Category Archives: Author Interviews

Author Interview #2: Claire Legrand on Furyborn

Claire Legrand author photo Furyborn is poised to be one of the big books this summer as it launches a blockbuster YA fantasy trilogy for Sourcebooks Fire. Claire Legrand has been working on pieces of Furyborn and the larger Empirium trilogy for years often crediting this book as the book of her heart and one that set her on this path as an author. I’ve been waiting for a new YA from Claire since I read Winterspell back in 2015 and I’m so happy the time has finally come. Today Claire is here to talk a bit more about this powerhouse series starter.

Miss Print (MP): You’ve mentioned before that Furyborn is the book of your heart. What was the inspiration for Furyborn? What part of the story came to you first?

Claire Legrand (CL): Furyborn, and the entire Empirium Trilogy, is indeed the story of my heart! I first came up with the idea nearly fourteen years ago. I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from high school. While flying back from a family vacation, I was listening to Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and daydreaming. Suddenly my daydream showed me a young, beautiful woman–very powerful, but very sad, and surrounded by fire. She was about to make a choice that would change the world forever. I knew all of this within moments of first seeing her face.

After that initial vision, I started asking myself questions about this woman; What kind of power does she have? Why is she sad? Who loves her, and who hates her? Why is she surrounded by fire? Is she in the middle of a war? As I answered these questions, I began constructing the character of Rielle, and the rest of the story grew up around her.

MP: Working off the last question: This is a story that’s been part of your life for years. Can you talk about one thing that has stayed the same from the beginning? What is something that’s changed?

CL: The prologue of Furyborn has stayed virtually the same from the beginning, though originally it was told through two alternating POVs–Rielle and Garver Randell. Now the prologue is told entirely through the eyes of a different character, eight-year-old Simon. I still remember the day I sat down in the spare room of my mom’s house to begin writing the prologue, after years of daydreaming and brainstorming. I was so shaky and nervous, as though I were gearing up to confess my love to a serious crush.

One major thing that has changed from the original Furyborn draft is that the characters of Rielle, Audric, and Ludivine used to be children! My initial vision for the trilogy featured them as children in book one, and then teenagers in book two, after an eight-year time jump. While that was a fun experiment–and ended up being very helpful in terms of character development–it ultimately wasn’t the best structure for the story.

MP: The world of the Empirium trilogy is rich and filled with unique locations and its own mythology. Were aspects of this world inspired by real locations or mythos?

CL: Certain locations and languages were loosely inspired by real-world locations and languages. For example, Celdarian words are pseudo-French, and many Borsvall words are a blend of various Scandinavian languages. Having been raised Catholic, I also drew a lot of inspiration from the structure and iconography of the Catholic Church when constructing the elemental world religion featured throughout the trilogy.

MP: Furyborn follows Rielle as she comes into her powers and is forced to complete dangerous trials to prove herself to her kingdom and Eliana a mercenary living a thousand years later doing everything she can to survive and protect the people she cares about. One of them is destined to become a queen of light and salvation to save the world while the other will be a queen of blood and destruction, dooming her world. How did you go about balancing these two separate but connected plots? Your characters don’t have much choice in the matter but if you could choose, which queen would you be?

CL: By the time I started writing the current iteration of Furyborn, I’d spent a dozen years living in this world and getting to know the characters, so it actually wasn’t too difficult a challenge to balance the two storylines. I’d also written a few different drafts of the book, and each new draft helped me learn what worked and what didn’t work. When I sat down to write the current version, I’d so deeply internalized the rhythm of the alternating storylines that the draft unfolded relatively smoothly.

It’s interesting that you say Rielle and Eliana don’t have much choice in the matter, regarding which Queen they’ll be–the Sun Queen or the Blood Queen. A Queen of light or a Queen of darkness. One of the themes I explore in this trilogy is that there isn’t only light or only darkness in anyone. The choices facing my protagonists aren’t as black-and-white as the prophecy in Furyborn might suggest. That being said, I’m definitely a Sun Queen. Darkness makes me grumpy; I much prefer sunny days to cloudy ones. Plus, think of all the gold, glitter-spangled gowns one could wear as a Sun Queen. I can’t resist bling.

MP: While we’re talking about characters, did you have a favorite character to write in Furyborn? Is there any character you were particularly excited for readers to meet?

