About the Book:
Q. Where did you get the inspiration for TQR?
A. The very first scene I envisioned was of Brienna in a sunlit library, sitting directly across from a stern (but very handsome) young man. And Brienna said to me, “The summer solstice is in eight days, and I have yet to master my passion.” And I was like, “WAIT. Who are you and what are you talking about!?”
I was currently working on another fantasy project, which was rather terrible, but I was so intrigued by Brienna that I quickly found a piece of paper and jotted down that line. And then I stared at it and began asking her questions. What was this passion she spoke of? And why was she worried that she wouldn’t passion in time?
I mulled over things in life that require time, dedication, instruction, and one’s whole heart to truly master. And I wrote down art. Then music. Next I thought of theater, which I call dramatics. Then wit, and lastly, knowledge. These became the five passions of life in the book (which honestly do not surprise me, as I find studying the humanities vital and beautiful). And then I said, this sounds like the Renaissance, so I began to craft the world with that in mind. Brienna was in a school for the passions, and the stern young man sitting with her was her instructor.
And from that moment, I knew that two things were going to happen: Brienna was going to endure a failure, but from that failure something else was going to rise. And that just so happened to be a revolution to bring back a northern queen.
Q. How did you come up with the names of your characters and places?
A. I definitely utilized a name bank. I like Behind the Name the best, because it gives meanings of the names as well, and sometimes I try to link that to certain characters.
Valenia is inspired by France, and Maevana has elements of Ireland and Scotland. I did my best to select names that corresponded to such places, but I will say that a few characters pretty much named themselves. Brienna’s passion sisters (Oriana, Merei, Ciri, Sibylle, and Abree) were such a case. On the night when I was jotting down all my initial ideas, these were the five names I wrote down for them. And they have survived all throughout edits.
Q. Is this book a standalone?
A. I do get asked this quite a bit, so I wanted to provide an answer here, because I can certainly see why readers are assuming it is a standalone! And like everything with writers, there is a longer story behind this question.
When I first drafted TQR (which was called Impassioned at the time), I wrote it as a standalone. I was very happy with the ending, and I saw myself closing the door on Brienna’s saga. But I also knew that I had created a world that I wanted to return to. I ended up selling three books to HarperCollins; they would first publish TQR, and then two companion books.
But sometimes, books have a will and a mind of their own.
My amazing agent, Suzie, told me to begin drafting Book 2 right after the sale happened, so I did. I sat down and began to write Book 2, which was a companion novel. I wrote it, set it aside and began to think of Book 3. And I wrote a companion Book 3. When I went back to look at Book 2 (I know, this is a little confusing), I suddenly hated it. Now, this is nothing new to an author. There are these strange stages of euphoria and utter disgust that we go through when we write something. Well, I really hated the Companion Book 2 I had written. I considered it a very weak book, especially the ending. It was mess; I was still learning how to craft a novel. And I could not imagine handing it over to my editor.
So I scrapped it (yes, an entire book, in the garbage!). And so I began to rewrite Companion Book 2.
I was almost done rewriting Companion Book 2 when my edit letter came in for TQR. So I had to set Book 2 aside to overhaul Book 1.
When I went through edits for TQR, I shifted and reworked a few plot threads. The story emerged much stronger than what it had been, but the focus was no longer solely on Brienna becoming impassioned, but on her role in the queen’s revolution (hence the title change, as well). I finished my first round of edits, then my second round, and I knew I needed to finish drafting Companion Book 2, so I could go ahead and send it to Suzie to look at. And…I simply did not have the desire to finish it. This is a very bad sign, I thought. Because I remembered how elated and ravenous I was when I was drafting the end of TQR. The climax and ending should be exhilarating to write.
I somehow managed to force myself to finish Companion Book 2, send it to my agent, and agonize over how bad it was. What was I supposed to do with Book 2? I felt adrift about it.
So this is how Book 2 finally came about.
I was sitting on my back deck, throwing the frisbee to my dog, and I had a journal on my lap, mulling over ideas and the bane that had become Companion Book 2. And then I thought, all right, what if I continued Brienna’s story? I had considered that door closed for so long that I had NEVER allowed myself to imagine, just for a moment, what might unfold if Brienna’s story continued.
I opened my journal. I wrote down the first line (which picks up right where TQR leaves off). And then I wrote a second line, and another, until the whole first paragraph unfolded on the page. And it was like a flame had been relit in my imagination, and I could suddenly envision where Brienna was going, and what she was now going to build towards. That was also when I realized that there were still some unresolved matters from TQR, even though I had done my best to wrap it all up by the last page.
I was so excited I jumped up, called the dog inside, and went directly to my office. I opened my laptop, opened a new word doc, and began to write Book 2.
I waited until I was about 20,000 words in, and then I emailed Suzie, and told her that this was supposed to be my second book, because it had a spark and a will of it’s own, and that’s what I am always seeking when I begin drafting a story.
All of this rambling to say…Book 2 is a direct follow up. And when I have more details to share about it (AHH I CANNOT WAIT TO TELL YOU SOME THINGS ABOUT IT!!!) I will certainly let you know. Because, in my opinion, Book 2 is my heart’s blood on a page.
