January 9, 2015

Ghosts and Ghoulish Research: an interview with Sarah Remy, author of "Stonehill Downs"

Stonehill Downs: Malachi is the last of his kind—a magus who can communicate with the dead, and who relies on the help of spirits to keep his kingdom safe. When he's sent to investigate brutal murders in the isolated village of Stonehill Downs, he uncovers dangerous sorceries and unleashes a killer who strikes close to home.

Avani is an outsider living on the Downs, one of the few survivors from the Sunken Islands. She has innate magics of her own, and when she discovers the mutilated bodies of the first victims, she enters into a reluctant alliance with Malachi that takes her far from home.

But Mal is distracted by the suspicious death of his mentor and haunted by secrets from his past. And Avani discovers troubling truths about the magus through her visions. She could free Malachi, but first they must work together to save the kingdom from the lethal horror that has arisen. (source: Amazon.com)

Stonehill Downs is available on Amazon.com

Gef: What was the impetus behind Stonehill Downs?

Sarah: I love fantasy, I love mystery, and I’m honestly fascinated by everything paranormal and creeptastic. STONEHILL is an epic fantasy with a twist. My magus relies on forensic science as much as he does his magic. As the story begins he’s called in to investigate a series of gruesome murders out in the middle of nowhere, and that’s where things turn dark and eerie.

Gef: Now, your protagonist Malachi is a mage that can talk to the dead, which must come in handy when acting as a bit of a detective in this fantastical setting. So when it comes to melding magic with science, how intensive did the research get for you, and how much of a magic system did you need to build up before tearing into the story?

Sarah: I tend to research as I go along. I knew I wanted Mal to have an autopsy room, but he lives in a pre-modern world. I did some reading on medieval medical practices and tools, on herbalism, on various body traumas. It sounds ghoulish, but it was interesting and fun to look at the various ways to use a poisonous seed or, say, diagrams of Hooke’s microscope and say, “Oh! Is that how they managed?”

Speaking of ghoulish, the one big rule of magic I knew going in was that while STONEHILL’s universe is inhabited by ghosts - Mal runs into them everywhere - they’re not necessarily helpful, or coherent, or all-knowing spirits. Sometimes it’s quite the reverse.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the epic fantasy genre?

Sarah: I like the big stories, the big worlds, the details. For me, epic fantasy is the pinnacle of escapism. If it’s done right, an epic fantasy will stay with you for a long time.

Gef: Since this is your debut novel, what's been the biggest eye-opener for you in the lead up to its release?

Sarah: Hmm. I think I was surprised by how quickly and smoothly the whole process seemed to go. I have my editorial team to thank for that, because I know ease-of-process is definitely not the norm.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Sarah: The problem with ‘writing advice’ is that what works for Jill up the street doesn’t necessarily work for Bob down the road. I think the one ‘old familiar’ that always makes me grit my teeth is: “Just do it.” Okay, yes, that’s great in theory. Treat writing like your 9 to 5 job, if you’re lucky enough to have that sort of flexibility in your life. The thing is, you can make yourself sit in front of the keyboard and spit words for an hour, but sometimes your brain really doesn’t engage. Sometimes IT just won’t happen. Sometimes you just have to leave the keyboard and let the story sit. And maybe you’ll find that your muse sorts things out while you’re scrubbing the shower or raking the leaves, and in the end the writing’s much better with a break.

I’m going to turn the tables just a little and share the best piece of writing advice I’ve yet heard: Do what gets you to write and not what blocks you. That’s Anne Rice and she’s entirely correct. Do whatever works for you.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Sarah: Does reading in the bath count? I like to lock the bathroom door and read in the tub. Dangerous when using an eReader, but I haven’t died yet.

I don’t read when I’m working on a manuscript, so I when I’m in between I reward myself with the newest works from my old favorites, and usually a few off the bestsellers lists, just to see what the fuss is about. I’m trying to think of a juicy guilty pleasure… Oh! I generally cleanse my palate with a good JD ROBB. Formulaic, futuristic angst and fluff. Perfectly mindless.

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Sarah: Book: Robin Hobb’s newest, because I’ve been a fan of Fitz and the Fool for a very long time. Movie: The Imitation

Game. Song: Relatively Easy, by Jason Isbell, which I think came out in 2013 but I’ve only lately discovered Mr. Isbell.

Show: BBC’s Sherlock. And limerick: There once was a hobbit from the shire…

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Sarah: At the moment I’m polishing STONEHILL’s sequel: ACROSS THE LONG SEA. I’ve also got a few other super-secret projects on my To Do List. You can find me at sarahremy.wordpress.com or on Twitter @sarahremywrites.

Thanks, Gef! This was great fun!

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