I met up with Natalie Wright at the S.A.F.E. Con. We chatted for a while, and I asked her to follow up via email with this little interview.
What inspired you to write Emily’s House?
Back in 2007, I was in a hypnosis session and at the end, I had a vision of a gold object hovering over green hills. I couldn’t shake the image and began doing research to figure out what the object was. In my mind I heard it described as a ring, but I knew it was too large to be a ring for a finger. One day I had a breakthrough. I found a photo of an ancient Celtic torc. When I saw the photo it was a eureka moment. The torc was like the object I’d seen months before in my hypnotic vision.Thus began my obsession with all things Celt! And my research led me to the discovery that the Celts called bracelets and armlets “rings.” Then I knew. The object I’d seen in my hypnotic vision was an armlet, not a ring for a finger. Thus the magical object that Emily quests to find is a golden torc that will be worn around her upper arm. My research also led me to a discovery about a sect of women Druids that kept the eternal flame of the goddess Brighid. They lived in a sacred grove that no men were allowed to enter. Even after the goddess Brighid was replaced with Saint Brigid, the nuns kept the flame going (until a pope in the Renaissance period ordered it to be extinguished because it was too pagan).My imagination took off and soon I had a story developing. At the time I was not writing fiction but the story in my head forced me to begin writing. Before long I had taken two apparently disparate things – ancient Celtic myth and the Hadron Super Collider – and found a way to weave them together into a story! It may sound strange, but I think it works.
Is there a message in the Akasha Chronicles that you want readers to grasp?
After I put together the first draft of Emily’s House (Book 1 of the Akasha Chronicles), I could see some themes that had emerged. By casting a teenage girl (Emily is fourteen when the story begins) as the hero, I created an opportunity to address the theme of a girl’s inner strength. As it turns out, girls ages 9-14 have responded well to Emily. Emily has magical abilities but inside – like so many girls that age – she lacks confidence. She’s looking outside of herself for approval and trying to hide who she really is just to fit in. Many girls (and adult women too!) can relate to this. So over the course of three books – as she comes into her own and finally learns to not only accept who she is but embrace it – the reader sees this journey and perhaps finds a few clues within the story as to how she (the reader) can achieve the same.
A message or theme that I intended to develop from the start was the juxtaposition of science and faith; of the rational and the mysterious. Hence why ancient Celtic myth and the Hadron collider ended up in the same book! My goal is to get young people who read the book (and older folks alike) to ask questions – of their science, their faith and themselves. What is real? What is myth?
How much of the trilogy is realistic?
The Akasha Chronicles is fantasy but it’s set in the modern world (for the most part). The characters and the scenes in our modern world are, I hope, realistic to readers. Also the “magic” that Emily and others use throughout the book is “real” in the sense that it is the manifestation of intention. That is “real” magic and can be achieved by anyone at any time – no wands, cauldrons, spells or special ingredients needed. Of course the magic is fictionalized to make it more fun and interesting, but the basics of how Emily performs magical feats are used by people all the time around the world to manifest their intentions.
What books or authors have most influenced your life?
I know this may sound strange coming from a fiction author, but for years I didn’t read much fiction. I didn’t begin reading much fiction until I began writing it. A book that heavily influenced me and my life (and influenced heavily Emily’s House) is the Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohugh. It’s a jewel of a book and I read from it often.
As far as fiction writers go, I devoured Anne Rice and Margaret Atwood throughout my twenties and early thirties. More recently, I have been influenced by Sir Terry Pratchett (Wee Free Men is a fabulous primer for anyone writing fantasy for tweens/teens) and George R.R. Martin. I feel that reading The Game of Thrones changed me as a writer the way nothing else (so far) has. Martin’s storytelling makes me want to create more fully developed characters and more complex stories.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
George R.R. Martin. He doesn’t know it (or that I exist!), but I consider him a mentor (even if books 4 and 5 of The Song of Ice and Fire feel like long, straggling vines that have wandered far from the mother plant). George’s career speaks of tenacity. The Song of Ice and Fire isn’t the first (or only) thing that he wrote/did. He’d written many short stories, several novels and spent time scriptwriting in Hollywood before he wrote The Game of Thrones. His career is an example of the relentless pursuit of a dream/vision and never letting defeat or set backs stop him.
And George is, IMO, a master at creating characters. I feel like I know the people in his books. While I do not write epic/high fantasy, I strive to achieve the kind of complexity of story with strong characters like in GoT.
