Mary, Everything The Flapper Covenant Series Book One by Cassandra Yorke - Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, LGBTQ+ Time Travel, Time Travel Romance - A gripping tale of best friends and romance, sorcery and survival, at the dawn of the Roaring 20s.
An Interview with Author, Cassandra Yorke
Welcome to JB’s Bookworms with Brandy Mulder, Please tell us about your newest book.
Mary, Everything is about surviving when the world itself wants you dead. It’s about too much regret too early in life, it’s about long odds and wishing on stars and what happens when your deepest dreams come true. It’s about second chances and fighting with everything you have to keep hold of what should have always been yours. It’s about patriarchy and male privilege. It’s about the bonds of love and friendship between young women and what we can accomplish together when everything is on the line. It’s about happily ever after, about belonging when you’ve never belonged anywhere in your life. It’s about “meant to be”.
You might also say it’s about time travel, or about lesbian flappers in a secluded midwestern college town in the early 1920s. Or haunted yearbooks or haunted people or being displaced in time or love triangles. Or even sorcery in the 1920s or evil forests nobody ever comes back from.
I didn’t want to just repeat the text on the back of the book, because you’ve probably already read that. But to sum up - Courtney is a Millennial college undergrad in the early 2000s, her headphones full of punk rock and indie and college emo, lonely out of her mind and consumed with regret. At her drowsy job at the college Archives, she discovers yearbooks from the 1920s that shouldn’t be as familiar as they are, that shouldn’t break her heart with nostalgia for times she never experienced.
But the yearbooks don’t just make her sad - they start turning her reality upside down. Out on the quad, she meets a girl that looks like she walked out of one of those black and white photos. After that, things get weirder and weirder. And deadlier. Soon Courtney is running for her life while being forced to face old memories of a girl she fell in love with…
Writing isn’t easy. What was the most difficult thing you dealt with when writing Mary, Everything?
Oh, god. Everything about this novel was hard. First it was dealing with my previously undiagnosed ADHD and getting medicated for that so I could, you know, think. Then came the novel itself. I had all the basic ideas from my own weird experiences in my college archives (described elsewhere) but I had to turn them into a story. That was breathtakingly difficult and that’s what took most of the five years I spent writing Mary.
Tell us a little bit about your writing career.
I wish there was more to tell. I’ve been writing since third grade but I don’t really have much to show for it. I kept a blog in college, but after I left campus I hit a really rough patch in life; I struggled for years with homelessness and just generally trying to survive. When I finally got my head above water, I found that it was a lot harder to open up and be honest in my writing. I couldn’t blog about my life anymore; I’d become cagey and guarded. My partner and I bonded over sci-fi and created this huge world together, but what I didn’t realize is that I was struggling with a number of mental illnesses (ADHD, severe depression) that kept me from finishing much of anything. I wrote a couple of think pieces for socialist mags like The Hampton Institute and got myself featured in a local LGBT magazine. But I was spinning my wheels. I was haunted. That’s when I came back to Mary, Everything and swore to finish it.
So in that sense, Mary isn’t just my debut novel. I had to transform myself and reach a whole new level of writing talent to realize it, and I had to address so many inner obstacles in order to finish writing it. I managed to get most of my issues diagnosed, I got treatment for my ADHD and level of depression, and I can actually think and function now. My reading tastes have also transformed completely; I can’t just sit down and enjoy a pulp fantasy novel after falling in love with The Great Gatsby. All this came about from trying to become the author that could finish this particular novel - one I always knew would be demanding and one I wasn’t a good enough writer to attempt just a few years ago.
They say hindsight is 20/20. If you could give advice to the writer you were the first time you sat down to write, what would it be?
That authorship is a paradox. People know when you’re faking it. You can’t tell a great story without channeling all your truth and hurt into it, but then when you do, people get overwhelmed by the raw emotion and don’t want to read your stuff anymore and they go back to beach books. That authorship requires life lessons but it’s a life lesson itself, too - that if you give most readers the choice between pure truth and a plastic lie, they’ll take the lie. People don’t like too much honesty.
Everyone says to write for yourself, but there’s more to it than that - that if you’re writing for catharsis, keep channeling your truth. You can’t heal your wounds with a kiss and a pat - you have to acknowledge the wound for exactly what it is and cut out the infection before you bandage it.
People are fake. They go apeshit for movies and books with the biggest marketing budget and the cutest lies, but those aren’t the movies and books that get remembered. Look at the Oscars - in five years, nobody remembers those movies. It’s the movies that get snubbed that endure.
