Monday, September 17, 2018

New Stories with Familiar Characters: In Conversation with Kristen Ciccarelli

Last year, I read a little book called The Last Namsara and quickly became obsessed. It was my favorite book of 2017 and I was counting down the days until The Caged Queen came out. Guess what! All of my patience has paid off because The Caged Queen comes out next week! To celebrate, Kristen Ciccarelli joined me for an interview and we have a little giveaway for you all too!

Du Livre: I loved The Last Namsara because the characters were so great and the storyline was extremely complex. When writing The Last Namsara, what came first: the characters or the story?

Kristen Ciccarelli: Definitely the characters! The story changed pretty drastically over the years I spent writing it, but the characters (at their cores) have essentially remained the same. I tend to start all my books with characters first, and only once I know who they are at the beginning versus who they are at the end can I really start to see the plot unfold. 

Ooo, I'd love to see earlier iterations of the story. I'm happy that Asha remained the same at her core, she was my favorite. How did writing Roa differ from writing Asha?

Oh gosh, Roa was a much more difficult character to write than Asha! I think there are a few reasons for this. I had more years with Asha living in my head, for example, while with Roa I had only a few. I also had to make sure that Roa’s story tied into Asha’s and Safire’s (which comes next in the series).

I would also say that Roa has a lot more freedom than Asha, which (strangely?) made her story trickier to write. In The Last Namsara, Asha is struggling with a role that has been thrust upon her, while in The Caged Queen, Roa is struggling with the cost and consequences of a role she chose herself. Roa gave up everything she loves (her home, her family, her fiancĂ©) in order to marry Dax because she believed that only as queen could she save her people from tyranny. So when The Caged Queen opens, Roa has already decided her fate, whereas at the beginning of The Last Namsara, Asha’s fate is decided for her.

If I were to sum up the main differences, I would say Roa’s story is about grief and loss and the death-defying power of love, while Asha’s story is about losing and reclaiming ourselves as well as the transformative power of stories.

I can't wait to read Roa's story, especially since she was a challenge to write (I am also SO happy to hear that Safire is next)!

How did you organize yourself when dealing with concurrent plot lines, characters, and worldbuilding?

Oh gosh, it was incredibly hard at times! Dax and Roa’s lives intercept as young children, so every bit of backstory we get regarding Dax in The Last Namsara had to line up with every bit of backstory we get regarding Roa in The Caged Queen. There were times when I was grinding my teeth because the math wouldn’t work, or because I really wished I could go and change just one tiny detail in book one to make something work more easily in book two, but I couldn’t! I ended up making a physical timeline of both histories (Roa’s and Dax’s) and had to pay careful attention to the years when their lives were intertwined, even at a distance, and respect those timelines in order to make it all work.

The other difficult thing was introducing new gods and stories and making sure they didn’t contradict the old gods and stories from The Last Namsara. I hadn’t intended to keep the stories-between-chapters format, since Asha is the storyteller, not Roa, and it didn’t make as much sense for Roa’s book. But everyone wanted the stories back, so I had to figure out a way to make them work for Roa and be particular to her and her history with Dax, instead of just existing because people wanted them.

I think if I had known just how tricky it would be to make all three books in the series stand on their own, while also linking up with all the others, I might have given up at the outset! So I’m glad I didn’t know, because it’s been a fun challenge. :)

Wow, that sounds complicated but I'm happy that this was a challenge you were able to overcome. Can you share one of your favorite lines in The Caged Queen?

Yes, definitely! My favourite line is this one: 

Real love is the strongest kind of steel. It’s a blade that can be melted down, its form changed with every bang of the hammer, but to break it is a task no one is capable of. Not even Death.

Stahppp I want it now. I can wait, I guess. Speaking of waiting, what are you working on now?

I just handed in the second draft of book three in the Iskari series (Safire’s story) which still needs a lot of editing. But while I wait for feedback from my editor, I’m working on an old story that is very dear to my heart. This one almost got published a few years before the Iskari series sold, but ended up being shelved instead. I honestly thought I was done with it because it was a bit of a heartbreaking experience, but I’ve been thinking about it so much this year that I’ve decided to at least attempt a rewrite. So that’s what I’m doing now.

Kristen Ciccarelli is an internationally bestselling author of fantasy fiction. Her first novel, The Last Namsara, debuted on the UK’s Children & YA chart, was named one of Indigo’s Best Books for Teens in 2017, and is being translated into 11 languages. Before writing books, Kristen made her living as an artisanal baker, an indie bookseller, and a ceramic artist. She resides in a blustery seaside cove on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula with her blacksmith and her rescue dog.
Website | Instagram | The Last Namsara | The Caged Queen

Kristen was nice enough to give away a copy of The Caged Queen and I'm joining her by adding a copy of The Last Namsara to the bundle. I will select one winner on Monday, October 1 to win a finished copy of The Last Namsara and The Caged Queen. This giveaway is U.S. only. 


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