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Season 4, Episode 14

From Eco-horror to Historical Fantasy: A Conversation with Rory Power

April 14, 2022

YA author Rory Power joins the podcast to talk about her newest book, In a Garden Burning Gold, and share her recommendation for readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 This is Charity and Jen of Planet Book brought to you by the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode we discuss our favorite white middle grade books and anything else having to do with reading that book or topic you'd like to hear us talk about email us at Thanks for joining us. Today we're joined by a special guest. And she is the best selling author of Wilder Girls and Burn Our Bodies Down and she's got a new book coming out this spring. We are super excited to have on the podcast today Rory power. Thanks for joining us, Rory.

Rory Power 0:33 Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Charity 0:37 And I just have to give a shout out and I know this is a podcast, no one can see this. But she has a beautiful wall of bookshelves behind her. And I'm kind of jealous. It's beautiful.

Rory Power 0:51 I would move to show you more of it. But I'm actually blocking the part where you can see through into my disaster kitchen. So I'm very strategically positioned.

Charity 0:59 Yes, totally fine. Well, we are so excited to have you with us. I read Burn Our Bodies Down and Wilder Girls, and I love them both. So I was excited to see that you've got a new one coming out. But let's start by talking about your most recent book Burn Our Bodies Down. Tell us about that one for those who may not have read that one yet.

Rory Power 1:27 Yeah, so I like to call that one Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn by way of The X Files is kind of the mix of that mother daughter really like intense, complicated relationship. But there's also some weird stuff happening. And it's at Nebraska, there's a lot of love corn, and it's about a girl named Margo, who doesn't know a ton about her family, and lives alone with her mom. And then one day she finds her grandmother's number on the back of a postcard and decides to check it out and ends up wishing that she had not. It's not a good time. It's a good time for you the reader, hopefully for her not so much.

Jen 2:08 It's one of those kinds of books like you have to be careful what you say because there's like a lot of twists and turns. But I will say that like when I looked at the cover and what led me to it is I really love folk horror and I thought, oh, this is gonna be a folk horror. And then what we got is like eco horror. It doesn't leave you. Like the kind of body horror, eco horror we get with your stuff, it's haunting.

Rory Power 2:35 Thank you.

Charity 2:36 It sits with you and the twist that you put in there. Like when you find out what's happening, like where did the inspiration for that come from because it's a little different?

Rory Power 2:46 That one, there's-so I'll say sort of as much as I can without spoiling too much for anybody who hasn't read it. But I got really interested in this chemical that people use in growing wheat specifically, it's called the Colchicine. Wait, that might be the fake name that I made up for it. You know, if that's the fake name, that's fine, because it means that the Colchicine lobby isn't gonna come after me for slandering their good name. But there's a process by which you can create hybrid varieties of wheat and then make sure that those kinds of wheat are fertile so you can propagate them. And I thought it was really interesting for some reason. And so usually, an idea will kind of come together out of those like little bits from a Wikipedia article that I just like filed away. And this one was that process plus, you know, when you're driving past a cornfield, and like you hit the right speed at the right time and suddenly you can see the rows where they're planted. And it's like a wall of like blur and then suddenly it's like order and you can see all the way down them. I just like that a lot. I was thinking about that and thinking about how people make wheat able to grow when it shouldn't be able to grow and I was like there's something there. I don't know what but-

Jen 4:08 I thought it was brilliant the way like I guess because I was expecting folk horror for the way I was like oh, I'm gonna get a witch narrative here and instead I get a big pharma narrative. But basically, these are both like-chemistry

Rory Power 4:20 You know, six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Charity 4:24 Yeah, like it felt really kind of fresh. Like I felt like that was a fresh perspective for me. I want to talk about Wilder Girls. I read that you said you love the setting and you tend to start with setting when you are writing a story and in Wilder Girls, my goodness, you do such a great job of building that world.

Rory Power 4:46 Oh thank you.

Charity 4:47 So I'm wondering why is setting so important for you? What is it about the setting that moves you?

Rory Power 4:54 I don't know exactly. I just know that usually I'm writing so that I can hang out somewhere. I think a lot of writers, I really admire how they approach a person's character first, and they have such a great idea of who these people are, even before they're on the page sometimes. And for me, I work really like backwards, like, okay, here's an island, who's who would be on the island. There's a house, I would like to explore the third floor of the house, but who would go to the third floor? Okay, I should probably write about that person. And sometimes it leads me down the wrong path. There was a whole version of Wilder Girls first where it was focused on a different one of the three main characters, like she had the bulk of the book. And I realized very quickly, it was just her like, looking out the window, which I loved, but was very boring.

