The Seeking by Marlena Frank Genre: YA Horror Dystopian
Beware the Gray People
Each Seeking, the magic that protects the town of Carra must be renewed, which means the children of the Exalted Family must go into hiding. Whether it be through disguise or bribe, through trusted friends or perfect hiding places, every child of the Priest family must avoid capture for the full day.
When things go wrong with the renewal, it’s up to seventeen-year-old Dahlia, the middle child of the Priest family, and her girlfriend, Bisa, to escape Carra and find the magical beings responsible for the protection. They must learn who would require such a cruel game to be played every year and if the protection of the Gray People is really worth such a deadly cost. What they will discover is far worse.
The scent of freshly baked apple pie filled the cold morning air- I hated it. It was a tradition of Carra, baked throughout the town at the end of October every year. Most thought it was a lovely treat, a warm and sweet way to step into fall, but it made my stomach clench.
It was a holiday favorite for The Seeking, and today almost every home in town had a pie.
I took a deep breath, allowing the scent to flow through me, allowing my hands to tremble before willing them to be still. It was only morning, I reminded myself. There were many hours before the clock struck midnight and The Seeking began. The hunt wasn't on yet; besides, I still had people to see.
Wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck, I headed down the hill, away from the Exalted House. The dirt path felt solid under my feet even as my heart fluttered like a hummingbird in flight.
While the sun had only just peeked over the horizon, all of Carra was bustling. They were celebrating, of course; the Great Feast would take place tonight, where they would make sure the hunters and dogs were well fed. I felt their eyes on me as I walked down the street, faces turning toward me, eyes peering out through windows. If I wasn't careful tonight, any of them might catch me.
blast of wind scattered a pile of leaves and I started, clutching my hat as my boots sank slightly into a muddy patch on the dirt road.
Whenever they caught me looking at them, their intense gazes would turn into cheerful smiles.
All of them were deceivers.
There was no polite, understood rivalry this year.
No, this year, there was outright anger towards me and my family. I could feel it in the air but couldn't pinpoint it exactly. Was it because we had been in power for so long? Five years didn't seem that long, but I couldn't deny how the resentment had grown over time.
A young woman, who had auburn hair and looked to be a few years older than me, walked towards me on the path. She was smiling, but when she glanced up and saw me, her smile hardened, and she turned quickly down a side road. She was hardly an exception to the rule.
Every year I watched their pleasantries grow thin. As the months passed, I noticed how they stared up at the Exalted House with undeniable envy in their eyes as their bitterness grew. Many were biding their time until tonight, when they had the power to make a change.
At midnight the bell tower would toll and The Seeking would begin. Their smiles would no longer need to be masked. At midnight their true hatred would come out to play.
Marlena Frank has always been fascinated with monsters, and now gets to write about them. She has been writing horror and fantasy short stories since 2010 and has had her work published in a number of anthologies, from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly to The Sirens Call.
