Today we're excited to spotlight Jennifer Alsever's novel Ember Burning. Read on for more about Jennifer and her book, plus an interview, excerpt, and giveaway!
Meet Jennifer Alsever!
Jennifer Alsever lives in the mountains of Colorado with her husband, her boys, and her dog Max. The Trinity Forest Series is her first work of fiction. She has spent two decades as a journalist, contributing to publications as Fortune Magazine, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She enjoys spending time with her family, a good book, a beautiful hike, doing some yoga, hitting moguls on skis or the thrill of a rigorous mountain bike ride.
Senior year was supposed to be great... that's what Ember's friend Maddie promised at the beginning of senior year. Instead, Ember Trouve spends the year drifting in and out of life like a ghost, haunted by her parents' recent, tragic death.
At home, she pores over her secret obsession: pictures of missing people-- from newspaper articles, from grocery store flyers-- that she's glued inside a spiral notebook. Like her, the people are lost. Like her, she discovers, they had been looking for a way to numb their pain when they disappeared.When Ember finds herself in Trinity Forest one day, a place locals stay away from at all costs, she befriends a group of teenagers who are out camping. Hanging out with them in the forest tainted with urban legends of witchcraft and strange disappearances, she has more fun than she can remember having. But something isn't right. The candy-covered wickedness she finds in Trinity proves to be a great escape, until she discovers she can never go home. Will Ember confront the truth behind her parents' death or stay blissfully numb and lose herself to the forest forever?
A Chat with Jennifer Alsever:
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
I had a dream I was running through a forest, wearing a backpack— but I wasn’t myself. It was like a movie. I went through a gate and then came upon a number of people-- who ultimately became characters in the book. They whispered to me that I could never leave, while the outside world continued to spin on, and there was a secret behind the place. I told my son, 13 at the time, about the dream the next day, and he told me to turn it into a book. So I did.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
I like all of the characters, but I’m especially fond of Ember and her voice. She’s a flawed but empathetic character who doesn’t see the true depth her of her internal strength.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel came first. I struggled with the title because there were a couple other similar titles out there already, but Ember Burning just stuck with me.
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I really like the scenes with Tre and Ember, and the intense new love they experience together. My editor called Tre, a “problem-with-authority, acerbic, going-kicking-and-screaming, punk rock dude with a big heart and a brilliant mind.” I love him, and it was so fun to develop the chemistry and connection between the two of them.
5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
I would say presence. I had to slow down in my writing, and that involved slowing down in my life and really being present in the world. I started taking walks with fresh eyes, taking in what something sounds like, what a moment smells like. I started listening to conversations differently and started experiencing people with a more empathetic lens, withholding judgement. I became more of a more careful observer of life.
6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I like the direct eye contact of the model. That was really the idea and vision of my designer, Caroline Teagle Johnson, who was able to bring that same effect through all three book covers in the Trinity Forest Series. The model’s expression really exemplifies the Ember’s mood.
7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2017?
I am a big fan of Jandy Nelson, so I’m looking forward to reading her forthcoming novel, Fall Boys & Dizzy in Paradise. I am currently listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and it’s brilliant and such an important and timely story.
8. What was your favorite book in 2016?
I read so many wonderful books in 2016, it’s hard for me to pick just one. I read a number of books by Lauren Oliver, who I admire so much, and I really enjoyed We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
9. What’s up next for you?
I’m finishing up final edits on Oshun Rising, Book 2 in the Trinity Forest Series, which will be released August 28. I’m working with a talented actress named Moira Todd, who will be narrating the audiobook version of Ember Burning, due out the same day. And I’m putting the final touches on Venus Shining, Book 3, which will debut in November.
10. Is there anything that you would like to add?
I’m also working with a team to finalize extra digital content for the series, which lets VIP Readers get access to extras like videos, a mysterious notebook in the book and an audio clip of Ember singing a song. People can see the first video and sign up for the VIP reader group on my website www.trinityforestseries.com.
11. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
There were a number of scenes that were difficult to narrate because Ember experiences trauma that I never did. I had to really put myself in her shoes to understand her pain and her motives. For instance, I had never personally taken drugs like Ember did, so I had to really understand what that experience was like and write it authentically without judgement and do my research. Likewise, I never experienced the loss of an immediate family member, so I had to really let myself understand what that pain really felt like. I talked to other people who struggled with those things and used my experience as a journalist to really understand.
12. Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Zoe. I knew her backstory and who she was, but it was hard to show that to the reader because of the first-person narration. She is such a mystery to Ember and the crew in Trinity. In my first draft, Zoe came off a little one-dimensional. I had to work hard to show her past and her greatest weaknesses and develop her more than just an "evil character."
13. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
I love both parts equally. I enjoy the writing process because I can get swept away by the story and the characters and everything becomes so real to me. And while most writers hate revisions, I learned that editors bring out my best and really make my writing shine, spotting things I never would have otherwise seen and generating novel ideas. So it’s fun to see my work really get polished. I wouldn’t be half the writer I am without the collaboration of my editors Corey Ann Haydu, Kate Angelella and Jessica Gardner.
14. What would you say is your superpower?
Man, I wish I could read people’s minds. But I would say that my superpower is drive. I don’t like to sit on my hands with ideas; I go out and get things done. I tackle things with curiosity and passion, and I ask a lot of questions and see the value in lifelong learning.
15. Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
I’m a big fan of Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. My dad was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and I recently held a bike race fundraiser for the charity on my dad’s behalf, and I was so impressed with the organization and the support they had for fundraising and all the education and research they are doing. Michael J. Fox created an enormous legacy by unifying so many various disparate groups that were all trying to tackle the disease, and they’re making a lot of progress on research and a cure for such a rotten disease.
Darkness. It can make you vanish and disappear completely from sight. At least for an instant. Maybe forever.
The thought passes through my head all the time. Especially now, as I run through a curtain of pine trees. In the dark. Alone.
I dodge branches like a boxer, weaving and dancing through the trees and making my way over uneven mud, patches of snow, rocks, tufts of grass, and bushes. The leaves crunch underfoot. The wind whistles through the treetops. The crickets chirp.
My heartbeat booms in my ears. With each step, it sends adrenaline strong as a shot of Red Bull straight to my veins. I feel like I could jump right out of my skin.
I’d intended to come and set up a tent for the night, but the forest was so dense, it was a wall of trees. Now, the trail has vanished, and suddenly, I’m disoriented. I stop to lean on a towering pine tree, panting.
Of course I know this is ridiculous. What I’m doing. Going to Trinity Forest. Alone. Like the freak show I am. The girl who goes off the tracks. Who obsesses about missing people, about what happens in Trinity. But the mystery of Trinity calls to me. If I disappear, so be it.
Maybe my weirdo obsession is because of Mom. Or maybe it’s just because of where I live. In a town that produces opinions like a bustling factory, the one thing everyone agrees on is you don’t go to Trinity Forest. They say it’s haunted. Mysterious. Dangerous.
Everyone knows the stories. The one child actress who went there and never came home back in the ’80s. That backpacker in the ’90s. I want to say some random oil worker from Texas, too. The list goes on and dates back years. Decades. Hell, maybe even centuries.
Those stories—plus the fact that Trinity is private property—keep most people in neighboring Leadville away. Only outside tourists ever go to the forest—or those who really want to disappear. Mom called it the Bermuda Triangle of Colorado. She became obsessed with missing people, too.
“Don’t ever go there, Ember. Ever,” she told me repeatedly when I was a little girl.
By the time I was eleven, I’d figured it was just another story to keep me and my brother Jared out of the woods. Just like my parents used Santa Claus to get me to clean my room in December. Or the tooth fairy to get me to brush my teeth.
I need to think about something else. I need to get out of here.
I start to run again, still not sure where I’m headed. The sound of my breath fills my head. Heavy, rhythmic. Fire in my lungs. My feet pound the ground swiftly, numbly skimming over rocks, kicking up pine needles. It’s as if darkness itself is chasing me, threatening to swallow me whole. I sprint fast, my backpack banging against my hips, its straps eating into the skin of my shoulders. Pain sears my sides. I need to get out of here.
I spin around in the black night. The hushed hoot of an owl. The rustling of something scampering across fallen leaves.
“I wish Maddie were here,” I whisper. Emotion creeps up my throat. The fear is dark and sticky.
