Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Kristin Cashore and Adrienne Tooley

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Kristin Cashore and Adrienne Tooley and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Kristin Cashore!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Kristin Cashore: My novels usually start with character, and that was the case with this one, too. When I finished writing my last Graceling Realm novel, Bitterblue, there were a few characters I found myself wanting to explore more (Bitterblue, Giddon, Hava). And I also had some other characters forming in my mind, young people who lived at a boarding school in a land with advanced technology and telepathic animals. I decided to try bringing all of these things together in Winterkeep.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

It’s funny, because I don’t think about relating to my characters while I’m writing them. I’m trying to create characters who are individuals in and of themselves, and I’m definitely not thinking about making them like me. But I suppose that every one of them contains pieces of me. I can’t think of one I relate to most closely, though. Maybe the more important question is for the reader! Who in this book do you relate to? Who do you recognize? I hope my characters will feel real, and relatable!

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

I think readers are always going to respond to unique voices, and to stories of heroes, on big or small scales! I read for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is to find the strength inside myself. I think that powerful and creative characters help us to think differently about ourselves and the world around us.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it. 

Sure! Told from five perspectives — three human, one a telepathic fox, and one a gigantic creature who lives at the bottom of the sea — Winterkeep combines political intrigue, family drama, romance, heartbreak, and redemption. For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, rebuilding her nation after her father’s horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep—a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans and people fly across the sky in airships. But when the envoys drown under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again—a tragedy with devastating political and personal ramifications. Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, a young student named Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she’s the key to unlocking everything—but only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life. 

In terms of what readers can expect — it’s a fantasy world, but it’s also a metaphor for our world. My hope is that readers will see our world and its problems reflected in Winterkeep, and also meet some heroes. And feel wonder, and hope!

What’s next for you in the book world? 

I have another Graceling Realm book in revisions at the moment. I’m also writing something new, a (hopefully) slender book that will be YA, contemporary, and magical.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

This is a completely impossible question. I’ve never had a favorite writer! There are too many different kinds of writers, and too many ways to love a book. I’m happy to name a few authors I’ve been reading lately, though. Yoko Ogawa, whose books are translated from the Japanese — spare, beautiful, strange — a delight. I also just read and loved When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk, which is about evolving friendships. Malinda Lo’s upcoming Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which is a queer coming-of-age novel about a Chinese-American girl set in 1950s San Francisco, is absolutely beautiful. I’ve also fallen hard for the historical romance novels of Evie Dunmore (Bringing down the Duke; A Rogue of One’s Own), which take place during the fight for women’s suffrage in England, and star suffragettes. Delightful!

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

When you read what you’ve written and feel bad about it… see nothing but its flaws… begin to feel hopeless… that’s just how it feels to be a writer. It doesn’t mean your project isn’t worth writing. It doesn’t mean you won’t get it to shine in revisions. It just means that you’re writing. Writing always involves writing flawed stuff first, then fixing it. 

When the voices in my head tell me that my writing is bad, I try to think of them as a sad little person who needs a hug. They can sit next to me if they need to, they can complain and make terrible predictions about the future. But they’re not going to stop me from writing.

Up next, Adrienne Tooley!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind Sweet & Bitter Magic?

Adrienne Tooley: At the heart of it, Sweet & Bitter Magic is a book about grief and a book about power. Both of these concepts are explored through the eyes of two very different girls. With a dual POV I got to see the world through the eyes of Wren, a girl who feels everything, and Tamsin, who feels nothing (though not by her own volition). 

I wanted to look at the past through different lenses. After all, grief and ghosts look different to everyone. How people choose to face their past, how they continue onward even in the face of unbearable loss, is power in its own right. But beyond that, I wanted to explore the idea of strength and power and how that affects the world and the individual. When being told that strength is good, and weakness is bad, how does that affect the ways a person can grow? How does that affect their relationships? How does that affect their own perceived value? And then, on the flip side, how does a person deal with the consequences of that power? 

Sweet & Bitter Magic offered me to attack those concepts head-on. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

At sixteen I was absolutely a Wren—I felt everything so powerfully, every passing glance, every spark of hope, with that ache in my chest that called me forward and away from my hometown. I relate so deeply to her curiosity about a world she’s never had a chance to explore, and the desire to learn and study her craft. 

These days, I can relate to some pieces of Tamsin, too—I tend to reflect on the past fairly frequently, and this winter the radiator in my apartment has been acting up so I’ve begun to empathize with her inability to feel warmth…

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters like the ones in Sweet & Bitter Magic are so popular and have such a voice right now?

That’s an interesting question! I think that character-driven novels are a great way to offer unique perspectives on top of the fantasy or contemporary elements readers have come to know and love. 

As a reader, I’m always fascinated by character-driven books. I love getting to know a brand new world through the eyes of a strong, voicey character. I’m always fascinated by the small everyday moments in a fantasy world that we would never see without a unique protagonist. 

I also think that by virtue of diversity in kidlit we’re beginning to see characters who weren’t on our shelves five, ten, twenty years ago. These voices, these perspectives that were not represented before are offering us a range of powerful, unique characters, the likes of which we’ve never seen and that readers are hungry for.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it.

Sweet & Bitter Magic is a standalone YA fantasy filled with whimsy and plays on a fairytale world. A witch cursed never again to feel love and a girl hiding her own magic reluctantly team up to search for the origin of a memory-stealing plague. On the road, both girls face their pasts—which surface in ways they’d never expect. Expect flirtatious banter, a slow-burn romance, and complicated family dynamics.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

My second book, Sofi & The Bone Song is a standalone fantasy about a young musician whose future falls apart when another girl wins the title she’s been training her whole life for. It’s got magic, music, taverns, an endless winter, and an exploration and dismantling of the idea that people should suffer for their art. Currently, it’s slated for a Spring 2022 release.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Right now I am so enamored with N.K. Jemisin. The strength, consideration, and versatility of her body of work cannot be overstated. I first read The Fifth Season and was blown away by her prose, her character work and her world building. Everything is so intentional. Everything so purposeful. As I’ve expanded further into her catalogue I’m surprised and delighted in equal measure.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?

Be diligent, be patient, and always be looking for ways to level up your craft. Read widely and often! So much about what happens to a book after you write it comes down to luck and timing, that it’s important to focus on what you can control: ie your characters, the heart of your writing, constructing an intriguing voice, studying and improving your craft.

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