CL: I love writing all of my characters, but writing Rielle, Simon, and Corien has been (and continues to be) particularly entertaining. Rielle has been so fully, insistently herself since the moment I met her. She’s passionate and brash in ways I am not, so it’s exciting to step into her shoes and explore that. Simon is a man of many secrets, and is so deliciously snarky, which is always fun to write. And Corien is cruel and charismatic, full of contradictions. When he’s on the page, everything feels electric. I always feel wired after completing a Corien scene.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? What can readers expect in book two?

CL: After Furyborn, my next book is Sawkill Girls, a queer feminist horror novel for young adult readers. It’s about three girls who live on the island of Sawkill Rock, where girls have been disappearing for decades. There may or may not be something terrible and hungry living on the island, and it may or may not be kept secret by people who may or may not be complicit in a supernatural plot. Sawkill is scary and sexy and weird, and I’m so excited to share it with readers. It releases October 2, 2018 from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins.

I just finished the first draft of Furyborn book two, and all I can say right now is this: brace yourselves. Book two is bigger, sexier, and scarier than book one. The story is expanding in ways that I think will be both unexpected and delightful to readers. I wish I could say more! But…not yet. I shall exercise restraint.

Thanks again to Claire for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Claire and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Furyborn here on the blog.

 

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Author Interview (#11): Sarah Beth Durst on The Stone Girl’s Story

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst, one of my favorite authors, is back today to talk about her latest middle grade novel The Stone Girl’s Story which follows Mayka, a living girl made of stone, as she ventures far from home to find a way to help herself and her friends.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Stone Girl’s Story?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I’m a terrible gardener.  Zero green thumb.  Plants see me coming, and they wither in self-defense, anticipating a horrible death from either too much or too little watering.  But I try.  And I’m always optimistic that next year, I’ll remember to weed/water/whatever often enough to have a lovely flower bed.

One spring, after hearing me talk all winter about flowers, my husband bought me a little stone rabbit for my garden, and I nestled it in between the daffodils.  But by the end of the summer, it was so buried in weeds that I couldn’t find it.  So I joked that it had hopped away to join its other stone friends…

That stone bunny became the inspiration for THE STONE GIRL’S STORY (and you’ll see him hopping around the first chapter as one of Mayka’s friends!).

Mayka is a girl made of living stone.  Forever twelve years old, she has outlasted the father who carved her and engraved her body with the stories that gave her life. But now the magical marks that animate her and her stone friends are fading, and she must leave her home for the first time to find help if she wants her story — and those of her friends — to continue.

At its heart, this is a story about stories — what stories shape who you are, who chooses the stories that define you, who tells the story of your life.

MP: Stone creatures in Mayka’s world are brought to life by markings carved into their bodies that describe various attributes and parts of their lives. If you were a stone creature, what are some markings you would want to include in your story?

SBD: I would want my markings to say how much I love stories — really, I think they’re as essential to life as air, water, and food — and how much I love to tell stories.  And I would want my markings to say how much I love my family.  Those are the two things that are most important to me: writing and my family.

Might also want to add a marking saying how fond I am of chocolate.

MP: Mayka leaves her home to find a new stonemason and gets to see the world beyond her mountain home for the first time. Reading this story I was struck by how vivid the locations and landscapes are as Mayka discovers them. Did any real locations inspire the places that Mayka visits?

SBD: Not intentionally, but the world does seep into you and then come out in your writing.  Things you think are beautiful, things you think are important, things that stick in your memory…  All of those things fertilize the soil of your imagination.

Mayka’s world is born of my imagination, but it’s shaped by my love of this world.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in The Stone Girl’s Story?

SBD: One of the best things about being a writer is being able to invite people into your worlds, your stories, and your imagination.  I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayka and her friends!  I am especially excited for readers to meet Si-Si, a little stone dragon that Mayka encounters on her quest.

I think all stories need at least one talking dragon.  :)

MP: This is a busy year for you with three novels coming out. Last year was equally jam-packed with your YA novel Drink, Slay, Love’s movie adaptation coming out and the release of your first picture book Roar and Sparkles Go to School. (I love that you literally write for all ages now!) With so many projects going on at once how do you balance everything? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I write every day.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful for keeping up the momentum of the story.  I don’t have a set time or consistent number of hours that I write each day — basically any time I have two hands free and am near my computer, I’m writing.

