Monday, August 21, 2017

Life along the River: An Interview with Sarah Tolcser


Earlier this year, I read and fell in love with Song of the Current. Seriously, it's going to take a special book to top that one for me this year. After squealing about it to everyone I knew, I realized that I wasn't ready to leave that world behind; I wanted more. Sarah was gracious enough to agree to an interview and I cannot contain my excitement. So let's see what Sarah has in store for us! 

Amber: Describe Song of the Current using three adjectives.


Sarah: Adventurous, atmospheric, funny (am I allowed to say that about my own book?)

Amber: Yes you most definitely are. And I would probably pick those adjectives funnily enough! Now, Caro’s world is immersive and unique; were there any real-world influences that helped you craft this setting?

Sarah: I have sailing experience, so that was very helpful. In trying to get a visual for the rivers going through marshlands, I saved a lot of pictures of both the Netherlands and the Norfolk Broads in England (that’s actually where wherries are from, in our world’s history). And I took a lot of ideas from Greek mythology, especially the roots of words. The coastal cities in the world are very Mediterranean looking, in my mind. The world I made was a mashup of lots of stuff.
 
Amber: So cool, also I had no idea that wherries were from the Netherlands. So I love this book because of its many themes, but I especially love that it is feminist af. Was that a conscious effort or just something that just came about?

Sarah: Probably half and half? I think when you have a certain worldview, it leaks into the way you write. But I did make deliberate choices in the book. I had just finished reading a YA book (I don’t want to throw that author under the bus, but also it was four years ago and I honestly don’t remember which book) where the love interest’s behavior was just stalkery and rude. I decided, on purpose, to write a YA hero who messes up badly with regard to his treatment of the main character. How would he come back from that? How would she challenge his assumptions about her? I wanted to write about a teen love interest learning about consent without being overly preachy about it. That was always a huge part of the book.
 
But also I don’t think a book has to be about feminism to be feminist. I think you get just as much mileage out of having female characters doing all different things—being the boss, wearing skirts, not wearing skirts, being captains, etc. Nothing is more feminist in a story than lots of female characters getting to do stuff. I hate when stories have one “strong female character” and then she’s surrounded by dudes. I almost accidentally did that myself—in my original outline, Kenté didn’t come along with them on the journey. But I felt Caro needed a girl friend.
 
Amber: I need to sit here and applaud you for that. I hate that "strength" now implies "masculine". AND OMG I'M SO HAPPY THAT KENTE MADE IT IN THE FINAL DRAFT. Speaking of Carol and her family, why was it important to you to have a biracial character?

Sarah: Early on, I knew Caro’s mom was going to be from this family of explorers and traders, kind of like our world’s East India Company. In our world history, there’s a lot of baggage attached to that (colonialism, slavery, etc.), and I didn’t want to bring that into my fantasy world.  Because what’s the point of a fantasy world if everything awful in it mirrors everything awful in ours? So it made sense to have that powerful trading family be people of color as opposed to white, which helps signal that this world is different. And Caro’s story is about duality—feeling like she’s stuck between two identities—on several different levels. Being biracial is one of those levels, although it doesn’t have the same connotations in her world. But my more general answer is that I live in an urban southern city, I know lots of kids who look like Caro, and I try to include a diverse cast in everything I write. This is going to mirror my feminism answer—I want my cast to include characters with different identities getting to do stuff.
 
Amber: Awesome, I love that it's Caro's family that is in control of the local trade. Now let's move on to the writing process. What was the strangest thing you had to research while writing Song of the Current?

Sarah: So much 1700s boat stuff! And cannons. I know about all the different sizes of cannons. Last Friday I was working on the sequel and I had to stop and go look up bilge pumps because I’d put water in the ship and wasn’t sure how to get it out.
 
Amber: And now I look forward to a bunch of fight scenes. With cannons. Can you share one of your favorite passages from Song of the Current with us?

Sarah: The last paragraph is probably my favorite, but alas! It is full of spoilers. So I’ll go with one from the middle, in which Caro is trying to resist her fate. This whole part pretty much says who she is:

“Maybe I wasn’t the right girl for this kind of adventure. In the stories, the heroine is a lady locked in a castle. Or a common girl with dreams of being special. Or a servant who meets a handsome boy who will take her away from all this.
 
A heroine is always someone who wants out.
 
Well, I didn’t.”
 
Amber: What I loved about Caro was that she didn't think she was the sort of person to have adventures. I think this quote gives readers a pretty good idea of what Caro is like as a character! I know it's not much, but what can you tell us about the sequel?

Sarah: The sequel is about Caro trying to figure out who she is after the events of Book 1. It’s also a more traditionally pirate-y book, with shipwrecks, a treasure map, and a deserted island. Caro meets a new enemy and teams up with an old one.  The book should be out in June 2018.
 
Amber: June 2018. That's fine, that's not long at all. Do you have any 2017 book recommendations for us while we await the sequel?  

Sarah: I’ve barely read this year! It’s so awful. It turns out it’s very hard to meet book deadlines with a day job. I’m on a huge Agatha Christie binge this summer, so I’ve loved several of those. I really enjoyed THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi (I’m so late reading everything) and GHOST TALKERS by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is about women during World War 1 who talk to the ghosts of soldiers to get information to help the war effort.   

Amber: Great suggestions, Ghost Talkers sounds really interesting (I was looking for a good WWI movie after seeing Wonder Woman). Well thank you for your time, Sarah; I hope the revising process is a smooth one!


Have you read Song of Current yet? What has been your favorite pirate-y book? 

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