Some of you may remember my post about Lotus and Thorn from early June, where I promised an interview with the author. Well, here it is! And, I decided to include a giveaway for 1 hardcover copy of Lotus and Thorn, and Sara has graciously agreed to sign a bookplate to accompany it! (You can find the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of this post.)
I wanted to interview this author for a couple of reasons. 1) I had some questions that needed answers, and I thought other readers might want to know those answers as well. 2) This book was fabulous, and I wanted to keep the conversation going. Sara Wilson Etienne is definitely high on my watch list now, as I’m eagerly hoping for more novels set in the universe of Lotus and Thorn.
- What was your inspiration for Lotus and Thorn?
I tend to collect bits of books like puzzle pieces. I’m not always sure where the pieces fit until a couple of them suddenly click together. At the time I started Lotus and Thorn, I’d been carrying around one piece of the puzzle for a few years… a fascination with courtesans— particularly the Renaissance women of Venice who cultivated money and power by becoming the lovers of influential men.
A few years later, I read an article about hikikomori and I knew I had another piece of the puzzle. Hikikomori are teenagers in Japan—mostly boys— who lock themselves away in their rooms for months, sometimes years, away from the pressures of the real world, and withdrawing from society. So with those two pieces, I knew the questions I wanted to explore with this book—and for me writing is all about asking questions.
My first question was: what happens when the only option available to women is to marry or to cultivate power with their bodies? (What does that power look like? How does that power relate to strong women and girls in our world now?)
Second, what sort of intense pressures are necessary to make a teenage boy—with his whole life ahead of him—turn his back on the world?
Third, what would a world look like where both these elements, both these characters, could exist and interact with each other?
I didn’t want to write historical fiction and this story doesn’t belong in present day. So I reached into the future and created the sci-fi world of Lotus and Thorn. I used the Grimms’ fairy tale structure to lend a sense of timelessness and fantasy to the technologically advanced planet of Gabriel. There’s a lot of bloodshed in the book, but it also mirrors the bloodiness of the original Grimms’ fairy tale. All in all, my hope is that Lotus and Thorn feels like a new story with an old soul.
- Why Fitcher’s Bird? What drew you to this fairy tale?
Well, I actually started the book—in the early, early drafts—using a bunch of different fairy tales. Leica would read bits and pieces of them to Edison as the book progressed. At that point, I was still working out what the fairy tale aspect brought to the book. But when I read Fitcher’s Bird, I knew what I needed to do. It’s so different than most of the stories. First of all, it has such a strong female lead. I alter or omit some details in my retelling, but I didn’t touch that aspect of the story…she already kicks ass and takes names.
And it’s not just that she’s brave and clever and saves her sisters… there is a wonderful twisted sense of humor in that story. Like how the sister putting a wedding veil on one of the skulls in the window and everyone comments on how happy the grinning bride-skull looks. That is awesome. This fairy tale has a spark to it that brought something new to my story… a framework and grim humor I’d been looking for. And it click into place so perfectly with the world I already was building. I suppose it was another puzzle piece!
Image from Arthur Rackham
- Did you read many fairy tales when you were younger?
I remember I had a Fisher Price record player and they used to make these kid’s records with scenes on them… I had this one about a girl who lived in an scallop shell that I listened to over and over. But I have to say, I didn’t have an obsession with fairy tales in particular… I just loved fantasy and science fiction. Especially whenever the mystery and magic intersected with our own world. For example, Where the Wild Things Are. Or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Or Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. Deep Magic by Diana Wynne Jones. Even books like The Westing Game or The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler have an element of the fantastical and the mysterious in our own world. These are the kinds of stories I love, stories that give us a “world of more”… and most fairy tales fit right into that mix. Real, but not real.
- Do you have any more books planned after Lotus and Thorn?
I can’t say too much about this topic right now… however I will say that this world and those characters grabbed onto me and I haven’t been able to shake them. Nor do I want to!
Stock photo from the-strawberry-tree
- What made you decide to end on such a huge cliffhanger/reveal?
Well, the cliffhanger was a bit of a surprise to me too! As a reader, I don’t always love it when an author does that. But when I was writing that final scene with Leica and Nik and the Pup sleeping out under the stars, it just happened. I saw the helicopters coming up over the mountains. I heard the thrumming as they flew closer and saw the sunrise glaring off the blades and felt my heart start to pump faster! It was such a visceral writing experience that I felt compelled to keep the scene like that, despite any objections my “reader” self might have put forth.
The thing is that I’ve always known the Big Picture of what this world looks like; so with this reveal, it was only a question how much Leica would find out and how much she would understand of what was going on in the outside world. So for me, the helicopters felt like a satisfying taste of what lay beyond those mountains.
- Did you do any research for this book?
So much research!! I’m a scientist at heart—studied biology and ecology through most of college—so I love the research aspect so writing. But this book was intense! Figuring out ecosystems—what would grown in the desert, in the Dome. Figuring out what would still be around after 500 years and what would have broken down. Future technology, like 3D food printers or swarm robotics or solar glass. Cultures. Clothing. And I definitely pulled in wonderful writers and super smarties to help me along the way as well. I had people vet the book for medical/genetics issues, whether the radio/tech stuff made sense in practice and/or theory, for cultural/language/accessibility/diversity issues. There are obviously many, many things in Lotus and Thorn that don’t exist in our world and I’m sure there are lots of discrepancies, but I tried to ensure that the theories and concepts behind my world make sense. And that the real-world issues at play—from growing seasons to transmitting radio signals—functioned correctly.
- How do you overcome writer’s block?
Mostly I simply try to keep writing on a daily basis, even if it’s for as little as 15 minutes. Something that is routine has less chance of being daunting. I also try to end a writing session a little ways into a new scene, or even in the middle of one…anywhere but the end… so that the next day I’m not coming back to a blank page.
- Why did you decide to include Kisaengs in your world?
As I said earlier, I was fascinated by the idea of Venetian courtesans. At the beginning, I struggled with the appropriateness of this subject in a YA book. But then I realized that was exactly where this belongs. Even today, so often teenage girls and young women are taught to use their bodies and appearances as tools of power. You only need to look at magazine racks full of fashion and dating tips to see this. 10 ways to win a guy! 12 dresses that’ll make him look twice! Kisaengs are far removed from the canals of Venice, or from our present day world, but it was their physicality—appearances, bodies, sexuality— that allowed them to escape the desperation of Pleiades. I wanted the reader to explore Leica’s own struggle with this dilemma and with her own sense of power.
9. Are you working on any other projects right now?
I am! I’m working on several projects that I love. It takes me a while to puzzle my way through my books, so I find that sometimes, working on multiple projects can help me move forward a little faster. I really wish I could talk about them, but for now I’ll just share that I’m having fun putting all the pieces together!
And here’s the promised giveaway! I hope everyone enjoys this book as much as I did!