I typically work on one project at a time.  It takes me a couple days to switch between voices, styles, and worlds, so I prefer to work on one book for a few weeks/months (depending on where it is in the process) and then make the transition to another.

I also always like to know what I’m going to be writing next and will often start a new book on the same day that I finish the prior book.  I don’t like saying goodbye to characters that I’ve grown to love, so it helps if I can immediately say hello to new ones!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next projects?

SBD: Yes!  My next book for adults comes out on May 15th: THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.  It’s the final book in my epic fantasy series about bloodthirsty spirits and the queens who can control them.  Very excited for readers to see how it all ends!

In December, my next YA book, FIRE AND HEIST, comes out.  It’s essentially Ocean’s Eleven with were-dragons.  I just posted the gorgeous new cover over on my website (www.sarahbethdurst.com/FireandHeist.htm).

And I’m currently in the middle of revising next year’s MG book (SPARK, about a girl and her lightning dragon) and adult book (THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone Renthia novel with a lot of sea monsters).

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Stone Girl’s Story be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview: Leslye Walton on The Price Guide to the Occult

Leslye Walton author photoThe Price Guide to the Occult is a haunting story about a strange island, magic, and the ties that bind people together–sometimes whether they like it or not. This story follows Nor as she tries to make sense of her own strange inheritance as a Blackburn daughter and get to the bottom of a price guide whose offers of magic with seemingly no limit is taking the world by storm. Today Leslye Walton is here to answer some of my questions about her latest novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Leslye Walton (LW): My path was fairly traditional, but it was a long one. I wrote my first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, while in grad school. I submitted my manuscript to a few agencies, but I didn’t sign with my agent until a year later. Another year passed before we found the right publisher. I got really lucky though; I have the best agent in the world and the people at Candlewick Press have been amazing to work with.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Price Guide to the Occult?

LW: When I was brainstorming my next project, I took a trip up to the San Juan Islands. My car broke down, and I was told that I needed to wait a couple of days until the island’s sole mechanic returned from the mainland. So, as I waited for the mechanic to return, I soaked up as much of island life as I could–I saw the shore lit with bioluminescence, and the bright colors of the Northern Lights fill the sky. By the time I left, I knew this quirky place was going to be the setting of my next book.

MP: In this novel all of the Blackburn daughters have an affinity for a specific kind of magic–something the Blackburn women refer to a burden–that can range from healing to something similar to mind control. Keeping in mind that most magic in this world requires a price in the form of a sacrifice, what magical burden would you willingly accept?

LW: This is a tricky question! I would hope that I would accept some magical burden that could help make the lives of others better or easier in some way. But the part of me that struggles with anxiety finds the thought of that very stressful—I would make the worst superhero.

MP: This novel takes place on Anathema Island located in the Pacific Northwest. While the story focuses on Nor, it’s fair to say that the island is often as much of a character in the novel as it is a setting. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

LW: The setting absolutely came first, but Rona Blackburn, the matriarch of the Blackburn family, came quickly after. Anathema Island and Rona are essentially the foundation of the story, so I knew I needed to have both fleshed out before I could figure out the actual plot.

MP: Working off the last question, were any of the locations you mention in The Price Guide to the Occult inspired by actual places?

LW: They were inspired by the idea of places rather than actual places themselves. The shops along Meandering Lane are a mixture of the quirky occult shops, bakeries, and art co-ops that you can find all over the San Juan Islands.

MP: The Price Guide to the Occult is very focused on characters. Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? What about one you most resemble (or wish you did)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

LW: I hope that readers love Nor as much as I do. She’s incredibly strong, and a powerful witch, but she struggles with very real mental health issues that I think many young girls her age will relate to. I also really love Nor’s grandmother, Judd and her partner, Apothia. And I’m a big fan of Nor’s best friend, Savvy—and of course, Bijou, who was inspired by my own little ridiculous dog.

MP: Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

LW: I really love the scenes between Nor and her love interest, Reed. I hope readers enjoy their somewhat awkward banter as much as I enjoyed writing it.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

LW: Most of my next projects are just whispers right now, but there are several of them that I’m excited about. I can say that I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Nor, Savvy and everyone else. I definitely think we’ll return to Anathema Island sometime soon.

[MP: This is very exciting news!]

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

LW: Try not to worry about the kind of book you think you’re supposed to write, and write the kind of book you want to write. You can’t write everyone’s experience—write the book you need, trust that your words will find their intended audience, and allow other writers to do the same.

