2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Susan Dennard

Today is the last interview this year, although I know technically it was supposed to be yesterday, I started school on Wednesday and didn't think I would have so much homework right off the bat.  I do hope you think the little wait was worth it because today I have another NYT bestseller whose books are also endorsed by the amazing Sarah J Maas.  I'm so pleased to end this feature with the lovely Susan Dennard, author of Truthwitch and Windwitch!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: You've created a world that has some "familiar" magic (wind, fire, etc.), but there are also an assortment of unusual magics (truthwitchery, threadwitchery, etc.).  Why did you decide to include the familiar magics, and where did the idea for the unusual ones come from?  Were there any ideas for types of magic that you threw out?

Susan Dennard: Actually, I started with the unusual magics. And I had a lot of them. Rather than having just “Waterwitch,” I had “Tidewitch” and “Icewitch” and even (yes, this is true) “Steamwitch.” And it was overwhelming and mildly absurd.

So one of the first things my editor asked me to do was simplify the magic—combine some witcheries, eliminate others, and add overarching elements within which each magic could be applied.

So now, while there are still Tidewitches and Icewitches, they are in the broader category of Waterwitches. And as you can see, that didn’t really simplify things at all, but only made it more complicated. ;) Whoops!

OUATR: There are so many great characters in this series, and we get to see through the eyes of so many of them.  Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) character to write?  What about one that's easiest (or hardest)?  Why do you think that is?

SD: I definitely don’t have a least favorite or a most favorite—I have to love them all in some way or I couldn’t authentically write from their POV. That said, some are easier to understand than others. Safi is very “this is good, this is bad, I fight for what I believe in” while characters like Vivia or Aeduan have many more shades of gray.

OUATR: You have some really impressive fight scenes in your books, how do you go about writing those?  Do you block them out, do you act them out, or something else entirely? 

SD: I definitely block them out. I’ve been doing martial arts since college (so…over a decade ;)), so I have a pretty strong sense of how fighting works, how our bodies move (or DON’T move, for those instances when you want to break something), and how to defend against common attacks. There are times I’ve had my sensei help me choreograph scenes, or whenever we learn a cool new move in class, I’ll file it away as one more thing to add to my book.

OUATR: It was recently announced that you're writing a prequel story, SIGHTWITCH, that will come out before BLOODWITCH, and even help set it up.  Can you tell us a little about that story, and how it came to be?

SD: As I talked about in depth in a recent newsletter, this was a project I tried to write in 2014…and failed at. For lots of reasons, I just couldn’t get the story to work or seem to find Ryber’s voice. Then, earlier this year, my publisher asked, “Hey, might you try that novella again?” And I thought I might as well give it a try—worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out and we move right on to Bloodwitch.

Surprise, surprise, when I sat down to work on this, the story just BURST forth! It wasn’t the format I expected (journal entries? world-related documents? Illustrations? Totally didn’t see that coming!), and there was a new POV in there that completely caught me by surprise. But oh wow, what a joy it was to write!

OUATR: The first series you wrote, the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY trilogy, had fantasy elements in it but was set in the real world.  Why did you decide to go from a real place and time to a world of your own creation?  What were some of the challenges you faced in making that jump?

SD: I’ve always been a reader of high fantasy, so that specific genre has always been something I wanted to write one day. In some ways, it has been easier because I don’t have to research a real world with real history and try to fit story into that. I can build the world and plot hand-in-hand. But that, of course, also has its challenges—and I still have to do a lot of research to get things right.

The Book;

Title: Truthwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Series: The Witchlands #1
Published: January 5, 2016
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In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.
Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.
Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.
In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world -- six out of seven continents (she'll get to Asia one of these days!) -- before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, as well as the Witchlands series, which includes the New York Times bestselling Truthwitch and Windwitch. When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, slaying darkspawn on her Xbox, or earning bruises at the dojo.

Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

The Giveaway;

I had the pleasure of meeting Susan when she went out on her Windwitch tour at the start of the year and I decided to squirrel away an extra signed copy of both Truthwitch AND Windwitch for just such an event.  For those of you in the US, you're welcome to enter to win both books, and for you International readers since Susan is a featured author her books are an option should you win, although they won't be signed.

US Giveaway

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International Giveaway

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2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Alex R. Kahler

We're almost at the end of the fantasy feature, and today I'm happy to introduce the only male author I interviewed this time around (male authors in YA aren't as common as female ones, I've found).  His newest novel isn't out until November but it's already gotten some fantastic blurbs from a myriad of top-billed authors, and it features a queer main character!  Please help me in welcoming Alex R. Kahler, talking about the forthcoming Runebinder.

