Exclusive YALL Fest Interview with Leigh Bardugo

Last week at YALL Fest, our correspondent Ellie got a chance to chat with Leigh Bardugo about the Grisha trilogy: The characters! The challenges! The fandom! THE DARKLING.

There are no RUIN AND RISING spoilers in this interview, but if you haven’t read up through SIEGE AND STORM, there may be some major spoilers. Also, if you haven’t read SIEGE AND STORM, what are you waiting for?!

Ellie and Leigh

Ellie and Leigh

First off, how is RUIN AND RISING coming along?

Leigh Bardugo: Well, the first draft was finished back in February and we’ve done a couple rounds of revisions since then. Now we’re basically just going into copy edits, so it’s done!

Any warnings or clues for your readers?

LB: Not everyone is going to make it out of the series. Those that do survive will be much changed. And many, many secrets will be revealed.

Which book is the Grisha series was the most difficult to write?

LB: Easily book three. Writing book two was incredibly intense. It was the first time I’ve written on a deadline and I was making the world much more complex. There were more characters and the political dynamics of the world came much more into play. But book three… books one and two are really about opening doors and book three was really about closing doors. It was really hard to say goodbye to the characters and also to make everything so final, despite the fact that I had plotted out the book literally years before. To bring those things into to being was a much more difficult process than I had anticipated.

As you were writing, did you leave your characters possible for alternate outcomes or were you set in their journey from the very beginning?

LB: I always knew where they would end up, but there were certain characters– There was a character in book two– I talk about this a lot and people always get frustrated because I won’t reveal who it is. There was a character in book two that I intended to kill off, but I just couldn’t. That was because that character still had a big journey to go on. That was really the only surprise of the series. But for the most part, even despite that, the ending has never budged and I think I always knew where they needed to end up, why they needed to be there. Alina’s story is– I’ve always known where the heart of her story is. If she had gone someplace different, it would have betrayed all of the things I’d set up to begin with…. That was very vague. (laughs)

When I first got into the books, I knew very little except that people were in love with The Darkling. When I found out the truth about The Darkling, I was shocked. Did you expect people to fall in love with him? How do you feel about that?

LB: Any time people connect with your characters, it’s kind of this wonderful surprise. I was not very active in the YA world in terms of readers and fantoms. I had no idea what that would be like or even to hope for it. In that way it was really gratifying but… (laughs) Honestly, if I didn’t want The Darkling to be appealing, I would have just pulled a Vader or a Voldemort. It would be like “Oh! My evil is making me gross and disintegrating my nose!” I want him to be appealing because I feel like that’s what charismatic leaders and dictators are like, otherwise nobody would follow them.

What is the most unique fan art, costume, gift, etc that you have seen or received?

LB: It actually happened on this last tour at our first stop. Two people cosplayed Alin and the stag, but they based the costly on fan art by Irene Koh. I was like “Now, if somebody writes fanfic of this, we’ll basically open up a wormhole.” That was incredibly fun, especially because I love seeing readers interact with each other. It’s fun for me to chat with them, but it’s cool for me when people get each other to read the books or plan things together. I’m part of the fan community. I’m a member of the Game of Thrones fandom, The Brotherhood Without Banners, and those people are a really big part of my life. So it’s really cool for me to see other people being brought together by the books. Again, something I never really anticipated, but it’s really fun to witness.

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were to redo your writing process for the series?

LB: I wish I could go back and eliminate some of the self-doubt I experienced. That’s something that kind of perches on my shoulder throughout the books. I’m getting better about that, but there are still days when I feel like I’m not capable of finishing a book or I have no idea how to do it; I don’t know how I managed it before and I’ll never manage it again. There are some magic and alchemy that I can’t recreate. There was so much of that early on and I wish I could go back and reassure that past Leigh that I could do it. That’s why whenever I talk to aspiring writers, I tell them to let go of that voice inside that says you can’t and tell them that they can.

Are you set on the fantasy genre or do you plan on writing other genres as well?

LB: Whatever I write will have some element of fantasy or the supernatural in it, but there’s a good chance I will deviate from secondary world fantasy and write some horror. Who knows what else.

If you had to enter the Shadow Fold, what would be your survival strategy?

LB: (laughs) I would curl up in the fetal position and I would sing softly to myself. Start singing “Soft Kitty.”

Would you want to be a Grisha and if so, what class would you be?

LB: I would love to be a Heartrender, but I think deep down, I’m really a Fabrikator. I’m kind of crafty but also I’m most happy when I’m sitting in my workshop all by myself. I don’t think I would be on the front lines.

What’s next for you?

LB: I can’t really talk in too much detail about what I’m working on right now. I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement soon. I can tell you that it is fantasy. I was just at a writing retreat and I spent the first week of that retreat drafting this new book. I’m very excited.

