Title: The Devil Makes Three
Author: Tori Bovalino
Release Date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Horror
Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, for her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone.
Instead, Tess finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s grimoire collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.
The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, manipulating ink to threaten those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.
Tori Bovalino is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lives in London. She has a BA in English and anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is currently a student in Royal Holloway’s Creative writing and practice-based PhD program, researching the relationship between Russian folklore and young adult fantasy novels. She is active on social media as @toribov.
My Interview with Tori Bovalino, author of The Devil Makes Three
Hi, Tori! Thank you so much for stopping by and I’m excited to welcome you to A Court of Coffee and Books and introduce readers to you and your amazing debut!
Congratulations on your debut! What was your inspiration for The Devil Makes Three?
Thank you so much! The initial inspiration for Devil came during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was working at a small library on my university’s campus. The shifts during the school year were fine but it was super eerie during the summer. Generally, there were just two people working, one in the reading room and one in the stacks, and it constantly felt something could be lurking around the corner of the stacks, ready to grab you! I freaked myself out so much imagining what could be in there with me. I’ve always loved horror novels, and though I usually wrote fantasy/contemporary fantasy, I wanted to take those creepy vibes and put them into a novel. The library spookiness grew together with stories from my folklore classes and the idea evolved into what it is now.
Did the story of The Devil Makes Three come naturally to you?
To be stereotypical, yes and no! The idea came quickly as did the characters themselves, but the actual development of the voice took forever. It wasn’t until the second or third draft that I realized I needed a second point of view, and not until we were in one of the final revisions that I added the third.
Related, but I always joke that I’m an awful writer and a good editor. My first drafts are terrible, so even when an idea comes quickly and easily, it takes me months and months to shape it into something readable. This was certainly the case for The Devil Makes Three – I wrote the draft in approximately 2 months, then took about 9 months or more to edit.
I love the idea behind a demon being in a book-bound prison and all of a sudden, he’s released, and I love how he can manipulate the ink in the library books. How did you decide the type of powers the demon would have? Was he always going to be a book demon?
He was always a book demon! The demon himself is based on Faustian folklore. There’s this grouping of old German folktales that talk about a book that contains the devil. After the text is read, the devil is released to terrorize the reader.
The demon’s specific powers came from the things I’m afraid of. What if all the information you ever wrote could be used against you? What if the person you truly cared for became something else, something that wanted to hurt you? I tried to keep it as visual as possible: ink dripping from pages, sticky on your skin; coating your throat, choking your screams. You can’t escape something that doesn’t care about you, that can generate from anything around you written in ink (books, newspapers, posters, notebooks, etc).
What can you tell us about your main character, Tess, and the mysterious Eliot?
Tess is ambitious to a fault, but she’ll sacrifice everything for the happiness of her younger sister, Nat. She’s a cellist and sees music as a huge part of her identity. I was a band nerd all through high school and college, so I wanted to incorporate my own love of music! She’s sixteen, but she’s trying to prove that she’s mature enough to take care of herself without making the same mistakes her parents did.
Eliot is the sunshine boy to Tess’s grumpy persona. He’s struggling with his desires not aligning with his father’s wishes and his mother’s prolonged illness. Eliot practices magic and wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps but to do so puts him in a battle with his father.
Both of them are locked in wars of expectations: their parents’ versus their own, the things they want versus the things they have. The book is character driven, so the fraught internal battles Tess and Eliot fight are in the forefront and amplified by the demon.
What has been your favorite part of being a debut author so far?
I’ve loved building connections with other writers. Writing can be such a lonely thing, and especially in the last year, I felt like I stopped connecting with the community because I was so stressed/frustrated with my own work. Selling the book has helped me come out of my shell a bit more (it’s like, look at me! I like demons! You like demons? Let’s be friends!) and find some great people with excellent books.
The other incredible thing has been watching this book find readers. The lead-up to a debut is so long (for good reason, of course 😊). We announced in February and the book doesn’t come out until next August! It’s been so fun to watch people gradually discover it and get excited for it or see themselves in some bit of the book I’m able to share. When I was a teenager in a small town in Pennsylvania, I would spend over an hour at the mall bookstore, reading first and last pages, picking that one book I could buy with the $20 I had. I can’t wait for one of those readers to pick up my book and think, “Wow, this looks cool,” not based on marketing or my Twitter presence or any reason like that, but just because the words and the concept catches their eye.
