We’re so excited to be featuring another of our very own WBP contributors on our Author Spotlight series: Mara Fitzgerald! Happiest of release days to BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL!! The book is out today so make sure you grab your copy (and you can get a signed and personalized copy here!)
Give us a quick pitch for BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL! What can we expect to find in the book?
BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL is about a self-absorbed socialite who kills the witch that makes water for her city and then has to figure out how to find more water before everyone dies. You can expect characters who are maybe villains or maybe anti-heroines, blood magic, a lot of classic fantasy tropes getting ruined, and, of course, sapphic chaos.
Emanuela is ruthless and single minded when it comes to going after what she wants—and that’s putting it mildly. What was your process like getting into her head and developing her as a well-rounded character?
I think one of the most helpful things we can do when crafting any of our characters is let go of the idea that we can control what the audience thinks about them. I think when you try too hard to make a character “what you think people will like,” you can lose sight of the interesting fictional person that’s probably already buried there in your subconscious, waiting to be dug out.
I try to let go of the labels and pressure I’ve assigned a character—“what would The Main Character of a YA Fantasy do in this situation?”—and think instead about who they really are, and the different sides they have, and how I could go about showing those sides. This goes for all characters, not just for heroines who are also terrible people. I think from the author’s side, it’s less important that characters are “likable,” and more important that they are allowed to have wants and vulnerabilities and reasons for what they do—even if a reader decides those reasons are bad.
Did you have any big pieces of inspiration when it came to creating this very unique world?
The main character grew up in a sealed city surrounded by a mysterious glowing wall they call the “veil.” I’ve always loved claustrophobic settings and the way they make it impossible for characters not to confront their problems—although, as we’ll see in the book, perhaps the setting isn’t quite as claustrophobic as the characters think!
I also love classic fantasy, like the Wizard of Oz, and I love stuff that’s weird and spooky. And I remember how it felt to love dystopian YA in 2012. I wanted to bring all of those things together, and apparently, add a lot more blood. I’m not saying this is secretly a high fantasy Little Shop of Horrors retelling, but I’m not not saying that.
One thing that maybe readers don’t know about you is how deeply you think about craft. Tell us something you learned about storytelling through your journey with this book.
I will not stand for this kind slander. I have no thoughts, ever. My head is empty.
But really, thank you for giving me the opportunity to plug The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. Beyond the Ruby Veil is written in very close first-person with a single narrator, which has inherent limitations—for example, what do the other characters do when Emanuela isn’t in their face being awful? They’re definitely much happier people. Another challenge is getting that deep interiority that really helps us understand a character and feel like we’re experiencing the story along with them. First person point-of-view seems to lend itself naturally to that, but without being employed properly, it can read just as flat as the traditional third person.
Particularly because I had a narrator who was so unlikeable, I realized that I had to really study how I was going to make the readers feel as though they were in her head. The Emotional Craft of Fiction really helped me think about what it is that actually makes us connect to a story. Some of my biggest takeaways from it: it’s not that we’re trying to make readers feel exactly what the narrator is feeling at all times. Rather, we want to cultivate an experience for them that makes them go on a unique journey of their own—because of course, every reader is unique and it would be impossible for us to make them all feel the same way. Also, we as readers are naturally curious, and our brains like to chew on things—show us situations with no easy answer and let us make our own judgment calls about what we would do. It helps us feel involved in the story. Also, don’t be afraid to have a character want something very badly, and be totally vulnerable inside their own heads—unless, of course, it’s obvious to us that the character is in denial.
There’s obviously a lot of food for thought in the book! Emotional craft is definitely something I’ll always be working on.
Where did your fascination with eyeballs come from?
I had invasive eye surgery when I was a kid. I bet you didn’t think I’d have a real answer for this.
Can you walk us through the creative process of filming your arc unboxing video?
I love behind-the-scenes stuff, and I was watching a behind-the-scenes video of the guy at the Oscars who runs the camera called the Glambot—the high-speed one that makes the fancy slo-mo videos. It’s pretty interesting and also terrifying, because that thing moves fast enough to knock someone out. I decided to mimic the Glambot at home with my smartphone and obviously met with perfect success.
How much does your book have in common with Shrek?
If you read every tenth word, starting from the last page and going backward, it’s just the lyrics to All-Star over and over.
The only way you can find out if this is actually true is to buy the book.
What would your characters do if they were on an episode of The Floor Is Lava?
They would make history as the first team to spend all their time trying to push each other into the lava instead. And consequently, the fastest team ever to die. Is there a life lesson in here, kids? Almost certainly, but they’ll pretend they do not see it.
Mara Fitzgerald writes YA fantasy about unlikable female characters who ruin everything. She is a biologist by day and spends entirely too much time looking at insects under a microscope. She was born in the same state as Disney World and now lives in the same state as Dollywood, which is just as good. BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL is her first novel.