Anne: Hello, Karen! Thank you for stopping by to chat about your novel Eden’s Everdark, which came out a few months ago. It’s such a unique story! Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the setup?
Karen: Thanks for having me! I like to pitch Eden’s Everdark as a Southern Gothic fantasy that’s about a girl trapped in a spirit world of eternal night who must fight a terrifying witch to make it back into the world of the living.
Anne: Great. It’s full of lines like “wide oaks dripped with Spanish moss” and “the wind moved through the island trees like a lazy sigh,” plus details about Eden’s ancestors purchasing land after freedom came. These lines and details made the setting so real that I wanted to visit, so I looked up Safina Island… only to find that it’s fictional! Did you base the setting on a real place?
Karen: Safina Island is inspired by the very real Georgia sea islands. Growing up, I visited St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and others known as the “Golden Isles.” After college, I lived in Brunswick for a brief time and became captivated by Sapelo Island, which is one of the few islands without a bridge and steeped in deep history. A lot of the landmarks on Sapelo Island have similarities in Eden’s Everdark, including the mansion and village hammocks. Sapelo Island is a beautiful and fascinating place, and my main muse in creating the novel’s world.
Anne: I could really feel that world, and I liked the way you signaled that the story would depart from the “real” world. Early-on, Eden learns that the “crossroads is where you can speak with the dead and god-spirits” and black cats “can travel between worlds.” Good stuff. Tell us a bit about your process in creating Everdark, the spirit-world.
Karen: When I started writing this novel, I knew I wanted to create two worlds: the “real life” world of Safina Island and the “dark mirror” world of Everdark. I wanted readers to see the similarities and the differences between them. Creating the island folklore was also a great experience because I heard a lot of these stories as a child and some of those details made their way into the island’s mythology. I knew the god-spirits were the ones who could travel between worlds, and the Gardener women and descendants like Eden could travel too. I also did a lot of research on the Georgia sea islands and their landmarks, which proved very helpful when creating the Renata Mansion, one of the major Everdark settings. I was very meticulous about the details because I wanted readers to feel like Everdark was a real place—as real as Safina Island but much darker and more dangerous.
Anne: You certainly succeeded in making it seem real! Also, you wove in some beautiful themes. Throughout the story, in addition to feeling Eden’s grief, I felt a sense of hope in lines like, “Nothing ever dies… It just changes.” Toward the end, Eden thinks about the “memories, the love, and even the sadness [that] connected her to [her] lineage… Eden felt the presence of… all the [ancestors] she had never met, whose names she would never know.” I love that! When you began this story, did you know you’d include these themes, or did they emerge during your writing process?
Karen: I wish I could say I knew these would be the themes when I first started writing! But I think as writers, the themes always tend to find us. I can say the title came to me very early because I wanted Everdark to be the physical manifestation of Eden’s grief. In many ways, I believe Eden was able to see and enter the spirit world because as it states in the novel, “At times, Eden’s grief felt like a shroud of eternal night…” I felt very strongly that readers understand grief is something that never goes away and that’s okay. But I also wanted to convey that nothing truly dies—it just changes. The person you love always stays with you in your heart and in your memory. That’s a theme I found coming to the surface as I continued to write. In Black Southern culture, families are sacred since we have limited knowledge of our lineages because of enslavement. So in many ways, Eden is also connected to relatives she may not know by name, but she can still feel their presence.
Anne: Thank you for sharing that. It’s very powerful… and empowering.
Now, Eden’s dad happens to be a biology professor, and I laughed out loud when a character said, “he ain’t a real doctor. He just one of them learned ones.” My roots are Southern and your characters’ colloquialisms (such as “y’all two” and “all y’all”) warmed my heart. Are any of your characters based on real people?
Karen: I’m glad you liked reading the Southern dialect and colloquialisms because I loved writing them. These were the voices I heard growing up and they still feel like home to me. Most of my characters have snippets of real people included in their personality, especially the voices of my grandmothers and great-aunts. Most of the elders in my family tolerated me as a child because I followed them around and begged them to tell me more of their stories and tall tales. I’m glad I spent that time with them because they gave me so many gems when it comes to character and story development.
Anne: How long did it take you to write Eden’s Everdark? And what are you working on now?
Karen: I began my research for Eden’s Everdark in 2018 after I turned in my final edits for my debut novel Just South of Home. After I launched that book into the world, I wrote the first draft of Eden’s story in July 2019, continued writing during the pandemic, and finished in September 2020. I started working with my editor in January 2021.
I’m currently working on another middle-grade novel coming out in 2024. A contemporary fantasy centering on girl friendships, secret clubs, and a haunted Victorian house.
Anne: Oooh, I’m intrigued!
To conclude, would you please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work?
Karen: You can always find out about my books and events at my website www.karen-strong.com and I’m also on Instagram and Twitter @KarenMusings.
Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village. I’ve loved chatting with you about this immensely creative and heartfelt story!
Karen Strong is the author of the critically acclaimed middle grade novels Just South of Home, which was selected for several Best of Year lists including Kirkus Reviews Best Books and Eden’s Everdark, a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABA Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is the editor of the young adult anthology Cool. Awkward. Black. and has also written short fiction for Star Wars including From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back and Stories of Jedi and Sith. Her speculative fiction appears in the award-winning anthology A Phoenix First Must Burn. An avid lover of strong coffee, yellow flowers, and night skies, you can find her online at karen-strong.com.
Anne (A.B.) Westrick is the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about Anne at the MG Book Village “About” page.