Marie Rutkoski is here today instead of my regularly scheduled Chick Lit Wednesday Review as part of her blog tour for The Winner’s Curse to talk about her new book. This book is already one of my favorite 2014 reads so trust me when I say you should read it! I’m also giving away a copy of The Winner’s Curse and will be reviewing it tomorrow.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Marie Rutkoski (MR): I wanted to be a writer from the time I could conceive of becoming anything. Yet there was a period during grad school when I didn’t write fiction at all. I was hugely intimidated by my program and decided that I should focus all of my energies on what I was there to do: research and critical writing. It wasn’t until the last year of my doctorate, when I was living in London, that I dared to write fiction again, and that was because during my long stretches of a kind of lovely loneliness there, I had the idea for what became The Cabinet of Wonders, my first book. A friend of mine, the novelist Neel Mukherjee, encouraged me to write it, and I’m pretty sure that if he hadn’t responded with absolute enthusiasm and support to the idea for the book, I wouldn’t have even begun it.
MP: What was the inspiration for The Winner’s Curse?
MR: The economic term “the winner’s curse,” which describes how, during an auction, the winner has also in a sense lost because she’s bid more than what everyone else has decided the item is worth. I was drawn to this version of a pyrrhic victory and tried to think of a story that would have that title. I wanted to write a story where winning an auction exacted a steep emotional cost. It occurred to me: what if the thing up for auction were not a thing, but a person? What would winning cost you then?
MP: The Winner’s Curse is the first book in a series. Do you already have a set arc for Kestrel’s story?
MR: Yes. The second book is written and in edits.
MP: Did you know, when you started writing The Winner’s Curse that the story would span more than one book?
No. I wanted it to be a standalone. Then, after much difficulty and trying to force a different kind of ending to the first book, I got honest with myself. I realized that the ending I hoped to have wasn’t true to my characters or the story I was trying to tell. I saw what I had to do. Once I figured that out, I also realized that I couldn’t leave matters there. And so….a trilogy.
MP: This book is very grounded in its setting in a Herran conquered by the Valoreans. Did any real locations inspire your descriptions of this world?
MR: Mmmm…I thought a bit about Pompeii. Mostly about the way the homes of the wealthy had fountains in the entryway. I’ve been there, and was struck by those empty, shallow pools. I suppose it’s not just the place of Pompeii that influenced me, but also the loss, the way some people who lived there had everything, and then suddenly had nothing, not even their lives.
MP: Working off the last question, you mention in an author’s note at the end of The Winner’s Curse that ancient Greek and Roman practices played into the ideology of the Valoreans as they claimed Herran. What sort of research played into your writing process?
MR: I read Thucydides. It was awesome. Also, I read Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian to try to get inside the mindset of a Roman emperor who was fascinated by and possessive of the conquered Greeks.
MP: Kestrel’s musical talents and her love of the piano are continuing threads throughout the story and key to her character. Later Arin’s own musicality is also pivotal in the story. Did you always know music would be such a big part of Kestrel’s and Arin’s characters? Is their love of music inspired by your own experiences?
MR: Yes, I knew. I’m not a musician, though I dabbled in music at an earlier age and have recently (well, almost a year ago) begun learning the violin. But I’m passionate about writing, and I like to think about other people’s passion and art. I’ve written about visual arts before, too.
MP: In addition to action and some romance, this story is very thoughtfully plotted. Kestrel is a brilliant strategist and Arin is cunning in his own right. As these two circle each other throughout the story, how did you decide what to reveal (both to readers and other characters) and when to reveal it during the story?MR: It was very hard– and very different, when written from the POV of one character or another. Although Kestrel’s observant, she fails to understand some things about herself, and so sometimes she doesn’t reveal things to the reader because she doesn’t know it, so the trick when writing from her POV was to let the reader understand what was going on while making it clear that she doesn’t. Dramatic irony FTW! We don’t get as much of Arin’s POV, especially at the beginning, and this is a deliberate reflection of his character: his anger, his armor, his hardened heart. He does not want to let you in. Even you, the reader. Kestrel would be as honest with you as she can be. Arin doesn’t want you to know. But he shares more as the story goes on, and this allows the plot to move forward.
MP: With so many details to explain and expand both Kestel and Arin’s world, where did you start? What was it like creating all of the corresponding locations and histories for the backdrop of this story?
MR: I love worldbuilding. Worldbuilding can and should be intricate, but the process is sometimes nothing grander than cause and effect. I wanted a militaristic society. Ok, so… what would be the social choices of a people focused on war and empire-building? They would need to convince a rising generation of the importance of being skilled with a weapon. They’d need to boost the population: to get soldiers to fight and people to make babies….so that the babies would grow up to be soldiers.
It’s hard to talk about the locations, though. I’m not sure how I did that.
MP: As I’ve said before, I loved this story which included so many things I love to see in a book including Herrani gods and Valorean war strategies not to mention a complex tile game. What detail(s) of Kestrel’s world was your favorite to write? Which was the most difficult?
MR: I definitely LOVED writing every single scene where that tile game– Bite and Sting– is played. I also loved writing a duel. That wasn’t planned from the beginning. I happened to drop in a mention of a duel early on (because of worldbuilding. A militaristic society would totally have duels). And then it was the Chekovian gun: there must be a duel! And I WANTED to write a duel. And I thought, “Under what circumstances would one occur?” And then my mind went, “OH.” And then it all magically fell in place. Though the physical pacing of the duel, and how to weave in dialogue, was kind of hard.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Or when to start looking for news about the sequel to The Winner’s Curse?
MR: I can tell you that I videotaped a teaser from the sequel for Macmillan. I read a brief scene from the book. A sexy one! When my publisher will put it up online, though, is in their hands. I can tell you that you’ll see more of Arin’s POV than in The Winner’s Curse, though the sequel is still Kestrel’s book. What else….? I’ve seen the cover for the second book and it is PRETTY. Seriously, I might like it even better than the cover for TWC.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
MR: Have a good memory. The very oldest seed of this book was planted in an ancient art class I took my sophomore year in college. What I learned– that Romans, after they conquered Greece, had Greek slaves reciting poetry in their houses– was not enough for a story. Not for me, anyway. But I remembered it for twelve years. It wasn’t the inspiration for The Winner’s Curse, but it was an influence on the writing of the book.
Thanks again to Marie for taking the time to answer all of my questions so eloquently here.