Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on the Escapist Book Tours virtual book tour for Mariah Norris’ New Adult Fantasy novel Hands Like Secrets! Today, I am excited to kick off the tour by sharing an interview with the author!
You can find our Q&A below, along with all of the info about the book, the author, links to purchase a copy of Hands Like Secrets for yourself, as well as an opportunity to win either an ebook or paperback copy! Also, be sure to take a look at the schedule at the bottom of the post and follow along to see the stops from our other awesome hosts!
Hands Like Secrets by Mariah Norris
Series: The Seven Strands
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Upper YA to Adult
Published: May 13, 2022
Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Saeli has always been different: she is autistic, in a world that doesn’t have a word for people like her.
She attends the exclusive institute of Aschamon, learning to harness her inner qi and preparing to join the battle between her people and their enemies, the Crimson Cowls. But despite her years of work, her teachers still refuse to elevate her to Silver Mantle status and dedicate her to their god’s service.
When notorious Crimson Cowl Rafel Kailar breaks into her school, it is either cruel irony…or fate…that Saeli is there to confront him.
But Rafel is nothing like the Cowls she’s been taught to hate. He draws her in with his charm and reveals his ultimate ambition: to overthrow the gods of Verre and end a hundred years of war. And he needs Saeli’s help.
As she is pulled deeper into Rafel’s schemes, Saeli fears she’ll be forced to choose whose side she’s truly on: her people, who have never understood her…or Rafel, who’d gladly turn her world upside-down to kill the gods.Hands Like Secrets is the first installment of The Seven Strands, a new adult epic fantasy series that follows a young autistic woman who joins an assassin on a hunt across worlds for a god-killing immortal. Along the way, she’ll have to come to terms with love, loss, betrayal, and the shifting nature of good and evil itself.
Oh No, He’s Hot • Villain Has a Point • Source(s): Dude, Trust Me
Publisher Direct: https://shadowsparkpub.com/mariah-norris
Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Mariah Norris is my pen name…it helps me to keep a little distance between my creative persona and my personal life. I’m 38 years old, have been married to a wonderful man for 16 of those years, and I’m a mom to a type 1 diabetic son. I love cats—we have three—and I love listening to symphonic metal music. (The cats do not.)
I’m fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom, which in a more organized person might lead to ridiculous amounts of writing time. Alas, I am not an organized person.
I want to start things off by asking: what is a great book that you’ve read recently and why should we give it a go?
I recently finished Witchmark by C. L. Polk, which kept me up way too late for several nights in a row. If you have a weakness for intricate magic systems, a bit of mystery, and sweet, slow-burn gay romance, that book will hit the sweet spot.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?
I’ve actually been an artist longer than I’ve been a writer. I work with graphite pencils, colored pencils, pen and ink, occasionally paints, and I once aspired to be a muralist (got to paint some cool stuff but it’s a lot of work). Nowadays my favorite medium is Copic markers…they give the same brilliant color washes and blending as watercolor, but with so much more control. I do a lot of fan art, mostly around Nightwish, Thomas Sanders, and a little bit of Doctor Who. Most of my favorite pieces are up on my website: mariahnorris.com
Other hobbies: I like working with essential oils and making my own incense, salves, wax melts, and lip balms. I’d like to properly get into candle-making and soapmaking. I enjoy baking sweet things. Sometimes I still make friendship bracelets. Sometimes I garden…tomatoes, green beans, and herbs love me, but unfortunately, the Florida bugs tend to love my other vegetables more than I do. I’m still irked that I have yet to successfully grow a zucchini.
I used to do martial arts; tai chi, kung fu, and I have a second-degree black belt in Taekwon-do (which I earned while two months pregnant). I also used to belly dance. Alas, Covid and throwing my back out twice have kept me from picking either of these up again.
I’ve taught myself some Finnish and a little Polish (although I’m nowhere near fluent in either). I went through a wand-making phase. I have a tabletop RPG game concept that’s been sitting on my computer for a decade that I’ll tinker with when I’m bored. Uh, does building magic systems based around mundane things count as a hobby? Ask me about book-binding magic sometime 😉
There might be a reason I’ve only written 5 complete novels in the space of 15 years…
Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?
All through high school, I played an online text-based RPG game called Achaea with several other friends. The main character I played was named Ravana (I did NOT know at the time this was the name of a Hindu demon king, whoops). For those of you who roleplay, you know how caught up you can get in your character’s life…to the point where it feels like you’ve lived that life, too. More and more, I found myself wanting to write about all the adventures she’d had.
