YA paranormal / YA literary
Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.
Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.
Excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.
Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.
And then it was happening again.
She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.
As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.
No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.
Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.
Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.
But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…
Meet The Author!
Teacher, writer, and editor, Val Muller grew up in haunted New England but now lives in the warmer climes of Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is owned by two rambunctious corgis and a toddler. The corgis have their own page and book series at http://www.CorgiCapers.com.
Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past. She blogs weekly at http://www.ValMuller.com.
The Girl Who Flew Away:
Free preview + discount code http://barkingrainpress.org/girl-who-flew-away/
The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Interview with Val Muller
What is the hardest part about being an author?
There are very few authors able to write full-time and uninterrupted. Like many, in addition to writing, I have a full-time job and a family. For me, the hardest part is when every part of my story is calling for my full attention—when characters intrude into my dreams, when I have epiphanies left and right. In reality, though, I can’t drop what I’m doing, or ask my class of teenagers to take a ten-minute break so I can jot down a bit of an outline. I can’t leave my toddler alone in the tub (or, if I am writing while she’s in the bath, I can’t fully immerse myself in the writing, lest I ignore her immerse herself in the water!). It’s difficult to find the time to allow my mind to fully engage in my work. Since having a child, I’ve had to learn to re-structure the way I write so that I’m better able to work with short, random amounts of time instead of long bouts of uninterrupted writing.
What can we expect from you in the next year?
That said, I am working on two projects now. I’m writing Corgi Capers book 4. Corgi Capers is my kidlit mystery series about a fifth grader, his seventh-grade sister, and their two corgis. It’s based on the humorous (and opposite) personalities of my two corgis. The fourth book takes place in the winter, which is my least favorite season in the universe (I’ll explain why a bit later in this interview).
I’m also shopping out my post-apocalyptic-sci-fi-western-alien novel featuring a would-be engineer who has to make her way in an earth made barren by drought or a lush planet ruled by the mysterious Peregrine.
What are 3 things we can always find in your grocery basket?
Milk for sure—my daughter is still a toddler, and I call her a milk vampire. We go through at least a gallon each week, and she is the only one who drinks it.
Chicken. This is a staple of my diet. I pack lunches for myself and my husband during the week, and we grill chicken for use in lunches (salads, sandwiches, etc.). I also put some in the slow cooker to make pulled chicken tacos and even pulled chicken chili. It’s an easy and versatile way to get protein.
Tomatoes. This is not quite an exciting list, is it? Maybe it’s my Italian background, but I have always loved tomatoes. They can go in salads for lunches, can be eaten plain as a snack, can be grilled on a cheese sandwich for those I-need-a-quick-dinner nights, and they are one of the only foods my daughter doesn’t (yet) steal from my plate!
What is your morning routine like?
Before daughter: get up as early as possible, let out/feed the corgis, sit on reclining couch with slippers and a blanket, and write until my “get dressed” alarm goes off on my phone.
Now: Since I do my writing at night now, I sleep in until the last possible moment (either when my “in case you didn’t wake up on your own” alarm goes off at 6:20, or when I wake up on my own to shower/dress, or when my daughter wakes up early and calls for attention over the baby monitor). After that, it’s a rush of consoling a potentially grumpy toddler, trying to give enough attention to the two corgis without making the toddler jealous (or vice versa), and packing up my and the toddler’s things. Funny: in the “old days,” my commute used to annoy me if there was too much traffic. Now, it’s not that I look forward to traffic, but I don’t get mad at all anymore. I simply turn on some music and enjoy the alone time on the way to work, brainstorming ideas for blog posts, short stories, and novels.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was very young, my dad helped me to memorize “The Night Before Christmas.” Though I understood the basic story, there are several difficult words and phrases in that poem that I never quite understood. One day, during a dark Connecticut winter, my dad called me to the dining room window. He pointed to the lawn, which was covered in a fresh sheet of snow. There was a full (or nearly full) moon, making the snow sparkle as if someone had spilled a bottle of glitter on it. My dad recalled the line from the poem “the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of midday to objects below.” He briefly discussed what that meant, pointing out the literal example just outside. It was the first time I truly put the meaning of words together. I realized that I could be in the middle of summer, and reading that line of poetry would take me back to this moment. Now, every time I read that poem, I see that window in my family’s old house, years before it was renovated, and I see sparkling snow in the pale blue glow of evening illuminated by a rising moon. Once I saw that power of language, I knew I had to write.
What was something you loved doing during the summer growing up?
I have such an imagination and had one as a kid as well. I was rarely bored and could spend hours in my room simply looking at the pattern of sunlight or the pattern of paint on my wall, making up stories about the characters I would see there.
My imagination was my best friend over the summer when I was young. I had a wooden clubhouse in the back yard right next to a wooden sandbox my dad made. He always chopped wood in the summer to stack for winter, and one year he chopped out a quarter of a log, creating a little chair. I used to pretend I was a pioneer. The sandbox was my fireplace, and some discarded pots and pans were my cooking utensils. Strips of bark from the seasoning wood became strips of bacon. Handfuls of grass became salads (no, I didn’t really eat any of it). I would spend hours out there, just creating stories in my mind. Those summers were formative in my abilities to create characters and situations.
