It's my honor to introduce to the Inkpot debut fantasy author Leigh Bardugo, author of SHADOW AND BONE, book 1 of the Grisha Trilogy, a high fantasy series set in a Russian-themed fantasy world. Scheduled for release June 5, 2012, SHADOW AND BONE is already garnering lots of positive attention, including being named as an Indie Next Selection and as one of ABA's Best New Voices.
CC: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us about your personal journey from concept to publication?
When I was a kid, I made up stories to keep myself entertained. (Most of them involved having a lot of siblings, sleeping in a hayloft, solving crimes, and/or running a hotel.) Sometimes I wrote them down or illustrated them, but most of the time I just walked around muttering to myself. (Still do. I think it's an only child thing.) When I got older, writing became a survival mechanism. It got me through everything from boring classes to the day to day barbarism of junior high school. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I flailed around for a good long while. I changed my major about twenty times. I worked as a journalist and a copywriter. It took time for me to find the story I wanted to tell and the discipline to tell it.
From concept to query, writing SHADOW AND BONE took me about a year. I sort of tricked myself into finishing it. I told myself that, once it was done, I would shove it in a drawer or toss it on a bonfire. No one would ever see it. It helped shut down a lot of those negative, critical voices in my head. So I was that much more terrified when I finally did turn it over to my beta readers. I gave them all kinds of caveats-- it isn't very good, it's my first book, all that mumble and fuss. (For the record, I don't recommend doing this. Just let your readers read.)
After I started querying, things moved quickly. Jo offered me representation, we went on submission just a week after I'd signed, and a few weeks later we were at auction. It was thrilling, but I want to stress the fact that I got very, very lucky. It's not that I don't believe in my book, but the timing also happened to be right for me. If people are out there querying or if they're on submission and the wheels are turning a bit more slowly, I don't want them to get discouraged.
CC: How did you come to write fantasy fiction? Have you always been a fan of that genre? Are there particular authors or works that have been an inspiration or influence on you?
When I look back on the books that I really adored growing up, that I read and reread, so many are fantasy, science fiction, and horror. It's what I love and it's the way that I prefer to look at the world. As far as specific influences and inspiration, A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET and DUNE were pivot books-- books that actually shifted the way I viewed the world. I read tons of Stephen King; IT and EYES OF THE DRAGON were favorites, though the quote that always stayed with me was from THE GUNSLINGER: "There are other worlds than these." It was almost like a mantra for me. More recently, George R. R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series completely wrecked me. Or, I guess, since the series isn't finished, it's in the process of wrecking me.
CC: What made you decide to write books for teens?
I'm not sure I can call it a decision. I set out to write a story about characters who were at a particular place in their lives. It was only later that I realized I was writing YA.
CC: As someone who knows how exhausting it can be to build a society from scratch, I loved the world-building resources on your website, including the historical images that served as inspiration for your Russian-themed fantasy world. How did you come to choose Russia as a template for Ravka? Do you have a personal or family connection to Russia?
(I just need to take a second to fangirl out a little and tell you how much I love your world building, particularly the elegant way magic is ordered in the Heir series. </end squee>)
Somewhere way back, my family has a connection to Russia, but I don't think that's why I chose it as the cultural touchstone for my world. I think many outsiders already view Russia as a kind of fantasyland. When you ask someone unfamiliar with the culture to describe it, they'll come back with these incredibly disparate sets of images. One set is lush, beautiful, decadent-- the Winter Palace, jeweled eggs, ballet, St. Basil's. The other is extraordinarily brutal-- the gulag, breadlines, mass graves, the murder of the Tsar's family. Neither of these extremes is the real Russia. They're fantasies; they romanticize both the best and the worst of Russian history and culture. I don't know if I succeeded, but I wanted to tap into that and then go further.
CC: Some readers assume that we fantasists write fantasy so we don’t have to do any research. What kind of research did you do to lay the foundation for your world?
Do they really? How quaint. I honestly enjoy research. You make all kinds of surprising discoveries and you can never tell where a good idea may come from. I focused most heavily on history, culture, and folklore, but I went through cookbooks, old atlases, collections of fairytales, and one of the filthiest books of slang I've ever set eyes on. I built up a library of images (textiles, landscapes, city plans) and kept long lists of names, notecards describing how peasants ate and how nobles ate, songs, superstitions, illustrations. Erdene Ukhaasai was kind enough to help me untangle some choices in Russian and Mongolian when it came to building the Ravkan language. (As a little thank you, I named the Grisha combat instructor, Botkin Yul-Erdene after her. She probably would have preferred a gift card.)
CC: Are you a plotter or a plunger? Why does your method work for you? Do you have the entire Grisha trilogy planned out?
Can we please write a dystopian where the world has broken down into warring tribes of Plotters, Pantsers, and Plungers? I always feel like a bit of a fraud talking about my methods because I'm still so new to this. Disclaimer aside, I am most definitely a plotter. I outline everything and I've always known how the trilogy will end. Still, things change in the writing. I kept alive a character I had every intention of killing in Book 2, so the structure of Book 3 will change because of that. Also, it's not like the outline is some tidy, ordered thing. It's basically a rambling mess of a draft. It's full of questions and comments like "Why does X need the Y thingie" and "Make this make sense." But once I have the beginning, middle, and end down on paper, it makes returning to the story so much less daunting.
CC: In your other life, you’re a makeup artist—and you create illusions for television and movie productions. What are the commonalities and differences between creating fantasy on the page and on the skin? How does one form of art fuel or complement the other? Is it energizing to shift media in that way?
Wow. Interesting questions. Makeup is temporal in a way that writing is not. There's something satisfying about setting out to craft something and being able to see the finished product so quickly. But in both makeup and writing, it's about creating illusion. Whether I'm using words or prosthetics, if I get it right, you won't see the seams or cracks. You won't be aware of the process; you'll just experience the result. I do think that working visually sometimes helps free up ideas and words. I always find it useful to step away from the page, to do something else, something active that engages the mind in a different way. Otherwise, you're just overworking the same muscle.
CC: I am a great fan of complex, layered, antagonists. You've done a great job with that in SHADOW AND BONE. Do you have a method for creating three-dimensional characters of all kinds?
I don't know that I have a method, but I think there's a fine line between hero and villain. Very few people set out to do evil. They don't go to bed at night rubbing their hands together and cackling malevolently about all the bad, bad things they're planning. Most of them do damage in a misguided attempt to do good. And in the end, it depends who tells the tale, doesn't it? I think it would be easy to look at some of the choices that heroes and heroines make and see them as selfish, indulgent, and short-sighted. This is one of the reasons I love books like WICKED and WIDE SARGASSO SEA.
CC: Can you give us any hints about the next book in the series? Dish, please!
I want to blab everything, but I can't! I can tell you that readers will get to travel beyond Ravka's borders, and I'll be introducing a few new characters, including one that is probably my favorite of the whole series. He's a privateer and he's so much fun to write. Just about everyone from Book 1 will be back, though I can't promise you that they're all going to make it through unscathed. *Rubs hands together, cackles with glee* Hmm, maybe I was wrong about villains.
Before I go, I just want to say what an honor it was to be interviewed by you. I'm such a fan and this still doesn't quite seem real. Also, big thanks to everyone at the Enchanted Inkpot!
SHADOW AND BONE is set for release June 5, 2012. Visit Leigh here for more information on the world of the Grisha.
Cinda Williams Chima is the author of the Heir Chronicles and Seven Realms novels. Her upcoming novel, The Crimson Crown, releases October 23, 2012. Find her on the web here.