Dear Cadence, thank you for taking the time to chat with me and for telling your publisher to send me a copy to review. I was impressed with the beautiful design, both the cover and interior. You must be over the moon to finally hold your book-baby in your hand. Congratulations!!!
Thank you, Vijaya! I’m SO thrilled to be here, and yes, over the moon to be sharing Name Unspoken! I’m so glad we got a chance to connect about my book. Writing and publishing has been a long and wonderful road, and it just keeps getting better the more I get to share it with others!
Tell me, what’s the story behind Name Unspoken? Why did you write this story?
Do you ever feel like the stories in your head aren’t really your own creation? Like you’d heard this story as a little kid a long time ago, or that someone else told you about it but you just can’t remember whom. While it was just a story in my mind, Name Unspoken felt like something that came from elsewhere. I had the gut feeling that someone, somewhere, needed to hear about it. I still don’t know exactly who or why, but I trusted that gut feeling to pursue this thing all the way to the end. Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses those feelings to nudge you along, I like to think!
Yes, it is uncanny how much a story itself desires to be told!
More palpable motivation happened after several encounters with a few (no offense intended) rather deplorable novels that pass for Catholic/Christian fiction these days. I remember browsing a Christian bookstore, picking up book after book and thinking, “These all look the same! Where is the variety?” This video from a young Christian YouTuber kind of sums it up, honestly—much of what I could find was dull and far too unrealistic to offer much substance to Catholic readers. When I searched through the (much rarer) non-romance Christian books, the variety I could find was often far too graphic, violent, dark, or dense for younger readers. So there was this gap between these shallow, unrealistic romances and those dark, grappling-with-horrors type of Christian books. When Name Unspoken became an actual story in my head, I started wondering if I could offer something to fill that in-between gap. I wrote with the specific intent of reaching young adult readers who are looking for out-of-the-ordinary books, books that are engaging and entertaining, but don’t shy away from real-world or serious themes. All without overstepping into graphic displays that could disturb or harm younger/tender-hearted readers. It was a bit of a challenge, but based on my reader feedback, I managed decently enough!
You succeeded! I agree that we need stories for the precocious reader. My own two children fell in that category and frankly it’s a relief when you don’t have to monitor whether a book is appropriate (they are teenagers now).
How long did it take you to write Name Unspoken? Did you have to make any major structural revisions or did you know the journey Connor and Cara would make from the beginning and it was just a matter of refining the tale?
It only me seven years to write! Haha, I don’t feel so bad then. Whistles! Super efficient there, Cadence. (Laughing cynically at myself over here…) The idea planted itself in my brain when I was about sixteen years old. It started as a thought about the Jungle Book, to be honest. I started doing that daydreaming thing Neil Gaiman says good ideas come from: “I wonder how the snakes didn’t get Mowgli. Wait, what if it happened in a different climate and there weren’t poisonous snakes? What if Mowgli was female?” And on and on from there, just little tangents during my long hikes through the forest. Pretty soon the characters started to arrive in my head, pictures and personalities as clear as if I was remembering someone I’d met. After that, the story started getting so complicated in my mind I began to write it down. I knew right from the beginning that Connor and Cara were the heart of the story, and if I tried any drastic changes to their personalities, the whole thing would fall apart. Within a year or two I had drafted most of the plot and had almost all the characters named.
After I had started an actual manuscript, the next five years were spent on LOTS of revisions (probably eight or nine drafts) and many structural changes, including decisions like what would happen to the villain, who’s going to do that one important task, or who may or may not die. (It’s medieval times, it was normal for people to die left and right—but I did want to stay true to how difficult coping with death can be no matter the era. No spoilers here though!) But really, no matter how many events or settings or era changes I made, the life of the tale lay with the characters. After all, human lives are driven by human choices, which have less to do with our environments than we often like to claim. And I hope my book is a little reflection of that.
You must explain to me why you chose to interrupt the story with the narrator’s thoughts. I have to admit, I was so annoyed, but I thanked you silently for keeping the interruptions short. And by the end, I even developed a little affection for him. But dear me, the instructor in me wanted to lecture you. It is difficult enough to become immersed in a story, why did you risk losing your reader several times?
Guilty as charged! Let me start with explaining my weird form of character development—you know how writers are advised to write extensive character profiles, explore what they would do in different situations, to prompt them to really intentionally design personalities? Yeah, I’ve never once done that—I haven’t followed a lot of common writing advice, to be honest. The characters drop into my head fully-formed, as if they’re friends I’ve known since childhood. You are lucky! It happens to me rarely and when it does, it’s such a gift! (I haven’t met another author yet who works like this… I wonder what went awry with me!) The narrator Rashah was one of these readymade characters, and he’s also a reflection of me ignoring the swear-by-this rules for writing.
