Today we're excited to chat with Alys Arden, author of The Romeo Catchers.
Read on for more about Alys, her novel, an excerpt, plus a giveaway!
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
New Orleans. New Orleans is imagination running amuck, not just because of carnival costumes, or sultry jazz, or open-container law, because it’s inescapable in the air. The Casquette Girls Series is about magic, and mayhem, and murder and myths. It’s about coping with the real and the unreal and everything in between. It’s about being a hero, or not. It’s about being sixteen. It’s about love and loss.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
This answer is part avoidance and part truth: I love writing the side characters in this series because, to me, it’s them—the omelet makers, tarot card readers, Bourbon street preachers—who make New Orleans come alive. So I love writing Blanche, and Ren, and Ritha Borges and all of the other French Quarter residents. They make the book come alive.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
The historical plotline in TRC has some of my favorite scenes—never in my life did I think I’d have a reason to know so much about seventeenth-century medicine, particularly medical cadavers!
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Don’t be so hard on yourself when you’re writing the first draft. I think we are conditioned to get things perfects on the first go-round, which creates a massive amount of anxiety writing. Enjoy the process. Trust the process.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
EVERYTHING! If I had to pick, I love that the original witch trio is on the cover. Friendships are key in this book. I also love that it feels so authentically New Orleans.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2016?
THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. I loved everything about it—the dreamy Irish setting, the whimsical hauntings, the nebulous magical realism.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
Hands down, the hardest scenes to write were Isaac’s work scenes. The research process was harrowing—finding a balance between authenticity and not drudging up too much that people who lived through Hurricane Katrina (among other storms) would rather forget. I did interviews with first responders, military, medics, archivists. A part of me was glad that I then got to distil everything through the lens of an eighteen-year-old New Yorker boy; it made it a little easier to take myself out of it.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Both have their positives and negatives, but if I had to pick I’d say I prefer revising, which is odd because I’ve never cried drafting, and I’ve definitely cried revising. I feel the most growth revising, seeing both the changes on the page to the story and the change in myself as a writer. No pain, no gain, eh?
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I’ve been told by friends that my minimal required amount of sleep is superhuman.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I’m currently working on the third book in The Casquette Girls Series, in which Adele and Company collide with another French Quarter urban legend—let’s just say, the story gets darker. I’m also dabbling with a contemporary book on the side, although I can’t promise the humans in that story are any less monstrous than the supernatural ones in TCG!
Meet Alys Arden!
Alys Arden was raised by the street performers, tea-leaf readers, and glittering drag queens of the New Orleans French Quarter. She cut her teeth on the streets of New York and has worked all around the world since. She still dreams of running away with the circus one star-swept night. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram at @alysarden.
Meet The Romeo Catchers!
Tormented by the fate she condemned her mother to, and by the lies she’s forced to tell to cover it up, Adele scours Storm-ravaged New Orleans for the truth about her family’s magical past. But every turn leads her back to the one person she’s determined to forget: Niccolò Medici. Not even the multitude of enchanted locks on the attic door trapping Nicco within can break their connection.
Sensing Nicco calling to Adele, Isaac tries relentlessly to keep her from exploring paths too dark that would endanger them all. But a new threat is rising: the Medici’s presence has attracted something else to New Orleans…an older enemy, one that will bring Isaac’s haunted past to life, test the witches’ friendships, and jeopardize Adele and Isaac’s blossoming relationship.
In this spellbinding continuation of The Casquette Girls saga, Adele must draw on the past—from seventeenth-century Florence, a time bubbling with alchemy and fraternal betrayal—and sort history from fantasy if she is to have any chance of saving her mother, her coven, and her magic.
The water tastes like mudpies as it rushes my throat—a mix of dirt, oil, and unimaginably foul dregs turns my screams into garbles. My lungs jerk for air, but there’s only more water to inhale. It fills my ears, dulling the sounds of branches snapping and porches cracking as the river smashes down the streets. I kick wildly as the current swoops at my feet, pulling us deeper with each passing second. My fingertips break the surface, but waves roll into my chest, pummeling us back down, debris scraping my arms as I shield it off. I no longer hear her screams. One more breath of water will be the end.
Don’t panic. Dominate. Panicking is not an option.
My feet thrash, searching for the street to push us back up to the top, but there’s only water—below me, above me, filling my lungs like lava.
