Monday, March 8, 2021

Adrienne Tooley Interview - Sweet & Bitter Magic

Photo Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff

Adrienne Tooley grew up in Southern California, majored in musical theater in Pittsburgh, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife, six guitars, and a banjo. In addition to writing novels, she is a singer/songwriter who has currently released three indie-folk EPs. Her debut novel, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC, will publish Spring of 2021. Her second novel, SOFI AND THE BONE SONG, will release in 2022.


Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s been so wonderful to find a place in the book community (although that did start even before I was published)--getting to support other writer friends and to begin to connect with readers. It’s also been really incredible to see how many people from all over the world have participated in my pre-order campaign (My poor wife has been helping me stuff envelopes all month…)

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
SWEET & BITTER MAGIC isn’t actually my first novel, it’s closer to my fifth (persistence and hard work is key from both a publishing and craft level!) But I always wrote prose and short stories--there’s even an author bio in the back of some of my early journals. My first book was actually inspired by a wedding I attended (inspiration truly can strike at any moment...) and the speech made by the father of the bride. It inspired a book about a cult, young marriages, and a girl who realizes it’s really not for her. Writing that book taught me so much about storytelling and the types of characters I wanted to write. Even though that book was shelved, it absolutely still influences my work today.

Tell us your latest news.
I’m deep in edits on my next book. SOFI AND THE BONE SONG--another standalone YA fantasy. Being on deadline for another book while your first book releases is the ultimate distraction, let me tell you!

Can you tell us when you started SWEET & BITTER MAGIC, how that came about?
At the heart of it, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is a book about grief and a book about power. Both of these concepts are explored through the eyes of two very different girls. With a dual POV I got to see the world through the eyes of Wren, a girl who feels everything, and Tamsin, who feels nothing (though not by her own volition).

I wanted to look at the past through different lenses. After all, grief and ghosts look different to everyone. How people choose to face their past, how they continue onward even in the face of unbearable loss, is power in its own right.

But beyond that, I wanted to explore the idea of strength and power and how that affects the world and the individual. When being told that strength is good, and weakness is bad, how does that affect the ways a person can grow? How does that affect their relationships? How does that affect their own perceived value? And then, on the flip side, how does a person deal with the consequences of that power?

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I think I summed it up best in my dedication: For you, if you need it. Never forget that you are worthy of love. There are so many different ways to love. And no matter what, that love should be cherished and I hope my readers know that they deserve to be seen and appreciated.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Tamsin and Wren?
I immediately had a handle on grumpy Tamsin--her second chapter in the book was one of my favorites I’ve ever written. She’s just stuck in her tiny house--and this was way before quarantine. That trapped feeling is so universal, be it feeling trapped in your small town or trapped in your anxiety. But what really surprised me was how connected I ended up being with Wren. Where Tamsin feels nothing, Wren feels everything. I’m focused by nature, so my attention doesn’t split well. But my wife is always seeing everything at the same time--it’s super distracting for us both! Getting to channel that into Wren and coming to really love this earnest, distractible character was not something I expected going into this book.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love to introduce Tamsin to Bree from LEDGENDBORN. Both girls are facing a wave of grief at the beginning of their books, and would bond quickly over carrying the weight of past decisions made for them. Tamsin would be in awe of the way Bree puts herself out there and learns to explore and ultimately embrace her power, something that Tamsin is so reluctant to do throughout most of S&BM.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Since writing is not my only job, I learned that the distraction of writing and revising on a deadline is a lot like walking on a tightrope while trying to juggle. Throw in some self-doubt and a whole bunch of imposter syndrome and you’ve got quite the handful!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I truly, truly believe that everyone should work in hospitality at least once in their life. Serving in a restaurant teaches you a whole new level of patience and empathy for others.

Best date you've ever had?
It was one I didn’t want to end. We were having so much fun and the conversation just kept flowing so we ended up hanging out for like… ten hours. We met for dinner, went to see live music, ended up at a bar, then finally ended up walking around the West Village and standing in front of a bank until like… 2 am. At that point we were both finally like, okay, yeah, we need to go home now. Now, we’re married.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
When I was 22, I quit my serving job in NYC and went on a solo backpacking trip through Europe. I stayed in hostels, ate peanut butter sandwiches for every meal, met the most amazing people, and saw the most gorgeous places. I kept a journal the whole time, so sometimes I do go back and re-live my journey. I learned so much about myself on that trip and what I wanted out of my life.

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
My wallet is pretty slim, so there isn’t a lot of room for extras. But I still keep a MetroCard in there, even though I haven’t been on the subway all year.

First Heartbreak?
In high school, this guy I’d been dating on and off for a few summers tried to break up with me over the phone and I was so mad that I drove to his house the next morning and made him break up with me in person. Yes, I’m a walking YA novel.

