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Author Interview: Rae Carson

Today’s post interviews Rae Carson, the author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a 2012 finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Many wonderful YA authors have raved about Ms. Carson’s book:

“Rae Carson’s heroine is a perfect blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary. I loved her.” – Megan Whalen Turner, author of Newbery Honor book, The Thief

“Palace intrigues, desert rebellions, kidnappings, forbidden romance, and bloody betrayals, along with not a little time at the banquet table, make The Girl of Fire and Thorns a delicious debut.” – Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the Printz Award-winning Ship Breaker.

Ms. Carson  was kind enough to answer my fan girl questions last week via e-mail.

Congratulations on your nomination as a Morris Award Finalist! What was your reaction to being nominated?

There was some shaking involved. A few tears. An awkward-author happy dance. And then champagne!

Paranormal fantasy books are all the rage right now. Your book doesn’t include vampires or other supernatural creatures but there is a fantastical element in the book: the mysterious Godstone that the main character Elisa has permanently imbedded in her navel. How would you categorize this book?

I would call it “high fantasy,” like Lord of the Rings, with some of the political underpinnings of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones—except for teens.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns – Book Trailer from Hilly and Hannah on Vimeo.

Religion, spirituality and faith is not often addressed in YA books but here it’s an important element. What was your intent in including it in the book?

I live in a country where 83% of the population still professes affiliation with some kind of religious faith. It seemed to me that deciding what one believes about religion in the face of so many conflicting messages is a much more important part of the coming-of-age experience than is necessarily represented in current teen lit. So I wanted to write a book that did justice to this struggle without condemning or condoning any particular faith.

The main character Elisa undergoes a physical transformation in the book from being overweight to losing a lot of weight after undergoing an arduous, physically challenging journey. Did you worry that readers might object that you’re implying that there was something wrong with Elisa when she was heavier?

Oh, yes, I worried about that a lot. And for that reason, I considered having her not lose weight. But I realized it would be narratively ludicrous for her to experience everything she does without profound physical consequences. Also, I got a lot of mileage out of my secondary characters because of it. I was able to use their contrasting responses to her—both before and after the weight loss—to reveal important things about them and their relationships to Elisa. I tried very hard to show her personal growth in each chapter prior to her weight loss. For instance, saving a man’s life, defying her nurse, deciding to play the game of politics to win, all result from her gradually increasing confidence and have nothing to do with her size.

I love reading about strong female characters, especially those who are smart. Elisa is a particularly clever girl, as adept at military strategy as any of the guys. Is that the kind of book you also like to read yourself?

Definitely! I think smart is very sexy—in guys and girls.

I appreciated the fact that the plot wasn’t predictable. In fact, there were several surprising plot twists that I didn’t see coming. It was really refreshing to read a book where you didn’t see what was coming. I think even the teens are savvy enough to find a lot of books too predictable that way. Will we see a lot more in the other books in the trilogy? Maybe you can elaborate on the plot twists?

Thanks! Yes, more twists are coming. I’ll just hint broadly and say that the true love of Elisa’s life is someone she never saw coming, everything she was taught about the mysterious Inviernos is wrong, and the Godstone has more power than she ever imagined.

This book has a number of romantic relationships but things don’t necessarily turn out the way you think it might. Can you give your fans (including this one) any hints about whether Elisa will find happiness in the end of this projected trilogy? Maybe you can give a few details about the next book in the series?

That is the question, isn’t it? In The Crown of Embers, Elisa now rules the vastest kingdom in the world. Is it possible to find true love when you are so powerful? When every man in the world is subservient to you? Can that even be sexy? I believe it can be incredibly sexy. But Elisa—and her one true love—will have lots of obstacles to overcome to get there.

Who are some of the other authors who have influenced you as a writer?

Scott O’Dell was one of my favorite authors when I was a child. I must have read Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon a dozen times each. Later, I fell in love with Robin McKinley, and though I didn’t reread her work the same way, it must have made an impression because I’ve been told at least eleventy gazillion times that my writing reminds people of hers. More recently, I’ve enjoyed Paolo Bagicalupi, Margaret Atwood, and Patrick Rothfuss.

What’s the strangest thing anyone has said to you as you’ve been on tour promoting your book?

I don’t know that I’ve heard anything strange (give me time!) but I’ve had people say some pretty awesome things such as, “I feel like you wrote this book just for me,” or “Elisa is my hero.” Hearing this stuff fills my author-heart with ridiculous, giddy joy.

What’s the most surprising thing that has happened to you since your book was published?

Getting shortlisted for the Morris Award has been my hugest surprise to date. I did not see that coming!

To borrow a question from James Lipton from Inside the Actors Studio, as originally posited by Bernard Pivot from the French series “Bouillion de Culture,” What’s your favorite word? and What’s your least favorite word?

I loathe “orientate.” Also, “fudge.” (Seriously, say “fudge” five times in a row. Starts to feel odd, doesn’t it? Kind of guttural and mean.) But I love “viscosity” and “luminous.” Of course, I hope to never, ever, ever encounter a substance that is both viscous and luminous, because ew.

That’s certainly one word that can’t be used to describe The Girl of Fire and Thorns! It is also a 2011 Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards). For fans like me, who can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy, there’s a YouTube video on Ms. Carson’s website where she talks about The Girl of Fire and Thorns and gives some hints about what to expect in the sequels.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGqWtaX_VBA&w=560&h=315]

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Sharon Rawlins

Sharon is the Youth Services Specialist at the NJ State Library in Trenton, NJ

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