Welcome to Working for the Mandroid, Sherry! For those unfamiliar with The Elemental Trilogy, how would you describe the soon-to-be released first volume The Burning Sky?
I can list some of its ingredients: a girl capable of summoning lightning, a Machiavellian prince with good reasons for being Machiavellian, a villainess who can access your deepest secrets by destroying your mind, Eton College in 1880s, cross-dressing (on the part of the girl), dragons, cricket, elemental power, visions and prophecies, a book of fairy tales that you can enter, two young people trying to resist falling in love and not succeeding.
In other words, magic.
After a career writing romance novels and gaining acclaim, what made you venture into YA fantasy?
I always have a blast writing historical romances, but I also want to write things that don’t fall so neatly into the boundaries of the romance genre. Mystery, space opera, romantic comedy, martial arts epics—I am interested in writing everything I enjoy reading. YA fantasy just happens to be the first genre outside romance in which I succeeded in writing a viable manuscript.
The learning curve is steep when one steps out of what one is accustomed to doing. I once wrote a contemporary romance. My agent felt it was problematic, so I set it aside. But with The Burning Sky, I loved the story so much I never set it aside. Every time my agent sent it back with comments for revision, I would get right on it and bang out another draft. Until the day she said, yes, I am sending this to children’s editor I know.
Many of your romance novels are historical fiction. What was your favorite part about building your own world? What did you find the most difficult?
The most difficult part is that you can’t just look up your own world online when you have a question that needs answering. Drawing on an actual world means the limits have already been set for you—you can’t travel faster than the speed of light and the Earth always revolves around the sun. But when you world-build from scratch, you have to set limits and then you have to respect those limits.
My favorite part is setting things on their heads. For example, Rumpelstiltskin is considered a historical personage of saintly kindness in the mage realms, and mages shake their heads at how nonmages could have somehow turned him into a character both sinister and ridiculous.
Many epic fantasy novels deal with the Hero's Journey and star a Chosen One fulfilling a prophecy long foretold. What makes Iolanthe stand out from other Chosen Ones and how is her adventure different?
According to the hero’s journey, after the hero receives the call, the stage that typically follows is the refusal of the call. But a lot of the times the refusal of the call is perfunctory. In Star Wars, when Ben Kenobi tells Luke he should come with, Luke is like, nah, I’ve gotta help my uncle and aunt on the moisture farm. But when uncle and aunt turn out to be already dead, Luke leaves with Ben right away. Luke wants adventure; he wants to join the rebellion; he is ready to shed the ordinary and enter the extraordinary.
Iolanthe, on the other hand, refuses much, much harder. She does not want adventure; she does not want to join any rebellion; and she fears being marked as extraordinary because that would make the ordinary impossible—and the ordinary was all she ever wanted. No drama, no trouble, just a nice, tidy existence.
So she really has to be pushed and pulled and—at one point—coerced to walk the path of the Chosen One. A lot has to happen for her to grasp that there is a larger world beyond the safety and security of her own person. And a lot of internal reassessing has to occur for her to be able to conceive of herself as someone with a role to play in the larger world.
(I don’t think it will be too large a spoiler to say that in book 2 of the trilogy, the whole concept of the Chosen One will be turned on its head.)
Are there any particular novels, movies or other items in popular culture that inspired you in creating The Elemental Trilogy?
Not sure exactly what inspired me, but The Matrix is very much what I aspired to for The Burning Sky. The Matrix is dystopian scifi, and The Burning Sky obviously isn’t, but what I wanted was to write a book that gave me the kind of rush The Matrix did—it never hurts to aim high—so I modeled the beats of the book after the beats of the movie. (Per wikipedia, in the context of the timing of a film, a beat refers to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the protagonist pursues his or her goal.)
At one point there existed a draft of the book that matched the movie almost exactly beat for beat. But I had to do so much overhauling, the version that went to print probably isn’t quite as close to the Matrix in terms of its rhythm and pacing. Still, I really enjoyed emulating something I love and admire so much.
What routine gets you prepared to write about Isolanthe and her adventures? Is it different than what prepares you to write your romance novels?
I wish I had a writing routine—or a better writing routine. Usually I wake up in the morning and answer a bunch of emails and check a few websites. (When I feel disciplined, I do this on the treadmill desk—the nonwriting stuff easily adds up to an hour, which translates into three miles walked.) And then I open up my work-in-progress and proceed to fiddle with it.
This process does not vary at all for what I write. Sometimes I will throw in some casual gaming, sometimes more blog reading—your basic time-wasting. It’s my goal in life to train myself to clean kitchen and house instead, when I am just flitting around on the computer. (But I have my doubts on whether that goal will ever be achieved.)
Do you have a preferred writing snack?
Cake is my crack when deadlines loom. I do not eat desserts on a regular basis, but when I have a deadline, I will buy an eight-inch, four-layer cake from my favorite local bakery (Dream Bakery, if anyone in Austin, TX wants to know), hide it in the back of the fridge, and polish off the entire thing myself in about a week to ten days.
But I don’t eat deadline cake as a snack. I eat it as a meal substitute. Does that still count?
Thanks so much for visiting us, Sherry! I had no idea you were an Austinite and how have I never been to Dream Bakery?! I think I have to make a trek over there this weekend.
And now here is your chance to win awesome The Burning Sky prizes from Sherry!
For First Place (International):
1 Hardcover of THE BURNING SKY a tote bag, and handmade balm, scrub, and bath tea.
Runners Up (International)
3 Hardcovers of THE BURNING SKY and a tote bag.
3 runners up will get swag packs (stickers, bookmarks, signed bookplates)
The Burning Sky
Balzer + Bray
Releases September 17, 2013
YA / Fantasy / Magic
It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.
Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.
But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.
Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed romance authors working today. Her books regularly receive starred reviews from trade publications and are frequently found on best-of-the-year lists. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA® Award.
English is Sherry's second language—she has come a long way from the days when she made her laborious way through Rosemary Roger's Sweet Savage Love with an English-Chinese dictionary. She enjoys digging down to the emotional core of stories. And when she is not writing, she thinks about the zen and zaniness of her profession, plays computer games with her sons, and reads as many fabulous books as she can find.
Sherry’s next book, THE BURNING SKY, volume one of her young adult fantasy trilogy, will be available fall 2013.
Author photo by the lovely and talented Jennifer Sparks Harriman at Sparks Studio.
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