Of course, I couldn’t write about her actual game adventures without violating someone else’s copyright, so I had to build an original setting around her. I tinkered with this all through college, adding other characters I’d played and plot elements and history until I had something that was starting to resemble The Wheel of Time in terms of scale. That was when I stepped back and realized I did not have the writing skill needed to do this sprawling epic justice. So, I put it aside and started writing other things.
I wrote down a lot of dreams, built a lot of magic systems, and made a folder with these and other random words and ideas. I then would take two or three of these snippets (the more unrelated, the better) and stitch them together until I had a cohesive story. I still have nearly 20 of these “ready to go” novel outlines sitting on my computer, awaiting their turn.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
Snarky Mariah would say “I don’t.” Snarky Mariah needs sleep 🙂
I get more done and have a slightly cleaner house than I did a decade ago, but good time management has never come easily to me. I do use my calendar app and have blocks of time set aside for writing, but being the one who’s home during the day (and thus able to jump in the car and do things) and the primary health emergency contact for a diabetic child means interruptions are pretty frequent.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
Hands Like Secrets was the first book I ever finished, but it’s arguably the fifth or sixth book I’ve written. It went through eight “tear it down and reconstruct” drafts over the space of twelve years as I learned how to write better characters, more cohesive plots, better representation, etc. I wrote four other unrelated novels in between all those rewrites.
I think the most important thing this book taught me was that I could, in fact, write a story from beginning to end…which sounds like a small thing, but it gave me the confidence to tackle all the other writing projects I’ve done and want to do in the future.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
Music is part of my writing process. Once I’ve done the initial “brain dump” where I write down all the characters, plotlines, magic, and themes I have so far, I’ll go through my music library, start grabbing songs that feel like they fit the story, and throw them in a playlist. Usually, I’ll already have some music in mind, but often I’ll find songs that suggest character insights, relationships, and moments I hadn’t thought of. I’ll listen when I’m doing chores or driving and imagine the scene playing out, and I’m not above changing small details in a scene to better fit the song I’ve attached to it.
When I’m actually trying to generate words, however, I can’t have other words competing for my attention. My writing music is all Two Steps from Hell and other instrumental stuff. I love that so many of the metal bands I like release instrumental versions of their tracks; those are awesome for fight scenes.
If I’m working on an extremely difficult scene, I do need silence.
What made you want to write in fantasy? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I grew up reading fantasy. My dad’s bookshelves were full of Anne McCaffrey, Tolkien, David Eddings, Orson Scott Card, Marian Zimmer Bradley (the latter three have unfortunately turned out to be awful people, which sucks but oh well). Magic and dragons are just where I feel at home.
I used to tell myself I would write in whatever genre a particular story demanded, but I once had these two characters with a tragic relationship dynamic in a story that wanted to be this gritty contemporary romance…and I could not get anywhere with it. I loved the characters but discovered I couldn’t do that story justice. However, once I made one character a werewolf and the other a vampire, suddenly it became a story I was excited to write again. Apparently, I need that supernatural element and a magic system to keep my writer brain engaged.
I’ll read that gritty contemporary romance if someone else wants to write it, though.
What is one thing that you love about the current state of SFF and what is one thing that you wish you saw more of?
Classic SFF was not big on diversity, and I’m glad that’s shifted in the last decade or so. Give me all the interesting people!
If we’re including all SFF here…I want more TV shows that have someone other than a straight white dude as the main protagonist. Avatar and Dragon Prince are fantastic but still suffer from this. Let one of the sidekick friends be the central character. More Owl House, please. 🙂
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
I’m only just now coming out of a reading funk…I read nothing but fanfiction for all of 2020 and 2021. So, I don’t feel like I really have a current favorite.
My literary influences are too many to list, but the biggest direct influences on my writing itself are probably Brandon Sanderson and Maggie Stiefvater. Sanderson’s worldbuilding and magic system philosophy still form the backbone of how I build my plots. Stiefvater’s prose has a rhythm and an aesthetic that I adore and try to emulate, and her author personality is just delightful. (She’s also the only other author/artist I’m familiar with.)
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
Is it bad that I don’t know? Ask me again after I’ve read a couple reviews of my book XD
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Definitely a plotter. I have character and setting sheets. I write two outlines: the first is an overview (I use a combination of the seven point and scene-sequel story structures), and the second is a scene-by-scene summary of everything that’s going to happen. I’ve found I’ll write myself into corners and burn out on a story if I don’t exhaustively plan the route ahead of time.
