The Recollection of Trees by Sadie Francis Skyheart Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Iona Dickinson doesn't know she's a witch...until she unknowingly makes a deadly wish that reopens a 300-year-old curse on her family. Torn between conflicting beliefs of family and friends, Iona must risk losing all of them as she gains self-acceptance in The Recollection of Trees.
Sadie Francis Skyheart (1972- ) was born and raised in Michigan. She currently lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, two sons, two cats, and a coonhound. She is a dedicated Detroit Lions fan. She likes to write in lucky Halloween socks, often while listening to Thirty Seconds to Mars or Chloe Moriondo.
THE RECOLLECTION OF TREES debuted as the #1 New Release in Children's Scary Stories and Top 10 Bestselling Teen & YA Ghost Stories. She is currently completing the script for book's feature film adaptation, THE ACCIDENTAL WITCH. She is an associate producer of IN THE DEATHROOM (2020), an award-winning crime drama based on a short story by Stephen King.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
In 2010, I realized I was not in alignment with my heart (career-wise) and started writing what would become my book. I’d wanted to be a writer since first or second grade.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I wear Halloween socks pretty much every day, all year.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I recently pitched my book as a film adaptation to producers in Burbank!
What are some of your pet peeves?
Loud chewing in close proximity. Ew.
Where were you born/grew up at?
Jackson, Michigan. Lived in Michigan my whole life until 2017.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Spend the whole day with my closest friends and family. Oh, and eat a mountain of ice cream.
Who is your hero and why?
If I can only pick one and limit it to the living, Oprah. She’s such an amazing force for good in the world.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I’d try to be kind, fair, compassionate, surround myself with people who are way, way smarter than me and unafraid to speak truth to power. But I’d never, ever work in politics again, so I will never be a world ruler. LOL
What are you passionate about these days? I give out free mom hugs whenever I get the opportunity. I advocate for 7th-12th grade health curriculum to include LGBTQ+ students because exclusion of this information leaves too many teens potentially misinformed of risks to their wellbeing, which is also a potential public health risk. I’m also vocal about mental health awareness and selfcare. We all need to know it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. It’s time to end to the social stigma around getting help. It is healthy to seek help–whether a therapist, vitamins and herbs, medication, meditation, time in nature, EFT tapping, good sleep hygiene, 12-step and support groups–or anything else that helps us feel connected, empowered, and supported rather than disconnected, numb, and alone.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Watch movies/TV, read my peers’ scripts. Bake…sometimes things turn out well, sometimes I burn things. It’s more relaxing when I don’t set off the smoke alarm.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Get up early or stay up late. My mentor taught me to set a timer for 15-30 minutes. Write. When it goes off, stop, even if you’re mid-sentence. Do other things, then come back and set the timer again. Never, and I mean never, “should” yourself. Write when and wherever you can. Part of my book was written on the back of grocery receipts in the early days.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Ally. Mom. Wife. Writer. Echelon.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Although I’d published several articles in a regional holistic health magazine, I didn’t think of myself as a writer until about a decade ago. I made the conscious choice to exit a stressful career in politics when I was up to my eyeballs in meetings and dealing with a mystery illness. When I changed my social media to say “writer”…it felt so vulnerable yet freeing.
Do you have a favorite movie?
How much time do you have? Ha ha ha. Currently my top favorites are Hello My Name is Doris (2014), The Last Word (2017) and Knives Out (2019).
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Well, I just pitched The Recollection of Trees adaptation to producers in October so…
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Ohhh. I love this question. None, yet. Time to change my bucket list! As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My mascot would definitely be a black cat.
What inspired you to write this book? Like my protagonist Iona, I grew up estranged from my real father and his real mother, my grandmother. I reconnected with them on my high school graduation day. As I got to know them, I discovered their beliefs were quite different from how I was raised. Understanding them helped me understand myself in new ways. If I’m honest, I probably started writing my book in my head at that time.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently finishing the final revision of the sequel (cover and title reveal 3/13/20), the feature film adaptation of THE RECOLLECTION OF TREES, and a dark comedy feature film. I’m considering creating an anthology with writer friends.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
For now, only for my own reference.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Recollection of Trees? Iona is a sixteen-year-old girl who goes from disempowered, to embracing her inner power. She grows up estranged from her real father, but a desperate wish causes a deadly chain of events that reconnects her to him and the rest of her paternal family of witches.
