This page includes extra information for Welcome to Sortilege Falls.
Behind the Scenes Info:
“Welcome to Sortilege Falls” is my second novel. My first, “Tough Girl” was about an eleven-year-old who is slowly starving to death and loses herself in an imaginary world to combat the misery of her life. I wanted to write something happy after that and WTSF is about as “happy” as my writing gets. The idea was to come up with a main character whose very name sounds like a smile, thus Grape Merriweather was born. Stories grow and writers hardly ever end up writing the book they intended. That is definitely true with WTSF. My “happy” story grew to encompass the themes of beauty worship, celebrity, as well as delving into the mysterious relationships between child stars and their parents. In the beginning of the novel, Grape is new at school and eager to impress. She was popular back home and has never had trouble making friends. She spends over an hour the night before trying on outfits and picking the perfect one for her first day. But she is ignored by students and teachers alike. Everyone is too caught up with the beyond gorgeous models to bother with one new student. We discover this weird world along with Grape and I tried to stay true to her voice. It was very important to me that Grape wasn’t perfect, that she partially fell under the Models’ spell as well.
Sample Q and A for “Welcome to Sortilege Falls”
How did you become an author?
I studied theater in college. In theory, I wanted to be an actress but I wasn’t actually good at it. When I did get cast, I would spend more time rewriting lines than memorizing them. I wrote my first play during my sophomore year and I never turned back.
What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?
I’d probably go back into film work. I went to film school in Seattle and made commercials for a bit and did some production work on independent films. I’d imagine I’d be back in that world if I wasn’t writing.
5 years ago: what were you doing?
I had just finished the Playwriting Intensive at the Kennedy Center in DC and I was hard at work on a new play about hoarding. I lived in DC and worked in a call center by day. I also ran a lot back then. It was a good time, minus the call center.
Do you have a certain writing ritual?
Not by choice. I currently write in the mornings due to my day job. Right now, I wake up, make coffee, stretch my arms (I had a seriously bad bought of tendonitis a year ago) and then head up to my office on the 3rd floor and start taking care of business.
Who are your major writing influences?
Short Answer: Virginia Woolfe, August Strindberg, Brocke Clarke, Terry Pratchett, Muriel Spark, Harold Pinter and Eugene O’Neill.
Long Answer: Virginia Woolfe’s experimentation and exceptional grasp of language constantly floors me. I first encountered August Strindberg in college when I read his “A Dream Play.” I was immediately hooked. I delved for a bit into other expressionist playwrights but Strindberg was always my favorite. Brock Clarke is just fantastic. I haven’t read a book of his yet that I haven’t loved. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are fun and sly. I love how he mixes humor and satire while constantly world building. Muriel Spark is devilishly dark in her work but also stark and honest. The Driver’s Seat is the closest a book has ever come to changing my life. Harold Pinter was another college encounter. My entire vision of theater changed when I watched “The Dumb Waiter” my freshman year. Above all, perhaps, I respect Eugene O’Neill. I love fearless writers who constantly experiment and I think O’Neill embraced that fearlessness better than most. His plays run the gamut from natural to expressionistic. Did he fail? Sometimes, yes. But when he succeeded…damn. Some of his plays are beyond amazing.
Biggest writing pet peeve?
Forgetting to take breaks. I need to move and sitting is just not that great for long stretches of time.
What drove you to write “Welcome to Sortilege Falls”?
The idea of the book came to me during a conversation with my husband. He had just read my first novel, “Tough Girl”, and he assumed I was depressed due to the dark nature of that book. I decided to write something happy. WTSF didn’t quite turn out as I’d imagined. Once I got into the story, I really delved into the idea of how our society worships beauty and celebrity to the point where it’s nearly an illness. I wanted to really explore how pervasive that attitude is but from the point of view of a character who is caught up in in it as well.
What makes Grape Merriweather an interesting Main Character?
Grape starts the novel as a confident yet awkward young lady. She’s always been popular, always been able to make friends easily. She’s not arrogant but is defintitely self-assured. Like most of us, she makes a lot of assumptions based on past occurrences. As the story unfolds, Grape’s assumptions are proven wrong time and time again. Not only is Grape is roundly ignored by students and teachers alike, she’s teased by the Models. The only person in the whole school who befriends her is a boy whose approach to dating leaves Grape incredibly ill at ease. What I most like about Grape is that she tries to be true to herself and not compromise while attempting to be kind. That’s not always an easy feat to accomplish. She says the wrong things at the wrong times and gets carried away with ideas. I think Grape is very human and I let her keep all of her flaws. My least favorite main characters are the ones who do nothing wrong…ever.
What did you draw on for inspiration as you were writing this novel?
Several areas. There was a huge back-lash a few years ago against YA novels where women were treated as less than and stalking was an approved from of courtship. I really wanted to explore that in this book. I gave Graeson, the doomed love interest, every good intention but Grape still saw his odd approach to wooing her as just that, odd.
