I can not believe those two have me walking up this wretched hill in the blazing sun. They’ll be getting my spa bill in the mail, I think as I grudgingly trudge up the hill.
Rachel Hartman, author of Seraphina, asked us to meet her at the tallest hill in kingdom of Goredd for an interview. Of course we jumped at the request. I mean, DRAGONS! Need I say more? At this point I’m pretty used to the abnormal requests from some of these YA authors. Our interviews are anything BUT normal. But this hill? Well, it’s kicking my ass.
I finally reach the top, gasping for breath and I’m momentarily taken aback at the scene before me. I’m standing near the edge of a cliff that looks out onto Goredd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sky look so open before and suddenly I feel insignificant in its vastness. I hold my arms out at each side, close my eyes and allow the gentle breeze to caress my face. For a moment I feel free, weightless, invincible… I feel… I feel… like I’m being watched. I turn to look at Kat and Archer and quickly drop my arms. Okay, this is awkward.
“How much of that did you see?” I ask.
“Er…” Archer begins, as he leans on the head of his dane axe.
“Pretty much all of it.” Kat finishes for him. “For a minute there I thought you were going to start singing ‘I Believe I can Fly’.”
I just nod because I refuse to admit she is right.
“So…umm… hey Steph?” Kat starts. “Didn’t you get the memo?” She gestures to her ensemble and I give a slightly confused face. Both of them are decked out in full Viking armor.
“Kat, did you get lost in Archer’s closet again?” I ask.
“I told you never to speak of it!” she says through clenched teeth.
“She means, what the hell are you wearing?” Archer cuts in, blunt yet efficient. I like his style.
“Yeah, we were supposed to be dressed in Viking outfits. And here you are in… in… this getup?”
I look down at my garb, realizing clearly I misread the email she’d sent. I’m wearing a short purple skirt with a matching purple and white top. Technically, it is indeed a Vikings outfit — a Minnesota Vikings cheerleading uniform, that is. Ah. It all makes sense now. Oops, I think.
Knowing they probably will never let me live this embarrassing moment down, I see there is only one way to reply to this.
“Right then…” says Archer. “What time is Rachel meeting us?”
Taking advantage of the change in subject I reply, “She should be here any minute actually.”
As soon as the words leave my lips, we hear approaching footsteps. We turn towards the newcomer and see that it’s Rachel Hartman. I sigh with relief because, for a minute there, I thought it might have been a dragon. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would awesome to see a dragon, but not so awesome if my eyebrows got singed off. I’m a realist not an optimist.
We all exchange greetings and I can tell Archer and Kat are trying very hard to suppress their inner fangirls. I don’t blame them. I can just feel Hartman’s awesome falling off her in waves. I grin and hope it’s contagious.
Kat and Archer take a moment to fuss over Rachel and I notice that she’s not out of breath from climbing the hill. In fact, she looks perfectly at ease. How odd, I wonder. She must be in fantastic shape. I have to remember to hit the gym every once in a while. Reading thoroughly exercises my mind, but does little for my sexy.
We all take a seat on the ground and I begin, “Thanks for agreeing to meet with us.” I glance at my silent co-bloggers realizing this is probably the quietest they’ve ever been. “We’re all big fans Seraphina.”
Rachel beams while Kat and Archer vigorously nod their heads in agreement.
“Wow, thanks so much for this! You really went all-out, and I appreciate it,” she says gesturing to their ensembles. She turns back to me and I can see the question forming on her lips as she takes in my cheerleading uniform.
“Uh, you see… what had happened was…” I stammer.
“She’s just being ironic,” Kat intercedes.
“Totally!” I add quickly. “They said come as Vikings and since I’m a hipster and all…”
“Please stop talking,” Kat whispers while sporting her Colgate smile. I quickly shut up.
Rachel doesn’t seem convinced, but thankfully we now have a third co-blogger to save me from embarrassing moments like this one by asking the first question.
“Seraphina tells the story of a young girl who struggles to hide her identity from a society intolerant to her kind. Were there any messages you were trying to convey to readers in your story?” Archer asks.
“Not exactly. That is, there are things I think and believe on this subject, and I’m sure those come through in the story, but that’s never the starting position for me. I start writing with questions in mind. What if dragons could take human form? What would that be like for them? What if you married one by accident? What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? I’m like the world’s biggest three-year old, asking and asking.
SF/F is the corner of the literary world where you can do that, where it’s encouraged and necessary. I ask the questions and then I run the thought experiments. It’s very handy, because if I set up a real-world lab where I cross-bred humans with reptiles, I’d probably get arrested,” She says laughing.
