Monday, June 13, 2022

Diane Magras Interview - Secret of the Shadow Beasts

Photo Credit: Michael Magras

Diane Magras, award-winning author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and the upcoming Secret of the Shadow Beasts, grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine, surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. An unabashed fan of libraries (where she wrote her first novel as a teenager), history (especially from cultures or people who’ve rarely had their story told), and the perfect cup of tea, Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and uses the pronouns she/her.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is a crucial form of connection. It can entertain, inspire, teach, and engage. It can provide a means of better understanding the world, but also a way of escaping from it. Even when escaping from reality, stories have the power to introduce new perspective, shift mindsets, and create growth. They also show readers that none of us are alone.

Greatest thing you learned in school.
I learned that people cared about what I was thinking and believed in my creative abilities. When you’re a child, having that kind of positive reinforcement is potent.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
There is no greater reward for an author of children’s fiction than to know that children are reading and enjoying your work. When I’m at a signing table and meet my readers, I get that rewarding moment again and again.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always told stories. I’ve been a reader since I was very young, and I began writing stories before I realized that anyone could do that as a profession. I wrote my first novel when my 7th grade ELA teacher encouraged me to try for a longer work. That’s when I first thought that I might be a professional writer one day.

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Read to see what others in your market are writing and know that market best, but also read what authors outside of your market are writing too. Become familiar with voices different from your own. Takes notes on what you admire in others’ work. And then practice writing. Evaluate your own work. Is this something you’d want to read? Does it delight you? Do all of this over and over, and you’ll find your own voice.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m working on a middle grade novel that upends a lot of stereotypes and assumptions that people make about people, cultures, and mythology; and has a very positive depiction of some natural creatures that a lot of people don’t like. I can’t say more, but it’s been so much fun to work on. I hope young readers will get to see this one day soon!

In your newest book; SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Secret of the Shadow Beasts takes place in Brannland, a nation where terrifying monsters called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets. They’re so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and train at a castle called Noye’s Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora’s father refused to let her go. Years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is twelve, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. And decides it’s time for her to join the fight.

At Noye’s Hill, Nora’s new companions draw her into a sweeping world of round-the-clock battle training, fierce loyalty to one another, and sworn allegiance to defeat the Umbrae above all else. But despite slaying so many beasts night after night, the Umbrae’s population is quickly growing. And the government is keeping secrets about the source of the Umbrae, secrets that may tie back to Nora herself . . . and lead Brannland’s downfall.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope the readers of Secret of the Shadow Beasts are drawn into the characters and the world. I hope they feel close to the characters, and appreciate how kids are the most important people in this story. I hope they ask themselves questions about what their own world’s history really means, and whose stories aren’t being told.

  • 1. A fast-paced, emotionally rich story
  • 2. Girls and women in positions of authority and power
  • 3. Kids treated with respect by the adults around them
  • 4. Extremely cool weaponry
  • 5. Creepy monsters and a world they dominate
  • 6. An incredible RPG that weaves into the story
  • 7. Shout-outs to libraries, bookstores, and reading
  • 8. A very important fiddle piece
  • 9. A super-close found family
  • 10. History and environmentalism
What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing scenes of my young characters working together and supporting each other. Even in the fast-paced battle scenes, the young cast looks out for one another. I also loved writing scenes where they challenged each other, when they chose to be vulnerable and trust one another, and when they grew.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS?
I don’t think there was any one unforgettable moment! I wrote the first draft prior to the pandemic, and then subsequent drafts and revisions after it began. So much of this book was my own escape from the terrifying world outside my window—but also a place where I could address some of my feelings and beliefs about what we as a society needed to do.

