Posted in Author Q&As

Author Q&A: Caytlyn Brooke

32762607Earlier this week, I shared my review of Dark Flowers, a spooky YA thriller that kept this adult highly entertained. It follows two girls as they fight for their freedom during a high-stakes adventure in the Louisiana swamps.

From the back of the book:

Life at St. Agatha’s School for Girls is anything but a fairytale. With ratty blankets and a torturous device called the box, it’s not hard to understand Eliza’s desperation to escape. When the timing is right, Eliza manages to run away with her best friend Millie, heading through the Louisiana swamps to the town on the other side.

But the swamps may be even more dangerous than the orphanage. Silver and black fairies invite the girls to experience a world where they can have it all, but Eliza doesn’t trust the sparkling beauty. When Millie suddenly becomes violent and attacks another girl, Eliza knows something awful is about to happen.

She will do anything to protect Millie but once Eliza remembers her own terrible secret, it is impossible to forget. The fairies’ songs call to Eliza and its getting harder and harder to pretend it’s all in her head.

Below, Brooke talks about the inspiration for the fairy-based tale, what she’s working on now and what gives her the creeps!

At the bottom of the post is a bonus question for those who have finished the book which – WARNING – contains spoilers.

Where did you get the inspiration for this book? It has some fairytale elements, but it is quite scary in some parts!

Growing up, I was always obsessed with fantasy and discovering hidden worlds. My sister and I loved exploring our backyard for tiny fairy feet or glitter on the leaves. The movie, “A Fairytale: A True Story” had a lot to do with that. We would make elaborate fairy houses and leave them little chocolates (of which my brothers repeatedly ate) but we had so much fun waiting to see them. Then, one day a few years ago, her and I were playing in my backyard and I somehow managed to get pollen all over my arm. I looked down and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this just absorbed into my skin?” and poof! The idea for Dark Flowers was born! We immediately raced inside and I started to sketch out the characters and the plot. My sister even gave me the name for Millie! I wanted to capture the hope that children harbor when they truly believe in something and are desperate to find it.

As for the scarier parts, I am a huge fan of the darker side of any story. Happy endings are nice, but when you add in twists and creepy moments, I feel it is more impactful. Readers are going to remember and think about a chilling image as they lie in bed and I love creating those moments that linger in the mind no matter how brightly the sun shines. 

The main character, Eliza, has points where she is both incredibly strong and others where she’s very vulnerable. Is there a way you hope readers to interpret her character?

Yes. I wrote Eliza to be a very strong character because of her past. Over and over again she has been tossed between foster homes and the message that, “you’re not good enough” has been cemented in her mind with each new mom that gives her away. She has had to build up this tougher than steel exterior in order to keep going, just to get through the day and it bothers her to show weakness because she never wants to be at a disadvantage.

With that being said, I also wrote several parts that give readers a glimpse into Eliza’s vulnerability because I didn’t want them to think that she is a robot. Just because she’s tough doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have feelings. Believe it or not, Eliza does have other emotions beside sarcasm and I wanted readers to be able to connect and relate to her. All Eliza wants is a family who will accept her for who she is, they just have to chip away at the layer of ice until the little girl inside is revealed.

How do you balance reaching a young audience with dark themes?

This was a challenge for me. As an author, I use a heavy amount of description and imagery because I want readers to be able to see the scene in great detail, as if they’re watching a movie. During the first round of editing, Bailey, my editor, told me I had to tone down the violence. Dark Flowers is after all a YA novel so I took the creepy, gruesome bits down a few notches. I tried to think, well what could an eleven year old truly handle if they were to see this?

Another way that I try to balance the darker themes is by eliminating bad language. When I first starting writing, I used curse words all the time. However, with another story I had, a younger girl, around eleven years old read it and she said, “It was really good, but it had a lot of bad words mommy didn’t like.” There I realized that by including bad language, I was shooting myself in the foot. Not only was I limiting my audience, but I was also getting the “it’s good, but…” which I did not want. Believe me, there is definitely a place for curse words, but I feel YA novels can get along just fine without them.

As a scary-story writer, what scares you?

I can’t remember how old I was when I read it, but the chilling story about Bloody Mary terrifies me. To this day I won’t look in the mirror if I go into the bathroom at night. I keep my head down and look at the floor because even if I don’t say her name three times, I always imagine a bloody face staring at me. Ventriloquist dummies are another huge fear of mine. Their round glassy eyes and movable mouth, yuck! I get shivers just thinking about them! Also, the movie The Grudge, is so scary! I think because it challenges the places that are typical safe zones. Every monster knows they can’t get you once you’re under the covers but what happens when the monster is already under there waiting for you!

Who are your favorite authors?

Growing up I loved all of the Goose Bumps books by R.L. Stine, especially the pick your own ending ones. I also read a ton of Caroline B. Cooney. She is fantastic at creating a thrilling mystery. Today, I love to read Laini Taylor, Cassandra Clare, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Sarah Dessen, and Nova Ren Suma.

Do you have a new project in the works?

I have several!

The next book that I hope to release is called, “Wired.” It is another YA fantasy/sci-fi. It’s set in the near-future and follows Maggie, a 25 year old who has a dream job at a large publishing house. Life is great, however with the introduction of a new type of phone, Maggie has doubts. It’s called a Vertix and it’s the next generation of smart phones, but it has invasive properties that today’s phones lack, giving you the ability to visit social media sites in your mind rather than on a screen. Maggie eventually caves to the pressure of her friends and tries it out, loving the way the connection feels. Quickly she starts staying connected for longer and longer periods of time, choosing the small device over food and human interaction. She’s addicted and her life spirals out of control. Maggie must make a difficult choice, feed her addiction or break free from the world of social media and find the beauty in life unconnected.

I also have a YA paranormal romance/fantasy coming out called, “The Woods.” This is actually a trilogy centered around Blake, an eighteen year old high school senior who meets Kaitaini, a wind nymph in the woods near his home. Not only is Kaitaini a beautiful creature of mythology, but she’s also in trouble. On the run from the powerful, Zeus, Kaitaini is suddenly captured and Blake is vaulted into an incredible adventure to get her back before it’s too late.

The ending of “Dark Flowers” leaves some room for another adventure out there, it seems. Will we be seeing more of Eliza in the future? 

Well, when I wrote Dark Flowers I didn’t intend to write a sequel. I just love when books leave you on the edge so you’re left wondering and imaging the next adventure the character will embark on. However, I’m getting a ton of great feedback asking for more of Eliza and I’ve started coming up with a new plot for another installment! Now I just need a cool title! Any ideas??

Where can readers keep up with you (social media, Goodreads, etc.)?

  • Facebook: Caytlyn Brooke
  • Twitter: @Caytlyn_Brooke
  • Instagram: Author_CaytlynBrooke

And always feel free to post reviews or comments on Amazon and Goodreads! I love hearing what readers have to say! Every comment can only make you better!

 

—WARNING: BONUS QUESTION WHICH CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!—

 

Did you know the fate of the characters when you started the book or did it come to you as you were writing?

Right from the start I knew what Millie’s fate was going to be. I find that stories are much more exciting when authors aren’t afraid to kill off main characters. TV shows like The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy are my favorite because no one is safe! It makes the book so much more thrilling because anything can happen and it keeps you on your toes with every turn of the page. As I wrote Eliza, I didn’t start out with her becoming the villain. Throughout the book she is Millie’s protector, willing to do whatever it takes to keep her safe from the fairies. But as I neared the end, I thought, why not throw in a HUGE twist! What better way to surprise the reader than by changing Millie’s protector to her executioner?

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