So yes, I did risk losing the reader by interrupting the story here and there with a narrator—another author friend warned about it, along with all the writing advice articles. In an effort to conform, I did once try to redo the story without this narrator, but honestly, the tale deflated. I still don’t know why—just one of those strange things a story sometimes demands, you know? So I went with my gut. The pros are that the readers to get a chance to meet Rashah without giving away central elements of the developing plot. I like to think he also adds a bit of an antique flair to the tale as a whole; I didn’t want to date my book by making it too modern or trendy, and a narrator often adds a touch of timelessness in that interest.
As for future books, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll include narrators—really, it will depend on what the book wants. Each one is its own little world, and none of them will be exactly the same.
True enough. You have to do what the story demands. This is set in medieval Ireland. Your writing is beautiful and evocative and I could picture everything. What kind of research did you do to bring the place and domestic scenes to life?
Thank you, I’m glad you found the descriptions so real and engaging! I did about a year of research to develop historical accuracy. The last thing I wanted to do was to destroy the setting by talking about historical anomalies! Sadly, I was unable to visit Ireland directly while I wrote this book—but I talked to friends and family who had traveled there on various vacations. Hearing their experiences gave me an idea of what it felt like to be there. I’m hoping to one day visit “The Homeland” and see how closely I was able to describe it!
I tried to make up for my lack of travel with some serious research. For example, around year five of drafting, I realized that I hadn’t looked up the invention date of boots—so I scoured the Internet for reliable sources on peasant footwear in the 1300s. (Such sources are shockingly uncommon!) Eventually I was able to educate myself on the wear and making of turnshoes, and used that to detail the novel. Along with that, I also consulted with an herbalist about Irish plants and apothecaries in that era. I drew on some personal experience of shearing sheep, wandering the woods, and Irish dancing. Mostly, though, I read about everything: from food to architecture to extinction timelines of native wildlife! I would strongly recommend any writer to do the same if they write historical fiction. Not only does accuracy make your book better for readers, but it also helps to immerse you in the world you’re trying to create!
What about research into children raised by wolves or other animals? I am fascinated by how people acquire language. My son was a late talker and one of the things I was told is that if he doesn’t acquire it within a certain window (before age 6) that the ability might be difficult to cultivate.
Interesting you ask that, because a jump-starter for this story was actually the historical significance of nonverbal autism. Stick with me here, I swear this will make sense in a minute! Did you know that stories about “wild children” or “children raised by wolves” (think Jungle Book) are based on truth? I didn’t either, until college! Children who have moderate to severe autism often lack the ability to speak known language—i.e., “nonverbal” or “nonvocal.” These kids often have feral/animalistic tendencies, are unable to control their behavior, and tend to run away from caregivers. Think about that for a second. In rural areas of the world, these kids could pretty easily get away from parents, wander a day or two in the wilderness, and end up in a different community. Whoever found them would clearly see they couldn’t talk, and what with the wild-animal behavior, easily could have assumed this child was “raised by wolves.” Obviously, in Name Unspoken, I took this in a different direction, but it’s worth noting where this idea originated. So to answer your initial question, learning language is often easiest done when a child is young, but it’s not inherently impossible at older ages. I like the analogy of adults learning a second language—it’s going to be a lot harder and you’re not going to be fluent quickly, but you can still do it.
Fascinating! You work with special needs children! How does your work inform your writing?
How doesn’t it inform my writing?! People with special needs, especially children, experience a whole different world than the one we live in. Their realities can be so different than what we “neurotypical” people are used to—and honestly, as readers, don’t we all love to enter into a different world through books? Working in special education gives me the opportunity to enter into other people’s worlds and do my best to make it better, to build bridges between their reality and mine. My experiences with special needs in foster care and through adoptions had a big influence on the story, too, which you can read more about here. Really, as a whole, my work with special needs kids in schools, in foster care, and in my family really work to bring light to what really matters in life—faith, family, and doing what is right regardless of the consequences. And I hope some of that is mirrored in my writing.
Very interesting. I enjoyed reading your post and seeing how to developed those ideas in Name Unspoken. I’d love to know how long you’ve been writing and what has helped you in your journey.