What are you hoping readers take away from your story?
In one particular scene, the devil tells Tess that some stories were meant to be unwritten. I know it’s odd that this is coming from the devil, but what I mean is this: the things you expect, the goals you set for yourself, the box you’re put into by yourself or your family or friends or hometown don’t have to be a part of the person you become. I was one of those small-town kids that never thought I’d go anywhere else based on the expectations that surrounded me. No one was holding me back, really, but I saw the lives of those around me and built this cage around myself. But as I grew older, I learned that it was okay to be someone else, to grow roots elsewhere, to become a person that teenage me would be proud of – even if she didn’t expect the transformation.
Also, there’s more than one path to the same destination. Not a spoiler, but Tess’s life is disrupted when she has to change her plans, to give up her scholarship to a prestigious music school and go to Falk with her sister, Nat. Tess is certain this means the end of her dreams, her ambitions, even though she’s only sixteen. I felt the same way when, in my freshman year of college, I realized the university I chose wasn’t the best fit for me. When I transferred, I felt like a failure, both academically and emotionally. This book is a result of all those feelings being confronted: changing your mind is not a failure. Changing your path does not mean diverting entirely.
What was your favorite part of writing The Devil Makes Three?
I loved writing two specific types of scenes: the scariest, darkest, goriest ones, and the most introspective and emotionally driven ones. You can read this as the scenes where Tess finds gross stuff, and the scenes where Eliot is Thinking Hard.
To talk about gross stuff, I feel like I should give some background. When I was choosing my major, I knew I either wanted to be an author or a forensic anthropologist. The anthro portion led to an elective on forensics that I had twice a week in a big auditorium. If you’re not familiar with forensic anthropology, it’s essentially the study of human remains. In simple terms, the big difference between that and archaeology is decay. So, we can sum this class up by my professor pausing every few slides and saying, “Now, this is going to be graphic!” very sweetly as she flipped through crime scene images of decaying bodies. Suffice to say, I got over being squeamish about it rather quickly.
When I was writing the worst scenes of Devil, I was in this class. The descriptions are pulled from my textbooks and the papers we wrote outside of class about the things that happen to the human body. I liked writing them because they helped me confront something I was afraid of: death and decay and the stuff that lives in you when you’re not living in you anymore.
Now, away from the morbidity and onto the emotional parts. Quiet moments in books are some of my favorites. There’s the scene in Ella Enchanted when she’s just sitting in the ball, watching Char talk to other people, or the moments in Mexican Gothic when Noemí is focused on Francis’s jacket. These are the times when we see what the main character is focused on, when we really see what they’re feeling even if they don’t tell us directly. In these quiet moments, we get to build on interiority we don’t see in high-action sequences. This is also done really well in Kristin Cashore’s Fire, when Fire is composing letters to Brigan in her head. I find my favorite moments in books, the ones that linger in my mind, are the quiet scenes when we get to focus on thoughts and feelings and beautiful writing.
Were there any songs, books and/or movies that influenced your writing?
Definitely! Darlington from Ninth House and Gansey from The Raven Boys were influences while I was writing Eliot. There’s that whole soft-yet-scholarly vibe I was going for with him but I still wanted him to be his own character with surprises. Song-wise, I listened to the Twenty-One Pilots cover of “Cancer” non-stop while writing, and then “when the party’s over” by Billie Eilish while revising. That song punched me in the gut, and the music video? Such a vibe for the book. As Above, So Below helped me to develop some of the ideas of duality you see in the book and contributed to the setting. Also, Penny Dreadful! Definitely Penny Dreadful. I wanted to capture that possession, that fear that plagues Vanessa throughout the series.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
First of all, don’t put too much pressure on yourself right out of the gate. I’m currently reading Bird by Bird, a craft book, and one thing Anne Lamott wrote stuck with me: essentially, loving writing is not the same as loving publishing. You don’t start out writing a book by looking for agents. You have to put the work and time into craft and deciding if you love writing before you get into the publishing part. Honest answer: if you don’t love writing, you probably won’t love publishing, no matter how wonderful it is to see your name on a book. I might be an outlier but it took me about 7 years of writing before I could craft a story that was readable.