Fight the current, Isaac. Dominate.
But there’s only water.
A gasp jerked me awake. My arms flailed as I dropped the five feet from the crappy mattress and crashed onto my hip on the stainless steel floor. Turning on my back, I lay there in the darkness, heart racing, trying to catch my breath. I’m not drowning. It was a dream.
I moved my wrist close to my face and pushed away the swath of embroidered bracelets covering my watch: 0100 hours. Just like every other night.
I’d lost count of the number of times I’d fallen out of the bed in the last four months, but I still hadn’t moved to the bottom bunk, despite my roommate having been shacked up with a nurse he’d met at a blood drive back in September.
I rolled onto my chest, pressed myself up, and then back down. “One.” Moving to the bottom bunk is admitting defeat. “Two.” The nightmare winning. “Three.”
It will go away.
I used tricks to not think about the nightmare during the day—stuff the shrink had told me after my mom died. “Focus excess energy into a creative outlet,” he’d advised. I sketched more hours of the day than not, and now I was doing metalwork in Mac’s studio. Check. I pressed myself faster to the floor.
“Nine,” I said into the darkness. “Ten.”
“Engage in physical activity to relieve excess anxiety,” he’d said. Work covered that. Plus the patrolling. And the training. Check. The burn moved up my arms into my shoulders as I pounded through ten more. I welcomed the pain; at least I was alive to feel it.
Lastly, he’d always said, “Talk to someone about it.”
It’s just a stupid fucking dream—just stop thinking about it.
But that’s the problem: it wasn’t just a dream. It was a memory. My first day in New Orleans, or my second? Third? It all became a blur once the levees started breaking. There hadn’t been nearly enough of us. Not enough muscles to pull people out, and not enough medics to patch people up. Not enough social workers for the kids or shelters for the animals. There weren’t enough military to stop the looting or enough supplies for people in the convention center. There hadn’t been enough of . . . anything.
Four months later, every time I slept, I drowned.
I always woke from the fall with raw lungs, as if I’d been choking on the water all over again. “Thirty.”
Focus on things you can control. Things you can affect.
I thought about the roof I was nearly finished rebuilding with my crew. I thought about flying. I thought about all the places in New Orleans I wanted to sketch—all the sights burned into my memory. I thought about Adele, although I’m not sure how much control I had of that situation. I wished she were here right now. I’d tell her about the nightmare. “Forty.”
Pfft. No, you wouldn’t. “Forty-one.”
I thought about losing her, and the push-ups went faster. She picked you, I reminded myself. Sometimes it didn’t feel like it, with that asshat locked in the attic half a mile away.
I engaged my core, shifting some of the weight off my wrists. “Forty-six. Forty-seven.”
“Fifty-one.” I pushed harder. You have to be stronger.
More in control.
If you’re going to protect people.
My arms shook just like they had in the floodwaters. A million push-ups won’t make you stronger than Mother Nature. I slammed through ten more.
And a million push-ups will never make you as strong as them.
When I got to eighty, I collapsed onto the floor and turned over, the stainless steel cool against my sweaty back.
The coven already defeated the Medici clan.
It was true, but I didn’t need a crystal ball to know the fight wasn’t over.
My back arched, and I sprung to my feet. Not exactly with the deftness of Bruce Lee, but a move I’d been practicing relentlessly. I’d have it down soon.
In autopilot mode, I stepped into my worn-down sneakers, pulled the laces, and ran out the door, down the hallway, and up the stairs as quietly as I could, until my breath was louder than my step.
On the outer deck, I broke into a sprint. I knew exactly how many steps it was to the edge of the SS Hope, the shithole I called home—which I was quite certain was the gateway to Dante’s inferno and one morning I would actually wake up in hell. But it’s fine. Really. Half the population of New Orleans had it a lot worse.
One. Two. Three steps up the sidewall, and I kicked off the rail and leaped out into the darkness, the moon guiding my swan dive. Hold it. Steady. Warmth spread through my body in an explosion of prickles, and just before my head made contact with the water, I swooped back up.
The wind zipped through my feathers. This was the way to stop thinking about the dream. To stop thinking about failed levees and water crashing over us. This was the way to feel close to my mom.
When I flew, everything felt coated in a thin layer of magic—somewhere in between real and celestial.