I’ve been writing since I was about fourteen years old—and that was kickstarted by my mom, who as my homeschool teacher set up a unit study on writing novels. (Shoutout to all you great teacher-moms out there!) With that unit study, I wrote a six-hundred page book in three years, realized it was absolutely terrible, and threw it out the window. It taught me so much about what not to do, as well as igniting the bonfire of creative passion. So for me, step one was making an incredible amount of mistakes! With several consecutive writing projects, the next element that made me produce a readable novel was sheer stubbornness. Nobody told me this about writing a book. You actually have to sit down…. and write the book. Over and over and over, day after day, year after year. Of course, there are so many other things I could say about my learning process, but I’ll stop here! If you’re interested in more about this, watch for my series of blog posts on writing rookie novels, called “So You Want To Write A Book.” I want to join forces with others along this road and share resources with anyone interested!
Another young writer!!! It’s wonderful you began when you did! Everybody wants to know how to publish. How did you choose Black Rose Writing? I’ve known of them as a vanity publisher who made their money by selling services to authors, not books. Nothing wrong with that unless they don’t do what they promise, like edit, design, or market. Did they meet your expectations? Do you feel their contracts are fair?
Yep, publishing is the most confusing and frustrating part of becoming an author! There are SO. MANY. SCAMS. Black Rose Writing found me through Authors.me, a site that helps you build a platform for your manuscript and connect you with various lesser-known publishers. I’d done my research on publishing, and got offered other contracts with scammers, hybrids, and legitimate presses. (Watch my blog series for a post on scammers versus good contracts, I’d love to share more of this with you!)
You’ll be doing everybody a service.
Yes, Black Rose did start as more of an author-service platform, which they still offer on their site. They’ve moved on to become an Indie publisher based in Texas, and a lot of their books are nominated for different awards and competitions and such in the Indie world. As for the publishing contract itself, I thought it was very reasonable—there’s no stipulations for the author to invest anything but their time and manuscript, and the percentage of royalties are fair. I even had a lawyer walk me through contract basics and what to look out for, and Black Rose Writing offers a legitimate publishing deal. (After what I’d been through before them, I was surprised, too!) They walk you through pretty much every step of the process, and do their fair share of marketing. (Although no matter how you publish in today’s world, a lot of marketing falls to the author anyway, even with the big name presses.) Sometimes the packets they give you are a little overwhelming, but it is all good information to have—again, it’s worth noting that the contract does not hold you to any level of financial investment into your own book. I was particularly pleased with what Black Rose did for Name Unspoken’s cover design and formatting—they really took into account what I thought would be a good fit for the story. And look how beautiful their cover turned out—I did a little dance around the room when I saw it!
I’m so glad to know Black Rose is much more transparent now. Did you ever consider self-publishing?
Considered it, and did it! My first book The Lily Girl is a self-published novel, which I did with CreateSpace and KindleDirectPublish. It was an experiment right before I published Name Unspoken, which also began as self-published. It got picked up by Black Rose Writing about six months later. For anyone looking into this stuff, I’d definitely recommend trying a self-publishing option. You can learn about everything it takes to release a book, maintain full rights, and still have the option of signing with an actual press later on if you like. The downsides are that everything is on you—you have to figure out the cover, the editing, the format, the advertising, the ISBN… literally everything. It’s definitely worth the slog, but don’t plan on taking any less than three months to complete it. (And if it’s your first time exploring, do KindleDirectPublish and not IngramSpark to save some money.) All that while, don’t stop querying publishers at the same time. It’s good to do both, and you never know when something’s going to work out!
You are amazing for all you’ve done! What are you working on now?
I’m currently in the brainstorming-but-have-yet-to-write-anything-down phase of another novel. It’s actually going to be very different than Name Unspoken! It’s a thriller mystery set in a little art museum, and I will have to do a lot of research on art restoration, murder investigations, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m very excited to have finally worked out the plot holes and tied up its loose ends—there’s nothing quite as exciting as everything falling into place, ready to be put on the paper! Stay tuned.
Besides the wonderful world of writing, I just got married to the greatest man on the planet, doing lots of artwork and drawing, and planning to go back to some teaching work soon, too—chronic illness took away my last couple jobs, but I’m optimistic for the future!
Congratulations!!! May God bless you and your husband with a long and happy marriage!!! I'm sorry about the chronic health problems. I have some resources for you and will pray for you to be healed. What advice do you have for writers?
Remember: Anybody can write a book, but very few people will write a book. Be awesome and defy those odds! Also, redefine your idea of success. For me, success wasn’t publishing and selling books, but it was finishing the story itself to the best of my ability. That’s honestly one of the best parts of writing, to know that you followed your work all the way to its completion! So take heart, writers, and jump right in. There’s a whole world out there if you’re brave enough to discover it!
Excellent advice! Thank you. Is there anything else you wish for our readers to know?
Did you know that the winged spade is a special tool used to cut peat in Ireland? Random history fact for the day. Now you can impress people with your knowledge of harvesting bricks from peat mires!