MacLaine is her best friend. She has a big Polish family and her Grandma runs an amazing bakery, Babcia’s. She’s a beast at basketball and drives a Mustang.
Dyllan is Iona’s childhood friend/crush. He’s part of a boisterous Lebanese family and a star athlete. He drives a yellow hatchback he nicknamed “The Sub” after The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Dyllan’s mom is a surgeon and his dad runs a music store. He’s the friend with the crazy playlist in the car.
Jules is a new guy who drives a hearse, wears combat boots, and digs classic horror flicks. He’s on the swim team. He and Iona share a special spark.
Sixx is sarcastic, hilarious, bad-assed, and a bit too close to the edge…but she helps Iona when it matters most.
Grandma Lily is Iona’s estranged grandmother, the high priestess of their family coven.
Paw-Paw is Iona’s grandfather and the only paternal relative who has been allowed to stay connected to her. He’s an amazing support system for her and her mother when they go through some really big things.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book? The concept shifted over time while I was writing it. At first it was about a much younger character who had three siblings and her stepfather took up a lot of real estate in the story. During the revision process I realized her transformation would be more dramatic if her friends had big families and she was an only child, but then as she embraces who she is, she also gains a big extended family. Many of the characters are combinations of people I’ve known--Dyllan and Jules have characteristics of half a dozen different boys. MacLaine is a combination of a couple of girls I knew plus indie musician Chloe Moriondo. And it was an honor to be able to tell Shirley MacLaine face-to-face a few years ago that I based Grandma Lily on Shirley and my own grandmother.
Where did you come up with the names in the story? I chose a few character names from deep within my family tree. Initially MacLaine’s character had a different name, but then a TV show launched with the same name and I didn’t want people to think I copied it, so I started brainstorming new names. Then one day I’m buying pet food and the checkout girl is named MacLaine after Shirley! Sixx is named after Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue. I’m always writing down waitress and cashier names. Actually, I’ve got a character in my comedy script named after a toll booth operator!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Rewriting bad situations that I or people I know experienced, into better outcomes. It’s kind of awesome deciding that someone who dies in real life lives in a book, or someone who was a jerk in real life doesn’t get away with it in a script.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick? Well, first of all, you should know I made spotify playlists for several of the main characters, and a main playlist for the book. I did this to help myself write the story, but also to give readers insight into the characters.
Iona is trying to figure out what to do with all the strange things that are happening to and around her. When she finally begins to embrace herself as-is, it’s because she’s understanding there is no such thing as normal.
Her mother is all about giving up control to church leaders, therapists, men she’s in relationships with…and Iona is a threat to all of Rebecca’s conformity and need to be “normal”. She is well-intended, but misguided. She believes she’s protecting her daughter but sheltering Iona from her dad’s family ultimately puts her—and everyone around her—at risk.
MacLaine is her best friend and bears the brunt of Iona’s transformation. She defaults to kindness, which I love. She’s pretty self-aware and empowered. Everyone should have a best friend like her.
Dyllan’s transformation into self-awareness is a big part of Iona’s transformational journey. In real life, one of the boys he’s based on was a classmate who committed suicide during our senior year. I originally let that happen in the story, but then during revision I realized my readers deal with violence and tragedy all too often, and my characters didn’t need a suicide as part of their arcs…in fact, him staying alive is a much better arc.
Jules is all about his indie music, brooding appearance (he’s actually really nice), and connecting with Iona. I’m looking forward to releasing book 2 so readers will realize I’ve left big clues all through the first book, often connected to Jules or Sixx.
Sixx is all about herself and self-preservation. She’s had a very rough childhood and miraculously, is still a decent kid under her smart-ass, rule-breaking exterior.
Grandma Lily is all witchy-vibes: superstitions, growing herbs, mixing her own potions and lotions, and best of all, not taking any crap from anyone.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
I had a different title for a really long time, and then we had this ice storm that left thousands of people without power for nearly two weeks right before all the December holidays. My family and I ended up staying at a friend’s beautiful home just outside the outage area—they were out of the country and offered it to us. The home was surrounded by gorgeous trees, and I started thinking about how trees witness so much…
Who designed your book covers?
