Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Two Great YA Fantasy Authors

Sunday Brunch Interviews

[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the opportunity to interview two great YA fantasy authors and ask them five(ish) questions. Up first, Tehlor Kay Mejia!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind We Unleash the Merciless Storm?

Tehlor Kay Mejia: In We Set the Dark on Fire I explored a repressed girl coming to terms with her privilege in the face of oppression from a patriarchal society. There was a pretty clear delineation between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in that narrative, but in We Unleash the Merciless Storm I wanted to explore the other side of that coin. The way resistance movements can still perpetuate toxic social structures. The way even after a commitment to active opposition you can still encounter obstacles and conflicts.

What character do you most relate to and why?

I think I’ve always seen the most of myself in Dani. She’s analytical and introspective, she likes to plan before she acts and make the most informed decision possible. She also sometimes overestimates her ability to be objective though, and is ruled by her emotions far more than she’d ever admit. 

Why do you feel books with powerful and relatable female characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I think the real question should be why haven’t they been more popular before now? Women — especially young women — have been grossly underestimated throughout all of history. We deserve to be represented. Not just because of a trend that makes bloated corporations money, but because we’re human. We exist. And we matter.

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

We Unleash the Merciless Storm follows Carmen Santos as she returns to the outer island and the resistance movement that raised her, only to find home isn’t exactly the place she left it, and some of the ways she’s changed since leaving are permanent. It’s a book about young women refusing to be confined by the roles imposed on them by their society. It’s about committing your life to a movement, but realizing you have to make space for a whole life in order to be truly free. That joy is a radical act.

What’s next for you in the book world?

Now that my first duology has wrapped up, I’m looking forward to my middle grade debut, Paola Santiago and the River of Tears — which will be out August 4th from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. I also have a YA co-write with Anna-Marie McLemore called Miss Meteor releasing September 22nd from HarperTeen. 

Who is your favorite writer right now and why?

This changes all the time, but right now my favorite writer is Carolina de Robertis. Cantoras, a book about a community of queer women during Uruguay’s dictatorship, was my favorite book of 2019 hands down. It’s such a joy to see intersectional queer identities being celebrated on the page, even in the midst of circumstances some might find hopeless or impossible. She’s a master of finding hope in places most people would ever think to look.

Up next, Samantha Cohoe!

What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Alchemy was my inspiration! What’s not to love a pursuit that is equal parts science, philosophy, theology, and magic with eternal life and endless wealth as its goal? And it has a dark side, too. Alchemists were often despised, rumored to be sorcerers who made deals with the devil, and many of them devoted their entire lives to a hopeless cause. Alchemy is a pursuit that puts the cost of ambition on full display. And I love a cost of ambition story.

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

I relate most to Thea, by far, because I based her on me. Or at least, me at a very specific point in my life. Thea is me when I was her age, sheltered and lonely and totally unwilling to admit that she needs anyone. She’s way better at alchemy than I am, though.

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

I think the most distinctive feature of the novel is the ability to get into a character’s head and identify with them, even if they’re extremely different from you. Speaking for myself, the more unique and powerful a character is, the more interesting I find it to live in their head for a while.

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

My second book, BRIGHT RUINED THINGS, comes out Fall 2021 with Wednesday Books. I think of it as THE GREAT GATSBY meets THE TEMPEST. It’s a 1920s YA retelling of THE TEMPEST, set during the Prosper family’s annual bash, in which their teenaged ward Mae realizes this powerful family is not what they seem, and seizes her chance to seize the magic they have always denied her. I’ve just wrapped up edits on that one, and I’m looking forward to diving back into another secret project once the dust settles from A Golden Fury’s release.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

I’m not sure I can choose! But since I just finished A Deadly Education a couple days ago, I have to shout out Naomi Novik. Even across very different kinds of stories, she knows how to write characters and a world that grab me and don’t let go. Reading her books feels like going back to the reading experiences of my childhood, except that they meet me where I am now. 

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

I’ll give the advice that I’ve been giving myself lately. Put away your phone. Turn off the internet on your computer, or maybe take a break from the computer entirely and write by hand in some of those notebooks I know you have. Let yourself be bored for those minutes between inspiration. Easy distraction is my biggest enemy as a creative person. I’m not exactly winning my war against it at the moment, to be quite honest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t! Be better than I am!

Your book interweaves elements of magic and dark fantasy. What inspired these themes? Why?

So far, the magic that comes out of my imagination all tends to be pretty dark. As much as I love wish-fulfillment fantasy and fun magic systems, my own subconscious, creative mind doesn’t seem to trust magic. The dark side of power is very evident to me. And after all, magic is power!

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