INTERVIEW: Rachel Moore, Author of ‘The Library of Shadows’

It’s officially the best time of year: spooky season. And there’s no better way to get in the spirit (pun intended) than with debut author Rachel Moore’s new extremely immersive, completely enthralling, and endlessly entertaining paranormal romantic comedy. 

The Library of Shadows revolves around a junior named Este, who enrolls in the prestigious Radcliffe Prep, which happens to be the third most haunted school in the country and has ties to her deceased father. There, Este must navigate making friends with her excitable roommate, solving life-or-death mysteries, and falling in love with the gorgeous yet irritating Mateo, who might be an apparition from the early 20th century. While most teenagers are worried about getting ghosted by their crush, Este is dealing with her crush being an actual ghost. Equal parts hilarious, haunting, and heartbreaking, you’re sure to smirk, scream, and swoon.

I got a chance to talk to Moore about her writing process, personality tests, if there are any plans to visit Radcliffe Prep again, and more.

I know the inspiration for this book came from a lot of places — obviously, you used to work at a library, and I know you mentioned your grandmother’s passing sort of influenced it — but do you remember the first idea that you had for this story? 

So it happened sort of at two separate times and then combined into one idea to rule them all. I knew I wanted to write a book that felt like where I studied abroad in England. I was like, “I want the foggy mornings, the creepy school — I want to write a book that feels like that.” And I had that in my head for probably at least a year before I actually sat down and had this idea.

But I had been working on a different project that was set in Italy. And I was like, “This is the book. This is the book I’m going to finish.” At this point, I had not finished writing any book ever. And I was like, “Okay, it’s time to put your foot down and actually finish writing a book.” And then I got into it, and I was like, “Well, I mean, I don’t know how to do this, and I’m a little bored, so let me just shake it up.” And I started adding this Italian tour guide whose name was Mateo. And then I was like, “I really like Mateo, and I don’t really like the rest of this story right now.” So I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll put them together,” and it very quickly got out of hand.

Thank god it did, or we wouldn’t have the book. You mentioned where you studied abroad — at Harlaxton — but what were some other of your inspirations for the aesthetic?

I feel like I wanted to capture something that felt quintessentially autumnal. I obviously, like everybody this time of year, love the Gilmore Girls moment — something that feels rich and warm and orange. And that, to me, is like every scene in this book. I was like, “How do we make this feel orange?”

The very first page of the book actually references Casper, and I have never seen Casper, but I have had several people tell me that the book gives off Casper energy. I feel honored having done that with absolutely no reference. But anything like Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown. Spooky but not scary was the goal with The Library of Shadows.

As someone who read an earlier draft, I know that the book obviously went through some changes. What would you say is the biggest change from the first drafts to the published piece?

That’s a great question because it’s kind of all of it. I wrote it as a book designed for adult readers. It was significantly longer; it was significantly creepier, scarier. There were evil ghosts, people actively dying. Instead, we have what is now just a rom-com. The stakes are life or death — we kept that — but I think that the atmosphere is very different. The tone is very different. I took it from being really dark and I think what you would consider more typical fantasy to something that feels a lot closer to contemporary fiction.

Obviously, I think it was better for it because it’s such an enjoyable read, but was there a darling that you were saddest to have to kill when you were revising?

Yes, I think that ultimately, I agree — the changes that I made were for the best. There used to be an element to the ghosts where they each sort of took on their own unique form, and Mateo’s was candle smoke, which was a very fun visual to play with. And that ended up being in a lot of scenes with him smoky wisping into the room, and even though I like what I’ve done now better, I’m like, “Wow, you know, I kind of like that.”

I know you’re a fellow fanfic dabbler, and tropes are a very big part of fanfic. I’m curious if there were any favorite tropes that you got to integrate into this book.

This is such a hard question because I didn’t sit down like…sometimes, I think you’ve got an idea for a book, and you know what tropes will slot in really seamlessly. This book was just sheer chaos. I had literally no idea what I was doing when I wrote it for the first time, and obviously, I knew what tropes were, but I didn’t know how to use them because I barely knew how to write a book.

