FQ: First, thank you for sharing book 1 in your new series. It was fun to get lost in Katya's adventures. I noticed that you released an earlier version of this book in 2017, but at that time, it was called “The Want Series.” Why the change? Are there significant differences between the two books? Was it more of a marketing change where you felt “The Unseen War Series” would draw more readers?
CONTE: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Between the 2017 and today's version, there are some significant changes. There's a refinement in Katya's journey, where it's much more apparent that she is leaving adolescence behind and embracing her role as an adult. You will also see growth in my own writing, where I believe, like wine, I've gotten better with time. Additionally, the entire series went through a series of changes that made it apparent a name change was necessary. I'm truly excited about the changes that I've made, and what is to come for the future.
FQ: I loved how Katya reacted when she realized she had supernatural vision. I suspect a lot of people would do what Katya did - faint. Was this a fun scene to write and/or imagine? I would think it would really get your “creative juices” flowing.
CONTE: Honestly, Katya's entire journey is a reflection of how any of us would react to life-altering news about ourselves. Particularly when you've always suspected something but was never really able to accept it. As friends of mine have gone through their own transitions, learned more about themselves, and what they've been able to accept about themselves, my writing gives homage to that self discovery and acceptance in a fantasy context. Even for me, the last seven years have been a phase of transition - learning more about myself as an entrepreneur, as a writer and finding a good healthy place to set my expectations. Writing Katya at times was and is difficult because it's such a reflection of a shared human experience that makes you reflect on your losses and how to reconfigure yourself when your focus changes. Because of that, writing Katya is all the more rewarding.
FQ: Your book involves a lot of “world-building." Can you talk a little about how you create such an imaginative but believable world and the work that goes into making characters and their situations plausible?
CONTE: You would be surprised how often I walk around and a crazy scenario will pop in my head where I imagine what the IRL world in a fantasy scenario. So for me to add in these elements on top of what the world we're living through right now felt fitting. As kids when we wonder about the world, we tend to mix in an aspect of magic to make sense of why things happen. That has never left me and it's an amazing outlet to finally put those imaginary thoughts down on paper. I have to give a shout out to my editor Brenda Penegrine who really worked with me several years ago to dive in and refine the world of Ager and the hierarchy you experience with angels, demons and the Grim Repears. She honed on those empty spaces, unclear references and truly helped me write down clearly what I see so vividly in my mind.
FQ: I love that the story takes place in Boston (I live in Mass.) and the city is obviously dear to you. Indeed, I felt that the city was one of the characters in the story. Did you always want your story to take place in Boston? And given the fun Fenway scene, are you a Sox fan?
CONTE: Shout out to my Massholes! Yes, I always wanted to have a story based here in Boston. Boston doesn't certainly get too much love in the fantasy world or a mysterious magical realm. My writing about Downtown Crossing actually stems from my time in law school which is directly located next to the iconic shopping center. Those cobblestones walkways have always illicited thoughts about the history of Boston and who else walked across those stone walkways. If you think about it, Boston has enough history that ghosts could definitely play a big role in what we experience on a day-to-day basis. I am a proud homegrown Boston girl and a Boston sports fan across-the-board.
FQ: The cover artwork for Awoke is very cool. Did you use a designer who came up with the idea? How much input did you give to get such a great cover? It really draws the eye and screams “read me”!
CONTE: Thank you! The cover of Awoke holds a special place in my heart. The concept came from a desire to foreground my Black female protagonist, highlighting the importance of diversity and representation in publishing. In crafting the cover, I turned to AI as a tool to help bring this vision to life, working closely with the technology to refine and perfect the design. It was very much a hands-on process, where I was deeply involved in every step, from conceptualization to the final adjustments. I honestly very happy that I was able to weld innovative technology with my artistic vision to create a cover that I hope speaks to readers and invites them into the world I’ve created. The conversation around AI in creative industries is complex, and I deeply respect the artistry and skill of traditional designers. For Awoke, using AI was a way for me to explore new creative possibilities while staying true to the essence of Awoke and its characters.
FQ: You have mentioned that you were inspired by folk tales from the Caribbean; can you mention some of that source material, names of characters, types of struggles with which they cope? What draws you to the Caribbean and these folk tales?
CONTE: I am a first generation Haitian American. So the concept of life, death, angels, evil spirits and demons, comes from that background. One of my favorite books growing up was the Magic Orange Tree which is a collection of Haitian folklore. Some of the stories like Bouki and Malice and Put That Man To Bed revolves around the idea of the energy you invite to yourself comes back to you and can affect your soul. In these stories, there are evil spirits that can do you harm in real life because of what you do or what you have done; these tales inspired some of the monsters of Awoke and the balance between the living and the dead in "The Unseen War" series.
FQ: Lawyer by day and writer by night - wow, that’s a lot! How do you find the time, and more importantly, the energy, to come home from a stressful day at the office and put it aside to write? When do you find time to fit in marketing your book? It must be difficult!
CONTE: I have such a great support system at home. My husband is a godsend, and does everything he can to fill in the gaps with our home and our daughter. Additionally because I am a senior partner, I do have the flexibility to switch hats when necessary. But it is a grind! I provide my clients with the best services that I can but also give myself the space to be a happy blerd. I also give myself grace and understand that I can only give 100% of my attention to one thing so everything is not treated the same at the same time. However, they will all eventually reach completion to my satisfaction.
FQ: Speaking of your “day job,” what led you to want to be a lawyer? What is the most rewarding part of the job?
CONTE: I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 12 and it came from a place of wanting to protect people. It's the Cancer in me! However, as I got older, and really begin to embrace the creative parts of me, I realize that protecting people's creative endeavors was just as important. Additionally being an attorney requires some creativity because everyone's situation is different and so you have to craft solutions for their needs. My practice is in intellectual property law (the fun area of law in my opinion) and it's absolutely fantastic to see my creativity flourish in a manner that allows my clients' dreams come to fruition. From TV shows to record deals, it's absolutely exciting to be in the background, and to know that I help it make happen.
FQ: Do you know yet how many books will be in this series? Have you already started book 2? Do you have the overall theme of the entire series worked out or is it creating “itself” as you go along? Is there anything you would like to share about what readers can look forward to for the future of this series and from you as a writer?
CONTE: This is a three book series and all the books have all been planned out so I know who lives, who dies and who continues to tell the story (Thank you Hamilton!). From the planning, it also became apparent why we needed to rename the series to "The Unseen War." Throughout the course of Awoke and the series, the reader will experiences the internal war within the characters, the spirits, even the monsters themselves. Which I believe is a reflection of what we all go through every single day - the internal conflicts of doing what's right, doing what could be wrong, and those in between. In Rise (Book 2), you'll see that continued growth within Katya and also within Gregor as their roles within this war becomes more apparent. I don't wanna give too much else away, but I will say you will hear Gregor's side as well. Not to mention, the series is a reflection of the world we live in. Not to take a page of out of Black Mirror, but ongoing world events might influence the narrative.