Author Jessica Cluess joins SciFiChick.com today to talk about her novel A Shadow Bright and Burning!
Tell us a bit about Henrietta.
Henrietta is a sixteen-year-old schoolteacher who is desperately trying to keep her secret magic fire power under wraps. As you do when you’re a teenage girl in the Victorian era. That changes when she’s declared the prophesied one, destined to save England from its longstanding war against seven monsters. So she’s whisked off to London, where she makes another alarming discovery: she’s not the prophesied one after all. All of this makes Henrietta intelligent, brave, someone who is a little too comfortable with lying, and deeply untrusting. However, she also yearns to look after the people in her life, so that’s one very positive quality.
What is this fantasy world like?
Magic is out in the open and very much accepted in this version of Victorian England. The three main branches of magic are sorcerers, who are predominantly wealthy and powerful, magicians, who are scattered and have been relegated to permanent second-class citizen status, and witches, who are killed outright when they’re found. The sharp class division has come about because a decade before the story begins, a magician named Howard Mickelmas and a witch named Mary Willoughby opened a portal to another dimension and let seven horrible monsters through. That stared the war, and got both their magical races imprisoned and killed. There is a reason that sorcerers want to kill witches and only keep magicians downtrodden, but that reason will be revealed later on in the series, so I can’t say too much now.
Can you tell us about your journey in publishing?
My first time querying a manuscript was hell. I’d spent two years teaching myself to write and edit a novel for publication, and after six months of querying I’d had maybe two full requests. It was so dispiriting, and I stopped writing for adults and decided to write for the YA market. I found an idea that I loved, spent a year working on it, and then queried again. This time, the process was pretty much a dream. One week after I queried the man who became my agent, he offered to represent me. A few months after that, we went on submission, and less than two weeks later we had an offer. In some ways, the grueling and painful first attempt at publishing made the later success so much sweeter. I’m extremely grateful that I had that challenging beginning.
This will publish a few days after, but how do you plan on celebrating release day?
I’m going to force myself to sleep later than seven o’clock! Also, I’m planning on getting together with a group of friends that evening, and even though it’s a Tuesday we’re going to have a few drinks. You can’t go too crazy. Everyone has work the next day!
Who are some of your favorite authors? What books do you love?
The big inspiration for this series, and for me in general, is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I call that book my Lord of the Rings in terms of its influence on me, and my writing. Growing up, my parents didn’t keep many fantasy books in the house, but my dad was a big horror guy, so I was weaned on Stephen King. It is the kind of book I didn’t appreciate as much when I was younger, but now that I’m an adult I see its power. Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury were two of my biggest influences as an adolescent, and nowadays I love Diana Gabaldon. There are some great YA fantasy books from up and coming writers like Alwyn Hamilton, Traci Chee, Tara Sim, Audrey Coulthurst, and Roshani Chokshi. And even though I’m not a huge sci-fi person, Dune was one of the most important reads of my life. It was the book that made me want to write speculative fiction professionally, and I’ll always be grateful to it.