by Val Muller
GENRE: YA paranormal / YA literary
The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.
Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.
No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.
Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.
Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.
But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…
Excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.
Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.
And then it was happening again.
She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.
As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up in Connecticut, and then as I went to college and beyond, I have been inching my way down the East Coast. Now I’m in Virginia, anyone who knows me will tell you that even here, we get too much snow for my liking. There is something about New England. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s the history, but it has definitely influenced my writing in terms of characters who—like Melville’s Ahab (and Ishmael) and Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne—are caught up on some part of their past.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
As a high school teacher, I often see students’ hidden burdens. Sometimes they write about their problems. Sometimes they talk about them to a small group of friends. But in “public,” they at more or less “normal.” I often wonder what kind of a burden this places on each individual. I wanted to write a story that examined a girl who was trying so hard to be ordinary when her circumstances are anything but that.
After some research, I saw that heroin addiction (and other opioid addiction) was a growing problem, and it seemed indiscriminate in the types of people it chose as victims: people from all walks of life can become a victim of this type of addiction. I remember watching shows like House and Nurse Jackie and seeing these brilliant minds chained by addiction. Because I write primarily young adult, I wanted to write about a young character—protagonist Steffie is a freshman in high school—to show that there is hope for those whose families are impacted by addiction, even though the path is not an easy one.
I have a page on my website that I’m constantly updating with articles surrounding this complicated issue (http://www.valmuller.com/books/the-girl-who-flew-away/addiction/).
How do you create your characters?
I read somewhere that by the time we are ten years old, we have much of our formative memories in place. I think this is mostly true. Each character is made of little pieces of people I have met. When teaching creative writing, I tell my students that they are like Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster: they should take little bits of different people and combine them together to make someone new. That said, I will never tell someone if (or when) I have used elements of their personalities in my work!
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
If it were possible, I would have been born with a pen in my hand. I have wanted to write since I could remember. As a kid, I had a “writing club” that I forced my younger sister to join. In first grade, I wrote poems that caught my teacher’s attention. I remember quite clearly being marched from the first grade hallway all the way to the fifth grade wing so I could read my poem to the fifth grade team leader. My parents were both instrumental in fostering my early writing: my mother helped me to compose words, and my dad read to me and helped me to memorize “The Night Before Christmas” at an early age. Both of those things, plus my love of music, helped instill a sense of rhythm and pace even in my early works.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
Those were the days. With a toddler running around, I have much less time than I used to. I used to write with instrumental music playing softly using my favorite pen—a new pen for each novel, and I wrote before and after work. Nowadays, I write whenever I can, sometimes on a napkin, sometimes on the back of a flyer. Lately, I’ve been “writing” on my drive to work—dictating into my phone via Android’s built-in speech to text function.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Sometimes novels come from dreams. With the horror novel Faulkner’s Apprentice, I dreamed that a bad man was trying to push his way through the front door. Try as I might, I could not block him. This idea sparked the concept that plagued protagonist Lorelei. She seems doomed by a force within her own mind: like me against the man at the front door, she seems powerless against her darker impulses.
With my kidlit mystery series Corgi Capers, my idea came from the babble of neighborhood children as I walked my dogs. They wanted to know what kind of secret adventures my corgis had while I was at work. I wrote it down, and thus became series.
The Man with the Crystal Ankh has the most interesting story. One of my violin instructors one day had very chapped hands that accidentally bled on my instrument. The image of that day stayed with me and sparked the question: what if a piece of us could be bound to an object? The man who owns the ankh finds the answer to this.
What do you like to read?
I read a variety of work. I’ll go from reading Where’s Spot? with my daughter to reading Invitation to a Beheading (Nabakov) to something written by an indie author. Right now I’m reading Starting Over by Sheri S. Levi. Pretty soon I’ll receive this quarter’s selections from the YA bookclub I’m part of with my district, so my reading habits are all over the place.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
The best thing to do is read. Television and movies are great for getting ideas, but the only way to truly improve on the craft of writing is to read the way other authors shape a story through words. Even when I read books that I don’t like, there’s always something I can take away about what to do—or not do—to tell an effective story.
Aside from that, write as much as possible. Ray Bradbury, possibly my favorite author, suggested writing a story per week. Just based on sheer volume and the amount of practice you’d be getting, one of those 52 stories would be bound to succeed.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you’re interested in learning more about writing and reading, check out my blog at www.valmuller.com/blog. I do book reviews on Monday, feature writers and writing tips on Wednesdays, offer free flash fiction (written by me and by members of one of my writing groups) on Thursdays, and offer something positive or fun each Friday.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Teacher, writer, and editor, Val Muller grew up in haunted New England but now lives in the warmer climes of Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is owned by two rambunctious corgis and a toddler. The corgis have their own page and book series at www.CorgiCapers.com.
Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past. She blogs weekly at www.ValMuller.com.
The Girl Who Flew Away:
Free preview + discount code http://barkingrainpress.org/girl-who-flew-away/
The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE
Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.