Q&A With Laura Sebastian

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Q&A With Laura Sebastian 

John Cuisick who was kind enough to connect me with authors Sierra Simone & Julie Murphy, also connected me with the New York Times Bestselling author of The Ash Princess series & Half Sick Of Shadows which is about the events of Camelot from Elaine’s perspective Laura Sebastain! This is another great Q&A to start off the New Year! 

Q: Laura, would you like to talk about where your ideas came from for both The Ash Princess series & Half Sick Of Shadows? 

A: The ideas for both stories (and all my stories, maybe just all stories to a certain extent) came from the same question: what if? 

With Ash Princess, I was watching Game of Thrones and thinking a lot about Sansa Stark. As a stalwart Sansa defender from episode one, when that opinion was incredibly unpopular, I loved watching her grow and navigate the harsh world around her as someone who is not “strong” in the way we demand fantasy heroines to be. And then the what ifs started. What if I centered a high fantasy series around a girl who was broken in so many ways? What if she could rebuild herself and find her power in a way that didn’t involve picking up a sword? What if she took everything that might be considered a weakness and turned it into a strength? The world, the plot, the magic—it all fell into place as I wrote, but Theodosia was always the heart of the story I wanted to write.

Half Sick of Shadows was a longer writing experience (more than a decade!) but it started in high school when I went through a King Arthur phase. I was fascinated by Morgana and Guinevere as characters, but frustrated with how flat they often felt in the traditional literature. Then I read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, which is still one of my favorite YA books, and it introduced me to The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, part of the Arthurian canon, but tangentially so. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, on the outskirts of this legendary story, living her own quiet tragedy. And so the what ifs started again: what if these three women were more than just rivals, fighting over the men around them? What if they were friends? What if they were driving the action of the story instead of being dragged behind it? It took a LOT of figuring out from there and the story evolved drastically over those fifteen years, but those questions were always there.

With my new series, Castles in Their Bones, the inspiration came from my love of history and specifically those Royal Diaries books from the early 2000s, with their gold page edges and ribbon bookmarks. Each one told the inspired-by-real-life story of a young princess from history and they all ended on a happy note before delving into a decidedly unhappy epilogue. We’re talking Marie Antoinette, Anastasia, and Mary Queen of Scots to give you an idea of what these epilogues were. History is filled with so many princesses who were married off as children, sent to live in foreign courts where they didn’t speak the language, knew no one, and were often viewed with hostility by those around them. I thought about how being a princess is often seen as something glamorous, but in reality, princesses held no true power and were mere pawns on the chessboard, the first to be sacrificed. I started with the what ifs again: what if princesses like these were prepared for their roles—or better yet, actively trained for them? What if they were working their own agenda right under everyone’s noses? What if they were spies?

And so, Sophronia, Beatriz, and Daphne came to be, each with little nods to real life princesses throughout history, but more cunning, cut-throat, and audacious than history allowed most princesses to be. 

Q: When did you know that being an author was your calling in life? 

A: I was always the kid who read everything they could get their hands on, no matter if it was the back of a cereal box or the salacious romance novels I stumbled across way too young. I remember being in high school and scanning the shelves of my school library, searching for something to read and finding that I’d read everything that interested me at least once, but I was craving a new story and so I decided to try writing one myself. It was a disaster, but I loved every minute of it. I don’t think I could have imagined then that I could make a career out of it (or that it was a career at all!) but I’m so grateful that I have.

Q: If you are currently writing your next novel now, is it apart of your Ash Princess series or is it a standalone novel?

A: The last book in my Castles in Their Bones series is out in June! It isn’t related to Ash Princess, though I’ve had a few readers tell me they’re certain the stories take place in the same world, many centuries apart. I didn’t plan it that way, but I like the theory!

As I mentioned above, the series follows Sophronia, Beatriz, and Daphne, triplet princesses who have been betrothed to the princes of the surrounding kingdoms since birth. At sixteen, they leave their home, their overbearing mother, and one another to marry their princes and begin their new lives. Little do those princes know, though, that the girls are more than they seem and they’ve trained their entire lives to act as spies, saboteurs, and agents of chaos to drive their new countries to ruin so their mother can claim the entire continent for their own. 

It’s been such a fun series to write, with plenty of romance, astrology magic, espionage, and a ton of twists and turns, and if you enjoyed Ash Princess, I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write fantasy like you do?

A: I’m always hesitant to give craft advice because every writer is different and every process is different, but there can be so many voices out there telling you what is marketable and what isn’t that it’s important to find what lights you up. When you think about the story you want to tell, which elements give you goosebumps or butterflies or demand that you sit down and write NOW. The hard truth is that writing a book is a long process and can often feel like a slog when you’re deep in the middle of it, but if you hold onto those parts that excite you, you’ll find your way through.

Q: How much research of Arthurian lore did you do for Half Sick Of Shadows, to create Elaine’s story from her point of view?

A: Since it was nearly fifteen years from the first glimmer of an idea to publication, there was a lot of research, but the thing about Arthurian lore is that it was told orally for so long and then translated back and forth so many times that there is no one true telling. Characters change and disappear and are created whole cloth over centuries and the context of the story changes depending on when and where its being told. For a while, I did feel penned in by the traditional story, but I eventually realized that I was writing my version and I could take liberties just as Malory, White, Tennyson, and every other writer did. I still had my research and pulled primarily from Tennyson’s poems, but I used that research as a loose guide rather than a sturdy framework.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone new to the writing world on how to deal with criticism whether it’s from reviews, online trolls, and family and friends who don’t approve of their writing goals and talents?

A: The truth is, there are people who will not like your book, no matter how good it is. If you look up reviews of your favorite books, there are bound to be one star reviews and if you read them, you’ll likely see that the very things those reviewers hated about the books are the same things you loved. I think a lot of readers and authors tend to forget that quality is a subjective thing, and not every book will resonate with every reader. Publishing a book is a scary thing because while it’s so exciting that people are going to read your book, it also means relinquishing control over something you’ve always had total control over because once your book is out in the world, it isn’t really yours anymore, it belongs to readers and I don’t think writers are prepared for that. The best advice I got about coping with this was from Brigid Kemmerer, who said that when writing becomes your job, you need a new hobby to fill that vacuum, specifically one where you have control over the outcome. Personally, I like hobbies like gardening, baking, or knitting because I can create something and take pride in a finished product, but that product is just for me to enjoy.

Q: How long does it take for you to write a book?

A: It really depends on the book! As I said, Half Sick of Shadows took almost fifteen years between first words written and publication and there were countless drafts finished in that time. Ash Princess, on the other hand, took a couple months to write the first draft of, a few more months of working with an agent, and we sold it a year after I started writing. There were a few more months of edits after that with my editor, but it was definitely a much faster turnaround! 

Q: Do you prefer writing a series or a standalone novel more and why?

A: At the end of the day, I want to tell every story in the best way possible, and sometimes I can do that in a standalone, like with Half Sick of Shadows or my middle grade book, Into the Glades. There is something satisfying as both a writer and reader about having an entire world and story contained in a single book. But at the same time, I love writing and reading a series because of the ability to really sink into a world and surround yourself in it for a longer period of time. It wouldn’t have been possible to cram Theodosia’s arc in Ash Princess into one book, but if I tried to stretch Half Sick of Shadows into a trilogy, the story would have felt disjointed and dragged out. Even now, I’m working on a standalone and a series, so I have no plans to commit to just one!