Title: Empty Cup
Publication date: November 3, 2014
Publisher: Rebelight Publishing Inc.
Author: Suzanne Costigan
Mom’s new boyfriend is creepy.
On the night of her seventeenth birthday, Raven finds out he isn’t just creepy, he’s dangerous. He leaves Raven broken and bleeding, but Mom blames her for what happened. She kicks Raven out of the house with nothing but a blanket to protect her from a frigid winter night.
As Raven struggles with the aftermath of the ultimate betrayal, she seeks solace in her imagination and a teacher who seems to understand her situation. She ultimately discovers that her world won’t change if she relies upon someone else to do it. Real change begins within.
“…Sure to prompt reflection and provocative discussions on important issues.”
-Allan Stratton, author of Leslie’s Journal
“Not an easy story, but an important one. Compelling, powerful, and engaging.”
-Eric Walters, author of Power Play.
Suzanne Costigan is a child welfare advocate, supporting high risk children in her home, and an active member of the Winnipeg writing community. Empty Cup is her first novel.
How did you come up with the title? The title comes from a scene in the book where one of the characters, Lyla's mom, Sarah, talks to Raven about Raven's empty cup and tells her the following: (excerpt from page 49):
“Honestly, I’m not sure how long you can stay, Raven. I barely get by with just Lyla and me. I don’t mind for a little while longer, but eventually we’ll have to make some more permanent arrangements.”
I have nowhere else to go. A chill runs down my spine. I shiver.
“Are you cold?” she asks.
“I guess,” I say.
Sarah passes me the throw she knitted. Lyla and I call it the “Easter egg” because of its bright yellow and royal purple stripes.
“I can pay rent, you know. To help out.”
“I don’t want your money, Raven.” Sarah takes a long slow breath. Her eyes search my face, for what, I’m not sure. “In the meantime, we’ll find a way to fill that empty cup of yours.”
“Empty cup.” She smiles and pats her lap. “Rest here.”
I put my pencil and pad on the coffee table, then lay my head in her lap. She rubs my arm. “Imagine a tea cup inside you.”
I picture the paisley china cup with the bright rose inside, floating in my stomach.
“When you are loved and feel safe and secure your cup runs over with happiness,” Sarah says.
What colour is happiness?
A thick orange fluid fills my cup until it overflows and fills me from my head down to my gigantic toes. The sunset-coloured liquid is warm and soft like satin, filling my veins, replacing my blood. I feel better just thinking about it.
Sarah continues. “But when it’s empty, you feel hollow and unfulfilled, maybe lonely and sad. And I think right now, you’re scared. You have every right to be, Raven. Every right to be terrified. But that means your cup is empty. Understand?”
The fluid drains out of my veins and back into the cup. And then it evaporates bit by bit, until the red rose is all that remains.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Empty Cup is a story about a girl, who is betrayed in so many ways, on so many levels and how she grows into the person she is at the end of the story. I know that many readers will relate to different aspects of Raven's story. And if they find some hope, or maybe learn that they are not alone, then that's important to me.
How much of the book is realistic? This question could be taken two ways. "Realistic" as in could this story actually happen? Yes, it's completely realistic. Even if not in whole, it's certainly happened in pieces. If the question is asking if the story is autobiographical or based on someone I know, then the answer is no. As much as writers pull from their own experiences to put themselves in the shoes of the characters to feel the feelings, Raven's story is not my story or the story of anyone I know. It's a work of fiction.
What books have most influenced your life most?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Everyone should read this book.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
What book are you reading now? Fairest by Marissa Meyer. The Lunar Chronicles series is one that I highly recommend!
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? As mentioned above, Marissa Meyer author of the Lunar Chronicals series. I wait and wait for the next book to come and pre-order them as soon as they are available - just love the intricate ways that she weaves original fairy tale stories into a sci-fi/dystopian world. I'm so impressed.
Melinda Friesen, my fellow author from Rebelight Publishing. I love the first book of her series One Bright Future: Enslavement. Both are new authors.
What are your current projects? I'm currently outlining a new young adult contemporary story, working title Take a Shot.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. I have two - my two writers groups Vast Imaginations and The Anita Factor. I couldn't ask for better supportive writing friends.
Do you see writing as a career? Yes.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here is Chapter 9:
A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER, I open the school door, unsure if I’m ready to see my friends and terrified that when I say I’ve had the flu, they won’t believe me. Lyla walks in beside me, but stops to chat with people we pass in the hall. I keep my hood up, my head down and beeline for my locker. I twirl in the combination.
“I missed you.” Cole puts his hand up on the wall beside my locker, blinking with puppy eyes, trying to be funny.
“I…I, yeah, umm, sick.”
“Uh, yeah, sorry. I had a flu.”