Her YA Dark Fantasy novella, The She-Wolf of Kanta, was released in April 2018 from Aurelia Leo. Her debut novel, Stolen, came out January 2019 from The Parliament House Press, and on release day became an Amazon Bestseller in a YA category. When she isn’t thinking up strange tales, she’s an active member in the Atlanta cosplay community and the Atlanta chapter of the Horror Writers Association. Her novel Stolen hit Amazon's bestseller status on release day, reaching #34 in the Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths for Children category on Amazon on release day.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I grew up writing fiction, mostly fanfiction but I did dabble in some original stories. I loved to read and was devouring any books I could find. When I got to college, I focused on my field of study but found myself still wanting to write stories even with a full course load. I just couldn’t seem to get away from needing to write. Once I graduated college and started working full time, I found myself once again pulled back into writing. On a whim, I wrote an original short story and got it published. After that I started doing NaNoWriMo each year, pushing myself to write longer works. I published several fantasy and horror short stories over the years, before finally having my first novel accepted by a small press. My debut novel, Stolen, was published in January 2019.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I love music and grew up playing piano, performing in several piano recitals since my mom taught piano. In junior high I played piano in a jazz band. I also played clarinet throughout junior high and high school. Although I don’t play an instrument as much as I used to, I still love music and often it works its way into my stories. In the Stolen series, music plays a role in some forms of magic.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Tennessee but have spent most of my life in Georgia where I still live.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Writing and spending time with family and friends.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I would try to listen as much as possible and have a group of trusted people as a council to help me make the best decisions possible. I would want to have active, passionate discourse on topics so I could see all sides of an issue before making a ruling.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I’ll listen to music, read a book, take a bath, play with my three kitties, and maybe have a glass of wine. Sometimes I’ll play a video game or watch some fun Youtube videos or go for a jog.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Persistent, determined, optimistic, imaginative, and funny.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I published my first short story back in 2010, that was the first time I considered myself a writer. I was wrong though because you’re a writer as soon as you put words down on paper. I was a writer as soon as I started writing as a kid, or when I first published my first fanfiction story. I just didn’t see it at the time.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’m also a big fan of cheesy werewolf movies. Oddly enough I can also quote too many scenes from Home Alone.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I could imagine The Seeking being made into a movie. I think the atmosphere would make it perfect for horror fans, but the monsters could be really disturbing if put in the right hands. I think it has a lot of potential without breaking a budget.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I went to Austin, Texas to visit family a few years back. We went on a ghost tour cause we always try to go on them when we travel. One of the homes we just happened to visit belonged to O. Henry. He’s a short story author known for his way of wrapping up his stories with humor or a morale. I have a whole collection of his stories and loved seeing how he crafted them as a kid. I hadn’t even known he had a house there! What are the odds of that? I hadn’t thought about his stories for years, but then that happened. At first I thought it couldn’t possibly be the O. Henry, but it was! I felt like a very bad writer haha.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I love deer. I used to watch them cross our backyard when I was little, usually does leading fawns behind them as they moved through the woods. I found them graceful and beautiful. Their faces especially are very lovely. I also grew up knowing several people who hunted deer, and as a kid it was hard for me to wrap my head around why anyone would want to kill them. Deer are beautiful, graceful creatures of the woods, and I will always have a soft spot for them.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had a nightmare about one of the scenes in the novel. It was incredibly real and I when I woke up I jotted it all down in a journal I keep by the bed. I was inside of Dahlia’s head in the dream, understanding everything that was happening around me and terrified of what was to come. I can’t say too much more without spoiling things, but I worked hard to convey the adrenaline I felt in the dream onto the page.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have the final book in my Stolen trilogy coming out March 23, 2021, titled Chosen. I’m working on finalizing edits for that book. After that, I plan to write a full-length sequel to my now out-of-print novella, The She-Wolf of Kanta. It was very popular with folks who got to read it, so I’m excited to expand on the story.
I also have another YA horror novel I’m working on featuring some weird creatures a family encounter while on vacation to a cabin. I’m also planning to do a trilogy for a Snow White retelling where I tell the story from both the perspective of Snow and the evil queen.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Seeking?
Carra is a tough city to live in. Each year they have The Seeking, which means the children of the Exalted Family must hide or fear being captured or killed by the townspeople. Whoever gets any of them wins The Seeking, and then their family goes on to become the new Exalted Family. This constant practice of pitting people against one another means that they’re too focused on bringing down each other rather than focusing on the real threats. The people are making the best with what they have, but they don’t have much control over their lives.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
We grow dahlias outside of our home and I’m always amazed at how big they get during the summer, and then die back completely when it gets cold. They get so big they almost look like bushes. I really liked using the flower for Dahlia’s name because I feel like she has a big heart and can love so much when given the right opportunities, but then when things get dangerous she withdraws inward and has trouble sometimes connecting with people.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I love writing about monsters, especially ones that don’t have any explanation. I love stories set in creepy woods and I really just enjoy dystopian worlds. I think The Seeking is kind of a mixture of many story pieces that I love and that comes across in the book.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Dahlia is the middle child of the Priest family, and the only daughter. Since her family is the Exalted family, she has to help with political procedures. She is also haunted by nightmares of the Gray People, the strange protectors of Carra who can sometimes be seen watching from the woods outside of the Boundary Line.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
I struggled with the title for Stolen. I’m notoriously bad at figuring out titles, and it took me a while to realize I needed to do research on what other authors titled their YA fantasy books so I could figure out one for my book. Titles I decided against included such winners as The Treehouse and Madam Cloom’s Garden.
