by Sophie Schmidt
We fell in love with the writing of S. M. Parker (Shannon, to her besties) when we read her debut, The Girl Who Fell. So as soon as her sophomore book, The Rattled Bones released, we were ready to grab and copy and catch up with Shannon to talk inspiration, advocacy and how girls find their power. Check out our interview with her below!
Justine Magazine: Hi, Shannon! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!
Shannon Parker: Thank you for having me! I’m always thrilled to talk books, fierce girls, and creepy stories!
JM: We are too! So, let’s kick if off with you describing your new book The Rattle Bones in five words.
SP: A mist-shrouded feminist ghost story.
JM: Oooh! Love that. Now, The Rattled Bones is very different from your debut, The Girl Who Fell, what was it like to make that switch?
SP: The Rattled Bones is, at its heart, a ghost story—a haunting that pierces the veil between the living and the dead and blurs the line between sanity and madness. The Girl Who Fell deals with dating violence and manipulation; it’s a story about intoxicating first love that turns toxic.
For all their differences, the two stories have a similar tone and pulse. The suspense that mounts alongside the hauntings in The Rattled Bones is similar to the intensity that builds in The Girl Who Fell as the manipulative boyfriend becomes more controlling.
I loved creating the rules of the “other world” for The Rattled Bones and digging into the contemporary story of a teen who must determine if the strange girl who visits her is real, or from another time and place, or part of her very existence.
J: Both of your novels have strong themes of female empowerment and inner strength, can you describe what it was like to write that?
SP: The best.
I don’t know how to write about girls any other way because I don’t know how to see girls any other way.
Females have been labeled the “weaker sex” since time began but survival, endurance and strength is literally stitched into our DNA. Every human on the planet comes to life because of the courage and determination of a woman. Every life. That alone makes us worthy to be the “strongest sex” and I want to see this echoed in stories, especially stories for young and teen girls.
In The Rattled Bones, Rilla is a female lobster boat captain. She essentially farms the sea, working in harmony with Mother Nature to harvest lobsters from the deep. The work is hard and demanding, and has broken the backs of many men. Rilla uses her intelligence, physical strength and determined heart to carve out a piece of an industry in which many feel females don’t belong. She’s badass, and writing about badass girls is the best job I could ever wish for.
JM: How was writing this different from The Girl Who Fell? Similar?
SP: I wrote The Girl Who Fell before I had an agent. I was working part-time as a literary agency reader, on top of working full-time with at-risk teens. Dating abuse was a very real problem for the girls I worked with, and I saw how they were blamed for a boy’s violence. I wrote The Girl Who Fell to help girls understand that manipulation and dating violence is not their fault. I wrote The Rattled Bones under contract with Simon & Schuster and had the support of my agent and editor (and eager readers!!! Yay!!!).
But writing both books was HARD. Writing is hard. It’s filled with self-doubt and characters that don’t behave and more self-doubt.
As for the execution of The Rattled Bones, there are some creepy scenes—the scare-you-out-of-your-skin kind of scenes—and these scenes disturbed me in a satisfying way. I liked getting the paranormal on the page, playing with the boundaries of what time and space and normalcy is.
For The Girl Who Fell, I struggled while writing the scenes of manipulation, where the boyfriend becomes gradually more toxic, his motivations always leading to something more sinister. Those scenes were especially hard to write because my work of fiction had to accurately reflect the machinations of an all-too-real predator.
Each book is grounded in reality. The Girl Who Fell is a contemporary novel about a teen who becomes the victim of dating violence. The Rattled Bones has an historical storyline of cultural erasure born of racism and greed. The research for each project was very different, but the need to honor the real voices behind the stories never varied.
JM: Speaking of voices, Rilla’s is a strong one. She’s on a journey of self-discovery, and romance takes a backseat in her story, but we also see the potential of a toxic relationship with her boyfriend. How did you figure out the balance of these scenes?
SM: The Rattled Bones is the story of a two girls reaching across time, through the veil of death and I wanted the novel’s narrative focus to remain with Rilla and the ghost. The romance story line/s were always secondary to the mystery Rilla has to solve, and the story the ghost has to tell.
Rilla does have a boyfriend when the book opens. Reed is grounded and good and all the things Rilla has needed for the past two years. But when her circumstances change—when she’s ready to leave home and go to college, start her future—the reader sees the toxicity build in her partner. Reed’s rage is born of jealousy and control; he doesn’t want Rilla to have an education or be smarter than he is.
I felt bad for Rilla, honestly. She’s got enough working against her and doesn’t need a boyfriend shaming her for post-high school aspirations, but Reed’s desire to control her, make Rilla stay, choose him over college, felt real to me. Smart women have always been a threat to men.
I think I reached a balance in the book with Sam, an archeology student working to unearth the remains of an island community that disappeared nearly a hundred years ago. Sam is smart and honest and tender and respects Rilla for her fears and aspirations. And Gram. A grandmother and mother and everything in between, Gram reminds Rilla of her strengths and that she doesn’t have to compromise for anyone.
JM: We know what we love about The Rattled Bones, but how about you? What do you love most?
SP: The Rattled Bones has a bit of everything: mystery, historical fiction, realistic fiction, romance and, of course, a ghost. Ultimately, I hope the novel is an entertaining read since that’s always my goal as a storyteller. But for this book in particular, I tried to steep readers in the reality that girls (young or old or ghostly) are strong and resilient story makers. We have a unique and powerful lens through which we view the world and that should always be validated.
JM: Thank you so much for sitting with us today! We love you and Rilla!
SP: Thank you for having me! I love Justine, and this interview was a sheer pleasure!