Q. Who designed the map?
A. The map is one of my favorite things! And the incredible Virginia Allyn designed it.
Q. What’s the age difference between Brienna and Cartier?
A. 8 years.
Q. How can I get an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of your book?
A. Any ARC requests must be made through my publicist. She is amazing and you can contact her here: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com.
I also love giving away ARCs, so watch my social media or sign up for my newsletter.
Q. What is the best writing advice you can give to an aspiring author?
A. Write the story that is on your heart. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. And when you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, when doubt tells you that you are a terrible writer or you will never finish anything, remember to take it one word at a time and drown those doubts out. As Anne Lamott says, take it “bird by bird” (<–I highly recommend you read Anne’s book Bird by Bird if you are truly serious about writing). This is something she taught me, which has really stuck with me: At the end of the day, the most important thing is to simply get words on the page. And it’s good that it’s messy. A perfect first draft doesn’t exist! Writing is living; it breathes and weeps and leaves a trail of clutter. That’s what your second and third drafts are for, to clean and cut and add and sharpen and revise.
Q. Can you read my book?
A. Alas, I am so sorry that I cannot! I have a constant stack of books and manuscripts that I have to read, which eats into my writing time.
Q. How did you get your agent?
A. The old fashioned way: I queried her and came up through her slush pile. This is why having a well crafted query is so important. Susan Dennard has amazing resources for aspiring writers on her website, and her newsletter is also fantastic! She was the one who taught me how to craft my query.
Q. What is your writing process like?
A. I do most of my best writing first thing in the morning, in my pajamas, with a huge cup of coffee. I basically wake up, feed my dog, pour my coffee, and go straight to work until I’m so hungry I have to stop and fix something.
I rarely outline. I love to write by the seat of my pants, so I discover a majority of my plot and my characters as I go. I do, however, need to know where I’m starting, and have a rough idea of where I’m ending, or else my ideas will fizzle out and tangle and become convoluted.
I must listen to music while I write. I love epic soundtracks and scores. I shamelessly listen to certain songs on repeat.
I have copious amounts of journals, notebooks and stray papers. I like to write ideas, snippets of dialogue, emotional scenes, atmosphere and descriptions down by hand. I don’t know why, but I suppose it’s more intimate to write with my hand when it comes to certain things. But this means I accumulate A LOT of journals.
I also love to refuel my imagination with art, so I utilize Pinterest to find and keep things organized. And I typically always burn a candle when I write.
I don’t set goals for word count per day. I keep it as simple as I can–just sit down and write something. I’ve become very disciplined, and that helps with my productivity. Even so, there are some days when the words flow fast and furious and my fingers can hardly keep up with my mind. And some days, I struggle to write three words. I think the days when I really wrestle with it are the days when I try to “write perfectly” or when I try to write for someone else’s expectations. And that breaks down my creativity and confidence.
Q. How do you deal with writer’s block?
A. I actually had an intense bout of writer’s block this past summer. For like, the ENTIRE summer. I would open a word document and stare at it for hours, unable to write anything. I had never experienced anything like this, and it really worried me.
I ended up breaking the ice by telling myself to write whatever came to mind that day. Whatever character, whatever setting, whatever conversation, whatever it was. Just something. And I found that I was liberated from my logical side, and I wrote random scenes. And maybe nothing ever comes out of those scenes, but I am very fond of some of them, and am still a bit surprised by the characters I found in that darkness.
So my advice is to simply let go and write one page of whatever comes to mind. And the more you write and release words, the more you are able to keep writing and keep releasing words.
Q. How long have you been writing?
A. Honestly? For as long as I can remember. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t reading and writing stories.
For reference, here is the first book I ever wrote. I even took it upon myself to illustrate (I think I was six at the time I authored this):
Q. Where did you go to college?
A. The University of Georgia. Go dawgs!
Q. What are three things you cannot live without?
A. Coffee. My dog, Sierra. Ben. And fresh journals* (I know, I know, those are four things! I am terrible at math). *Note: these are not ranked by importance.
Q. What’s your favorite quote?
A. Ah, I have so so many! Here are two of my favorites:
“Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire.” -Saint Catherine of Sienna
“Just because you are soft does not mean you are not a force. Honey and wildfire are both the color gold.” -Victoria Erikson
Q. What’s one of the wildest things you have ever done?
A. I seriously do not have a wild bone in my body. I am cautious, shy and introverted. But, when I was 18, just after I graduated high school, I took a gap year and moved out to Colorado and worked at a four diamond resort dude ranch. I knew absolutely no one else out there, and I remember crying when I boarded the plane, thinking this was the worst decision I had ever made. It was the scariest thing I have ever done.
But it ended up being one of the best things for me.
I worked hard waitressing and cleaning the cabins. I made some great friends among the staff and the guests. I lived in a valley near Pike’s Peak; it was BEAUTIFUL and I fell in love with Colorado. I went on all day horse rides and cattle round ups, learned how to square dance, and I began to figure out who I wanted to be.
Because of that, I will always tell people–no matter their age–to never be afraid of going on an adventure.
And I will end by quoting Grandpa Tolkien: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”