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: This isn't usually a question I ask, but seeing as the book seems like it could be plucked straight from the headlines to some extent I'm curious where the idea for the book came from?

Alex Kahler: Honestly, it kind of scares me how apt the book is for the current climate. Especially because I came up with the idea almost a dozen years ago. In the beginning, the idea came from some lunch table conversations about not-so-evil necromancers and magical powers. The first few drafts were full-on high fantasy, with inns and horses and archaic English. Somewhere along the line, that switched over to urban fantasy. I think, as I got older, I got more interested in imagining the effects of magic on the real world, and what humans would do if given this amazing power, rather than creating an alternate reality. Now especially, the ideas of corruption and resistance (even when the future feels grim) are more poignant than ever.

OUATR: Magic, and the whole magic system really, is so vital to fantasy novels.  How did you go about creating yours, and were there any real-world influences?

AK: I've always been interested in the elemental systems in magic. Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Spirit. When I began writing, I was knee-deep in exploring neo-paganism and the like, and one aspect that truly resonated was the idea that we hold all of these base elements within us. Research on the chakras--energy centers within the body--then made me ask...if we could use this energy to manipulate the outer world, what would we do with it? How would it change us? And if we used too much, what would it do to our body? Thus, the Spheres of magic were born. And, with them, the Howls--creatures spawned from when the Spheres stop exuding magic, and begin consuming it.

OUATR: It's not unusual in fantasy novels for the world to be secretly falling apart, or on the brink of doing so, but this is the first book and the world is basically gone.  Why did you decide to start your series out like that, giving it more of an apocalyptic feel, instead of working your way towards it throughout a series?

AK: The honest answer? It just felt right. But as I explored the book through rewrites and edits, I realized that what interested me wasn't the destruction of civilization, but the fight to get it back. I wanted to level the playing field. And moreover, I felt that post-apocalypse showed more about the core of humanity. When we're stripped of everything around us, what makes us human? What makes us move forward?

OUATR: Seeing as civilization in your novel has pretty much ended and monsters roam around, I think it's safe to say that this is a dark fantasy novel.  What made you choose to include those dark elements, and was there ever a line for what you or your publisher considered "too dark" for YA?

AK: Oddly enough, I don't think there has ever been a moment where an editor said "this is too much". I've honestly pulled myself back a few times, because there's a lot of pain and anger that the protagonist feels, and when he unleashes it, things get...bloody. If anything, I'd say it's more broody than dark. As for why I chose to include the darker elements? Well, because they're there in the real world. Even though there's magic and monsters, the real darkness comes from normal human beings. Magic just amplifies it.

OUART: Speaking of the world, is it one of your own creation, or is it actually Earth as we know it, just after society has fallen?  If it's a world of your own creation, how did you go about shaping that, and was it based off of anywhere in particular?  If it's Earth what made you keep the setting "real" in the sense that it's at least recognizable in some aspects?

AK: It's definitely set in the real world. Most of this book takes place in the Midwest. Partly because I'm from there, and partly because there's something so...open and empty about it. It was an ambiance that lent itself to the overall mood of the story. That said, magic destroyed everything, so landscapes are largely unrecognizable--lakes flooded, cities toppled, roads turned to rubble. Civilization as we know it is over, but there are still traces humanity holds onto.

OUATR: Necromancers, those who can raise and/or control the dead aren't super common in YA but there are a few stories that do feature them.  Some of the other things in the story (Howls and the Kin for example) seem to be original.  Can you tell us a little about those original creatures and how you came up with them?

AK: It all ties in with the magic system. The Howls are what happens when humans are drained of a certain elemental magic (by necromancers). So it became a question of figuring out what the elements related to within the body, and what the body would crave if that was taken away. It also lent a certain mindset to the monsters, as many of the elements have emotional or intellectual ties. So you have sex-starved incubii craving human heat, sadistic bloodlings who want to inflict as much emotional damage they can while bleeding you dry...that sort of thing. It was fun, because the blueprints of those sorts of monsters have always existed, but the magic system gave me a new way to interpret them. It also means that all the monsters and villains are still resolutely human. There's no passing things off to an Ultimate Evil. As for the Kin, they're the original Howls--6 of the strongest, most sadistic monsters out there. And when the story begins, they have humanity under their thumbs.