Age doesn’t matter when it comes to writing. I’m still relatively young (even though I feel infinite sometimes, lol) and it doesn’t make me feel any better or worse than my peers. I look up to writers debuting in their 30’s and 40’s because they’re juggling things that I can’t even imagine: full-time jobs and kids and big responsibilities that I don’t have. I’m in awe of college-aged writers because I remember how it was to write during the school year, and I can’t imagine how stressful it would’ve been if there were legitimate deadlines thrown in there. There are pros and cons to writing at any age. The important thing is to not let those pros or cons outweigh your desire to create something.
My final bit of advice is to find something that makes you love writing, no matter what. I have a few ways of doing this. First, I have a book of my heart, one I revisit every few months when I’m too stressed or destroyed by everything else. It’s a comfortable world, a cast of characters I love, and I know that no matter how burnt out I am, I get write something useful for them. If you find fanfiction makes you love your writing again, then that’s incredible. If short stories give you relief, excellent. If reading many many many books and imagining your name on the front covers helps, go for it. Second, I write myself a letter every six months. I talk about what I love at that given moment, even if it’s trivial; what I want; what I’m doing; and what I’m worried about. At the end of that six months, I revisit the letter and see how my life has changed. Progress feels so slow in this industry – it took me 2.5 years to sell a book after signing with my agent! But hold onto the little wins, the things you can accomplish on your own. It helps to reflect and say, “Yeah, I have done something.” This reminds me that I’m in it for the long haul and that I should be proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. I’ve wanted to publish a book since I was literally three years old. It’s helpful to see that, even when I’m discouraged, I’m doing something that I’ve always loved.
Is there anything else you would like to let the readers know about The Devil Makes Three?
Okay I’m legitimately so terrified and thrilled for people to read it. I know it’s not going to be a book for everyone: it’s weird, it starts a bit slow, the characters are very emotional (as am I). But I hope I find that one reader, that person who feels seen by this book in the same way I feel seen by some of the lovely books on my own shelf. If you read Devil and feel that way, I’m so grateful for you, dear reader, and I hope that you know it’s okay to write wild spooky things populated with quiet, soft characters.
Also, I hope you yell at me about it.
Now for a few fun questions!
Oh no! In a twisted turn of events, you accidentally unleash a demon from a book-bound prison! What would be your first reaction to the demon and why?
Here’s the worrisome thing: the demon in my book is really hot. I… have no idea what would happen if that was a real-life situation??? I digress.
I’m a coward, I think, when it comes to life-or-death situations. I’d probably run away which means I’d definitely die if Mr. Demon came to kill me from behind. On the bright side, I’m very cautious, so if he was trying to lure me somewhere, I probably wouldn’t go. I think being cautious comes with the territory of writing horror: we know when to be freaked out.
If you could have your book turned into anything (movie, TV show, Broadway musical, dance number, etc.), what would it be and why?
Okay now that you say it, a musical version would be INCREDIBLE and I would be so here for it. But I would love to see it in TV form! I have the first scene burrowed in my brain: Tess being incredibly stressed out with work but, every few seconds, the image cuts to Eliot, the most bored person on earth, standing on a very slow escalator.
This is why people do not give me television deals.
I have so many fancasts in my head, though, as I’m sure many other authors do. This book lends itself well to a visual medium purely because the horror bits rely on a visceral reaction from the reader. I think it would be super fun to see it on screen!
And because I just have to end with 13 questions, if you, Tess, and Eliot were trapped inside a library, what book would each of you read first?
Tess would pick up Fire by Kristin Cashore, which is one of my favorites, but is a book about a girl who is able to be strong and confident and powerful but also emotional. Eliot would probably pick The Crucible by Arthur Miller for ~reasons~ which will be disclosed later. And I would go straight to the YA section and catch up on all the beautiful books I missed out on while editing, probably starting with The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd Jones!
I’m so excited to host a giveaway for one (1) preorder of The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino! This giveaway is open international to everywhere Book Depository ships!
Giveaway starts: Thursday, May 13, 2021
Giveaway ends: Thursday, May 20 at 12:00 a.m. CST