BP Note: So a few of us Book Pushers are HUGE epic fantasy fans. And when we say huge we don’t just mean we enjoy the reading them but our favorites are rather lengthy so we can be swept away in the world for a much longer period of time. As a result, we are very pleased to have Michelle Sagara, author of several epic fantasy series, visiting us today in honor of her upcoming Cast in Flame release. We have a review coming up in the late post today.Because this series is such a favorite we are sponsoring a little giveaway. Prize(s) and instructions are at the end of the interview. Michelle, thank you for joining up!
BP: What attracts you to writing Fantasy/Fantasy Romance?
Michelle: The short answer is: I love to read fantasy. I always have. I read the Narnia books when I was seven or eight (they were a Christmas gift from my godmother); I read the Weirdstone of Brisingamen at the same age (it made me claustrophic for life). None of my friends at the time were big readers, and in later elementary school, those who were read Judy Blume. But reading Judy Blume was like reading a cross-section of the life I saw played out every day, and — I wanted a bit more out of reading than that.
I started to write in part because of what reading meant to me. I wanted to write books that moved readers the way I had once been moved; that meant to them what they meant to me.
And of course because of that, I started to write fantasy: it’s what I read most, and what moved me most.
BP: When your brain runs out of words or needs to recharge what do you turn to?
When writing is being very, very difficult, I can find reading other novels discouraging because All The Other Authors Are Competent. While I know that the book in question caused stress, frustration and heart-ache to those authors, the finished book doesn’t reflect that, whereas my unfinished book…
When that happens, I will often read manga, or web-toons these days. It’s a different medium and therefore much harder to compare.
What I want is to be moved. I have comfort books that move me; I have challenging or disturbing books that move me. If, however, I can’t engage with anything, I will play video games.
BP: From your years working in a bookstore, what would you recommend as a gateway to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance?
Michelle: This one is harder. It depends entirely on the reader, and on how much they read outside of the genre. For younger readers who aren’t all that interested in reading, the ubiquitous Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight. The latter always causes some raised eyebrows when suggested, but if you’ve got a twelve year old girl who will not read, it’s almost fool-proof.
When someone tells me they want children to read good books, I point out that ‘good’ is subjective. If they want their children to read, to be life-long readers, what they want is to introduce them to books they will want to finish.
I read every Nancy Drew book I could find—including the older variants (there were two sets, when I started: the originals, and the rewrites of the originals with more ‘modern’ covers. No one would argue that these were good, literary works. But six year old me liked the characters, and liked daydreaming about being a girl detective.
I did outgrow those books. But I did so at my own pace, and by my own inclination. Had I been forced to start with Shakespeare, I wouldn’t have continued. (Although I did read all the old Classics Illustrated versions, which were interesting because they used modern English for events, and actual play dialogue for speech bubbles.)
For older readers who want to know what genre is about, it’s trickier. In the bookstore, I ask for three books that the reader has loved—any book. I read outside of genre as well as in. If I overlap, I can triangulate a reader map, and look for things that suit the tone & voice.
I have started people on Cloud Atlas. I’ve started them on Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi. I’ve started them on Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels trilogy (a reader wrote to me because she’d read Cast in Shadow. She’d picked the book up because the cover looked like a Paranormal Romance cover—but it wasn’t, and she really, really liked the book, so she wanted recommendations of books that were similar).
I have a customer at the store who hates 90% of anything I like. (“Don’t touch that one—I don’t want to listen to you complain about it for the next five years.”) The 10% overlaps with what the store manager reads and likes, so I can find books that he’ll like. I don’t have to like the books myself. But I do want to match people to books they’ll like.
BP: Which book do you most want to read again for the first time?
Michelle: Lord of the Rings.
I think I‘ve answered this question six different ways, because it’s almost interchangeable with “what are your favorite books in the history of reading, ever”. But I eventually settled on Lord of the Rings because I read it when I was much younger—and then read it once a year (or more) until I had children. It had an enormous effect on my desire to write.
