The Goodreads blurb of SONGSTONE:
Kita can meld song into stone. In a world with no written word, storytelling—the ability to meld (or magically impress) song into stone—is greatly honored. The village honors her master as their medicine man, but Kita knows he's secretly a sorcerer who practices black magic using drops of her blood. She fears he’ll use her beautiful gift for a killing spell, so she conceals it from him. Each day, his magic tightens around her neck like a rope. His spells blind the villagers, so they can’t see him for what he really is.
Not that anyone would want to help her. She was found in the forest as a baby and would have died if a village girl hadn't brought her home. But the villagers saw Kita's unusual coloring and decided she belonged to the mysterious tribe who lives in the forests of the volcano, a people feared for their mystical powers. So they fear her too. Now seventeen, she can barely admit her deepest longing: to know who she really is and where she belongs.
Then Pono, a young journeyman, arrives from the other side of the island. He's come to fulfill a pact between their villages: to escort a storyteller back to his village--a storyteller who'll be chosen at the great assembly. Finally, in Pono, Kita sees her one slim chance at freedom and she'll risk her life to take it.
A dark, twisty tale of sorcery, tummy-tingling romance, and adventure, inspired by the folklore of New Zealand's Māori people.
Lena, why don’t we start with you telling us a little about yourself?
Well, I'm one of the blog admins here on the Inkpot, my speciality being managing the sidebar over there, making sure the upcoming interview covers get updated. I love doing it because I get to see all the awesome covers first. I'm also responsible -- with my cohort, Amy Greenfield -- for posting the recent guessing game post on fantasy book covers with their titles and author names stripped off. That was fun.
In regular everyday life, I live in a small town about 35 minutes outside Boston (if there's no traffic! ;-)) with my husband, two kids, and a very spoiled Black Lab. I've worked as a software engineer and a web designer, but now write full time and run a small freelance business doing book design (ex. designing book covers and doing print book layout). For fun, I enjoy reading (of course!), walking down by the lake near our house, or just hanging out watching movies with my family or rooting for my favorite football team. (Go, PATS! :))
Kita lives in a culture that has no written word and instead has storytellers who sing stories into stone. Were the magical elements of the story invented purely from imagination or inspired by a specific real-life culture? Or some combination?
The magic of melding song into stone came from my own imagination. The original concept for that came very early on, in fact. I was musing about how there are different ways of communicating stories, but whatever the method, whatever the culture, stories are so integral to our lives. The very first page of notes I wrote for Songstone has a line about having a different way of communicating stories, either magical skywriting (I'm still intrigued by this concept!) or storing stories somehow into rocks. :) This partly came from reading online discussions way back when ebooks were first becoming popular. It occurred to me that stories are stories are stories, no matter how we receive them. We want them and we need them. No delivery method is more perfect than another. (Although, I do admit to loving holding a beautifully designed print book in my hands. I also love the ease of downloading an ebook and having it there -- pfffsstttt -- in seconds for me to devour.)
Some of the other elements in Songstone, such as the existence of a supernatural mountain tribe with mysterious powers and a medicine man who practices black magic, among other elements, were inspired by Māori folklore.
Did you do any particular kind of research for the exquisitely detailed island setting of Songstone? (Please tell me you got to visit an exotic island and write it off as a business expense!)
No tax write-off, alas, but I've been to Hawaii's The Big Island a couple of times with my family, several years ago now. I definitely drew on those experiences when I was writing Songstone. I also drew on every experience I've ever had being on a beach or island. My dad is a retired Navy commander, so our family often lived near the beach (near as in "near enough to drive to" :)). My mom would often take us kids to the beach. I remember collecting shells, searching for shark's teeth (I was quite good at it ;)), and what it feels like to drag your bare feet through wet sand. The initial vision of a girl on an island came while I was on vacation on Bear Island in New Hampshire. The only way onto the island was by boat (which we had to rent), and it was all a very unsettling experience for me (Not being able to jump into a car and run up to the store. It freaked me out ever-so-slightly! ;)). Anyway, it was also evidently a huge spark to my imagination. I'll always remember bolting out of bed one morning at 5:30 am, while everyone else was still asleep, and sitting on the screened in porch with a yellow legal notepad, jotting down notes as quick as I could, as if my ideas might evaporate any second. And stretched out before me in the early morning light was Lake Winnipesaukee, with gently rippling water, gray mist swirling across the surface. It felt like I was the only one alive looking out over the lake.
