Sophie Littlefield is the author of The Unforsaken, the story of a young woman with the gift to revive the dead:
Hailey Tarbell is no typical girl. As one of the Banished who arrived from Ireland generations ago, Hailey has the power to heal—and, as she recently learned, to create zombies if she heals someone too late. But now, Hailey is finally getting a chance at a normal life. After realizing the good and bad sides of her power, Hailey has survived the unimaginable to settle with her aunt, Prairie, and her little brother, Chub, in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Finally Hailey has a loving family, nice clothes, and real friends. But her safe little world is blown apart when she tries to contact her secret boyfriend, Kaz—and alerts the incredibly dangerous man who’s looking for her to her true whereabouts.
Littlefield and I recently spoke about her own childhood and the risks inherent in tempting fate.
I’m always a fan of works invoking Celtic mythology, as The Unforsaken does. What is it about the lore of Ireland and other Celtic nations that attracted you when you set out to write The Unforsaken?
Believe it or not, I had made some notes years ago about Irish mythology for a romance I had considered writing that never came to be. Because I’m a bit of a contrarian, I thought it would be interesting to bring that mythology into a setting where literature hasn’t typically gone. Instead of the fey+high school or the CIA or other ideas that had already been explored, I chose a rural setting and Polish ancestry (and there are even very minor references to Australia – for which I did find a historic basis, incidentally.)
Hailey can resurrect the dead, but if someone is too far gone they come back as a zombie. This is a familiar theme in supernatural fiction – the idea that messing about with the powers of life and death have consequences. Have you read W.W. Jacob’s story “The Monkey’s Paw”?
I think I read that story long ago, but its theme – mess with fate at your own risk – is wonderful story fodder. My daughter is reading Fahrenheit 451 at the moment, and we’ve been talking about the aliens’ insistence that knowing the future does not suggest any obligation to alter the future. And what a curse it would be to be given a gift like that!
If I may paraphrase Wordsworth, “The child is the mother of the woman.” What were you like as a teen? Did you and Hailey have any qualities in common?
I was an awkward, self-conscious, angst-riddled teen frustrated by my inability to express my thoughts verbally. I was, and still am, desperately uncomfortable in large groups of people. Years ago I retreated to the comfort of the written word, where I had all the time in the world to compose my thoughts so as to convey them as accurately as possible.
I was also drawn to the fringes – people doing weird, creative, unexpected things. Music and art were comforts to me and I dabbled in both.
I never experienced anything like Hailey’s impoverished circumstances, but we were a family of modest means. I remember feeling isolated not only by my introversion but by not having what the other kids did, the means to fit in. I remember what it feels like to believe one is alone in the world, misunderstood, even disdained.
The Unforsaken is the second book of a series. Did you the sequel already in mind when you wrote the first novel, Banished? Did The Unforsaken evolve away from this initial concept in some way?
There was lots of evolving! One of the great things about writing this series was the many ways in which we diverged from the original story. There was a lot of backstory explanation about the source of Hailey’s gift that was scrapped; on the other hand, we added more action, especially in The Unforsaken. Rattler’s role was built on and explored more, and that was probably my favorite part of writing the series. The romance was also ramped up quite a bit in the second book, and I enjoyed that. It may be hard to believe, considering the directions my writing has taken, but I got my start in romance many years ago.
What’s next for you?
I’m working with my editor, Krista Vitola, on my next young adult novel, a standalone tentatively titled Hanging by a Thread. Krista is great at identifying ways to add suspense to the story, and I like the changes we are making to the initial draft. It should be out in fall 2012.