If you’re brutally honest, people might not be lining up to read your stuff and saying “aw, cute.”
But those that do read won’t forget the experience.
So keep being honest.
What was your most difficult scene to write?
There was one especially difficult moment I had a month or two before publication. A lot of your most important scenes emerge in that crunch period running up to the big day, and this one was no exception. The scene in the beginning where Courtney is talking about her abusive narcissist dad, though - that was rough. There wasn’t a single word in this novel that was just me being like “hey, let’s make this happen here, that would be cool”. I did my best to make sure every word was true, scraped out of my heart and onto the page. So writing that scene meant going back and reliving more of my childhood than I’d ever care to remember, all at once, so I could distill its essence into a kind of one-scene concentrate. It sucked. I remember staying up late into the night, stumbling through the scene in this sort of numb autopilot mode, amazed and wondering whose fingers were doing the typing.
It’s kind of a cold comfort that I was apparently successful in capturing my own trauma and bitterness; that scene makes a lot of people put the book down without reading another word. All I can say is that while that is a really cruel scene, once you get past it, the story continues. And it does have a happy ending.
Are themes a big part of your stories, or not so much?
Yeah, so...I think I have a few going on. Like I said before, friendship and love between young women, but also a ton of others: losing the only home you’ve ever known, finding a new home, regret and second chances, wishes coming true, and what family really means. Those are all themes I’ve tried to explore here. And to answer your question more directly, themes are a big part of what I write, yeah. The reader will only get out of the novel what I put into it, so if I want the reader to remember what I’ve written and to take something from it, I can’t just BS them. Some writers can simply tell a story, any old story, and a lot of readers prefer that, I think. But I don’t trust myself as a writer to be able to simply tell a story. I have to channel everything real in me and write the story with that. There’s that famous Hemingway quote, something like, “Writing is easy. All you need to do is sit down at your typewriter and bleed.” I took this completely to heart with Mary. The problem is that it makes for a really intense story, and that kind of intensity is more than a lot of readers are willing to commit to.
What are you working on now?
The sequel to Mary, Everything, which doesn’t have a firm title yet. To be honest, I’m still trying to decide exactly what I want to talk about in Book Two. I think I’ll write a lot better when I’ve finished renovating my study, though - my wife and I just moved into a house a couple months ago. It was built in 1900 and has a lot of charm and history, and I’ve been working on stripping off all the cheap ugly white paint and trying to bring that Edwardian charm back out. I’ve also never had my own writers’ study before, and I think having a whole (historic) room to myself is going to help a lot with developing the sequel.
Is there a release date planned?
Sadly, not yet. I don’t even have a rough projection on when I might be done. I don’t want to rush it - I want every word to come to me naturally with its own emotional resonance, so I might be a little while yet. But to everyone waiting on the sequel, I promise that this book will absolutely be worth the wait (and probably fairly thick!).
Who is your favorite character from your own stories, and why?
Oo, that’s a tough one. Right now I’m torn between Courtney and Sadie, both from Mary, Everything. They’re both badasses that are only gonna get more badass as the series progresses. They can handle themselves in a fight, but the only reason they fight at all is for each other and for those they love. Underneath all their lethal abilities, they’re both so sweet and loving, and they’ve both dealt with the most unspeakably horrible things, which has made them genuine and forthright and unpretentious.
Also, Courtney has a knack for surprising me (like, constantly). The girls all have something of a barbed wit but Courtney’s is the sharpest and funniest. She’s always coming out of nowhere with these one-liners and nasty little remarks that have me crying with laughter, and of course she delivers them all with this dry, inconvenienced expression that makes her an absolute delight to write.
Most writers were readers as children. What was your favorite book in grade school?
Grade school? Ouch. I don’t really remember the names of too many books I read in grade school, though I do remember one book I really enjoyed. It was about this kid who lived in this old castle that he explored at night, and he ended up finding a secret passage in the grandfather clock and it led him down and out of the castle, into this underground tunnel and far away to this goblin city. You could feel how deeply inspired it was; it was such a lovely story. But back then I mostly played NES and SNES - that was kind of my creative foundation. The earliest book I can remember clearly was in ninth grade - the Dragonlance book Dragons of Autumn Twilight. That wasn’t long after the beginning of my Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms phase, and those 2nd Edition D&D modules left a lifelong mark on my creative identity.
What are your plans for future projects?