Honestly, I used to hate writing first drafts. Figuring out the order of things is hard, choosing words to go on the page is hard, and my writing brain does not like to do those things simultaneously. My long outlining process separates them. I use the scene-by-scene outline to plot without worrying about words, so that when I write the first draft, I can worry about words without having to think about the order of things.
However, even though I’ll have a rough idea of how I want a conversation or character interaction to proceed, when I’m writing that first draft, sometimes the characters will do unexpected things that feel more authentic than anything I had planned. When that happens, I change the outline to suit them. Plotter or not, sometimes they just know better than I do.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
I like to give my main characters a particular experience I’ve had instead of a general trait of mine. That way, they feel authentic when they talk or think about it, and sometimes the writing helps me work through the experience myself.
For example, I used to know a guy kind of like Rafel, and Saeli’s complicated feelings mirror my own during that time in my life. Writing her was very cathartic the first time through.
For those who haven’t read Hands Like Secrets, give us the elevator pitch.
Saeli has always been different; she is autistic in a world without a word for people like her. When she confronts the notorious assassin Rafel as he’s about to kill her High Priestess, she’ll have to choose between everything she’s ever worked for…or helping her people’s sworn enemy end a hundred years of war.
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
Cerebral. Magical. Immersive.
Were there any specific challenges with writing Hands Like Secrets? Or, did you find anything to be easier?
Saeli’s autism was a challenge because although I have a good imagination and did a whole lot of research, I’m not autistic. Interestingly enough, neither was Saeli until the eighth and final “tear it down and reconstruct” draft. I was doing research for an autistic character in another story, and when I came back to Hands Like Secrets, I realized that Saeli, as I had already written her, was checking a lot of those same boxes.
So, I had a choice: either I rewrite her completely, or I lean into what I’d unconsciously done. I chose the latter because her autistic traits were what I needed to tell the story the way I wanted. I needed her to notice certain details, to think about magic in a particular way, to react to Rafel with the right amount of emotional turmoil and mixed loyalty and clashing morality. It felt right for her character in a way that’s hard to explain.
I was nervous about giving my main protagonist a neurodivergent trait I don’t share—especially one that often gets portrayed so insensitively—but I thought if I wrote Saeli as autistic on purpose and did the research, I would be less likely to stumble into stereotypes.
I feel like I did the best job I could, and I hope any people on the spectrum who pick up my book get to see a bit of themselves in Saeli.
They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Hands Like Secrets?
When I first started querying and looking to be traditionally published, one of the saddest things my artist self learned was that not only would I never get to do my own covers, but I probably wouldn’t have any say in the process at all. So, getting to design and create the cover art for Hands Like Secrets was a dream come true.
I knew I wanted Rafel reaching out (or to have his hand prominently placed) on the cover of Book 1, because he’s the inciting incident, and what that hand means to Saeli is symbolically important. What ended up working for me is an art style called trash polka (color splotches, bold lines, limited color palette). Hands Like Secrets’ cover was the first time I’d ever tried colored pencil on black paper…the contrast is so nice.
I went with colored pencils instead of markers because—and this might sound weird—I’ve always had a hard time making art with my own characters. (I guess I’d rather write about them?) Sometimes changing up the medium helps.
I ended up with something more analog and painterly than the crisp, hyper-real digital art that’s popular for fantasy covers right now, but I don’t think I’m a crisp, hyper-real sort of person…and that’s okay J
What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?
Book 2 in The Seven Strands series will be out—barring any surprises—next May, so look for that. I’m also currently working on a passion project that I plan to try and get traditionally published. (I definitely want to stay in the indie space, but I’d also like to see things from the other side, as it were)
I have a couple more series ideas and plenty of standalones, so I won’t lack for projects after all five Seven Strands books are finished.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
No matter what you’re doing, don’t compare yourself to other people. Someone will always be ahead of you, and someone will always have the thing you wish you had. Your journey is going to look different from theirs and that’s okay. Be kind and help the ones behind you. Cats are our lords and masters and must be
worshipped adored. Chocolate is absolutely a food group.
About the Author
I am a writer and artist living in Largo, FL, where I live with my husband, son, and our three cats. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me drawing portraits and fantasy art, dabbling in anything from gardening to candle making, or spending far too much time on Twitter.
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