Thanks again to Claire for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Leslye and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of The Price Guide to the Occult here on the blog.

Author Interview: McKelle George on Speak Easy, Speak Love

McKelle George author photoSpeak Easy, Speak Love is a delightful retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in 1920s New York. As soon as I heard about this witty retelling, I knew I wanted to read it. I’m happy to report that Speak Easy, Speak Love far exceeded by expectations and has turned into one of my favorite books of the year. Today McKelle George is to talk a little bit more about her writing and this book.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

McKelle George (MG): I wrote a little in high school and my freshman year in college–but primarily fanfiction and roleplaying. I went to school on an art scholarship, actually, and had planned to study illustration. But then I went to live in Europe for a few years, and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I got home the summer of 2011 and I switched my major to English. I wrote four novels–and the fourth was Speak Easy, Speak Love–and otherwise my story was kind of typical, if a bit long. It took 9 months of actively trying to find an agent, we signed in 2014, then we revised my book, and about eleven months on submission to find my editor (December 2015). It was more stressful as it was actually happening, ha–but now here we are!

MP: What was the inspiration for Speak Easy, Speak Love? What made Shakespeare and the 1920s the thing you had to write?

MG: I was inspired to do a Shakespeare retelling after seeing some amazingly clever and innovative adaptations at the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] and the Globe in England. When I sat down to think of ways I could tackle my favorite play, Much Ado About Nothing, I thought instantly of the 1920s. The play is feminist in subtle ways and it offers two different kinds of womanhood in Hero and Beatrice, and the 1920s is a uniquely feminist decade. Women had just gotten the vote and the emergence of the flapper in the time after the Great War had all the right soil to explore those themes.

MP: As a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, you started with a framework for a story going into this novel. How did you decide which original elements to keep and how did you decide what you wanted to change?

MG: This is a YA adaptation, so I knew they wouldn’t all end up married. I also had to consider the time period I was working in–what would be historically accurate and what wouldn’t. But honestly I kept as much as I could. I love the play. My book even keeps all the character names and everything. But I also had questions for Shakespeare, like: why on earth would Hero take Claudio back after all that? And what is Don John’s deal, why is he causing so many problems? And I tried to answer them in my own way.

MP: What is one thing you would go back in time to experience in the 1600s? What’s one thing you would love to see or do in the 1920s? What kind of person do you think you would have been in those times?

MG: A Shakespeare play, obviously–in the original globe theater. That would be awesome. And I would attend Texas Guinan’s 300 Club speakeasy in Manhattan. If I’d lived in the 1920s, I think I would have been a conglomeration of Benedick and Beatrice. Ben got all my writing ambitions, but I’d have to deal with being a girl and poor the same way Beatrice does.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Who do you think you most resemble (or wish you resembled)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

MG: I answered this a little in the last question–I’m probably half-and-half of Beatrice and Benedick–but I actually very much enjoyed writing Maggie and John. There’s a lot less to go on as far as character goes in Much Ado, so I got to make up a lot. And I love the world they occupy: jazz and mobsters. I’m especially fond of John, and I hope readers like him (though I get why they might not, ha).

MP: Working off the last question, what was it like taking characters written in the 1600s and translating them to the 1900s? How did you drill down to the key personalities of your core characters?

MG: Many, many drafts. Unfortunately this is just how I write. I need lots of words and pages to discover who they are. Of course, I had a few markers to work off: Beatrice had to be wicked smart and unafraid to say what she felt. Benedick had to be able to go toe-to-toe with her. Prince had to be someone others trusted and relied on. But a lot of that was superficial, and it was through writing them that I discovered their motivations and fears.

MP: What is your favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

MG: There are three kissing scenes, and I am very fond of all of them.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

MG: I’m working on a spooky, magical realism book that’s a retelling of The Tempest–as well as a dieselpunk reimagining of the Arthurian legend. They’re both very slowly killing me.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

MG: Don’t give up, first of all. Settle in for the long haul. But also be gentle with yourself. At some point, your writing is going to disappoint you, or your work ethic might disappoint you. Whatever. Forgive yourself for the gap between the kind of writer you want to be and the kind of writer you are and keep going.

Thanks again to McKelle for this great interview!

You can see more about McKelle and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of Speak Easy, Speak Love.

