Q & A With Author Joel T. McGrath Q: Shrouded Secrets is your debut novel, have you always wanted to write, or has it been something that has come to you recently? McGrath: You know, I can't lie; I haven't always wanted to write fiction. That being said, I have loved poetry and I've written poetry ever since I was very young. Writing poetry was always about raw emotion for me so it was easy to pen, but I just couldn't find that one powerful story that inspired me until Shrouded Secrets
found me a few years ago. And I say it found me because I feel that creativity cannot be forced. So yes, writing fiction has without a doubt been a recent discovery to me. Q: What are your inspirations for writing? Any particular authors, people, books, or popular culture that has influenced you? McGrath:
Here's the thing about that. I don't really read fiction, well...not modern fiction that is. My favorite authors are Frank McCourt, Dickens, Austen, Melville, and Emerson. While these authors influenced the overall sculpting of certain character traits, they didn't influence my approach to writing the actual story of Shrouded Secrets
at all. However, it's hard not to be influenced by popular culture; that's why it's popular. I'm of the mind that absolutely nothing is one hundred percent original, but I really tried to put a fresh feel on a familiar theme. Q: There are a lot of underlying messages and themes in Shrouded Secrets. What do you feel is the most important one that you wanted to get across to your readers? McGrath:
Well, you got your universal storyline about love, loss, and fear, along with every other complex emotion that our conscious minds wrestle with on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the true message in Shrouded Secrets
is our subconscious struggle with the questions of our own weaknesses and mortality as human beings. I still think that hope is in short supply these days, and that true heroes have real shortcomings like everyone else, but we still need hope to hold on to, or otherwise all is lost. The evil that exists in Shrouded Secrets, I feel is rooted deeply in our world. There are choices made in the first book that would test anyone's mettle. Going forward, the next novel is going to be faster, sleeker, and much more powerful. I just hope that more people read Shrouded Secrets because it holds some minute, but very important keys that will be major themes in future novels. For example, the flicker fruit trees that once grew wildly all over Eruditus are suddenly blighted and wilting. Not only is this a major problem because of what the flicker fruit provides, but no one knows why they are dying at an alarming rate. With only a few trees left that can produce fruit, in the second novel, this leads to an act of desperation by the inhabitants of Eruditus that sets a chain reaction in motion that not only changes our lives on Earth, but our entire view of our own history and reality. Q: The characters in your story really shine and come to life. Do any of your characters, especially David, Danielle and Appollos, have traits or characteristics inspired by loved ones?
McGrath: Yeah, they all do. I think it's impossible to write fictionalized, yet realistic characters without a template. No character directly resembles any one person that I've known, but instead is a composite of many different types of people that I've come across in my life. I feel kind of like Dr. Frankenstein
in a way. I said to myself, um...I like this aspect of that person, and even though that other person over there may not be a totally bad person, I don't like that particular trait in them. However, I'll use the bad quality in combination with some other more redeeming qualities to create a totally original, living person.
Appollos has a certain naivety about the new world in which he has been thrust. He sees good and evil as purely a black and white issue only. I admire him for that. My father viewed things like that at times in his life. My dad wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he couldn't help but to wonder if the world would be better off if everyone just stopped contributing to its problems and focused on making it a nicer place instead. None of my sisters were close in age to me and I was a late bloomer, so I used to hang out with a couple of girls that were like Danielle. We would play basketball and do BMX bike stunts together. We'd tease each other occasionally and they'd slug me in a heartbeat if I ever annoyed them. During that time, they were like my sisters; they were actually my Danielle.
David is at a complicated point in his life. He's not a kid, but he still likes kid things. He understands the social ramifications of entering high school, and what's now considered social suicide. He's becoming more self-conscious as he becomes more self-aware. David is not me, but my teen years are a mirror reflection of his confusion and frustration. I had to face some evil from kids my own age at the time, and I had to face it from older people outside of school. As in the book, when you can no longer tell who is friend or foe, like what eventually happens to David, being a hero can become almost impossible, especially when you're not sure who your friends really are anymore. Q: For your most current book - what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?
McGrath: You know, my main characters go through a lot of adversity. Things like the separation of parents, social and economic hardships, plus they have to deal with uncooperative, annoying, and sometimes just plain mean people. That being said, they're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm proud of some of the choices that they make in Shrouded Secrets. David James, and his older sister, Danielle, face some complex emotions in Shrouded Secrets, but they know who they are, and that's what mostly guides their day to day decisions in the end. Q:You're a male author in YA and that's fantastic! We need more. How is that? Why YA?
McGrath: Up until Harry Potter, there were many more YA male writers. On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I counted like sixty-five female authors to about nine male authors on their shelves. I think there's a perception out there that male writers aren't as good at world building, character development, and description as our female counterparts. I personally think there's a place for male YA writers again, but young men should read classics from the likes of Jane Austen as well as the Veronica Roth's of the world. I have four brothers, but I also have four sisters and I think that females are more open-minded when it comes to their literary choices than are males.
I chose YA because it's an age group that hasn't, for the most part, become totally jaded by their worldly experiences yet. I love this age group; I think it's the best and worst years of our lives because it holds out hope that the future can be or will be different, and better than now.
Q: Is there a song you could list as the theme song for your book or any of your characters?
McGrath: Danielle, one of Shrouded Secrets main characters, is more a teenager than the women she resembles. She definitely has some growing pains along the way. And Danielle lives her life clinging to the love she craves, which is often in direct conflict with the love she feels that she deserves. That's why her song would have to be "Gravity," by Sara Bareilles.
David James, Danielle's younger brother, is a kind of a complex dude at times. He's not a kid, but he likes kid things still, but he's becoming more self-conscious as he becomes more self-aware. For that reason, he's somewhere between "Creep," by Radiohead, and "My Hero," by Foo Fighters.
Q: Any details about your next book?
McGrath: The second book in the Shrouded Secrets Chronicles series, The Shadow Harvest, will be released October 2012.