What is something you love doing during the winter now?
I’ll be a bit cheeky here. I enjoy surviving the winter. I have never loved snow. Even as a kid, when sledding and building snow forts was fun, there was always something oppressive about the white stuff. You could never just go outside. It was always like an under-the-sea expedition, putting on layers of socks and boots and gloves under mittens. (I’m thinking of Randy in A Christmas Story)
As an adult, snow to me means shoveling the driveway and hoping for a cancellation from my teaching job instead of a delay so that I don’t have to rush to clear our driveway. But worst of all, my daughter was due during February. This was not our intention, as I would never willingly put myself in a situation in which I might have to get to the hospital at an inconvenient time during the winter. But we’d been having relatively mild winters recently, and everyone assured me everything would be fine. Two weeks before the due date, we were in the midst of a historic blizzard. Just the day before, I’d gone to the doctor for an opinion about whether I should literally camp out in the hospital waiting room. Everyone basically assured me I would be fine, and would emerge from the storm with at least a week to spare. Everyone, that is, except the nurses. “Storms cause low barometric pressure, and that triggers births,” they told me ominously.
Sure enough, at the tail end of the blizzard, when we were covered in nearly four feet of snow, I needed to get to the hospital. I am grateful that I was able to get there in time, and afterwards I researched what happens to emergencies during snow events and was thrilled to learn that all emergencies in our county were able to make it to the hospital safely and in time to get help. But still: every time someone wishes for snow so they can stay home and drink hot chocolate and watch Netflix, I cringe a little. I can’t help but think of those who will have medical emergencies whose outcomes could literally be dictated by the snow, and those who volunteer their time and safety, like the many volunteers who dug a path so that I could get into a utility vehicle that would navigate the snow and get me to a waiting ambulance that took me on a main highway so packed with snow that it felt like a dirt road and took at least four times longer than it would have to get to the hospital otherwise.
So, when winter finally ends, I am happy simply to have survived it!
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
In most of my works, characters are challenged to be true to themselves. In The Scarred Letter, a modern reboot of Hawthorne’s classic, protagonist Heather turns rogue journalist to reveal a secret her school has been hiding. The challenge comes when the rest of her world hates her for this action.
In Faulkner’s Apprentice, a supernatural chiller, the protagonist’s friends are all getting married and having kids. But all Lorelei thinks about is becoming the next king—or queen—of horror writing. Deep down, she knows she would likely trade anything for that career. When she gets the chance, she’s put to the test: who is she really, and how far is she willing to go for her career?
In The Girl Who Flew Away, ninth-grade protagonist Steffie finds herself torn between trying to fit in and following the things that make her happy, even though most of her hobbies are now considered dorky or babyish. In the end, she has to decide whether to pursue popularity or her interests. In some ways, these are the same conflicts Adam and Courtney confront in the Corgi Capers series.
How do you deal with Writers block?
I don’t generally get writer’s block. Because I plan my novels, I always know where characters are headed. If I’m ever not entirely sure, I simply go back a few chapters to do some preliminary editing, and the characters will usually tell me what to do.
What is your favorite meal to cook? Or have cooked by someone else. Can we have the recipe?
When I was a kid, my grandmother made the best meatballs. Every time she’d plan our visit, she’d ask us what we wanted to eat. I feel like she probably cringed a little each time we asked for meatballs. I remember several times when she offered a list of other things she was capable of cooking, only to be met with our adamant request for meatballs.
She never gave us an official recipe. It was one of those things she just did, though our discussions brought out a few clues.
After her death, I attempted the recipe, and it turned out almost exactly like hers. Perhaps it’s carried in the blood. Since I followed her “eyeball it” approach, I don’t have an official recipe, but I can tell you what I do mostly:
For every 1 lb of ground meat (can be any type of meat, really, or a combination), add almost a cup of grated parmesan cheese and almost a cup of Italian-style bread crumbs. To that, add about 1/3 of an onion (processed in a food processor or smoothie blender) with some chopped garlic, an egg, and oregano/parsley (fresh is best). I usually make 3 pounds at a time. The meatballs only take about 25 minutes to cook, but then I throw them in a pressure cooker with homemade tomato sauce. The sauce and meatballs blend into each other. It’s such a comfort food for my family.
If you weren’t an author what do you think you would be doing?
Losing my mind? Ha ha, but seriously, writing is therapeutic for me. I am so much less stressed when I’m able to write (it’s why I post multiple times per week over at http://www.valmuller.com/blog.) . But for my full-time job, I’m actually a high-school English teacher. It’s the only job that lets me be dorky in discussing literature all day or looking at the origin of word roots. My experience teaching etymology certainly shows in the Latin passages and influence of words as spells in The Man with the Crystal Ankh. My re-reading of The Scarlet Letter for years and years inspired me to share the strength of Hawthorne’s main character in a way modern readers might understand. While there certainly are challenges to being a teacher, I think it is a job with a great potential to make a difference, and overall it’s more rewarding than challenging. Having the summers off is also pretty great for writing ☺