I smile and pull out my notepad. I can tell this is going to be a fun interview.
She continues, “To answer a bit less facetiously, though: I think themes of prejudice and bigotry are something most people can identify with on some level. We’re all prone to it; it’s just how our monkey-minds are wired. I really enjoy examining those kinds of issues from all angles, but I do try to let readers deduce the answers (insofar as there are answers) for themselves. It’s more respectful of readers’ intelligence, and definitely more fun for the readers.”
“I completely agree. I’m the proud owner of quite a few IQ points and like to be treated as such by authors, and I thought it was common knowledge that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is 42,” Archer says chuckling. Rachel laughs and high-fives him. Showoff.
She stands, walks over to cliff and sits along the edge. We follow and Kat and Archer both claim the left and right seats next to Rachel respectively. Typical. As I sit next to Kat she asks me, “Hey can I borrow a pen and sheet of paper. I seem to have misplaced my notepad.”
“No, what you mean is you forgot it,” corrects Archer. “Again.”
Kat glares at him while I hand her a spare pen and paper.
Rachel smirks at our banter and Kat continues, “Did you draw upon any inspirations when crafting Seraphina’s world?”
Rachel looks out at Goredd and replies, “The world itself is inspired by our world, by places I’ve been. I love to travel. I love new landscapes and historical buildings and marketplaces, the smells and sounds and textures of the world around me. I love not knowing where a road leads, and that serentipitous moment when you stumble across a beautiful place you’ve never been before. I could go on and on, quite tediously!
When I was sixteen I had a chance to live in England for a year, and that was the most memorable year of my life. Canterbury cathedral blew my tiny mind. I developed a lifelong passion for medieval architecture, and that right there is the reason (I strongly suspect) that I’m writing fantasy and not science fiction. I tell people that I’ve really written science fantasy, that it’s sci-fi with medieval buildings and dragons, but I don’t think anyone believes me.”
“Nope, you can’t fool us. What kind of research did you have to do for your novel?” I ask.
“I did a lot of research, but I did it over many years and not particularly with this novel in mind,” she begins, turning towards me. “That passion for medieval architecture I mentioned? Yeah. It turned into a passion for medieval other things too – history, costume, music, material culture – which turned into a large collection of books about medieval things. It didn’t help that I worked at bookstores for much of my post-college life. My husband used to set me down and say, “Rachel, the reason you have a job is because we need money, not because we need more books!”
It turned out that if I made sure I bought books for him occasionally, he didn’t complain so much. We, uh, have a lot of books now,” she finishes sheepishly.
I start laughing when a gust of wind blows and sweeps Kat’s note paper from her hands. Before we can even register frustration, Rachel reaches out with quick reflexes and grabs the retreating sheet.
“Whoa! Thanks, Rachel!” Kat says.
“That was… impressive,” Archer says giving Rachel an admirable look.
I squint my eyes. First the hill, now this. “Yeah, how did you do that?” I inquire.
Rachel answers with a casual shrug and the conversation is then driven back to the interview courtesy of Archer. “One interesting aspect of the dragons in Seraphina is their personalities being devoid of normal human emotions. Did you find it difficult to craft characters like that?”
“It was very difficult! One of the most difficult parts – which I really did not anticipate – was that readers tend to interpret statements emotionally, even when that’s not what the writer intends. This is why in writing tutorials they always tell you not to use adverbs or speech tags other than “said” – they’re not necessary! The reader, being a human possessed of empathy, can tell how the words are being said. So I had to add some modifiers, absurdly, because my editor kept saying, “This dragon is being too emotional!” when I intended the words to come across as very neutral.”
She pauses for a moment, then continues, “Coming up with how their minds work was less difficult. My husband is a physicist, about as logical and mathematical as they come. I observed him carefully and then made the dragons a little more extreme. No, my husband isn’t a dragon.” She says that last part hastily and glances around at us nervously.
I narrow my eyes at her. Something fishy is going on. Why would she say that? Meanwhile, it looks like my co-bloggers are oblivious my suspicions. With stars in her eyes, Kat clutches Rachel’s arm and asks, “Do you and Seraphina have a lot in common?”
Rachel gently loosens Kat’s grip and says, “Hm. Well. Yes. That’s always a dangerous thing for a writer to admit, though, because everyone’s looking out for the self-insert, the Mary Sue, so they can heap scorn upon it. And rightly so: there is nothing more tedious than someone else’s self-insert fantasy.”
“Too true,” says Archer.