In the air, it was easy to realize I couldn’t control everything. I could be sharper and faster, and I could perfect my swoops and dives, but I was still in the hands of Mother Nature, whose silent black sky dripped crystal stars above me—the flecks of light enough for my bird vision to see perfectly below. I caught the current and glided down the street, through the oak trees and the lingering protection spells on Esplanade Avenue.
Before I’d come down south, I thought I had everything figured out. It was just before my eighteenth birthday: I’d spend one last summer painting the faces of sticky-handed kids down at Coney Island, one last summer surfing the Rockaways with the guys from the neighborhood, and one last summer tumbling around Sherri Steinman’s backseat before she returned to SVA and pretended I didn’t exist. Then one more year at Stuyvesant before I broke my pop’s heart and told him I wasn’t going to Columbia, his alma mater, and instead was going to Parsons or Pratt to study fine art or maybe industrial design—that I hadn’t quite decided. It’d taken half my summer cash just to pay all the application fees for both schools, so he wouldn’t find out.
SAT, check. Early admissions application, check. Portfolio, check. International volunteer work, check. Essay on “The Importance of Street Art in Urban Development,” bullshit extracurriculars, and good-enough grades. Check. Check. Check. Other than a million absences due to being dragged around by my pop’s office, my record was perfect for art-school admittance officers.
But then the Storm hit and everything changed.
That’s how we ended up in New Orleans . . . how I became a high school dropout and ended up living on a navy ship. And how I met the girl of my dreams. So, planning was for the birds. That’s the other thing I hadn’t planned for: being a witch.
I veered from the river and swooped over the Moonwalk, over the train tracks, and up over the amphitheater, which was my favorite place in the city. Adele had taken me there, not the night of our first kiss or anything like that—no, that was in a mold-infested Storm house, moron, Isaac. We’d been in the amphitheater the night Adele first showed me her magic. Before that we’d had a million secrets; now we didn’t have any. Now I didn’t keep anything from her.
Well, at least I tried not to. Really, really tried not to.
My wings tilted, and I made a wide turn onto Toulouse, cruising past Le Chat Noir, Mac’s club. From the outside it looked completely shut, but if you felt for it, you could sense the vibrations coming from the back of the property. Then again, maybe it was just me? Most of my senses were amplified when I turned, or “transmuted,” as Désirée called it. Sometimes I even felt like my brain worked better this way.
The magic was extraordinary, but new; sometimes it was still hard to fathom.
It was still hard to believe we pulled off Halloween night. Contained the vampires, and reinstated the curse our ancestors had cast three hundred years ago. But what if the curse doesn’t hold and they escape again? Sometimes I think I stressed out more now than when they were on the loose, which was probably exactly what Niccolò Medici wanted.
And so, paranoia made the convent a regular part of my patrolling route. But not yet. After the club, it was always Vodou Pourvoyeur.
Only in New Orleans would the biggest political family in history also be the biggest witching family in town. Actually, that makes perfect sense. Just one meeting with Désirée’s gran and her bags of bones, and you knew there was nothing to worry about at the shop, but I always did a full loop anyway, because Désirée and I were connected now, magically speaking. Dee loved to act like she hated magic, anything to do with family tradition—which I could relate to: her family produced witches like mine produced military pilots, generation after generation, and there was no chance in hell I was going down that route—but Dee secretly loved it all. And if I knew her, she wouldn’t be sleeping right now either. She’d probably be up all night working on finding our other coven members, one of our current points of disagreement.
I just didn’t care about finding the other members. I was perfectly content with her and Adele and my Air powers. Plus, with only half a coven, we could never give the Medici what they wanted—we couldn’t break our ancestor’s curse.
I glided over the brick wall that surrounded the back of the Borges property. In the middle of the post-Storm-ravaged city of brown and gray and rust, the Borges courtyard was an oasis that rivaled the botanical gardens in Brooklyn. Earth witches.
Banana trees and elephant ears towered over the brick wall, while ferns and vines crawled over every inch, between blossoming flowers whose shades of marigold and plum made you feel like you were somewhere way more exotic than Louisiana. Part forest. Part jungle. All magical.
I loved the hidden sanctuary.
I flew into an herb bed whose perfectly symmetrical rows of Kelly-green basil leaves were far too large to not have been magically modified. I practiced swooping in and out, like it was my personal obstacle course.