There are many ways in which it hasn’t aged well. There are people who are passionate readers who cannot get through it once, now. But I read it when I was a far, far less critical reader, and it moved me to tears and to awe at the majesty of the ancient and the wild and the things that were not of the, and would never be simply, mortal—but were beautiful, regardless.
And that—that sense of wonder—I would love to experience again for the first time.
BP: Did you always plan to focus on each of the major species inhabiting Elantra or did that develop over time?
Michelle: Yes, actually. Some people love worldbuilding as a process. One of the writers I most respect starts with maps and geology and geography and grows from there.
I am not that writer, sadly. I will do the work, but for me it’s like washing dishes. It does not make me sing with joy—it needs to be done.
So with the Cast novels, I wanted two things. I wanted to write a series that, like TV series, had episodes that were self-contained. And I wanted to create a world in which I had room to expand and explore. Because then I would not be recreating the world every three books.
But at the same time, if the world was too small, there would be nothing for me to discover and explore – and that leads, in the end, to boredom. And no one wants to read a book that bored its author. Trust me.
BP: What’s in store for Kaylin’s future? Any secrets you can share?
Michelle: In the immediate future—and this will make sense only once you’ve read Cast in Flame—Nightshade and, separately but equally, the Dragon Court. BP: **bounces**
BP: Coffee or Tea? Morning person or night owl?
Michelle: Both coffee and tea. I like mild coffee blends—and was very surprised to find out that it’s the mild, not the dark roasts, that have the most caffeine (it seems counter intuitive to me).
I like Good Earth Original blend tea—it’s mostly cinnamon, with a bit of built-in sweetness.
I am not, on the other hand, a morning person. Unless I’m in Australia. People told me when I had children that I would become a morning person. It is true that I learned to wake up. It is not true that this then became the desired norm—and now that the kids are older, I sleep. I tend to work at night when there are too many day-time interruptions, and sleep in.
Also: I tend to overfocus, so I often ignore the mental signals that sleep is incoming. I don’t recommend this if you have any choice, though.
BP: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask
Being a published writer does not impress one’s children all that much. The only two things I have done of any note in they eyes of at least one of my children:
1. I know Cory Doctorow in real life.
2. There is a TV Tropes page about my Elantra novels. (My husband mentioned it at dinner, and my son immediately sprang up from the table to go check.)
I don’t have a driver’s license. I have lived in Toronto (or its environs) all my life, and I put off getting a driver’s license because it would take time, and there was a perfectly good transit system at hand. People who grew up outside of cities with transit systems always find the lack surprising.
BP: Which character has surprised you the most with fan comments?
Michelle: It’s a tie. In my older work: Sendari (a character in The Sun Sword). He’s very polarizing, and a number of women have made it clear how very, very much they despise him. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. (My mother is one of them.) For the record, I think he’s very much a product of his culture and his place in it, as a non-athletic second son.
The other is Amy Snitman in Silence. I did not expect people to like her; I did expect them to tolerate her. But a few readers have let me know that she’s their favorite character.
Oh, all right, and one more: the Arkon. The Arkon seems—to me—to be the type of character that people would dislike because he is both enormously intellectual on a number of fronts and enormously condescending when irritated—and he’s frequently irritated. I personally like him a great deal, but expected that people would resent him a lot more than they do.
This is kind of why I tend to write the characters and leave them as they are—I can’t actually predict what will, and will not, work for readers, reading is so individual.
BP: What other future projects are you working on?
Michelle: I have been toying with the Shadow Wolves as a separate series, with (mostly) different characters. I have also been considering an entirely new (fantasy) world and situation. But mostly I have been working on Grave. BP: Super excited about Shadow Wolves
BP: We would like to thanks Michelle again for spending time with us. And because we like this series so much we are offering a digital copy of either Cast in Moonlight #0.5 and Cast in Shadow #1 (yes both) or Cast in Flame #10 anywhere we can gift it. That way if you haven’t started started the series yet and you are interested we will help you start at the beginning. To enter answer one of the questions we asked Michelle AND let us know if this will be your introduction to the Cast series or not. Winner(s) will be announced on the 1st. Good luck! And don’t forget to check out our review in the late post today.