Are there any new authors that have garnered your interest?
Sadly, I haven’t had much time to read new authors lately. I not only write and edit my own work, but I’m also a paid beta reader for other writers so much of my reading time is spent reading manuscripts, not finished novels.
Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) is probably the last, best “new” author I read. I love her style and voice and look forward to what comes next from her. I also am in awe of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). While not exactly “new” when Gone Girl was released, she was new to me. She’s an amazing storyteller and another writer that I eagerly await her next book.
I’ll also give a shout out to two Indie authors who write for young adults that I think show much promise. Heather Sunseri, author of Mindspeak and Mindsiege, has a flair with words and a great imagination. And Amber Argyle, author of Witch Song. While reading Witch Song, I found myself jealous that I hadn’t written the book! For people who enjoy books about magical women, I highly recommend Witch Song.
I know you’re currently rewriting H.A.L.F., tell us about the project.
I began writing H.A.L.F. in 2010! I had a first draft complete in the summer of 2012 and had comments from beta readers and a content editor but decided to put it aside for a while so that I could focus on completing The Akasha Chronicles trilogy. I’m so glad that I did! The characters and story have changed tremendously since 2012 AND I wrote two more books since then so my writing has matured. I’m now able (I think) to write the story I’d intended all along.
While designing H.A.L.F. I asked myself, “What if the Roswell crash really happened?” I have assumed that all of the “myths” about Roswell are true. In 1947 an alien craft crash landed in the high desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Three alien bodies were recovered. Aliens have continued to visit our planet and abduct people on a regular basis. For the purposes of my story, I assume all of the alien legends and myths are true.
With that backdrop, my main character Erika is out in the Arizona desert partying with some friends when things begin to get dangerous. When she meets H.A.L.F. 9, an alien-human hybrid, her choice to help him escape from the secret underground lab pits her against the secret government and she and her friends become fugitives.
It’s an action-packed series that will be five books total and will appeal to fans of television shows like Roswell and The X-Files.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
To quote Emma Mode from The Incredibles, “I never look back, dahling. It distracts from the now.”
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I can’t because I was always interested in it from the first memory that I have. Until I reached middle school, being a writer was the only thing I ever said that I wanted to do “when I grow up.” The desire to make money is what steered me away from my childhood dream and caused me to get a law degree and practice law for close to 20 years. I feel quite blessed to have the support of my family and a husband who loves me enough to nudge me (sometimes not so gently) to follow my dream rather than work just to make money. Now I do what I love every single moment of every day. Life is good when you’re doing what you love.
Of course, making money at it would be nice too ;-)
Who designed the covers for the Akasha Chronicles?
It took the talents of several gifted women to create the lovely covers for The Akasha Chronicles. Model Ashley Phillips played Emily for the covers of Emily’s Trial (Book 2) and Emily’s Heart (Book 3) (we used a stock photo for book 1). Teresa Yeh, fantasy photographer extraordinaire, shot the photos. Then Claudia McKinney of PhatPuppy Art worked her artistic magic to create the final cover art (Claudia’s work can also be seen in covers for bestselling authors like Amanda Hocking). Finally, Cheryl Perez did the titling and created final covers for print, digital and audio books. I’m very pleased with the work all of them did. They were able to capture exactly the vision I had in my head for the covers.
What was the hardest part of writing the series?
Writing it! Seriously, just getting my butt into the chair was, at times, the biggest challenge. I began writing Emily’s House in 2008 and published it in 2011. Up until the summer of 2013, I was working full-time as a lawyer and taking care of my daughter and family. So just finding the quiet time to write was a challenge.
Emily’s Heart was, though, my most challenging book to write so far. Though I had more time to write after my retirement from the practice of law, I had painted myself into a tight corner with the things that happened in Emily’s Trial. For months I struggled with how to end not only Emily’s Heart, but the whole series. I wanted readers to feel satisfied with the end. I didn’t want some cheesy, sappy ending, but I needed closure and for the series to end on an up beat. That was really hard because book 3 is set in an apocalyptic world and a lot of really bad shit happens! I couldn’t have everything reset to normal and have the main characters ride off happily into the sunset (to presumably get married and have 2.5 kids, etc.).
I didn’t know how it would end but I wrote anyway and ended up dumping about 70,000+ words of drivel that didn’t make the cut. But the final result is, IMO, my best writing and I think I found a way to create a *realistic* but satisfying ending for the reader.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read, read, read, read, read.
Write, write, write, write, write.