“Really.” He tucks his chin in and mockingly checks me over. “Well, you must be very weak after missing so many days of school. Let me carry your books to Biology.” He reaches for them. “You cut your lip on something?”
I pull away. “Yeah, it’s nothing. I’m fine. Thanks.”
Cole gives me a playful push, tilting me off balance. I fall into the locker and my binder slips from my grip. As it splays open, papers spill across the hallway floor. “Dammit, Cole.”
Passing kids step on the binder before they notice it’s there. A guy trips on it and tears the cover away from the rings. His group of friends laugh at him.
“Ah, crap.” I say.
The bell rings and the giggling crowd disburses.
“Now we’re going to be late, Cole.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Cole shrugs and then crouches down to help me collect my papers. He examines the squiggles on a few of the page corners.
“Nice pen-work. You should be a professional doodler.”
“Yeah right.” I grab the sheets and push them into the binder.
Cole mashes the other pages in too, with no respect for the order of things. He places the ripped cover into place on top of the chaos. Then he hugs it to his chest, stands and whips back his mousey brown bangs. “I said I’d carry your books and I’m going to carry your damn books.”
“Gee, thanks.” I attempt to smile. Cole is actually pretty cute. I only think of him as a friend, but standing there holding my mangled binder, grinning with that dimple, it’s no wonder girls fall for him. It’s why he gets away with so much. He used to have charisma too. Before his parents’ accident. Before the drugs.
He waves his hand in front of my face. “Where’d you go? You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry. Zoned out there for a minute.”
“There’s something else. You don’t seem yourself. And the bright clothes kinda remind me of Lyla.”
“Shut up,” I say.
Cole glances over my shoulder. “And speak of the devil—Lyylaa!!”
I turn around.
Lyla’s eyes smoulder. “Hell, Cole, can’t you just say my name normally? It’s Lyla. That’s it. Just Lyla, okay?”
“Uh, yeah, okay. What bee got into your bonnet, Lyla?” he mocks.
“Of course you’d offer to carry Raven’s books.” She hurries ahead of us into class.
“Hey,” I say.
Cole’s mouth drops open. “What’s with her?”
“Cole, you’re so dense.”
We stop outside the biology room door.
“Well, maybe tomorrow offer to carry her books.”
“Why would I carry Lyla’s books?” He swings his arms out as he shrugs, tossing pages out of my binder. They flit down the hall.
“Oh, shut up Cole.” I gather the fly-aways.
Cole hoots as we walk into the classroom.
Mrs. Stempler isn’t at her desk. Relieved that I avoided one of her when-you’re-late-I-fall-behind-in-our-curriculum-how-can-you-be-so-disrespectful speeches, I hurry to my desk and go through a round of “hellos” and “are you feeling betters” with Marissa and Troy.
A man wearing relaxed fit black jeans and a button up blue and green dress shirt struts into the room. The class falls silent. When he reaches the desk, he turns to face us. His dark features are warm against olive skin. He wears dark-framed glasses, but I can see the green of his eyes.
I’m surprised that my hormones still register cute guys.
“Good morning everyone. I’m Mr. McLean.”
That voice should be on radio.
“Mrs. Stempler is ill and I’m your substitute teacher for the rest of this week.”
Lyla turns around in her desk lifts her eyebrows and mouths, “He’s hot.” She nods.
I nod back.
“So we’ll pick up on the discussion of genetics. Can someone tell me what you covered on Friday?”
Marissa and a couple of other students raise their hands. Mr. Mclean scans the classroom and his eyes meet mine for a second. I drop my gaze to my binder and start quietly re-organizing my pages.
“Yes?” Mr. McLean says.
I look up to see who’s going to answer.
“Genetics are the physical traits passed from one generation to the next,” Marissa says.
“Not just physical traits, but very good,” Mr. McLean says. “Yes, the study of what passes from parent to child. Today we’re exploring dominant and recessive genes. For example, brown eyes dominate over blue eyes and blue eyes dominate over green eyes. If a woman with blue eyes and a man with brown eyes had a child, most likely their offspring would have brown eyes. Of course there are exceptions and we’ll discuss those too.”
Cole says, “My mom said my brown eyes mean I’m full of—”
“YES! I see why she’d say that.”
The whole class breaks out in laughter. Mr. McLean proves to be on the ball.
“Everyone, open your binders to a blank page. Write a list of your basic physical traits.” He makes a list on the white board: hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, straight or curly hair, long or short eyelashes, short or long fingers. Then he says, “Add anything else that describes you. Beside each trait mark down whether you got it from your mother or your father, or if it’s original to you.” He looks at his watch. “I’ll give you three minutes, starting now.”
Shuffling through my paper mess, I find a blank sheet and write down my physical traits.
