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To save a nation, Clara will have to see through both the fog of war, and the fog of her own heart...
Sold into slavery as a child, and rendered mute by the horrors she suffered, Clara's life extends no further than the castle kitchens and their garden. Those who know about her just think of her as the dull mute girl who may be a little soft in the head, not knowing that she carries within herself a precious gift: the ability to see the future. This is a gift she keeps secret, though, for fear of persecution.
However, a vision prompts her to prevent a murder, shoving her not only into the intrigues and gilded life of the nobility, but also into a civil war brewing in her country. As events unfold, and she is drawn deeper into the conflict, she meets an old friend, makes a new one, and begins to unearth secrets better left buried.
Driven to learn the truth about the war, and about her friends, Clara embarks on a journey that takes her from her beloved mountains to the very Capital itself, Bertrand, where she is confronted by an evil both ancient and twisted. The only problem is, her own anger and prejudices are the catalysts her enemy needs to complete its plans. If she is not careful, not only will the entire nation be lost, but her own soul as well.
Interview with Author Suzanna Linton
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
CLARA is about a girl of the same name who has this extraordinary ability to see the future. But, at a young age, she’s sold into slavery and the trauma of it renders her mute. The book follows her, along with a few other points of view, as she gets older and gets pulled into a civil war. The book, really, is about her finding her place in the world and obtaining her own independence.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
The idea is very personal to me. When I first conceived of the idea for the character, which came before the idea for the story, I was in a place in my life where I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard. I felt that I was fighting for my own independence and my own place. Clara grew out of that struggle. After that, it was just setting her into the appropriate story.
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
I’d like for them to come away with the message that, no matter what your past has been, you still have a future. You can rise above your mistakes. You can let go of anger and forgive.
How long did it take to write the book?
The story line I finally landed on, the one that said what I wanted to say, took about a year and a half to two years to write and polish.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
The character that was the most fun to write was Marduk. Marduk is the villain and I wanted to write someone that makes you go, “Oh, he isn’t so bad. Oh, wait, he just did something awful and doesn’t care. But I still kind of like him. Well, crap.” I feel like I’ve accomplished that with him.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
When I wrote the rough draft, no I didn’t do any outlining. It was for NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so I just sat at my computer and vomited words. I just wanted to get the very basic story idea on paper. I had a beginning. I had a climax in mind. I knew what I wanted the ending to be. But it taught me that maybe ‘by the seat of my pants’ writing may not be the best method! The ending was a bit of a surprise. I kept rewriting but what I wanted just didn’t seem to work. Finally, I did the opposite of what I wanted and it fit. It was the ending that served Clara the best and I realized that I shouldn’t be surprised in what she chooses in the end.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
I’d give Gavin more of a spine. Or maybe not a spine, but I might make him a little less selfish and whiney.
How did you come up with the cover?
A lot of the story takes place in the mountains of Lorst. Clara, in fact, spent the first decade of her life living on the Larkspur mountain range, which in my mind look like the Appalachians. When I decided to make the cover myself, I wanted to use mountains as the background. The picture I chose is one I actually took when my husband and I went to Mt. Mitchell on our honeymoon. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, and so we were able to look down on other mountains on a very cloudy day. It looked so mysterious and beautiful that I spent a lot of time taking pictures of the way the clouds moved over the peaks. One of them is my favorite, where the clouds have parted just enough to see the mountainside. That’s the one I used. Because of Clara’s ability to see the future, I wanted a picture of a woman looking up, so I took a picture of my own eyes. I plunked it all in Photoshop and fiddled with it until I got what I wanted!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I said to myself, “I’m going to be a writer.” I’ve always been a writer. It’s who I am. I can’t imagine being anything else.
What are you favorite books and authors?
My very favorite book is SUNSHINE by Robin McKinley. I love a lot of her work but that is my favorite, with CHALICE as a close second. I also like Dean Koontz and Anne McCaffrey.
What are you working on next?
Right now, I’m working on a book that is at least partially urban fantasy. The working title is WILLOWS OF FATE and it’s about a girl named Desdemona who’s caught up in a bit of a mystery. Desdemona’s mother died and when she goes to settle the estate, she learns that her mother had been keeping a big secret. While Desdemona’s trying to come to terms with that, her brother goes missing and is later found murdered. She’s also seeing these figures that no one else can see, so she’s just trying to figure out what’s going on and if it’s all connected to her mother’s secret. (Spoiler: View Spoiler »It is. « Hide Spoiler)
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up. You have to be a bit of a Don Quixote when it comes to being a writer. If you care too much about what other people think, or if you’re too afraid to dream, you’ll never finish anything and you’ll never be published.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
My husband, Brad, works a full time job while I work a part time, so I try to get my writing in while he’s at work so I can spend the evenings with him. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. But, he writes, too, so he understands when I have to pull a long night in front of the computer. He also knows when to drag me away from the computer to go do something else, like sleep!