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
Being on deadline and doing press for my first book (as well as working a full time job), I’ll be honest, a lot of my laughter these days is tinged with a little mania. My wife and I have been marathoning Top Chef and our commentary on the commentary has become truly hilarious. We’ll just be sitting there eating nachos yelling at the TV like “of course you can’t make a foie gras torchon in three hours sir! Ridiculous!” It’s like...who do we think we are?

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love, even if it guaranteed heartbreak. If you learn who you are and what you want out of life before you really fall into true love, then, even if it fails, you’ll know it wasn’t you. Some people just aren’t the right match, or the timing isn’t right, and that’s okay. It doesn’t cheapen the love you had at the time.

  • 1. Plain Bad Heroines - emily m. danforth’s twisty, sapphic story within a story about a movie about a story, features gorgeous illustrations by Sara Lautman and a sweeping timeline.
  • 2. The Girls I’ve Been - Tess Sharpe is one of my favorite authors and this high-stakes thriller about Nora, the daughter of a con woman caught in the middle of a bank robbery, caught me by the throat and never let me go.
  • 3. Grown - Tiffany D. Jackson is a master storyteller and devastates with every word. I read Grown in one sitting. Truly, I could not put it down.
  • 4. The Project - When I found out Courtney Summers’ most recent book was about a cult, I was fairly certain that it had been written just for me, and this emotional, searching story did not disappoint.
  • 5. Watch Over Me - I love everything Nina LaCour touches and Watch Over Me was no exception. It explores grief and ghosts and found family with a twist of fabulism.
  • 6. Legendborn - I hardly have words for Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, which is an extraordinary work of contemporary fantasy which features a twist on the legend of King Arthur and has a seriously incredible love triangle.
  • 7. One Last Stop - I was lucky enough to get an early read of Casey McQuiston’s next novel, and not only is One Last Stop sapphic, but it’s actually set on my subway line! It was an instant favorite, with found family, New York City, and girls lost in time. I can’t shout about it enough.
  • 8. Beyond the Ruby Veil - I loved Mara Fitzgerald’s sapphic debut starring a ruthless and cunning main character who, after killing the one person who can create water, has to find a way to keep her city alive.
  • 9. Mexican Gothic - Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s delightfully eerie gothic horror novel has me squinting at wallpaper and steering clear of mushrooms.
  • 10. This Poison Heart - I’m only a few pages into Kalynn Bayron’s sophomore novel (out in July) but I already know it’s going to be a favorite.
Writing Behind the Scenes
Writing is such a widely varying process that it can be hard to speak in absolutes. My process alters from project to project, and sometimes even changes from the first revision to the second. I used to spend a lot of time trying to make my writing process fit into what I believed was the “right way” to do things, but recently I’ve realized that my energy is better spent searching for the best process for my brain on any given day, instead of wasting time trying to force my brain to fit into my expectations of a process.

No matter what, though, when I work I am pretty much always listening to music. I usually choose a few albums that fit the vibe or theme of my current project and listen to them ad nauseum. It’s gotten to the point where when I hear certain songs, I immediately think of one of my books, or even a particular scene.

I tend to write in chronological order. I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who can jump around, but since I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, I tend to discover quite a bit while I’m writing, and these pieces of discovery, the bread crumbs I scatter along the way, are important once I get to later scenes.

I draft in Pages (I know! I know!) and usually have a few different files for anything I’m working on. I’ll have the main document with the book’s name and the date the draft is due (or the date it was started if it’s a first draft), I’ll have a file called “mess” where I just throw ideas onto the page, and where I‘ll draft shorter scenes that I’ll then go in and paste into the main document if it’s a revision. I also always keep a cut file (you ALWAYS want a cut file--you never know when a scene you cut will be needed later, or even can be used in an entirely different book).

Also, I like to color code my projects--SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is purple, so I use a purple highlighter and colored pencils and purple calendar events to keep track of dates online. The book I’m working on now, SOFI & THE BONE SONG is pink. I have a MG novel that’s green, etc. It helps me think of different projects in different ways and assists a bit in compartmentalizing my brain when I’m making to-do lists.

I tend not to read too much when I’m drafting so I can focus, but sometimes, when I get stuck, all it takes is opening up a book and reading a line or two of someone else’s words to help my brain, which is always tossing around ideas and letting them stew, work out some piece of the puzzle it can’t when I’m staring at a word document.

I’m also terrible at making myself take breaks, but I’m writing it down here for posterity--it’s so important to refill your creative well. To take time away from the screen and your story to rest and refresh. It makes a difference. I swear.

In this charming debut fantasy perfect for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Girls of Paper and Fire, a witch cursed to never love meets a girl hiding her own dangerous magic, and the two strike a dangerous bargain to save their queendom.

Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back—even for just a little while—is to steal love from others.

Wren is a source—a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself. Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren—the only caretaker to her ailing father—has spent her life hiding her secret.

When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father.

Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them—that is, if they don't kill each other first.

You can purchase Sweet & Bitter Magic at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ADRIENNE TOOLEY for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley.