Hi everyone! I’m super pumped for the release of A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to interview Jess Cluess, author of this book! There’s also a giveaway at the end, so make sure to let’s get started!
A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?
Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she’s brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?
Today I’m interviewing Jessica Cluess, author of the much anticipated ASBAB! (My questions are bolded.)
Tell us about your book in 140 characters.
Girl sorcerer may be the Chosen One—or not. In Victorian London, she battles monsters and secrets. Also, she can light herself on fire.
How long did it take you to write / formulate the plot for the story?
The first draft took one month from the first word to the last. That’s not usual, but I was really enjoying the process. The revisions took a bit longer. I did about four drafts before I queried, which took about eleven months all told. So one year from start to query.
Without spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?
Too many! Well, there’s a confession scene in the library that I really loved, but I won’t tell where it is. Henrietta’s first battle was also very exciting to write. Honestly, since most of my favorite scenes are ‘revelation’ scenes, it’s hard to talk about!
Who was your favorite or least favorite character to write?
Favorite is a tie between Henrietta and the magician Hargrove. Henrietta is the narrator and protagonist, so I have to love her a lot if I want to use her perspective to tell three novels’ worth of story. Hargrove is the sort of enigmatic, grouchy trickster character, and those are always my favorites to write. As for least favorite, there’s a terrible headmaster who features in the first two chapters named Colegrind. I try to make all my villainous characters have shades of gray, but Colegrind’s just a straight up jerk. I’m not thrilled that I couldn’t find anything redeemable about him, but I just hated him.
Tell us about your publishing journey.
I’d say my story is all about persistence. I spent two years teaching myself to write and edit an adult fantasy novel, which I promptly queried and got absolutely nowhere with. That was tough. I remember lying facedown on the bed and screaming into my pillow when one agent said the market I wanted was totally swamped at the moment. Two years straight down the drain. Refusing to quit, I switched focus to writing YA, got inspired, wrote the book, and started querying again. This time, I had some full requests and nice rejections, but nothing materialized. Then one day, I happened to be on twitter and saw the #MSWL trending. I searched for agents interested in historical YA fantasy, and found a short list. One of the first people I queried later became my agent—he offered a week after I sent the letter. After that, we spent a few months polishing the book, sent it out, and actually got a lightning fast response. We had an offer after less than two weeks on submission, which I know is incredibly lucky. True story: I’d programmed my phone to play a special ring tone when my agent called, and I was getting ready to go to work when I heard the phone. I thought ‘he’s not going to call me out of the blue with a rejection’ and got so excited I ran straight into the bathroom door. So my advice for everyone out there is keep working, don’t give up, and remember to open doors before you go through them.
Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
I think you have to put a little of yourself into every character you write, even if it’s just something like a favorite food or a particular memory. Of all the characters, I feel the most like Hargrove, because we’re both sarcastic and care deeply for people—but don’t always know how to best express it.
What is your writing schedule like?
I’m a morning writer. I admire people who can start work in the afternoon; it seems like a superpower. I like to get up, take a walk to get my head clear, come back, make some coffee, and get to work. On a good day, I’m done in a few hours. On a bad day, I’ll still be there tearing my hair out while the sun’s going down.
Were there different titles for your book? If so, what were they?
Oh wow, the great title wars. Originally, my title was Sorcerer’s Flame—really exciting and unique, I know. My agent and I changed it to A Cloak of Flame before going on submission. Random House bought it, but right before we wanted to announce, we decided we needed something even splashier. So for a few weeks, my editor, my agent, and I kept trading emails back and forth that got increasingly weird. Then my editor looked at a pile of words we’d thrown out, and cobbled together A Shadow Bright and Burning, and it felt right. Honestly, now I think it’s the perfect title, and especially when it’s together with the other two books in the series—both of which have names that I can’t reveal—it’s going to sound really spectacular.
Huge thanks to Jessica for be a part of my interview! This book sounds amazing; hope you love it!
JESSICA CLUESS is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.