Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well! Today I have a really exciting post to share with you all – an interview with Cassandra Yorke, author of the wonderful Flapper Covenant series which opens with Mary, Everything! This is a fantastic story packed full of feminists fighting back against patriarchal societies, coping with trauma, mysterious yearbooks from the 1920s and sapphic flappers! If you’d like to check out my review I did for Mary, Everything you can check it out here – and, even better, if you have Kindle Unlimited, Mary Everything is free to read there (though I personally recommend the paperback so you can enjoy all the wonderful maps and graphics throughout! There’s also currently a book tour going on for Mary, Everything hosted by Bewitching Book Tours, so make sure you check out the wonderful posts there too (and the giveaway for a paperback copy)!
Hi Cassandra, it’s really lovely to have you here on my blog!
No, the pleasure is mine. It’s lovely of you to have me on here!
As you know, I really adored Mary, Everything and the action-packed feminist plot, but what gave you the inspiration for this book?
This book had been a long time coming, actually; there’s a lot of my life in it. In the summer of 2004, I was working at my university archives. It was this big scary turning point in my life, this kind of calm before a nasty storm. I’d just finished my senior year and things didn’t look good for me – I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. But just like Courtney, I got a new assignment at the Archives, and it was a lot like in the story – I had to catalogue this collection from this famous big band artist at my college and write his bio. I started with his yearbooks, and it wasn’t long until this weird feeling came over me. Soon I started feeling all these emotions, all this longing and nostalgia when I looked through them. They felt like my memories, and before I knew it, I was living in a daze. My body was in 2004 but the rest of me was in the 1920s. I was always excited to go to work in the morning so I could spend all day with those pictures and those pages.
I’d go back to my apartment in the evening and just be cold and lonely and dead inside because I felt so far away from people who had somehow become dear friends and places that had become deeply important to me. My roommate said I was just gone for like a month and a half; I was just a body in the room with a thousand-yard stare. I spent a lot of time in these fugues, just hours where I’d sit and wander back to the 1920s. Being there gave me this sense of love and belonging I’d never felt before. I hated trips back to my hometown on the weekends because people could sense that I was far away and they kept trying to shake me out of it. I started feeling a disconnect with the present, like I didn’t belong here, and in a way I think people sensed that. People in general started treating me with a lot more loathing and hostility, like I was some pathogen or foreign body, while the people closest to me behaved with this sort of frenzied denial where they were determined to believe everything was exactly the same as it always had been. I grew frustrated and sad that I couldn’t escape completely, that I couldn’t just vanish into the night and be in the 1920s forever. I wanted to go home, and the 2000s weren’t home anymore – my life was just this ugly place full of a few lunatic friends and hostile strangers, and nobody knew who I was.
Life eventually went on, and the fugues dried up, and most of me was pulled back here against my will. But something had changed. I’d experienced living in another time, another life, and you don’t just forget that and leave it behind. I’d always been weird, a bit apart in the crowd, but my inexplicable time slip experience just amplified that. I don’t know if this guy – the one whose collection I’d worked on – had shared his experiences with me. Maybe he had, maybe it was kind of like one of those things where a grandfatherly figure opens up to you and shares his reminisces with you; it’s an endearing thought. But if it’s from beyond the grave, then it’s a more spiritual thing and those experiences are imprinted right onto you, because someone who has passed on can’t just sit at a table and tell you stories – they have to show you, and it’s like being hooked right into their emotions. That makes it your experience as much as theirs – it means it happened to you.
Life got really hard for a long time, as it does in your twenties, but I always felt like I left part of me back in college. I spent years trying to think of a way to go back. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I wondered, ‘what if it isn’t college I’m trying to get back to as much as it is the 1920s? What if I left part of me there?’ I’d see grainy stock footage from the 20s, girls walking down the street arm-in-arm, and it would keep me up at night sobbing. I felt like a ghost. So as a writer, I thought, “is it possible to recapture any of this through a novel?” I mean, I’d written the foundations of a story all the way back in 2004, after all this happened. Could I build on that?
The minute I decided to do it, I felt whole again. Only one thing mattered – somehow making it so I could tell this story to the world. I could wrap fiction around it so I could do what we all want – get a second chance, defeat childhood bullies, and get back to where I belonged.
So I spent the next five years or so trying to figure out how to turn it into a novel people would actually want to read. That was nightmare mode.
You’ve obviously put in a lot of work regarding the 1920s setting and the magic system. What kind of research did you do to create such a vibrant world?
Supposedly there’s this condition called aphantasia – it’s a name for when you have trouble visualizing things clearly. I have that – everything is dark fog in my head. So I always end up putting like five times more effort into making everything real for the reader. I want you to be there. So that’s always been my biggest goal with the story.