So I think that, if anything, the one that has maintained itself throughout all of the versions of the book has been that kind of rivals-to-lovers element. They’re not enemies. My editor calls them annoyances to lovers, which I really like, but I don’t know if we consider that like a well-known trope.

Well, it is now. We’re making it one. Trailblazer. I really love both of the friendship groups in this book. I feel like often those can feel a little bit hollow in books in favor of the romance, but I love that they’re both so strong — both between the Paranormal Investigators and also the little ghost group. I’m curious how you made those feel so authentic. 

Yeah, Este’s core belief was that she couldn’t let anybody in because it would mean risking losing them again, and that was so scary for her. And I think one of the things that kind of solidified both sides of her newfound friend groups was the resilience of them. She obviously did not care to befriend the ghosts, and they relied on her; and then, alternatively, she actively wanted to befriend her roommate but didn’t know how to build that connection. And then that almost backfired because she has real trouble connecting with the people around her. And so I think just exploring the way that the people who care about you will show up for you no matter the circumstances was something that really led me through this book.

I also just think that all of the characters ended up having their own personalities. One of my favorites is that Luca, in my head, when I first sat down to write this book, was kind of a tomboy, and she was gonna be real rough around the edges. And I mean, the minute she showed up on page, she showed up in a mink coat, and I was like, “That’s literally not what we planned.” And so just giving the friends, as silly as it sounds, the chance to organically become friends, regardless of what I’d plotted, just seeing what came out of their mouths — I think makes them feel, at least to me, realer.

There are so many characters with really strong personalities. Is there one that you feel like you’re most similar to?

Probably Posy. Posy is a little bit off the wall, and I feel like…look, I took the CliftonStrengths Test, and I was told that one of my top five strengths was “Woo,” which has carried me through.

Is that like a hype person? Can you elaborate on this?

It’s the idea that you can gather people around you and become friends with people relatively easily. That you are approachable and somebody that people just naturally kind of want to be around. Which, I mean, like, the jury’s out on that for me, but that is what the test said. And I feel like Posy got that trait where she’s like, “We are friends. So glad you’re here. I would love to take you on a ghost tour of the library.” And I hope that I inspire that. I won’t go on the ghost tour, but she’s much braver than me.

Your descriptions really, really stand out to me in this book. They’re just so cinematic. The library definitely feels like a character in and of itself. I’m curious how you conceptualized its design and layout because it’s very intricate and unique. 

Well, thank you. First of all, I so desperately wanted the setting to feel like its own character. It was one of the foremost images in my head of the book — the setting. The library went through a few iterations before it got where it ended up. At one point, there were like numerous spires, and every part of it had its own name, and then that got very complicated. So my editor and I worked to really scale back. But I knew I wanted to keep kind of the sweeping architecture of the spire, and I think having one spire obviously makes that one very creepy.

Also, my editor and I wanted to sort of root the magic system in this magical place, and that helped inspire the actual corridors and what each floor looked like and felt like. I’m afraid of the dark, so maybe this is just me, but I wanted it to feel like when the shadows are so palpable and you’re like, “I have never been more scared in my life even though I know I’m in a very safe place.” That’s how I wanted the library to feel. Este was in her absolute happy place, and something was off.

You mentioned the magic system, which I want to talk about a little more, too, because there is such intricate worldbuilding and so many rules of the world. I think you do a really good job making them simple and easy for the reader to follow. I’m curious how you not only came up with it but also sort of kept track of everything. Because there is a domino effect to a lot of it, too. I’m sure it’s like a house of cards — you change one thing, and the whole thing kind of falls apart. 

Part of the magic system was actually so entwined with the mystery, as you said, so figuring out the reveals was kind of a jigsaw puzzle. But the first piece of this magic system that did get a complete overhaul when I turned it into a romantic comedy was actually an idea from one of my mentors. I participated in Author Mentor Match, and I worked with Serena Kaylor and Jo Fenning, and Jo said to me, “You know, what you have is complicated. We would like to make this make more sense.” And I said, “Absolutely, you are correct.” And she was like, “What if ghosts can’t touch anything living, but if it’s not alive, then they can touch it.” And I was like, “That is actually the most genius thing that I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Thank you so much for allowing me to expand on that.”