“So I kind of want to expand upon the question and say I also have a lot in common with Lucian Kiggs. Lars and I were separated at birth. Princess Glisselda and I are substantially alike. If I had to choose a character who closely resembled myself, I’d choose Abdo, or possibly Orma. My point here is that I see bits of myself in all of them. This is not to say they’re all alike, but rather that being a writer (for me, anyway) is a bit like being an actor. I have all these potentials inside myself. Most of them aren’t useful for my daily role of mother, wife, and mild-mannered Canadian. That’s one of the great pleasures of writing, the chance to stretch out into all the people I could possibly be, but usually am not. It’s an exercise in radical empathy,” she says looking from each of our faces, finally settling on my face. Ah, ha! So she closely resembles Orma and Abdo? Two characters with dragon blood running through their veins? I’m on to you, Hartman, I think.
She looks down and brushes invisible lint balls off her lap. Then she says, “OK, did I just totally overthink that? Seraphina and I are both music-loving nerds. That would have been the obvious answer, I guess.”
I look over at Archer and I can tell he isn’t buying this story either. Hartman is hiding something. But before either of us gets a chance to inquire further Kat says, “Tell me about the love interest. Kiggs was a remarkable male character. Was he an organic characterization or did you carefully plan his personality?”
“All the characters are organic – and contain no preservatives!” Hartman says, slapping Kat’s knee and they immediately start laughing.
Archer catches my eye. He’s seen it too and how Hartman was a little too happy for the subject change. He mouths the word I’ve been thinking: Dragon. I nod, confirming our suspicion.
Hartman catches her breath and continues, “They generally come to me fully formed. I almost feel like a movie director who’s been working with the same actors for years; I know them all so well, and what they’re capable of. The cast parties are a riot.”
They giggle. Real smooth, Hartman. I see what you did there.
“In the case of Kiggs, specifically, he’s my muse. He’s my love of writing – the intellectual and emotional challenge of it – made human. I realize that sounds kind of woo-woo, but I dig in my own head for a living. I have a strange relationship with my subconscious; I try to just let it do its funky thing without too much questioning, but every now and then it hands me something obvious. Love and intellect have always been intertwined for me. Heh. This is starting to sound like a personal ad: my turn-ons include long walks on the beach and long talks about cognitive philosophy!” she says.
“Rachel, you saucy minx!” Kat says and they once again giggle. I knew it was only a matter of before Kat pulled the saucy minx card.
Hartman straightens and finishes, “But seriously, I can’t write a love interest I don’t also love to some degree. There have been reviews where readers thought Kiggs was a pretentious ass, but there are people who find ME a pretentious ass. I can live with that.”
“Well, I think you’re pretty damn awesome,” Kat says matter of factly. Rachel smiles at her.
Suddenly, the wind begins to pick up, blowing the pages of my notepad and completely claiming Kat’s sheet. It’s not like she was taking notes anyway.
Archer gives Hartman a look and says, “Shame you missed it that time, eh?”
“Oh, c’mon, Archer. Did you see how fast it flew away?” Kat asks.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did,” he says still watching Hartman’s face. It all makes sense now. Her stamina, reflexes and the backtracking. The signs were all there.
“So… did you have any goals or ideals in how you crafted Seraphina’s world and the society she lived in?” he fires at her. I know what he’s up to. He’s trying to bait her into revealing her true identity to us. If anyone can do it, it’s him. He is a Viking after all.
“More than anything, I wanted it to feel real. That, for me, means a certain glorious messiness: the sprawling physicality of the city, the deep eccentricities of culture, deities bumping elbows, smells and tastes and cacophonous sounds,” she replies choosing her words carefully.
“On the social end, that means people being people, in all their varieties, with conflicting goals and beliefs and prejudices and manners,” she says with extra emphasis “prejudices and manners.” “Ah, see, I get all rhapsodic just thinking about it. World-building is one of my very favourite parts of the writing process, and this particular world has been with me a very long time.”
Archer wrinkles his face in confusion and that is when I realize why she has been hiding her heritage from us. I smack my forehead. How could I be so stupid!
“Archer, it’s the Viking outfits. She thinks… she thinks we’re dragon hunters!” I say rising from the cliff. Archer quickly follows suit.
“Oh, Rachel, I swear we aren’t. I just enjoy the occasional historical reenactment and I thought it’d be ironic and all…” he says.
“Silly, rabbit. I’m the ironic one!” I say striding over towards him.
“Zip it, hipster!” he says making air quotes in the air.
“Why, I oughta…” I say. If I had sleeves, I’d probably roll them up right about now.
