Laura McKay (LM): The first #SpecFicPicks Q&A starts now! Special guest: Scarlett Kol, Manitoba writer of the Faraway High Fairytales series as well as several standalone novels. Today, we’ll be discussing her fantasy young adult novel, Wicked Descent, published by Evernight Teen.
LM: Thank you, @ScarlettKol, for joining me today! Let’s start with a few quick “warm-up” questions.
LM: what was your favourite book as a child?
SK: #specficpicks – forgot the hashtag! I’ll get better 🙂
LM: what is your go-to writing resource book/tool right now?
SK: I adore Scrivener for writing, as it’s so easy to move things around, but I recently discovered ProWriting Aid, and it’s so helpful for finding all those nit-picky errors before I send to an editor!
LM: Which author(s) do you most admire in your genre (either young adult or fantasy)?
SK: I love so many authors, but my latest obsession [that] writes both adult and YA fantasy is Victoria/V.E. Schwab! This Savage Song duet is brilliant and the characters in Vicious are so epic! I adore her. And she seems so chill and cool online. I’d love to meet her one day.
LM: How many bookshelves are in your house?
SK: Ha! I kind of treat everything like a bookshelf, but if I have to count…6 that are essentially mine and each of my boys has one each – so 8!
LM: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SK: I really wanted to be a lawyer like Ally McBeal, with a downtown loft and a great shoe collection!
LM: Oooo great choice!
SK: Thanks! She always seemed great to aspire to, plus I love helping people and solving puzzles/issues.
LM: WHICH OF YOUR BOOKS WAS THE MOST ENJOYABLE TO WRITE? WHY?
SK: Ooh! Good question! All have been a journey. Wicked[Descent] was a simple story that just grew and expanded into something super fun.
Mercury was great because of the cast of quirky characters, and I love the romance in it. And all my fairytales are fun because I love fairytales and visiting familiar stories is so fun.
LM: NOW ON TO WICKED DESCENT. TELL US ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THIS STORY. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE IT?
SK: My bestie was trying to find a Christmas gift for her boyfriend’s mom. I told her to get one of those “witch’s balls,” which are pretty blown-glass ornaments. I started thinking about how cool it would be for something magical to be in them, and the story bloomed from there.
LM: What kind of research and brainstorming did you do for Wicked Descent? How long did you spend researching/brainstorming before beginning this book?
SK: This book was written and rewritten so many times! I think front to back it was about 3 years. I had to research a lot about various forms of magic, high school chemistry curriculum, and some history facts.
LM: I can see that. Were there any particular “go-to” resources or interesting sources that you found along the way?
SK: Mainly just internet searches. I fell down several rabbit holes! Nothing in particular.
LM: How did you select the names for the characters in Wicked Descent?
SK: Avery was originally Audrey after Audrey Hepburn, but I changed it to be more contemporary. Bennett was actually a character off SNL in a Taylor Swift sketch, and Drew just kinda came to me because I wanted something I could expand to another name.
Usually I’m more particular with my names, but for this one, they just kind of came together.
LM: Wicked Descent is set in a small town, with a main character that used to live in Detroit. A large part of the subplot involves navigating small-town politics as a newcomer. How did your own life experiences inform the setting and subplot?
SK: I grew up in northern Manitoba, so I wanted to set it in a place that still had that northern feel but not quite as isolated. Growing up in a relatively isolated town, I learned to navigate politics as they were constantly part of daily life.
In an earlier version, a publisher had suggested I move it to just outside Toronto, but I put it back outside Detroit when I sold to a publisher with a larger US audience.
LM: Drew easily fits the YA tropes of the “alpha male/bad boy/jerk.” He’s very possessive of the main character, and he is often mocking or even cruel. How did you play with this character trope, and why did you decide to depict Drew this way?
SK: I wanted to do something that people wouldn’t completely expect but worked with the story I wanted to tell. Plus, I’ve always liked those kinds of characters to play with.
Drew [was] actually super fun to write because he basically has zero filter. I think I played with the trope by not making him the main love interest, which was common in the similar books I was reading at the time.
LM: I loved the way Avery talked back to him, too. She didn’t just let him be a jerk to her.
SK: Aw! Thank you. I definitely wanted Avery’s arc to show her growing that backbone. I loved writing those scenes!!
LM: The themes of this novel are about good versus evil, but also about how we can do evil even with the best of intentions. What do you hope people take away from reading this book?
SK: WOW! I feel so seen 🙂 Personally, I wanted people to take away that we always have a choice in who we are and who we want to be, no matter your circumstances.
LM: What can readers expect to see from you next? What are you currently working on?
SK: I’m actually pretty busy coming up. Wicked Descent just released in audio; Sleepless, a YA paranormal horror, should be coming in July; Keeper of Shadows, a YA paranormal romance, is coming in September; and the next Faraway Fairytale will be here before the end of the year.
LM: Oh wow! That is a lot. I hope you have plenty of time to recover afterwards!
SK: Ha! Hopefully! After those, I’m planning to release a new YA urban fantasy trilogy that I’m super pumped about. So there will be a bit of a break for me before those come out.
This is a full transcript of an interview that took place live on Twitter on July 4, 2020. It has been edited for clarity and readability.
Did you enjoy this post? Check out the schedule for upcoming interviews here.
What other questions would you like to see Scarlett answer? Let me know in the comments, and I might just ask them in a future interview!
Laura McKay is a speculative fiction writer whose work leaves you wondering and your mind wandering. Inspired by the Dresden Files, her current work-in-progress brings fast-paced, thought-provoking mystery and magic to the streets of Winnipeg.
Laura is also an Assistant Editor at Portage & Main Press and freelances on various writing and editing projects.