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INTERVIEW: Leah Petersen and “Cascade Effect”

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1) CASCADE EFFECT is the sequel to FIGHTING GRAVITY (The Physics of Falling series), both of which I had the honour of reading ahead of time and offering critique on. What’s it like as an author to work to shape a novel with someone else -betas, an editor, a secondary reader – who doesn’t know or lived with your story as long as you have? Is it thrilling? Scary? Heartbreaking? Giddy-inducing?

I’m probably going to get rotten produce thrown at me by other authors for saying this, but revisions are one of my favorite parts of writing. So the input from talented authors, editors, and well-read friends are incredibly valuable to me and something I’m always enormously grateful for. I won’t say I don’t have a moment of soul-crushing embarrassment when someone else points out places I went wrong, especially when I should have known better. But I get over it pretty fast, mostly in the excitement of knowing that now I can get it RIGHT and it will be so much better for the effort.

As an author you’ve got the story in your head and you feel a connection to it maybe no one else can. But according to the cliché, love is blind, and it’s that way with a story too. You’re too apt to overlook or simply not see the flaws in your own creation. Outside input is vital, no matter how long you’ve been writing or how good you are.

2) How is writing a sequel different from writing a new, original novel? What scared you? What was awesome?
I didn’t originally plan to write a sequel, in part because I was scared of it. How to keep the characters interesting? How to keep them consistent? How to keep themes going while still making each book a satisfying read in its own right?
I came to the sequel because revisions ended Fighting Gravity long before I’d planned. I wanted to tell the rest of their story. That changed a LOT over the course of developing the story.
One thing that I learned from the process is that you’ll survive getting it wrong. I wrote an entire sequel that didn’t get used. I hadn’t delivered what the readers of Fighting Gravity wanted to see in the continuing story. It skipped too many years, it lacked the things they loved about Jake and Pete. It also taught me how to step back and look at the story again, and accept that my vision wasn’t working and learn how to make such a drastic change to my plans.
3) Your work has been hailed (by no less than Lambda Literary!) as a great LGBTQ story for the YA audience. Did you set out to write a queer-positive story from the beginning? What has the reception been like?CE

I didn’t set out to write a queer-anything story, it was something that developed from the unfolding events. It took me by surprise and, quite honestly, scared me. I live in a very conservative area among very conservative people and a very conservative culture. I didn’t feel like I had the knowledge or even the RIGHT to address the struggles the LGBTQ community faces today.

But I learned along the way that the experience of being an outsider, of being judged and even condemned for your differences is much the same from group to group, no matter what the reason.

The reception has been INSANELY more positive than I expected. Perhaps that’s just because I connected with the right audience. Perhaps it’s the changing times. Who knows? But it’s been such a heartwarming experience that it makes me hopeful for all of us.

4) Most fairy tale loves end with the marriage. What has it been like writing a romantic action-adventure thriller where the wedding has already happened? What’s different about writing them now that Jake and Pete have tied the knot?
You know, I don’t think I could have done it if I wasn’t married myself, and I think too that the fact that I’ve been married a long time was even more helpful. It’s one thing to write those flush first years of marriage, when everything is happy and hopeful, and quite another to write the tough times. Jake and Pete didn’t get that time of blissful ignorance of the world around them and the challenges they’ll eventually face as a married couple. So fifteen years of marriage gave me the perspective I think I needed to put them through the tough stuff that challenges you as a couple, and as individuals within the couple, and tests the strength of your commitment to each other and the strength of the two of you together.
5) Ask yourself the one question you wish that everyone asked you during these things, and no one ever does. Then answer it. 🙂
Do you like talking about yourself?
Yes. And therefore, no. 😉
6) Can we have a sneak peek?

I stormed back to my room, kicking over a chair in the sitting room. Jonathan stood nearby, silent.

“You know what?” I said, rounding on him. “He’s not the only one who can play these games.” Jonathan’s eyebrows went up.

“Have an encounter with Duke Blaine, Your Highness?” It didn’t surprise me that he knew exactly who I was talking about.

“I can kick his ass any way he likes.”

Jonathan stared at me, wide eyed.“No. You can’t.”

It was my turn to stare. “Umm, what?”

“You can’t play his game. You’re completely wrong for it. You couldn’t be subtle if your life depended on it.”

“Oh, come on. Like he’s so subtle.”

He frowned in thought. “Not to you, perhaps, but he can be. When you two clashed before, he wasn’t. He didn’t have to be. He was one of the most powerful, richest men in the empire and he knew how to throw his weight around. But this man has been playing politics from his cradle. You have no idea how connected and involved he is; what he knows and what he can make happen.”

I scoffed.