“Guys? What are you talking about?” Kat says running between us. “What dragons? Rachel, do we get to see a real dragon today?!” she asks excitedly turning back towards Rachel who is still sitting gazing at the sky with a worried look.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Archer says walking a back over to Hartman, using his axe as a walking stick. “He’s close isn’t he?” His Viking senses must be tingling.
Just as soon as she finishes nodding the ground quakes beneath us.
“OMG, guys! What was that?!” I say.
“That was company,” Archer says calmly. “Kat, get your battle axe ready. Do you remember your training?”
“Way ahead of you, big guy,” Kat says brandishing her weapon.
“What the hell! What training? You’ve been training her?” I ask hoping no one has noticed my voice increasing a few octaves.
Kat arches her eyebrow and says, “We live in Australia. Sometimes we just go out in the wild and kill things.”
Just then the dragon makes himself known and charges for us giving me little time to take in his appearance. But he’s big and has teeth. That’s all I need to know. Archer wastes no time and meets the dragon halfway. He raises his axe just in time to deflect the dragon’s attack and gives off a battle cry.
“Brave, that one is, ya?” Kat says from my right. “Twenty bucks says he slays the bugger in five minutes or less.”
“Bet. But, umm… shouldn’t you be out there, ya know, helping him?” I ask.
“Naw, he looks like he can take care of himself,” she says as Archer gives the dragon a blow to the head. Hartman grunts her approval to my left. Then the unthinkable happens and the dragon gains the advantage and whips his tail into Archer.
“Rachel! You have to do something!” I yell frantically. She give a vigorous nod and steps forward.
“Wait, Rachel! One last question. Tell me, what is the secret behind your awesome? Are you half dragon?”
“Really, Kat?” I ask gesturing to the battle. Thankfully, Archer seems unfazed by the blow he received and is giving the dragon a run for his money. Dude is built like an Olympian.
“Are you trying to get me killed?? That is to say, ahem, sometimes a human and a dragon love each other very much, and the human can’t necessarily tell that the dragon is a dragon, and there are other extenuating circumstances, such as an entire bottle of sambuca, and…er… things happen and… It’s my son who’s the half-dragon. I didn’t know, I swear!” Hartman says turning back to the battle. I knew it.
Just before she begin to transform she yells back, “As for the secret behind my awesome, it’s no secret at all. It’s my whippet! Any time I start whining, she starts in whining even louder: heeen! Heeeeeennnn! Then I realize I’m utterly outmatched in the whining department and I had really better go do something more productive.”
She jumps into the air and transforms into a dragon. She lands right on top her her opponent and pins him to the ground. Archer halts his attack and waits. What happens next can only be described as the most intense staring contest I’ve ever seen. Hartman wins and the other dragon scampers away with his tail between his legs. She and Archer rejoin Kat and I.
“Archer, you have seriously gone up about fifty points on the cool scale,” I say with awe.
He grins and says, “Nothing like a good dragon battle to wake you up in the morning.”
“And Rachel, you were… wow. That was awesome and thanks again for the interview,” Kat says.
Hartman walks over, hugs Kat and says, “I have to say, these were the most fun questions to answer, largely because you encouraged me to be funny and I could just relax with it. That’s such a relief after all the more formal stuff I’ve been doing, you have no idea. So thanks for that!”
Kat lights up and I can tell that comment just about made her week. Realizing our interview time is up we each say our goodbyes and Hartman walks towards the cliff and jumps. My heart skips a beat, but then we see the beautiful dragon reappear and fly off.
Kat and Archer are staring at the Hartman’s retreating figure as I poke Kat and say, “Oh and you owe me twenty bucks.”
“Archer didn’t slay the dragon in five minutes or less. Pay up, Kennedy,” I say.
“How about I buy you a drink instead?” she offers. I grin. Kat knows me all too well.
“Whoa, hold up a second. You guys took bets on me… as I was fighting a freaking dragon?” Archer demands, wiping the blade of his trusty axe clean.
“Uh, Steph?” Kat says. “Run.”
And that was the day we found out that despite a Viking’s intimidating size, they still can run. Fast.
We want to give a huge thank you to Rachel Hartman for the interview & introducing us to DRAGONS!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://cuddlebuggery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/rachelhartman2.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Rachel was born in Kentucky, but has lived a variety of places including Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She has a BA in Comparative Literature, although she insists it should have been a BS because her undergraduate thesis was called “Paradox and Parody in Don Quixote and the satires of Lucian.” She eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books. She now lives in Vancouver, BC, with her family, their whippet, and a talking frog and salamander (who fight zombies)(really. There are a lot of zombies in the Pacific Northwest).
Don’t forget to check out Seraphina available now!
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.
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