As for research, I mean first was just the basic stuff you’d expect – the language, the clothes, the history, and I spent years just soaking that up. But when it came time to really write the novel, I realized I had to create a magic system from scratch (because I wanted my girls to have powers so they could kick ass and control their own destinies). I also wanted everything to make rational sense so the reader could get into it more easily.
For the magic system, my goal was to create something that felt 1920s, something that people back then might call “modern.” By the 1920s, science had taken a firm hold on the western mind. So I tried to round up a bunch of science and medical texts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and borrow as much outdated terminology as I could to create the right feel. Then I drew on my experience writing fantasy and sci-fi (and playing lots and lots of D&D) to build what was basically a fantasy magic system with Victorian and Edwardian scientific terminology, but also avoid the (lazy) mistake that so many authors make with magic. If stuff just goes “poof” then you ruin the reader’s immersion, and they’ll laugh at you. So you have to develop a truly scientific system, something reliable that works pretty much the same way all the time so when you need to make something happen, the reader is right there with you saying “Right, okay, I see how Hazel did that.” I want to really immerse you in the world, really sweep you away, so it has to be believable every time.
The same thing goes with time travel. People are going to feel insulted if you say “ooh look, there’s a time portal in my closet, that makes things easy.” So I thought for a long time about what physics is saying right now about time travel, and while I admit to just spewing a lot of that back onto the page, I also realized that parallel universes are most likely a real thing. Not only that, but it would be an easier way to go back in time than to build a magic phone booth. It also gives Courtney something tangible to run from – and run toward.
Some scenes in the book must have been difficult to write, but what was your absolute favourite scene to just dive right into?
You’re definitely right. I did drama in high school, so I took a performer’s approach to the story – I tried to put myself in every scene and really become the protagonists. I thought that readers would only get as much out of the story as I put in. So yeah, that made it really rough at times, especially when it came to dredging up stuff from my own past.
But the really amazing scenes, the easy ones, the fun ones…a lot of the ones with Hazel, actually. I felt this tremendous relief when Hazel was there to save the day. When terrible people come into our lives and do terrible things to us, sometimes we want nothing more than a hero to come to our rescue (especially when we’re really young). I loved Hazel’s house, too, and I had a lot of fun creating the ultimate introvert reader’s paradise full of old and exotic things. I think the scene that most matches what you described, though, was her return at the end of the book. Music is a big part of my writer’s toolbox and I had all my nerdy World War I-inspired music ready and I just cranked it – and Hazel strode right into the scene and started tearing shit up. You really live for those adrenaline-soaked scenes when you’re writing.
I know we’ve discussed in the past how difficult self-publishing can be, but what has been your favourite part of this journey so far?
The kinds of fans the Flapper Covenant has attracted.
So far, if someone loves the girls and the world they live in, they really love them. Their connection to the story and characters is genuine and heartfelt because some part of them relates. Maybe they understand what it might feel like to be a displaced, or they can look into Sadie’s eyes and feel something for her. Maybe they understand what it’s like to have to fight for survival or self-determination. Maybe they know what it is to be truly alone.
If I were with a big publisher, if I had a bougie agent in New York and a $5 million marketing budget or something, I’d probably have had to tone down all the rage and unbelonging that’s driven this story from the beginning. Big publishers want to appeal to lots of people, and most people don’t understand what it is to live your life on the fringes, to live without family or friends, to be looked at with disgust and loathing by everyone passing you on the street. And if anyone liked my book after it had been toned down and made mass market-friendly, they’d be the flakey type of mass consumer who won’t read anything that’s not from a big publisher. And they’d like it in the superficial way they like everything else without ever truly loving something.
So I guess my favorite part of this journey has been connecting with those who love the Flapper Covenant – because, again, they truly love it. Usually they’re open, sincere people who belong at Braddock – or need it. I don’t think I could have shared this kind of story if I’d been with a big publisher. And that’s sad, because there are people who need this story.
It means the world to me when someone says they connected with Mary, Everything. It satisfies something deep inside, that need to be heard, what we all feel when we’re trying to convey something deep and powerful that has happened to us. I feel like I’ve been able to bring them along on my journey, and it’s such a beautiful feeling. There’s also that deep gratification that comes with giving someone a sense that they’re not alone, either. So many of the themes in this book – loneliness, child abuse, domestic violence, not belonging – aren’t things that everyone can relate with. And – I’ll put it bluntly – if someone was loved and cherished as a child, then they might find it more difficult to relate with the nerves that run through the heart of this story.
