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.

Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

 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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