Maybe I’m lost.
Maybe this was a big mistake.
A week earlier
A few final snowflakes spin around outside my window, and a steady stream of polar air seeps in through the cracked windowsill. Winter won’t release its grip on Leadville, despite the fact that around the rest of the world, early April means spring. You know, pink and yellow flowers, fluffy white bunnies, bright glowing buds yawning from the tree branches—that sort of cheery crap.
I hunch on the floor, resting my head on a bent knee. Glue sticks to my fingers as I press the picture onto the page of my spiral notebook. I wipe the extra glue on the green carpet and stare at the blurry photo. A teenaged girl with dark hair and rose petal lips.
I glance up to ensure the bedroom door is locked so Gram won’t walk in and see me amid my weird, obsessive hobby.
The cursor on my laptop blinks beside this girl’s name. Laurie Parker. Ordinary name. Ordinary face. She disappeared hiking near the Hamakulia Volcano in Hawaii.
What in the world happened to her? I scrawl her name in red on the page above her face, wanting to honor her in my own personal way.
I stand up, grab my cell phone off the bed, and scroll through the seven text messages Maddie has sent me in the past week. I’ve either ignored them or replied with a few quick words or stupid emoticons.
I click on a song on my phone that I’ve been listening to lately, an indie band I just discovered online. I love the minor chords in the music and the mournful moans of the lyrics. They feed something dark inside me with pulsing color: Ink black. Chocolate brown. Shiny silver. Swirling, pulsing rhythmically with each note.
I call my ability to hear colors in music my Color Crayon Brain. Doctors call it synesthesia, a diagnosis for people like me who “see” music. A lot of people think it’s creepy, but I think I’m lucky. It’s beautiful, and it’s medicine to me.
I gaze at my notebook and the other pictures and names of the missing. The large forehead and chiseled cheekbones of Valerie Monsette. The Howdy Doody look of Ben Alackness. The intense gaze of Phil Sei.
I grab my jacket off the bed and make my way through the piles of unopened boxes that clutter the room—the boxes I haven’t opened since my parents died. A year ago. A year, and I still haven’t spoken to anyone about what happened. What really happened. The guilt has been eating me from the inside, like leaking acid.
It doesn’t help that my brother abandoned me for college months ago, leaving me alone with Gram—a woman I swear is made of granite. Her place has never felt like home with its crooked linoleum floors, mildewy bath towels, and thick, dark curtains.
Near the door, I trip over my guitar case, catching myself on the wall. Like the boxes, the black case hasn’t been opened since the accident. I trace my fingers along the edges of the stickers covering the case—brand names and slogans from beer and outdoor companies. Free stickers Dad collected for me at the bars and restaurants he played.
My fingers tremble as I unlatch the case. I stare at my blonde guitar, willing myself to ignore the elephant that has permanently camped out on my chest.
I remember Dad sitting next to me as we played on the sunken couch. His dark hair flopped over his eyes and his chin jutted as he strummed.
“Okay, so get into the chorus a little bit more. Be more aggressive,” he said.
I listened to his advice and belted out the words; my fingers felt like they might
bleed from that Saturday afternoon jam session.
“You’re really feeling it, yeah,” he said.
I remember that the sound of the song produced yellow rays in my Color Crayon vision, as if the sun itself were pouring directly into my heart.
He stopped me after a minute. “Okay, the first half of the chorus, you’re struggling to find your own thing there.”
I nodded, a serious student intent on growing and learning. One day, I thought, I’d actually sing professionally. I watched as Dad demonstrated two versions of the chorus. I started playing again, fine-tuning my fingers and the timbre of my voice. Dad grinned and bobbed his head. Not just my heart but every vein in my body oozed sunshine. It was better than anything I’d ever felt before.
I shut the case now, push the guitar back into a corner behind some boxes, and stomp down the stairs.
Outside, the sky opens up, becoming an infinite blue, stretching and curving before it hits the jagged Rocky Mountain peaks in the distance. They’re topped by white—the snow that never leaves, no matter the season.