OUATR: Your main character Tenn is gay and while that should be something that's run of the mill, especially in a fantasy world (I mean, if there is magic and monsters I'm not sure why a guy falling in love with a guy would be so outrageous).  Why do you think that's the case, and why was it so important for you to have Tenn be gay?  

AK: I still find it hilarious (read: depressing) that people can swallow monsters and magic and zombies and time travel and dragons, but the moment they're faced with the fact that SOME PEOPLE ARE QUEER they get all defensive or disbelieving. Like, why can't queer characters save the world? What makes THAT so unbelievable or hard to market? Initially, I wrote Tenn to be gay because I'm gay, and I wanted a fantasy novel where the capital-H Hero was like me. And this was, as I said, a dozen years ago--there were ZERO stories out there with queer protagonists. Or even side characters, unless they were going to die of AIDS or heartbreak. But as years went on, the desire to have a queer hero became more political. Everyone told me there wasn't a market. It would turn readers off.
I refuse to believe that, because that mindset basically says people like me aren't important enough to reach out to.
The world is filled with queer, POC, differently-abled, diverse, beautiful people. And we have been listening to cis-white-straight-(often male-bodied) stories our entire lives. It's way past time media saw us as valid humans with valid experiences, rather than outliers whose stories c=should be brushed under the rug. For me, every single story that features a "non-conventional" protagonist opens the door to other diverse voices by proving a market exists, and that reaching these often-overlooked readers is worth more than just the Bottom Line. Authors peddle stories. It's our job to make sure that all stories are heard, even when (especially when) that means opening the door for someone else to speak.

OUATR: You've published several other novels, although all of them seem to fall more under the paranormal and/or mythology genre as opposed to fantasy.  What is it that drew you to fantasy?

AK: I've always loved fantasy. Like, I was the kid with the unicorn sweater at age 8 (thanks Mom) who read Wheel of Time and watched Hocus Pocus and The Craft on repeat. Magic has always been an integral part of my worldview. I guess I've always wanted to believe there's something more than what we see.

OUATR:  What books would you suggest to people who are anxiously awaiting RUNEBINDER?

AK: Well, I've been eagerly awaiting a few sequels. Mostly ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake and GODSGRAVE by Jay Kristoff. So I would highly recommend their prequels (THREE DARK CROWNS and NEVERNIGHT, respectively). I'm also in love with graphic novel THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE and currently devouring DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY by Amanda Foody.

The Book;

Title: Runebinder
Author: Alex R. Kahler
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Series: The Runebinder Chronicles #1
Published: November 14, 2017
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Magic is risen.
When magic returned to the world, it could have saved humanity, but greed and thirst for power caused mankind's downfall instead. Now once-human monsters called Howls prowl abandoned streets, their hunger guided by corrupt necromancers and the all-powerful Kin. Only Hunters have the power to fight back in the unending war, using the same magic that ended civilization in the first place.
But they are losing.
Tenn is a Hunter, resigned to fight even though hope is nearly lost. When he is singled out by a seductive Kin named Tomás and the enigmatic Hunter Jarrett, Tenn realizes he's become a pawn in a bigger game. One that could turn the tides of war. But if his mutinous magic and wayward heart get in the way, his power might not be used in favor of mankind.
If Tenn fails to play his part, it could cost him his friends, his life…and the entire world.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Alex is many things, but first and foremost, he's a Sagittarius. He's taught circus arts in Madrid, drummed with Norse shamans, studied writing in Scotland, and watched the Northern Lights from a hot tub in Iceland...and that's the abbreviated list. He writes fantasy for adults and teens, with special focus on LGBTQ+ characters and immersive mythologies.
Although a nomad at heart, he currently resides in LA.
Mainly because it's such a good travel hub.

Find him on His Website | Twitter

The Giveaway;

Alex has generously donated some swag, and perhaps even an ARC of Runebinder.  Unfortunately, this is just for the US, but I do want to remind international readers that since Alex's book is a featured title should you win you're welcome to pick it as your prize.

US Giveaway

International Giveaway

2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Margaret Rogerson

Today's interview is with another debut author, only instead of starting a series with her first book, she's completed the story with just the one book so there's no year long wait to see what happens next!  With two stars and good reviews all around I'm really excited to have Margaret Rogerson here today, talking about her upcoming debut (it's out next Tuesday) An Enchantment of Ravens!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader:  Fantasy is such a wide genre that encompasses so many different elements, what is it that drew you to writing about the fair folk/fae?