Ultimately I chose Stolen because it got at the lore common in fairy tales of creatures like changelings and the fae. It gets at the concept of being stolen away into the fairy world without me having to come out and say all of that in the title. I liked the subtlety and simplicity of it, especially compared with the other terrible titles I had made up for it!
Who designed your book covers?
Shayne Leighton with The Parliament House Press designed the cover for The Seeking! She also designed the covers for each book in the Stolen trilogy, and they are absolutely gorgeous. Shayne has an incredible eye and I’m always blown away by what she comes up with!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
If anything, I might think about making a sequel for it. I find that tends to be something people ask me to do a lot when I write one-shots just because they don’t want the world or the characters to end. The only problem is that I have so many other books and worlds and characters I want to create too. It is an endless author struggle haha.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I’ve had many people call The Seeking a thriller novel, and I can totally see that in retrospect. It’s constantly moving and the situation is constantly changing. I think it has some of the best pacing of any of my novels, and I learned a lot writing it. I hope to write more books that have this thriller aspect to them, high energy but with a horror twist.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I don’t have anyone specifically in mind for my novels. Mostly I would want someone unknown or not well known to play Dahlia because I think she has a range of personality and emotions that would really allow a new actress to excel.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I know The Seeking is fast-paced and intense but it’s also great to savor. Each scene is carefully crafted and I purposely build layers into my novels that I hope come out upon reading it.
How did you come up with name of this book?
The Seeking event in the book takes place on Halloween, and I liked the idea of a take on hide-and-seek. Halloween is all about disguising yourself so that evil spirits can’t recognize you. It’s also about trusting your neighbors when you visit them going door to door trick-or-treating. But with The Seeking, it’s designed to split the townspeople apart, to have them constantly holding grudges and trying to trick each other into gaining power. Even the power that they get isn’t that great, but when they’re always looking up at the Exalted House on the hill, it reminds them of what they don’t have. It plants the seeds of jealousy.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I love the focus on family in The Seeking. I love the banter between the siblings, the way that Dahlia and her brothers each have very different personalities. I like that despite Dahlia having a girlfriend, the focus of the novel is really on family. She wants to protect her family as much as possible. Even when her family makes mistakes.
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 like to spend time with Dahlia. I’d love to see the places she likes to visit away from town and join her for a meal at Mr. Eddington’s. I think it would be wonderful to hear the kinds of cases she’s had to help with or what all she’s seen as part of the Exalted Family.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
All of the characters in The Seeking are from my imagination. I don’t really base any of them off of real people. I will say that I was also the middle child in my family, so I purposefully have Dahlia pulled in various directions from her siblings which is pretty realistic. However none of the characters are based on people in real life.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I have a general idea of where the story beats need to land, but I generally let the characters drive the story. The benefit of that is that the characters are more grounded and more real in my opinion.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, I have! I wrote a YA horror novel featuring a girl dealing with shape-shifting skeletons tentatively titled Suzie’s Nightmare. It needs some major work though so for the moment it lives on my hard drive until I feel like I can tackle it again. I channeled my childhood a bunch with that novel, and while some scenes are fantastic others are just terrible. It’s the first original book I wrote, but maybe one day I’ll pick it up and rework it again!
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Pine, apple, and cinnamon.
What did you edit out of this book?
I tend to underwrite my first drafts, so I tend to need to add more words as I edit rather than remove scenes. I think I had one scene for The Seeking where Dahlia talks more about the Gray People and what she heard about them as a child, but I end up sprinkling that throughout the book instead of dumping it in a single scene.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Oh gosh, too many! Stephen King would be incredible to talk to just to know how he creates his monsters and his characters. I’d love to sit down with Cherie Priest and figure out where she gets ideas for her novels. Also I’d love to ask Susanna Clarke to tell me all about her historical knowledge of faeries and magic.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
So fun fact! I used the MyNoise app to create soundscapes for the world when I was writing The Seeking. My favorite sound generator included: Autumn Walk, Sled Dogs, and Dark Forest. I love that app because the sounds are randomized and make wonderful background noise for me to create a mood for my novels.