I remember a certain brand of character from the 80s teen fiction. I think I kind of drew on that for Grape. I wanted a main character who was flawed, smart, and somehow clueless at the same time.
Besides the above, headlines and news stories were also an inspiration. I’m constantly surprised by the degree with which we invest in celebrity gossip. It’s not just curiosity, it goes deeper than that and I wanted to explore that world.
What do you want readers to take away from this novel?
The most important thing is that they have fun while reading. This book is definitely meant to be a fun, fast read. I would love it if afterward they felt like they had to talk to someone about the story–not just “oh I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t enjoy it”, but if they felt like they had to talk to someone about a specific moment or a theme. I purposely put in a few moments that should strain credulity, ie, people in the town not getting angry if a Model were to spit on them. In no way is that ever okay and Grape echoes that sentiment, but how did the people of Sortilege Falls get so far enraptured that being completely humiliated was okay, even appreciated?
“What are you wearing?” a snotty voice asked Grape.
Grape’s entire body stiffened as she looked up from her phone. Five of the most beautiful people to ever walk the earth stood scattered around two Porsches. Did I walk into a photo shoot?
“I mean, gross.”
The words came from an impossibly beautiful girl. Loose, raven-black locks fell over her shoulders, the tips lingering above her full bosom. Grape could almost hear the sizzle and static of her electric blue eyes. The sun had kissed the girl’s skin lightly, leaving a glow that made the air around her shimmer. Her pouty, pink, full lips begged to be kissed, though the guy standing behind her, his arm draped over her shoulder protectively, warned off all who would be so bold.
The boy behind her, if anything, was even more handsome than she was beautiful. Muscle stacked upon muscle until his clothes had no choice but to hug every inch of his body. His dark eyebrows and strong jaw lent him a tough look, one that was backed up by the playful anger in his eyes.
The raven-haired goddess turned and embraced her beau, her face tucked away into the heat of his chest. He sat propped up on the hood of a yellow Porsche, the sleek lines of the car offset by the disdain on his face. They were so incredibly, delightfully gorgeous that even though he looked as if he had seen a cockroach instead of a human being, Grape’s heart still melted at the sight of them.
“I think she’s in love.”
Grape snapped her gaze away from the Adonis with the nasty temperament and turned toward the twin boys standing in front of a black Porsche. Her eyes bounced between the two, taking in every perfect feature. Flawless, rich, dark brown skin. Sparkling hazel eyes. Muscles so tight that you could bounce a quarter off their abs, or arms, or anywhere on their bodies, really. They looked as perfectly engineered as the cars they stood by. But it was their lusciously long eyelashes that sent Grape swooning. Men were not meant to be this pretty.
“Leave her alone, guys.”
Grape’s head spun. Each person she saw was more beautiful than the last, and the redheaded girl standing off to the side was no exception. The baggy jeans and generic T-shirt she wore did not detract from her creamy skin and full lips. Her large brown eyes fascinated Grape—red flakes glimmered from inside each caramel-colored orb.
The air felt charged with a million volts. Her thinking grew cloudy. Were these angels? Was she daydreaming? How did anyone get to be this beautiful? She could sense their hostility, but something inside her felt warm and gooey. Snap to, Grape, she told herself. They want to hurt you.
“Awww, look. It likes us,” the twin with the goatee said. The clean-shaven twin’s face softened. Was that pity she saw in his hazel eyes?
“Stop being mean,” the redhead said, sounding more bored than angry.
“I’m not being mean. Where’d you buy that shirt?” Goatee asked. His quiet tone was laced with thorny edges.
Grape swallowed hard. The fuzz inside her head abated. Focus, she told herself, feeling like an idiot. “I don’t know. Kohl’s maybe.” She glanced down at her blouse. The shirt was a birthday present from her mother, and she wasn’t sure where it came from, but since her mother did most of her own shopping at Kohl’s, it seemed like a pretty safe guess.
Goatee turned toward his brother and smiled. “Pay up.”
Clean-Shaven shook his head at her as if she’d named the wrong store on purpose. He pulled a thick wad of cash from his pocket, peeled off a twenty, and handed it to Goatee. “I was sure it came from Kmart.”
“Why does it matter where I bought my shirt?”
The raven-haired girl glanced out from her hiding place in her boyfriend’s embrace. “It just looked familiar. I wore the same shirt. Three years ago.” She smiled, but there was no kindness when she bared her teeth. “Before it was a knockoff.” The girl hid her face against her boyfriend’s pecs. Their chests rose and fell at the same time, breathing as one.
“Okay. Well, I don’t really buy designer clothes.” Grape wanted to have a witty comeback, but she still wasn’t sure where the insult lay. Did they or did they not like the shirt?
What the hell is wrong with me? Of course they’re making fun of me. Why aren’t I angrier?
