I recently caught up with author Marianne G. Petrino. Check out my interview with Marianne on her new young adult, equine, science, fantasy novel Silver Hooves in the Darkness from April 22, 2014.
Q: Tell us about your novel Silver Hooves in the Darkness.
A: In terms of genre, my novel is a young adult equine science fantasy. However, thematically, it is fundamentally a journey novel: the heroine hears the call to the road, steps out of her comfort zone and grows as an individual. Paola is a genetic chimera, a being both equine and human, who races in the Maze. She is a yearling Courier able to travel between the isolated domes that imprison people. On a routine Carry to Dome Biblia, she meets with a librarian who reveals the terrible secret that keeps these domes functioning. Gemma offers her an opportunity to assist on a mission to end the barbaric ritual known as Sacrifice. The fundamental question is this: Can Paola summon the courage to defy the mysterious Authority and Cenere, the monster who haunts the Maze, to free the Bound Child and end Sacrifice?
Q: What inspired you to create the unique character Paola, who is part human and part equine?
A: The kernel of the story came to me in a dream from the 1980s. I saw a small nondescript bipedal creature that was a messenger for isolated towns,which could only be reached by traveling a dark maze. It carried a backpack that regulated its life force. A monster lurked in this maze, so every trip that the courier made was a dangerous one. The people in the towns treated the couriers as the expendable servants they were.
When I decided to flesh out this dream for a novel, a horse immediately came to mind as an accessible messenger. Having a character that could change form between an equine one and a humanoid one gave Paola not only the exotic quality of a charismatic animal, but also human qualities to which the reader could relate.
Q: What single line or passage from the book would you most like to share with potential readers?
A: I would say the first opening lines. The setting in the Maze tells you that this is strange world full of danger. The mocking of the monster following the equina suggests that she has already been singled out by Fate. But why? Who is she? What does she do? Why is she in an awful place? The challenge for the reader becomes : Are you intrigued enough by the questions to want to go on Paola's journey to learn the answers?
Cenere hunted in the Maze.
The curved, delicate ears on the top of the equina's head rotated slowly to focus on the source of the sound from the bestial intruder, who devoured her kind. But it was its cloying sweetness that confirmed the creature's closeness and made her quiver with fear.
The glowing gem in the hollow of her neck pulsed unevenly, its green light casting flickering rays down the black walls of her current Run.
From where she stood, connecting corridors of the Maze shifted into and out of existence with a gentle hiss, the opening and closing of oval portals in the walls the only testament to their brief existence.
The hunter stood unseen, but known, where darkness merged with the fading limit of the light her gem radiated to guide her. The creature rippled the border, a tentative movement, and almost revealed its form. Not you, little equina. Not yet, it soothed, caressing her mind with malevolent amusement.
Q: Thinking about the type of readers your books appeal to, if you could recommend Silver Hooves in the Darkness to the fans of any fellow science fiction author who would they be?
A: Since my novel is a science fantasy, it may not appeal to those who do not like the mingling of two genres, and instead, prefer space adventure. However, if you consider character and theme, I would say that if you like the work of Tamora Piece, who specializes in young adult fantasy with courageous young women as the heroes, you might like my work.
Q: How did you research Silver Hooves in the Darkness?
A: The main research I did was looking at different horse breeds and their characteristics, and the care of horses. I hinted at Paola's breed, and those of the other equinii, in their formal designations.
Q: What was the most challenging thing about writing Silver Hooves in the Darkness?
A: I was writing for a young adult audience that clearly skewed toward tweens, so I kept the narrative both straightforward and clean. The shadowed land between an elementary school read and a young adult read is the hardest to navigate. Older teens might be disappointed by the lack of graphic content (regarding sex and violence) that permeates so much of modern young adult literature.
Q: Do you relate to Paola, if so, in what ways?
