By Allison Stalberg Siebens
When twenty-three-year-old surly (and slightly tipsy) Frankie finds her hag of a grandmother dead on the sofa, her best friend, playful Ben Bowen, introduces her to the magical underbelly of Aspen Ridge, Utah. Ben is a witch, a seer to be exact, and he guides Frankie into her new identity as a healer, a restoration witch.
With the help of Ben and his coven-mate Cleo, Frankie navigates the treacherous classes of witches: dragons, shifters, and the abhorred vampire – life-drinking witches. It was a vampire that killed Frankie’s grandmother, and she’s after Frankie. But, much to the chagrin of best friend Ben, it isn’t Frankie’s vitality that the vampire wants.
We spoke with author Camri Kohler about her debut novel, Peachy, which comes out on April 18. Its sequel, Pared, is scheduled to come out this fall. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Right from the get-go, we can see that Frankie has depression. You mentioned that PTSD and anxiety representation are in the book as well. What made you decide to write characters that have these conditions?
This was the first book I even attempted to write and because of that, I know I put a lot of myself into my main character. I’ve always known I had anxiety, but I think I repressed a lot of things and pretended they never happened so long as I kept going through the motions, which is absolutely what Frankie does with the traumatic experiences of her past. Though she ignores her depression and refuses to acknowledge her PTSD, I think she’d call her repression “resilience,” which a lot of people do.
The supernatural elements in her story force her to face the things that have happened to her and deal with them. As scary as it sounds, if our trauma were made flesh, it would be a lot easier to fight.
Your book is the first I’ve seen to include a playlist with a song dedicated to each chapter. What inspired that and what was your process in finding songs like?
I actually didn’t know book playlists were more like mood playlists and I thought this was how I was supposed to do it. But I like how it turned out. Every song aligns perfectly with each chapter, whether it be dark and brooding or action-packed or an inside joke for those that have read that chapter.
I never write with music on in the background – it’s too distracting for me – but when I’m exercising or doing yard work, I listen to music and daydream. And because I’m so attached to Peachy, I daydream about the book, and certain chapters just naturally aligned with some of my favorite songs.
Your book is urban fantasy with vampires and magic. What would you say draws you to write about witches and vampires in an urban setting?
Honestly, I think it’s because I’ve always wanted these things to be real. I wanted to be the one that accidentally stumbled into a secret magical underground and have my whole, mundane life turned upside down. Urban fantasy is the closest we can ever get to magic in our everyday lives. I also think that vampires and witches, as fun and fantastical as they are, were originally horror monsters, and I love to be afraid. Urban fantasy with a bit of horror mixed in became my perfect genre.
The book is set in Utah, where you live and know the local scenes. Did you use any real locations or inspiration from real places you know?
Absolutely. I don’t know if I was just lazy or if I was being resourceful, but I took so much inspiration from the towns in which I grew up. I lived in a town called Wallsburg, population of about 300, and I went to high school 20 miles away in a city called Heber, which was bigger – and much bigger now than it was a decade ago – but still one of the more rural cities in the state. I mixed the two together to form the fictional town of Aspen Ridge, Utah, a place that’s easy to appreciate but hard to love if you’re the one stuck there. I live in Salt Lake City now and several parks and restaurants (Pioneer Park, Ebooks Used Bookstore, Lucky 13) inspired the day trip Frankie and Ben take to the city.
Do you have advice for writers that want to write an urban fantasy story?
I think most urban fantasy takes place in our biggest and most well-known cities, like New York or London. It makes sense because they are the most urban, but that also makes them all alike. Urban fantasy sort of fell out of style in the last decade or two, but seems to be making a comeback and I think the best way to bolster the genre is to re-invent it. Use the towns in which you’re familiar, where you grew up, the towns and cities no one has heard of or have fallen below the radar. Give me an urban fantasy that takes place in North Dakota! How special would that be?
No one knows those places like you do and you are the person who can make those places real for your readers. The only books I’ve ever read that take place in Utah are about religion, nature, or history. I wanted to turn my experience living in Utah into a contemporary fantasy. As writers, we can do that! We can do what we want and there’s so much power in that. So do it!
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I am so grateful for all the support I’ve received! Peachy is messy and gross and so close to my heart. If just one person out there reads it and falls in love with the story (someone who’s not my dad), then it will have all been worth it. Thank you!
Raised by a welder and a Jack Mormon in the small town of Wallsburg, Camri Kohler worked her way up to the grid city, Salt Lake. Camri earned her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Utah before completing her Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Camri is an archivist at PBS Utah and spends her free time with her partner, her dogs, or her tomatoes. She is a mess of unresolved issues, which are the primary inspiration for her writing.
Camri’s most recent standalone horror novel, Reap What You Sew is represented by Helen Lane at the Booker Albert Literary Agency and is on submission. She is currently working on a Ghost Ship Whodunnit and reclaiming werewolves for the horror genre.
Allison Stalberg Siebens is an indie author and foster cat mom. She is in the process of getting a Masters in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.
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