Jen 5:45 If any of our listeners haven't read Wilder Girls, like, tell them a little bit like A-the setting, it's during a quarantine. And you wrote this prior to 2020. So like, it's very timely. There's a tox, which is-we don't really know, right?

Rory Power 6:06 It's a disease.

Jen 6:08 Yeah, it's a disease.

Rory Power 6:10 Yeah, I first saw kind of the landscape that I really wanted to work with, is actually in North Carolina and the Outer Banks. I was visiting a friend there. And I'm from the northeast, like, I have a very kind of set expectation for what trees are going to be. And then I went down there and I was like, what are these? They were so horizontal, like they grow out instead of up. It was just bizarre to me, in an amazing way. And so I kind of there's an island in the Outer Banks called Harkers Island, and I kind of just like, lifted it wholesale, and plopped it down in Maine, because I needed it to snow. That's the whole logic there. But yeah, it's set on an island at a boarding school, an all girls boarding school and they have been quarantined for it's like a year and a half when the book starts, because things are happening to them and in like a very physical way. They're both like, some people have gills now some people have like, third eyelids and stuff like that. And three of those girls have to figure out kind of what's going on. And what happened to them to have them end up here. Yeah, and I loved the setting for that. Like, I could have written 40 more books just about like the pine trees. My editor was like, okay. We get it. You can cut this one, I promise, people will still be able to picture it.

Charity 7:29 Oh, that's funny. I'm wondering, you know, you wrote that long before we found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, but I'm wondering how you feel about it now, or if you've gotten any feedback from readers as to how it hits them now, like readers who are just discovering it while we're in a pandemic and have gone through quarantine?

Rory Power 7:49 I was worried when I mean, for a lot of reasons, I was worried when the pandemic hit, we all were, but I kind of felt like that's it. Like the book, like, I don't want to read about quarantine. Like nobody is gonna want to read about it. So like that, you know, we had a good run. It's been really interesting because I think people even though the quarantines themselves, ours and theirs, are not comparable. The experience of, of the isolation and of like having to cling to people who are around you, even if they're not necessarily the people, you would always choose to be around. Like, I think that has resonated. So, you know, we're not growing gills. But these girls have had to completely like, draw back from everything and, and connect with each other in a new way for them. And I think that is a really cool experience. Now

Jen 8:43 Without you having lived this yet. They have that same experience of like, who do you trust? What, what technology do we trust right now? Because

Rory Power 8:52 And I think they wonder too, about like, what, from their old lives, quote, unquote, was necessary? And what was like, what could they go without? What can they change? And what can they not? The answer for them is they can go without a lot.

Jen 9:06 Yeah. Is that kind of what keeps you up at night?

Rory Power 9:09 I think yeah, I think I'm one of those people. Like, I feel like a lot of us have this like kind of existential like climate dread. And like, I don't know what to do. I'm one person like, I'm trying not to use straws, but what does that matter when like 12 companies produce 70% of emissions? Like, okay, like, I'll go without my straw, I guess. It's a hard thing to balance. And so I try to acknowledge that on some level in my work, whether it's like on the page discussion, or whether it's just kind of feeling general malaise, but yeah, it definitely informs what I do more and more.

Charity 9:48 Now, tell us about the new book that you have coming out this spring.

Rory Power 9:53 Yeah, I'm so excited for this one. I mean, I love all my children equally. But this one's fun, because I grew up reading a lot of classic fantasy. And like, that was my first reading genre that like I found by myself, and I loved it on my own without my parents being like, here, read this. And so this is kind of me getting to work in that zone, myself. And so I really didn't think anybody was gonna, like, ever read it. When I read it, I was just like, this is fun. Like, I'm just having a good time writing stuff that I would have read when I was like 13, and 14. And now I get to share it with people. And I'm very excited. It's set in a world that's kind of modeled after, like North Western Greece, my family is from that area, kind of right under Albania. And it's a unique area. Like it has a lot of Ottoman and Byzantine influence still from when Greece was under occupation by those various empires. And its geography kind of keeps it distinct on some levels. So I decided to build a fantasy world that's kind of a version of that, because I love seeing Greek stuff in speculative fiction, but I've always kind of wanted to see the Greece that I know, which is a little bit, a little bit different. So yeah, I get to work with that and write about siblings, which I haven't done before. And as the youngest child, it's very much a youngest child supremacy book. Youngest children are the best. And that is the moral of the story.

Jen 11:24 They're twins, right? You're writing about twins, right?

Rory Power 11:26 Yes. There are two eldest twins, a middle brother, and then a youngest daughter, okay, and she is not in the book as much as I would like, but she's in the sequel a lot.

Jen 11:36 There's going to be a sequel?

