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February 20, 2018

Caught Up in the Flame: Researching FIRE AND BONE --- Guest Post by Author Rachel A. Marks


Ever since the debut of Percy Jackson, mythology has played a huge and ever-growing role in young adult fiction. So how do authors tackle pulling from ancient tales while keeping their stories fresh? Author Rachel A. Marks recently answered this question her book FIRE AND BONE, which is set in Hollywood's magical and dangerous underworld and pulls from Celtic mythology. So how did Marks go about researching the demigods, druids and ancient bonds that appear in her book? Read this post to find out!

Hello, my name is Rachel, and I’m addicted to researching. Most writers are pretty familiar with how the investigative vortex can grab you and not let go. How the tiny print on the encyclopedia page blurs in the late hours because you need that perfect detail for a scene. How you squint at the dimmed laptop screen into the early morning, searching for that essay on ceremonial vases you know you bookmarked. Or how you sacrifice the sinuses to flip through that crumbly old textbook you found in the used books store. If you’re a writer, you’ve likely been there.

I’m as guilty as anyone. I usually have to force myself to put down the library card or turn off the NatGeo documentary, and get back to focusing on the fiction. It’s not that I don’t want to write the story. It’s that I find so much of my story in all the rich details, in that grit of history. I catch my vision there in that space; the pages of the past. It feeds that inner anthropologist I’ve got in my head, who’s constantly waving for attention. And when I was writing FIRE AND BONE, that was certainly true.

The wilds of the ancient Celts and their deity pantheons through the ages have always been one of my favorite things to study. So much of our modern day fantasy stems from those old legends, like King Arthur or fairy worlds. The details have changed quite a bit over the centuries, they’ve been shined-up and polished into something a bit more romantic, more palatable. From the dark things that terrified the Romans when they landed on the island of Albion, sparking them to build Hadrian’s Wall, to a ONCE AND FUTURE KING. But that’s what makes the deeper study of these little details so interesting, peeling back the layers to get to the onion’s heart. For me, it’s the most interesting place to find story, just under the surface.

This was my goal in writing FIRE AND BONE, to take a familiar thing and go deeper with it, into that darker, more sinister reality, where myth meets truth, and fantasy meets the grit of history. It’s the spot I’m always shooting for. Writing glossy fiction doesn’t appeal to me, especially in speculative works. I want there to be a stark reality as the ghosts come alive. I want the reader to forget it’s just a story and get lost in the tale.

The magic for that is in the details that I immerse myself in, the scent of sage burning on the brazier as it fills the air, the distinct blue lines of woad on the skin of a warrior. I want to see it and feel it before I reimagine it, before I place these ancient details into the modern age, letting them twist and grow into the iron and concrete. I want to bring legend into reality, and then watch as the gods walk the city streets, as they play with human hearts. Forcing the reader to wonder, always wonder, who will survive to the end of the tale.