for hours afterward.
Making it that far in the contest changed everything. I've always loved writing, but this was when it really hit me that I had a shot at getting somewhere with it. I'd made a few weak attempts at publishing before, but ABNA 2010 gave me a huge confidence boost and inspired me to keep trying. And having the glowing Publishers Weekly review under my belt has made an impact, too. I've been editing the manuscript and querying agents since ABNA 2010 ended - and as I mentioned earlier, I've gained some interest here and there. It's hard work, but it's encouraging to know that I have some talent!
I also entered the 2011 ABNA contest, and I recently made it through the first round. This year I entered something about a year older than "Walking Shadow" - a science fiction novel called "Edge". I don't know what to expect this year... guess I'll have to wait and see!
Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?
Brigid: Nope, I am neither published nor self-published. However, I'm constantly updating about my writing progress on Twitter (@BrigidRose). I also have a blog, My Life as a Teenage Novelist where I also update and give out advice to fellow writers. I'm always excited to meet people who share my passion for writing!
Ana: Brigid, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Brigid: No problem! I had a lot of fun thinking about these questions and answering them. Nope, nothing else to add. Thank you for interviewing me, Ana! *waves to everyone*