Rory 11:37 There's going to be a sequel. My first sequel.

Charity 11:41 Oh, my gosh, this is so exciting.

Rory Power 11:42 I don't know what I'm doing. But I'm having a good time.

Charity 11:47 That sounds great. You said you wrote a book that you wanted to read. And you read a lot of classic fantasy, what were some of your favorites when you were a young person?

Rory Power 11:57 My favorite favorite was Wheel of Time, that whole series, Robert Jordan and then finished by Brandon Sanderson. And it's so funny because I read those like, they were kind of my first foray into the adult fantasy world. And looking back, I'm like, I feel so differently about those characters now. And like, there's so much that just went completely over my head. And I didn't have the, like, the critical thinking skills to examine. But my favorite part is that there's this like group of like magical women who hate men. And it's like, they're awful. How could they? And now looking back, I'm like, I don't know? They had the right idea. Maybe I should reevaluate that.

Jen 12:38 That's one of the things that's great about being a reader is that I always tell people, it's fine to reread a book, because the more you reread a book, the more you learn about yourself, like, this is how I've grown, the book hasn't changed, I'm just getting different things out of it.

Rory Power 12:53 Or I'll find myself noticing things that I didn't notice before, or I'm not always the most like astute reader. So sometimes I'll be like, oh, that's okay that's why, that's why that happens that way.

Jen 13:07 And this will-your new book-is technically going to be in adult fiction, but will it be for those teenagers okay with reading about slightly older characters. Content wise, it's totally something they could enjoy, right?

Rory Power 13:23 For sure. Especially compared to my YA there's, like, minimal, like, nobody like throws up an organ.

Jen 13:35 Yeah, yeah. There's no body horror or there's way less.

Rory Power 13:37 And it's interesting, I think, the sort of main characters, the family, they have all been alive for a very long time, but they're also still very much children. And they like exist under their father. And so I was really interested in that kind of like, not quite 20s, but kind of 20s 30s where you're like, I have a lot of agency, but also like, I am still in ways a child and in ways that I didn't expect or want to be. So I think it kind of straddles the line in some places.

Charity 14:08 When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you come into that?

Rory Power 14:12 According to my mother, the first book I ever wrote, I was six, and it was called Detective Pony. It was a sequel called Detective Pony Finds the Diamonds in which he finds the diamonds, as you can imagine. So apparently, I wanted to for a long time, but I think that really was down to I lived in a house where like, reading was huge. Like, we had a wall like the one behind me just in every room and my mom talked about books nonstop, and it was just really not pushed on me but just always available. And I'm so grateful for that. And I went through you know, I went through that phase when as you grow up, you're like, No, I don't like that thing. I'm not gonna do it. But I found my way back. And yeah, I feel like it's always just kind of been there. Like, I want to imagine things I wanna, I want to see what might happen if you do something else.

Jen 15:07 Are you a big fan of art? Because I, it's like, I almost want to see who would direct your movies

Rory Power 15:13 Me too. That would be rad.

Jen 15:15 I want to see this, someone adapt this.

Rory Power 15:20 I'm not like an artistic person, like I can't draw. But I definitely am a visual person. And I take a lot of inspiration from photography and like fine arts, but also land art and light art. I think I've gotten into light installations. And there are also sculptures people do in the land where like, there's, there's an example that I think people are maybe a little more familiar with where you like wrap tree trunks in kind of twine. And then if you stand in a certain place, they like, line up with the horizon and stuff like that. So I'm on Pinterest all the time, just like a magpie like collecting visual bits here and there.

Charity 15:59 I think both of the books that you've written so far, gosh, they would be so great adapted for the big screen.

Jen 16:06 Like a David Cronenberg, though, like not just anyone's hand like we need a Lynch or Cronenberg or a female version of that.

Rory Power 16:10 That's the dream.

Jen 16:12 Like maybe the French girl that directed Raw, or something like

Rory Power 16:17 Man, that would be so cool.

Charity 16:20 Netflix, if you're listening give Rory Power call. What does your, I'm curious what your writing process looks like?

Rory Power 16:30 Oh, well, pre-pandemic, I would do a lot of like, going to write in public for a couple hours. Because I do need a little bit of like public shaming. To get me focused. I gotta be somewhere where people can see my screens so that if I'm just watching YouTube videos, someone's like, Why did she come here to do that? Go home. So to do that I have learned to write at home now. But on a like average day, I try to spend like, three ish hours in an afternoon drafting. So I'll try and get like 2000 ish words is a good kind of sweet spot for me. And then thinking and admin stuff, which always takes way longer than you think it's going to. And I do a little bit of work on the side with some freelance stuff, too. So that kind of keeps me busy. And in the real world as well, which when you're writing, it can be very easy to disappear.

