Tuesday, September 25, 2018

HEART OF THORNS by Bree Barton

I first learned about HEART OF THORNS and Bree Barton when I was unable to make it to her book event in Palo Alto. Boy, did I miss out. HEART OF THORNS is a story that explores what happens when we're forced to examine the darker parts of ourselves, and it is a necessary read for anyone who loves YA Fantasy:

Mia Rose wants only one thing: revenge against the Gwyrach—feared, reviled, and magical women—who killed her mother. After years training under her father’s infamous Hunters, Mia is ready. She will scour the four kingdoms, find her mother’s murderer, and enact the Hunters’ Creed: heart for a heart, life for a life.

But when Mia is thrust into the last role she ever wanted—promised wife to the future king—she plots a daring escape. On her wedding night, Mia discovers something she never imagined: She may be a Huntress, but she’s also a Gwyrach. As the truth comes to light, Mia must untangle the secrets of her own past. Now if she wants to survive, Mia must learn to trust her heart . . . even if it kills her.

I love your YouTube channel. What led to it, and what you do love most about putting videos together?  

I’m so glad you enjoy my videos! Thank you for watching. As you’ve probably seen, YouTube is a great outlet for my sillier side, which doesn’t always get full expression in my fantasy. I mean, I hope there’s humor in HoT—if I ever write something with zero humor, please revoke my writer’s license—but I’m writing about misogyny, abuse of power, and severed hands. Not exactly a laugh riot, you know?

When I’m not writing dark and horrific things, I’m a pretty goofy person. The YouTube videos are a chance for me to play. I was a theater nerd all throughout high school and college, and when I first moved to LA, I did a couple of commercials and short films, as well as improv comedy shows every week. So when I made my little “Meet Bree Barton” author video last year, I realized how much I missed it. I did a new video each day for BookTubeAThon 2017 and was totally hooked. Over the coming months, the videos were a way for me to goof off, blow off steam, and talk honestly about my triumphs/struggles/fears as a writer.

What I love most is when the unexpected happens and I catch it on film—like when my dog punched me in the face. Definitely NOT planned. I’m also a sucker for costumes. One of my all-time favorite videos is when I dressed up as a vampire—and those damn teeth kept falling out of my mouth! Since I am a lover of costumes, I also force my dog to wear them. To date he has played Harry Potter, Juliet, Romeo, and Sidewalk Face Puncher. Unlike me, he does not enjoy the cinematic arts.

There's nothing like the unexpected! HEART OF THORNS confronts the inner conflict that happens when we discover parts of ourselves that we don't like. How did you know that this was something Mia needed to grapple with? 

What a brilliant question. You’ve inspired me to be bold—and vulnerable—in my answer. Here goes.

As I’ve said at many of my book events: Mia is a bad feminist. And not the Roxane Gay variety! Sometimes I’m a bad feminist, too. No matter how evolved we think we are, we are all products of our culture, and we can’t escape the influence of these long held and deeply engrained beliefs. I don’t like acknowledging the places where I am inadvertently sexist and misogynist—but as I wrote the character of Mia, I had to. I had to confront my own feelings toward my female friends who have chosen the marriage/motherhood path when I’ve chosen my career. Both of those paths are great! It’s my judgment of another woman’s choice that’s the problem.

Recently I turned on the radio and listened to a woman vehemently calling a man to account. After almost ten minutes of her talking and cutting the man off every time he tried to speak, I had the thought: “Why is she harping on? I wish she’d just be quiet.” I was immediately ashamed. I still am. I couldn’t believe that was my knee-jerk response to a powerful woman strongly and passionately expressing her beliefs. A U.S. Senator, no less: I was listening to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

I think it’s important that we face these moments rather than bury them. Hence why I’m confessing it here. Shame can be a tool for learning—but not unless we shine light on it, and try in earnest to source where these words and the underlying belief systems came from. One of the ways I have interrogated my own failures as a feminist is to have Mia embody similar ones, then send her on a journey to unravel the truth from the lies. She has to grapple with these deeply problematic parts of herself to become a better, wiser, kinder person. So do I.

Me too. Your op-ed piece for Tiny Buddha, "The Greatest Lesson We Learn When Someone Is Unkind" talks about how to navigate a world filled with unkindness. What is your favorite way to show kindness to others? 

Thank you for digging up that piece from the eternal re-occurrence of the internet! More than five years later, I still feel proud of it—and I still have that blue dress hanging in my closet.

I think my favorite way of showing kindness is by sharing the things I love. Books, obviously—I’ve given away a couple dozen YA books this year through my monthly author newsletter, many written by my dear friends. I love doing that! Dancing and writing have both been really important to me, especially having lived with depression for 20+ years, so launching my free Rock ’n’ Write classes has been my attempt to make kindness a weekly gig. Getting to dance, write, and connect with a roomful of brilliant, talented, honest teen girls is a kindness to ME!

I also like writing personalized letters/thank you cards whenever I can. One year my New Year’s Resolution was to spend every day in January meditating on one person I’m grateful for, then writing them a letter or card (sometimes an email!) to tell them what I love about them. I should probably do that again.

Here’s a related story, which also ties in to the last question. There was a woman I met more than a decade ago, a friend I hung out with for a few months.  I liked her but didn’t know her all that well; we went separate ways and haven’t seen each other since. After my sister was sexually assaulted earlier this year, I replayed some of my interactions with this woman and regretted that I had not been a better friend and ally while she was going through a tough time. I let my own selfishness and judgment get in the way.

Twelve years after the fact, I sent her an apology letter, telling her I was sorry I didn’t have her back when I should have. That I thought she was so lovely and smart and fun and strong, and I wished I could go back and do things differently. I told her she never had to respond to my email, but I needed her to know I would always regret not being a better friend.

She did write back—six months later, to tell me my email came at exactly the right time. That she stopped breathing when she read it, because something clicked about her prior relationships…and her current one. That one month to the day after reading my email, she walked out of her violent marriage—and never went back. She wrote to tell me she was finally safe, as were her children. That she hoped I didn’t live with regret, because no matter how much I felt like I had failed her all those years ago, I had helped save her twelve years later.

I still cry when I talk about it. It makes me want to tell anyone and everyone: if there are things you need to say to people, things you wonder if you should apologize for, say them. Write that apology letter. Reach out and tell people what they mean to you. You never know when your words might arrive at exactly the right time.

What an amazing and powerful story! And it's true; we can often help other people in more ways than we realize. The second book in the trilogy, TEARS OF FROST, will debut sometime next year. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet? 

Yes, the title was just announced! I'm a sucker for a good acronym. If book1 was HoT, I couldn’t resist book2 being ToF. A hot tough trilogy, amirite?

The majority of TEARS OF FROST takes place in the snow kingdom, a land of witches and ogres, mystical smoke-swathed lagoons, and messages etched in light across the night sky. The book also draws on some very twisty Yuletide myths I dug up on a research trip to Iceland, which is why I’m extra excited the book will come out in November 2019: just in time for the holidays! It’s a darker book in many ways, but there’s a new character who adds [*THEIR, no spoilers] own dash of irreverent humor, and a very different voice than Mia’s verbose, introspective style. Also, I just saw the cover, and it’s the stuff dreams are made of. Or should I say, nightmares…

Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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