Stephanie and I wait for Ashton outside the mouth of a giant cave. Water laps on the shore as we wave goodbye to Charon, who is manoeuvring his ferry back across the Archeron.
“Bye death-dude! Thank you!” I call out with a friendly wave. I turn to Stephanie. “He was nice. Really nice.”
“Yeah, he was really sweet about you forgetting your money,” Stephanie agrees as she pulls out her notebook and pen.
“Forgot… Sure. Anyway, as you were saying?”
“Look, all I’m saying is that we should definitely go back to our families after this interview – just that there’s no need to rush,” Stephanie’s saying as the sunny Grecian sky shines down on us, tempting us to abandon our homes and loved ones for just a little bit longer than necessary.
“Seriously, Steph, are you hearing any objections here? Frankly if I had the cash I would have run away to a non-extraditable state a long time ago.”
“Good. Ashton’s on her way. We’ll be going down into the tunnels. Try not to freak out,” Stephanie says as she arranges our interview notes.
Before Stephanie can respond, however, Ashton comes out of the cave and we all make polite introductions. Ashton seems radiant, agreeable and friendly. Eventually, after Stephanie’s said all the complimentary things like, “We loved your book” and, “You’re awesome incarnate” and, “Please! Don’t make us leave your presence” we get down to business. For some reason I’ve been in a funk since we hit Europe, but I push past that and ask my first question while we walk through the cave and head deeper into the tunnels.
“Everneath is, at its heart, the story of a teenage girl who returns to school emotionally and physically battered and bruised. She’s there to reconcile with the love of her life, Jack, before her time is up and her life ends. There’s a lot to learn from Nikki’s story. What lessons did you hope your audience would take away?”
Ashton takes a moment to think about it, obviously picking her words. “You know, I never write a story with the hope that the audience learns a specific lesson. That’s too hard, and it would be a very boring story!” she says. We’re picking our way amongst the rocky ground in the tunnels and the voices of trapped souls wail occasionally as we pass. “When writing Nikki’s story, all I thought about were the characters, and what decisions they would make in the situations they are placed in. Then, as the author, I get the luxury of sitting back and listening to all the different interpretations of the story!”
She pauses and beams for a moment before continuing. “I get to ask you – yes, you, Kat and Stephanie – what did you take away from the book?”
I can tell it’s freaking Stephanie out. She’s still hung up about that thing where Anna tried to murder her, so I try to answer the question and keep the conversation going.
“Um… Well, actually my interpretation is that Everneath is a drug metaphor. Cole is Nikki’s addiction which she starts casually shortly after her mother’s death. Then as the stress gets to her, she finally gives into it completely. It wastes her away and destroys her, leaving her a husk of her former self. She decides to leave the drug, ie. Cole, behind to reunite briefly with her exboyfriend Jack, but the drug follows her around, trying to get her to go back into an addict’s haze.”
Stephanie looks at me like I’m completely nuts. “Kat, you have officially gone crazy. The alcohol has finally gotten to you.”
Ashton leans forward and says, “You really got Nikki and her issues and some of the deeper meanings going on, and I loved how you interpreted everything.”
I smile brightly and look up into her beautiful, kind face. “Really?”
She laughs and then shakes her head for no. Evil, diabolical, saucy minx! Stephanie is laughing her head off. She and Ashton are clutching their stomachs from the cramps and holding onto each other as they chortle. I huff and wait for them to stop. Everyone’s a bloody comedian.
“Did you see the look of hope on her face? Priceless!” Stephanie manages to say between gasping breathes. Ashton nods her head and wipes away a tear.
Apparently my face, first so full of hope and unadulterated joy, now sour and heart-broken, is completely hilarious to them.
“Yeah, yeah. Hyuk it up guys. Okay, next question! Cause, you know, Steph, We have a job to do? Cole, an immortal badboy who fed off Nikki and drained her life, is an incredibly ambiguous character. Did you plan his characterization or was it organic?” I ask.