Author Interview: Jennifer Mathieu on Moxie

Jennifer Mathieu author photoJennifer Mathieu’s latest novel started receiving a lot of attention well before publication when it was optioned by Amy Poehler. Since then Moxie has only gotten bigger and rightfully so. Moxie follows Vivian, a girl growing up in small town Texas, who is sick of the sexism and harassment at her high school. Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines, Viv decides to start one of her own to fight back and start her own feminist revolution. If you haven’t heard of this book yet, get ready for it later this month because this book is a winner and possibly my favorite book of the year. Today Jennifer is here on the blog to talk a little more about this fantastic novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jennifer Mathieu (JM): Well, I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I wrote books and poems for fun. In 5th grade I won my first writing contest at my school with my book Mystery at Grandma’s.  In high school I edited my school paper and I majored in journalism in college because I thought being a reporter would be one way to be able to write for a living.  It turns out that reporting wasn’t for me, but being an English teacher definitely was. I made the career switch to teaching in my late 20s and I started to read the young adult novels my own students were reading. I thought I might be good at writing such stories myself. My first two young adult novels were good enough to get me an agent but they never sold. My third novel, The Truth About Alice, was my first book to sell, and it was published in 2014. I’ve been really fortunate to be with my publisher Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press since then, and Moxie is my fourth book.

MP: What was the inspiration for Moxie?

JM: I was hunting around for my next idea. I like to and have written about my interests and even my obsessions – small towns, cults, high school gossip, etc. – and I was contemplating other interests of mine that I hadn’t tackled yet. Feminism and Riot Grrrl came to mind. At first I thought about writing a Riot Grrrl novel actually set in the 90s, but I wanted to write a book set in contemporary life, and I wanted to revisit the Riot Grrrl movement through a modern lens. I was sitting on my couch in my den texting with my friend, book blogger Kate Sowa, and the basic plot for Moxie just came to me in a rush. I texted it to her and she was so excited I knew I had something!

MP: Vivian picks the name for her zine after the term “moxie” comes up in a conversation with her grandmother. Which begs the question: What does moxie mean to you?

JM: Moxie to me means guts, gumption, strength and spunk. The word bossy gets thrown around all the time for strong girls, but I’d love to replace it with the word moxie. Plus it has a retro appeal which I love!

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Who do you think you most resemble (or wish you resembled)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

JM: Oh, it’s impossible to choose! I love all the girls. I think maybe I have a soft spot for Lucy Hernandez, the new girl in town. She is brave and also vulnerable. I was probably most like Vivian in high school, scared to make waves and really wanting to fit in, but with a sense in my gut that all was not well in my sexist high school. I’m just eager for readers to meet all of the characters.

MP: What is your favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

JM: I can’t give too much away, but the big climactic scene at the end of the book was my favorite scene to write and actually the scene I wrote first! I can’t wait for readers to discover it, and I’ve had a few early readers tell me they teared up reading it. I love the Valentines Day scene between two characters at school and the surprise Vivian receives on Valentines Day. That scene was so fun and romantic to write.

MP: During Moxie Vivian initially plans a few signs of solidarity and a protest to fight the school’s unequal dress code in the zine. From there the movement gains a life of its own as other girls take the lead. Can you talk a bit about your vision for the Moxie movement in this novel and how you went about making it inclusive while staying focused on the core plot?

JM: To me, it was very important that the movement was leaderless so that all girls could claim the Moxie title for themselves. The Riot Grrrls tried to be leaderless in a lot of ways, but it was hard because the mainstream media wanted to name leaders and highlight certain women or bands. By making Moxie truly anonymous, anyone could take it on, and it also allowed for girls from different backgrounds, including different races, to take on Moxie as their own. I’m a white author and Riot Grrrl was a predominantly white movement, and I wanted Moxie to feel like it could belong to every girl. As for staying on the core plot, well, I know it’s corny, but I let the characters talk to me and tell me what they wanted to do. It really does happen! Somehow it all came together.

MP: Speaking of the zine and protests, what was your favorite Moxie moment to write in this book?

JM: I’m repeating myself, but definitely my favorite scene, the climactic scene at the end of the novel. As I mentioned, I wrote this scene first which is unusual for me. I typically write in a linear fashion. But this scene just wouldn’t get out of my head, so I wrote it first as I was pitching the book to my editor. I wrote it in a coffee shop down the street from my house and I felt like perhaps like this was something special! I hope I’m right!

