IN CONVERSATION WITH CELIA MCMAHON: A Glimpse Into the Writer's World Behind The Unspoken Series
In celebration of the launch of Unleashed, the thrilling third and final installment of author Celia McMahon's Unspoken series, I knew I wanted to sit down with her and talk about writing process, world-building, and her perspective on writing a trilogy. Celia obliged and sat with me to answer my questions and illuminate some of the behind the scenes spaces of the Unspoken Series.
MALORIE NILSON: Your novel, Unleashed, was just released on November seventeenth. It is also the third in your Unspoken Series. Congratulations! What was your literary journey like while writing it? CELIA MCMAHON: It was arduous. We had just moved back to the States from Italy, and a month later had to fly back to MA for a wedding so by the fall of 2019 we hadn't looked into preschools for my son so time to write was limited. I ended up doing hourly care on the army base here in WA while I holed myself in the base library for 3-4 hours, strictly writing for the next 3 months. Unfortunately, by the time the third draft came around, COVID had hit and we were all locked down. With my five-year-old and my husband, home time was again limited. I bit the bullet most nights and holed myself up in my office to write and edit. The deadline came and went more than once, but thankfully everyone understood. I wanted to get the best story out of Unleashed, and I think I accomplished that. MN: Is there a scene in Unleashed that made you cry while writing it? How about the scene that made you laugh the hardest? CM: The scene where Izzy is standing around listening to people wanting to crown her queen, and all she can think about is Fray, and where he ended up during the last battle. Throughout the book, she'd tried her best not to let the thought of him distract her, but by the end of the story, she'd let it consume her entirely. She ran the battlefield with only one thought: to find Fray. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else would ever matter. Not even a crown. The scene where Izzy had to strip Ashe down to keep him warm after their boat capsized, and him waking up the next morning naked. It was a super heartwarming scene to me because it showcased their friendship. MN: How has your writing process changed since the publication of your first book? CM: I've learned the art of outlining. Being a pantser wasn't doing it for me, especially with a deadline. I hit some snags anyway, but I had a great editor to help me along when I was up against a wall. Ending a series is a bittersweet thing, and with a lot of my past manuscripts, I have never ended the series. I have a thing about leaving things unfinished for fear of ending them. I don't know why that is. That being said, completing this series was difficult, but I'm glad I did it. It showed that I can finish something I started. MN: Your writing has changed in some ways as you have matured as a writer through writing this series. Were there things that you noticed or skills that you worked on to grow as a writer? CM: I grow a lot with each book I write. Unspoken and Uncaged were written some years ago, and since I've acquired some amazing books to help with structure and character arcs. Two I would recommend to EVERYONE looking to write a book are: Save the Cat Writes a Novel, and The Emotional Thesaurus. Because I never stop learning, I will never stop growing. One thing I did notice is that I'm getting better with world-building, and even though it's still my greatest weakness, I feel like I could nail it one of these days. MN: What did you edit out of this novel that you might regret nixing? CM: Honestly, there wasn't much, but I did have a little hint of romance budding between Izzy and Ashe that did not make sense in the great scheme of things. This series is about curses and betrayals, but it's also about love, and the love between Izzy and Fray, albeit strained by the end of book two, was always at the forefront of the story. Izzy and Ashe's relationship blooms, but it is not romantic. It's something beyond that, and it's a beautiful thing. MN: In a world of magic and werewolves, what is your favorite element that is included in the Unspoken series? CM: My favorite element was the Uncanny, and their hold on Izzy. I wanted to create an invisible evil in books one and two, but as the situation progressed, they slowly became something tangible. This was to create the idea that evil can grow if you let it, and if you let it, it will consume you. MN: Part of being a writer is creating a powerful and influential world that your reader gets to inhabit for a time. When did you first learn that language wields power? What did that moment look like for you? CM: In my own writing, I learned that language means power by how I portray those who are beaten down. To give strength to weakness, and to give hope where sometimes hope does not live. To show someone who has been cast down (the Gwylis) and those who are torn between right and wrong (Ashe) gives a realistic look into the things we deal with on a daily basis. The way I wanted to write this series was to show that evil does not win in the end and that although you may feel powerless now, there is always hope. MN: What inspired the setting and characters in the Unspoken series? Do you draw on any particular influences? CM: I cannot say what truly inspired it. I first saw two kingdoms set between a mountain range where the old has been abandoned and shunned while the new is seen as shiny and pretty. I wanted to portray the shadows beneath the gilded hall of Stormwall palace. If I had to choose an inspiration it may have been the movie The Last Samurai in which Tom Cruise's character learns that his enemy is not truly his enemy and that the ways of the new world he finds himself in has beauty and is something worth fighting for MN: In your opinion, what is it about fantasy based on contemporary understandings of folklore that has captivated so many readers? For instance, werewolves have appeared in many iterations across many different cultures. What about these creatures do you think resonates so profoundly with modern readers as well as our ancestors? CM: I believe folklore lives on because it's evolved over the years. We've seen variations of werewolves, vampires, the fae, and even lesser know lore like water horses. Artists take them and mold them into something modern, and revive them for a new generation. Because we have such an interest in the paranormal, folklore will never die. it will only grow. The Gwylis in Unspoken is based on a Welsh legend called the gwyllgi or The Dog of Darkness, and are known as creatures of the underworld. MN: I have really enjoyed reading your work, and this series, in particular, reminded me a bit of some of Maggie Steifvater’s work. I am curious, are there any authors in the genre that particularly influence your work? CM: Maggie is and forever will be a huge influence. Some others include Tricia Levenseller, Joanne Ruth Myer, Jay Kristoff, and Laure E Weymouth. But I take a bit of everything I read, so every author inspires me in the end.