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I have a lot of love for gothic stories: moody, atmospheric tales simmering with shadows and the uncanny. Flashes of claws and teeth, well-concealed beneath delicate or extravagant facades. The tense song-and-dance between friend and foe, romance and repulsion. And in the case of Down Comes the Night: a decadent, crumbling mansion housing secrets, a mysterious illness, and dangerous enemies that only emerge in the dark.
Yet—oh, friends, how my heart softens when I think about this book. The yearning-filled romance was one of the most heartaching slow burn love stories I read all of last year, and to this day I remember so tenderly the warmth and relief that spread through me when I finally reached the moment when all the pieces of the story started coming together. It is such a lovely and surprisingly healing book, despite its gloomy setting and somewhat visceral magic, and I was so delighted by its larger queer-normative worldbuilding as well.
I am so pleased to be welcoming Allison Saft to the Pond today as part of our Pride Month series! Friends, please meet the luminous Alli-gator, holding a glowing candlestick. Today, we’re chatting about the gothic genre, narrative themes in Down Comes the Night, bi representation, as well as a little about her upcoming 2022 YA fantasy! Allison’s answers are so so thoughtful and gentle; I hope you enjoy our interview too!
Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft
He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.
Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.
The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.
With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.
Author Interview: Allison Saft
Skye: Hello Allison! Thank you so much for joining us today here at the Pond! For anyone just now discovering your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Allison Thank you so much for having me, Skye – I’m so happy to be here! I’m Allison, and I write what I like to call eerie romantic fantasy. I’m the author of Down Comes the Night and the forthcoming A Far Wilder Magic. In my spare time, I love to bake, play video games, and practice aerial circus arts (I do silks and sometimes trapeze!). I live in the California Bay Area and take far too many pictures of the ocean.
Skye: Where did the spark that grew into Down Comes the Night come from? What kept you coming back to the story again and again throughout the writing process?
Allison: I consider myself a romance writer at heart, so I usually know if a book idea holds water if I have a clear picture of the relationship dynamic and a situation that will throw the leads together. For Down Comes the Night, it was “a healer betrays her nation by curing an enemy soldier of a mysterious illness.” I also had a general sense of what kinds of people the characters would be: the healer whose heart got in the way of her duty and the stoic, “monstrous” soldier yearning for redemption. Beyond that, I also knew I wanted it to be a fairly intimate story, so I needed an isolated neutral ground as a setting. Everything else sprung up around that!
I actually didn’t set out to write a Gothic novel. In the first draft, Wren and Hal were just hanging out alone in a cabin somewhere on Lowry’s property. Lowry very courteously came by to visit from time to time. But I realized it’d probably make for a more exciting story if they were in Colwick Hall with him. As soon as I made that change, the book came to life.
As for what kept me coming back: it was Wren and Hal. The first draft came out effortlessly… but very messily. The revisions (particularly those dealing with the mystery element) were grueling; I rewrote almost the whole thing. But even in the depths of my despair and frustration with the book, the love between Wren and Hal was my guiding light. I loved them fiercely and felt I knew each of them so well, especially since I’d been carrying some version of them in my mind for the better part of ten years. There are certain scenes in the book, like their first meeting and blizzard rescue scene, that have been there since the beginning. My passion for the book was rejuvenated every time I got to deepen those moments.
Skye: Both Down Comes the Night and your upcoming 2022 novel A Far Wilder Magic are atmospheric dark fantasies, with the first book leaning towards gothic romance with its crumbling mansion and elements of horror! What allures you the most about gothic fantasy as a genre?
Allison: I’ve written for Tor about why I think Gothic novels are so alluring to us as 21st-century readers, but honestly, I first got into Gothic novels because they’re FUN and frankly kind of silly. One of the first Gothic novels, The Castle of Otranto, gets going when a giant helmet falls from the sky and crushes the main character’s fiance on their wedding day. RIP.