What book do you think everyone should read?
This is a tough one! I think The Hobbit is a must-read, and also The Last Unicorn. I love the adventure in The Hobbit, but I absolutely adore the writing in The Last Unicorn. That book made me have to close it occasionally and remind myself that it’s okay that I’m not as good of a writer haha.
How long have you been writing?
I still have journals where I was writing when I was eight or so. I’ve been writing for a long while, and yet I’m still learning.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Usually I’ll start with my protagonist and then work my way out from them. In Dahlia’s case, I knew she was going to be a middle child, so I worked my way out from that to create her brothers, then her parents, and then her girlfriend and her family.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I like to put down character sheets for the main characters in my book before I start writing. Since my characters tend to carry the story or figure it out as they go, I like to make sure I know them before I begin writing. Otherwise I can have many false starts before I get going.
Do you see writing as a career?
I see it as a secondary career since I have my day job too. It takes up about as much time as a second full time job, and while that can be difficult at times, I absolutely love it. As I’ve learned over the years, I love it too much to let it go.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I love all the ways that a book can be created today. You have self publishing, indie publishing traditional publishing, and many flavors in between. Even after years of rejections, there is probably somebody out there who wants to read what you’ve written, and I think that’s incredible.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
Absolutely! I love fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror genres. I also enjoy non-fiction and biographies.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
It really depends. Sometimes my writing time is so limited that I’ll write to silence and do just fine. Then other times, I need to have some music in the background to help me focus. I must have music that doesn’t have lyrics to it though or else it tends to distract me from creating words.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I tend to have multiple books in progress at once, though I wish I could just focus on one at a time! Right now I have a short story I just finished writing, I have the sequel to The She-Wolf of Kanta I’m working on, and I have the beginnings of a new YA horror novel. Plus I have Pinterest boards where I build on ideas for books I have down the road when inspirations strikes and it doesn’t want to leave my brain haha!
Pen or type writer or computer?
Lately I’ve really been enjoying writing by hand. It’s probably because I’m regularly at home now so I can have a journal and keep it with me to add a sentence or two at a time. However when I’m on a deadline, I work on a computer because I can write so much faster that way and get my ideas down quicker.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
Oh wow, I have so many! I love the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I love Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series. I love Finn from the Hunger Game series. I also love Smaug from The Hobbit.
I tend to like the wise people who advise the protagonist. I remember almost refusing to watch the Star Wars original trilogy after what happened to Obi Wan. I told my Dad it wasn’t fair, and he told me to keep watching. I’m glad I did!
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
Every time I’ve tried not to be an author in my life, I keep getting pulled back to it. Whether it’s through original books or through fanfiction or short stories.
I remember reading the end of the Harry Potter series. My entire family went to the book release party at our local bookstore and we went home and read the book all night long. I won’t say where, but at one point I threw the book across the room. It was probably the first time in my life that I thought to myself that I could write a better ending.
Now do I think I could write a book better than JK Rowling? Absolutely not! But it was a really revealing moment for me because I realized I could try.
A day in the life of the author?
We’ll cut out the day job description since that’s just boring, but I usually check my bullet journal for what I have to do that day. Sometimes it’s preparing for a book release, or it’s an interview or a panel. I’ll mentally prioritize what I need to do and tackle the urgent items first. Then I’ll work my way down the list until I run out of time. Often I’ll take breaks and clean house, or play with our three cats, or hop on social media. If I’m on a deadline, I’ll keep a tracker in my bullet journal to measure my progress. That really helps to keep me motivated!
Advice they would give new authors?
Don’t give up on your dreams, even if it’s an uphill struggle! Keep writing, keep putting words down on paper, and be persistent. If the first book you write isn’t gaining traction, it could just be not quite ready yet or it could be the wrong time. Shift gears and try something new. Slowly you’ll gain your voice and gain confidence in your writing. Just keep going and don’t give up!
