The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations with authors we love. If you're a teen who'd like to interview an author, please click here to find out how we can connect you with your favorite YA authors. Today's guests include high school sophomore Diana Lopez Rojas and Emily Bain Murphy, whose new book Splinters Of Scarlet comes out on Tuesday.
Diana: Hi, Emily! This is the first book I've read from you, and I'm a fan. What makes Splinters of Scarlet different from your other YA books?
Emily: Hi Diana! Thank you so much! Splinters of Scarlet actually has a lot in common with my debut YA novel, The Disappearances. They both have historical settings with a dash of magic. They both have a mystery at their core, and they explore the ideas of making a new place home; found family; and the impact our parents’ past choices can have on the present. Both books include nods to a famous author—in Splinters, it’s Hans Christian Andersen, and in The Disappearances, it’s Shakespeare. One of the big differences between the two books are their settings. I set The Disappearances in 1942 America, in a fictional town called Sterling. Splinters of Scarlet takes place in 1866 Denmark, and I wove in real towns, people, places, and pieces of Danish history into the fictional story.
Diana: Marit is said to have not used magic in a long time. How does that affect her?
Emily: At the beginning of Splinters, Marit hasn’t used magic in two years, and she has sworn to only use it in case of emergency. Marit’s feelings about her magic are complicated. It gives her the ability to do things that she loves and excels at, but magic is also dangerous—she saw it kill her sister. She fears her magic, but she also misses it, and wishes she could use her gift freely without the threat of its danger.
Diana: Marit’s gone through a lot. She lost her dad and sister. Then she was never picked to be adopted. What was the process behind creating her backstory?
Emily: Marit is a little stuck at the beginning of Splinters. She feels fatalistic about her future, but secretly, she is someone who is yearning for love, a home, and safety. She has none of those things, and when she sees the only person she loves being taken away, that’s what wakes her up and propels her into action. Marit has known fear and sadness, and she has a lot to overcome over the course of the book. I think that’s what we most root for and identify with in stories—and hopefully it gives us a little bit of strength from the page into our own lives.
Diana: What advice would you give teenagers who’ve also lost people they love and are struggling with grief of their own?
Emily: Wow, this is such a good question. I am not a professional, and wouldn’t want my advice to be taken as such. But I would say that I know what grief is like, too, and that it’s really important to acknowledge that hurt and to process it with someone else who is trustworthy. Friends and professional counselors have been such an important part of processing grief for me. And I’ve noticed that when I instead choose to numb out rather than acknowledge grief, I’m really just delaying the healing.
But mostly, I would say that while grief can be so unbearably painful—there will still be sweetness to come.
I love what C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed: “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” He says that at some point, it begins to lessen, like daylight filling a room. Keep moving toward that beautiful day, which will come for you, too. And someday your experience will be able to help someone else, when they’re in the darkest part of the room.
Diana: I know you like chocolate chip cookies and The Great British Baking Show, which I also enjoy. Which character do you think would be the best baker?
Emily: I would absolutely want to try one of Dorit the cook’s cakes—she makes an almond bundt cake drizzled with elderflower glaze and cardamom donuts dripping with orange blossom icing that made my mouth water when I was writing about them. Other than that, I think that Jakob would probably be the best baker of the bunch. He’s a scientist and he’s good at being precise and exacting. Liljan would have a lot of fun decorating the cakes, but I think she’s too impatient to follow all of the ingredients…. Which is, admittedly, just like me.
Diana: In the greenhouse, Marit and Jakob share an awkward moment. Do you have an awkward kiss story or crush you can tell us about?
Emily: Oh, gosh! Let me see… I’m a fairly awkward person so this should be easy! One time when I was a teenager I was kissing my summer boyfriend and my entire family drove up in a van and saw us. My parents, younger sister, younger brother… They slowwwwly opened the sliding van door to let us in, and then we all had to drive across town together. I’m cringing thinking about it even now!
Diana: What are some other books coming out this year that you’d recommend?
Emily: Rebecca Ross’s Sisters of Sword and Song, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, and Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat, Taipei.
Diana: What other projects are you working on currently?
Emily: I am working on a young adult mystery novel that has a historical setting—a different time period than I’ve worked in before! I’m also having a lot of fun playing with some additional ideas for older and younger readers on the side. All of those ideas are stretching me—and I’m excited to see where they go from here.