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An Interview with Morris Award Finalist Rachel Hartman

As one of the posts about this year’s William C. Morris Award nominees, we are very excited to be able to interview debut author Rachel Hartman! Ms. Hartman was kind enough to give us the dish on her musical background, what life has been like since the announcement, and what’s next for her. She’ll also be at the Morris Award and Nonfiction Award Presentation at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting on January 28th, in person, so you lucky attendees may have the chance to meet her!

Copy of SeraphinaSeraphina ia a book about a girl, desperately hiding her true self from those around her, yet yearning for acceptance. Amidst political intrigue and distrust, half-dragon Seraphina may be her kingdom’s only hope for keeping peace. As a dragon enthusiast and general devourer of fantasies, I was utterly captivated by this debut and was delighted to have the chance to ask Rachel Hartman a few questions of my own.

First off, congratulations on Seraphina being named a William C. Morris Debut YA Award Finalist!

Music plays such an imporant part of Seraphina’s life. Did you ever learn to play an instrument? What do you think Seraphina would think of today’s musical offerings?

I played cello from grade four all the way through university, but then life got busy and I couldn’t keep it up. I’ve missed making music, though. I have recently joined a community choir, on the principle that voice is an instrument I can practice while driving or cooking dinner. It’s been great fun, and I’m so glad I decided to try it.

I think Seraphina would be astonished and delighted by the sheer variety of music on offer today, and by its availability. It’s something that maybe doesn’t occur to us in the era of digital recordings, but in the preindustrial world, if you wanted music, you often had to make it yourself. If a professional musician gave a particularly memorable performance, once it was finished the moment was gone. Now we can listen to the same song over and over, as many times as we want. That’s a whole different concept from what she’s used to, and I think she’d find it fascinating.

Having written a stellar fantasy featuring dragons, are there any dragon books that you would personally recommend to readers?

I would particularly recommend Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy: Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Those books were very important to me in my formative years, and they deal not just with dragons but with music as well. I feel reasonably certain that’s not a coincidence, that I owe those books a debt of inspiration. McCaffrey hit upon a rich and interesting combination, which I take in a somewhat different direction.

Seraphina has become quite popular and has been nominated for several awards this year. How has your life changed since the book came out?

Curiously little! I hope that’s not a disappointing answer, but it turns out (to my great astonishment) that no matter how much praise or how many nominations my book garners, I still have to do laundry and get groceries and wait in traffic. I still got the flu. I was like, “Flu virus! Don’t you know who I am? My novel is very popular!” and the bug was like, “Kiss my hemagglutinin, lady!” So that didn’t help at all.

Joking aside, I have felt very honoured and humbled by all the attention, and anxious about the next book as a result. When your first book is so well received, how do you follow that up? But, as a friend told me recently, “The worst that happens now is you’re a one-hit wonder.” It occurs to me that she has a point.

Quick Q’s

  1. Favorite vacation destination?
    I always prefer to go someplace new. I really want to see Pompeii.
  2. Favorite childhood book?
    Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty
  3. Favorite writing snack food?
    Does tea count? I don’t usually eat while writing, but I drink gallons of tea.
  4. Favorite clothing item?
    My Metsatöll t-shirt.

We know you are hard at work finishing up Seraphina‘s sequel, Drachomachia, due out this fall — any tidbits you can share with us?

I am terrible about spoilers, so I’m scared to say too much. I always think I’m saying something completely inoccuous, and then it turns out I’ve given everything away. It is probably safe to say, however, that we meet a lot of new people in the next book as Seraphina searches for the other half-dragons. One of my biggest challenges has been making them all unique individuals while still keeping the book a reasonable size. Fans of Abdo will enjoy seeing more of him, I hope. Fans of Orma will probably want to hit me — but please wait until the end  before deciding!

— Jessica Miller, currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes