Friday, June 17, 2011

Talking Culture, Blood & Books with "Bloodspell" Author, Amalie Howard

I am always happy to have an author over for a chat, and I am particularly happy to have Amalie Howard, YA debut author of the recently released Bloodspell!  Here's the synopsis from GoodReads:

The spell was simple...

Cruentus Protectum (Defend the Blood)

But what do you do if your blood is your enemy?

Victoria Warrick has always known she was different. An outcast at school, she is no stranger to adversity. But when she receives an old journal for her seventeenth birthday, nothing prepares her for the dark secrets it holds -- much less one that reveals she's a witch with unimaginable power.

What's more, when she meets the dazzling but enigmatic Christian Devereux, she has no idea how much her life is about to change. Enemies will hunt her. Friends will turn on her. The terrible curse that makes her blood run black will stop at nothing to control her. And Christian has a sinister secret of his own...

Without knowing whom to trust, can Victoria survive her blood's deadly desires? Or will she lose everything, including herself?

How about that gorgeous cover?  Want to know the mind behind it?  Read on to learn more about Amalie!

Amalie, your website makes it sounds like you've had such a cosmopolitan life!  What's one of your favorite travel stories/experiences that you can share with us?

Thanks! It’s sometimes odd to look back on everything I’ve done and the places I’ve been to, and I’m just amazed that I’ve been so lucky to be able to indulge my lifelong love affair with travel. Over the course of my life so far, I’ve visited 141 cities in 18 countries! Of all my travel experiences, the one that resonated the most with me was spending my junior year of college in France. It was a singularly exhilarating and terrifying experience—after all, being on my own away from everyone I knew in a foreign country was incredibly daunting. But once I got past the initial acclimatization and remained open to the experience, I really found myself being immersed into the local culture … food, language, arts, people, all of it. It was a wonderful experience. Apart from Paris being an extraordinary city (I’m part French so I have a huge affinity for it), I really discovered myself when I lived in France. Having had some problems fitting in as a freshman and major self-image issues, I returned for my senior year a far more poised and self-assured young woman. I credit that confidence and growth to my year in Paris, which is a city that totally rocks women being independent, fierce and fabulous. It was a life-shaping experience for me that I will always treasure. 

On Paris: "I really discovered myself when I lived in France. . .  I returned for my senior year a far more poised and self-assured young woman."

How have your travels and cultural education contributed to your writing?

Growing up, we were the family that saved money to travel, so I’ve been lucky to do that from a very young age and continued it into my older years. It’s given me a great foundation for experiencing different cultures and understanding the true meaning of diversity, which I think gives my writing a unique edge and voice. I also grew up in the Caribbean—an area of the world rich in occult folklore and mysticism, so I had more than enough inspiration to develop an early and ongoing obsession with all things fantasy. Word of mouth tales of voodoo or West Indian sorcery called Obeah, tales of the Soucouyant, a supernatural beast disguised as an old woman by day and a blood-sucking creature by night—those stories thrilled and terrified, and I always wanted more. Being able to leverage my unique background and my travel experience really allowed me to shape my writing and bring that little something extra to the table. The locations in BloodspellMaine to New York to the UK to France—all seemed to come together really well, adding to the overall breadth and depth of the story. I wouldn’t have been able to write about any of these cities with such confidence if I hadn’t lived in those places myself.  

Tell us a little bit about how Bloodspell evolved?  I understand it originally was a short story?

It did technically start out as a short story. Actually, it was a pretty terrible story that I wrote about ten years ago … I recently dug it up and it literally had me snorting and laughing in tandem. Anyway, the good part about the story was the main vampire so I ended up using him as a loose framework for Christian in Bloodspell. The heroine needed work so her development really ended up driving the direction of this novel. In the end, what started out as a story about vampires evolved into a story about a young witch trying to face her fears and embrace what she is, because in her world, her blood is the source and strength of her magic but it’s also a creature with a will of its own that’ll do anything to control her. Once I had that idea in hand, it literally just took over. The vampire element suddenly became peripheral and took a back seat to this unique twist that completely consumed me. I really identified with it because I loved the idea of having this monster inside of her that she had to overcome. Think of Victoria’s blood curse as a metaphor—for example, a disability or an eating disorder or self-image issues—something big and terrifying that any ordinary teenage girl may have to overcome in everyday life. The message is the same. Bloodspell is Victoria’s story of becoming, where she has to find herself, face her fears, and only then, really own who she is. She is not going to give up even when the odds against her to fail are so great. In the end, it’s about rocking who she is, no matter what. The core message of this novel is that being different sucks sometimes, but it’s not always going to suck—one day, you’re going to be psyched you’re the exception and not the rule. 

If we were to open both a CIA file on Victoria, and then a psychologist's file on Victoria, what would each have to say about her?

What an interesting question! On the CIA file, I’d have to say they probably wouldn’t have too much information on her. After all, she’s an incredibly powerful witch, and my guess is, if she didn’t want to be “found,” she could quite easily make certain information disappear! In Bloodspell, I describe the supernatural world as surviving in the proverbial shadows, as a “world that [exists] in the shadows on the periphery of human reality.” Victoria, for better or for worse, is a part of both worlds, and she, like the vampires, would be bound to protect her supernatural identity above all else. A CIA file on Victoria would likely have basic information like:

  • Victoria Warrick, seventeen-year-old female, born in New York City, residing at 12 Wolf Lane, Millinocket, ME, with one Holly Masters (no relation to subject). Subject attends Windsor Academy in Canville, ME as a transfer student. Parents, deceased in traffic accident. Known associates: Christian Devereux, foreign student attending Harland College (identity verified). Current assessment of subject: no threat found.

A psych file on Victoria would likely be a little different. I don’t think anything about her true identity would be available in her file, but it would definitely have information about her emotional or mental condition, especially if Victoria herself sought out the psychologist, perhaps to deal with post-traumatic stress after the death of her parents and her own near-death experience. It would probably look something like this:

  • Victoria Warrick, seventeen-year-old female, current student at Windsor Academy. Strengths: Subject indicates well-developed communication skills, and strong sense of empathy. Subject is highly organized and open to thinking outside the box, socially capable, and displays appropriate conceptual reasoning skills. Subject appears to cope relatively well with normal levels of coursework stress and pressure. Developmental Areas: Subject exhibits tendencies to make emotional decisions based on intuition, and tends to avoid confrontation wherever possible. Marked trust issues, keeps feelings hidden. Subject displays minor symptoms of paranoia, and claims to have terrible nightmares. Mild sleep aid prescribed. Clinical assessment: Ongoing.  

Do you have passions outside of writing?  What are they?

When I’m not writing novels, which is my driving passion (apart from Bloodspell, I’ve written another urban fantasy series about guardian angels with a twist, as well as a post-apocalyptic/dystopian sci-fi novel), I spend any free time I have reading. I love, love, love reading. I have foregone sleep for books many a time, especially if it’s a really good one. I positively adore Young Adult books! Some of my favorite authors are Suzanne Collins, Kristin Cashore, and Cassandra Clare. I do blog about the books that I’ve read, but I guess that would also count as writing. I adore going to the movies. I probably spend a ridiculous amount of money on movies, but there’s just something to be said for watching films on the big screen. I’m a very visual person so getting lost in a great movie is like candy to me. Other than that, I love surfing, as in actual ocean surfing, which I’m not doing yet because even with a wetsuit, the water would be freezing. I did get to surf while in Australia last December so that was awesome. I love spending time with my family—we tend to do a lot of things together, so that’s always fun. We spent a month in Zurich last summer, and a month in Australia this past winter. My family is incredibly important to me, and definitely tops the list of my passions.  

What's an overall theme that you see popping up in your writing?  Why do you think this is?

Amalie Howard
I think the themes of fitting in and self-acceptance appear consistently throughout this novel. As a teenager, life can be pretty tough. After all, you exist in a social world with your peers, who may not be as accepting of your differences as they should be—and if you don’t fit the mold, life can be pretty much suck. That’s unfortunately a sad fact of today’s society. For Victoria like any other teen, in the beginning, all she wants is to be normal and fit in, have friends, and be happy. I’d say that’s a pretty average teenage sentiment. However, the fact is she isn’t normal, and this is not something that she can just ignore—she has this powerful creature inside of her that will subdue her if she doesn’t face her fears and accept who she is. I think Victoria’s situation is a metaphor for anyone with any kind of seemingly insurmountable problem, whether it’s a broken home or an eating disorder or a learning disability. You can beat it. You can make sure it doesn’t control you. And you can win. This leads into the sister theme of choice and consequence. Growing up my mother drummed that into me—we are ultimately responsible for our own actions, and we have to be accountable for them. Giving up is a choice, just like choosing to not give up is also a choice … it may be harder, but in the end, facing adversity and overcoming it is far better than the alternative. I think these themes reoccur in the novel because they are both part of the core message—life may be tough today, but it’s not always going to be that way. Tomorrow is a whole other day with a whole lot of other possibilities, even if you’re a witch at the mercy of a blood curse that will do everything possible to completely dominate you! 