90% me, 10% my youngest.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’d probably just make the prologue chapter 1.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned so much about myself. I had several cathartic moments. Too many to list honestly.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Please cross your fingers that Shirley MacLaine someday plays Grandma Lily. Seriously. I can picture a dozen different actors and actresses playing almost all of the other characters, but the one I’d really, really like to see cast is Grandma Lily.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I love the chapters titled “Premonition” and “Covenant”. I can’t say why without spoilers…they’re just emotional for me.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I’d hang with Grandma Lily for sure. We’d make beeswax candles and bake things and just be cozy kitchen witches all day.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? I mostly have the reigns. I outline everything as a script first, so I know where it’s heading and what road signs I need to pass along the way to get to the ending, but sometimes the characters do get there differently.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
It’s a journey for anyone who has ever felt on the fringe of “normal”. I try to include characters that all my readers can relate to, so while my main character isn’t LGBTQ, she has friends who happen to be. Same thing with spiritual beliefs. Diversity and pluralism make life so much more meaningful. The overall theme is that there is no normal. Normal is an illusion. I remember as a teenager the pressure to be “normal” felt soul-crushing sometimes. Hell, I feel that pressure even now as an adult sometimes, but the difference is I’ve lived long enough now to know I’ll be way happier if I just do what makes me happy. I didn’t know that when I was younger.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes. The sequel, and some short stories that will probably end up being a book.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Lilacs and roses, with a hint of pipe tobacco.
What did you edit out of this book?
I can’t tell you, because most of it is going to be in the sequel. Oh—well, I edited out Iona’s siblings.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
I wish I could’ve met William Goldman. The man wrote books and scripts, in multiple genres…and nearly everything was a big success. He also consulted and influenced numerous other writers. I’d love to understand how he did what he did, because these days the film and publishing industries expect writers to stick to one or two genres. I understand the reasoning—do one or two things really well rather than six mediocre, and it’s easier to market something when the writer is clearly a specific POV. But then there’s Goldman, who did it all. I’d love to be able to do that.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes-*/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
I’m a HUGE fan of Thirty Seconds to Mars. I wear Halloween socks every day, all year. I have so many socks that I had a box only for socks when we moved to Chicagoland. I have a coonhound and two cats…and yes, one of them is black. I have about 3x the Halloween decorations than any other holidays. I’ve studied French, Japanese, and Arabic.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Zilpha Keatley Snyder
James L. Brooks
Michael Showalter & Laura Terruso
Stuart Ross Fink
Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, & Katie Silberman
What book do you think everyone should read?
This question could break me. I don’t think I can narrow it down to one book for all readers. LOL
How long have you been writing?
Since I learned to write—first or second grade? My fourth grade teacher used to reward me with free time to write stories.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Most of the them are there from the beginning, but sometimes they show up as I’m writing.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Whether it’s a book or a script I do the same thing. I check if it’s already been written/published/produced. If there’s a subject/topic that I need to research, I do that by checking out books at the library, watching movies/shows about it, and talking to experts.
Do you see writing as a career?
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I think it’s a great time to be a writer. The publishing world is shifting before our eyes and it’s fun to be part of it.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I rarely read books anymore, but I read over 100 scripts per year—both to learn and improve my own writing, and as a reader for two international screenwriting competitions. This year I’m making my reading list of produced scripts public so other readers can join me. With scripts, I read all genres. Books are usually thriller, paranormal, horror, or fantasy.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I do my best writing with Thirty Seconds to Mars blasting in my ears. It helps me tune out the world.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I have several ideas for books and scripts in the outline/idea stage, but I only write one thing at a time. I try to create/brainstorm every day, write every day, learn/read every day.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?
Well, Harry Potter or Twilight. I mean, who doesn’t want a line of rabid fans?
Pen or type writer or computer?
I’m 80% computer, 20% pen. First draft is often pen to paper—especially if I’m feeling tempted to edit while writing.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
Most of the books I’ve read lately have been non-fiction, so I’ll choose a character from the script “Booksmart”. First of all, if you haven’t seen it or read it…it’s a must. The main characters are relatable, endearing, hilarious, empowered Gen Z girls, but my favorite character is “Gigi”, played to perfection by Billie Lourd. This goofball character is so funny as a running joke—whenever the main characters arrive at a new location, Gigi is already there, almost like she’s omnipresent, and she says the funniest lines. I’d watch it again just for that character.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
When I started reading all the great middle grade books in elementary school, it make me want to write stories too. Choosing to leave behind my old stressful career to pursue writing has been one of the best decisions of my life.
A day in the life of the author?