A: I am always poking my nose where it does not belong because of curiosity. I also feel things deeply, as does Paola. These qualities propelled her along her road, sometimes, not for the better. When it came to danger, we both felt fear, but moved beyond it to do what was right or necessary. When I was young, my great uncle, who was a physician, once said of me to my mother, "She is a very moral person." I think back then that I perplexed him because I was not like other young women that he knew. I spoke my mind and followed my own counsel. Paola also perplexes those around her in a similar way.
Q: You wrote Silver Hooves in the Darkness for National Novel Writing Month. Did the goal to write an entire book in one month make the experience easier or more difficult?
A: This book arose from the output of my third National Novel Writing Month, so the experience, while not easy, was doable because I had a writing rhythm established from my earlier efforts in 2010 and 2011. I knew how the book started and how the book ended. Getting to my destination was the exhilarating mystery because I just let the story unfold (I did not do an outline). Afterwards, over many months, I went through the manuscript 20 times. It was amazing what changed and what stayed the same throughout all the revisions.
Q: How does Silver Hooves in the Darkness compare to other books you’ve written in the fantasy genre?
A: This book is clearly for a younger audience than my two adult urban metaphysical novels because of the simplicity of the writing and the age of the protagonist. Paola starts out very innocent because she is very young by the standards of equinii, a yearling. In a very short time, she grows in wisdom as she faces adversity. However, she sacrifices what remains of her "childhood" by the choices she makes.
My three novels do share a visionary quality born of metaphysical/magical events and are rooted in the same virtues: wisdom, love and courage.
Q: Horse characters have long been popular in literature. What do you think it is about horses that appeals so much to readers?
A: The horse is mythic in its influence across cultures. Power. Freedom. Beauty. Courage. As a symbol, it can represent all these things and more. Until very recently in time, the horse was key to peoples' daily lives. When you think of it, a horse may be the first large animal that a modern child will touch or ride. For the young, the magic of the unicorn lives within the horse. They can see it with their innocent eyes.
I dedicated my book to my father, who took me for pony rides at the Bronx Zoo. Those outings became cherished memories of our time together. As a kid, I constantly drew horses even after I got thrown by, of all things, a carousel horse! The horse also holds a special place in so many lives regarding healing. In recent years, I have spent time in Lexington, Kentucky to be around horse energy. Being around horses reminds me of the courage I once had in my youth, before panic attacks impacted my life.
Q: Paola is a very courageous character, with an important task. How do you think the average human would hold up if called upon to face such danger?
A: Paola is a young equina with little experience of life. The humans she crosses paths with are all older, and she learns a great deal from them about good and evil and the grey zone between them. Paola must make decisions she never expected to make in her life as a servant in the service of humans. She always had the choice to step away from her tasks. But her intense interactions with others, who were determined to end an evil dictated by one individual, built within her a moral compass. She freely chose to move forward, not backward.
The average human is no different from Paola. When disaster strikes, people either go toward danger or move away from it. Think of the people just going through their daily lives who risked everything to help Jews during World War II because it was the right thing to do.
We can never know what we are capable of until we are in a defining moment. We all have the potential to act courageously. I am an inexperienced horse rider. On a trip to northern California, during a trail ride to see redwood trees, I suddenly found myself on a spooked, runaway horse. The courageous kid from the Bronx I had once been came out full force to pull on the reins and the horse eventually stopped running. Only later did I feel panic thinking about what might have happened to me if I had fallen off the horse.
Q: What are your future writing plans?
A: Sadly, I am not planning on doing anymore novels as self-publishing has not been a lucrative venture for me. I did enjoy the challenge of writing my novels, and I was pleased with the results. However, my efforts to encourage people to sit by my campfire and hear my tales fell short.
I do think that I naturally gravitate more toward short stories. I have some flash fiction which will be coming out in a group anthology called The Future Is Short: Science Fiction in a Flash. This book contains stories from the Science Fiction Microstory monthly contest on LinkedIn.
As to what the future will bring with my writing, I try to stay open to possibility, but any notion of a career in writing will end in the autumn of this year.