Jonathan shook his head. “Have you considered the role he might have played in your banishment? How convenient it was that the things Blaine knew would be damning in that specific conversation?”

I felt like he’d punched me.

“Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying for years, but you’ve never agreed with me.”

“I’ve never disagreed either. I might have focused more on your own contribution to that disaster, for obvious reasons.”

“But don’t you see? He manipulated me into a situation I couldn’t win. He was going to get me banished, one way or another.”

“He didn’t force you to punch the emperor.”

“You know,” I said, breathless, “I really wish you wouldn’t talk about that.”

“Which is why we should. You cannot play Blaine’s game against him. You prefer an ostrich approach to problems, which only works when you bury the rest of you as well. You certainly can’t plot and scheme with your head in the sand and expect it to be anything but a disaster. You can’t engage him in this.”

“Well I’m not going to sit back and let him do whatever he wants, laughing about it while I act like his kicked dog.”

“You could try talking to the emperor. Your husband.”

I grimaced. “No. I mean, I have.”

“You could try again.”

“No, that’s not what I need to do right now.”

Jonathan stared at me. “Don’t you trust him?”

Sometimes I almost forgot that Jonathan and I weren’t one person. He worked so hard to fade into the background that he’d become incorporated into my experience of life, an extension of me. As he stood there talking about the things I tried very hard to hide from myself, I suddenly hated him. “Of course I trust him. I trust him to do whatever he can to protect me and defend me. The problem is that his view of the situation and his idea of how to handle it are very different from mine. This is a stupid water gun fight. I’m not calling in the ISS. Besides, I can handle myself. Blaine’s just a bully, and I know how to handle bullies.”

From the look on Jonathan’s face, if he had been anyone else, his mouth would have fallen open.

“Your Highness, if you can compare engaging Blaine in the game of politics to a water gun fight then you have made my point. You have no idea what you’re doing. He would eviscerate you. He wants to get rid of you. Was that so pleasant last time he succeeded that you’d like for him to do it again? He’s not going to stop at Resettlement this time.”

“How do you know so much about him?”

His face went blank in a way that, for a moment, almost scared me. Then he said, in a flat, even tone, “No one knows the powerful better than the servants. Not even the other powerful people. That’s why, other than the ISS, we’re the only ones who can be executed just for telling our employer’s secrets.”

My mouth fell open. “You can be what?”

Stark fury crossed his face. “This is exactly what I mean about you having no business playing his game. How can you have been with the emperor this long and not know that? Do you mean you’ve let me see your deepest, darkest secrets and you just trusted that I’d keep them?”

“I don’t—Of course I trust you. What are you talking about?”

He looked like he wanted to pull his hair out. “No wonder—” he mumbled, glaring at the floor. He locked eyes with me. “If a servant is convicted of telling his employer’s secrets, he’s not fired or Resettled, he is executed. It’s why we’re allowed in your bedrooms and to stand attendance while you share confidences. You don’t have to trust our conscience or our loyalty. You know that if we don’t keep your secrets, we die.”I blinked. “Stars and planets and all the space in the heavens, how you’re not dead already must be one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.”

My face was hot. I turned away from him, embarrassed and angry but not at all ready to concede my point.

“OK. So I don’t know some things I need to know.”

He scoffed.

“But that’s why I asked for your help. You know all the things I don’t. You can help me plan this and not screw it up.”

He threw up his hands. “How you can be so smart and so stupid at the same time?”

In spite of myself, I laughed. “Aliana says my brain is so full of physics that there’s no room for thinking.”

He huffed a reluctant laugh. “The Grand Duchess is wise.” He turned to me. “Talk to her. If you won’t confide in the emperor, seek her advice. She knows these games better than anyone.”

I shook my head. “She’ll just tell Pete.”

I think he was gritting his teeth. “Then why won’t you tell him?”

There was no good reason, and there were a million good reasons, and there was one, very, very big reason that crowded out all the others. But I wasn’t going to talk about that. Not with anyone at all.

His jaw locked, his arms crossed, and he turned his back to me. He stood there, silent and rigid until, finally, he relaxed his stance with deliberation, but, without looking at or acknowledging me, he righted the chair I had kicked over and then started to tidy up an already tidy room as if I wasn’t even there. I watched him, angry and hurting.

“Are you mad at me, Jonathan?” I asked at last.

He froze. Then resumed his pointless cleaning. “Yes.”

“Look, I’m doing the best I can.”

“No, you’re not.”

My jaw clenched. “OK, I’m doing the best with what I know.”

“Prince Jacob,” he said, which was the closest he ever came to calling me by name, “your best isn’t good enough. And that frightens me.”

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