I crouch down low behind a barrel, watching the Pirates aboard Lady Corsair going about their piratey duties. I’m meeting Marie Rutkoski, author of The Shadow Society, on the docks of Sydney’s harbor for Kat’s and my annual Ninja’s vs. Pirates showdown. She’s taken a detour from the Fierce Reads tour and generously agreed to an interview with us.
Just then a hand clasps my shoulder and I spin around to see it’s Marie. She’s arrived just on time dressed in all black, ready for action. I even notice she’s brought her Tachi sword along for the ride. Nice.
After exchanging greetings I ask, “Did you bring the shades?”
She winks at me and tips her head to the right, gesturing to the many moving shadows I didn’t seem to notice at first. I smirk in return. ‘Dis gon’ be good.
Marie turns to scope out the ship and a worried expression appears on her face. She’s wondering how we can possibly sneak aboard the ship undetected, but I quickly reassure her. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got it covered right here,” I say, pulling out my Marauders Map.
Marie grins and gives me a thumbs up as I whisper the words that bring the map to life, “We solemnly swear we are up to no good.”
My eyes search the map, looking for Kat’s red dot. “See, those other pirates we can easily sneak around or take out, but the Captain is the one we have to look out for, ” I explain. Marie finds it and points to Kat’s location, right next to the ship’s bar.
“Ah, ha! Just where I’d knew she’d be!” I say, rolling the map up and stowing it away in my satchel. While I’m in there, I pull out my mask and attempt to hand one to Marie, but she’s already got her own. She must do this often, I think and I love her already.
I gesture for us to move out, but of course this is also an interview. So I naturally start asking questions.
“The Shadow Society, your first Young Adult novel, explores a new kind of supernatural group: Shades, people who have the ability to “ghost” and become shadows.” I notice them out of the corner of my eye. Now that I know they are there, it’s hard to miss them. “How did you come up with that idea?” I ask, leaping over a crate.
“I was in the mood to write a paranormal romance, because I love them, but the thought of writing about a supernatural creature that already existed made me tired. I wanted a new creature, with a new mythology, history, and culture.
I gave Shades the ability they have because I was interested in these questions: If you could become a shadow– untouchable, invisible– what would you do with that power? When would you choose to use it? What would be your vulnerabilities?” she says.
“Well, I know one thing. I’d be one hell of a ninja if I were invisible. Kat would never see me coming,” I muse. A girl can dream.
Marie laughs and continues, “I also made the Shades visually identifiable– when you see one, you know you’re looking at a Shade– because I wanted to explore the issue of racial profiling and, more generally, the danger of assuming things about a person just by looking at him or her.”
We stop right by the ship and prepare to board using ninja claws. We both do a running jump and fling ourselves at the ship, landing with a small plunk! As we begin making our way up the side of the ship I whisper my next question, “You’ve managed to craft an entire story based on one lone event that involves and knife and a fish tank. Can you tell me* a little about that?”
“It’s based on a true story. A friend of mine told me that once, when he was in high school, he and his mom were having a big fight, and she threw a kitchen knife at him. It hit the fish tank and broke it. He says that she swears that she didn’t throw the knife AT him. He has his doubts. All I can say is that I’ve met his mom on several occasions and she is a lovely person. But I’d thought about this story for years, wondering whether she meant to throw it at him, meant to miss, what would have happened if she had hit him….I began imagining it as the beginning of a novel, and then I thought: What if there was an otherworldly reason why the knife hit the fish tank and not the person? The Shadow Society came from my answer to that question,” she says.
I look over at Marie to my right and say, “What a coincidence you mention throwing sharp objects when that is just what we will no doubt end up doing tonight.”
Her eyes gleam and I can tell she’s counting on it. We make it to the top of the port and peer over the edge. There’s so much to take in. There are pirates swabbing the deck, wrestling, sword fighting and drunk in the corners. But none that has our full attention. It’s the stench of people who have been at sea for way too long. Marie and I immediately drop down from the edge and hang by our claws to catch our breath. To stall, I plunge ahead to another question.
