When the publicist at Orca Books asked me whether I’d like to feature one of the Secrets Series authors as part of the official blog tour, I’m thrilled. Many of these Canadian authors featured in the series are completely new to me.
Kelley Armstrong is not an exception to this statement – in fact, this Gothic loving reader had never picked up any of her books before. Now that I have, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to interview her for YABookShelf.com, and I’m over the moon that one lucky U.S. or Canadian reader will win the Secrets 7-book box set through my blog. I hope that my questions and Kelley Armstrong’s thoughtful responses will get you excited to check out at least this book if not all the books in the series.
Now let’s dive right into the interview:
YA Book Shelf: In the epigraph of The Unquiet Past, you include a quotation from Albert Einstein who said, “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” which is perfect for a book in which Tess, the main character, has visions of slipping into the past, but who finds herself unable to communicate with the “ghosts” she meets. Do you think that Einstein would have believed in the type of time travel that Tess’ retrocognition presents to readers?
Kelley Armstrong: Einstein theorized that time travel was possible, but he was looking at it as unidirectional, going forward. Traveling into the past is much more problematic, as countless stories have demonstrated! I find it easier to believe that there could be something like retrocognition, where one sees an image or replay from the past and is unable to influence it or interact with it.
YABookShelf: You already have a huge fan base of teen and adult readers, but at the same time, the Secrets series is a great opportunity for new readers to find and fall in love with your writing. What would you tell your long time fans are the biggest commonalities between The Unquiet Past and your backlist, and which book or series in your backlist (or forthcoming titles) would you recommend to those who read and fall in love with your writing through your contribution to the Secrets series?
KA: For my current readers, they’ll find that The Unquiet Past is a fairly typical Kelley Armstrong book—it’s a suspense thriller with a paranormal undercurrent and the sort of characters and themes readers expect to find in my work.
For new readers, the most obvious follow-up to The Unquiet Past is The Summoning, the first in the Darkest Powers trilogy. The protagonist in that trilogy is also dealing with seeing things—in her case, actual ghosts. It’s a very different plot, with a much larger cast, but it has a similar “feel” to it. It’s also aimed at a very similar age group, appropriate for ages 11 and up (my other YA aims a bit older, with more mature content.)
YABookShelf: If Billy – the only person who knows Tess’ secret that she has visions of slipping into the past because he has an equally sensitive secret for the 1960s – were a teen today, then perhaps he wouldn’t feel the need to hide who he was from his friends and family. Can you imagine a time when Tess will be able to share her secret as openly as Billy could today without being deemed delusional?
KA: That’s a tough question to answer, because outside a fictional realm, seeing and hearing things is a cause for concern. What I would say, then, is that I’d like to see a world where, if a teenager fears she’s seeing/hearing things, she feels as comfortable seeking help as she would if she found a lump on her leg. That is, I would like to see a world where mental illness is treated with the same respect and lack of fear/judgment that we expect with physical ailments.
YABookShelf: Tess is afraid that the seven eldest girls at the orphanage would call her crazy if they knew her secret, so she doesn’t tell them about the nightmares or waking visions that torment her. If people learned her secret and declared her mentally ill, what would happen to her, a 16-year-old girl in the 60s, in either Ontario or Quebec?
KA: She could have expected to be committed to a psychiatric institution. While such hospitals had come a long way from the Victorian “lunatic asylums,” the treatment of mental illness was still far from ideal. She could have expected electric shock therapy and other methods we now consider both damaging and inhumane, possibly even variations on the sleep deprivation experiments we see in the book.
YABookShelf: Other than Tess’ story, which other book in the Secrets series do you think your fans will enjoy most? And which other book in the Secrets series do you most admire and wish you’d have been able to write?
KA: There aren’t any books in the series that I don’t think would appeal to my readers. They all contain elements of mystery and suspense and romance, and my current readers could pick any one at random and find a thrilling read.
YABookShelf: I read that you were excited about the Secrets series because it’s the first time you got to be overt about the book’s Canadian setting. Are your books always set, even subtly so, in Canada? What is it about Canadian settings that are particularly conducive for Gothic novels?
KA: The majority of my books are set in the US. For YA, only the Darkness Rising trilogy is set in Canada (Vancouver Island.) In adult, the main narrators of three of my four series are Canadian, but the actual settings are about 50/50. I don’t know if Canada is more Gothic. My one adult series that has no Canadian characters or settings (Cainsville) is the one I call my contemporary Gothic series! I think the small-scale setting is more important for mood—the description of a town or a building rather than the general geographical location.
YABookShelf: One of the things that fascinated me most about The Unquiet Past was the creepy atmosphere you created for the abandoned house / asylum in Quebec. What kind of research did you have to do to make it realistic and foreboding?
KA: There’s a fair bit of “abandoned” research used in this novel, perhaps appropriate for that abandoned house! When I was researching MK-ULTRA for my adult series, Cainsville, I came across the McGill experiments, but couldn’t use them for that book. I also use an abandoned psychiatric complex in that series, and I was able to pull over some of that research for this book. The one used in the adult series is creepier and more unsettling. This is the tamer—and much smaller—version.
YABookShelf: The Unquiet Past – and the other books in the Secrets series – didn’t shy away from depicting racism in Canada between Jackson and both the Québécois(e) people he and Tess meet and the hippies who give them a ride to Montréal. Why was it important to show the racism that existed (and still does exist) in Canada against First Nations people?
KA: When I sit down to write characters, they “come” to me as an image, and then I work with that image. So Jackson came to me as Metis. That then meant diving into research on the Metis in the sixties and Aboriginal issues and the treatment he could expect. What’s important to me is not necessarily to purposely tackle those issues to make a point, but that if I imagine a character as Metis, I embrace it—I don’t say “Oh, that adds complications I don’t want to deal with in this story” and mentally recast the character. I do the research and I understand that I may make mistakes with characters who don’t share my own background, but I commit to doing my best.
YABookShelf: Over the course of the novel, Tess learns what her real name is. How does knowing her name change how Tess sees herself?
KA: A name is so important. A surname connects you to your past, to your family. Even a given name has meaning—why did your parents pick that particular one? For Tess, a real surname makes her real, in a way. It says she comes from somewhere. Even finding that her first name should be spelled and pronounced the French way gives her a sense of place and identity.
YABookShelf: Thanks so much for stopping by YABookShelf.com, Kelley! It’s been a pleasure to speak with you, and I can’t wait to see what my readers think of this Q&A.
Sound like a good book? It is, and so are the rest of the novels in the Secrets series, which makes me so excited to offer my Canadian and U.S. readers the opportunity to win the 7-book box set, featuring Innocent by Eric Walters, Shattered Glass by Teresa Toten, Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer, My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock, A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn, Small Bones by Vicki Grant, and of course, The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong.
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