Shelley Sackier is the author of the new young adult fantasy novel The Antidote. She also has written The Freemason's Daughter and Dear Opl. She lives in Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains.
Q: How did you create the world you write about in The Antidote?
A: Sometimes I feel I spend more time on researching my books than I do actually penning the story. But this is where I feel most creatively inspired. I seek out books, experts, and places within the world that will formulate a setting which is the ground where I plant my narrative seeds.
It feels rather effortless to choose a canvas where the sphere of the story will unfold, as long as I pursue those old textbooks, or hedge witches, or biologists, or crumbling castles and steep myself within them. The world is rich with hidden realms waiting to be discovered. I love the sleuthy part of that kind of work.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: In the somewhat unexplainable world of writers, we’ve got pantsers and plotters. Writers who are pantsers are those that typically write by the seat of their pants—as in, you develop the story as you go along and trust the process and whatever muse shows up to shine on light on the pathway forward.
Plotters are authors who typically and diligently outline the narrative arc before they fill in the gaps of how they’re getting from point A to point B. They bullet point every chapter and make sure they nail the ending before fleshing out all the itty bitty details.
I am a “pantser.” Stephen King described the process beautifully in that it’s a bit like being an archeologist, where you find a shard of bone sticking up out of the earth, and then patiently, and meticulously, you use a fine brush to dust away the sand and dirt, slowly revealing the skeleton of a story—large, small, frightening, awe-inspiring, rare, or middling and unexceptional—you sit and see what your labors reveal.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Although one of my main messages—in each one of my books—is unwavering advice to never enshroud yourself in someone else’s skin, as in “wear who you are proudly and confidently,” I also feel somewhat compelled to encourage kids to challenge the status quo of authority.
Not in a blindly arrogant way, but with diligently collected and persuasive data. If you are unhappy with the rules, challenge them and change them. Not necessarily to benefit the few, but to collectively push our society forward with fresh ideas, compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and wisdom.
Young adults are often cast aside as being argumentative for the sake of being blind with belligerence stemming from hormones, but they are also capable of being highly credible and convincing. I want them to realize that power, and harness it for good—for their generation and the ones before and after them.
Q: You've said that for years you were too embarrassed and wary to believe your relatives' tales about the magic passed down through your family to you. What made you change your mind?
A: Mostly other people. People whose education, philosophy, mindset, and life experience I held in high esteem. Their words to me were, “How can you talk it but not walk it?” In essence, I have to practice what I preach.
My books and school talks are filled with examples of other people living successful and exciting lives as outliers. They did not follow the crowd. They listened to the core voice inside of them that begged not to be squelched—the one that said, “Stop hiding.”
It felt like the right, albeit uncomfortable, thing to do.
I certainly don’t have to admit to any title my clansmen and women embrace, but I do finally feel at ease admitting to being one of the clan. Basically (and humorously), I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Q: How do you identify with your character Fee?
A: Like The Antidote’s 16-year-old heroine, Fee, an undiscovered witch disguised as a healer learning to distill plant life as it applies to the creation of medicines within her flora homeopathica textbooks, I have studied the art of distillation for 25 years, as it applies to the creation of a different kind of potion—whisky.
I began studying the science in earnest, apprenticing at a distillery in Scotland. I occasionally intern elsewhere but still see each of my mentors as wizards of the most magical sort. Although, it’s agreed that science explains most of the “magic” away, there are elements that remain thankfully, and artfully, not fully revealed.
Fee and I struggle with similar difficulties: I walk a line between my work writing fantasy, and my tenuous pupilage in engineering and science. I create two things—one needing only a strong believability factor, and the other, a step by step proof of accomplishment, impervious to doubt.
I resist the undisputable explanations of science because it strips away the desperate need for magic I maintain. But one loses credibility with others if one blindly and indulgently replaces fiction for fact.
Fee’s conflicts are mirrored but flipped. In her world, sorcery is legitimate and deadly if discovered. Dismissing her knack with nature—allowing life to flourish within her hand—or refuting her ability to tap into the magnetic essence of life, completes our shared disharmonious circle. But in her case, Fee’s conviction in her self-created deception tears away at the fabric of credibility to trust oneself.
Q: Which authors do you particularly admire?
A: My main source of inspiration are people wholly unrelated to the publishing world of YA books. I am steeped in the writings and thought process of philosophers, mystics, social scientists, and economists. I love economists.
Authors like Seth Godin, Brené Brown, Pema Chodron, Angela Duckworth, Shankar Vedantam, and Stephen Dubner.
These people help me see the world in its most promising and starkly truthful ways. It’s from here that my stories spring forth. How humans survive and thrive within our wishfully ideal ways and also the truest circumstances of today’s challenges.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb