A. The World of Deaths is a place where Deaths live. Young Deaths, who reap souls and transport them to the Hereafter, train at the College of Deaths, which is an elaborate maze of canyons and stone stretching beneath two enormous stone towers. East and West Tower are each a hundred stories high (similar to the Empire State Building), and look like giant stalagtites. The world isn't an underworld, but more of a staging area. Deaths are alive, and are one of three races inhabiting the world. When Susan Sarnio arrives, she's the first female Death in a million years, and the last female Death was viewed as a traitor to Deaths, betraying them against the Deaths' rivals the Dragons. As the series progresses, Susan re-shapes her role in the world, as well as the world in general, and redefines the purpose of the World of Deaths.
Q. How would you describe Suzie Sarnio?
A. Susan is a 13-year-old who just wants to fit in. However, she begins to drastically lose weight despite eating properly, and the doctors are baffled. She soon learns that she's actually being pulled to the World of Deaths, and must become a Death, learning to reap souls. She faces serious sexism and bullying, but it never deters her. Susan grows up over the course of the trilogy, and is exceptionally strong-willed. Her determination is admirable, and causes the entire world to shift.
Q. Is there a message you would like your readers to take away from your books?
A. The book deals with issues of sexism, racism, bullying, and overcoming feeling "different" in any way. However, the biggest message I hoped to impart was about believing in yourself. Susan sets her own course, and takes charge of events. She doesn't let anything stand in her way. I think everyone should endeavor to be that self-assured.
Q. Tell us about the College of Deaths?
A. Boys are taken from the Mortal World (our world), and forced to spend a year training to reap souls. At the end of the year, they're given a test, and if they pass they can return home with no memory of where they've been. If they fail, they must remain a Death forever. With this system, the youngest Deaths are 12 to 14. For six or seven years (depending on rate of progress), children train to become Deaths. Each year they reap more and more souls, moving from reaping in groups to individual reapings. When they graduate, they change their name and either become a certified Death, reaping for a living, or go into another profession in the World of Deaths. One of the main ways Deaths are evaluated is through boskery, which is a sport, but also a means to test reaping skills. Four teams compete at once, with double-scythes. Another means is through a Reapery, which is a contest to determine problem solving skills while reaping.
Q. Is ‘The Scythe Wielder's Secret’ the only books you’ve written/published?
A. Yes, for the moment however I've already started my next book, which is an adult science fiction thriller.
Q. Who did the process of your covers come about?
A. My publisher, Muse It Up, found a publisher, in my case a young woman in Germany. I shared my ideas about the cover, and described the books to her. Each covere took several drafts before I approved it.
Q. How did you developed the idea for this story?
A. In 2011, while studying abroad at Oxford, I took a trip to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, which is the supposed birthplace of King Arthur. I became stranded there, and after a sleepless night above a pub, I decided to set out before dawn. I walked to Barras Nose, a peninsula of stone next to Tintagel, on sheer cliffs overlooking the ocean. In the dark, I crawled out to the edge of the prmonotory, fighting fierce winds that blew from every direction. I was alone, attacked by winds, completely isolated, with no one else in sight. I envisioned a character completely alone, attacked from every direction, who managed to find the situation invigorating.
Q. Do you have any tips for people who want to write their own books?
A. Never give up, and just keep working at it.
Q. How do you overcome writers block?
A. I don't believe writer's block exists. I write when I can, and work over 10 hours a day during the school year. I have to start and stop at the strangest, most inconvenient times, and yet never seem to slow down creatively, as long as I keep writing.
Q. Where and how are the best way for readers to talk to you about your book/s?
A. Shoot a message through Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter. I also appear at many conventions, a list of which can be found on my site. ChristopherMannino.com
Reds, yellows, hots, colds. Sensations blended and faded. Suzie’s head spun in a whirlwind of sensation. Two suns appeared for an instant, and she watched the building where she’d signed the contract. Athanasius, the first ’Mental she’d met, seemed to smile at her, and then was gone.
Stars burned her.
Oceans drowned her.
Clouds suffocated her.
Noise deafened her.
The tether slackened. She opened her eyes.
Billy still held the scythe; the blade dripped with tiny beads of white light.
“You okay?” asked Frank, turning.
“Yeah,” she said. “Are we there?”
“Yes,” said Frank. “We’re in the Mortal World. The scythe will never bring you anywhere near anyone you ever met here. That’s one of the rules, but we’re here. This is the closest to home most of us will ever get.” His voice trailed off, and he looked away. Suzie patted his shoulder. She could imagine his pain.
“We’re not here to talk,” said Billy. “The target will be here in a minute.”
