After people read A Shrouded Spark, they usually ask about the process of writing the book and how the story came to be. And, to be honest, I always stumble over the answer.
Not because I can’t articulate it, but more in an “I have too much to say and too little time” kind of way. That on-the-spot feeling prompted me to sit down and think about the journey from start to finish (usually an overwhelming task). I wrote this post to talk about the process of creating A Shrouded Spark--its origins, its inspirations, and its journey.
The inspiration for the story started with the idea of the Yggdrasil--the Tree of Life, in Norse mythology. I was interested in the idea that the Yggdrasil could connect multiple realms or worlds; I wanted to play with that, to see what it would be like to write a scenario in which a character or characters could utilize or visit this tree and travel between worlds and/or planes of existence.
Before anyone put their eyes on it, the working title for A Shrouded Spark was “Divine Intervention”. There were overtly biblical themes littered throughout the book (angels and demons, no less). The main character’s name was Grace. She was white, her friends were wealthy and white, and her savior was a white angel--furthermore, the “worlds” that I wanted my characters to travel to were recycled--versions of heaven and hell. It was all very much born out of two things--1. My Christian/Catholic upbringing and 2. My affinity for reading about, watching, and writing fanfiction about characters that just so happened to be non-black.
When I started writing this story, I didn’t know what it was like to write about black characters because there were no good, popular representations of black people in the media or popular fantasy literature. Back then, I had no idea how much the lack of representation had affected my writing. I needed to, in a sense, stretch my imagination in several ways.
I threw away the first draft of “Divine Intervention”. I read more YA novels--thanks to my major in college, I got to take an entire class focused on the YA genre. I re-wrote the manuscript and spent four years in undergrad working on it. I revamped the plot and got rid of extraneous characters. I killed my darlings. And as I discovered these new characters, these visibly black and brown characters, I began to uncover my own identity as a black woman, how that translates into my writing, and how I portray my characters and their blackness.
Visibility and representation are of the utmost importance to me. As a black, queer person, I wanted my characters to represent those parts of me, to represent those parts of my communities. To me, it was essential to create genuine characters, not caricatures of black people, or instances of queerbaiting--I wanted my characters to be authentic, through and through.
When I imagined Noni, the main character, I thought of a girl who could be anyone, a girl with which other black girls could easily identify. A girl that represented all of us, black girls who end up with irrevocable responsibility placed on our shoulders at the worst times. I wanted all of the characters to be reminiscent of people that I (we) grew up with--the black anime nerd, the queen bee, the boy-next-door--I wanted this story to feel like a departure from realism and yet a return home.
“Divine Intervention” had taken on a life and a feel of its own. It was growing. I found an editor before self-publishing, and my editor--bless her--immediately steered me away from the working title for obvious reasons. She gave me several title choices that were far better than anything I could've conceptualized at the time. When I chose A Shrouded Spark, it felt right; it felt like the perfect fit.
The first version of A Shrouded Spark was published through Archway Publishing, a self-publishing subset of Simon & Schuester. Though their services met my needs, I wasn’t in love with the process, the price, or the results. The cover wasn’t my vision; it didn’t pull me in the way I needed readers to be pulled in. I needed something more representative of the characters and Noni's story overall.
I met my cover artist, Lenabella (more on her in an earlier post) in the fall of 2018, about a year after A Shrouded Spark was published. Over four years, she helped deliver not only one but two beautiful covers for A Shrouded Spark, as well as the cover for the upcoming book 2 in the Noni & The God Tree series.
Now, A Shrouded Spark has beautifully outgrown its expectations. Each version of this book is more beautiful and refined than the last. Each cover digs deeper into the heart of the story, representing not only the characters but also Noni's journey, as well as important themes within the book.
I’ll leave with this: Noni’s story is one of self-discovery, the journey of piecing together one's identity. When we're young, we think we know ourselves. We align ourselves with the values and hopes of those around us. We build ourselves, brick and mortar, into the people we think we’re supposed to be. But then things happen, and things change; oftentimes, we’re left to figure out who we are on our own, to sort through and put together the pieces without a guide. I won’t say too much, but in book II, we’ll continue that journey with Noni.
I am beyond excited to share the title and cover of Book 2 in the coming months. I am thrilled to share the next piece of Noni’s journey, to return to the characters and jump back into the calamity in which they were left. Again, I don’t want to say too much (because I am so, so excited), so I’ll end here. Look for more updates in the coming weeks!
Love and Light,