Average family. Average job. Average existential crisis.
After thirty boring years, nothing about Cora Riley’s life has measured up to her childhood dreams of being truly extraordinary. It’s too bad that the night she decides to seek out her specialness she crashes on a rural highway.
Cora wakes in the clutches of the Mistress of the underworld who sets her a seemingly impossible quest. If she wants a second chance at life, Cora must find her way through the dozen heavens and return to the castle in three days.
With the help of an unusual guardian angel named Jack and a little boy named Xavier, Cora navigates the afterlife doorfield and quickly learns that gods and monsters are very real indeed. Terrifying and tempting obstacles litter her path; only the power of belief – in the Otherworld, in her companions, and in herself – will return her to the land of the living.
Thank you, Mrs. Ellie Di Julio
Oof. Heavy stuff to open with! I’m by no means an authority, but I’ll put myself on the couch and give it my best shot. (Author’s Note: I have BA in psychology; I’m not actually a psychologist any more than a guy who’s taken a first aid class at the YMCA is a brain surgeon.)
Psychologically speaking, the way the underworld is portrayed in Cora Riley – as a series of potential afterlifes, yours being determined on your beliefs in life – is a positive, hopeful one. It gives every individual exactly what they want. While some folks may believe there’s nothing but endless void after death (fairly morose), most people derive real hope and comfort from believing in a happy eternity.
What you can glean about the writer from this sort of portrayal is more vague, however; any time you try to analyze a person simply from their fiction, you’re going to get some twisted ideas. Best case: if we take the imagined undeworld at face value, it indicates the writer herself isn’t sure what happens after death, likes having a lot of options, and wants there to be more than one right answer. However, you can never fully know a mind just by looking at its output, so take it with a grain of salt (rare is the author who writes about axe murders from personal experience). Perhaps a more interesting and worthwhile investigtion would be for the reader to take the multi-world afterlife and see how it compares with their own beliefs.
I saw you like to read young adult. For whom did you write The Transmigration of Cora Riley and why all readers can read it, regardless of their age?
YA turns out some incredibly moving, dark, and thoughtful books; Francesca Lia Block in particular influences my writing, particularly Cora Riley. I wrote this book with an adult audience in mind, though it does lend itself well to New Adult and the upper end of Young Adult, as well. There’s romance that results in a sexy situation, then fades to black; there’s swearing, but not gratuitous amounts; there’s violence, but no gore. Honestly, the primary reason it’s categorized as adult fiction and not YA is because the main characters are all grownups instead of teens. Otherwise, if you’re over 16, Cora Riley’s got something for you.
You said that Inkchanger is like #0 for the Forgotten Relics series and in its Acknowledgement you wrote “This isn't a happy story. It's dark and emotional and strange. Definitely not for everyone.” How different are they and how The Transmigration of Cora Riley became from an unwanted “baby” a loved one?
Inkchanger was my very first novel. It’s a dark, brooding story that doesn’t have a happy ending, but it’s got a powerful emotional pull. It also planted the seed for a lot of later ideas. I wound up drawing the foundation of the world for Forgotten Relics from that book, as well as transplanted two main characters (one appears first in Cora Riley, the other won’t show up until Sword of Souls). That’s why I count it in the Forgotten Relics universe.
By contrast, Cora Riley is much lighter and more hopeful than its predecessor. The characters are seeking their own salvation rather than running from their demons, and they get to move forward into a bright, interesting future. It’s also operating a several levels at once with lots to say, whereas Inkchanger primarily focuses on one idea.
While it’s true that I didn’t want to write another magical realism story after Inkchanger, I totally fell in love with Cora herself halfway through the first draft. She turned out to be more than a one-shot character as she revealed bigger and bigger goals, plot points, and turns of the screw. By the time I’d polished the final draft, I knew I had something amazing.
What do you believe about our day Urban Fantasy literature and where Cora fits in?
Urban Fantasy as a genre only came to my attention a couple of years ago when my friend Dianne Sylvan started publishing her Shadow World novels and mentioned that’s how she’d been categorized. Since then, I realized it’s the perfect designation for the type of books I love best: modern stories sprinkled with the supernatural.
Cora Riley may not seem like it fits in because it starts in rural Missouri then takes place almost entirely off-plane. But as the first book of the Forgotten Relics series, which involves a bunch of stuff I won’t spoil for you, it necessitates the UF stamp. A modern person dealing with first-world problems that stumbles into the realm of the supernatural and has to navigate it under their own power is pretty much the baseline criteria for entry into the genre.
Well played. I see what you did there.
I’d like to think I’d be the brave adventurer who’s willing to leave behind her entire old life in pursuit of a new, better one. I’ve certainly picked up and started over a few times already, even if there are tendrils of my old lives still woven into my current tapestry. I’ve gone as far as to move to a different country and cut toxic former friends out of my life. But I’ll admit I get caught up in nostalgia and sentimentality from time to time, which makes it harder to get that truly clean slate.
If we’re talking about a second chance during a zombocalypse, though, I’m probably toast; I’m a terrible runner – cardio, cardio, cardio.
Face hot with anger, Cora takes a few shaky steps forward, looking anywhere but at the eyes that see through her. The orc guards, previously slouching and entertained by the spectacle of her humiliation, become suddenly alert and close rank in front of the dais. The Mistress smirks from behind them, almost daring her to come closer.
“You know I’m right, my lady,” she says, taking another, more determined step. “The legends are all the same. The ruler of the underworld makes a bargain with the hero, sets him some monumental task in exchange for a second chance, and then has to keep their promise when the hero succeeds.” She takes another step forward. The guards cross their weapons into a barrier between her and the Mistress. Cora just smiles; it widens the split inside her cheek, but she doesn’t care. She holds out her arms and gestures grandly around the throne room. “And since I don’t see anyone else here asking for a ticket back to civilization, I guess that makes me the hero. And you owe me a quest.”
About the author:
Ellie Di Julio is a nomadic writer currently living in Hamilton, Ontario with her Robert Downey, Jr. lookalike husband and their three cats. Between nerd activities like playing Dungeons & Dragons or watching Top Gear, she enthusiastically destroys the kitchen and tries to figure out what it's all about, when you really get down to it. She also writes urban fantasy novels riddled with pop culture references and sexy secret agents.
Her first novel, Inkchanger, could easily be considered Forgotten Relics #0, and as such, rewards readers of the rest of the series, sort of like watching Thor before The Avengers. Her second novel, Time & Again with Kyeli Smith, has nothing to do with super powers or secret agents but is very cool nonetheless.
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