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Rachel Feldman and Sylvie Merryman-Lotze are 7th graders, best friends, and avid readers and writers. Together, they began writing The Ember Stone when their Philadelphia area school went into lockdown in March 2020, and have been immersed in putting their imaginations to paper ever since.

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madeline Miller, author of New York Times Bestsellers the song of Achilles and circe, interviews the authors

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Hello Sylvie and Rachel, and hugest congratulations on your first book! I'm so impressed that you finished such an ambitious full-length project.


Tell us a little about the story, and when you decided to start writing it?

S & R: Our book is about best friends, Flynn Renwood and Elodie Eeriewood, who fall through a portal onto a distant planet called Twilight Spectrum. Soon they find themselves in a dangerous race against a malevolent sorceress to capture the Ember Stone — a magical jewel that could determine both their fate and the fate of the planet. All the while, Flynn and Elodie struggle with the challenge of being on their own in this strange land, separated from the world they knew. The story is packed tight with action, adventure, new friendships, and emerging truths.

We started writing this in fourth grade at the beginning of the pandemic. Being stuck at home, we had a lot of time on our hands to be creative and write, and the story quickly consumed our lives. We spent hours on end writing on a shared Google doc. We were constantly coming up with new ideas, filling out meme templates, drawing our characters and imagining their personalities and wardrobes, making props of things in the book, and more. This story and our imaginations helped rescue us from a really challenging and isolating time in our lives.

I love epic fantasy, and am so interested to hear what drew you to this genre?


S: Almost all of my favorite books are epic fantasy or something similar. I love reading about magic and monsters and adventure. It was enthralling to be able to create something almost completely separate from the world we know as our story bloomed onto paper. 


R: Epic fantasy has always been a big part of my life. I love the genre, and I love the escapism and the way you can quickly find yourself lost in it. The characters, setting, and plot are always so intriguing, and it takes you away from the world you live in into something entirely new. 

How was it collaborating on a book? Did you split the writing, or write all of it together?


S & R: Writing with another person was amazing! Collaborating was really effective because writing with another person helped keep the ideas flowing, and we continued to motivate each other. It also worked that we each wrote from the perspective of a different character (Sylvie wrote Flynn, and Rachel wrote Elodie) because the characters could have different voices and opinions. At first, we based Flynn and Elodie on ourselves, but as we wrote the story, they grew lives and personalities of their own. We split up the story into chunks, and each wrote a couple chapters from the point of view of either Elodie or Flynn. We learned that it's important to give each other’s ideas a chance. Maybe not everything that was suggested we both liked, but we were open to giving it a try.

What was the hardest part of the process?  How did you overcome it?


S: The hardest part of the process for me was probably figuring out what to do after we finished the first draft. We had the faint idea that we should edit, but we weren’t quite sure how we were supposed to do that. Luckily, the Society of Young Inklings stepped in and paired us with our mentor, Sonja Solter, who walked us through the process of editing and revising a manuscript. She worked with us to smooth out our story arc and add more character and relationship development, which definitely added a lot to our story.


R: Writing the first draft of the middle of the book was really hard for me. I remember I hadn’t really given much thought about what to write in those chapters. I just had a rough outline and there was a period of two weeks where I couldn’t think what to write. Once I finally just decided to start writing and see where it took me, and not care if it was perfect or not, it got automatically easier. 


Do you have future books planned?


S & R: So many… by the time we were halfway through writing The Ember Stone, we had planned out our entire series, complete with betrayals, villains, romances, and more. 

R: In addition to that, I’m also working on a fantasy sci-fi novel by myself called Powerfilled. The idea just randomly came to me in December 2021, and ever since then, I’ve been working on it as much as I can. It’s my first big solo project, and I’m having so much fun writing it. It’s really come a long way since the beginning.

S: Mostly I’m working on the sequel to The Ember Stone. Writing that, and thinking about the big picture of the plot and of the character development and relationship development, helped with the revision process of The Ember Stone, because we’ve been able to fit that into the story. I’ve also been working on a couple short stories and snippets of various pieces, but no big projects yet.

What are some of your favorite books to read?


R: I really love fiction books; any sort of fiction, really, with fantasy probably being my favorite. I really love realistic fiction books such as The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, Restart, The Hate U Give and Radio Silence. I read a lot of fantasy: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Rick Riordan’s books, and Keeper of the Lost Cities. My all-time favorite fantasy book is definitely Six of Crows.  I’ve also gotten into mystery lately, my favorite being A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and One of Us Is Lying.


S: Anything fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopian. Some of my favorites are Maya and the Rising Dark (Rena Barron), Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan), and The Wild Folk (Sylvia V. Linsteadt), which are all filled with action, humor, and lovable characters. I also like realistic fiction and any comic book you can find. 


Thank you so much for your answers! I am sure many readers will enjoy Nightshade: The Ember Stone, and happy book launch! (February 1, 2023)

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