Margaret Rogerson: I’ve always loved fairy folklore, and in particular I love depictions of fair folk that delve into the more inhuman aspects of their nature. I was heavily inspired by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which made me want to write about fairies in a Regency era setting.

OUATR:  Art, and painting in general plays a huge part in the story. Are you an artist? Why did you decide to make that such an important element?

MR: I am an artist, though not a very good one compared to Isobel! My own background with portrait art did help shape the story; I felt art was something I could write about meaningfully and authentically. Then I felt that for the book to say something meaningful about art, Isobel’s portraits needed to have a significant impact on the storyline not just at the beginning of the book, but throughout the entire plot.

OUATR: Going off of that, I don't think I've read a novel where the fae are unable to create things. Where did that idea come from; was it an original one or was it based off of some specific lore, and if so what kind of research did you do for the book?

MR: The idea that the fair folk are unable to perform Craft was inspired by an obscure bit of Celtic folklore, in which bread can be used as protection against fairies. For example, if you’d like to keep your child from being stolen by fairies, or if you’re going to go near a barrow mound where fairies are known to dwell, you should put some bread on your threshold or hide it in your clothing. I’ve always been fascinated by that superstition. Supposedly bread has power over fairies because it’s baked on a human hearth, and the hearth represents domesticity and the taming of nature, whereas fairies are wild creatures who are repelled by those concepts.

My thought progression went something like this: Do fairies not have bread of their own? What if they can’t make any kind of food? What if it’s not just food they can’t make—what if they can’t do anything that requires the use of human tools or human creativity? Are they then forced to trade with humans in order to obtain material goods? If humanity itself is oppositional to fairies, it makes sense that the fair folk wouldn’t be able to do art, to make clothing… and that they might be deeply envious of mortals as a result. What I liked most about the idea was that it gave me unique fairy mythology to work with that was still deeply rooted in traditional folklore.
Ultimately I didn’t do any research involving fairies or folklore—I’d already spent a lot of time reading about those topics—but I did research how pigments were sold back in the Regency era and some other art-related subjects.

OUATR: There are some things that are seen quite a bit in fantasy novels (epic quests, forbidden romance, huge battles, etc.). As a writer, how do you go about taking something that's been done before and turn it into something fresh and new? Or do you not do anything to it, and just leave it as it is? Did you do any of that in this book?

MR: I hugely enjoy classic fantasy tropes like forbidden love, and I think that as long as they’re well-written and involve engaging characters, they don’t necessarily need to be original or ground-breaking to be a lot of fun. So I just tried to have a good time with all the tropes I included!

OUATR: AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS is a standalone, which in the fantasy genre isn't nearly as common as a series. Why did you decide to write a standalone, and is there any chance that you'll return to the world/characters later?

MR: Interestingly, most debut YA fantasy novels are written as standalones “with series potential,” which means that while the author usually hopes the book will be picked up as a series, and in many cases even has a series planned out, that first book should ideally function as a standalone to increase its chances of being picked up by an agent or editor. So I wrote Enchantment with that in mind, and in the end, it just felt right to keep it as a standalone book. There are currently no plans for a sequel or companion novel, but I’d love to return to the setting one day.

OUATR: What books would you suggest to people who have finished AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS? (or are waiting on it, depending on when the interview goes up).

MR: Great question! I would recommend UPROOTED by Naomi Novik, WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess, and BEAUTY by Robin McKinley.

OUATR: What is it that drew you to writing fantasy, and is fantasy all that you write, or do you also write novels in other genres?

MR: I wish I had a sophisticated answer for this one, but I just really love fantasy! I love the sense of escapism and possibility, and I love writing about magic. I probably won’t ever write a novel in a different genre.

The Book;

Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Series: n/a
Published: September 26, 2017
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Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There's only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Prior to writing her first book, Margaret Rogerson worked a variety of jobs ranging from canoe livery counter girl to graphic designer. She has a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from Miami University. When not reading or writing she enjoys sketching, gaming, making pudding, and watching more documentaries than is socially acceptable (according to some).  Her books draw inspiration from old fairy tales, because she loves stories in which the beautiful and the unsettling are sometimes indistinguishable. She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, and when she's not reading or writing she enjoys drawing, watching documentaries, making pudding, gaming, and exploring the outdoors in search of toads and mushrooms.

Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Tumblr

The Giveaway;

While I'm not specifically giving away a copy of Margaret's book one of the prizes is a featured book of the winner's choice, of which Margaret's is, so enter the giveaway if you're at all interested!

US Giveaway;

International Giveaway;

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2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Kendare Blake

We're just over the halfway point and today I have the pleasure of interviewing an author I've known for years.  She just recently started writing fantasy novels, but she sure came into the genre with a bang, hitting the NYT bestseller's list shortly after her first fantasy novel dropped and today you can finally get the sequel to said book.  Please welcome the wonderfully dark Kendare Blake, here to talk about her Three Dark Crowns series and to celebrate the release of the sequel One Dark Throne!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: I don't usually ask this question but I happen to know you have a pretty interesting answer (on top of actually having an answer for this book).  Where did the idea for the series come from?

Kendare Blake: From a ball of bees. Like, a ball, made out of hundreds and hundreds of bees. It was stuck to a tree at a book event I was at, and everyone was terrified. But luckily there was a beekeeper, and she said we didn't need to worry because at the center of the ball was a queen, and they were only worried about protecting her, so as long as we didn't poke the ball, we'd be fine. I found that fascinating, and after much pestering, learned that queen bees will lay several queen eggs in their old hive before leaving, and the new queen babies will hatch out and kill each other. The one who survives takes over. On the drive home I couldn't stop thinking about that, and how I wanted to do it to people. And voila! Three Dark Crowns.

OUATR: There are the kinds of magic we see in the books; elemental, poison, and naturalist magic.  What other types of magic are there in the world, and what was it about these three that made you end up highlighting them?

KB: There are five gifts on the island. This generation has three of them: elemental, poisoner, and naturalist, but there are also queens born with the war gift (ability to guide weaponry and objects with their minds, battle and strategy. Horrid tempers) and the sight gift (varying degrees of prophecy, sometimes mind-reading or empathic. Unfortunately all sight gifted queens are drowned at birth after one went mad on the throne.) The people of the island may have these gifts as well, only usually not as strongly as the queens do. 
I don't know why I chose these three. It was so long ago now that it seems natural. 

OUATR: THREE DARK CROWNS was sold as a duology with ONE DARK THRONE as the conclusion, but it was later announced that there would be two more books in the series.  Assuming we don't have to wait for book four to see who ends up with the crown what can we expect from the forthcoming novels?

KB: The aftermath. The first two books tell the story of the Ascension. The next two books will tell the story of the Reign, and examine the fates of the characters from the first books.

OUATR: On Fennbirn it's the women that rule, and men (especially in the royal sense) are just there for whatever the queen may need.  Was the only reason behind that the fact that the idea for the story came from bees, which revolve around a queen, or was there more to it?

KB: Since the story came from bees, a matriarchy just made sense. There was never any internal debate about that. It just was. Females rule, females govern, females control the religion beneath a female deity. But it has been a lot of fun writing inside a matriarchal world.
OUATR: Despite having paranormal/mythological elements in your previous books this is the first time that you've created a world that's entirely your own.  What was that like, and how did you go about shaping the world?

KB:  It was kind of a pain in the butt really. And yet also freeing in some ways. Gone were the days I worried I was getting the geography or street maps right, you know? But now I had to know what the societal rules were, and abide by them. A scary thing when you don't know what route a story is going to take. The thought that I was painting myself into a corner occurred a few times, an will occur until I finish book four.

OUATR: Speaking of the world you've created, Fennbirn is really a magical island in the middle of what appears to be a pretty regular world.  Why did you decide to go in that direction, and why focus on just that small island?

KB:  Fennbirn not as small as you might think. It's actually slightly larger than say...Ireland. And I liked the idea of a shrouded island, hidden away, where women still ruled, so I could pull in boys from the outside and make their heads explode. Also, it owes a lot of the legendary isle of Avalon, from Arthurian lore.

OUATR: I'm pretty sure both of your previous series have body counts and seeing as this one is about three girls who have to battle to the death for the crown I assume this one will too.  What is it like killing off a character, and do you always know who is going to die at the start, or does it come as a surprise to you as well?

KB:  In the first draft of One Dark Throne fewer people died than do in the final draft. So yes, sometimes it's a surprise. And sometimes it's hard, because there are so many other things that character could do in future books, and they're such a great character who is fun to write...and that sucks. It's not like killing off someone at the end of the story, where you're saying goodbye to everyone. I could have spent two more books with this character and now they're gone! And the fun thing about this series is, I can say that about several of the people who die.

