The Special Ones released last month and we’re fortunate enough to feature author Em Bailey on the blog today. Creepy and mysterious, examining the often-overlooked topic of cults in YA, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat until its breathtaking conclusion. We get to know a little about the author and writing process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When she’s not writing, Em is generally getting lost, losing stuff, reading, hanging out with her friends and family, and listening to Radiolab podcasts. Like Olive, she doesn’t like leggings that look like jeans, but has no problem with tofu schnitzels.
Where were you born? Go to school?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia. My family moved to Adelaide, which is in South Australia, when I was three and I started school there, but by the time I started high school (which you go to when you’re 11 in Australia) we’d moved back to Melbourne. It was the southern part of Australia that I was picturing when I wrote The Special Ones, which is a very dry, very hot and hostile area.
What brought you to Germany from Australia?
My partner works in aviation and was offered a job here. We decided it would be an adventure to live in another country for a while. We’ve been here seven years now!
Both your novels out are mysteries. What books have inspired you most?
I read a lot of Enid Blyton mystery books when I was growing up so I think that has probably had a big influence on my work. There’s a very spooky book (by Australian author Joan Lindsay) called Picnic at Hanging Rock which I read as a teenager and found very compelling. It has an unworldly, mysterious quality to it and although you never see anything terrible happen it is somehow very chilling. I think it was definitely in the back of my mind as I worked on The Special Ones. One of my all time favourite books is The Secret History. I love the atmosphere Donna Tartt creates in this novel and although you know who committed the book’s central crime right from the start Tartt is able to create a fantastic sense of tension throughout.
Can you tell us about any drafts-in-process or next books?
I am in the very, very early stages of my next book so I can’t say too much yet, but I think it will involve a house haunted by a baby ghost and dark family secrets which are gradually uncovered.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
My biggest piece of advice would be to stick with it. There are a few people who have the fortunate experience of having a first manuscript accepted for publication, but the majority of aspiring writers have to work for a long time before anything happens. Before I had my first book published I used to enter a lot of short story competitions as this gave me practice of working to a deadline and often working to a theme as well. Joining a writers’ group can be a great way of getting supportive feedback too.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Esther is one of the Special Ones – four teens who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? Here, they are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are – all while broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.
Esther knows he will renew her if she stops being Special. And yet she also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, no genuine advice to offer her followers. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.
Please describe The Special Ones novel in your own words. (e.g. How do you pitch it?)
The Special Ones centres around the lives of four young people who have become involved in an online cult. They are supposedly the reincarnations of four figures in an old photograph around which the cult is based. But Esther, the protagonist, knows this isn’t true. That she is faking it in order to survive and she suspects the other special ones are too. The problem is that if the leader of the cult – a shadowy figure known as ‘him’ – realises she’s pretending, she will be ‘renewed’ and although she’s not really sure what this entails, she is certain it’s not good.
What inspired this book? In particular, what inspired writing about the particular topic of a cult that only interacts with their followers online?
I’ve always been interested in cults and the kind of people who get caught up in them. We always assume we’re too smart for something like that to happen to us, but a lot of clever people get drawn in. I had read a lot of books about ‘classic’ cults from the sixties and seventies and at some point I started wondering about how a modern day cult might operate. It struck me as likely that a contemporary cult leader would use technology as a way of keeping his or her hold on the followers. Chat room culture fascinates me too in that it creates the sensation of closeness, but often this closeness is an illusion. You don’t really know who you are talking to, you only learn what they choose to tell you, which may or may not be the tuth. The people who chat to the Special Ones online never consider that they might be talking to prisoners.
You made the decision mid-way through the book to add the point-of-view of “Him.” What brought you to that editorial decision?
The book went through many different drafts, and in earlier versions the perspective stayed entirely with Esther, the initial narrator. But it always felt like it was lacking something. One of my editors suggested the change of perspective and when I tried it, it instantly felt like the stakes had been raised. The reader is suddenly all too aware of the danger closing in around Esther. It was very difficult to write from ‘his’ perspective though, as he’s such an unpleasant character. I’d get very tense during the passages which used his voice and it was always such a relief to go back to Esther’s voice.
The rules of the cult were specific and were almost another character of the book–from period clothing to manual labor to controlling every moment of the follower’s days remotely–how did you research for this aspect of the book?
I did some research but I didn’t need the details to belong to one specific historical period. The cult leader has ‘cherry picked’ the elements which suits the way he wants special ones look and behave and his choices don’t follow any logic other than his own. Funnily enough, after finishing I came across a copy of Little House on the Prairie which is a book I loved as a child. I have a feeling that I was probably drawing on some of the details of that book without even realizing it. I also developed a slight obsession with Homesteading blogs while working on The Special Ones, reading about techniques for milking goats and making your own cheese. It wouldn’t be my choice of lifestyle, but I find it fascinating to read about other people doing it.
Win an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of THE SPECIAL ONES!
- Follow our blog using the blue Follow button below this post.
- Comment below with your favorite mystery (if you follow via email, please let us know what email address you use to follow in the comment)
- Because the winner will be notified via comment below, turn on comment notifications
- US ONLY TO ENTER
- Contest ends at midnight EST on August 10th
- Winner will be notified via blog comment reply on Friday, August 11th and will have 24 hours to respond or a new winner will be picked.