“I really loved the characters in The Shadow Society, but my absolute favorite was Jims! He provided the perfect amount of comic relief. Did you have any inspirations while crafting your characters?”
“Oh, Jims! He was so much fun,” she says, seemingly grateful for the distraction. “He was inspired a bit by a good friend of mine– really, more by the dynamic I felt was between us. You know how certain aspects of yourself come out when you’re around different people? With this friend, things are clever and playful, and even serious topics get treated with a light touch. Some of what Jims said actually came out of my friend’s mouth– or mine, when I was around him. I’m so glad Jims is a favorite of yours. I feel very tenderly towards him.”
I smile at the tender moment we share… hanging off the side of a pirate ship.
“Lily dresses a lot like one of my friends from high school. Raphael isn’t like anyone I know, but his Latino background comes from the fact that I gave him the last name of a friend born in Cuba. Marsha is inspired by a lot of women from my hometown, and their deep kindness,” she finishes.
She looks back toward the ship and her face turns serious. That’s when I notice something is not right. There is one thing that is never present on a pirate ship, silence. But as I strain my ears, that is exactly what I am met with. I tap Marie on the shoulder and hold up three fingers for the count down.
3… 2… 1…
We hoist ourselves aboard and are greeted by the welcoming crew.
…. And they’re not exactly thrilled to see us.
“H-h-hey, guys,” I stammer, completely caught off guard. “Barbossa, my man, how’s it goin’? Love what you’ve done with the beard.”
Barbossa and the pirates respond by pointing their swords at our throats. Apparently, my small talk needs work. Marie doesn’t look too happy with the situation and neither do the Shades who are slowly creeping over the deck, unbeknownst to the crew.
“Careful where you point that, Barbossa. I might have to teach you how to use it,” I say.
He narrows his eyes and says, “Brave words for someone on t’ wrong end o’ t’ blade. Perhaps a little stroll on t’ plank will teach yer some respect. Arrrr…”
Marie’s eyes grow wide. I bet she never expected all this when she agreed to this interview.
“What’s this?!” a voice shouts over the crew.
“Kat!” I yell, attempting to see over the sea of pirate hats, but Barbossa has his sword firmly trained at my throat. “Easy there, cowboy. I’d hate to see what the mistress would do to you if you so much as scratch her beloved co-blogger,” I say gently lowering his arm.
“That’s t’ cap’n t’ ye, ye scurvy dog!” he says, scowling.
“Yo-ho-ho. Ya momma,” I reply, rolling my eyes as Kat steps up to me.
She looks at me, allowing no emotions to betray her thoughts and says, “Causin’ trouble on me deck again, eh, Sinclair?”
“Dude! You’ve been working on your pirate talk! It sounds so authentic now and you look sooo badass in that outfit,” I say, giving her a once over.
She walks to the edge of the port and looks out to the shore. A gentle breeze blows her perfectly highlighted locks and she says in a calm voice, “I know.”
She turns back to us and breaks out into a laugh. Marie and I join in followed by the crew. Have you ever heard a bevy of old, dirty men laughing in unison before? It’s creepy.
Kat looks at Marie and says, “Ahoy, Marie! Happy release day and welcome aboard Lady Corsair! What say we take this meeting to a more comfortable setting? We have an interview to finish.”
I glance at Marie, shrug and we follow Kat. “Aft t’ work, me harties!” she bellows to the crew.
We fall into line next to Kat, she slings an arm around Marie and says, “So, tell me. What do you think is the most important element in crafting a protagonist?”
She smiles as Kat and says, “Any editor will tell you that it is to know what the character wants. For me, however, I usually don’t have a clear idea of what my protagonist wants– or I know that what she DOES want is complicated, sometimes contradictory, and multiple. My protagonists want a lot of things.