• Long straight black hair
• Blue eyes
• 167 centimeters
• Long, thick eyelashes
• Long fingers with big knuckles
• Gigantic big toes.
My big toes. I swear they’re bigger than any normal big toe. Because of that damn toe, no flip-flops for me in the summer. I inspect the list. Wow. Am I even my mom’s daughter? Different hair, different eyes. I guess we’re about the same height, but her fingers and toes are normal. And she wears large clumps of mascara to fill in the gaps in her eyelashes.
I must look like my father.
No wonder Mom hates me so much. I wonder what she saw in my dad. Why they didn’t stay together? What did he do that was so wrong, or was she just too needy with him too? Does he wonder about me? If he was around and I told him about Trevor, what would he do? Kick me out? Beat the crap out of Trevor? Would he hug me and tell me everything’s going to be okay because he’s there? Would he be the dad who makes everything better?
I wish he’d have stuck around.
I guess I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Making and sticking with a writing routine. My life is very busy and with so many kids things change all the time. My calendar might tell me I have no meetings on this day or that day, but I really have no way to depend on things not changing. So, I've learned to take time to write when time presents itself. Trying to have work/writing/family/self-care balance is tough, but I make it work.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? Empty Cup is set in my home city of Winnipeg. So I did travel locally to investigate different areas. Where the kids live in an area called Elmwood. Many scenes take place at The Forks (Winnipeg's main tourist attraction/summer hang out) I love hanging out there in the summer and checking out all of the shops. I invite you to see pictures of places that are featured in the story at my website suzannecostigan.com on the "Empty Cup" page.
Who designed the covers? Melanie Matheson, Creative Director at Rebelight Publishing, created the amazing cover design.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? I grew a lot as a writer through the editing process. I had to unlearn some bad habits and then learn new ones. One of my worst was leaving out small words in my writing - then, as, and... for some reason I'd read them in my head, but forget to put them on paper. But hopefully those lessons have stuck and I can put them to work in my new work in progress so that part of the editing will be easier next time.
Do you have any advice for other writers? It's one thing to read a book about writing, it's another thing to apply what you've learned. Always apply and practice what you learn when you are studying new skills. That is how you grow as a writer. And I tell every writer, the best book on writing I ever read was by Jill Elizabeth Nelson called, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View. Every writer should read this book and apply her lessons. Your writing skills will grow by leaps and bounds.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? I hope you engage with Raven in Empty Cup and feel part of her journey. I'd love to hear from you.
What books/authors have influenced your writing? John Green, Marissa Meyer, Stephen King
What genre do you consider your book(s)? Empty Cup is a contemporary young adult novel covering several social issues and is recommended for teens aged fourteen and up.
Do you ever experience writer's block? Yes I have. However, I took a different approach to writing Empty Cup and I didn't experience writer's block at all. I outlined the story, which is normal for me, and then I developed a detailed multi-row timeline that involved all of the characters. Who was doing what when the other characters were doing their thing. In the end this turned out to be not only a scene breakdown, but a chapter breakdown. Then I wrote whatever scene I was in the mood to write, I did not write the story from beginning to end. When I completed each scene I pasted it into the proper place in the manuscript. By the time I got to the last few scenes that I kept pushing off to the end, I was able to decide whether those scenes were important to the story, why I didn't want to write them and then fix it, or delete it all together. The original draft came together really quickly using this method. I'm trying the same approach with my current work in progress and it's coming along nicely.
Do you write an outline before every book you write? Always. And I have a preference to build timelines so I can see how long the story is and what needs to happen between date A and date B. I'm pretty detailed.
Have you ever hated something you wrote? Not hated. I've dropped projects because I was boring myself, never mind trying to share it with a reader. But I've never hated anything I wrote.
What is your favourite theme/genre to write about? I bounce all over the place. Empty Cup and my current work in progress are contemporary young adult (along with about two or three other pieces I started outlining but are currently sitting in a drawer), I have one middle grade fantasy in need of dire editing, and I have several picture book manuscripts ... and a zombie young adult piece that I'm not sure what to do with... oh, and a middle grade series idea and I mull over quite a bit... so yeah, I'm all over the place.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters? Raven came alive in my head. I didn't feel as if I was her, but rather that she spoke through me. She would scream at me to write if I wasn't writing... I had many sleepless nights because she would scream at me to wake up and write. Which I did. How can you sleep with a character screaming in your head? It was rather surreal. I thought I was going a bit loopy until I talked with other writers who have experienced the same sort of thing. I would welcome it to happen again.
Winner will be drawn March 27, 2015
· Two (2) winners will received a physical copy of Empty Cup by Suzanne Costigan (US/Canada)
· Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of Empty Cup by Suzanne Costigan (INT)