Author to Author: Ashley Herring Blake talks to Destiny SoriaBy: Ashley Herring Blake
Destiny Soria’s debut young adult historical fantasy novel is a beautifully written, smart, magical journey into 1920s Boston. It follows two very different female characters, Ada and Corinne, who are hemopaths. What does that mean you ask? Well, let me tell you. It means their blood is special and gives them the ability to create illusions through art. I know, right? What follows are gangster, hijinks, terrifying asylums, romance, and a friendship that you’ll not soon forget. I recently chatted with Destiny about her book, her characters, and bringing the world of Iron Cast to life.
Iron Cast is set in Boston in the 20s. What inspired you to write about this particular time period and what kind of research did you do to prepare?
I’ve always been a little in love with the Roaring Twenties. My favorite musical when I was growing up was Chicago—I used to watch it on repeat. I wrote a very (very) early version of this novel set in present day, but it didn’t quite work, and I shelved it in favor of other projects. When I came back to the idea for NaNoWriMo a couple years back, I decided that present day didn’t quite fit the glamor and danger I wanted to invoke. The illegal hemopath shows that entertain patrons in secret struck me as being very similar to the speakeasies that sprang up after Prohibition, and I realized I could tie the anti-hemopath and anti-alcohol movements together. Add in the widespread paranoia of anarchy and communism (aka the Red Scare), and I had a perfect storm to thrust my heroines into.
For research, I read a lot of books and spent a lot of late nights studying up on the different movements and ideologies that characterized the time period—both worldwide and closer to home. My favorite part of the process was reading up on different types of cons run by grifters over the centuries, and of course looking at pretty dresses from the era was also fun. Aside from that, you’d be surprised how much time went into just trying to figure out when certain words were coined (and I still missed a few—thank goodness for copyeditors).
At the heart of this book, there are two best friends. There is also some lovely romance, but Ada and Corinne are the essence of this book. Talk a little bit about Ada and Corinne and why you chose to center them as opposed to a romance.
I love a good romance, but growing up I was always more interested in adventuring and intrigue and the messy and beautiful friendships between characters—especially girls. I didn’t date in middle school or high school, but I had friends to whom I was fiercely loyal, and who I knew felt the same about me. So when I set out to write this book, I decided to make it a book that I would have loved to read as a teen. I wanted two best friends who are each other’s world and who never let anything come between them. Ada and Corinne come from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, and their personalities are almost polar opposites, but they’ve learned how to turn those differences into strength instead of division.
The book has a wonderfully diverse cast. How did you go about crafting each character and why was this important to you?
Honestly, I just wanted to write a story that was reflective of the wonderfully diverse world in which we live. It was important to me that each character be a sum of their past and present, their loves and hates and dreams, their relationships and their flaws and their quirks, and yes, also their race and ethnicity and sexuality. But I didn’t want any character to be wholly defined by just one of these things, because real people certainly aren’t.
In the book, there is definitely a theme of found families, those people who become our family that we are not necessarily born into. Talk a little bit about why you chose to write about this and how this was important to both Ada and Corinne.
It’s kind of funny, because the term “found family” wasn’t something I was familiar with until after I wrote this, and now people bring it up all the time. It’s a concept that I absolutely love. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, and to me those people that you choose to be loyal to—not because of blood or familial ties, but because of a deeper, stronger connection—can be just as vital to your life as your “real” family. The Cast Iron club is a refuge of sorts for hemopaths, and I guess when you have a group of people who are united in such a fundamental way and dependent on each other’s loyalty, that’s going to forge some unbreakable bonds. Corinne and Ada both feel alienated from their families because of their blood “affliction,” and though they both deal with that differently, at the end of the day they rely on each other and the others in their found family for support.
Ada and Corinne are, for all intents and purposes, con artists. You do an amazing job of showing us the necessity of their lives, the moral complexity of what they do, as well as their own doubts about conning people. What inspired you to write about this kind of life?
I’ve always been fascinated by grifters. From Ocean’s Eleven to Matchstick Men to Catch Me If You Can, I never got tired of watching cons and heists play out on the silver screen. With Corinne and Ada’s special talents and their ties to the infamous mobster Johnny Dervish, it seemed natural that they would earn their keep by running cons on the side. Grifting is easy for them; it’s navigating the morality of their profession that gets tricky.
Ada and Corinne, as well as all hemopaths, deal with oppression, suspicion, and persecution. As I was reading, I found this so relevant to what many people deal with today. Talk a little about how you crafted their identity and why it was important to you they reflect our world.
I wanted the alternate history I was creating for this book to feel as real as possible. Hemopaths are different, and if history has taught us anything, it’s that people don’t tend to deal well with anything that’s different from what the privileged consider the status quo. I absolutely didn’t want to write over the very real racism, sexism, and homophobia that exist in our world. My line of thought was that if hemopaths really existed, then anti-hemopath prejudice would be a natural byproduct. Just as I wanted Iron Cast to be reflective of the wonderful diversity in our world, I also wanted it to be reflective of the uglier aspects. I think it’s important to hold a mirror up to our beliefs and actions as often as we can, and fiction can be a useful tool for that.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
It’s impossible for me to answer this because I love both Ada and Corinne equally fiercely. But if I had to pick a next favorite, I’d say Saint. His character really surprised me in a lot of ways as I was writing him, and I loved the way his arc turned out.
Is there a song or songs you listened to while writing Iron Cast?
Quite a few actually. If I had to pick one song representative of the book, I’d say Empire, by Alpines. You can [listen to] my Spotify playlist. (No representation is made that I actually have good taste in music.)
Will we see Ada and Corinne again?
Hopefully in all the fan art that my loving readers will create. (Just kidding…but not really.) As for a sequel, there’s not one planned currently, but who knows what the future can bring.