I love the Gothic’s gorgeously creepy atmosphere and its slow-boiling dread, its high-octane emotion and how it doesn’t shy away from the absurd. It always walks on that knife’s edge of darkness and hope–but it rarely lets its protagonists succumb to despair. While I love horror, I’m also a sap… so hopeful endings are always appreciated. 🙂
I’m drawn to writing about trauma and redemption, so I find the metaphors of ghosts, haunted places, and unearthing terrible secrets useful for working through those themes. It’s a genre about the things we bury that refuse to stay dead. In Down Comes the NIght, all of the characters are relics of another, more violent time. They’re all haunted by the things they’ve done. They’re all trying to figure out what a better world may look like, as well what their roles in that world may be. Colwick Hall is a place where we see the hurt behind those struggles coalesce in terrifying ways. Wren, Hal, and Lowry all have coped with their wartime trauma quite differently…
I don’t know that I’d call A Far Wilder Magic a true Gothic, since it’s more melancholy than scary, but I think it works in similar ways to a Gothic novel! It’s more intimately about abuse than Down Comes the Night is. Welty Manor, where the book takes place, is said to be a place where ghosts, not people, live. Margaret has been left alone in Welty Manor for a long time, but she stays there to keep her precious few happy memories alive. But when Wes arrives and upends her life, the things Margaret has tried to keep buried for years are slowly brought to light. She must confront the things she’s endured–and maybe begin to heal from them. I really hope her story resonates with readers!
Skye: An element of the book that really stood out to me was the magic system, which is loosely based on medical science: here, magic is localised to certain parts of the body, which then dictates the type of magic a person has. Wren’s magic is in her hands, which gives her the ability to heal, while Hal’s destructive magic is located in his (dark, stormy) eyes. Can you give us a little more insight into your creative process behind the worldbuilding here?
Allison: I’m so glad it stood out to you – the magic system is one of my favorite things about the book! I started out knowing what Wren and Hal’s abilities would be. When I started thinking about how to make their two rather different types of magic feel cohesive, I landed on the medical science element. In the world of Down Comes the Night, “magic” is the ability to manipulate the cells in the body. Healers like Wren can induce cellular regeneration and autolysis, whereas people like Hal can only manipulate certain specialized cells. I had a TON of fun researching all of the medical elements in the book, even though it was sometimes grisly. There was a journal I found that gave details on how to perform a certain surgical procedure that appears in the last 50 pages of the book… Pictures were included. I’m still haunted.
Since there are several scenes where Wren heals Hal, I thought grounding the magic in science would also help give the reader an understanding of what was actually happening while she worked–and why it was so difficult. I also thought it would play nicely with the Gothic elements (since Weird/Questionable Science often is at the heart of Gothic horror), as well as the core theme of the book. The lie Wren must overcome is one she’s been told all her life: if she can’t be loved, she must be useful. She’s made herself indispensable to her nation by training to become the best healer in the army. However, all magic is degenerative. Overuse leads to a repetitive stress injury that makes magic almost impossible to perform. At one point during the book, Wren is forced to ask what will happen to her if she pushes herself past her limit. Who is she without magic? Is she still lovable or valuable if she can’t heal?
Skye: Let’s talk about the queerness in the book! There’s been a bit of discourse lately about biphobia in the queer community as a whole, especially with regards to bi women in “straight-passing” relationships with cis men. In the book, Wren is very clearly bi: freshly separated from her long-time girlfriend Una, and eventually falling in love with Hal, who she bonds with throughout the story. Why are you excited for this unapologetically queer rep to exist for the readers of your books?
