Wednesday, March 21, 2012
TRAITOR'S SON, AN INTERVIEW WITH HILARI BELL
This month I was so excited to get hold of an Advanced Reader's Copy of TRAITOR'S SON by our own Inkie - Hilari Bell! And even more to swipe the job of interviewing her about it! (Okay, it wasn't a swipe, more of a beg!)
TRAITOR'S SON is the second of THE RAVEN DUET books.
It's a great fast paced unputa-downable (yes, that's a real word), read, and it also stands alone, though you might want to rush out and read the first one afterwards! - I was busting with questions as soon as I finished it, so here goes...
Questions in bold - Answers in italics!
- TRAITOR'S SON has such a vivid sense of setting, it totally made me want to visit Alaska! I know you went to Alaska to research so I wonder...how long were you there? Did your trip change the plot in any way, or add things you'd never have imagined? I know I'm cheating here and pretending this is one question!
Alaska is amazing, and if you can do it you really should go! I was talking to my editor, who has also been there, and she said the first time she and her husband went there they were “stunned silent” by it’s beauty. If I had to pick two words to describe it, the first would be grandeur and the second unearthly. And because I was going for novel research (it’s good to be a writer!) I got to be in Alaska about 40 days—and we took about 12 days to get there, and the same back.
I actually planned the trip for research (and because I’d always wanted to go) but plotting Trickster’s Girl and Traitor’s Son as I traveled was one of the most fabulous writing experiences I’ve ever had. I knew roughly what would happen in the novels, but I’d drive around a curve and realize that this was where Kelsa would heal the lake ley, and Whittier, with it’s looming abandoned towers was where Jase’s final battle had to take place. And Musk Oxen worked their way into the story, and tree frogs, and the taiga wasn’t at all what I’d expected, and, and, and....
To drive the same roads, and visit the places where my story was taking place made it come alive for me in a way that SF and fantasy usually doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love making up magical and alien worlds—but this experience was very different.
- Thanks Hilari, it definitely made me want to go to Alaska!
Of course I have to ask you about that amazing car - a Tesla no less! The details and the relationship between boy and car were so real, how did you do that?
Do you own a Tesla? Are you a secret girl racer? Did you collect toy cars as a kid? (like me?)
Photo, copyright The Tesla Society
Own a Tesla? Clearly you think writers make more money than they do! And I’m not independently wealthy, either. Nor am I a car fan, particularly. But the Tesla was the sexiest electric car I’d heard of, and I knew almost from the start of his character that Jase was a huge car fan—it’s part of him being a city kid, and so very divorced from his cultural heritage. I mentioned that it’s good to be a writer? There’s a Tesla dealership in Boulder, only about 50 miles from my house. My brother bet me they wouldn’t take a mere writer for a test ride—but I figured the worst they could do was say no, so I sent them an “I’m writing a book, and my protagonist drives...” email. They not only gave me a test ride, they answered weird writer questions like “What kind of magical spell could you cast on this car that would keep it from starting?” with a straight face. As for the ride itself...I may not be a secret girl racer, but the Tesla is a seriously cool car!
I might just have to write a character with a taste for classic Astin Martins next!
- I love the complexity of the story being set in the future but dealing with heredity, cultural expectations, breaking with that tradition and the consequences of those choices, especially as unusually you place the main character, Jason in-between an inter-generational row.
Did you always have that idea as the plot cornerstone, or did it creep up on you?
That idea, in a way, was the core of the novel right from the start. I’d seen the movie Eragon, and I have to confess I didn’t care for it—and maybe the book, which I haven’t read, is better. But in the movie the only character that really interested me was the son of the bad guy, who is himself a good guy and has a hard time convincing the other good guys that he won’t betray them. That was a wonderful conflict—so why not give it to a protagonist? The idea of a hero who was a villain’s son hung around in my head for a long time, till I started wondering what the core of my second Raven book could be—and it worked so perfectly, it made the whole story just fall into place.
- This is such a solid stand alone book, yet it is part of The Raven Duet. When you were working on TRICKSTER'S GIRL did you already know where the next book was headed? How much do you outline ahead?
As you may have gathered from some of my other comments, I’m a big outliner. Before I ever set off for Alaska, I knew that the museum break-in would happen in the Salt Lake City area, that the first ley healing would be in Craters of the Moon, that the bikers would start stalking Kelsa somewhere along the road, and that the climax would be her throwing the medicine pouch over the border. I also knew most of the bones of Traitor’s Son, that the core of the story would be the rift in his family, and that the final battle would take place in—and out—of the spirit world. That kind of thing.
- The dreamworld felt so real and compelling, I was truly worried Jason would get stuck! It reminded me so much of Aborigine dreamtime legend, it made me wonder where did you get your inspiration from, for such a richly dark alter-world? (I hope you noticed that was actually one question!)
The spirit world is loosely based on the dream/spirit worlds that appear in many, if not most, native cultures. It arose more from the Inuit myths than the Aborigine, but they’re all somewhat similar. And most of the details simply came from my own imagination. I have no idea, for instance, why Jase’s cell phone turned into a beetle and bit him before it flew off. In truth, I generally dislike dream worlds in stories, because there are no real consequences for what happens there—which to my mind pretty much kills suspense. So in my story’s spirit world, whatever happens to Jase there happens to his body back in the real world. If you’re hurt in the spirit world, those wounds are on your body when you wake up, and they heal in the normal way at normal speed. If you die there...you won’t be waking up. Ever.
- It seems to me that mentors play an important role in this novel, particularly Jason's relationship with his father, grandfather, and grandmother. Where there any mentors that made a big impact in your life, either as a writer or in your childhood?
Not mentors per se. But I did have a good creative writing teacher back in middle school. When I came by at the end of the year to pick up my final story, he asked me if I’d ever considered becoming a writer. I said, “Are you kidding? Writers starve in garrets and get paid peanuts.” He laughed, and said I should consider it. And as you can tell, that conversation stuck with me. I sent him a copy of my first book—and tracking him down was interesting too. The school secretary asked me, “And what was his first name?” “I was in Junior High. His first name was Mister.”
- Finally, what are you reading right now?
Right this minute I’m re-reading an adult alternate history novel—Fortune’s Stroke, number four in the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake. But the best YA fantasy I’ve read recently—in fact, the best I’ve read in a long time—is Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I know I’m not the first to say it, but it’s a stunningly gorgeous novel. The writing just blows me away.
Thanks so much for hanging out with us, Hilari!
For those of you hoping to write your own brilliant YA novel - Hilari has a heap of really great tips and writing advice on her website, here, WRITING TIPS. I'm going there right now!