Clara twisted her matted hair and wrapped a short length of rope around it, tying it off with a knot. Fleetingly, she thought of the gowned ladies with long, braided hair, some of it with silk ribbons intertwined with the tresses. Theirs was a style of art–hers, solely utilitarian. She savored a small taste of pride at knowing that word.
“Girl! Where are you?” bellowed the cook.
Scrambling up from her thin pallet, she ran into the kitchen from the tiny room she shared with Cook and two others, adjusting her tunic as she went. Cook, sweaty and breathless, was stirring the morning’s porridge in a large hanging cauldron. Her two fellow slaves were working at other tasks.
“I need more wood,” she said. “Gerrie didn’t bring in enough last night.”
Clara rushed into the small courtyard just outside the back kitchen door. The stink of the compost pile and the bite of the morning air hardly touched her as she jogged around the small rectangles of vegetables and herbs Cook nurtured. Aromatic applewood sat in a neat stack by the wall which surrounded the castle. Scooping up an armload, she hurried back. When winter came, they would have to move the pile closer to the door.
Inside the kitchen, she carefully placed the logs in the fireplace, the greedy flames licking at the wood. The remainder she arranged by the fire and then looked questioningly at Cook, who nodded her head.
“Good gel,” she said. “I need ye to begin cutting the fruit now. And wash thy hands first!”
Clara scrubbed up at the sink and began to slice the apples and figs to adorn the lord’s table. Her stomach grumbled sharply but she ignored it.
Clara carefully arranged the sliced fruits on a large silver platter. Cook walked by, glanced at it, and grunted her approval. In her own way, Cook was kind. Clara didn’t recall being beaten for anything she didn’t deserve, like the time she didn’t check to see if the milk had soured and almost sent it up to be served at the high table. She still bore the scars from that, but the accident could have killed someone.
With the Lord’s visitor, breakfast was formal, making the four of them rush from one end of the kitchen to another, preparing the food. Finally, the serving boys, dressed in the dark orange and rusty red of the House of Dwervin, arrived, took up the platters and left. The women collapsed on a bench at the large worktable.
“I cannot wait,” said Cook, “for the master to get more cooks. I hear he was lookin’ at folk just the other day. Well, time to eat ourselves.” She got up and the three girls stood, but Cook impatiently waved for them to sit down.
Cook herself was not a slave, though she never really ventured out much. However, a strange camaraderie had developed between the four of them. The woman returned shortly with a tray bearing small bowls of porridge, bread, and the last of the blackberries. They ate quickly and silently, then stood to clean and prepare for the large and elaborate noon meal. Thankfully, more cooks did arrive.
As Clara scrubbed roots at the sink a few candlemarks later, she felt the ominous prickle ripple across her scalp. Terrified, she tried to push it back, but it exploded before her eyes: a man with hair black as midnight and eyes the color of bracken. He sat at a long table, talking to her master. The vision sharpened and focused on the dark-haired man’s hand, which reached into his heavily embroidered tunic as if to scratch at a pesky flea.
As he pulled his hand out, he flicked his fingers. Her master, so intent on his conversation, paid no attention, but Clara saw tiny specks of dust flying into his cup. The vision ended and the sink full of roots hazily came back into focus.
Clara leaned against the edge of the table, gasping and shivering.
“What is this?” asked a sharp, deep voice. A hand struck her in the back of her head. “Back to work!”
One of the new cooks scowled at her and she bent back to her scrubbing, trying to ignore the pain in her head.
The visitor is going to poison my master, she thought. But when? At this meal? Why should I care one way or another, though? He bought me like I was a bolt of cloth for his wife.
She imagined the ensuing chaos of the lord’s death and how she could make her escape. Perhaps she could find a blacksmith that would be willing to remove her slave’s collar. However, this was the kindest she had ever been treated, here at the castle. In a sick, twisted way, she should thank him for making her his slave, because Heaven only knew what would have happened to her if she had stayed with her parents or sold elsewhere. That made up her mind.