The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations between teens and authors they love. If you're a teen who'd like to participate, please click here to find out how we can connect you with authors you love. Today's guests include Shelley Sackier, author of The Antidote, and high school sophomore Myriam G.
Myriam: Hey there! I really enjoyed the drama in The Antidote. Your book really had me hooked. What helped you come up with the idea for the story line?
Shelley: Firstly, Myriam, a million hugs of thanks for the opportunity to talk with you and other beautiful bookworms! It’s always such a rush to chat with people about what stories we come across that grab us by the shirt collars and won’t let go. I now introduce myself to people with a new phrase that just comes tumbling out, Hi, I’m Shelley, what’s the last book you read that convinced you that sleep was for wusses?
Myriam: I can’t pick. I’ve read too many over the years.
Shelley: I get that. Some questions don't have easy answers. Your “How did the Antidote come to be” is an uncomfortable question I’m often asked, and depending upon the audience, I usually answer, I come from a family full of women who have an uncanny sixth sense. Then, in my head, I add, and have ample conversations with relatives who are long dead and buried.
But it was this hushed up, joked about, slightly shocking, and totally confusing history of the women in my family that niggled away at me for years and finally tethered itself into a yarn worthy of spinning itself into a tale.
As I believe it is the things we don’t understand that fill us with most angst, I’m also firmly convinced that the only way to understand and overcome one’s lifelong fear is to march right up to its front door and bang on its gothic knocker.
Although it has always been a cryptic enigma as to why my aunties and grannies used to tell me I was an angel, or an old soul reincarnated, or a practicing hedge witch and just didn’t know it, it was intriguing to hear nonetheless. But it was also frightening, as they still burned witches in my little neighborhood. Each time they pulled me aside to reveal either their most recent prophetical dreams, the latest charting of my astrological life map, or what some dead relative whispered to them as they chatted on the edge of their bed last night, they were all conversations I wished they’d keep locked up tight inside of them. I wasn’t ready to hear about their spine-tingling insight.
But eventually, I was ready to write about them.
Myriam: I relate to Fee in a way. At least, I think I’m funny. Where’d you get the idea for Fee’s character?
Shelley: So… Stephen King has a wonderful book on craft called On Writing, and in it, he brilliantly describes how writers can fall into one of two categories: plotters and pantsers.
A plotter is an author who can deftly lay out a book from plot point to plot point, chapter by chapter, with a condensed bullet-pointed beginning, middle, and end all put together before
they start one line of dialogue or lush scene descriptors. They see the whole story and then begin fleshing out the details.
A pantser (that’d be me) is a writer who is much more like an archeologist. You stumble upon a shard of bone, bend down, and begin slowly, patiently, lovingly swishing away all the debris until you’ve unearthed some unseeable animal.
It might be something Smithsonian-worthy, but then again, it might be something everyone already has perched on their “I found this in the backyard” shelf.
You never know.
Which is exactly how character development happens for me. It’s a big surprise. The characters are already there, fully formed, just floating in the ether. My job is simply to lasso one of those suckers onto a page, throw a bunch of uncomfortable scenarios at them, and see if they sink or swim.
Myriam: There are several books out there with similar plotlines, but they differ in the romance angle. Why did you choose to skip the romance between Xavi and Fee?
Shelley: This is an easy answer: because there was none. I wanted absolutely no triangle of confused affection, no competition for devotion, and no having to ultimately make a choice.
I wanted to highlight the many different expressions of love. The complicated love between a parental figure and child (Savva and Fee), the notion that you were meant to be with someone and have always known it in your bones (Rye and Fee), and the deep love of friendship, support, and respect of another human being – male or female – with no romantic attachment (Xavi and Fee).
Xavi and Fee were best friends. There was never anything other than familial attachment between them. They knew one another to their very cores and raised one another to help elevate each other’s character and strength.
I love finding stories that highlight these types of friendships. We should all be so lucky to have one.
Myriam: Fee really cares about Xavi, obviously. Do you think their relationship might be different if Fee was able to use her magic from the beginning?
Shelley: Wow. That’s a head scratcher of a question—and a good one. It reminds me of a lecture I once went to where Bruce Colville (author of a gazillion middle grade books like the Unicorn Chronicles) advised the entire audience of authors to never accept your first idea for where you think the plot should go. He suggested a writer should pen twenty different plot directives for the scene. Then throw them all away and write one more. “Use that guy!” he pointed at us. “That’s the one that no one will have seen coming.”
Clearly, this shows I did not utilize Mr. Colville’s exercise here, and Fee remained in a world where her magic was forbidden. But if I had chosen to allow Fee the freedom to be authentically true to herself, I would have removed the source of tension and conflict between Xavi and Fee—and this … is one of the most crucial ingredients in the recipe of a story.
Every story needs conflict. It thrives on it and the tension of that conflict pushes the story forward. If everyone was happy, and everything worked swimmingly well, you’d snap the cardboard covers of that book closed within two or three pages.
And then likely, you’d throw it across the room and shout, “Why her and not me?!”
It’s boring. And none of us want to read about boring.
We need struggles, clashes, skirmishes. We need close calls, strain, and suspense.
And then … we need resolution.
The up and downs of a story drive us to turn the next page. If Fee was able to use her magic, then perhaps I’d have found a way to make it unpredictable, or embarrassing, or outlandishly insane. And its fickleness would have equally worried Xavi.
Or maybe I would have created the tension between the two of them by having firmly opposite beliefs as to how Fee should use her magic.
Whatever the direction of the plot, the relationship would have to stand equally strong in that they loved one another enough to voice their opinions of difference. Ignoring the sage advice of someone who loves you is where the delicious discomfort comes from in the land of great tales. So magic or not, we still need friction.
Myriam: Any chance you’re going to release a sequel?
Shelley: I’d give my left lung to write Book II, but the only way that will happen is if enough readers petition my publisher with that demand.
Or … enough of Book I is sold.
It’s all in your hands.