“The scythe tells you the target as you cross the portal,” explained Frank.
“They explained in Theory class,” she said. “But it’s still weird to be here.”
She looked around. They stood in an alley, with gleams of starlight visible above them. Flies buzzed over a trash can, overflowing with pizza boxes. A cool breeze blew candy wrappers across the pavement, to graffiti-covered walls. Behind her, a cement building rose, with barred windows. In front of them, a larger street met the alley, with part of a neon sign glowing around the corner. It smelled like urine.
She heard shouts in Spanish from a dilapidated cement building with iron bars. More shouts and someone pleading. Then a gunshot and the shouts moved away from them.
A young girl staggered into the alley. Suzie was about to speak, but Frank shook his head.
The girl fell onto her face, a pool of blood leaking out from under her. In the distance, Suzie heard another gunshot.
“We have to help her,” said Suzie.
“It’s too late,” said Frank.
The girl lay motionless. Time seemed to stop. Suzie had never witnessed someone’s death. Who was this girl? Who had shot her?
Even as the questions started to form in her mind, the girl sat up and stared at them. Suzie started to move, but Frank grabbed her arm, holding her.
“Where am I?” said the girl.
She was sitting up, but she was also laying face first on the ground. The sitting girl looked at Billy with terrified eyes and struggled to her feet. Suzie realized they were each wearing black robes; even with their training badges, they must look frightening. Billy still held the scythe.
“Is this a joke?” said the girl. “I’m not dead—”
“You are,” said Billy.
The standing girl had no gunshot wound in her chest. Her dress seemed to shine as she moved a step away. She never looked down at her own body, or the blood continuing to run.
“Who are you three?” asked the girl.
“We’re in training,” said Billy. Suzie admired how calm his voice was. He was cool and collected, while she wanted to yell.
The girl took another step back and tripped on something. She tried to get up again but Billy held up a hand.
“Please,” he said. “Allow me.”
He raised the scythe and let it fall. The girl screamed, and Suzie screamed as well.
An interview between author Christopher Mannino (CM) and Billy Black.
CM: Billy, I understand you're entering your second year as a Death. What is it like Reaping souls for a living?
BILLY: Honestly, it's just a job. We're in transportation, but the cargo happens to be souls. On a day to day basis, I don't think about death too often. Especially since this is only my second year. I went on three Reapings so far, and only held the scythe myself in one of them. Most of my time's spent at school studying.
CM: What do you think of your new housemate, Susan?
BILLY: I'm really conflicted. There's never been a girl here. A lot of the other Deaths, particularly the older ones, are complaining, saying she'll mess everything up. If she hadn't been housed with Jason and me, I'm not sure how her arrival would affect me, but living with her, even though it's only been a couple weeks so far, I think she's pretty nice. I was kind of annoyed at first, particularly since they had to choose my house to stick a girl in, but it's not that bad. She's a kid, just like all of us.
CM: Speaking of kids, how did you become a Death?
BILLY: Back in the Mortal World I started losing a lot of weight. Suddenly a Death showed up, swung his scythe, and offered me a contract. Live as a Death for a year, and then take a test. If I failed the test, I'd be a Death forever. If I didn't sign the contract, I'd die. Wasn't much of a choice. All Deaths are living kids, snatched in a similar manner. At first, you're really resentful, but once you get used to the World of Deaths, you find it's not so bad.
CM: So you failed your test, and were forced to remain a Death?
BILLY: Not exactly. In the end, I decided I liked being a Death. After Dad left us, life was... rough for my mother and me, to say the least. At the College of Deaths, I made friends. I'm on a boskery team, I do well in classes, and I even work a part-time job for money. I didn't feel compelled to go back.
CM: What's the one thing you miss most about the Mortal World?
BILLY: TV and computers. There are times when life feels a little slower in the World of Deaths On the other hand, that's not always a bad thing.
CM: So what do you do for fun?
BILLY: As I mentioned, I play boskery. I was one of only a few kids my age to make a team. It's meant as a way to see how well we use scythes. Deaths are monitored, and their positions in the Senior College are determined by skill with the blade, since scythe skills allow you to Reap more souls in a shorter time. But it feels more like a game, with four teams competing at once. We use double-blade scythes, which paralyze you if you get nicked. It's a really tough sport. When I'm not playing, I like to read, hang out with friends, or even head up to Mors, which is a city nearby. They have some rides there, like an amusement park.
CM: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
BILLY: I think everyone should give Susan a chance. She seems nice to me. I know the last time there was a female Death, she was a witch who betrayed the Deaths to Dragons, but Susan's different. Don't judge her before you get to know her.
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