Tonya Hurley: The Blessed Q&A

Today, we are delighted to bring you our exclusive interview with The Blessed author Tonya Hurley. Thanks to Tonya and our friends at Simon & Schuster for arranging this great interview!

Religion is one of those topics that many consider taboo (along with politics). What (if any) challenges have you faced in writing and promoting a YA series that’s based in religion?

The Blessed uses various aspects of religion, ritual and faith as a narrative device but not for the purpose of expressing any religious view or value system. It’s true that most people shy away from the topic completely but I feel that it is a writer’s job to be unafraid and unapologetic in creative matters, and for The Blessed I had to go there. The stories of saints are the first young adult narratives that we have, and I believe that these young martyrs are the first real superstars. The forbidden love, the idea of being a misfit, the standing up for what you believe despite everything else, and the supernatural elements all exist in these stories, and in The Blessed. Besides, fantasy writers deal with religion and politics all the time in their books, just in more fantastical ways.

Saint Lucy, Saint Ceceilia, Saint Agnes, Saint Sebastian: which one came first when you were brainstorming THE BLESSED? Tell us a little about what sort of research went in to writing THE BLESSED.

I first story I read was about Saint Agnes, but in terms of the characters in The Blessed, I think Lucy came to me first. Saint Lucy art and sculpture has always fascinated me, especially the way she’s depicted holding her eyes on a plate. It is so graphic. Gory and glorious at the same time. Her story is an extraordinary one, like most of the martyr stories. Rather than marry against her will, and deny her faith, she gouged out her own eyes in defiance. She didn’t want to be looked at by other men so she got rid of her most attractive feature. I have to say that Agnes also struck me. She was also ordered to marry and when she refused, she was stripped of her clothes and sent to a brothel by her own mother. As she walked there, her hair grew down to her ankles, to cover and protect her. Talk about supernatural love. Oh, and can’t forget Cecilia, the patron saint of music. They tried to behead her, and even as they did, she still continued to sing for three days! The show must go on. We tend to think of saints as passive figures, but their inner strength, determination, bravery and willingness to sacrifice for something greater than themselves, especially at such a young age, really struck me.

I know authors rarely (if ever) have much control over the cover of their books. But I think you were blessed (haha, get it?) with THE BLESSED — having not just a gorgeous cover, but TWO gorgeous covers (the book jacket is reversible) — and beautiful interior artwork, as well. Of all the artwork, do you have a favorite?

The cover was a real team effort! But, I have to say, my favorite image is the reversible cover image. The more blood the better for me. I love the modern take on Saint Lucy on both the outside and the inside.

One of my favorite aspects of THE BLESSED was how you combined something very old-fashioned, this devout religious inspiration, with the very modern concepts of media, celebrity, technology, etc. I think the way these two interplay is very important to the story … so how do you think THE BLESSED would have been different had it been written ten, twenty years ago?

Some have said The Blessed is like a cross between the new HBO series Girls and The Exorcist, which was huge novel in the 1970s, so it could have been done, but living in Brooklyn these days is really what inspired the story. In Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill near where I live, weathered, chipped religious statues sit in brownstone courtyards as they have for generations next to brand new hipster cafes and organic markets. They exist together, comfortably, but are almost invisible to one another except at my Dunkin Donuts, where there is a huge statue of St. Joseph standing in the dining area. Honestly! It is like a reminder of a faith and a tradition that is still fighting to stay relevant. It’s an extraordinary thing to see and to live among. Very beautiful, but in a mournful kind of way.

I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d give us a little hint as to what’s coming in book 2?

Love and Blood.


Living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with? 

Saint Agnes, Saint Cecilia and Saint Lucy — would love to know what they think of the book.

Pizza toppings?

Yes, please!

Private concert: who’s playing?

The Cure. I used to do their publicity so I had them all to myself for soundchecks, back stage and hotel rooms, playing. It never got old.

Perfect vacation?

My daughter and me at the top of a mountain somewhere by the sea.

Look at your desk right now. Name five things within reach.

  1. A black and white picture of my daughter Isabelle and her cousin Oscar that was taken in Uncle Vince’s studio.
  2. My black cat on the corner of my keyboard. Part of my work is repeatedly getting him off my desk.
  3. A reflective hearse sticker on my computer.
  4. A gold incense holder.
  5. Lots of cool, little trinkets – mostly day of the dead and saint statues from Mexico, displayed in an antique printer’s box propped up in the back.

Thanks again to Tonya! And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out The Blessed — in stores now!


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