I'm so excited to make the first post of this new feature! Book Portrait of the Month will showcase one book that has a cover/synopsis/etc. that I find particularly striking. In each post I hope to include teasers and author interviews or guest posts (when possible), as well as a giveaway. Hopefully this feature will bring more attention to some very deserving books!
So without further ado I present February's feature:
The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
Reason for Feature: Cover
About the Book:
Published By: Egmont USA | Release Date: February 14, 2012
Reading Level: Young Adult | Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Penelope (Lo) Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. Her dad's consulting job means she's grown up moving from one rundown city to the next, and she's learned to cope by collecting (sometimes even stealing) quirky trinkets and souvenirs in each new place--possessions that allow her to feel at least some semblance of home.
But in the year since her brother Oren's death, Lo's hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. She discovers a beautiful, antique butterfly pendant during a routine scour at a weekend flea market, and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as "Sapphire"--a girl just a few years older than Lo. As usual when Lo begins to obsess over something, she can't get the murder out of her mind.
As she attempts to piece together the mysterious "butterfly clues," with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld much closer to home than she ever imagined--a world, she'll ultimately discover, that could hold the key to her brother's tragic death.
Or maybe that is the answer.
You can read my review of The Butterfly Clues here.
I'm very excited that Kate Ellison was kind enough to participate in this new feature! Please take a few minutes to learn more about this author and her book.
How would you describe THE BUTTERFLY CLUES in three words?
These are somewhat dramatic, but, then again, I suppose so's the book:
Grief. Compulsion. Redemption.
Can you share anything about how the cover ties into the book?
Well, right off the bat, I'm going to have to say that nowhere in the book are any butterflies murdered, if that's what the cover has led anyone to expect. I've probably just lost about fifty percent of future readers by admitting that, but, moral obligation demands that I be honest and reveal such a grave disappointment as this right away.
Really, though, Lo—the protagonist—uses objects to manage the grief and guilt she's not otherwise prepared to deal with. I know it says all of this in the blurb on the back of the book, so I'll try not to be terribly repetitive, but she finds a butterfly figurine at a flea market, and it is this object—and all the meaning and importance she invests within it—that compels her to investigate the murder of a girl no one seems to give a hoot about. So, there's the butterfly.
As for the blood, well, it's a murder mystery, so...you know.
What surprised you most while writing this book?
How much things can change after the first draft. You sort of get this momentary, cocky “done” feeling, and then notes from the editor come back, and you realize how very far from done you are. It's surprising how much a book can change from inception to completion; I think I knew this logically, but how it feels emotionally—if that's the right word—is a different experience. I had a lot of work to do in terms of not becoming too attached to anything, of not making everything too precious.
The story of THE BUTTERFLY CLUES is very intense. What was it like to delve into this world?
It involved a lot of head-clearing at the end of my writing day, and during it, too, I guess. It was hard, at times, for me to get out of Lo's headspace. I started to train myself to get inside her head, in the way I used to when I'd rehearse for a play, and Lo is dealing with a lot of darkness, a lot of confusion, a lot of pain; I definitely absorbed some of that as I wrote. I also had to search the (not too-far back) recesses of my brain for vestiges of my teenage mind, and, once I located that place, dive in. That, too, was a difficult place to return to. It takes years of growing up and maturing and being exposed to all the options of adult life to start to overcome some of those massive insecurities that you have growing up. When you're subject to the seemingly near-constant judgement of your peers, when you're figuring out who you really are, and what you care about, and what you stand for, it's so hard not to become wrapped up in everyone else's opinion of you, of whether or not you are “good” enough, or “right,” or “worthy.”
On top of all that, writing from the perspective of a person with quite debilitation OCD was certainly intense. I, personally, do not have OCD, but grew up very closely with a cousin who did. I think writing about it helped me understand it better, to sympathize in a way I hadn't before because it can be such a frustrating disorder to be in the presence of. My cousin had habits—compulsions—that I found so infuriating. I didn't understand why she'd go crazy if I moved something an inch across her desk, why my doing something like that could ruin her whole night. It seemed so absurd to me, like she was making it up, or making the choice to freak out. I realize now, of course, that she had no choice, that a lot of her compulsions probably formed as her brain's own attempt to deal with the sometimes-messiness of life around her.
You are a painter, and in THE BUTTERFLY CLUES Flynt is an artist. Do you share any characteristics with him?
I think Flynt and I are similar in a lot of ways—in fact, he may be the character in the book with whom I most relate. We both have major wanderlust, we've both dumpster-dived (he far more than I), we're both sort of strange and theatrical and wear weird clothes, we're both bothered by the insatiability of technology, though I've definitely fallen prey to it in a much bigger way than Flynt ever will.
Really, though, I think Flynt is braver than I am. He's less reliant upon comfort and convenience than I've become. I like sleeping in beds, and having somewhere warm to return to, and sleep, and cook and whatnot—and this, of course, is a pretty common way to feel—but what Flynt values most—or at least does, through most of the book—is his ability to pick-up-and-go. His complete and total freedom. But freedom is tricky, and running away all the time doesn't mean he's conquered the alternative.
I wish, like Flynt, that I was less bogged down by possessions. I think we are tricked in many ways into believing we need so many things, and it's only when you learn to survive with very little that you realize you don't, and never did. Of course, I'm speaking from the relatively privileged place of even being able to choose whether or not to possess a lot of things; I know many people don't have that.
What is/are your favorite painting(s)? What message do they give to you?
I don't know if I have one favorite painting, but I can definitely speak to favorite artists--the first who come to mind being Egon Schiele, Henry Darger, and Marcel Dzama. I think I'm drawn to all of these artists because their work feels so dreamlike to me, and—more specifically in terms of Darger and Dzama—contains a feeling of a twisted, beautiful sort of narrative through image and form and line and color. And the way Schiele interprets figure is something I just love, in my gut, and connect to, and “feel” things by, without necessarily knowing why. I think that's the power of creating world and opinion through any artistic medium—if you stop worrying about the why, and just let it grip you, it can be this almost mystical experience.
In terms of garnering a message from their work, I think something they all do in one way or another is to acknowledge the absurdity of life (again, this probably applies less obviously to Schiele than it does to the others). What draws me to their artwork, and what similarly makes me shy away from most photo-realistic sort of stuff, is that I feel it represents a more honest experience of life. Things aren't neat, and they don't always make sense, or go exactly as you expected them to go. And, sometimes, they involve lots of angular nudity, and/or people in animal masks, surrounded by low-flying bats, holding unclassifiable gray creatures between their fingers. I mean, anything's possible...you know? Yeah, that's another message right there.
Now that THE BUTTEFLY CLUES is finished and you are looking back, are there things about your writing process or the finished product that you wish you could change?
Yes. Of course. I think there will always be things to change, things that aren't perfect, things that may have been far-from-perfect. I wish I could have adjusted certain aspects of the murderer, and that aspect of the plot, in general. So much of writing this type of book is figuring out the order of events, of red herrings, of what goes where and with who and how. I think certain things get lost in the puzzle of that, and some pieces don't fit quite flush. But I think this whole thing is a giant learning process; I'd never written a book before, and there was a whole lot of groping around in the dark, figuring out how to make things flow, and make sense. It's possible I wasn't entirely successful in that endeavor, but I think that's what any creative process is: a big, hopeful attempt, a creative prayer.
I am very excited to offer one copy of The Butterfly Clues for a giveaway!
This contest is open internationally as long as The Book Depository ships to your country. Must be 13 to enter. Please see my Contest Policy for more information.
This contest will close on Friday, March 1 at 12:00 AM CST.