Monday, July 11, 2011

Author Guest Post: Amalie Howard & Giveaway

Please welcome Amaile Howard, author of Bloodspell!

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I read Bloodspell (check out my review) around the time when YA authors, readers, and bloggers were passionately responding to the WSJ article about the darkness in YA novels. This topic even trended worldwide on Twitter (#YAsaves)! Ever since, I wanted to ask Amalie about the dark side of Bloodspell - why she wasn't afraid to go there and the underlying life lessons for her characters. Finally I asked, and I'm so grateful that she accepted my request for a guest post! I admire, respect, and applaud authors that hold nothing back. In my personal opinion, you can't protect youth from "darkness", all you can do is prepare them, and hope to guide them to make the right decisions. Here's Amalie's response:
The darkness was an element that I really wanted to convey in this novel. However, let me start by saying that Bloodspell is dark in terms of its world-building and structure, but it’s not full of gratuitous blood and gore and sex and foul language. The characters in my novel encounter obstacles similar to those teens face today—with or without fangs and powers, struggling with issues like fitting in while staying true to themselves, falling in love for the first time, bullying, losing people close to them and finding the strength to fight for what they believe in. In Bloodspell, I wanted to show that this world is indeed dark and corruptive and deadly, but again, it’s all a metaphor for the world we live in today and some of the challenges teenagers (and adults) face every day (like eating disorders or disabilities or broken homes or abuse). At the end of the day in the real world, it’s how we overcome these adversities that dispels the darkness. This topic is particularly inflammatory due to a recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that “Darkness [is] too Visible” in YA fiction. Well, it’s only by making darkness visible that you can bring light into it, and when you bring darkness into the light, it can’t hide. What other kind of message can you hope for if it’s not one of optimism in a world already fraught with darkness?

Soapbox aside, in terms of early inspiration, I spent my childhood in the Caribbean, an area of the world rich in occult folklore and mysticism, which undoubtedly shaped my interest in dark fantasy. I remember reading the very dark and disturbing The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales at about seven, and it was intense and raw and scary! Add in an early obsessive interest with Anne Rice, and my fascination (and respect) for the darker side of paranormal was sealed. As a result, my idea of witches and vampires is not all sunshine and roses—the way I see it is that this kind of power comes at a cost, whether it’s a cost of a soul or a conscience or in blood. I mean these creatures are historically known as “creatures of the night.” They’re not exactly cut out to be your best friend. They’re selfish and powerful and live only to serve their own wants and desires. Vampires are beautiful and sexy, but they’re also terrifying—they are predators, like parasites, feeding on the blood of others to exist. Witches have the power to manipulate everything—their appearance, their environment, even what others think about them. Their magical power gives them sway over any one less powerful than they are, and power is an incredibly corrosive force.

That said, I think the things we love most in supernatural creatures besides the lure of their beauty and power, is their humanity, no matter how fragile it may be. We want to connect with them, to root for them, so we have to identify with them in some small part, even if they terrify us. In Bloodspell, I needed to show the darker, more terrible side because in the end, it only emphasizes the light that my characters (particularly Christian and Victoria) are striving for. Take Christian, for example, by nature of what he is, he should be an evil monster, right? After all, he’s a blood-drinking fiend underneath his “human” mask. But who defines what evil means? I mean, I ask myself this question all the time. If you’re a child of a serial killer, are you predisposed to be evil because of genetics? And the reverse, what if you’re born of perfectly normal parents and somehow you become raised in a den of wolves, would you be destined to become a wolf? I’m not sure I agree with that. I think we have the choice to become who we want to be, and I think we all have a chance to redeem ourselves, no matter what we’ve done, whether it’s hurt a loved one or cheated on a test or lied to someone. We can always learn from our mistakes and change for the better, BUT we have to be willing to do that. Christian is a sympathetic character despite his underlying darkness because he’s the same as the rest of us—struggling to be better and to make something of ourselves. We all have our dark natures, but that doesn’t make us bad people. Even at our worst, we’re still going to be worthy of love and forgiveness. That’s the human condition. The ability to love and to show compassion are distinctly human characteristics. For me, the juxtaposition of darkness and light really highlights the redemptive elements in this novel. Despite what they are, my characters struggle against the seductive pull of their baser darker natures, and find value in fighting for their humanity.
In terms of underlying messages, I think the themes of courage 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. Not only does she have to deal with normal social pressures, she's also a witch whose blood can consume her in one second of doubt, one iota of weakness. Think of Victoria’s blood curse as a metaphor—for example, like an eating disorder or self-image issues—something big and terrifying that any ordinary teenager may have to overcome in everyday life. The message of courage is the same. 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. Life may be tough today, but it’s not always going to be that way.

When I set out to write Victoria’s story, I knew that I wanted to write about a strong kick-ass heroine. As a character, she's likeable, she's funny, she's smart, she has a lot of empathy, but she also makes mistakes and does stupid things sometimes. She's a normal person who evolves into someone extraordinary, and that is what makes her strong … it’s the same strength that’s in every girl, the same strength that will inspire all of us women, young and old, to be unique, fierce, and fearless. There was no way I was going to write about a girl who lost herself in someone else or depended on other people to make things happen. Heroines in books especially for teens become role models, whether we want them to be or not, and I think writers have some responsibility to be conscious of that. However, intentions aside, this was definitely a process for Victoria—in Bloodspell, she has to find herself, face her fears, and then, own who she is. She is not going to give up even when the odds against her to fail are so great. Is she scared? Of course. But facing her fear is part of finding that strength and courage that makes her take hold of who she is and say, “This is who I am, for better or for worse.” There’s insane courage in that. 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.

Hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this guest post. Be sure to give Bloodspell a whirl if you haven’t already—you won’t be disappointed! Huge thanks to Jen for giving me a slot on her wonderful blog!
Thank you so much Amalie - for this post and making Victoria a kick-ass heroine!

Peeps, don't forget to add Bloodspell to your Goodreads "to-read" list. I loved this book so much that I just have to share it with my readers... so I'm giving away one copy of Bloodspell (paperback or kindle edition) to one of my followers! The icing on the cake is that Amalie Howard has also contributed 2 signed bookmarks, a tote bag, and a leather bracelet to add to the prize!
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Love this cover!
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Tote bag, bracelet, and 2 signed bookmarks!

Giveaway requirements:
  • Fill out this FORM to enter CLOSED - Winner has been notified.
  • Must be a follower
  • Must have US address
  • Must be 13 years old or older
  • Contest ends August 10, 2011 at 11:59 PM MDT
  • One entry per person
Good luck, and thanks again to Amalie for her post and Bloodspell swag!
Note about comments: click on the post title to go to the post's page to view and/or add comments. I heart your comments!

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