Author Spotlight: Bree Barton talks Heart of Thorns
It's time to get happy! Bree Barton is on the blog!
Bree is the hilarious and uber-talented author of the upcoming YA fantasy, HEART OF THORNS-----the first book in a trilogy set in a dark kingdom where only women can posses magic. The novel comes out July 31st, so be sure to preorder, and catch up on all things Bree by visiting her YouTube channel, Speak Breely. That's where she shares writing tips and tricks, news about her books, collabs with other writers, and (of course!) videos of her dog in Harry Potter cosplay.
Seriously...he's so cute. Check it out!
And now, here's my chat with Bree!
Hi, Bree! Welcome and congrats on the upcoming release of Heart of Thorns. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks, Megan. Thrilled to be here!
I’m really interested in what it means to have a body, especially as a woman. What brings us pleasure? What brings us pain? Who has control over our bodies? I wish the answer to the last question were unequivocally "ourselves," but we know that isn't true. Controlling someone else's body is about power, and historically, that power has belonged to men. The church. The government. Husbands. Doctors. And, most recently: the Supreme Court.
HoT started with the question: What if our bodies evolved to shift the power imbalance? What if the "tables turned" and magic focalized in a woman's body gave her power over men? How would she use that power? For good, or for evil?
Author Stephanie Garber called Heart of Thorns a ‘fantastical feminist fairytale’ (which is basically the coolest compliment ever!). With this in mind, what do you love most about Mia Rose?
I love that blurb from Stephanie. She is a sparkling gem of a human wrapped in buttery sunshine served with a slice of strawberry cake. If you haven’t read Caraval, stop reading this interview right now! Master Legend demands your full attention.
What I love most about Mia Rose is her curiosity. She has a burning desire to understand things; to catalog, analyze, and make sense of her world. Mia is not a great feminist when the book begins. She has bought into a lot of her kingdom’s rhetoric on—and assumptions about—women. In a way, Mia’s thirst for knowledge is both her greatest strength and greatest weakness: she’s so determined to know everything that she misses some very important clues. But in the end, I love that she isn’t afraid to grow.
In the ancient river kingdom, only women can possess magic. How did this detail influence your world building?
It took a couple of drafts for the magical system to crystallize—originally it wasn’t related to touch—but once that popped into place, the story sparked to life. Suddenly my brain was exploding with all the ways a woman might manipulate flesh, bone, breath, and blood, and the atrocities a frightened king would commit to keep these dangerous, powerful women subdued.
The gloves came in the very last revision. Now I can’t imagine the book without them! I loved the idea that, because all women are forced to wear gloves, Mia Rose would never have seen any woman’s hands other than her mother’s, her sister’s, and her own. The moment where she finally sees dozens of women, ungloved and unashamed, is one of my favorite scenes in the book.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Heart of Thorns teach you?
What a great question. In addition to teaching me how to make a tallow candle out of a severed hand (those were some grisly Google searches), writing Heart of Thorns taught me a lot about patience. My original pub date was fall 2017. Then I got my first round of edits—on Friday the 13th, no less—which included a nine-page single-spaced edit letter and 534 margin notes. The next month, my editor left HarperCollins.
I was heartbroken to be bumped, first to winter 2018, then spring, then summer. Now I look at those early drafts and I realize I hadn’t found the story yet. It was the shape of a story, but—at risk of overdoing the heart metaphors—it wasn’t pumping blood.
I cried and cried when my pub date was pushed back, and today I am so grateful for every single one of those bumps. The book is ten times stronger than it would have been in 2017. Writing HoT taught me that sometimes the things that break our hearts are the very things that save us.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
I’m one of those writers who love the giddy, freewheeling abandon of a first draft. Nothing is hemming me in—no walls, no speed bumps, no stop signs. Of course, as I move forward, I begin to bang up against all the places my story doesn’t work: this plot twist doesn’t make sense, that character is underdeveloped, etc. That’s my biggest challenge: losing momentum and having to let go of the delicious delirium of a first draft.
That’s usually when I go to outside readers. Their feedback can help unstick me, especially if they’re excited about the story, because their enthusiasm catalyzes mine. Sometimes it’s a slow burn, sometimes it’s a lightning bolt of inspiration, but inevitably I pop the dents out of my hood, add a little oil to the engine, and get back on the road.
Crafting a trilogy is an enormous undertaking. Not only does each book have to have a full arc, but the series as well. What’s your best advice for keeping the plot on point?
Ha. Can I turn this question around and ask the reader? Anyone? Bueller?
I’m kidding, of course. (Not really kidding, please email me if you know the answer to this question.) As I’m working through the abject terror of writing book two, the thing I keep trying to remind myself is that, for my characters, book one was only the beginning. If I’ve done my job right, I imploded their worlds. And honestly that makes plotting hard, because they’re all so damaged! I joked with my editor that if book two were a contemporary novel it would just be my main characters on a couch, talking to their therapists about the traumas they endured in book one.
Did I answer the question? Probably not. Defer and deflect! No but really: in my newly minted theory, book one is where you wound your characters. They don’t have time to process or heal: they’re still in shock. Book two is where the scab starts to form, but your characters are trying to “fix” themselves with the wrong medicine, so the scab gets ripped off by book’s end. Book three is where the wounds harden/heal (funny how those are often the same thing), and the characters go, “Hey, what a cool scar!” They integrate their wounds and the lessons they’ve learned—and then go kick some ass.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
Have you seen Dark, the German show on Netflix? It is wildly and weirdly amazing. I feel like I haven’t had time to be truly infatuated with anything for a while—I’ve been so focused on book two I can hardly get my head above water. OH but you know what? I did recently pick up a book on a friend’s nightstand, intrigued by the giggle-inducing title—and an hour later I was crying and laughing and feeling so seen. I DMed the author on Instagram the next day and she actually wrote back! Maybe I am a little bit infatuated. #fangirl
If tell you the name of the book, will you promise not to laugh? Love Your Lady Landscape: Trust Your Gut, Care for 'Down There' and Reclaim Your Fierce and Feminine SHE-Power. Everything from body shame to patriarchy to masturbation to periods: it’s all there, and it’s fierce AF.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Maybe that you never really “arrive.” At every part of this process, you graduate to the next tier of waiting, worrying, and accruing rejections. It’s a little easier for me now than it was a few years ago, because like so many of us creative types, I’ve struggled my whole life with not feeling good enough. Having an agent and a book deal affords a “badge of validation” that, once you’re wearing it, you can take it off. But in some ways it gets harder with every tier, because there’s more at stake. You’re exposed to a much wider pool of rejection—Goodreads haters, grumpy trade reviewers, and the like.
I think all of this has made me realize that we writers have to savor every minute, especially those sublime moments where we get The Call or read The Review and our souls lift out of our chests. I try to remember that I’ve wanted this since I was eight years old, and more than two decades later, I’m finally about to have a book in the world. Every little win, every nice email from a reader, every gorgeous post from a Bookstagrammer: I give myself a full day to let it glow inside me. Then I treat myself to a cupcake or a glass of wine.
Fun fact: cupcakes and wine work well for the hard stuff, too!.
Thanks go out to Bree for being such a lovely person, taking the time to tell us more about HEART OF THORNS, her writing process, and how she looks back on the setbacks in her publishing career. Add Bree's feminist fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) preorder your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
Did you preorder?
If so, click here for a sneak peek of chapters 1-2, plus you'll get a cool bookmark.
And be entered to win cool prizes!
For more, follow Bree on her YouTube channel and Instagram, and visit her author website at breebarton.com. And if you're in one of these cities, be sure to swing by and meet her at one of her book tour stops this summer!
And, as always,