STRENGTH IN UNLIKELY PLACES

I think as children we look at the world with an innocent wonder. The people surrounding us are meant to be trusted, not suspected. As we grow into adulthood, that wonder and trust is challenged by experience. We get hurt. We have our emotions taunted, our decisions questioned, and we learn that the world is not a safe place. It’s not even a welcoming place.

When I wrote Reflection Pond, Callie’s childhood shaped her character into someone I consider unwaveringly strong. She’s not flawless, but a road map of scars from every experience that nearly broke her. Nearly being the imperative word. She’s a survivor, she’s cautious, and though she’s suffered terrible abuse, she still holds that childlike wonder that the world, in general, isn’t a despicable place.

Throughout the series, Callie’s fragile trust is challenged. She learns that family is not synonymous with love and sometimes friendship come from the most unlikely of places. Most importantly, she realizes that trusting others is nowhere near as important as trusting yourself. I won’t give away the ending of Torch Rock (which releases April 26th! Preorder here.), but I will say that Callie in the final installment is miles away from the scared girl who fell through the Reflection Pond.

Callie’s character is based in part on my own experiences. I’ve seen betrayal firsthand. I’ve breathed it and lived it. It took time and no small amount of tears, but I found a way to drag myself off my bathroom floor and overcome devastation. There isn’t a recipe for climbing out of an emotional hole like that, you only have to have the determination to know that this isn’t the end. After all, if you’re reading this you’ve already survived every bad day you’ve had. Look at you! 100% success rate.

A lot of people have said they can’t relate to Callie or connect with her. Perhaps this has something to do with her horrific past. Violence and abuse leave marks on you. Though hidden, these marks admit you to a private survivors club.  Maybe relating to her comes with a price. Maybe I’d rather you couldn’t relate.

I’m proud of Callie. I know that readers love a strong female character, someone who takes no shit and kicks ass. But Callie isn’t that character. Sure, she can fight. Sure, she has cool faerie powers. But Callie’s real strength comes from her unwavering belief that she will find her place in this world, no matter how many times she has to pull herself to her feet.

I think, at the end of the day, regardless of our differing pasts, that’s all any of us hope for.

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WRITING AN UNCONVENTIONAL RELATIONSHIP

Milestones are important to relationships. Most of us are familiar with the stepping stones in a conventional relationship. The first look, first kiss, the increasing sexual tension that usually leads to a sexual encounter. As readers, we enjoy experiencing these things over and over again through characters we love. Young Adult is FULL of conventional relationships. To quote Caroline from The Vampire Diaries (TV version), “Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. Sex.”

But what about an unconventional relationship? What about relationships where there is a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in one or both partners? Things may not unfold so smoothly. As a writer, I think it’s important that these relationships get just as much attention as their “normal” counterparts. Just because they don’t fall into a perfect mold doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

Case in point: Callie from my Reflection Pond series.

Early on, I knew that Callie would struggle with relationships, not only because she has a rocky past with the foster system, but also because she doesn’t know how to trust people. “Normal” is something she sees other people do. Something she attempts, and fails, to imitate. Think back to your younger days. How many times did you give into pressure and do something you didn’t want to do? And how many times did you regret it?

In the initial scene in Reflection Pond (Listen HERE), Callie stands up for herself by walking away from her boyfriend’s grabby hands. This can be interpreted in many ways depending on a reader’s experience and opinions (And I hope it is!). To me, this is Callie standing up for herself in the only way she knows how, by running away from things she can’t handle. This is a relationship milestone for her—only the first of many she’ll encounter as the story progresses.

But things are never going to be “normal” for Callie, no matter how many attempts she makes. She can kiss a boy and hate it. She can kiss a boy and maybe like it. That’s the beauty of attempting things. Callie is too inexperienced to know her own limitations, so she often finds herself emulating what she thinks others want her to do. She is a work in progress, as all characters should be. If she started out strong and perfect, it wouldn’t be a very exciting or rewarding journey.

Callie is a broken girl. Even so, broken things can be beautiful. As a writer, it’s so important for me to give her the room she needs to breathe and grow, and that may come at a pace that’s frustrating, for me, for readers, and for the other characters in the book. In the end, I’m going to make decisions based on what’s best and true for Callie as a character. She isn’t always going to make the right decision, or even the one that will make me (the writer) or you (the reader) happy. She’s frustrating. I’ll give her that, and she’s going to make mistakes.