Ashton settles down and finally stops laughing enough to get back to business. “All I knew going in was that I wanted Cole to be painted with all shades of gray. The rest of it came organically. There were instances (like when he comes to Nikki’s brother Tommy’s rescue) where his compassion took me by surprise, and other places where I wondered how he could be so cruel. At the end, even I was left asking what his true motives are. I’m still not sure!”
Steph and I shake our heads knowingly and Steph can’t help but ask, “Cole is such a complex character. One minute I think he’s just using Nikki and the next minute I think he’s truthful when he says he cares about her. He’s a character that I can’t seem to love completely or hate. Yet, somehow he still managed to be my favorite character. Can we expect more moments of great frustration with Cole?”
“Really, Steph? Really? You’re going into the hero worship so soon? Are you going to ask Ashton to bring Cole to life so you can marry him?”
“Want to swim back, Kat?” Stephanie hisses. I’m so going to push her into the water, I decide.
“Yes! I touched upon this above, but I feel the same way about Cole. People ask, “Which one is your favorite character?” and I’m all, “Cole!” And then they ask, “Which is your least favorite?” and I’m all, “Cole!” He is definitely a conundrum, and he’s been the best part of writing this series, because even I am unsure of his real feelings. I think even Cole is unsure as well. He’s dealing with uncharted territory when it comes to Nikki.”
“Oh, that is so…”
“I swear, if you say romantic I will leave you here,” I threaten Stephanie. She glares at me but doesn’t respond. She mutters something about me being pissy.
“Nikki’s emotions are extremely well drawn and complex. Was it a painful writing process to try and relate these to your audience in the novel?” I ask.
“Yes! Nikki’s story arc is definitely an emotional one, and for me, emotions are the hardest thing to convey. I can’t tell you how many times my editor wrote in the margin, “Yes, but what is Nikki feeling here!” It was painful. I wrote an email to my agent, complaining that it was impossible for one girl to feel any more, and could I please stop talking about feelings now.”
“I so get that,” I reply kicking through the rocks on the cave floor. “Sometimes, when reading this novel, I just wondered how Nikki managed to make it from one day to the next. Okay, my last questions: “ Nikki and her father had a very awkward relationship throughout the book. How did you feel about him as your wrote his scenes?”
Ashton gives a sad sigh as we examine the tunnels, knowing how many lost souls are trapped in the rock. Also, there’s a decaying hand sticking out of the wall. Gross. “Nikki’s original family was very similar to many families in my neighborhood growing up, where the mothers are the nurturers, and the fathers are gone most of the time in “providing” mode. Nikki’s father for so long relied on Nikki’s mom to be the link to his daughter, so when the mom died, it left him floundering in his role for a bit. I wondered how a dad would react to a grieving teenage daughter who he might not know as well as he thought he did. I felt for him as he struggled in how best to approach Nikki. But that doesn’t mean I liked him very much!”
“Yeah, he just let her down in so many ways, you know?” I said. “It made me so sad for her – and knowing that there were a lot of other kids out there going through a similar thing.” Ashton nods and puts an arm around my shoulder. “I mean…this is hard for me to say but, my parents just went away on a romantic cruise and… and… THEY DIDN’T TAKE ME!” I bawl.
“You’re kidding me, Kennedy! You’re angry that you’re parents didn’t take their adult daughter with them on a romantic cruise?”
I sniffle and nod. Ashton is being so nice and comforting.
“The cover is amazing! What were your first thoughts when you saw it? When can you reveal the cover for book two?” I glare at Stephanie. “What?” she asks. “I gave you your moment! How much of your insanity do you think I’m going to indulge?”
“You have no soul!” I hiss.
But Ashton’s back in interviewee mode now and ready to answer Stephanie’s question. “My first reaction involved jumping up and down. I love the cover! I’ve just started seeing mockups for the sequel, and again, there was a lot of jumping up and down. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to release the title and the cover. I can’t wait! That’s one of the funnest parts of the whole thing.”