Do you have any last messages for your fans?

LB: A very heartfelt thank you. I feel very, very grateful. I have basically my dream job and you’re the reason for it, so thank you.

Leigh Bardugo’s SIEGE AND STORM Blog Tour Stop #9

On Leigh Bardugo‘s ninth stop in her blog tour, Leigh discusses her collaboration with artist Keith Thompson on the map for Siege and Storm:

Some fantasy authors begin with the map. They know where everything in their world is before they write a single word. I ended up taking a different route. I started with only the vaguest idea of what my world looked like: All I knew was that Ravka (nameless at the time) was surrounded by enemies and that the Shadow Fold had left the country landlocked. But about halfway through the draft, I had to get serious about what the geography of this place looked like. I wanted a good sense of the distances between locations, and honestly, I just needed to keep track of where things were.

This is a section of the original map I drew that became the map for Shadow and Bone. (Is it a coincidence that my heroine is a talentless cartographer? Possibly.) Though it looks like it was drawn by a precocious toddler, it did the trick. I was able to chart Alina’s journey and get a stronger sense for the geopolitical forces at work in my story.

shadow-and-bone-map-sketch-01

I knew I wouldn’t be able to include the map when I began querying for agents. (Note to aspiring authors: Agents do not want to see extras in the slushpile.) So I put the map aside and didn’t think of it again until I was beginning Siege and Storm. Once again, the world was expanding and I needed to keep up. This time, maybe because I knew my world so much better, I had a lot more fun with it. I knew the places that I wanted to go and some of the future stories I wanted to tell, and the geography came alive—the land bridge between Kerch and the Shu Han kept submerged by Tidemakers, the peaks of the Elbjen, and the icy islands of Kenst Hjerte, the Broken Heart.

siege-and-storm-map-sketch-kerch

My original scribble of Kerch.

siege-and-storm-map-sketch-kerch-2

My attempt to tidy it up. You can see the pencil marks.

siege-and-storm-map-kerch-3

Keith’s Version. You can hardly tell the difference, right?

Of course, at this time, I had no idea that Keith Thompson was being brought on to turn my awkward sketch into a work of art for Shadow and Bone. I’d been a fan of Keith’s work since I first saw it in Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant Leviathan, and hearing that he would be creating the map for my book was truly one of the most bizarre and incredible moments in my journey to publication.

When I asked Keith about how he approached the process of creating the map, he said he began by going through his own map collection. “Knowing the general equivalent timeline and type of cultural setting meant that I was already keeping to a specific selection of maps and artworks. After steeping myself in those real world analogues I filtered everything through my own aesthetic and vision and of course tried to instill in it your own visions of the world.” He most enjoyed working on the Shadow Fold: “It really is the focus of the map. It’s like a manifest act of violence on a piece of cartography. That’s a fun thing to present as something which obviously must be crossed by the protagonists.”

shadow-and-bone-map-final

Keith’s map creates a beautiful first impression, but it’s also full of revealing little details. If you look closely, you’ll see a representation of the Darkling’s symbol on the right. On the left, he added the Ravkan double eagle—the symbol of the Lantsov family. The details of the eagle aren’t revealed until book 2, but I gave them to Keith and he managed to work them into the map in Shadow and Bone. (The eagle holds a scepter in one talon. In the other, he grips three black arrows bound by red, purple, and blue ribbons. These symbolize the Darkling’s power through the three Orders of the Grisha.)

siege-and-storm-map-double-eagle If you look to the True Sea, you’ll also glimpse the sea whip. There was another creature originally on the map, but we had to remove it because it was too much of a spoiler.

As far as I’m concerned, Keith didn’t just draw a map, he created something ominous, lovely, and integral to the experience of reading Shadow and Bone. I’m thrilled that he came back for Siege and Storm, and I hope the expanded map will make it even easier for readers to journey into Ravka—whether they’re finding their way or just enjoying getting lost.

The expanded map from Siege and Storm

The expanded map from Siege and Storm

(via ninth blog tour stop: Tales of the Ravenous Reader.  Enter to win a paperback copy of Shadow and Bone and a Hardcover copy of the upcoming Siege and Storm!)

An Exclusive Interview with Leigh Bardugo, Author of SHADOW AND BONE, Part 1

leigh-bardugo-2-smallThis past weekend, I got a chance to spend some time with the brilliant and wonderfully personable Leigh Bardugo.  Her debut book, Shadow and Bone, has already made an impressive mark on readers and sellers alike, and the movie rights were bought by DreamWorks in September of 2012, with David Heyman, the person responsible for securing the rights to the Harry Potter films as well as producing them, in the producer’s seat for the film as well.  Not a bad start at all for her first book.  

Leigh started at Yale University with the objective of being a writer, but she changed her mind as well as her major more than a handful of times.  After her education, she found longtime work as a makeup artist as well as a singer in a band, but it seemed that the call of writing came back to her, and therein began her real career officially as a writer with Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Grisha trilogy.

So, during ConDor Con in San Diego (a science fiction and fantasy convention), where Leigh took part in several panels, she allowed me some time in between to pick her brain on the details of Shadow and Bone, what we could expect from the sequel, Siege and Storm, what her involvement is with the Shadow and Bone movie, and what’s to come in the future for her.  With so many questions, I fear I may have exceeded the time an actual interview should last, but hopefully she wasn’t too deterred by my efforts to find out as much as I could for all you fans (as well as myself).

TFGeekGirl:  How much detail did you put into your creating Ravka?

Leigh Bardugo:  I drew a map that was really just to keep track of where my characters were, because I reached a point where I needed to see what distances were like and if it would take them a week to get someplace or two days.  I wanted there to be a realistic sense of that.  In books 2 and 3, there’s actually going to be an expanded map where we’ll get to see a little bit more of the world. I know there are authors who map out their world first, but that was really the second phase for me.  The first draft was the way the power worked, the way status worked, the plot, the beginnings of the characters. The second draft was where I’d taken a few months to research and where the sense of place came to life. That research had quite a bit of an impact on the way the story went as well.

TFGG: Was your story inspired by Russian folklore?

Leigh:  One of the retellings of the firebird myth served as inspiration for Shadow and Bone. But the rest of the plot and the characters grew out of the idea of the Shadow Fold— what kind of creatures would live in it, what kind of power it would take to create it, what kind of person would create it, what it would take to destroy it. But the feel of the place and a lot of the internal conflict within the country was inspired by Tsarist Russia—the army of serfs that is ill-equipped and badly armed and essentially just cannon fodder, the corrupt monarchy, the failure to industrialize. 

TFGG:  How much research did you do?

Leigh:  I took about two months to research, and I only gave myself two months because I didn’t want to stay too long away from the draft.  This was my first book and my fear was that I would just go down the “rabbit hole” of research and I would emerge six months later and then not have written a word.  I was afraid it would become an excuse to not write.

TFGG:  Did your experience as a makeup artist help in describing the Grisha as well as the story in general?

Leigh:  I don’t know.  I’ve always loved costuming and I’ve always loved makeup and creating illusion, so I think being able to convey the way the world looks and the way the world feels, maybe that was impacted by that experience.

TFGG:  Reading your book, I could really visualize it and I just thought your world was so beautiful.

Leigh:  Thank you! That’s part of why I wanted to write fantasy.  I know there are a lot of really wonderful, but very bleak books out there. I think there’s an element of fantasy that can be about wish fulfillment. I wanted to indulge that.

TFGG: How has the response been with the readers?

Leigh:  It’s been really wonderful.  Much better than I ever could’ve hoped for it to be.

TFGG:  What was the hardest challenge in writing Siege and Storm?

seige_and_storm-cover-smallLeigh:  I think for me it was a pretty steep learning curve. I had never written a second book.  I had never written a book on deadline before.  And I had a much tighter timeframe to finish in. I think it was also that the world becomes much more complex in Siege and Storm.  There are more characters who enter the plot, and the political and religious elements come into play in a bigger way, so it’s a more complicated story than Shadow and Bone. 

TFGG: Will we get to see more of Shu Han or Fjerda?

Leigh:  You’ll get to see Novyi Zem in Siege and Storm, but I can’t say much more than that without getting into spoiler territory. The new map will have a few hints.

TFGG:  Any new elements or powers?

Leigh:  Let’s just say that a lot of things have changed.  I guess I can tell you, since it’s in the summary, that the Darkling has emerged from the Fold with a new and terrible power.  So the Darkling has new tricks up his sleeve. I guess the best thing I can say is that no one and nothing in Ravka are ever quite what they seem.

TFGG:  So, we are going to get to see David and Genya again, right?

Leigh:  Mm-hmm (she nods).

TFGG:  The Apparat wanted to tell Alina something but he never got a chance to.  Will that come into play?

Leigh:  The Apparat will come into play more in the second book.  You will see him again.

TFGG:  I loved Morozova’s Stag and was really saddened about what happened to it, but are we going to see anymore magnificent creatures like that in the second book?

Leigh:  You may.  I can’t say much about that, but the idea of sacrifice plays a big role.

Obviously, I hit some things that she couldn’t really get into without spoiling it for us, as she answered some of my questions regarding Siege and Storm with a hint of coyness and a glint in her eye.  But it’s only 3 months away before the release of Siege and Storm, so you won’t have to wait too, too long to find out what’s coming.  Just know that it’s definitely going to thrill us to bits when it arrives.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2, the conclusion of my interview!