We’re thrilled to have Shelley Sackier stop by to chat about her latest novel, THE ANTIDOTE.
Shelley, what was your inspiration for writing THE ANTIDOTE?
This is an uncomfortable question I’m often asked, and depending upon the audience, I usually answer, I come from a family full of women who have an uncanny sixth sense. Then, in my head, I add, and have ample conversations with relatives who are long dead and buried.
But it was this hushed up, joked about, slightly shocking, and totally confusing history of the women in my family that niggled away at me for years and finally tethered itself into a yarn worthy of spinning itself into a tale.
As I believe it is the things we don’t understand that fill us with most angst, I’m also firmly convinced that the only way to understand and overcome one’s lifelong fear is to march right up to its front door and bang on its gothic knocker.
Although it has always been a cryptic enigma as to why my aunties and grannies used to tell me I was an angel, or an old soul reincarnated, or a practicing hedge witch and just didn’t know it, it was intriguing to hear nonetheless. But it was also frightening, as they still burned witches in my little neighborhood. Each time they pulled me aside to reveal either their most recent prophetical dreams, the latest charting of my astrological life maps, or what some dead relative whispered to them as they chatted on the edge of their bed last night, they were all conversations I wished they’d keep locked up tight inside of them. I wasn’t ready to hear about their spine-tingling insight.
But eventually, I was ready to write about them.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
I think goodbye scenes are torturous for me. As in—the final goodbye—the ‘so long life, I’ll catch you in the next one’ kind. They are purely agonizing. I’m often writing while crying—just an embarrassing, slobbering mess. My hound is usually at my side, head on my lap, and all the cats are walking across my keyboard taking turns head-bumping me. I’m sure their message is, “Seriously, this work is making you miserable. Leave it and come spread out in this patch of sun on the floor with us.”
I’m so much better at hello than goodbye. But … it had to be done.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book–or visa versa?
I find it impossibly hard to compare my book to others, and I’m sure other authors suffer the same malady, but—I adore giving readers recommendations of books that have moved me, influenced me, and obviously touched me in ways that surely have seeped into my own writing. So, that said, I’ve literally just finished reviewing my top favorite thirty books—yes THIRTY—in great juicy detail on BookBub. You can find those recommendations right here.
How long did you work on THE ANTIDOTE?
This was a quickie. Six or seven months, I think. Usually, I’m up to my earballs in research for a book that spans years and years’ worth of time. This one felt like the amount of time it takes to make a sandwich.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
Firstly, that I can write under pressure with a great sense of urgency, and secondly, that laundry isn’t nearly as important as I once thought it was.
What do you hope readers will take away from THE ANTIDOTE?
I hope they’re left with a sense of hope—one that evolves from the knowledge that things are not always as they appear to us when we first see them. People are not always as we judge them. All true heroes have shadows. And all real villains have grace. Their depth of multiplicity is what makes them human, but more important, relatable.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
It’s. Been. Bumpy. That road has been filled with potholes, divots, ruts, and quicksand. It’s been awful and trying, dizzying and empowering. It has been a million sleepless nights, a thousand second guesses, a stomach full of butterflies, and an endless education. The takeaway? Don’t fall after the first hurdle.
I’ve written full books that have been shrugged off with rejection, loved but rejected, and repeatedly revised but still rejected. It’s part of the game board. Not every move is going to get you where your checker piece gets kinged. But if you don’t stick your neck out, you’ll never wear that crown.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
My AHA! moments are truly disguised by the universe in one specific way and are revealed in a rather cruel and unsporting-like manner. When I find myself struggling with a plot line, and the threads cry to be untangled, I hike down the mountain I live on top of and march about, breathing deeply like one of the Von Trapp children in Austria. It never fails. The moment of clarity and inspiration pops into my head as soon as I am as far from the house as is possible. Sprinting one mile uphill, for one thousand painful feet upward to get back to my keyboard is apparently the only way the universe believes I will get in some daily exercise. It happens with great—and frustrating—regularity.
What do you most wish you had learned sooner in the writing process, something that you could reach back to the beginning of your writing journey and tell yourself?
“The higher the price you pay for something, the dearer it becomes to you.” That was a little pearl from my grandmother, who was a pioneer in the world of smart, ambitious, working women. Her mindset was that the world is full of obstacles—your self-confidence shouldn’t be one of them.
What’s your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc? What gets you into the mood to write?
With every book I write, I am overly involved (read obsessed) in the research process. One YA historical novel I wrote took over ten years to complete, as I crisscrossed three countries, scoured through library stacks, and hunted through castles in order to nail as much of the detail as possible.
With The Antidote, some of that castle trespassing was inordinately helpful. But the research was more akin to visiting old bookstores to forage antiquated medical textbooks, spending hours with herbalists in dusty apothecary shops, and booking appointments with chemists and druggists who patiently mapped out all emetics of ancient remedies—aka, all the plants that can make you puke.
So much fun. (Apart from that last little bit.)
Once the research is done and the writing begins, I’m holed up all on my own for months, surrounded by fairy lights, candles, fluffy scarves, and wooly socks. I listen to music mostly absent of words—atmospheric, heady, and soporific. Anonymous 4 are my go to albums. Those women are my muses.
And there is tea. So much tea. Okay, and chocolate. So sooo much chocolate.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
You cannot write about life if you do not have a life to write about. Go. Out. And. Live. Make an exciting life. One filled with chances taken, unforgettable memories made, and eyebrow-raising relatives whose shocking words you finally begin to mull over. Take it all in. As much as you possibly can. Don’t just ponder. DO!
And then make soup for friends and strangers. For it is only the warmest, soul-soothing food that will loosen the tongues of others enough to share their wildest days and dreams with you too. Take care of people, and the stories will spill out like threads unspooled.
What are you working on now?
It’s all just pen to paper, pen to paper, pen to paper. More YA fantasy, contemporary humor, and imaginative fiction. Oftentimes, in the end, I leave the decision up to my hound. He’s a fabulous beta reader. If it passes his smell test, it moves forward up the chain of command.
Oh, and of course … laundry.
Bonus Content: The Antidote Playlist – Google Play or The Antidote Playlist – Spotify (both just music) and The Antidote Playlist Details (with spoilers!—song descriptions for where they fall within the book).
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.
Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.
But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.
A wisp of a spell later, Fee finds herself caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the tempting and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—uncovering a secret that will change everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shelley Sackier is the author of The Antidote, The Freemason’s Daughter, and Dear Opl. She blogs at www.shelleysackier.com about food, family, and the folly that is life while living atop a mountain in the Blue Ridge. She also gives school presentations to illuminate the merits of embracing failure (just like NASA) and to further her campaign to erect monuments to all librarians.
Have you had a chance to read THE ANTIDOTE yet? Have any of your stories been inspired by family secrets? Are you making an exciting life so you have something to write about? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
Jocelyn, Halli, Martina, Erin, Shelly, and Kelly