The single most helpful thing, when I write, is to have a clear idea of my character’s vulnerabilities. What would break her heart? What does she fear? In a way, this is the other side of the coin to knowing what a character wants.”
We walk into the galley and take seats at a round table. There is chatter all around us from the other crew members in the room, so we lean in closer to hear one another.
“I’ve answered your question in terms of craft, the writing process, but it also applies to what I think is appealing to a reader: a protagonist filled with desires, fears, and Achilles heels, just like a real person,” Marie finishes.
I nod my head and say, “Yeah, I could completely see that in The Shadow Society. Darcy’s love for painting seemed so well-crafted and effortless. Do you share the same passion for art as her or did you have to do research to bring her hobby to life?”
Marie beams at me and says, “Thank you! I loved writing about her talent, and all the works of art in the book.
In the school district where I grew up, you chose either music or art. I chose music, and was in band and choir all throughout junior high and high school. But in my senior year, I took my first art class on a whim and loved it. I was decent at it, and it gave me great pleasure. For many years after, I would draw, make flowers out of light bulbs and garden wire, do fun stuff with watch gears. I can’t say it’s my passion, because I don’t do it anymore. I do have a passion for viewing art, though. I love love love museums.
I also used to love dating artists. But that never ended well.”
Kat gives her an understanding look and says, “I dated an artist once too. Cheated on me and broke me heart, he did.”
“Ahh, really, Kat? I’m sorry,” I say as Marie gently pats her hand.
The side of her mouth quirks up and she says, “It’s alright. I sent ‘em t’ Davy Jones’ Locker.” Marie and Kat fist bump and I’m not sure what to make of this bonding moment.
“Do you have a writing routine?” Kat asks, getting us back on track.
“I (usually) am a professor of English (not this year. This year I’m on leave and living in Paris),” she begins.
“Whoa! Paris?! Cool!” I exclaim.
“And I have two small children. In other words: time for writing is rare, so I take it when I can. Stephen King once said that all you need to write is a door that shuts (he wrote Carrie in the laundry room of a double-wide trailer– a tiny space. But he could shut a door to close himself in), and I live by that,” she says.
Kat slouches back in her chair. “Oh, small children. Tell me about it!”
“When I sit down to write, I aim to write a chapter or at least a scene. That way, the novel becomes a network of little stories that build into a big one. More and more, I write a loose general outline of the book before I begin. Maybe not the whole book. Maybe just the first half, so I know where I’m going. I’m also a big believer in what Marilynne Robinson (who won the Pulitzer for Gilead) calls “pre-writing”– thinking very determinedly about what you will write and how a sentence might go. You think about it at the gym, in the shower, when you walk, so that when you sit down with a pencil or computer, it’s ready in your head, and flows out,” Marie says.
Surprisingly we are getting through this interview without any mishaps. I plunge on, hoping it remains that way. “What do you think is the most important factor to remember when writing Young Adult compared to other age demographics?”
Marie thinks for a moment and says, “Probably just to remember that you’re portraying characters encountering some things for the first time. For example, the first time you fall in love is incredibly powerful. It marks you for life, even if the romance doesn’t work out. Bearing in mind the potency of first experiences is very important, I think.”
“What part of the publishing process surprised you most?” Kat asks.
“Well, I do remember the first time (this was before my first novel was actually out. It was still in the editing stage) someone said, ‘Have your publisher send me an ARC.’ It was as if she’d been talking English and then ended the sentence with the sound a sea lion makes. I was like, ‘Ark? Ark? What are you talking about?’” she answers, laughing.
Kat leans back and releases the Hearty Seaman’s Laugh.
Marie and I stare at Kat with raised eyebrows. I’m slightly awed that she managed to pull that off.
“What? I’m in character,” Kat says.
I chuckle and turn to Marie, “You, see. Kat and I frequently like to debate on very important topics.”
“And I usually win, but settle this for us. In your professional opinion, tell us, Pirates or Ninjas?” Kat asks with a grin.
