Writer Spotlight: Marissa Byfield, author of The Soft Fall

Few stories manage to fit in elements of romance, tales of myth and legend, terrifying beasts and a strong, bad-ass woman in the way that The Soft Fall by Marissa Byfield does. I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading her Young Adult Fantasy novel, which also has ever-so-slight elements of paranormal fantasy in it. It’s one of the most creative retellings of the werewolf genre I’ve seen in recent years. It will make you feel deeply for the main character, Dianna, as she navigates a whole new world of demons and beasts who’s intentions are unknown.

I could go on and on about the narrative arc and incredibly well-detailed scenes, but instead, I’ll turn it over to Marissa so she can tell you about it herself.

Marissa, over to you!

What is The Soft Fall about?

If you love Wonder Woman, Princess Mononoke, or Beauty and The Beast, then The Soft Fall is for you. Set in a fantasy world, it’s a retelling of the myths of the goddess Artemis and the imperial twins raised by wolves, Romulus and Remus.

Bitten by a wolf as a girl, the young huntress Dianna must do anything it takes to survive her oppressive village — even if that means trespassing the forbidden woods where the wolves roam. What happens next will bring the lives of five outcasts together and change the course of an empire at war.

I always joke that it basically started as an AU (alternate universe) fanfic of Greco-Roman mythology, but it is! With a twist of lycanthropy.

Why werewolves?

I’m fascinated by wolves and werewolves alike. But throughout myth and story, they haven’t exactly been represented in a positive or even neutral light. I know there are many readers who feel like once you’ve read one werewolf story you’ve read them all. And there are plenty of werewolves in romance or horror — but the fantasy genre is surprisingly lacking in them.

I always knew I wanted to write a fresh and more nuanced werewolf tale, and that started with thinking about things I didn’t like about existing ones, and how I could go about subverting them.

Instead of hierarchy, I thought, let’s depict wolf packs as they really are: dynamically structured, highly social and communal groups. What if there was a found family of werewolves who fought not for dominance, but against another territorial pack and hunters bent on exterminating them?

Instead of wolves being shown as a menace and a threat, let’s show how wolves are essential to the ecosystem. What if these werewolves had special powers over the earth?

Instead of werewolves symbolizing toxic masculine aggression, let’s explore werewolves as a symbol for the transformations of womanhood, including being caged and repressed by a society that calls you monstrous for the desire for bodily autonomy.

Dianna’s village calls the wolves “demons.” It begs the question: Who is the real monster?

What are you working on currently?

The Soft Fall is the first book in the Lunar Siege duology. I’m writing the sequel, Echelon Rising, which follows the pack as they seek to bring peace to the empire…but there are forces at play beyond their imagining.

Without spoiling you, the narrative is split between Dianna and Eccka. They’re two incredibly empowered women, and I wanted to get an even more intimate look at their thoughts, motives, and backstories.  The Soft Fall was about finding agency, and Echelon is about taking control of it. There’s a war to be fought, fates of former characters to be revealed, and new characters to meet — including a warrior based on the goddess Athena, an alchemist who may hold the key to defeating the enemy, and (of course) lots more werewolves. I think there will also be more moments of humor and lightness than readers expect. Some character developments have been waiting in the wings a long time, and I’m so excited to finally visit those.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching battle formations and legionary strategies against the odds. Here in America we’re facing a dire political situation, and in addition to the pandemic, it’s given me a lot to process about how interconnected and volatile survival can be. My aim is to bring messages of perseverance onto the page, and hopefully bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Excerpt from The Soft Fall:

The first sensation was cold.

Its numbness embraced her, settled clean and raw in her lungs with her awakening breath. The sharp teeth of it needled at her nose and cheeks.

Dianna lay still, blinking. One by one, like flower buds unfurling in spring, each of her senses returned to life.

The silence was broken only by the faintest of sounds – the soft skitter of nocturnal animals, the tumble of melting snow from a tangle of branches, the wind’s dull susurration. She saw darkness above; white below.

She smelled the earthy spice of pine.

A nightmare.

She looked at her body and thought it had somehow disappeared, that she’d dissolved into the snow itself. But a bitter gust unsettled her hair, making the ends whirl about her face. A white nightgown flickered around her legs.

Dianna clenched her hand experimentally. A warm rush of blood prickled through her. She tried the other hand.

No, this is real, she thought.

“No,” she found herself saying. She rubbed the back of her head, tearing clumps of snow from her hair. “No . . .”

She sat up, squinting into the night. The farmhouse was a distant speck on the horizon. The slope below it was draped in a clean, blank canvas, smudged only by a trail of her own footprints. They stopped in a spray of powder at her stocking feet, where she’d tripped and woken. She moved her ankle away from a knotted tree root and looked up.

Snow-laced pines loomed tall and motionless as sentinels around her.

Something moved among them, half-smothered in the dark. Dianna glimpsed slivers of its lupine form. A chill slithered through her as she rose to her feet.

The demon went still, watching her.

Behind latticed branches, its molten yellow stare was unfaltering. Dianna’s heart was a bird beating its wings against the cage of her ribs. Though her instincts screamed to run, she dared not move.

Both girl and wolf stood with the impasse of strangers, each studying the other. Time seemed to suspend. The sounds of the woods calmed to a hush.

It began to snow.

The snow fell like fragments of moonlight, silver-flecked, before blinking out in the darkness. Dianna stood like a shivering fawn on feeble legs as the cold nipped at her skin, pushing its icy fingers through her hair. It touched her nose, swelled in her fingertips and toes. Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.

The wolf’s expression seemed serene, even curious, fringed in a soft halo of fur. Its auric eyes remained fixed on hers as if waiting for something to happen.

As Dianna stayed rooted to the spot, the grip of fear began to slacken. And slowly, a profound wonder filled her.

The wolf crept forward with a tentative grace, despite its sheer mass. It loomed over her, tall as a grown man. There was a subtle deadliness in its deliberate steps, like a snake twisting through grass, like smoke curling from a slow-burning fire.

Dianna’s breath deepened. She visualized it killing her in one smooth movement – seizing her neck in its jaws, throwing her to the ground with ease.

But still she could not find the strength to move as the snow crushed under its heavy footfalls, closing the distance between them.

The wolf’s head was low, flame-eyes level with hers. Something human stared out from their depths.

The realization tingled on her skin, shivered deep into her bones.

“I see you in there,” she whispered.

It was so close she could feel its hot breath wash over her, strangely welcoming in the winter chill. For one mad second, she wanted to reach out and stroke its fur, just to know the feel of it.

Its muzzle furrowed, revealing glazed, sharp teeth.

Dart-quick, its fangs pierced the soft flesh just above her elbow, sinking in, drawing blood. The white-hot pain shattered through her arm like glass. She buckled to the ground, convulsing.

The wolf turned in a flash, vanished into the veil of snowfall and beyond the clustered pines, a memory to be forgotten.

The Soft Fall is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook at this link!

Marissa’s blog: https://marissabyfield.wordpress.com/

Book trailer for The Soft Fall: https://youtu.be/lt2cHWxIKIw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/moonlitmarissa/