Gram’s shoulders hunch into a frown as she digs into the dirt with a garden shovel, clearing the muck. It’s amazing how a woman made of stone can give birth to a bed of perfumed color each spring. Every fall, she dutifully plants these bulbs. Each spring, the flowers bloom, perking up her tired turquoise house. It sits among a string of gingerbread looking Victorian homes, most of them tattered and cramped together as if glued to each other.
Before the accident, I had not seen or talked to my grandma since I was nine because of some beef between her and my mom. Things I still don’t fully understand. Yet living with her, I kind of get it. In Gram’s world, there’s no time for feelings. She was here in Leadville way back in the ’60s, when the Climax Mine churned out millions of dollars’ worth of molybdenum to be used for nuclear power and missiles. She knows only hard work. Like I said, a woman made of granite.
I stop on the buckled sidewalk, deciding whether to talk to her. I could probably move past her like the wind and she would never notice.
I cough instead.
She looks up at me and nods, microscopic and swift. She doesn’t ask where I’m going or what I’m doing. Her eyebrows flicker but her face never changes. After a moment, she returns to her digging. I shove my hands into my pockets, duck my head, and walk toward the convenience store.
The letters on his knuckles spell out the words GET SOME.
With greasy dark hair, stubble on his chin, and a pooching belly, the cashier does
not in any way look like he will get some anytime soon. Still, he puts his two fists together so I can read the words tattooed across his fingers. “Check it out. Killer, right? Right?” He grins.
I lift the muscles of my face to smile, but it doesn’t really work. I set my Gatorade on the counter and then crane my neck around the corner to see if there are any new posters on the wall.
“You here checking for them missing people again?” he asks.
I shrug. Even I don’t understand it.
“You don’t say much, do you?” he says, ducking his head to try to catch my eye. I avoid his eyes and watch, instead, a tiny TV playing the news behind him. On-screen, a skinny guy with glasses talks about the safety of genetically modified food. “There is still no credible evidence of harm to humans or animals,” the man says. “And your question, Laura, about any connection between the food supply and some secret society is ridiculous.” He looks familiar, but I can’t place why, or where, I might have seen him before.
Engrossed in the TV, I put my five dollars on the counter with just a glance at the cashier, who, according to his name tag, is called Ned.
“I didn’t just get these killer knuckle tats,” Ned the Cashier says. “I got a bike, too.” Looking at him, I imagine some cheesy chrome motorcycle to match his cheesy knuckle tattoos.
“Cool,” I say. See? I talk.
Ned leaves my money on the counter and starts tapping on his cell phone. He thrusts his phone in front of me to show a picture of a purple bicycle with a leopard print seat. A bicycle. Not a motorcycle. I start to laugh but stop when I see he’s genuinely proud.
I nod and attempt to give him some encouragement with a thin smile. He beams as he hands me my change.
On my way out, I pause to study the posters of two people. One of them, with a picture of a blond teenaged boy, has hung there for a decade. The edges of the paper curl up. The other, featuring an older woman, has been there for a couple months. She went missing in New Mexico.
As I lean into the glass door to leave, Ned calls to me, “Have a great evening!” He may be different from me, but Ned the Cashier has something I don’t anymore: friendliness.
Outside, a tinkling sound rings in the air, as if something just dropped onto the concrete sidewalk. The sound triggers a flash of metallic silver in my mind. I blink quickly because up until now, I’ve only seen colors when I hear music. Nothing else.
A good ten feet away, something glints in the sun. Farther down the block, a young woman walks with a sway, her long, flowing red hair blowing in the breeze.
Bending down, I pick the shiny object up. A closer look reveals it’s a silver coin. But it’s not a quarter. Both sides have a picture of a pyramid and a dot in the center—rather than George Washington’s head.
Sure that the woman dropped it, I call out to her. “Hello, miss! You dropped something.” She doesn’t respond and turns the corner into the alley another couple of blocks ahead.
I jog after her, turn the corner, but she is gone. Nowhere in sight.
I study the coin again. Maybe it’s a religious symbol or a gambling token. I squint and make out two words beneath the pyramid. Faint, but legible. Trinity Forest.
I pocket the coin, ignoring the chill running down my spine, and head home before the snow kicks back up.
By: Jennifer Alsever
Release Date: May 5, 2017
One winner will receive a signed copy of Ember Burning (International).