Hmmm.... Maybe I CAN write that trip off -- do you think?? LOL
Songstone has very strong themes of belonging and identity. Did you start writing the story with intentions of dealing with those themes or did they come out later in the writing process?
I'm not entirely sure.... Early on I knew this girl (later to be named Kita) was on an imperative/transformative quest and had to face dangers with the help of a journeyman (a young handsome journeyman ;)). As an adoptive mom I think the themes of belonging and identity wormed their way into the book because I was working some things out in my own heart and head. Playing them out in a fantasy setting was a way for me to explore some painful issues, separate from the here and now, and apart from my personal experiences. So in that sense the story is somewhat allegorical. As it became more evident what the themes were, I'll admit writing the book grew more and more emotionally exhausting. I had to step away from it many times, regroup, and come back to it later.
What was your favorite part about writing the story? Least favorite?
I think the character of Pono was my favorite part. I just love him. I don't know where he came from, but I'm so glad he arrived. :) I also love the island setting, with its primitive culture, the magical elements (especially the whimsical touches that save the story from being too dark), and the challenge of exercising my descriptive muscles. For example, you can't say something is "electrifying" when there's no electricity. The island is also loosely based on New Zealand, where there are no native snakes -- just as one for instance. So I couldn't compare a snare to a snake. I could have create an island world with snakes, and I considered it, but decided I liked the idea of limiting myself. It forced me to 1) stretch myself and 2) I had to immerse myself in my island setting so deeply that I was looking at shells, sand, sky, flowers, volcanoes, bones, everything... in a fresh way. Same thing for my character names and made-up words: I limited myself to the Māori alphabet and linguistic conventions (with a few of my own twists). I love all things language and culture, so that kind of thing is fun for me.
Least favorite was the emotionally-draining aspect. I think writing from a place of pain made this a better book (at least I hope so), but it also meant I was pouring myself out pretty much constantly. As a work-in-progress, I would not-so-jokingly refer to it as that "stupid book": as in "am I ever going to finish this stupid book?" :) It seems so strange to me now to say that, because I adore Songstone now. I love Kita and Pono and that whole world.
Songstone is your second full-length self-published book (your first being the YA fantasy Aire). What has the publishing process been like for it?
A whole lot of work. LOL But I love it. I love the creative control, everything from the covers to working with freelance editors to scheduling release dates to, well, everything. It's a two-edged sword though: you have all this freedom, but all the responsibility is also falling on you. You are a publishing company. I'm not just Lena Goldfinch, I'm Me Inc., publisher. That said, I believe in getting help and recognizing your limitations; I pay for what I can't do myself and barter where I can. It works well for me. I also think you have to have a certain type of personality to make it work – and self-publishing (in the current publishing climate) just happens to work well with both my personality and my skill sets (my professional background in computers and web design is a huge help). It took me a while to get to the point where I decided to dive in, however. It took a huge shift in the publishing world, where digital self-publishing became a viable, affordable, and accessible option, and also seeing some of my writer friends having success with it. I was also where I needed to be as a writer and person.
And finally what can readers expect from you next?
I'm going to have no rest this summer because I have a ghostly little novella that I need to finish up called Haunting Joy. It's a departure for me, a contemporary first-person ghost story. Something short and fun that I'm writing as a break between fantasy books. After that I have a big YA fantasy that's waiting for me called Through the Spyglass. It's a Gaslight/Steampunk sort of fantasy with enchanted objects (ex. a spyglass), so that book should feel right at home here at the Enchanted Inkpot. ;)
Thanks so much for the interview, Katie! I've enjoyed it a lot!
You're welcome, Lena! Through the Spyglass sounds so intriguing...can't wait to read about it on the Inkpot!