MP: One of the things I love about Moxie is the sense of solidarity that the zine fosters both for the characters in the novel and for readers. Some of that support has been obvious in the book’s hashtag (#moxiegirlsfightback) after Kirkus published their review of this title. Can you talk a bit about what the pre-publication support/reception has been like for Moxie?

JM: I have been completely overwhelmed in the best way possible by how many early readers or just people who are excited for the book have had my back and have expressed support for Vivian and her friends. It all started to snowball when Amy Poehler’s production company optioned the book for film and the book wasn’t even out yet! That was mind-blowing. And the UK edition was picked up for the Zoella Book Club, so it’s actually already out in the UK, and I’ve been getting the kindest, most generous emails from readers there. And I’ve hired a former student to run the Moxie Tumblr (moxiegirlsfightback.com) and that’s been building steam, too. It’s just been this coming together of all these different people eager to support this feminist message. I’ve heard many women and girls say given the current administration and the last presidential election, the book feels especially timely. I’m so grateful for their support and hope I don’t let them down!

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

JM: Sure! I am working on my fifth book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. It’s in the very early stages and I don’t have a release date for it yet or a title. It’s based on a very eerie, very sad episode of This American Life that has been haunting me since my editor first told me to listen to it. It’s about a teenage brother and sister being raised by their abusive mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s set in the 80s and it’s about lies, love, taking risks, and saying goodbye.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JM: I always offer the same three pieces of advice – read widely and never apologize for what you read, write often and don’t expect it to be perfect – just write! – and put your phone away often and observe the world. Writers have to be good spies. Put your phones away and observe the rhythm of life that surrounds you. Overhear conversations. Dream up worlds inside your neighbors’ houses. Build your imagination muscle.

Thanks again to Jennifer for this great interview!

You can see more about Jennifer and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of Moxie.

Author Interview #10: Sarah Beth Durst on The Reluctant Queen

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors. It’s hard to pick just one of her books to have as my absolute favorite but I have to say The Reluctant Queen might be it. This book is the second in Sarah’s award winning Queens of Renthnia series which starts with The Queen of Blood. Today Sarah is here for our tenth interview to talk a little more about The Reluctant Queen.

Miss Print (MP): When we last talked about The Queen of Blood you explained that the Queens of Renthia series originally started with The Reluctant Queen as the first book before you made a switch and started the series with Daleina’s path to the throne. What was it like going back to this story after shifting the beginning in that way? Did The Reluctant Queen have any big changes because of the shift?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Starting with book two, then creating book one, and then returning to book two made for a surprisingly fantastic writing experience.  It was nothing I could have planned or predicted, but it turned out to be the best thing for me.

The entire time I was working on THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I had the story for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN churning in the back of my mind.  So when it was time to write book two, I knew the world, the story, and the characters so well that it felt like coming home.

Well, “home” if home were a massive forest with cities high up in the trees and tons of bloodthirsty nature spirits eager to destroy humanity…

MP: As its title suggests, this story focuses on a woman who doesn’t want to be queen. Naelin is very powerful and, as one character describes her, “deeply committed to living a forgettable life” and never attracting the attention of the spirits. Naelin’s lack of ambition and focus on her family is often in stark contrast to Daleina’s own position as Queen and her deliberate choices to take up that role. If you were in Renthia, whose path would you be more likely to understand and follow yourself?

SBD: I love writing about brave heroes like Daleina — she’s not particularly powerful (in fact, she’s at best a mediocre student, lacking the innate talent and skill of her classmates), but she’s determined to protect her family and save her world anyway.

I do consider myself to be determined (being a writer requires a certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness), but I’m not very brave.  Daleina ziplines all around her forest and faces down vicious spirits.  I, on the other hand, can’t even handle a nice, placid bike ride without being terrified, and I’m afraid of skunks.

So I’d probably chose Naelin’s path.

Actually, I agree with many of Naelin’s life choices.  She has immense power but chooses not to use it out of a (very, very reasonable) fear that she’ll leave her children motherless.