There’s a reason there aren’t any reality shows about authors. We write…generally not fun to watch. It can be pretty isolating. Screenwriting has been better because it’s more collaborative. I’m on conference calls with writers at least 3x a week. We help empower each other, brainstorm, network, give each other feedback, and even meet in person occasionally. Writing as an author, it’s just me and my brain for 90% of the journey.
Advice for new authors?
1. I can’t tell you how many people tell me they’ve got a great idea for a book that could be a movie or TV series. If that’s true, then write a script! Or at least learn how to structure the story as a script so that it’s easier for a producer to say yes and easier for a screenwriter to adapt your book. That’s why people will compare, “I liked the book better” or “The movie had a better ending”—because the book wasn’t written in a way that makes sense for a movie or vice versa.
2. Amazon is not a bookstore. It’s a search engine. If you think of your title as a way for people to find your book on a search engine, you will end up with a marketable title. If your title is nuanced and literary, yay for you, but good luck selling books when people can’t remember the title. This was a really, really hard lesson for me.
3. Know your concept so well that it could hook the audience in a single tweet aka an “elevator pitch”. Publishers/producers receive hundreds of emails. Respect their time. Don’t send a 10-pg book report. Many stop reading after page one. It’s not mean. It’s efficient.
4. Yes, you need a professional looking cover—one that looks like it belongs on the same page with the other bestsellers in your genre (colors, fonts, artwork). People absolutely judge books by their covers.
5. Yes, you need an editor—one who has references, who is experienced with your genre, who understands whether they’re proofreading or doing a deeper edit and editing is their passion. Not your retired neighbor, unless they are retired from being a professional editor. Yes, this might be expensive. This was also a painful lesson for me. One “editor” slashed all over an early draft of my manuscript with comments about their likes/dislikes and correct punctuation (which I’d specifically asked them NOT to do because my document formatted oddly when I converted it from my writing software to a word doc). It was really disempowering and caused me months of self-doubt until I realized that they were inexperienced and it wasn’t a reflection on my writing. A good editor isn’t looking at whether they personally like the story, they’re looking at whether it’s written well for your target audience.
Describe your writing style.
I try to be funny, but in an intelligent way. I’m a fan of clever sarcasm. My writing style is evolving.
What makes a good story?
Emotional distress, intrigue, impossible odds. If the audience is on the edge of their seat between hope and fear, you’ve got them.
What are they currently reading?
I’m currently reading all the scripts that are nominated for Oscars.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Whether it’s a book or a script I do the same thing. 1. Check if it’s already been written/published/produced. 2. Write the concept in 30 words or less. 2. Write out a beat sheet—a one-page outline of what will happen. Each beat is no more than two lines. The beats later become chapters or scenes. 3. Make a list of the main characters, with 3-4 traits that I want each of them to express in their words and actions. I try not to let this process take more than a couple of days before I start writing the first draft.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Editing while writing. Taking bad advice from people who are stuck in their own failures—a great place to find this kind of bad advice is in social media writers’ groups. If someone is giving you advice, ask yourself—would I trade places with them? Do they have published works/industry experience? Are they telling you things that will kill your deal because they have personally looked at your contract/offer, or because they believe certain myths or have their own fears?
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Getting caught up in things beyond my control. Negativity—current events, social media debates, naysayers.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I don’t think it has to be either or. It’s possible to do both and I try to do that.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t throw out your old journals. Take a screenwriting class. Don’t take advice from people who are afraid of success—yours or theirs.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I don’t find it difficult. I try not to base any character on societal stereotypes of gender. In fact, I voiced that frustration in one of my characters. In a scene where they dress fluidly, they ask, “Why does society get to tell me how to dress based on antiquated ideology of gender norms perpetuated by religious-entangled consumerism? Pink for girls. Blue for boys. Ludicrous if you ask me.” I prefer to write from a character’s heart, rather than the surface of their gender expression. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first book took me 9 years. I had a list of health issues that significantly affected my ability to write consistently and clearly. In 2018, the underlying cause was diagnosed (rare sleep disorder) and I began treatment that changed everything. Hoping the sequel and any other future books will take me six months.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
If you mean do I believe writer’s block can happen, yes. But I’ve also learned that there’s no need for it to happen. Getting blocked really means feeling disempowered. If I don’t “feel” the scene right now, I write a different one and come back to this one later. Writer’s block happens when a writer puts perfection above creativity, and it usually occurs when the writer either listens to bad advice or when they start editing (self-critiquing or getting external feedback) while still drafting. The first draft isn’t about spelling, it’s about casting the perfect spell.