There is such a cool mystery at the center of this. There are so many twists and red herrings, but it doesn’t feel random. Nothing feels overly convenient — it all makes sense and builds towards different things. How did you find the balance between leaving people guessing and being surprised but planting the right amount of seeds?

I will say that planting the seeds is my favorite part of writing. Part of why I had such trouble finishing books prior to this was that I love to write the beginning of books. I love when you’re like, “Oh, that’s a treat for later. Oh, I’m setting the foundations for this.” And then in the back half of the book, I was like, “Oh, this is now a me problem.” But I think that was the easy part — sort of setting everything up. You do it heavy-handed at first, and then you go back in.

I love to think about writing like carving a marble sculpture. You can’t start with the eyelashes — you have to start with the shape of the body. And I think that was how I approached weaving in all of the worldbuilding alongside the mystery. Because it wouldn’t have made sense for Este to find out there were ghosts in chapter one — she had to work her way there.

Speaking of twists and reveals, you write such a delicious villain in this book. And I love a villain, so that’s high praise from me. Can you talk a little bit about the development of choosing them? Because I know in previous drafts, it was a little bit more complicated with who the villains were.

I think the theme of making this book into this version of this book was simplification. And for a long time — I mean, weeks — I just paced around the house, and I was like, “I don’t have any idea how to make all of these people fit together in one evil storyline. This is so messy.” And then one day, I was literally just in my kitchen like, “It’s the same. It’s the same person. You just need one villain.” And so the realization that I didn’t have to overcomplicate things, especially in a book that, in my opinion, is a romance first. Like, yes, I love a twist, I love a turn, and I hope that there’s an element of surprise to the end of the book, but the romance is first and foremost. It’s the reason to pick up this book, in my opinion. But finding that villain and realizing that I got to sort of reincorporate an element of Radcliffe lore into the curse, it was one of those things that felt like planting the seed worked out for me. And that was nice. It was rewarding to be like, “Oh yay — I love a backstory.”

It is so cinematic — I need to see it on a screen. That’s how my brain works. I just want it in all the forms possible just for fun. Do you have any dream casting for any of these people that you would be willing to share?

What a great question. I wish I had an answer. That is something I should think about someday because sometimes people ask and then I think, “Hm, wouldn’t it be great if I remembered any actor in history?” 

So fair. I just feel like there are so many delicious, juicy parts in this that I need actors to be able to sink their teeth into. As a debut author, what’s the biggest thing you learned throughout the process? I know that’s a huge question with probably many parts, but if you had to boil it down.

I think I learned that I can do hard things. There was many a day where I thought, “This is actually very challenging, and nobody is making me do it. It’s just something I want to do.” It was absolutely like a cathartic piece of art for me. You mentioned earlier, my grandmother had passed away weeks before I started drafting this, and that was 100% the catalyst for me switching gears and tackling a story that was going to touch on grief.

I think that debuting is so vulnerable, and so being able to write a story that required me to be emotionally vulnerable proved to me that it’s worth it every time. You don’t have to hide your hardships, I don’t think. And I think that every step of the way has required me to lean on people and ask for help and recognize that I totally don’t have all the answers to any of it. I mean, I wrote the whole book wrong at first! I had to get a real big doover. Overall, debuting as a whole is vulnerable and challenging and worth it.

I love that. It’s kind of a parallel journey to Este’s. I think that’s really sweet. My last question for you is, I’m craving more after this, and there are so many places you could go in this universe, whether it’s a sequel, a prequel with Mateo and Lilith, a spinoff with Aoife, who is maybe my favorite. I love her so much. I’m curious, what would you be most excited to write if you were to go and dive into this world again?

Well, I will say that the world of Radcliffe Prep is not done; however, I don’t suspect we’ll see many of these characters again in their forms. But if I got to give anybody a second chance on page, I think Luca because she was so commanding. Yeah, if I got to give anybody more page space to just exist, I want it to be Luca.

The Library of Shadows is now available to buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, HarperCollins, and more.

— Taylor Gates

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