What I hope in the deepest part of my writer heart is that readers take away the absolute uniqueness of Callie’s relationships, and realize that while they’re unconventional, they are still beautiful and exactly as they should be. They may not be what I (as a person) or you (as a person) would do, because not all of us have traveled the road Callie’s on, but I refuse to force Callie into a situation that she isn’t comfortable with for the sake of being labeled as traditional “romance”. That wouldn’t be fair to her as a character, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to all of the women who’ve suffered emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, who are expected to do things they simply can’t. Despite popular belief, a man isn’t going to “erase your past” or “heal your scars” by having sex with you. Sorry Hollywood and sorry men.

You can like or not like Callie. I get a lot of in between opinions on her character. A reader has every right to make any judgment they want. But Callie will always hold a special place in my heart because her journey is so important to me and I want to do her (and the millions of women and girls like her) justice. She’s been the subject of many conversations with my critique group, both positive and negative. It’s not my job to make sure everyone likes a character—it’s my job to offer an experience that may differ from your own, and I’m so proud of Callie’s story. I think it makes people uncomfortable when I talk about things like abuse. They can’t relate to or understand Callie’s experience, so they hate her instead. And that’s totally okay. If writing doesn’t make us feel (something, anything), then what good is it?

I’ll end by saying that Callie’s relationships will continue to be unconventional, but I hope beyond hope that you’ll still find beauty and love in them, because everyone deserves to be loved for who they are. Even if they’re fucked up. Even if they’re abused. Even if they’ll never fall into any sort of “normal” category. Even if they can’t be categorized. Flaws are what make us special, and if I can help even one person see that, then this has all been worth it.

All the best,

Kacey

HAPPY RELEASE DAY, POISON TREE!

poison-tree-ebook

Book 2 in the Reflection Pond series is finally here! I’m so excited to share the continuation of Callie and Rowan’s story. You can see early reviews of the book at Seeing Double in Neverland and Paradise of Pages. Leave some comments and thank these ladies for being awesome bloggers!

To celebrate, Reflection Pond (Book 1) is on sale for $0.99 this week only!

Be sure to add Torch Rock (Reflection Pond, Book 3) on Goodreads!

Poison Tree (Reflection Pond, Book 2)

by Kacey Vanderkarr

Available Dec. 2, 2014 from Urban Fey Press

Amazon

Goodreads

The road to the City of War is dangerous.

With their home in ruins, Callie and Rowan are Eirensae’s last hope of stealing the cauldron back from Fraeburdh. They must travel into the human world where the Fallen hide. The banished fae wait for Callie, desperate to sacrifice her before she comes of age.

If Callie and Rowan survive the journey, something worse looms in Fraeburdh. Rowan is destined for a dark family legacy too horrifying to accept, and his father is anxious to welcome him home. Once the truth is revealed, will Callie ever look at Rowan the same way?

Trapped between feuding cities lost in a centuries-old war, Callie and Rowan will face their biggest rivals yet, and neither of them will make it out unscathed.

MEET CALLIE, STAR OF REFLECTION POND

In preparation for the upcoming release of Reflection Pond, I’ve compiled some juicy tidbits about the characters (with excerpts!). Today, I’m going to introduce you to Callie, the main female character.

Name: Callie, Calla Lily

Age: 17

Appearance: Long blond hair, blue eyes. In a perfect world, where Reflection Pond was made into a movie, Annasophia Robb (see picture!) would play Callie.

Personality: Reserved, quiet, shy, with a short fuse ignited by fear. She’s had a hard past that makes her hesitant to trust people or rely on them. She has a soft side that longs for magic and kindness. She believes that she can leave her past behind and make herself into a new person, if only given the chance.

Here is Rowan’s (the male main character) first impression of Callie:

It wasn’t because she was pretty—of course she was, beauty was a given in Eirensae. Sometimes he longed for the diversity of the human world, where no one was glamoured to perfection. He wanted scars to map out a history that actually meant something. Flawlessness turned his stomach.

The girl’s arched mouth fell into a gasp as she looked up at the glamoured ceiling. A blond cascade of hair skimmed over her shoulders as she leaned farther backwards, trying to take it all in.