  • 1. Nora Kemp lives on a sheep farm modeled after a sheep farm I stayed at in the Scottish Borders (I got rid of a couple of houses for Nora’s farm, though).
  • 2. Amar Bukhari-Masood’s favorite foods are my own family’s favorite foods. The big feast he describes at the end of the book is pretty much a meal I cook for holidays.
  • 3. The fiddle music in the story is based on works I’ve heard by the duo Stout & McKay. I owe the very fact that Nora plays fiddle to them: I was talking a walk during my lunch break one day when I was in the midst of the first draft, and had their music playing into my headphones—and as I walked down the street, I could just see Nora playing fiddle like Chris Stout. When I went back to my writing that night, I added that to her character—and it became a very important part of the story.
  • 4. During the first draft, I needed a quick description of a video game: nothing big, just a few details to make it seem real. I asked my son, an avid gamer, if he wouldn’t mind inventing an RPG, just the bones of it. He came back to me with an entire fully fleshed concept with enough details to make the game a much bigger part of the book than I’d first envisioned (and a game one I’d really like to play!). He also created Nora’s OP build.
  • 5. Nora’s obsession with “a cuppa” is pretty much a reflection of my obsession with tea.
  • 6. The environmental themes came from a pretty straightforward question: What if the earth decided to get back at human beings for all that we’ve done to it?
  • 7. I finished the first draft of this book right before the pandemic. I’d created this world with a dangerous threat to humankind, and people who just wouldn’t listen to official advice on keeping safe, and thus endangered themselves and many others. I had no idea that this would end up a parallel to our pandemic world.
  • 8. I have a lot of information about Noye’s Hill, its history, and its knights that didn’t make it into the book. For example, I have a list of every knight in every Order, and a quote from them too!
  • 9. My husband read an early draft and suggested that I flesh out Wilfred, Nora’s gaming friend, and find a way to connect him with the book beyond the first few chapters. In the book as it now stands, Nora’s and Wilfred’s relationship is a constant throughout the story, and adds an emotional layer that also connects Nora to her home. I’m grateful to my husband for seeing that opportunity and encouraging me to take it.
  • 10. The first chapter is, except for one change and a few minor edits, exactly as I wrote it in the very first draft! That has never happened with one of my books before!
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Nora Kemp, the sensitive protagonist from Secret of the Shadow Beasts, to Drest, the protagonist of my Mad Wolf’s Daughter books. Though Drest is a confident, brash, sword-wielding lass from medieval Scotland and Nora a shy gaming kid who knits and plays fiddle, they both respect other people and have pure hearts and strong minds. I could see Drest and Nora being close friends and looking out for one another.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Raising a child has taught me so much: about children, life, how to be a role model, how to be honest and humble, how to respect, how to provide room and space: truly, everything.

Who has had the most influence in your life?
My husband and son. They are my best friends, my readers, and my partners in pretty much everything that matters!

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
I’m not sure I could pick any one decade easily (each one has major problems and brutal social injustices), but the clarity we’re seeing in this decade about the racism and colonialism embedded in most Western cultures is crucial to creating a better world. I envy the kids in my son’s generation (he’s a teenager now) for the information of this kind that they’ve grown up with. They’re familiar with social justice concepts. They know that climate change poses a dire threat to our world. They can envision an antiracist world. Kids in this decade—and the last one—are in a powerful place to create change.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
My mom and I used to take scenic drives together around Mount Desert Island in Maine, where I grew up. I remember our packing a picnic dinner and driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain. It was often far too cold to eat outside, so we’d eat in the warm car and watch the Porcupine Islands slowly fade as the lights of Bar Harbor became bright far below.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
One of my happiest memories was when I was writing The Mad Wolf’s Daughter and asked my son, then in third grade, if he’d listen to me read aloud and share what he thought. He listened to draft after draft, and was a fantastic critic and editor. I remember reading later drafts aloud to him and pausing after the cliffhanger endings that he’d encouraged me to write. “Keep reading! Keep reading!” he’d chant. And sometimes, at the end of a chapter, he’d applaud. Having that instantaneous positive feedback from a member of my readership whose opinion I valued so much was a thrill and a pleasure.

What is your greatest adventure?
As a major introvert who isn’t into risks, I’m not really big on adventures beyond my writing! That said, my husband, son, and I saved up for a trip to Scotland in 2016, and I planned quite the adventure (for me). We rented a car, and I drove through Edinburgh and all over the Scottish Borders in search of castles and other heritage sites. We didn’t get lost, I learned that I’m very comfortable driving on the left, and it was incredible to go so far off the beaten track. Each time we came up to a castle, tower, or ancient abbey and saw the structure looming in the distance, I’d feel a flush of enthusiasm. I loved wandering inside them too, touching those walls, imagining the people who had lived there. Like my character Amar in Secret of the Shadow Beasts, I am seriously obsessed with historic stone. So…adventure? Kind of. But more like home!

For fans of Dragon Pearl and the Lockwood & Co. series comes a swift-moving contemporary fantasy about a young girl tasked with destroying deadly shadow creatures.

In Brannland, terrifying beasts called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets, so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult--and lately, with each day that passes, their population seems to double. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and begin training at a retrofitted castle called Noye's Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora's father refused to let her go. Now, years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is twelve, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. That's when Nora decides it's time for her to join the battle. Once she arrives at Noye's Hill, though, she and her new friends are left with more questions than answers: Where are the Umbrae coming from? Could the government be covering up the true reason their population has whirled out of control? And was Nora's father, the peaceful, big-hearted man who refused to let Nora fight, in on the treacherous secret?

You can purchase Secret of the Shadow Beasts at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you DIANE MAGRAS for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras.


  1. I would have accepted the offer to travel to Colorado instead of staying in Arizona.

  2. This book sounds wonderful. I'd love for my grandkids to read it. Great cover!