Oh, yes, yes, I know video teasers are supposed to come out before the book, but being conventional is so dull.
So, here it is, the brand new teaser for A Strange Companion. Let me know what you think!
A Strange Companion is available on:
Sometimes people ask me if the characters I write are based on real people. For the most part, the answer is no, at least not directly. The truth is that most characters have elements of people I’ve met, or heard about, or they say or do things that I’ve witnessed in real life. It’s impossible not to draw from experience. In fact, much fiction writing pulls incidents and emotions from real life and drops them into fictional scenarios. It’s the same way that actors draw on their own emotional experiences to give depth to the characters they portray.
That said, of all the characters in A Strange Companion, one is pulled from real life.
Owen was a later addition to Kat’s story. During one rewrite, I realized that, if Kat was really trying to move on after Gabe, she needed to have an enticing option to consider. And thus, Owen was born. Naturally, if Owen was going to be swoon-worthy, he had to be a scientist. I mean, brains over brawn every time, right? And so the floppy-haired, cake-baking chemist loped onto the page.
Years ago, I met a retired petrochemical engineer who had taken up baking and produced the most delicious cakes. This unlikely baker had become so proficient that his claim to fame, he was proud to tell me, was that a recipe correction he’d sent to a well-known culinary magazine had been printed in the following month’s edition. When I’d expressed my surprise that someone who’d spent a life working with toxic chemicals had turned his hand to fluffy cakes and confections, he handed me the line that would later shape Owen’s character: “Baking is pure chemistry.”
But Owen’s cake-baking isn’t the only thing borrowed from a real-life person. The original meeting between he and Kat, when they introduce themselves via charades and a rebus, is based on an another, more personal, interaction pulled from my life.
When I was in college I met “Owen.” Our friendship began with an exchange of information between my study room in the library and his dorm room window. It blossomed into a sweet and fun friendship, and would have undoubtedly developed into a romance had it not been for the appearance of a dashing suitor.
Sadly, brawn trumped brains on that occasion, and “Owen” was cast aside. (I know, don’t judge. I was young and foolish. What can I say?) Of course, the relationship with Mr. Gorgeous went nowhere. He turned out to be neither sweet or fun, and provided my first big lesson that yummy on the outside doesn’t automatically mean yummy on the inside. So, when Kat’s story called for the perfect antidote to her broken heart, I had to bring in “Owen.”
I sometimes imagine that the original Owen might one day read Kat’s story and recognize himself, and maybe even accept his cameo role as an apology for my appalling behavior. Sadly, experience has taught me that people rarely recognize themselves in books, and those who think they’re the models for characters seldom are.
A Strange Companion is a Kindle Countdown Deal, beginning today. Grab yourself a copy early to get the best deal. Click here to buy.
After the recent wildfires here in Sonoma County, our local radio station read the names and ages of all the victims, adding more as news came in. We’ve also, sadly, become accustomed to seeing the faces and hearing the names of victims of gun violence, long lists of people no longer alive. As hard as it is to hear these names and see these faces, it’s important for us to remember that real people with full lives, with families and friends who loved them, are behind these news headlines. I never want to lose sight of the fact that they were far more than simply terrible statistics.
When I first began writing The Smallest Thing, I was intrigued by the story of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre. I imagined a romantic tale of two young lovers separated by a quarantine. But, as I brought the story into present times, it morphed and evolved, as all stories do.
I imagined what it would be like to be held inside a quarantine zone, uncertain about your future. I couldn’t stop thinking about the real people of Eyam, who made the decision to impose the quarantine on themselves. What would it have been like in 1665 with no social media to gather information or cell phones to stay in touch with loved ones outside the zone? Would it be any better or worse in the 21st Century?
When I visited the real-life plague village of Eyam for research, I was struck again by the sacrifice made by the villagers, and the scope of the tragedy. In the village church, I saw the parish death register listing the names and dates of death of every victim.
Because that tragedy happened when record-keeping was imprecise, it’s unknown exactly how many people lost their lives in the village. Estimates suggest that 260 of the approximately 350 villagers perished during that 14 months. In some cases, entire families perished, one after the other. In the register, I saw, in writing, how the disease picked its way from person to very real person. Among the dead were six members of the Syddall family, including Emmott.
Seeing her name made me realize that I needed to tell more than just a tragic love story. It had to write about survival. It had to tell the story of an ordinary girl who finds herself in an extraordinary situation, who witnesses a catastrophic tragedy and is forever changed by the experience. More than anything I wanted to make Emmott real.
Even though the true story of Eyam and the plague happened more than 350 years ago, we can’t forget that it happened to real people, not so different from us.
If you would like to read the names of the Eyam plague victims, you can find them at the Eyam Museum website.
In A Strange Companion, a lot of peculiar things happen around Kat. Another character in another story might have chalked up all these signs as coincidence, and then maybe I’d be writing a romance novel about a girl who falls for a guy who bakes a wicked chocolate hazelnut marble cake (*see below for more about this). But that’s not this story. This story is full of strange coincidences that may or may not prove that Gabe is back.
A while back, I wrote a post about some of the weird things that happen when you’re dealing with grief. If you’ve ever lost someone you love, you’ll know that nothing is beyond the realm of possibility as you try to come to terms with someone being gone.
There’s always a danger of crossing a line in fiction and making coincidences unbelievable. I mean really, what are the odds of Mai calling Kat by the pet name Gabe gave her, or having a birthmark in the exact same spot as his? But while I was editing the book, I got a sign of my own that weird coincidences happen in real life, not just in fiction.
On my office wall, I have Plot Planner, a long sheet of brown paper where I keep track of my novel and its various storylines. I like to gather pictures as I write, images of how I see the characters and some of the settings. It helps to get the story clear in my head.
I found the perfect picture of Mai, cut it out, and stuck it on my story board. It wasn’t until weeks later that I took a close look at the picture and realized that the dress the little girl is wearing is made from identical fabric to my living room curtains!
* Owen’s chocolate hazelnut marble cake was a big hit with Kat and it was an equally big hit with Mr. Fab when I tried it out on him. If you’d like to get the recipe to make your own, plus recipes for five other dishes mention in A Strange Companion (including Kat’s mother’s prawn cocktail and Jon’s blackberry lavender scones) I’ll send you a free recipe book (plus a collection of short stories) when you sign up for my newsletter.
If you love discovering new authors, you won’t want to miss the YA Scavenger Hunt.
In case you’ve never heard of it, the hunt showcases 140 new and upcoming YA releases. There are tons of prizes, including individual giveaways and seven Grand Prizes, plus each author will release special bonus material, only for hunt participants. Sound interesting?
This fall the hunt features seven teams of twenty. I’ll be participating on the Orange Team.
The blog hop begins Tuesday, Oct 3rd and runs through Sunday, Oct 8th. It’s easy to play. All you have to do is either check in here on October 3rd, or head directly over to the YASH website. There you’ll find a list of all the authors participating as well as an answer sheet you can print off to gather the info you’re hunting for and to keep track of any bonus contests you may have entered.
I’ll have all the details here next week, but for now, here are all the books featured this season, so you can start looking for your favorites: