It is launch day for an awesome author. Sarah Chorn (Bookworm Blues) has her debut book coming out today. I already gave my high endorsement of the book, check out the review below:
I also found the time to hit her up for an author interview. Despite her belief she is boring, I found it an illuminating read. Check it out!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I am probably the most boring person on the planet. There isn’t much to me. I’m an editor, a reviewer, and now I’m an author. I am a semi-pro nature photographer, and I love to garden, and cook. I’m a cancer survivor, and I deal with chronic illness – both of which tend to appear in my stories in some way, shape, or form. I write dark fantasy. I love taking certain themes, and twisting them just enough.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
For Seraphina’s Lament, I had to do a ton of research, and through my research, the book itself sort of unfolded in my mind. A lot of ideas didn’t really become solid until I actually started writing. I’m not an outliner, I’m pantser, so I really just started out with a notion of a thing. Then I started reading a ton of historical nonfiction books (which is typically what I do when I feel an idea marinating in my hindbrain), and the notion became an idea. Then, through writing, the idea became a book.
Tell us about your current project.
Seraphina’s Lament tells the story of a dying world, and changing magic. The Sunset Lands has had a recent revolution, changing from monarchism to collectivism (communism). Starvation is widespread. From the east, famine is marching, and from the west, a woman with a belly full of souls is roaming the countryside. Into this mix of events and growing tension, Seraphina, the Premier’s favorite slave, escapes and joins up with a group of subversives, setting into motion a chain of events that will change absolutely everything.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Seraphina’s Lament really follows a handful of characters. I wanted to keep the perspectives as minimal as possible so readers could hopefully get into each character’s mind and see events from different perspectives. The interesting thing is, I have my own idea about who the main character in the novel is, but everyone who has read this book so far has come away with a different idea as to who the main character is, which I really enjoy. It’s fun to see what characters stick out to which reader, and why.
In my mind, Seraphina is the main character. She’s the center of events. Without her escaping, and her determination to close the door on her past, none of this would have happened. Furthermore, Seraphina has a lot of me in her. I gave her my spine and leg injury, and my chronic pain. Also, a lot of the emotions that got stirred up through three rounds of cancer treatment, and coming to terms with my chronic illness and disabilities really came out in her storyline. She was intense to write, and in some ways, quite autobiographical.
“You must break before you become” is basically the tagline for this book. I thought of it when I was in the hospital.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Read a lot. There’s no magic button, no perfect answer. You’ve got to learn how you write, and one of the best ways to do that is by reading what people have already written. Immerse yourself in books and see how people tell stories, how parts fit together, how words work and how they are used. Learn what appeals to you stylistically, and what doesn’t. Voraciously read everything you can get your hands on.
And stop overthinking the process. The best way to learn how to write a novel is to sit down and write one. There will be mistakes. Frustrations. Tears. And also a lot of joy. Keep writing, one word after the other. That’s the only way you can learn how to write.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Seraphina’s Lament is largely based on Stalin’s five-year economic plans, and the Holodomor, which was one of the tragedies that happened due to those policies. The Holodomor happened in 1932-1933 in Ukraine. It’s estimated somewhere between 3-7 million people died from starvation during this period of time. It was tragic and horrible. Records of the event were sealed to the outside world until the early 1990’s, and it is still largely unknown to the wider world, which is also a tragedy.
I had to do a ton of research not just on the Holodomor, but also on the Russian revolution, and especially Stalin, and Stalinist communism, in order to write this book. However, I quickly found out that research was a rabbit hole. One thing led to another, which led to another, and then another, and before I knew what had happened, I’d been reading about Russia and the Holodomor for over a year, and I was checking out books on Lenin, the Romanov dynasty. I read a few really interesting books about Russian history dating back over 1,000 years so I could better understand the slave trade (Lots of slaves were taken from that region of the world and sold into servitude in the Middle East and Europe way back when. It was thought to be “okay” because Christianity/Islam hadn’t reached very far into that area yet, so the slaves were pagan and thus, didn’t really morally matter.) and the Kievan-Rus and the Mongol Horde.
A lot of this reading helped me add context to what I was writing, but a lot of it was woven into the book as details that are peppered throughout the book.
What inspires you to write?
My brain is a cavern of darkness. Sometimes things get bottled up and out spews a novel. I did learn, however, that I can’t really write unless I’m listening to certain kinds of music. Cinematic symphony seems to be my writing jam. Now, I’m like Pavlov’s dog. If you play Two Steps From Hell, I’ll grab my laptop and lay down a couple thousand words just like that.
More than that, though, I enjoy taking ideas and twisting them just to see where they go. In Seraphina’s Lament, for example, the magic system is mostly elemental based. My idea there wasn’t “I like the idea of someone controlling fire.” My idea behind that was, humanity has been controlling fire as long as we’ve had it. What happens when fire controls humanity?
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part, for me, was finding the time to do it. I’ve got two kids (a toddler and a seven-year-old). I have a day job. I also am an editor. I am a book reviewer. I have a house to take care of and a family to be part of. I also have chronic illness, which sometimes gives me some interesting, unexpected problems that are real time and emotion sinkholes. Just finding a few minutes here, and a few minutes there each day was sometimes a huge struggle. Most of Seraphina’s Lament was written in spurts. A few minutes here, a few minutes there. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in ten minutes.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I loved when Eyad and Vadden were facing off again after ten years of being apart. Their exchange was so intense, and so much fun to write. It was really interesting to try and put all this emotion and feeling into that particular scene, and then adding Seraphina to it, who was basically a bomb just waiting to go off… it was really awesome. I also really loved writing Taub. He’s twisted, but he’s probably my favorite character to write.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned a few things. First, I learned an absolute ton of Russian history and a lot about the Holodomor, both of which heavily influenced the setting of Seraphina’s Lament. I also learned that I can’t outline to save my life and I absolutely hate doing it with a passion that burns deep inside. I will always be a pantser, and I’m okay with that.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
So, I’m pretty weird, but here it is.
I pick out basic personality traits first, very surface level. For Seraphina it was basically, “female character, red hair, has an affinity for fire.” Then, with that basic information, I go on these baby naming websites and I spent just an absolutely stupid amount of time looking for the perfect name for this particular character. However, that name has to MEAN something that is central to who that character is (and I am SO picky. It usually takes DAYS for me to figure out the perfect name for each character). Now, as I flip through these websites, and look at names and name meanings, the character sort of reveals themselves to me in greater depth and dimension. Then, I really get to know the miniscule details of who they are as I start writing and telling their story.
What are your future project(s)?
I’m currently working on An Elegy for Hope, which is the second book in my Bloodlands series. I’ve also got a social scifi thing going called Glass Rhapsody. Glass Rhapsody is about genetic modification and all sorts of fun stuff associated with that.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to be?
A professional hermit.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I’ve got a website (www.bookwormblues.net) where I post book reviews. If you want to talk to me, the best way to do it would be twitter (@bookwormblues) or Facebook (look my name up), or email (sarah [at] bookwormblues [dot] net).