Rowan didn’t believe a single word that came out of her mouth. He couldn’t lie, but he didn’t think she was like him. It didn’t matter if she looked like Sapphire. Lots of girls had blond hair and blue eyes. Lots of girls were beautiful. It didn’t mean she belonged here. No one fell through the pond by accident.

And an excerpt from Callie:

She must be crazy, going through with this party. Callie pressed her fingertips to the mirror, half expecting her hand to disappear through it as she saw in the movies. Maybe she was dreaming. Maybe she’d fallen asleep in Nate’s bed and created another reality so she wouldn’t have to face the real one.

When she was little, back before she’d realized that the world was an awful, cruel place, Callie had dreamed that her mother was a princess. She’d drawn pictures of castles sparkling with jewels and white knights on horses. She convinced herself that one day, a carriage would come for her and never look back. Then she’d been placed with the Johnson’s and Callie had lost all hope.

And maybe she was crazy, but was it so wrong of her to be curious? To ask, what if? She glanced again at her reflection. They’d pinned flowers in her hair and covered her eyelids with glitter. Maybe she wanted this.

Maybe this was the most excited she’d been.

Ever.

Callie’s interview. This takes place just before Reflection Pond, when Callie is a foster child.

  1. If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

            Read. The best way to escape your life is to take on someone else’s. I can be anyone as long as I’m inside a book.

  1. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they’ve known you for a while?

            I think I come off as quiet and maybe a bit standoffish. It’s not that I’m trying to be that way, it’s just hard for me to trust people. I don’t have many friends and very, very few people know what really happened to me. Fosters are like that. You can’t hold too tightly to anything, because tomorrow it will be taken away from you.

  1. What’s your idea of a good marriage? Do you think that’ll happen in your life?

            No. Just no.

  1. What are you most proud of about your life?

            My ability to blend in. Inside, everything is a mess, but on the outside you just see a girl who is making it through every day. Maybe I don’t smile enough, but no one is looking hard enough to notice.

  1. What are you most ashamed of in your life?

            Not being able to defend myself. If I were stronger, I could’ve had a different life.

  1. If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick?

            Joan of Arc. Not only did she have visions of the future, but she used them to change history. She had to convince people she wasn’t a heretic, and though she eventually died for her visions, she brought about great change in a small amount of time. She was strong and brave, living in a man’s world, and that’s the kind of person I want to be.

  1. Do you think you’ve turned out the way your parents expected?

            I have no idea. I’ve never met my parents, though when they gave me up, I hope they didn’t expect me to have so many foster homes.

  1. What do you believe about God?

            I’ve never been very religious. Once, I lived in a home that required us to go to church. It seemed to me that God was just an excuse people used to do things. You can get away with nearly anything if you claim you did it in the name of God.

  1. Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done? What would happen if you did it?

            I want to get out of Pennsylvania, and I will, as soon as I turn eighteen. I’ve got enough money saved for a bus ticket. Florida, California, New York. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m leaving. What would happen? I don’t know. That’s the best part.

  1. What’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

            I’m not answering that.

  1. Tell me about your best friend.

            I don’t really have a best friend. I guess it’s my boyfriend, Nate. He’s the only person who’s put up with me for this long.

  1. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to someone? Why?

            The worst thing I’ve done? Being born. Obviously I was a burden to my parents.

  1. What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

That’s cryptic. My name, I guess.

  1. Describe your ideal mate.

            Mate? You’re kidding, right? A book. A book is my ideal “mate.”

  1. What are you most afraid of?

            Being unable to defend myself. Being trapped.

  1. What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?

            Freedom. Well, I’ll value it when I have it, anyway.

  1. What do you like best about yourself? Least?

            I’m determined, it’s probably my best quality. The least? My fear.

  1. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

            I feel like I’m stuck, but only for a little while longer. Like I said, eighteenth birthday, bus ticket, sayonara Pennsylvania and being a foster.  

  1. Are you lying to yourself about something? What is it?

Lying? I’m not much of a liar, I prefer to omit things. If I ignore it, it doesn’t really exist.

Read more about Callie and Rowan’s lives when Reflection Pond releases April 1st. Do you have questions for Callie? Post them below and I’ll answer them!

You can also add Reflection Pond on Goodreads and join my mailing list to get all the latest news and freebies!

All the best,

Kacey