“She means she modeled the design,” the redheaded girl said, cutting her eyes to the couple.
“You’re a model?”
The brothers snickered. “Pretending she doesn’t know who we are, that’s so cute. Is that the new fad amongst the Normals?” Clean-Shaven asked.
“I don’t understand anything you just said.” Grape felt completely out of her depth. This was the school parking lot, but she might as well have been on Jupiter.
The redhead took a step toward Grape, shooting a nasty glance to the others crowded around the cars. “Don’t worry about it. They’re just teasing.”
“I thought about modeling.” Grape hadn’t meant to say that, but no one else spoke, and she felt like she had to say something. Her skin grew hot. She knew she was blushing beyond red and into crimson mode. She’d practiced runway shows off and on in her bedroom since she was twelve, but she had never told anyone she wanted to be a model. Ever.
“Ow,” Grape cried, only then noticing that she had twisted her ring so hard it was actually cutting into her finger. A tiny drop of blood oozed out and fell to the pavement below.
“Aren’t you a little fat to be a model?” the boyfriend asked. His voice sounded like pure honey even when he spoke acid.
“You think I’m fat?” Grape stared down at her flat tummy. No one had ever called her fat before. There was still a bit of room in the waistband of her size four skirt.
“I’m just saying you could stand to lose a few pounds, unless you want the runway to collapse.”
“Ouch, Adam.” Clean-Shaven punched the boyfriend playfully on the arm.
Goatee winked at Adam. “My boy calls it like he sees it, and he sees a chunky monkey.”
“I’m well within my weight range.” She could feel her voice growing high-pitched. Damn nerves. These people were jerks.
“Of course you are, you look great,” the redhead told her. “These guys just don’t how to joke around without being completely mean.”
“We aren’t joking,” Adam said, giving his girlfriend a quick kiss on the top of her head.
Goatee pulled out his car keys. He turned his back on Grape, tired of their new toy.
“Whatever. Class is about to start. Are we skipping or staying?”
“Skipping,” the raven-haired girl peeked out to say.
Adam looked Grape over and made a face as if he’d smelled something terrible. “Yeah, I think I’m done for the day, too. I feel the need to hit the gym.”
She rubbed her hands over her stomach but it still felt flat like normal. What were they seeing that she wasn’t?
“The shirt looks nice on you,” Clean-Shaven said before climbing into the driver’s seat of the black Porsche.
“Like a muumuu on a water buffalo,” Goatee added and hopped into the driver’s seat of the yellow Porsche. The couple got into the back of his car and huddled close together.
“Mandy, you coming?” Goatee asked.
“No, I have a test,” Mandy, the redhead, said. “I’ll see you later.”
Grape waved stupidly at the drivers as the engines revved. You look like a goober, she told herself, but she could not stop waving.
“Move.” Mandy grabbed Grape by the arm and pulled her toward the sidewalk.
Grape tried to shake her arm free, but Mandy’s grip was surprisingly strong. “Let go of me.”
Mandy stared at her with an I-told-you-so look as the Porsches sped off, right through where Grape had been standing.
“Oh my God, were they going to run me over?”
“Not on purpose. I’m sure they just forgot you were there once they started their cars.”
Mandy shook her head. She stared after the Porsches as they pulled into traffic and sped away. Finally, she turned back to Grape and offered her an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that.”
“All of it, I guess.”
Short Bio – 3rd Person:
Libby Heily began writing after spending years as an obsessive reader. She’s written plays, screenplays, flash fiction, short stories, and novels. Libby studied Acting and Playwriting at Longwood College and Film Production at the Seattle Film Institute. When not spending time in made up places with invisible friends, she enjoys reading, running, hiking and performing improv in Raleigh, NC.
Long Bio – 1st Person
I was born during a blizzard. I’m told it was pretty cool but I have no memory of that time. I grew up in two tiny towns in Virginia and spent most of my twenties moving around the US. I’ve lived in Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and Washington. I’ve settled down, for now, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’m a writer and improviser. I studied acting in college but spent more time rewriting lines than memorizing them. My first play, Fourth Wall, was produced my junior year. Since then, I’ve written several full length plays, one acts, and screenplays. I started writing fiction in my late twenties. Now, I focus mainly on novels but still dabble in theater.
Fun facts about me: There are none. I’m sorry to disappoint you so soon. But, I do love to read, write, and run. My hubby is my favorite person on earth. Dogs are my second favorite. All dogs. I love orange juice, especially when it’s mixed with club soda. Carbonation is better than alcohol. Jaws is my favorite movie. Everything I’ve said so far is true.
Puschcart Prize Nominee for “Grow Your Own Dad” – Published by Mixer Publishing
Semi-finalist Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference – “STUFF”
Honorable Mention The Ohio State Newark New Play Contest – “The Last Day”
PO Box 58251 Raleigh, NC 27616