MP: The Reluctant Queen shows readers several new parts of Aratay including a much more in-depth view of the palace in Mittriel. What was your favorite room or place to showcase in this book? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: My favorite room is the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions, even though Daleina isn’t as fond of it as I am:

Carved into the top of the palace tree, the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions was known far and wide as a marvel. It was said to have been created by one hundred tree spirits, working together under the command of a long-ago queen, in a mere instant. It was enclosed by arches of curled wood—living wood with leaves that whispered together when the wind blew. Sunlight poured into the center of the chamber, illuminating the queen’s throne in a perfect star pattern. The champions’ chairs circled it, each chair alive, budded from the tree. Higher than the surrounding trees, the only way to reach the chamber without using spirits was to climb the stairs that spiraled up from the palace on the outside of the tree’s vast trunk.

 

It was indisputably impressive, but today Queen Daleina hated it. She also hated the nameless long-ago queen who’d thought it was a grand idea to construct so many stairs.

MP: Since Renthia is filled with spirits that want to kill humans, we have already seen a lot of them by the time this book starts. What struck me while reading about the spirits is how unique they are. What inspired your vision for the spirits in Renthia? How do you make sure they are all distinct?

SBD: I wish I could tell you I’ve developed some fancy, professional-sounding writerly technique for creating the spirits… but honestly, I just try to make them as awesome as I can.  My personal favorite is an air spirit that is essentially a giant ermine with bat wings.  It looks kind of like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  (That’s the spirit on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN.  The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere.)

MP: In this book readers meet new characters like Naelin and her children Erian and Llor while also learning more about some of the familiar characters from book one including Daleina’s sister Arin, Healer Hamon, and Champion Ven. This book features quite a few more perspective shifts as the story unfolds from several points of view. Did you always know that this series would feature multiple perspectives? How did you go about balancing that aspect of your storytelling in your outlines and drafts?

SBD: That’s one of my favorite things about writing epic fantasy.  I love deciding whose turn it is to tell the story.  It feels like conducting an orchestra.

Mostly, I chose the POV character based on who is most affected by the upcoming scene, but I also color-code my outline to make sure that all characters have the appropriate amount of screen-time and that everyone has enough time to complete their character arc.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SBD: Right now, I’m working on my next middle-grade novel.  It’s called THE STONE GIRL’S STORY, and it’s about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books.  I’m so excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Reluctant Queen be sure to check out my  review.

COMICS EXTRAVAGANZA: A Q&A with Scott Westerfeld

I’m excited to be part of First Second’s Comics Extravaganza Blog Tour!

All week you can follow the blog tour (click to see the full schedule) for interviews with authors talking about their own comics, what they love about the genre, and more.

Today I’m hosting a Q&A with Scott Westerfeld, author of Spill Zone. Scott Westerfeld is the author of the worldwide bestselling Uglies series and the Locus Award–winning Leviathan series, and is co-author of the Zeroes trilogy. His other novels include the New York Times bestseller AfterworldsThe Last Days,Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy.

Tell us your first memory of reading a comic or graphic novel.
Scott Westerfeld (ST): My first little-kid comics were Casper the Friendly Ghost. He’s the ultimate visual character, thanks to the weird physics of his incorporeal body. I don’t think you could do those gentle but highly disconcerting sight-gags in any other medium. (If you don’t know what I mean, google “Casper Ghost Physics.”)
What’s your favorite comic or graphic novel, and what do you love about it?
ST: I love all deconstructions of comics, so I was tempted to say The Boys or something gritty like that. But really, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the best self-aware meta-comic going right now. The writing and art are crisp and sharp, the perfect combination of sweet and knowing.
Tell us a little about your latest graphic novel. 
ST: Spill Zone is set three years after a strange event destroyed the hometown of 20-year-old Addison Merritt. Nobody knows what the Spill even was, but it took her parents and left her little sister silent. (Except for psychic conversations with a creepy doll.) Now Addison supports them both by sneaking into the Zone to take photographs, which sell as a mysterious, voyeuristic outsider art. And then one of her collectors offers her a million dollars to bring more than photographs out of the Zone. (My elevator pitch: Stranger Things with motorcycles.)
What comic or graphic novel are you reading now? 
ST: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. An amazing immigrant family memoir, stretching from the bloody division of Viet Nam to blue-sky California in only a few decades. An amazing look at how history imprints itself across generations.
Remember, check out the other tour stops for more interviews. I’ll leave you with some more information about Spill Zone:
SPILL ZONE
by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.

The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone’s twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse.

When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison’s name.