I try to hide a smug look because based on what I’ve seen tonight, I know exactly how she’ll answer.
“This is a serious question. I must wholeheartedly avow my loyalty to the Ninjas,” she says, pointing towards me. “Piracy is too dirty for me, I’m afraid. I like running hot water. And I get seasick.”
I jump up and yell, “Yes! In yo face, Kennedy!” The room grows quiet as all the pirates turn toward our table. The look on Kat’s face screams “Kodak moment.”
“Piracy is a lot of fun in theory, but I’ll choose a throwing star or a lithe assassin dressed in black any day,” Marie finishes, shrugging.
The tension in the room is getting to be unbearable. One brave pirate dares to break the silence by rising to his feet and charging for Marie. He picked the wrong author to mess with. Just as he was about to rush her, she stands and gives him a swift back kick to the gut, causing him to fly halfway across the room. But before he hits the wall, she unleashes a series of throwing stars, pining him to the wall.
Everyone stares at Marie and is amazed at the level of badass we’ve all just witnessed. Jaws drop and curses are muttered.
“Seize them!” Kat shouts.
Just then, Marie snaps her fingers, the shadows in the room come to life and she quickly goes to work. It’s a battle of epic proportions between shades and pirates. I draw my katana and Marie and I battle our way to the deck with Kat hot on our tails. When we reach the deck, Marie squares off with Barbossa while Kat and I engage in a dance of blades.
“BELAY!” Barbossa gasps.
All movement ceases. Kat and I look over and see Marie has one of Barbossa’s fingers firmly between hers, pinky raised.
“OMG. It’s the legendary Wuxi Finger Hold,” I say.
“The what?” Kat asks.
“Give up, Kat. Trust me. You don’t want her to go flexing that pinky,” I say.
Kat looks at me shocked that I would even suggest it and says, “Never!”
Marie looks at us, grins and says, “Thanks so much for the excellent questions, ladies!” and flexes her pinky.
“Nooooooooo!” I yell. Ripples of energy release from around her and a white light of Awesomeness envelops the ship. When everything returns to normal, she’s gone.
“Whoa. What kind of wheaties are those Fierce Reads authors eating?” Kat whispers. Then she looks at me. “You know, this isn’t over.”
“Well, how about I challenge you to Mortal Kombat!” I say, crouching into a pose. “Or we could go play World of Warcraft?”
We smile at each other and in unison say, “World of Warcraft.”
And that just goes to show you that World of Warcraft can settle any dispute that arises between co-bloggers.
“Us” was changed to “me” for the purpose of the story.
We want to give a huge thank you to Marie Rutkoski for the interview. Ninjas rule, pirates drool.
Also, thank you Macmillan for allowing us to be apart of the blog tour!
Don’t forget to check out The Shadow Society, available now!
Darcy Jones doesn’t remember anything before the day she was abandoned as a child outside a Chicago firehouse. She has never really belonged anywhere—but she couldn’t have guessed that she comes from an alternate world where the Great Chicago Fire didn’t happen and deadly creatures called Shades terrorize the human population.
Memories begin to haunt Darcy when a new boy arrives at her high school, and he makes her feel both desire and desired in a way she hadn’t thought possible. But Conn’s interest in her is confusing. It doesn’t line up with the way he first looked at her.
As if she were his enemy.
When Conn betrays Darcy, she realizes that she can’t rely on anything—not herself, not the laws of nature, and certainly not him. Darcy decides to infiltrate the Shadow Society and uncover the Shades’ latest terrorist plot. What she finds out will change her world forever . . .
In this smart, compulsively readable novel, master storyteller Marie Rutkoski has crafted an utterly original world, characters you won’t soon forget, and a tale full of intrigue and suspense.
We are giving away one hardcover copy of The Shadow Society courtesy of Macmillan. This giveaway is only open for US and Canada, but check back next week for an international giveaway for a chance to win this book again!
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