“Infected,” a voice said, startling me so abruptly I nearly crashed into an enlarged sunflower. Throughout my weeks of patrolling, no one had ever been in the courtyard at this hour.
“Crimes against . . .” Her voice petered out, but I recognized it—Désirée’s gran, Ritha. Definitely not someone I wanted to think I was a trespasser, but instead of hightailing it out, I swooped low along the algae-coated, bricked path, curious about these murmurs of a crime.
“Not right. Not right. This town is not right . . . ,” she muttered.
I dropped to the ground, hiding beneath blue flowers whose petals hung over me like blooming bells.
“Something’s upsetting the balance.”
I peered out between the drooping flowers to get a better look at the vine-entwined enclave in the garden where she sat. A single candle flame cast the shadows of ivy onto her headdress, which gleamed white in the dark night. A cement fountain of a horned creature obstructed my view of whoever she was speaking to. I hopped a few steps closer but still saw no one else.
“Not mundane crimes,” she said.
My feathers pricked up, telling me to get the hell out, but crime convo was my catnip—birdnip—and kept me there against better judgment.
“Everything is linked,” she said, her head falling forward and then bobbing back up.
I hopped a few steps closer. What’s linked? The crime wave?
Are they talking about the vampires? Because that crime wave is over. You’re welcome, Ritha.
I crept closer, trying to see who she was talking to. Ritha whipped my way, flinging her arm directly at me, and in an explosion of magic I was lying on the ground in human form, shielding my head as if to protect myself from supernatural shrapnel.
“Ripple. Ripple. Ripple!” she yelled.
When I looked up, there was no one else there—her eyes were completely white, as if rolled back in her head, and her finger was pointed at me.
“The magical ecosystem. Destroy the binding, and everything will unravel.”
I stood up, her white-eyed, glossy gaze following me.
“Witch,” she said, taking a step forward, causing me to take one back. “Air witch.”
The way she said it suddenly made me feel like that was a bad thing.
“Ghost witch.” Her mouth opened into a hiss, and I stumbled back, losing my footing. Before I could hit the ground, I took crow form again and conjured my own current to lift me into the sky faster than my wings could flap.
“Protect the binding, protect the magic . . . !” Her voice faded out under the sounds of my pounding pulse.
It took several blocks to regain my composure in flight, the air current pushing down beneath me at an unnatural speed thanks to a magical boost.
Next on my route usually came the abandoned brothel, but tonight I skipped it, feeling the need to put a little more distance between me and Ritha Borges.
What the hell was she talking about? Supernatural crime? Could more vamps have arrived in town? Or maybe I was just thinking about vampires because I’d arrived at the convent.
Ironically, the property was under the protection spells of my family, because Susannah Norwood Bowen had lived here 1728—so it always got more than a flyby. I circled the perimeter, checking out each one of the window shutters, which were secured with a thousand antique nails and Adele’s family magic, then I swooped over the roof and around the attic, where the vamps were trapped. The original four: Gabriel Medici; his two vamp-spawn, Lisette and Martine; and his sister Giovanna. And, of course, the two bonus vamps we captured when we reinstated the curse, the biggest assholes of the lot: Emilio and Niccolò Medici.
“Dammit!” I yelled, jerking back to human form about thirty seconds before I’d meant to, tumbling the last four feet to the roof.
I got up and shook it off, cursing all the more.
Stop letting that bloodsucking, leather-jacket-wearing asshole get under your skin.
I paced the length of the roof. Whenever I thought about Nicco, it was harder to control my magic, and nothing pissed me off more than losing control of my magic.
Nothing other than Nicco.
I paused, fishing a small metal object out of my wallet; I flipped it into the air with a casualness that contradicted the precious way I kept it hidden. With a quick whip, I caught it and continued to pace.
I flicked it up again, almost hoping a strong gust would take it away, relieving me of all responsibility. Of course, I didn’t really wish for that; otherwise I’d have conjured up a gust and spun it all the way up to the Arctic.
I had no idea what it was, but Nicco must have given it to Adele on Halloween night before he threw her out the attic window, because she’d been holding it when I caught her. I was pretty sure she didn’t remember ever having it.
