My interviewer sits casually at the other end of the square, wooden table in Starbucks. His plaid shirt is tucked into Levis, and his hand scratches the back of his head, ruffling brown hair. He clears his throat and opens his leather-bound journal. The end of his Bic ben has been chewed on, mauled. Strange, for someone who’s so laidback. But the old journal doesn’t surprise me; it’s just his style. He’s probably recorded most his findings of the Magical Realm in books just like this. I try to hide a smile as he flips through to find an empty page. I wonder if he has even planned the questions he will ask me, or if he will just ask them on a whim. I shouldn’t wonder, though—and the chewed-on pen shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, either. After all, I did create him.
He finds a blank page and settles more comfortably in his chair, the sound of a coffee grinder momentarily distracting him. He’s disappointed, I realize, that we came to a commercialized coffee chain. He has more in common with his daughter than I thought. She even looks more like him than I thought.
“Mrs. Davenport,” he says with a nod.
“Hi, Mr. Ashton,” I reply. “I’m just going to call you Stephen, though, if that’s okay. We don’t need formalities.” It’s silent, as though he’s waiting for me to begin, and I smile. “I think you’re supposed to start with a question.”
He chuckles, though it’s not a natural sound. “Yes.” He looks at his blank page, again clearing his throat.
“Just ask what you want, Stephen. Like I said, no need to be formal. It’s just me.”
He meets my eyes, for the first time in this visit. “Okay then.” He closes his book. “Why me?”
“Why not you? You have just as much of a story as anyone else.”
“I don’t even have a place in the novel.”
“In HEMLOCK VEILS, no. But you are the start of all this. For your daughter, for the story in general. As the series continues, the readers will see that. They’ll see that it’s you who has weaved Elizabeth into this realm.”
He nods after a moment. He’s always been a humble man in my mind. And so genuine in thought. “Let’s begin then.”
Stephen: What made you think Henry and Elizabeth’s story was worth telling? We all know there is a fair share of Beauty and the Beast retellings out there. What made this one different? What stood out to you?
Jennie: What’s not different? That would be a better question. Not only does this story take place in our modern world, and in the haunting rainforest of Oregon, but the monster in this story—the beast—hasn’t had his whole life disappear from the curse, since he is cursed only when the sun sets. During the day, he remains the man he is—cold, wealthy, and arrogant. Oh, and an immortal asshole. For his curse to be broken, a life has to end and huge sacrifices have to be made. And as you know … Elizabeth had her own demons.
S: That she did. I’ll never forgive myself for the demons I passed onto her.
J: No need to blame yourself. Elizabeth is strong; you know that. There is no one else who could have stood up to these tasks like she did. It had to be her for this journey. You know that as well as I do.
S: Who came to you first, begging to have their story told—Henry or Elizabeth?
J: Neither, actually. I first envisioned their story itself, envisioned the struggle to find one’s internal beauty being explored; but I knew it couldn’t be discovered, nor the characters be made whole, with a simple realization of that love. There had to be something great at risk—there had to be a greater purpose. And I knew then that if I wanted to tell this beautiful story that had been haunting me since I was a child, death had to be involved. To break such a damaging curse, the Beauty would have to sacrifice her life for her Beast.
(Stephen sits back, irritated that I so willingly would put his daughter at risk. Again, he doesn’t see it like I do. He’s too close to the situation, doesn’t realize I can see the bigger picture, or that I have 100% faith in his daughter, and also in the connection she and Henry share.)
J: But Stephen, you do realize that it wasn’t me who put Elizabeth in that position? She volunteered. After I knew what had to be done, your daughter came to me. She told me her story, starting with the dark and rainy night she drove through Mt. Hood National Forest, trying to seek some lost connection to you. She took me there, demanded I tell her story. Henry, however, was a harder case. It took me a little longer to crack his exterior. Elizabeth is the pro at that; not me.
S (laughing): I suppose she is. (Clears throat, getting back to business.) The readers know by now that HEMLOCK VEILS is a paranormal romance and the retelling of a classic fairy tale. But who will love this book—what is your target audience?
J: Anyone who loves the cathartic trigger of moving emotions, but the draw of a fresh, new take. Something that will take you a place you’ve never been. Magic, beauty, warmth, love—it’s all found within. But HEMLOCK VEILS isn’t just for those with a weak spot to love stories. The character arcs of Elizabeth and Henry—as well as the secondary characters—take us far and wide throughout the story, leaving one to contemplate their own inner monsters, as well as how to accept them.
I’ve had many people tell me that they would never have normally read in this genre. It encompasses so many different aspects of so many genres that it appeals to everyone. Lovers of fantasy, romance, magical realism, thrillers, mysteries, or even just mainstream fiction. Both men and women have been drawn to the story for this reason. I would, however, have to warn that there is some adult content in the story, given that it’s targeted for adult audiences. I’ve talked to many teens who’ve read it and love it; but I have to state that disclaimer.
S: What’s next for Henry and Elizabeth? For the town?
J (smiling): And for you? Well, we left of just when Henry and Elizabeth thought they could begin a peaceful existence. But as we know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan.
S: No, it doesn’t. Sometimes a merciless author decides to drag on the pain and suffering.
J: Ah, but also the joy. Again, Stephen, I don’t do this of my own free will, or some desire to mess with the lives of those I love. Because I do love you all, even the worst of you. You are all family, friends. I’m only the medium by which my loved ones can get their story out to the world. It’s Elizabeth and Henry who’ve told their story to me. I just try to interpret it to the best of my ability.
S: And do you think you’ve been successful at that?
J: All I can hope is that the readers get as swept away in this place, setting, and story as I did. If the reader can feel they’ve escaped into a magical place, with characters as flawed as them, but as lovable, then that’s all I could ask for.
S: What will we see in the next book, and when?
J: In answer to the latter, I still don’t have a confirmation on that. But count on it being sometime this fall. As far as what we will see in the next book, we will see more of Elizabeth’s upbringing—how her life has been tied to all of this since before she was born. We will see a glimmer of you, and be let in on some eye-opening secrets of some of the characters we thought long-gone. We will see that Elizabeth and Henry’s journey has just begun, and they have bigger demons yet to fight. And in keeping with the tradition of classic fairy tale retellings, you will see some inspiration from Sleeping Beauty weaved throughout, where we discover an antagonist as intriguing as he is understated. As meek as he is powerful. As vengeful as he is ancient.
S. Where can readers get their hands on a copy of my daughter’s story?
We shake hands when the interview commences, and just like that, Stephen is gone, leaving me alone in the corner table at my local Starbucks.