Jen 17:22 That reminds me, I think I read somewhere that you work for like a true crime editing.

Rory Power 17:28 I did. I used to work for a crime fiction imprint. And so I used to edit mostly, like cozy mysteries.

Jen 17:37 Okay, that's, like, I don't see that in your writing. Like, I don't see the like serial killer

Rory Power 17:45 Oh, it's a different tone for sure. But I also feel like I learned so much from reading mysteries, and really like digging into how they work and what makes something satisfying, and what doesn't. And what I mean, mystery readers are so like smart and dedicated to the genre they read so much. So I learned a lot about like, Okay, you can't do this thing they've done it a billion times, like you got to think a little bit more about the way the pieces fit together.

Charity 18:12 I'm curious what you would love to see more of in terms of books for young people like what would you love to see authors writing more about?

Rory Power 18:23 I mean, I think it's been so gratifying and exciting to see in the last couple years, the breadth of voices that we're hearing from get bigger and bigger. But I mean, we can always, always be hearing from more people and more kinds of people and also allowing people, marginalized people specifically, the freedom to write not just about, like, the pain of it, or the trauma of it, like, we need to be able to hear from everybody about everything. I mean, that's a very broad answer. Specifically for me, I love books that are kind of narrow in scope. Like I love the kind of like locked room idea where it's just this cast, it's just this like one setting. Those are so interesting to me, which checks out because that is what I write a lot of the time. But yeah, selfishly, I'd love to see, you know, more of those. And I think we're seeing a lot of great thrillers which is exciting, because those are my favorite.

Charity 19:23 Yeah, well what are you reading that you would recommend to other readers?

Rory Power 19:27 At the moment I'm reading, it's propping up my laptop, so I won't hold it up. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, I'm starting that. It's an adult fantasy and then I'm also reading Cara Thomas's latest one in YA. It's called That Weekend. I think it's also holding up my laptop. I really should have thought about this. But yeah, that's a thriller in the YA space which there are so many great ones. So those are my two that I've got going on right now.

Charity 19:55 What are you going to read next? What's on your to be read pile?

Rory Power 19:58 I don't know.

Jen 20:00 Well, we'll ask you the same question we ask other authors. Do you read one book at a time? Or have you like got three or four going at the same?

Rory Power 20:12 I tend to have a couple going at the same time because I don't want to read something that's too close to what I'm doing. Because I am kind of like a hypochondriac in a writing way where I'm like, am I writing that? Am I writing that? Like, am I? This idea? Like, no, it's fine, you need to relax. So yeah, I generally have a couple going and I'll lean towards one or lean towards the other, depending on what I'm doing in my own work. And also, there's just so many good ones. I feel like I have to, I have to start them all otherwise I'm not going to get to them.

Charity 20:44 As librarians, we feel your pain. The struggle is real.

Rory Power 20:45 You guys know.

Jen 20:48 Yeah. Oh, definitely.

Charity 20:50 Okay. One last question. Is there a book that you've read that you would think, maybe not enough other people have read this, that you would recommend? What's the best book that not enough people have read?

Rory Power 21:02 This is kind of a weird one, and I'm gonna mess up the title if I don't lay eyes on it.

Charity 21:10 Also, while you're doing that, I'm gonna ask Are your shelves color coded?

Rory Power 21:14 Kind of. I started out with that in mind, and then it didn't go well for me at certain points. Like pretty ones in front of where I sit for Zoom things. Oh, okay. I found it. It's like a novella. It's pretty short, but it's called Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants. And it's by Mathias Enard. It's translated from French I believe. I read it in English because I do not speak French. But it's historical. Kind of like a historical fiction, about a trip that Michelangelo made to think about building a bridge over the Gulf in Constantinople. And it's just like, very thoughtful and very interestingly done. I feel like I haven't read a lot like it before. And they're just there were passages that really made me think in a beautiful way with the length like the translator did an amazing job. The language is really, really well preserved. And beautifully done. Like, I wish I could read it in the original. But

Charity 22:20 I love that. Thanks for that recommendation. Well, this has been so great. We've loved chatting with you. So thanks so much for making time to join us today.

Rory Power 22:32 Of course, it's been a joy. Thank you for having me.

Charity 22:35 For all of you listening at checkout, Rory Power and everything that she's doing on her website Follow her on Insta@itsrorypower and her new book that's coming out in the spring In a Garden Burning Gold, run out and get it as soon as you can. Rory, thanks for joining us, of course. Thanks for joining us for another episode, send your book and show suggestions or comments to We'd love to hear from you. Check out the library's website for these and other great book recommendations. Follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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