Describe your writing style.
I write very character focused stories that tend to have a lot of diversity. I focus on characterization, environment, and mood. My writing has been described as immersive, and I think that’s the highest compliment. I love it when readers lose themselves in my worlds.
What makes a good story?
A good story is respectful of whatever topic it’s tackling. It also is smart about the underlying statements it’s making. I think a good story should be immersive and that a reader should be able to fully understand the characters.
What are they currently reading?
I’m currently reading a few ARCs including Dead Rockstar by Lillah Lawson and Lyrics and Curses by Candace Robinson. I also read way too many books at once, so I’m also reading Lineage by C. Vonzale Lewis, All Those Broken Angels by Peter Adam Salomon, and In the Woods by Tana French. There are more, but those are the main ones right now. I’m definitely a multi-tasking reader haha!
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I start with the premise. Usually I like to figure out the story beats in my head or jot them down. In my experience that is what really determines the pacing and allows for the story to properly flow. If it’s a trilogy or a series, then those beats need to be planned out even further. Then I turn to the characters and start fleshing them out. I create character sheets and figure out their goals, their flaws, and their role in the plot. After that I try to figure out the locations I want to tackle, determining what they look like, smell like, feel like. And once I have those sensory details down and I have a grounding understanding of the main characters, including the protagonist, then I’ll start writing.
As I write, if I find new locations or new characters, I’ll try to pause and go back and fill out more information for them to help them be more real. Admittedly I’m not always good at this portion, but I do try!
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think becoming a writer can be intimidating. It’s not easy writing a book and even a short story can be difficult to grasp because you need to pack more into a much smaller space. Personally I think fanfiction can help with that. It gives the freedom to write without the need to polish as much, and that can be a freeing way to explore plot, pacing, and world-building. Once I had written long pieces in fanfiction, I could turn to original short stories and it wasn’t as daunting. I could do that. Then I went longer and longer. Finally when I attempted my first NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t my first novel. I had readers and followers of my fanfiction, so if I messed up my first original piece, it was okay. That really helped to take the pressure off of me when I started seriously focusing on original work. I knew that my writing could be good, I just had to switch gears from fanfic to original books.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I could have a dozen deadlines coming up but if a family member or friend needs my help with something, I can very easily get pulled into helping. That can be very problematic when I have to finish writing a novel or finish edits. Another Kryptonite for me is social media and video games. I have to consciously not allow myself to open social media apps until after I’ve reached a particular goal. I also have to be dutiful about what games I get on because those can really take my time away without my knowledge.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
This is a tricky question because it implies that readers don’t want original stories, but I don’t think that’s true. I think readers love original work as long as it is in the vein of things that they love. I think The Seeking is a good example of that. It’s set in a dystopian world, it has unique monsters, and it features a very diverse cast of characters. I pitch it as a mixture of A Quiet Place and Hunger Games, and I think it delivers on those expectations. While I consider The Seeking to be a very original novel, the factors that make up the novel aren’t themselves original, but the combination is.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Your writing really is good, you just have to keep pushing to make it better. It’ll work out in the end, I promise, just don’t give up and don’t stop writing!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I’ve grown up reading mostly books written by male authors writing about male characters, so I think as a woman, I have an easier time writing about male characters. However, I do feel that there aren’t enough books written in the perspective of non-binary or trans protagonists, and that dearth of diversity is troubling. I also find that when writing books from the perspective of a female character, it’s more daunting to tackle more feminine concepts such as childbirth or even something more basic like menstruation. Many of these things feel taboo to tackle in fiction even though it’s a part of life.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Some books have taken me eight months to write the first draft while other books have taken me four weeks. It really just depends on how much I’ve been mulling over the world and the characters, and how much time I have to write.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe that authors can struggle sometimes to put words down on paper. I think that sometimes the words just won’t come, but I would argue that the author is probably not writing what they want to write when that happens. My advice to overcoming that is to switch gears and write something completely different, whether it’s a short story that’s been in the back of their mind, or free writing, or just writing about their day. Allowing themselves the ability to write helps to unlock the words again.
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