Right now I just want to get my study renovated so I can get to work in earnest on Book Two of the Flapper Covenant. After that, I’m probably going to stay with the Flapper Covenant for a while - the girls have a lot left to do, and a lot will be riding on whether they can accomplish some truly mind-boggling things and survive. But in the future, I have a steampunk fantasy series and a sci-fi series that have been waiting years to be told, and I think it might be fun to return to those.
Is there anything you would like to add before we finish?
A famous publisher and huge marketing budget isn’t what makes a great book.
I wish I could end my interview on a catchier note, or a more cheerful one, but…
If it entertains you, it’s a good book. But to be a great novel, it has to change you on a fundamental level. Be fearless - in reading and in writing. And be honest, always.
Good luck with Mary, Everything, and thank you for being with us today.
Thanks for having me!
ExcerptThe crosswalk is the busiest place in town any time of the year, and even if Braddock has a fraction of the people in the summer, it’s still bustling. As I’m coming up, I spot a girl approaching from my left. She’s ghostly pale like me, with auburn hair cut in a short bob around her soft jawline. The most striking thing about her is her narrow, almond-shaped eyes. I’ve always thought chicks with eyes like that are really cute. They catch mine as I approach, and there’s a kind of click; two people in a crowd with matching energy. She greets me with a narrow, witty smile. I return hers in my usual unintentional way, soft and genuine and a little bit sad-looking without ever meaning to seem that way. And we stand there for a minute, waiting for the traffic to clear.
“Say, is it gonna be dry like this all week?” she asks.
“Um…” I wish I had a better answer ready. “I think so? I haven’t really checked the weather.”
“Why, I sure hope it is.” She stares back across the street at the shade of College Green. “Anything I hate is rain in the summer.”
Roll my eyes in agreement. “Ugh, totally.”
I sneak a look at her. She’s wearing a brown bell-shaped hat, the kind that were popular in the 1920s. She’s wearing a 20s style dress, too: green, knee-length, with a round-cut neckline and loose cap sleeves. She’s even wearing old-fashioned brown stockings and brown heels. It catches my eye and I stare for a second or two; it’s a hot day for stockings, especially the old-fashioned silk kind like that. And her shoes are really retro, like old church grandma shoes. She must shop at that vintage thrift store all the way up at the far end of Court Street; it’s the only place around here where you could get clothes like that, unless she goes thrifting in Columbus.
She’s standing here next to me, watching the street, not self-conscious at all. Like she wears stuff like that every day without even thinking about it.
Then she looks at me, glances away, looks at me again a little longer. Her eyes linger on my top and on my legs, and she looks away again, blushing. I’ve always been a little bit empathic and I can feel curiosity in her glance. And…attraction?
Nah, that can’t be right - girls are never into me. Maybe I look too preppy, I don’t know. I’m a D&D nerd, raised on video games from the age of five, but because I wear an Abercrombie hoodie or Hollister shorts or flat iron my hair, people assign me a whole package of expectations - Courtney is a bitch, Courtney’s stuck-up, Courtney’s a backstabbing gossip, Courtney’s rich. Courtney is heterosexual...? Look, I’ll be honest with you, I’m gonna have a hard time living up to all of that. Maybe not the bitch thing - because yeah, I’m probably a bitch - but the rest of it?
Sorry, no can do.
The traffic finally stops from the other direction. I give her one last smile - which she returns warmly - and step onto the street. A few quick steps take me to the other sidewalk. I stop and look at my slender Fossil watch, making a pretense to turn in her direction again for one last look. She’s awfully cute, and I love her chic vintage style. I wonder if she’d think I was creepy if-
There’s nobody there. I glance around to see if she took off in another direction. Nothing. There are plenty of people around, walking dogs, wearing flip-flops, riding bikes. But no girls with vintage clothes.
She’s gone. It’s like she was never there.
But she totally was there! I talked to her!
Unless I’m finally losing it?
I rub an eye with the heel of my hand, not really caring that I just stamped dry mascara on my skin. Maybe I need to get out more. Maybe I need friends. I stand on the busy sidewalk for a moment, completely disoriented, before remembering that I was looking for a place to sit down and eat my salad. But even as I make my way onto College Green and up toward the Civil War statue, looking for a place to sit, I can’t get that girl out of my head. Not just because she was cute. Something about her, that weird click when we saw each other.
Eh, maybe I’ll see her again. I shove a straw through the lid of my drink. Nobody just vanishes.
I wish you could just disappear. Though I guess if you wanted to disappear, this would be the place to do it. Outside the city limits, the nights are dark and old, and people who vanish are never seen again.
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