Today, I have something a little different from my normal posts. This month Nerd Girl Books is doing a blog tour featuring 5 amazingly, talented authors: LC Barlow, Mary Fan, Deborah Schaumberg, Meg Eden, and Beth Woodward. You can check out the graphic below to see who else is participating!
As you may have noticed, I have two posts planned; a book review of Mary Fan’s Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon on July 30, and a dual interview with Mary Fan and Deborah Schaumberg that I’m excited to share with you today! I asked each of these lovely authors about their inspiration for writing, trying to to better understand the relationship between book and author, story and setting, creativity and inspiration. But first here’s a quick bio of each (taken from their Goodreads author pages).
Deborah Schaumberg‘s debut novel — THE TOMBS– is a historical fantasy about aura seers. It has a hint of steampunk and an evil doctor. She grew up in New York, and now lives in Maryland with her family and two big dogs.
Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil.
Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.
1. Where did you find inspiration for your new release?
DS: My inspiration started with Avery, my main character. I was on a trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal, and of course brought some books along in my backpack. One of the books was about universal energy surrounding all living things. I began to imagine a girl with the ability to see this energy. Then I wondered, what if she could affect the energy of others? I find being out in nature is a great way to find inspiration!
MF: STRONGER THAN A BRONZE DRAGON is an action/adventure fantasy set in a steampunk world inspired by Qing Dynasty China. But the first idea I had for it was actually something of a Cinderella retelling – except an unhappy kind. Rich man chooses a poor girl as a bride and makes her royalty… except she had no say in the matter, and he’s actually a jerk. From there I brainstormed why he’d choose her in the first place, what she’d do about it, and who she was… and from there, the plot of my book was born.
The setting was inspired by the Chinese historical dramas (e.g. My Fair Princess) and steampunk movies (e.g. Treasure Planet) I used to watch as a teenager.
2. How did you turn that spark into a fleshed out story?
DS: This question goes hand-in-hand with the following one because my next step was to figure out the setting. I love history and I did lots and lots of research. I also had to decide what obstacles Avery would face, and many of those are tied to the era. The 1800s were difficult times to grow up in, especially for young girls. I was able to use these struggles to challenge Avery throughout the story. I have two daughters, so it was important to me that I create a strong female character with normal insecurities and flaws.
MF: The ideas for this particular story came unusually fast for me. I had my basic setup – poor heroine being forced to marry a rich man against her will – and came up with how she ended up in this predicament. Namely, that the rich man wanted something very valuable from her village, and her village was in a vulnerable spot and had to say yes to get something important in exchange. That valuable thing, I decided, would be an enchanted pearl granted to the village by a godlike dragon, and the village’s vulnerability would be frequent attacks by shadow demons. So the village needed protection and was willing to trade their holy relic for it – but needed a guarantee in the form of a marriage alliance.
I knew from the get go that I wanted my heroine to be a fighter – both literally, in that she’s a village guard who knows her way around a sword, and figuratively in that she doesn’t cave easily – and so when she’s chosen (quite against her will) to marry the rich man, a viceroy, she doesn’t go quietly. I considered what would make the most sense for her character – do I write a court drama, where she has to adapt to life in the viceroy’s palace? Or do I go in a different direction?
I decided to send her on an adventure instead. And so I introduced a thief that would steal the pearl and force her to take action. Then it was a matter of figuring out who the thief was, what he wanted the pearl for, and how she would react. Essentially, one idea led to another, and after some molding and shaping, I had a general idea for how the story would go.
3. Why did you choose the setting you did?
DS: I grew up in New York fascinated by the history of the city, and I really wanted to set my first book there. I specifically love the gritty industrial feel of 1882 and the atmospheric background of pre-electricity, gas lit streets. While doing research, I came across a real prison called the Tombs! It is entirely accurate that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction – the Tombs was a horrible place and I knew it would not only make a great setting, but a cool title!
MF: There’s no way to answer this without getting on my soapbox so here it is: I’m Chinese American, with immigrant parents but born in the U.S. So I’ve always existed between cultures. And because of the environment I grew up in (upper middle class neighborhood in the South), I ended up culturally whitewashed. When I thought of fantasy, I pictured European-inspired fantasies – Tolkein and the like. Meanwhile, my parents, being Chinese, often watched movies and TV shows from China and introduced me to some. Many were fantasies. So in my head, there were two types of fantasies: European-inspired ones for majority-white America, and Chinese ones from China. Chinese American fantasies didn’t seem to exist (though in retrospect, Disney’s Mulan is quite Chinese American).
When I started writing fantasy, I defaulted to European-inspired ones. These were the tales from the dominant culture I’d grown up with – medieval, Western European-style villages and cities, creatures with origins in European mythology. But I always remembered those Chinese dramas and low-key wanted to try my hand at one. Yet I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to, as if I wasn’t “authentic” enough.
But fantasy is called fantasy for a reason. People are always making things up in European-style fantasies… think about all the mythologies Rowling borrowed from and twisted to her purposes in the Harry Potter books. In fact, it’s expected. So why couldn’t I do the same for a Chinese-inspired fantasy?
Something in me snapped when I watched Kubo and the Two Strings, which is a visually lovely movie in which a bunch of white creators make gobbledygook out of Japanese mythology. Well, if all these white people can mess with someone else’s culture, why can’t I mess with one that’s part of me?
I often refer to STRONGER THAN A BRONZE DRAGON as an East Asian fantasy for simplicity, but more accurately, it’s an East Asian American fantasy. Drawing inspiration from this and that, the mishmash of cultures that is my life.
4. Did anything change drastically between your original idea and the final book?
DS: Yes! I originally had way more steampunk elements. There were even automatons in the first drafts. My editor at HarperTeen asked me to consider easing up on the steampunk without getting rid of it entirely. I agreed this helped the story feel even more authentic. I like that the reader isn’t totally sure of what’s real and what’s invented.
MF: Not conceptually – I pretty much stuck to the overall plot I planned out. But I did end up rewriting a lot of scenes, primarily around character interactions. I had a tendency to explain backstories via long stretches of narration; I reworked a bunch of those into dialogue. Also, a few things came too easily to the heroine in the earlier drafts, and so I threw in a few new wrinkles. And a few things changed in the sequence of events – some things came too early and had to be moved back a few chapters, some things had to be added… several times, my manuscript felt like a cut-and-paste Frankenbook.
5. If you encounter writer’s block, how do you overcome it?
DS: Ooh, this is a tough question. I still get writer’s block, but I think what helps me the most is the but-in-chair method! When I am consistent about writing every day, or almost every day, I can better tap into the flow of the writing. The other thing I do if I’m stuck, is research. There’s always more research to be done!
MF: Writer’s block comes in many different shapes and forms. When it’s a matter of procrastination, I find that sprints (where I write as fast as I can for 10 minutes, with a timer, and the only rule is that my fingers must never stop moving) are helpful for moving forward. Sometimes that kick is all it takes to get my head back into the project. Other times, it’s a matter of exhaustion – sometimes physical, sometimes emotional. In those cases, it’s important to take breaks. Even though it can be hard to shake the feeling that all available time must be spent writing.
Thanks for sticking around and reading through these author’s thoughts on inspiration! I found this post to be thoroughly enjoyable and learned a few things myself 🙂 Please come back on July 30 to see my review of Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon. Don’t forget to check out the synopses of these wonderful books and add them to your TBR!
And As Promised:
The giveaway of the fabulous books featured over the entire blog tour! Here’s the link and a picture of the winnings 🙂 These are super easy entries too, so click the link and sign up now!