Swanky Seventeener Kayla Olson recently chatted with Sweet Sixteen debut author Destiny Soria, about her debut YA historical fantasy, IRON CAST (Abrams, 11 October 2016).
It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths – whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art – captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.
Destiny Soria grew up in a tiny town in Alabama that you’ve never heard of, where she spent her summers playing with sticks in the woods and exploring such distinguished careers as Forest Bandit, Wayward Orphan, and Woodland Fairy Princess. After college, she ran away to New Zealand for seven months and only pretended to be a character from Lord of the Rings on special occasions. The rest of the time she backpacked across the wilderlands, petted fluffy sheep, and gave tours of a haunted prison. Nowadays she lives and works in the shadow of the mighty Vulcan in Birmingham, AL.
Kayla: When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Destiny: When I was seven or eight, I wrote my very first book. It was entitled Horses of All Kinds, and it included hand-drawn illustrations and a staple binding. It was a gift for my aunt and supposedly still lurks in a closet somewhere, waiting—no doubt—to be brought forth to embarrass me. I haven’t stopped writing since.
Kayla: How did you come up with the idea for your novel? Did you ever have a moment where you felt a spark of, oh, THIS novel is going to be THE ONE?
Destiny: Well, I wrote this novel during National Novel Writing Month. My first manuscript had been on submission for a bit too long and I had lost hope it would sell, so I was distracting myself with the messy glory that is NaNoWriMo. I pulled inspiration from dozens of sources—abandoned drafts, hastily scrawled ideas in my journal, vintage mugshots of 1920’s criminals. The end of November rolled around and I had 50,000 words of utter nonsense, but it was my nonsense. I enlisted the help of my fabulous critique group, and with their suggestions and encouragement, I pulled a somewhat polished draft from the rubble. I still wasn’t ready to get my hopes up though. I sent it to my agent Taylor, quietly resigned that she was probably going to read it and wonder why she ever signed me in the first place. When she called me a few weeks later to discuss, I was blown away by her excitement. I think that was probably the first time I thought to myself Maybe this can really happen.
Kayla: We share an agent, the brilliant and lovely Taylor Haggerty. How did you connect, and eventually land, with her?
Destiny: The short version is that she descended from the heavens on a shining unicorn because that’s just how awesome she is. The long version is that I queried the old-fashioned way. When she emailed me back and told me she loved my manuscript and wanted to set up a call, I don’t think I was able to breathe for at least a minute. And then after our phone call, when she offered me representation, I don’t think I stopped screaming for at least an hour. It was only one step in the long, sometimes arduous publishing process, but I really think it was one of the biggest. Having her in my corner has really made all the difference.
Kayla: In IRON CAST, poetry is often used as a way to create illusions—do you have a favorite poet/poem that’s been significant in your life?
Destiny: I actually have an entire binder of poems that have been significant in my life (I was an English major; that’s how we roll). One that has really meant a lot to me over the years is “In Mind” by Denise Levertov. It’s a short, deceptively simple poem that examines the complexities and paradoxes of womanhood, and it has inspired me greatly in my writing. It is very important to me that all my female characters reflect the stunning reality of what women are really like, instead of leaning on the tired old tropes that popular media often tries to feed us. I hope that when teen girls read my book, they will be able to glimpse themselves in the pages—not just cardboard cutouts.
Kayla: If you could choose any one of your characters’ special abilities, which would you choose and why?
Destiny: If I had any kind of musical talent, I would love to be a songsmith like Ada. She can summon any emotion in her listeners with her violin or even just her voice. Alas, other than a brief (pathetic) stint with the clarinet in high school, I’ve never been able to play an instrument, and you definitely don’t want to hear me sing. I figure since I already have a bunch of poems rattling around in my brain, I’d make a decent wordsmith, which is Corinne’s talent. She can create realistic illusions by quoting poetry. I’d just use my gift to make everyone think I had a pet dinosaur though, so it’s probably for the best that I’m what the hemopaths would call a “reg.”
Kayla Olson lives in Texas, and can usually be found in near proximity to black coffee, the darkest chocolate, Scrivener, and an army of Sharpie highlighters. Her YA debut, THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE—a near-future sci-fi thriller about a global war that erupts in the wake of environmental change—will be out June 6, 2017 from HarperTeen. When main character Eden escapes to the only neutral ground left in the world, Sanctuary Island, she quickly discovers the island might be deadlier than the world she left behind—but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.