OUATR: What books would you suggest to people who have finished ONE DARK THRONE and are now waiting for book three?

KB:  A Song of Ice and Fire if they haven't started yet. Megan Whalen Turner's books. Jay Kristoff's. There is a lot of fantastic fantasy out there just waiting to be found. Read lots! Read ALL.

The Book;

Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: Three Dark Crowns #1
Published: September 20, 2016
Add it on Goodreads

When kingdom come, there will be one.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown.
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The Author;

 Kendare Blake is the author of several novels and short stories, most of which you can find information about via the links above. Her work is sort of dark, always violent, and features passages describing food from when she writes while hungry. She was born in July (for those of you doing book reports) in Seoul, South Korea, but doesn’t speak a lick of Korean, as she was packed off at a very early age to her adoptive parents in the United States. That might be just an excuse, though, as she is pretty bad at learning foreign languages. She enjoys the work of Milan Kundera, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Linklater, and the late, great Michael Jackson, I mean, come on, he gave us Thriller.
She lives and writes in Kent, Washington, with her husband, their cat son Tyrion Cattister, red Doberman dog son Obi-Dog Kenobi, rottie mix dog daughter Agent Scully, and naked sphynx cat son Armpit McGee.
Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Instagram

The Giveaway;

I've been hoarding an extra signed copy of Three Dark Crowns that I got at Kendare's launch party last year and this Saturday I'm going to see her for the One Dark Throne launch party where I might just pick up an extra signed copy of that too. ;) Make sure to enter the giveaway below, and for you international readers Kendare's book is a featured book so if you can still get a copy if you want!

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2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Kristen Ciccarelli

Today's interview is with another debut author whose three-book series is being translated into 9 languages!  While it's not out yet, it's coming out here in the US (and Canada) early next month and in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK soon after.  Please welcome Kristen Ciccarelli, talking about her upcoming release The Last Namsara!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: Dragons are such a quintessential fantasy element but I feel like they're not in as many novels/stories as one would expect.  Why did you decide to make them such a large part of your story, and how did you shape them to be different from all the dragons in stories that are already out there (if you did at all)?

Kristen Ciccarelli: I’ve been completely obsessed with dragons since I was little! As a kid, I fell in love with Puff, then Smaug, then Draco (from Dragonheart). In school I spent most of my classes drawing dragons when I should have been paying attention. (I snuck them into every art project and it annoyed my art teacher so much, she actually banned me from drawing them for my entire high school career!) So you might say I was destined to write a book about dragons. ;)

My dragons are similar to almost all other dragons in that they’re essentially really big, aggressive reptiles with wings. What makes them different, though, is that they’re drawn to stories (instead of, say, treasure). In the world of The Last Namsara, there are stories that, when told aloud, lure dragons and make them stronger (enabling them to breathe fire, for example).

OUATR: In Asha's world stories are dangerous things, and are no longer told.  Where did that idea come from and/or how did it develop as the novel progressed?

KC: When I sat down to write The Last Namsara, I wanted to give my protagonist some of my own wounds. I grew up believing the creative, imaginative, story-loving part of myself was a kind of weakness. Something to be embarrassed of. Something to rid myself of. Essentially, I gave Asha my shame around storytelling. But in order for that to work, I needed to make stories dangerous. I needed there to be a concrete reason for her to be ashamed of telling them. So, in Asha’s world, stories are deadly because they poison their tellers (the stories poisoned and killed Asha’s own mother) and they lure horrible dragons (one of which nearly destroyed her city and left her with a severe scar).

The more I wrote, though, the more they became something more. I think storytelling is a form of meaning-making. We construct and tell ourselves stories in order to make sense of our lives and the world around us. But on the flip side of this, stories can also be a form of control. Stories allow us to put things in their place, for better or worse. Basically, I think stories are incredibly powerful things, as well as living breathing things that can change and grow, and I tried to show that through the ones Asha tells in the book.

OUATR: THE LAST NAMSARA is the first book in a trilogy, but each book will follow a different character, which makes it sound more like three stand-alone companion novels.  Can you explain how that's going to work?  And does that mean we get to see the conclusion of Asha's story in this book instead of having to wait for the next two books?

