Kathie: Hi Diane! It’s such a pleasure to have you at MG Book Village today for the cover reveal of your upcoming book, Secret of the Shadow Beasts. I’m so happy to be part of your street team for its launch as I’m a huge fan of your writing. Can you tell our readers a bit about it?
Diane: Thanks so much for having me, Kathie! (And I’m so thrilled that you’re on my street team.)
So here’s the formal description:
For fans of Dragon Pearl and the Lockwood & Co. series comes a swift-moving contemporary fantasy about a young girl tasked with destroying deadly shadow creatures.
In Brannland, terrifying beasts called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets, so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult—and lately, with each day that passes, their population seems to double. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and begin training at a retrofitted castle called Noye’s Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora’s father refused to let her go. Now, years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is 12, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. That’s when Nora decides it’s time to join the battle. Once she arrives at Noye’s Hill, though, she and her new friends are left with more questions than answers: Where are the Umbrae coming from? Could the government be covering up the true reason their population has whirled out of control? And was Nora’s father, the peaceful, big-hearted man who refused to let Nora fight, in on the treacherous secret?
Kathie: This story sounds very different your previous books, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and its sequel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. What aspect of the story came to you first? Was it a character, plot, or setting that compelled you to write it?
Diane: Yes, it’s quite different in many ways, though readers will find some similarities. But also, my two previous books were the backdrop to much of my early thinking about this story. It was between edits of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter that I firstbegan mulling over the idea of deadly monsters that came out at night to destroy humankind with only kids able stop them. But I wasn’t sure what to do with that concept. Around the same time, I was also pondering stories about a rural kid who lived on a sheep farm (based on a farm I stayed at in the Scottish Borders), but again wasn’t sure where to put her. Between the edits of my second book, I sketched out a few stories around a different character, a girl with unseen talent who isn’t sure of herself. And then one day, the three aspects combined, and the girl on the sheep farm and the girl with unseen talent turned into Nora, my main character. So I had her and the basic premise all at once.
Kathie: What’s something interesting you learned during the research process that you can share with us?
Diane: There’s a crucial video game element in this book and I knew I needed to get my details right. I game a bit, but I’m not an expert like Nora, so I turned to an expert I know well: my 14-year-old son. He’s an avid reader too, so he understood exactly the kind of help I needed in conveying Nora’s gaming in a work of fiction. He invented and designed Warriors of the Frozen Bog, the game that Nora and her best friend Wilfred play (a game that I would absolutely love to play). Thanks to his detailed description of all its parts (lore, geography, classes, progression system, equipment, mobs, and quests), I could confidently write about it. One gaming chapter even includes Nora’s current build (which my son put together for her). Non-gamers will, I hope, find it interesting, while gamers will totally understand how OP (overpowered) it is!
Kathie: Can you tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what your thoughts were when you first saw it?
Diane: My cover art is by Vivienne To, whose work has graced the covers of many incredible middle grade fantasies (including quite a few Rick Riordan Presents titles). I felt very lucky when I heard she’d agreed to do this—and even more lucky when I saw an early sketch. Nora’s face was exactly what you see on the final cover, just as I’d envisioned her. When I saw the final cover art, I was thrilled. It fits the feel of the book perfectly, and I think it’s gorgeous.
Kathie: OK, let’s show everyone what it looks like!
Kathie: I absolutely love it! Vivienne is one of my favorite MG illustrators as her covers are so colorful, and she brings life and personality to characters. Is there a certain element that you felt was important to have represented in the cover image?
Diane: I wanted to have Nora and her Order, the group with whom she goes out to fight the Umbrae, in action—and, if possible, hints of their characters in their faces. Vivienne did a magnificent job with that—for one, Nora’s determination but also that flicker of fear and uncertainty in her face. Everyone else looks confident and ready to battle. Nora, not so much. I was also hoping we could picture the Umbrae, and I love how they’re looming above the kids: terrifying but also pretty fascinating!
Kathie: What would you like to hear a young reader say after they finished reading this story?
Diane: First, I want young readers to feel that they can escape in this book when times are tough. Fiction that takes you completely away from your world is so important, especially now. But I also want them to be able to think about the issues under the surface—such as being yourself and trying hard even if you don’t fit in, and the questionable nature of history—when they feel like going deeper. And I hope young readers will find something of themselves in the characters. I’ve depicted many things I’ve seen, heard, or experienced—some things very challenging—in a world that wholly centers and supports these kids. I hope my readers feel seen and less alone, as well as inspired, and maybe a bit brave when facing the challenges of their own lives.
Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
Diane: The best place to find me is my website, www.dianemagras.com. You can also find me on Twitter, where I share my thoughts about a lot of things, and Instagram, where I seem to post a lot of pictures of my cat!
Kathie: Thank you so much for letting us be part of the cover reveal. I can’t wait to read it!
Diane: You are so welcome! I can’t wait to share it with you too. And thank you so much, Kathie, and MG Book Village, for all your enthusiasm and support!
- SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS will be published on June 14, 2022, by Dial Books for Young Readers
Diane Magras, award-winning author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, as well as its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine, surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. An unabashed fan of libraries (where she wrote her first novel as a teenager), history from all voices, and the perfect cup of tea, Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son.