Allison: In many ways, Down Comes the Night is a love letter to the girl I was at fifteen. I was burnt out and chasing the magic writing used to have when I was a teen, so I decided to make Down Comes the Night utterly self-indulgent, from the romantic tropes to the escapism of putting Wren in a fantasy world where homophobia doesn’t really exist. I’d already written one painfully autobiographical manuscript about being freshly out and miserably fifteen in Texas. This time, I didn’t want to write a narrative in which the protagonist had to defend her own queerness (as we so often see when the Twitter Discourse Roulette Wheel inevitably lands on biphobia). I didn’t want to belabor the point that Wren’s relationship with Hal doesn’t undermine or erase her relationship with Una. I just wanted to write a fantasy novel where the protagonist is incidentally bi. I wanted her to just… be. Because of that, I was surprised–and incredibly touched–when readers began reaching out to share that the m/f bi rep was meaningful to them.
What I’m getting at, I think, is that I’m excited this rep exists for people who need it. It was healing to write this book. But what I didn’t anticipate was the way it has continued to be healing every time someone says they felt welcomed or seen or like they could claim some part of themselves they’d been uncertain about. It’s as though people have intercepted this message in a bottle I sent to the girl I was and have found the truth I wanted to impart to her: Who you’re with–or whether you’re with anyone at all–is not the sum total of your identity. You are lovable. You are enough.
To me, that’s incredible.
Skye: There is also a running theme of forgiveness and worthiness in the book too, especially as Wren and Hal grapple with and help each other heal from their respective pasts and insecurities. Ultimately, what do you hope young readers take away from the book?
Allison: I dedicated Down Comes the Night to “all the girls who feel too much.” When I was growing up, I was often told that my sensitivity was something I’d grow out of. I was mocked for crying at the drop of a hat and scolded for being “moody.” I don’t think sensitivity is a trait we should shame children for, and honestly, I don’t think I grew out of it as much as I learned that it’s okay to express your feelings to others, even after they’ve hurt you. Internalizing the “having strong feelings is childish” messaging can impact us and our relationships for a long time. I think both Wren and Hal demonstrate that in different ways.
So to any “oversensitive” young readers out there: I hope after you read Down Comes the Night, you can believe that your emotions do not make you weak. I know that the world can sometimes feel so raw and overwhelming, but that’s not due to any fault in you. In fact, I believe sensitivity and empathy can be a source of incredible strength. When we feel deeply for ourselves and for others, we can recognize what is wrong with the world and be moved to change it for the better. Someday, I hope you find the people who will make you feel safe when you express your emotional needs to them. I hope they listen to you when you tell them something hurts. They’re out there, I promise. And when you find them, it can be transformative. In every form it takes: loving and being loved in return is an act of healing.
I think that’s what I was trying to say with Wren’s character arc. It always makes me immeasurably happy when people reach out to say they resonated with her story or that they saw themselves in her. I especially like it when people tell me they cried at the end. It’s my goal to write books that make people cry not from sadness but from cathartic joy.
Skye: Okay, looking forward to the future a little: what’s your wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream?
Allison: I would absolutely LOVE graphic novel adaptations of my books, or like… a Down Comes the Night mini-series with decadent costume and set design. I think that would be so cool! Otherwise… While I do dream about things like bestsellerdom, what I most want is to write a book that captivates readers like my favorites have captivated me. Like, The Scorpio Races came out in 2011 and ten years later, I (and probably thousands of others) crack it open each autumn. We tweet out the first line on the first of November. We bake November cakes. We bawl our eyes out on the last page every single time. There’s something so beautiful and magical about that. I want to write something that makes a home in people’s hearts–something that lasts.
Skye: Closing on a sunny note! What is something—big or small—that’s been bringing you joy lately, despite everything else currently going on?
Allison: There’s jasmine blooming in my neighborhood. I’ve gotten to go back to circus classes. I get to share A Far Wilder Magic with readers soon. And I’m feeling hopeful again–like my creative mind may finally be waking up after a long slumber.
About the Author
Allison Saft is the author of eerie and critically acclaimed romantic fantasy, like Down Comes the Night and A Far Wilder Magic. After receiving her MA in English Literature from Tulane University, she moved from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast, where she spends her time hiking the redwoods and practicing aerial silks.
Photography: Lisa DeNeffe Photography