Countdown to DRIFT & DAGGER: Secrets and Lies

Well, folks. The book is almost here. I’ve loved sharing these special looks into DRIFT & DAGGER. From character introductions to photo collages to the first draft to deleted scenes, I hope you know how much I love this book and how excited I am for it to reach your hands.

For this last look, I want to talk about Mal, his story, and why I wrote about him.

If you asked Mal who he was, more than anything, he would say “different.” In his world, magic is everything. It’s the difference between life and death, loss and profit. It is hugely important to the fabric of society, but Mal is not a part of that. He’s a blank, someone immune to magic.

Blanks are seen as inhuman monsters. Some people believe all blanks will eventually grow up to destroy and kill. When Mal discovers his blankness, he understands it’s essentially a death sentence. There’s no place in society that will accept him, and even if he manages to hide this part of himself, he believes his blankness will eventually take over. He’ll turn into a monster, hurt people he cares about, and lose everything about himself that he loves.

It’s a scary prospect, and this fear is what drives Mal to do the things he does. But, although this is a fantasy world, I didn’t have to dig very deep to write about a confused teenager so full of self-loathing.

While I was thinking about Drift & Dagger, I spent a lot of time talking with and thinking about teenagers. I spent a lot of time reading things they wrote and shared with people. I went back over my old diaries and thought about the things that consumed me. And one thing that kept popping up was this question: Am I different?

As an adult, I love and celebrate my differences, but as a teenager, I saw everything about me that was outside the norm as a problem. And of course, it wasn’t just me. I can remember my best friend, who is now a confident, happy, successful adult in a wonderful, loving relationship, crying to me because he was gay, because he thought his family would hate him (and I would hate him), and he didn’t know how to keep this part of himself secret and still stay sane.

I saw stories like that over and over, played on tumblr and in the news and in fifteen-year-old emails from friends. I thought about it a lot. And then I wrote a book about it.

Fantasy can be a really wonderful tool for talking about things without naming them outright (did you like Salt & Storm? Congratulations! You just read a book about feminism!), and with Drift & Dagger, I took my magical world and imagined what a boy in the 1850s might have something in common with a teenager in 2015. Mal’s got a secret he’s scared will ruin his life, and for a lot of teenagers—and those of us who were once teenagers—I hope his story will resonate.

Because I also thought a lot about how our ideas about our identity change. I thought about my happy friend and the things I used to worry about myself. I thought about the It Gets Better Project and what it takes—friends, family, maturity, experience—to take these secret, shameful things, to strip away their power, and to let them exist as a part of you, not all of you.

I love Mal and his story. Writing his journey was such a raw, powerful experience for me. I am incredibly excited (and a little nervous) to see him out in the world next week, and I cannot wait for you to meet him.