It was just smaller than my palm and resembled origami made of folded metal—pewter, maybe? On the smooth side, three interlocking circles had been etched, each with a triangular peak, so they looked like three diamond rings. Something about it was romantic, which annoyed me even more. Leaving behind tokens had not been part of our plan. Then again, I don’t think ending up in the attic had been part of Nicco’s plan either. He must have known it was a possibility though if he’d thought ahead enough to bring this stupid thing. I had the sneaking suspicion that whatever it was, it was his ticket to getting out of the attic. His insurance plan.
The thought of Nicco being one step ahead pissed me off the most. I hated that he’d been the one to come up with the plan—that he’d insisted Adele would risk her own freedom to save everyone else. “If it comes down to it,” he’d said, “I’ll throw her to safety, and you have to catch her.” Then he told me what he’d do to me if I failed to catch her.
He was right about needing the plan. Only, I can’t imagine that me ending up with Adele, and with this thing, was exactly what he had in mind.
I swallowed a laugh. It’s not funny, Isaac. I hated it. It was the only secret I had from her.
This stupid metal thing, and me and Nicco’s plan on Halloween night.
I sat down, peering out over the French Quarter, legs dangling over the roof’s edge, just like I’d done so many other nights. I squeezed the metal object in my palm until the corners pierced my skin.
Can you smell that blood, Nicco? I hope so. I hope it drives you nuts.
I flicked the metal origami up and watched it spin back into my hand—the prize waiting to be claimed. Let him try. If it weren’t for the promise I made to the coven, I’d burn the whole convent down right now, vampires and all. I hated Niccolò Medici. And not just because he was a vampire—a killer. I hated him because he was in love with my girlfriend.
He’d never told me he was in love with Adele. In fact, he’d never really said much at all. But he must have known she’d close the seal after he threw her out the window. As far as I could see, there were only two possible explanations why Nicco would allow himself to be trapped. Cursed. The first was that he loved Adele, and he was willing to trade his life for hers. The second was that she was worth more to him alive than dead—so much so that he betrayed his family and trapped himself inside the coven’s spell.
All so she could live.
Either way, he’d traded her martyrdom for his own—not that it was quite the same considering he was immortal but not exactly something you did for an acquaintance. None of that matters now, because Adele thinks Nicco tried to kill her.
I imagined him lying there in cold fury, judging me for not correcting Adele’s mistake. Part of me knew he was right, but when she saw him as her potential killer, it was the first time she saw him for what he truly was.
“I couldn’t do it,” I said into the darkness. “Sorry, Nicco. But you belong in there.”
Pushing away the guilt, I remembered the morning I’d tried to return the metal object to her. I knew it wasn’t right to keep it, but then she kissed me—a kiss free of tears and elixirs—and I suddenly didn’t care anymore if she knew the whole truth, just as long as she never saw Nicco again.
I should have been ecstatic, now that he was trapped for eternity, but I couldn’t help thinking Niccolò Medici was the kind of guy who always had a backup plan.
My fingers crushed around the metal. She doesn’t owe him anything. If the way to prevent him from reentering her life meant me being haunted by him forever through this origami thing, then so be it.
I could feel him beneath the roof. All of them. It was a hint of the same cold feeling I got when I neared a dead body on a recovery site. Death.
It made sense—you can’t be a vampire without dying. Just like you can’t be a vampire without being a monster.
I slipped it back into my wallet, ran the length of the convent roof, and jumped off. It was stupid and risky, and I’d never do it if it wasn’t for the curfew, but it made me feel like I owned the streets of the French Quarter, and that they didn’t.
I swooped back up and over the roofs. There was one more stop after the convent.
I always told myself I’d just check on her, but it never ended up that way. I circled Adele’s house three times before landing on the second-story, wrought-iron balcony across the street. If I stayed behind the potted plant, I was out of her sight line from the window. I think. She hated it when I perched across the street.
I knew she’d especially hate it tonight. She’d done her best to hide it all week, but I’d seen the ambivalence setting in. The wall she was putting up to prevent the pain from overwhelming her . . . Hopefully tomorrow would bring her some closure. My beak opened into a wide yawn, and I stretched my wings.
My perching wasn’t about her; it was about me. I had to be at work in two hours, and when I slept this close to her, I never had the nightmare.
I wasn’t stalking her, I was stalking sleep.
The Romeo Catchers
By: Alys Arden
Release Date: May 23rd, 2017
Publisher: Skyscape Publishing
Five winners will receive a copy of The Romeo Catchers (Alys Arden) ~ (US Only)
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