KC: I’m in the throes of rewriting Book 2 right now and would very much like someone to explain to me how it’s going to work! (Just kidding.) (Sorta.) ;) I would compare it to what Megan Whalen Turner does with her books, where each book contributes to the arc of the world and characters before it, but each book can also be read alone (though some things might be spoiled).
So yes, this does mean you get the conclusion of Asha’s arc at the end of Book 1 (and can stop there if you want to) but things in the wider world are definitely a bit of a mess and Asha still has a role to play in the stories of her friends. So while book two is very much Roa’s story, told from Roa’s point of view, you get more of Asha. And while book three is definitely Safire’s story, both Roa and Asha’s stories continue on into it, even though (in my opinion) their arcs are complete.

OUATR: There are stories/legends from the world you've created included throughout the book.  How did those come about?  Were they always there, did they come first, or did you add them in later?

KC: The stories were always there, but not as defined nor were there as many as there are now. Originally they were embedded within the scenes, and you got snippets whenever Asha told them. Now they stand alone, in between chapters, whether she’s telling them or not. I did this to emphasize them, but also to have them link what was happening in one chapter with the next and explain things (like mythology, world history, family backstory, etc) in a more subtle and hopefully interesting way than just dumping the information on the reader.

OUATR: Asha is struggling with the darkness inside her, along with being who she thinks she should be instead of who she really is, which is something I think a lot of people can relate to. Why was it important for you to tell that story, especially with a female lead?

KC: This might sound weird, but I find it difficult to empathize with characters who are too nice. If a character is too nice, I get suspicious. I want to know what they’re hiding. I much prefer complicated characters. Asha has grown up in a system that both reveres and fears her while at the same time sees her as an object to be used and abused. She is deeply wounded and at the same time, wounds others. Basically, she’s complicated. Honestly, I think this is all of us. We’re all good and bad, wounded and wounders. We’re all complicated. It’s the human condition, which makes it inherently interesting to me.
As for why I did it with a female lead ... I could probably go on and on about this! I think we are very critical of women in our stories (all of us, myself included). Put a man in a story and he can do whatever he wants, the audience will go there with him and say, That’s just his character. Put a woman in that same role and people start to get uptight. She’s too nice, or she’s not nice enough. She’s too naïve or she’s too hardened. She’s too strong or she’s not strong enough. The complaint I’m most tired of, though? I can’t relate to her, therefore she’s not a real girl. As if some girls are real and others aren’t.

We are all real.

I wrote Asha the way she is simply because she’s the protagonist I needed as a young adult. Girls are human beings. Human beings are complicated. We wrestle with the darkness inside us (or not). We struggle with who we’re supposed to be (or we don’t). Let us be complicated. Let us be ourselves. :)

OUATR: What is it that drew you to writing fantasy, and is fantasy all that you write, or do you also write novels in other genres?

KC: Basically, I’m drawn to weird and impossible things and fantasy does weird and impossible best! To be honest, the older I get, the smaller the world feels, and the harder it is (I think) to find the wonder in it. I crave wonder. I want to be awed and amazed by things that are bigger than me, things I don’t understand. Fantasy does that. It makes the world big and mysterious and full of wonder again.

Fantasy also uses metaphor better than other genres. It chooses something you and I might take for granted (like storytelling) and blows it up into something bigger, making you look at it in a different way. With fantasy, you can ask questions like: What if stories were so powerful, they drew deadly dragons? Or what if stories were so dangerous, people died telling them?

Fantasy is my first love, and while I do sometimes write other genres, fantasy reigns in my heart. <3

The Book;

Title: The Last Namsara
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: Iskari #1
Published: October 3, 2017
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In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer. 
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

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 The Author;

Kristen Ciccarelli hails from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula where she grew up on her grandfather’s grape farm. She spent her childhood running wild with her cousins, adventuring in the woods, building forts in the barn, and obsessing over books, dragons, and girls wielding really cool weapons. She wrote The Last Namsara for the girl she used to be (and sometimes still is).

Find her on Her Website | Facebook | Instagram

The Giveaway;

I actually ended up with two ARCs of this book and seeing as I just need the one I decided to give one away here. It has the original cover and will end up arriving after the release date, but should you win it's up to you which prize you get (and you're also always welcome to choose a featured book of your choice, of which Kristen's is, in which case it would be a finished copy). As for international readers, Kristen's book is a featured novel, and thus should you win you are also able to win a copy (although it will be finished) if that's the book you want.

US Giveaway

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International Giveaway

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