This Tuesday was the book birthday of Jillian Maria’s debut, the stunning supernatural suspense The Songbird’s Refrain!
I had the privilege of reading this story while it was still in its earlier beta stages, and it’s been a joy to watch it grow from a not-so-shitty rough draft to an absolute piece of art.
So if you’re looking for an awesome, creepy YA with some good old fashion gal pals growing magical life-stealing feathers, you’re in for a treat!
When a mysterious show arrives in town, seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Brighton is both intrigued and unsettled. But none of the acts capture her attention quite like the blue-eyed woman. Locked in a birdcage and covered in feathers, the anguish in her voice sounds just a little too real to be an act—because it isn’t. The show’s owner, a sadistic witch known only as the Mistress, is holding her captive.
And she’s chosen Elizabeth as her next victim.
After watching the blue-eyed woman die, Elizabeth is placed under the same curse. She clings to what little hope she can find in the words of a fortune teller and in her own strange dreams. The more she learns, the more she suspects that the Mistress isn’t as invulnerable as she appears. But time is against her, and every feather that sprouts brings her closer to meeting the blue-eyed woman’s fate. Can Elizabeth unlock the secret to flying free, or will the Mistress’s curse kill her and cage its next victim?
This book is a blast, with a hint of creepy, a dose of suspense, and a nice dollop of fluffy wlw.
Despite nearly the entire story taking place in the same basic location, the plot never feels slow or aimless. The mystery is engaging, constantly pulling the reader forward with new hints. The MC goes through a wonderful character arc and is very easy to root for, the villain is just as easy to love to hate, and all the side characters have interesting personalities and impact the plot. The prose is generally simplistic, with some minor disruptions like repeated words, but holds great, impactful lines as well.
Overall, a wonderful fall read, with a heavy focus on healthy relationships, believing in one’s self, and choosing love.
Jillian was awesome enough to answer a few questions for me…
Where did you first get the idea or inspiration for this novel?
The earliest version of this novel was actually a fanfiction! But it’s changed a lot since then–the entire bird/feather motif didn’t exist, there were a lot more characters who didn’t really contribute anything, the love stories were less fleshed out. I think the biggest changes happened from around the 70% mark onward, but everything’s changed a little bit.
Where and when do you typically write? Do you have any pre-writing exercises or habits that help you get into the mood?
I tend to write after dinner, but lately I’ve been sneaking in more writing on my lunch break, too. I don’t really have any habits or exercises, but I do tend to schedule my day in advance, so I always know exactly when I’m writing. Generally I dedicate the 7:30-8:30 block to writing, although sometimes it gets moved around. And on weekends, I’ll schedule more writing time.
Who was your favorite side character to write in The Songbird’s Refrain?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite! They were all super fun in their own way. Maybe Violet, though. She probably had the easiest voice out all of them to write, and required very little editing. Just deleting an f-word here and there when she decided she needed to use three in one sentence.
If you had to set The Songbird’s Refrain in a popular alternate universe (like the world of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games, etc), which would you choose and how would your characters fit in there?
Oh, gosh, what a great question! I definitely know my character’s Hogwarts Houses, so… let’s go with that. Elizabeth is a tiny shy hufflepuff with a crush on the cute Ravenclaw girl who is always reading romance novels and doting on her cat, but doesn’t get the courage to talk to her until a mysterious threat arrives, wearing a dark mark and a red dress… I don’t know, something like that!
What’s something (or multiple somethings) you wish you’d known about writing before you’d started The Songbird’s Refrain?
You’re going to wind up changing lots of things during the drafting process, so don’t worry so much about sentence structure until you’re relatively certain you’re going to keep that chapter the way that it is! Seriously, I could have saved so much time..
Do you have a new project you’re working on now that The Songbird’s Refrain is approaching publication?
There is, but I’m not sure if I’m going to publish it under the Jillian Maria name, so I’m keeping it a secret 😉 But my next big Jillian Maria project is going to be another f/f YA novel about two girls hunting treasure in a small town forest! Technically this is a second draft, but I’m changing some pretty major plot elements and it’s got me really excited. I’ve got it outlined and about one-and-a-half chapters properly drafted right now, and am hoping it’ll be ready for its first round of beta readers after that!
What are you most proud of in regards to The Songbird’s Refrain, whether that be a skill you picked up while writing it or a scene you didn’t think you could conquer, etc?
I think that the themes of the book are really solid. I’m really proud of how everything sort of ties together in the end, because that’s something I really admire in other writers but always have a hard time replicating. It took several drafts, but I think it got there! Also, Chapter 28 always makes me cry. I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment.
While The Songbird’s Refrain is an amazing book, there’s always more to be learned as a writer! Is there something you’re working on improving in your writing right now?
Pacing is always a struggle of mine, so that’s something I think I’ll be working on indefinitely, from now until the end of time. I’d also like to make my writing process a little shorter–it took many, many drafts to get The Songbird’s Refrain to where it is now, and I’d like to improve as a writer so that I can get more polished drafts on the first or second try.
Can we get a picture of you and your writing buddy Sadie? 🙂
Of course! As you can see, she is very helpful.
You can find her on twitter, goodreads, and her website. Jillian Maria enjoys tea, pretty dresses, and ripping out pieces of herself to put in her novels. She writes the books she wants to read, prominently featuring women who are like her in some way or another. A great lover of horror, thriller and mystery novels, most of her stories have some of her own fears lurking in the margins. When she isn’t willing imaginary people into existence, she’s pursuing a career in public relations and content marketing. A Michigan native, Jillian spends what little free time she has hanging out with her friends, reading too much, singing along to musical numbers, and doting on her cat.