A truly amazing community has sprung up around the Flapper Covenant. They have real love in their hearts for the message, for the characters, and for the themes. I’m privileged – humbled, really – to have every last of them. I’m honored for every single person who has taken time out of their lives to read this book, to feel something for its protagonists, and maybe to smile once or twice.
Because they’re the real deal.
If you could talk to Courtney, Sadie, Mary and co. at any point during the book, what would you say to them?
I don’t think I’d say any one thing, honestly. ^.~ I honestly think if I were talking to them it would be because I’m displaced. I’d either be trying to escape this reality or I’d be integrating into theirs. I don’t know if I’d be going to class with them, but I like to hope I’d end up arcane, so maybe I’d be fighting alongside them to protect everything that matters to us
This is one of my favourite kinds of questions to ask authors – who would you cast as our favourite girl gang in an adaptation of Mary, Everything?
Oh my goodness, I want a Mary, Everything/Flapper Covenant Netflix series SO BAD! On my Milanote character board right now, Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) is Courtney, though Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls) might make a good second. Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) is Mary – ideally someone with the classic Audrey Hepburn or Jodie Foster doe eyes. Abby Quinn (Radium Girls) is the perfect Nettie. Sadie has been hardest for me to headcast; Zooey Deschanel would make an incredible Sadie, though I’ve used Emma Stone on my notes in the past because of her characteristic slender eyes. Hazel, while just outside the main four girls, is also a vitally important character and thankfully, headcasting her has been easy – Ruth Bradley (Rebellion, Agatha and the Truth of Murder) makes a fantastic Hazel. Her role as Frances in Rebellion has kinda been a big inspiration of mine for Hazel, actually – I’ve got a screenshot of her firing a Colt 1911 that ends up on my screen every time I write Hazel in some kind of conflict. It fits her so well.
Finally, I’m already dying for a re-read of Mary, but can you give us a clue as to what kind of hijinks Courtney is going to get up to in the next book?
I can definitely try. ^.~
So in looking at the series as a whole, it looks like Courtney will be dealing with two main themes – adjusting to her new life, and going back in time (to 1915) to fix the causality split that messed up her life to begin with. I think this coming novel will deal with the former; I think I’d make a lot of people angry if I didn’t continue right from the end of Mary. I think I set up expectations about the plot going a certain way, and I think fans would be right to feel cheated if I didn’t deliver on that.
First, I see Nettie playing an increasingly important role, since she’s highly intelligent and honestly really powerful. I never meant for her to blend into the background in the first place, but between Courtney and Sadie, there was so much personality on the page that even Mary took a bit of a back seat. The “Main Four” (the temporary nickname I’ve given them) were set up as a group at the end of Mary, and their reliance on each other will only grow. Actually, one of the central events in this coming novel will be about that exactly – formalizing that bond between the four of them. They’ll become closer than they ever imagined possible, and it’ll all be because of one desperate, harebrained idea from Hazel Morrison to protect them against enemies with ridiculous power and bad intentions.
Next, I’m going to be exploring the larger world a lot more – the politics and history and intrigues that are beginning to shape the arcane world of the 1920s. I’m also going to be exploring – in much greater detail – arcana itself. I’ll do more exploration of formulae and reactions, how spells are built and cast, the materials and stuff a person needs, as well as new arcane sciences. That leads me to the next point…
New friends. The team might be getting a new girl; it could be one of a few characters, but one possibility is a Braddock freshman like the main four. You should also know that the girls have gotten themselves noticed by a lot of important people; some might even be friendly. No matter how wealthy or influential they are, other young people seem drawn to those reckless Braddock girls and their desperate struggles. Sometimes they’re drawn from far away.
But those sympathetic few are a minority, and to the extent that the girls are known to those in power, they’re terrifying. When four college girls come out of nowhere and destroy a rogue circle almost on their own, it scares everyone trying to uphold the status quo. Nobody likes someone rocking the boat, and nobody likes unknown factors.
And enemies don’t forget when they’re beaten. Two of the Knights of Augustine are still on the loose, and they’re nursing bitter grudges. If they were to ally themselves with much older forces – with far more power – then nothing could stop them. Autumn Grove is a lot more important a location than I’ve let on, too – someone might have to risk everything just to keep it the sort of place where you could have a decent life.
But Courtney’s immediate future looks far more frightening and chaotic than anything else – her love life is about to become the biggest train wreck anyone’s ever seen. And why is everyone noticing her all of a sudden? Guys are looking at her all the time now. And girls. Lots and lots of girls. Even Nettie…and Hazel. What happened? Everything’s spiralling out of control, and it’s the last thing she needs right now…
Of course, none of this is set in stone just yet. This is all just the roughest sketch of what might be happening.