Alexandra Bracken on ‘LORE’

What inspired you to write LORE?

I’ve wanted to write a book inspired by Greek mythology for years, but I was always too anxious to try – in fact, I tried everything to convince myself I shouldn’t write this book! A big source of nerves for me was worrying about what the Greek side of my family would think, and the fear I might somehow disappoint them with the final story. Over time, though, those feelings eased. One of my great aunts had been a huge source of encouragement with my writing and creative pursuits as a kid, and I thought, if nothing else, I could write a story she would have loved.

This book was a weird one for me, though. It smashed the method I usually use for putting my stories together. When I sat down to start working on the first draft, I had a bunch of wants instead of concrete ideas. I knew I didn’t want to write a traditional retelling of any one myth, and that I wanted to play with the dynamic of ancient ideas and beings clashing with the modern world. I also wanted to try to capture the aspects of the myths that had entranced me as a kid: the tragedy, violence, and high stakes drama and make them feel relevant to modern readers.

But even then, I recognized that there was a lot of what we would now consider problematic content in these stories, and a big sticking point for me had been the treatment of women in them. There are countless tales of sexual violence, and it felt like women who dared to express their desire, ambition, or fury had dark fates and functioned as cautionary tales. Anger has been on my mind a lot these last few years because of the rise of social movements like Me Too. It set me down the path of thinking about the many ways I’ve held myself back emotionally, feeling like that was what society expected of me.

All of these feelings braided together in Lore’s character. She has the kind of adventure I’d wanted to read about as a kid, but she became a hero for adult Alex, too. Someone who is fierce, funny, and tender, and who refuses to let her world extinguish her fire. 

Did you have to do any special research for LORE?

Yes, definitely! Even though I was introduced to the mythology at a young age, I wanted to try to work in elements and beliefs from ancient life, so my research ranged from philosophy to fighting styles and weapons to the way these societies functioned to how belief in the gods filtered into their day-to-day lives.

I also ended up having to do some unexpected research into New York City, even though I lived there for six years! For example, I had a number of scenes set in alleyways throughout the book thinking the characters would want to stay out of sight and off the streets as much as possible. A copyeditor gently pointed out to me that Manhattan actually has very few proper alleyways left in it, owing to how valuable real estate is there. (Apparently movies and tv shows all film in the same five alleyways, with Cortlandt Alley being the gritty star of the bunch.) Lesson learned! It was a fun challenge to fix those moments, though.  

Describe LORE in 5 words.

Action-packed, romantic, (and) darkly twisty! Or, to quote Queen: Who wants to live forever?

Can you tell us about your writing process?

I started off as a panster and became a big planner when I grew tired of having to constantly rework big sections of my books to streamline and better connect the plot beats. The book that better unlocked the connection between plot, character, and theme for me was John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story. It’s pretty intense (and I’d argue better for revising than initially drafting), but I revisit it all the time. It forces you to think very, very deeply about the story you’re trying to tell.

What’s interesting is that I’ve actually slipped back into being more of a pantser in recent months. I think it’s largely because I feel more confident as a writer, which means I can trust my instincts on how to construct the story as I go. One thing I’ve noticed is that having every aspect of the story planned well in advance had sucked some of the fun out of the process for me, and I need that sense of excitement and fun to carrying me through the initial first draft.

What I’m doing with my current project is kind of a blend of both. I’ve figured out the theme and the ending of the book, and—a bit more crucially—the main character’s arc and how she grows in advance. I usually build my plot beats/twists off the revelations I need my main character to learn and experience, so knowing who she is at the start of the book and who she becomes by the end is crucial. My pantsing flexibility is manifesting in not planning out much more than that, and just allowing myself to experience this world for the first time with the main character. So I’ll know that she needs to learn “xyz” and I’ll generally know what choice she makes because of it (which shows how she is or isn’t growing), but how she ultimately learns it is left up to me as I arrive at that point in the story. 

I’m having a ton of fun and it feels immersive in a way I’ve missed … but we’ll see if I regret it when it’s time to edit!

What was your favourite scene to write and why?

I really loved writing the scenes at River House (though I wouldn’t call them especially fun to write), but I think my favorite scene is the second flashback with Lore and her father. You get a sense of how deeply Lore believes in her world and in herself, but, at the same time, you also get these moments of realization from her father as he comes to truly understand how terrible their world is. 

What’s funny is that my editor had to really nudge me to write the flashbacks and now I can’t imagine the book without them, especially this one. It’s a scene that really sets everything into motion.

Did you listen to any particular songs/playlists whilst you wrote this?

Yes! I almost always listen to music while I write. I have playlists for all of my books up on my website (alexandrabracken.com) and will be adding LORE’s on release day. It’s a fun mix of instrumental scores and modern music to fight and cry to, and I hope you guys love it as much as I do!

When you write, do you have any go-to snacks? If so, what are they?

I wish I could name some elegant and tasteful writing snacks, but my favorites can best be described as “Vending Machine Staples” – Cheez-Its, pretzels, cookies, and Pop Tarts. I remain incredibly embarrassed about this but my favorite writing drink is still a nice cold Mountain Dew. I’m honestly surprised my internal organs haven’t melted together at this point. I’m trying to limit my Dews to intense deadlines only, though!

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

Oh man – I’m trying to think of how best to describe the issue without giving away anything in the plot!

Let’s just say … it suffered from the problem I usually have while writing, which is that I always want to pack the story with as much COOL STUFF and BIG TWISTS and ACTION as humanly possible, and I have to figure out how to streamline everything. In LORE, that meant a lot of reworking and cutting and condensing. 

It seems counterintuitive, but long books with a ton of the aforementioned awesomeness aren’t always better. An overstuffed plot can often bury what you’re trying to say thematically, or even diminish the emotional beats because there’s so much happening around them to distract the reader. They can also make a book feel overly long to the reader, and that’s the absolute last thing you want as a writer.

What can you tell us (if anything) about the next book you are writing?

Oooh, what can I tell you? It’s another YA – hopefully a series! – that’s also a contemporary fantasy that pulls from mythology and folklore. I’m describing it as a kind of mystical Indiana Jones, with a ton of adventure, darkness, and a hate-to-love romance that makes me excited to open the document every morning.

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