Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers.
Thank you for hosting!
Give us a quick summary of The Bond, the first book in your Pentaklon fantasy series!
The Bond sets us in an alt-world, the Weave, a matriarchal society where new generations are developed in labs. That’s a pretty familiar set-up, so I wanted to slowly start complicating it. Dinitra, my heroine, is like all the others, designed to serve the society. But she’s also an artist and sees things differently. Like so many of us, she feels she doesn’t belong. Instead of getting assigned to a top-level job, she’s sent to the military, where she’s expected to defend the Weave from what she thinks are a ragtag group of malcontents. As it turns out, there’s much more to the story! Oh, and I give her 12, a battle dog mixed with tiger and lynx and howler monkey (among other things). Dinitra has to learn to love 12, think differently, and trust her artist instincts to survive.
I’m so psyched to host the cover reveal for The Bond on my blog and it’s absolutely gorgeous! Can you tell me what made this cover stand out among your other options?
Thank you! Lauren Faulkenberry did a great job with this. I love the dissonant colors, which reflect some of the themes of the book. Also, that B – everything in the story is imbedded in that B.
You have a long career in writing, but your focus has been in historical and nonfiction up until now. What inspired you to write a fantasy series?
In truth, I’ve always written fiction as well (currently in a virtual drawer). To me, different modes serve different purposes. For instance, poetry cracks open the world in unexpected ways. Non-fiction is an attempt to explain and put things in context. Fiction – and I am an avid reader, too – allows us to feel what someone else might feel and see the world through the eyes of others. I’ve always loved fantasy and I’ve especially loved fantasy that urges us to think deeply about ourselves and our worlds. One of my inspirations for this series is Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” books, which make us think about religion and the universe in profound ways. He once said, “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” I believe that wholeheartedly, one of the reasons I wanted to write these books.
What is your writing process like? Do you plan everything out in advance or let yourself discover the story as you go along?
I wish I knew! I’m mid-way between plotter and pantser. I have an idea to begin with, but have learned that the more I try to force that idea the worse the writing gets. There are so many things that happened in this book that were better than my original plan. That said, I remember vividly what one of my teachers and mentors, Margaret Bechard, told me: sometimes you need to have a character be at a specific place at a specific time. Solving that problem in a compelling way is the heart of the writing for me.
Your book will be published through a small press (shout out to NC-local Blue Crow Publishing!). Why did you decide to pursue that option for your book and what are some of the benefits in working with a small press?
I am so grateful that houses like Blue Crow exist. Writing is hard, but deeply rewarding. The quest to publish is just hard. While I was querying, I kept reminding myself, all you need is one house to love your story. It felt false every time, but it’s so true. Lauren and Katie Rose Guest Pryal are writers themselves, a big plus. They really get story at a granular level. Katie edited The Bond and made the story so much better. Also, they are upfront about marketing. These days, all but a very few authors have to really pitch in. Blue Crow sees themselves as partners in that sense, getting your book ready for the world, then working with you to get the story into readers’ hands. I couldn’t ask for more.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
Yikes. LONG. I had the seed of an idea in 2007. Then my life cracked up. Then I did one of the smartest things ever, enrolled as a student in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program in Writing for Children. I found my tribe and learned a ton. So three books, eleven years, and one masters degree – not so bad, really.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book?
Time. Always time. Time to write, to think, to explore. I usually rise at 5, load up with coffee, write, then go to the day job. I’m lucky that the job is also something I love and that feeds my creative life, teaching human rights at Duke University. In many ways, my students have inspired me. Like Dinitra, many have been prepared to enter an elite university since birth, yet still feel they don’t belong.
What other books and authors inspire you?
So many! Clearly, this book has echoes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (except upside down). Octavia Butler is in every page. Pullman, as I’ve noted. Markus Zusak, who wrote The Book Thief, was transformative (I can’t wait for his new book, Bridge of Clay, this fall). My daughter’s adoration of The Book Thief was part of the reason I wanted to try big themes in a YA book.
One of my absolute favorite genres is feminist dystopian literature, which The Bond certainly fits into, so it was like catnip for me! Was this a genre you loved reading before you starting writing or one you had to research later on?
I do love dystopias, sci-fi, all the things in speculative fiction. I think the challenge was to make this my story and not a retread of someone else’s, to allow my crazy to shape a familiar trope. That’s really the challenge all of us story-tellers face, to take the familiar and make it our own.
As your first series, did this book offer any challenges while you were writing that you hadn’t experience before?
I didn’t start out thinking series. My son, who was still in elementary school, was the one who urged me to stay with this story. That said, this is a challenge I took without really thinking about the real-world consequences (like not being able to sell the first book in a group of three). But in the end I loved the story so much – and loved my characters – that I stuck with it.
What lessons do you think your readers can learn from Dinitra and her story that will apply to the real world?
I think any world in a piece of art, be it a painting or a film or a book, is “real” because humans create it with their minds and bodies and we take it in and fit it somewhere in our lives. It sounds cliched, but Dinitra has to learn that you can be brave without knowing it; you can be afraid and still do the right thing; and that your relationships, including with the natural world, are part of what defines you as a thinking, caring being.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Charlotte’s Web. Still. Every time.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Dwelling on what other people will think of the story. Writing is so hard. I have to keep reminding myself that I am telling my story, not trying to please anyone else. I’m very Dinitra, my heroine, always worried that other people will ridicule my writing – and some do. You just have to pass them right by.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
Again, a total cliché that doesn’t help when you are in the Depths of Despond, but is nevertheless always true. Tell your story in the best way you know how, and keep learning, listening, and writing.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
So, so many! I’ve never read a more perfect book than M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts.
Carey takes very familiar tropes and themes, scours them out, beats them up, and makes something achingly beautiful. And zombies.