What can we expect from you in the future?

Bloodspell is the first in a planned trilogy, and I am working on the second book so you’ll be seeing a lot more of Christian and Victoria, plus some of the other characters like Leto (a lot of him!) and Angie, and maybe some new ones. The sequel is set in Paris so I’m really excited about that, and it really delves into Victoria’s past and how the curse started. Readers will also learn more about the Reii, the Vampire Ancients, and will come to understand more about Christian, how he was turned and why he is so important to the vampire society. In the third installment, Victoria actually becomes consumed by the blood curse so it’s going to be the story of how she survives it. Very excited about the next two books! I also have a completed novel for a completely different series incorporating angels and demons (although definitely not the warm and fuzzy kind of angels) with a very interesting mythological twist! I’m also working on a YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel, as well as one in a more literary vein about a girl in the middle of a culture clash. If I have anything to say about it, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me!  

What books are on your list that you think every young adult should read, ie. what are some of your favorites and the ones that most inspired you?  

I’ve been a voracious reader all my life, reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on. One of my teen favorites was the classic, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, which is still a wonderful book for beginning pre-teen and teen readers. The entire collection of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia includes some of my favorite books. During my older teen years, which were a very transitional age for me, I really delved into the fantasy genre, like David Eddings or Mercedes Lackey. Those epic fantasy worlds intrigued me to no end! Some of my epic fantasy favorites included The Belgariad and The Mallorean, and The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a short list of must-read teen books that I would recommend to young adults:- Little Women, Stardust, White Fang, Black Beauty, The Witches, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo, Romeo & Juliet, Dracula, The Harry Potter series, His Dark Materials, The Princess Diaries series, Coraline, The Eragon series, The Hunger Games series, The Twilight series, The Mortal Instruments series, Fire, Graceling, The Lovely Bones, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Atonement, Go Ask Alice, Girl Interrupted, Wintergirls, and Divergent. I’m thrilled that there’s such a big resurgence and appreciation for Young Adult books today. While my teenage self would have undoubtedly loved to read Harry Potter and Twilight, I’m just happy that I have the chance to read those and more as an adult. Hopefully, teens today will enjoy my debut teen Urban Fantasy novel, Bloodspell, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Amalie!  Best of luck to you and writing!
And be sure to check back here on July 2nd for my review of Bloodspell!

Check out the rest of the Bloodspell Blog Tour, hosted by the {Teen} Book Scene


  1. Linds you always ask great questions.

    I very jealous of Amalie's travel. How I would love to live in Paris for a year.

  2. I agree. You always ask great questions. Thanks for the heads up on this book. Adding it!

  3. Wow, what a wonderful and in-depth interview! I absolutely loved the CIA question Linds, that was brilliant and her answer was so interesting:) I always like knowing too how a story evolved from beginning stages to final product, it's just fun to see how things changed as they went along for the author.

  4. @ Nic - Grazi! Tell me about it - I went abroad for two weeks in college, but I regret not going for longer. Read 'Lunch in Paris' by Elizabeth Bard - it's excellent!

    @Savy - Thanks - coming up with good questions is fun! I haven't read this just yet, but I am looking forward to it - hope you read and like it!

    @Jenny - And thanks again, ha! The CIA one was a fun one! Of course, it always helps when the interviewee takes the time to give such thorough and thoughtful answers, so huge thanks to Amalie. I should've asked for a deleted scene, to boot!


  5. What a fun chat! I love it when authors reveal that they can look back at their old work and have a good laugh. Here, it seemed to pay off since it sparked a new novel!

    Also, I love picking up book recommendations from authors. Thanks for sharing so many!

  6. It's part of a master plan, Missie. I ask the question every interview, and once I have a bunch, they are going on a special 'Author Recs' page :)


  7. What a great interview. I've never seen such an in depth one. And a more diverse author. I just read the first few pages of her book and it's really caught my interest, but it's going to have to wait. Really great interview!


  8. I wish I could travel as much as Amalie! I love how the fantastical aspect of the book can easily transfer to a metaphor of the daily struggles that teens face in their daily lives. Looking forward to reading your review of Bloodspell, Linda!