Before I start with questions about the book, I’d like to ask you some questions about how you got into writing, etc.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was always a storyteller, even as a very young child. I liked creating and controlling my own little worlds. It was only as I got older that I realized how little control over those worlds a writer actually has.
When I actually started writing and showing people the things I wrote, I think it was the first time I got the sense that there was something unique and extraordinary that I was good at. I was bad at sports, an indifferent musician, not scientifically or mathematically inclined. To suddenly find I was good at getting words to do what I wanted them to do was like discovering that you are the Ringmaster of your own private circus.
Was there a specific experience?
I was in junior high school and wrote a short children’s book about a bunch of dollhouses that had been relegated to an attic. The paper dolls that belonged to those dollhouses all came alive once no one was watching them any more. There was a ball, and in the middle of it, a gruesome crime was discovered – one paper doll, brutally torn in half. The culprit? Jacques the Ripper, a paper doll killer of paper dolls.
I sent it off to a major publisher (I think it was William Morrow – I still have the note in a box somewhere) because at the age of 13, one has very little fear. To the shock and awe of myself and my entire family, I got a personal note back from the editor who read my book. She said that while they couldn’t take this book because dollhouses and paper dolls didn’t have much of a market, she really liked my writing and wanted to see more of it.
I sent her back “The Saga of Mightum, Whytum, and Rubb.” There were several anxious weeks that turned into a couple of months, and then I finally got a note back saying that this editor had left the company. I was disappointed, but overall, that was the turning point where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had what it took to become a published author.
What sparked your interest in writing this book?
For a long time, I had wanted to write a book about high school. I remembered so many things about how I used to observe the social dynamics and little dramas. I wanted to present a sharper, more realistic story that honored the intelligence of teen readers and honored their experiences, especially if they weren’t popular.
What myth is this book based off of? (for those who do not know)
It’s the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone. Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell hopelessly in love with Persephone, the Goddess of Springtime and the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Hades kidnaps Persephone and takes to the Underworld, where he makes her his queen.
Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter and refuses to let anything grow, which spells big trouble for humanity, who begin to die of famine and starvation. Zeus has to intercede and orders Hades to give Persephone back. However, Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds from Hades’ garden, and by ancient laws of hospitality and marriage, this means she cannot return permanently to her mother. A compromise is reached where she spends half the year with Demeter up on the surface and in the sunshine, and six months of the year with Hades, her husband, in the Underworld. Thus, we get summer and winter.
Hades is king not only of the dead, but he also rules all the creatures that make the Underworld their home. He is not the devil or even remotely evil. In fact, he is known in the Greek pantheon as the most just and most responsible of the gods. Unlike Zeus and Aphrodite, he doesn’t go around messing with mortals for the fun of it.
Persephone begins as an innocent maiden, truly the goddess of springtime, flowers, newborn animals, and new life. However, as Hades’ queen, she comes into her own as one of the most powerful, revered, and even feared goddesses because of how she touches both life and death.
Why did you choose this specific one?
This myth is one of the few stories that shows a goddess growing both in character and in power. True, it is her marriage to Hades that is the catalyst for her change, but Persephone herself must find the power to balance the mysteries of life and death and to live constantly on an edge.
It’s also one of the few myths that features a compromise instead of a tragic ending. I remember thinking about that as I was walking my dog one day, and suddenly, SQUIRREL!…er…I mean, the ideas of a high school story and the Hades and Persephone myth came together. And, Downcast was born.
Who is your favorite character from your story? Why so?
This is an agonizing question, LOL! It feels like I have to pick my favorite child. But, I will say that I have quite a bit of fondness for some of my secondary characters. I think it’s because I love them so much that I was able to give them a sense of being something more than just standard sidekicks.
I thought a lot about Morris’ family’s story, about Helen’s emotional health, and even about Rob’s true character. Even though a lot of that stuff didn’t make it into the book, I wrote it out and really worked it in my head. They aren’t just dialogue fillers for me. They are real to me, and I cared as much about how I wrote them as I did how I wrote Haley and Stephanie.
Of course, you gotta love Zack. I admit to having a lot of fun with Zack. And Cerberus. Cerberus is based on my dog. Sorta.
Oh, and Katie Jones. Because she is Katie Jones.
Who is your favorite character from the myth? Why so?
It might be trite to say this, but my favorite character from the myth is Hades. I mean, come on! How romantic is he? He comes to the surface in one of his rare sorties from the Underworld and beholds Persephone. Instantly, he falls in love with her. While, as I tried to show in the book, that kind of intense love at first sight can be a little awkward in reality, who wouldn’t want to be adored by an all-powerful being?
Who do you feel grew the most as a character? Why?
Obviously, Stephanie grows tremendously – the book really is her character arc. But, I actually think that Helen grows quite a bit as well, though it’s more subtle.
Helen starts out as ironically pretty rigid in her scientific outlook and pragmatic take on the world. She should be the voice of reason, of logic, of sensible answers. Yet, when everything is revealed, her worldview suffers a shattering blow. Everything that she thought was true turns out to be only part of a greater truth – and this larger reality challenges her belief about just how open-minded she truly is.
What happens in Downcast sets in motion major changes for each character, and hopefully, you’ll be able to see what happens to them in Thunderstruck and Sunkissed.
Was there a character you changed as you were writing (you had an idea of who they were and then it changed)?
Not so much in Downcast, but in Thunderstruck, I’ve been flip-flopping like a pancake lately. I guess in Downcast, at the very, very beginning of trying to plot out the story, I had Stephanie be just a regular mortal human girl – not Persephone at all. I spent several dog-walks and a week’s worth of showers trying to figure out how she would get immortality. But, other than that, the myth really gave me quite a solid guideline of how to draw my characters.
What was your writing process like?
I’m a plotter, but in a pantsy kind of way. I will plot out most of the book before I start to write, but then, I will re-plot and re-work as I go along. I use my closet doors as a wall for my notes, and by the end of Downcast, they were covered three-layers deep in notes I taped up there. For Thunderstruck, I’m only one layer deep right now.
I write mostly while on Twitter, doing writing sprints with other folks, following The Sprint Shack, Get Wordies, JuNoWriMo, the NaNoWriMo peeps, and others. I like timed writing because it gives me a sense of accomplishment and community.
What were your favorite and least favorite parts?
My favorite parts of Downcast were the scenes with Haley and Stephanie. Those were where I let myself just be unabashedly romantic and dream up all the things I wish a boy would have said to me in high school (if he was the God of the Underworld).
I also loved any scene that had Helen, Morris, and Stephanie together. They were just so much fun to write – I felt like I had known them for years and years, and I was in on all their inside jokes.
My least favorite parts to write were the scenes with Deborah and Stephanie. It was really difficult to write their conflict but still keep Stephanie in character with the way she would have reacted to her mom. It was tricky to get the pacing and dialogue right in those scenes, as well as to drop the necessary clues without giving everything away.
Any advice for those struggling to write a book?
Don’t stop. Don’t move onto the shiny new thing. Stick with whatever it is you are writing, even if you start to hate it. Just finish it. The most important part of writing is finishing.
Also, if you have trouble getting motivated, try doing word sprints on Twitter. You’ll meet people, get encouragement, and find yourself making more progress than you ever thought you would.
Thank you for your time Cait! It was nice to get to know a little more about you and the book! 🙂