New York Times Bestselling author Margaret Rogerson (An Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns) is back at it again with a ghostly new offering: Vespertine.
The story follows the young nun Artemisia and her life in a world where the dead don’t like to stay dead for long without the proper cleansing ritual. When a group of possessed soldiers attack her convent, Artemisia ends up awakening the revenant (an incredibly dangerous, ancient spirt bound to a saint’s relic) in order to keep the forces at bay. The two form a rather tense bond, with Artemisia struggling to keep the malicious spirit from overtaking her.
Yet despite Artemesia’s efforts, death has come to the land of Loraille, and only a vespertine (a priestess who has been trained to wield a high relic) has any hope of stopping such a force. But with all knowledge of vespertines being long lost history, Artemisia’s only hope of keeping the kingdom safe is in the revenant itself, if it doesn’t consume her first.
Pitched as Venom meets Joan of Arc, this story has all the pieces to be the smash hit this fall. However, the journey to making this story has not been easy. Drafted in the heart of the Covid-19 lockdown in the United States, Margaret Rogerson had to learn how to write a story when the world was seemingly on fire. Margaret has been kind enough to share with us here at The Young Folks about her journey of creating this novel.
First of all, thank you so much for your time Margaret. I mean this with all honesty that you are my favorite YA author, so getting to interview you is a dream come true!
Thank you, that is amazing to hear! It’s an honor to be here.
Previously you stated that VESPERTINE was written in the heart of Covid-19 isolation. How did you find inspiration and strength to continue writing this story, despite the immense mental hardship?
Oh, boy. I wish I had an inspiring answer. The truth is that I’m not sure I would have finished Vespertine if not for my deadline. This was by far my hardest book to write. I was in a really awful place mentally for most of the time that I was working on it; I wrote much of it in a complete fugue.
One might imagine that being trapped at home all day would be great for a writer’s productivity, but I found to the contrary that so much of my ability to write came from life—from experiencing new things and being among people and making observations. I forgot how to write dialogue that didn’t read as though it had been created by a depressed AI. And I had no humor left in my body at all, which was a massive problem because humor is central to my writing.
Ultimately I had to sort of tear all of that out of myself like I was ripping out the lining of an old coat I planned to never wear again. I’m proud of what I sewed together, but as it turns out, I do need that coat. Where can I buy a new one? (Yes, the coat is my brain.)
If I may, the vibes of VESPERTINE are simply immaculate. A badass nun meets a “Venom-like” ancient spirit, what’s not to love!? How did you find inspiration for this particular story? Any songs, movies, poems, myths and legends, or pieces of art stand out in your mind?
Thank you! Venom was certainly a huge source of inspiration. I suppose I thought to myself, what if I combined Venom with Joan of Arc? So it’s a melding of something that’s a bit silly with something quite serious. I set out to read everything Joan of Arc ever wrote herself, which isn’t much—just a handful of letters—and they were dictated, because she couldn’t read or write. As is typical for the era, everything else available about her life was written or recorded by men. Even her own words are written down by men. What got left out? How much of the truth of Joan of Arc died with her?
I find these questions fascinating and sad. She’s a heroic figure, but she was also a real teenage girl who lived and died. Did she have anyone truly unselfishly looking out for her best interests—not her as a legend or an ideal, but her as a person? I ended up putting some of my thoughts about that into Vespertine.
And then, to make sure I don’t sound too serious here, I’m also very into the undead in general. I’ve always wanted to write an undead character of some kind. I play World of Warcraft—or at least used to, back when I had more time—and nearly all of my characters are undead. I even have one character who is an undead death knight, which means he died twice (jackpot)! Imagine my friends rolling their eyes, muttering to themselves, “I wish Margaret would stop cannibalizing that gnome* and roll an elf for once.”
*For those unfamiliar with WoW, cannibalize is an undead ability that restores health in player vs player combat. I do not murder and cannibalize gnomes just for fun. Or do I?
As writers, we all leave a small piece of ourselves in our characters. Did these characters in VESPERTINE come more naturally to you than your previous works or was it more of a challenge? Also, who was your favorite character to write in VESPERTINE and why?
Artemisia and the revenant both came very naturally to me—or at least once I figured out Artemisia’s personality. She was quite elusive at first. I felt as though I were a wildlife photographer camped out in a tent, waiting for a fleeting glimpse of a snow leopard as it emerged from its den.
Finally I realized that I was looking in the wrong direction; I needed to approach her character more internally. The key to working her out was simply putting more of myself into her. So she is the most relatable (to me), and personal, of any heroine I’ve written so far.
The revenant was fantastic to write. I find non-human characters easier to write than human ones, possibly because I don’t have to worry about making them seem realistic. I can do whatever I want with them! And I found its arguments about religion with Artemisia particularly interesting, since it’s more of a skeptic, like me—in that particular area, I don’t share a great deal of common ground with Artemisia, and relate more to the revenant’s perspective.
However, it was important to me to convey that Artemisia’s faith is a profound source of strength for her, and for the revenant to recognize that fact and respect it, however reluctantly. They meet in the middle, rather than one being right and the other wrong.
I don’t think I can choose a favorite between Artemisia and the revenant! I love them both equally for very different reasons.
Now, VESPERTINE is your first work that is not a standalone. How did the writing process differ from your other works? Do you think you prefer standalone stories or writing a series?
Good question! I suspect I prefer whichever one I’m not working on currently. Standalones are wonderful because you get everything wrapped up in a single neat package, and the joy of discovering a new world, magic, and characters never wears thin. On the other hand, you have to say goodbye to all of it at the end, which is thankfully not the case with a series!
The main difference in my process for Vespertine was that it involved a lot more plotting and outlining. I need to know how a story ends (or at least think I know—that’s a whole different topic) before I can start writing it. Sort of like I’m driving somewhere, and I won’t be able to make even the first few correct turns unless I have directions. (This isn’t just a metaphor. I have a very bad sense of direction.) In Vespertine’s case, I ended up needing to plot an entire series instead of just one book.
What are you most excited for your readers to discover as they read VESPERTINE for the first time?
Definitely the relationship that develops between Artemisia and the revenant. That was my favorite part to write.
Lastly, what would be one piece of advice for all us aspiring authors out there?
Write with your whole heart. Never hold back because you’re worried about embarrassing yourself, being judged, or letting others down. Use your favorite tropes! Include the joke you’re worried is too cheesy! And DON’T think about your mom reading the book while you’re writing the kissing scenes! In my experience the scenes I almost hold back on for those types of reasons, but decide to write anyway, often end up being my readers’ favorite parts.
Also, first drafts are allowed to be terrible. That is very important to know.
Bonus question: How do you think Artemisia would get along with your other heroines Elisabeth (SORCERY OF THORNS) and Isobel (AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS)?
I think they would get along swimmingly, but it’s a good thing they’ll never meet, because the world isn’t equipped to handle all three of them simultaneously.
I can confidently say that I am desperately waiting for VESPERTINE #2. Thank you again for your time, Margaret.
Thank you so much for having me, your questions were fantastic!
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson will release on Oct. 5th, 2021. Read our review here.