Stephanie and Ashton are feeding off the same excitement, and the promise of a new cover reveal soon is only hyping Stephanie up. “Nikki and Jack’s relationship is one of the sweetest I’ve read lately in the Young Adult genre. Did you draw on any inspirations when crafting their romance?”
“I wanted their relationship to be organic, and real. I think I took a lot of inspiration from my own guy-friend-relationships in high school, and that tension that comes from wondering if a friendship could be more than a friendship.”
I’m making faces behind their back as they walk on and I can’t help but feel that my funk is definitely ruining a great interview with one of my favourite young adult authors. I kind of get how Nikki was feeling.
“I really appreciated that the cliffhanger at the end wasn’t too steep. The immediate threat is resolved. Did you always plan for it to be a series? If not, was there an alternate ending?” Stephanie asks, her pen poised and ready to record Ashton’s reply.
“When I first queried agents with this book, it was a standalone, and there was an alternate ending, but not in the way you might think. (I have to be careful because I don’t want to spoil anything). The same thing happened with the Tunnels, but the story continued to a hurried resolution. I had several agent offers, but the agent I went with said, “I don’t think that’s the ending you originally wanted.” He was right. He gave me the opportunity to end it the way I envisioned, and then continue the story in the next book.”
“Would you even consider the ending a cliffhanger? I mean, SOMEONE referred to it as a cliffhanger in her interview, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Stephanie asks, looking back at me cheekily.
“I definitely don’t consider the ending a true cliffhanger, because the story arc (saving Nikki from the Tunnels) was completed. A true cliffhanger would’ve been to end the story right before the Tunnels come for her. Nikki’s story is about consequences of decisions, so I couldn’t make the ending easy. But I understand readers wanting to know what happens next. Now!”
“That’s me! I can’t wait for the next book! For the most part, Everneath takes place in the real world, but based off the ending it looks like we’ll get to see more of the Underworld in book two.”
“Would you like to see some of the Everliving now?” a deep, masculine voice asks as Cole steps out from around a corner and right into Stephanie’s personal space. My jaw drops open in surprise and Ashton looks a little concerned at what trickery Cole might get up to.
“I-I-I…” Stephanie replies, struggling to form a coherent sentence.
“What?” I explode. “You’re going to take Stephanie? That’s so not fair! I’m the depressed one! Look at all these juicy emotions!” But it’s no use. Cole’s eyes are only for Stephanie and he gestures toward the tunnel. Stephanie, entranced by his beauty, takes his hand and they start walking down together without a backward glance.
“Great! Just great! That is beyond unfair!” Stephanie and Cole are descending further into the darkness. “That’s right! Just go with him! You put up a valiant fight there, Stephanie! I’m in awe of your self-control! I hope you get Evercooties!” I yell. Ashton is still standing beside me and looking very concerned. “So, has building the world of the Everliving been challenging?” I ask, to try and maintain some semblance of an interview.
“It was challenging, but so rewarding. I can say that now because I’m almost done. But yeah, world-building sucks. I wish I could be more eloquent about it,” she replies, but she’s distracted and she points at Stephanie’s retreating form and asks me if I’m going to do anything about my friend being lost to the Everneath.
“Don’t worry,” I assure her. “She’ll be back shortly. Just wait.”
Ashton doesn’t seem convinced, but two minutes later Stephanie comes trudging back through the tunnels looking completely pissed.
As soon as Ashton sees her in the distance she sighs in relief and asks me how I knew Cole wouldn’t take Stephanie. “Remember when I said she had no soul? I totally wasn’t kidding.”
“Okay,” Stephanie rages as she approaches, “is there anywhere we can go that doesn’t need a soul for entry? Because apparently that is a requirement now!”
Ashton and I try not to laugh. “Disneyland Paris it is then. Want to see if Charon can drop us?” I pull out my purse and flash my money.
Stephanie looks scandalized for a moment but then grins with excitement. “Disneyland it is then. Coming, Ashton?”
And that was the day we discovered that Charon, ferryman to the underworld, can’t make a left-hand turn worth a shit.
We want to give a huge thank you to Brodi Ashton for answering our questions and braving the River Styx with us!
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