Amelia Atwater-Rhodes e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (July, 2008)
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, author of the popular Kiesha'ra YA fantasy series, grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, and studied English and Psychology at the University of Massachusetts. She tells us that 'the tale of my own last eight years feels too fantastical to believe.' It all began with 'a girl who simply liked to play make-believe, and who decided to entertain herself over the dull months of summer vacation by starting a novel' ... she began dreaming of being published at age thirteen and was informed of her first acceptance (In the Forests of the Night) on her fourteenth birthday.
Q: On your website at Random House you call your own story (a young storyteller first published at age fourteen) as feeling 'too fantastical to believe.' Does it seem real yet?
A: It still always feels a little surreal when I describe the process I went through to get published, but being a writer, a published writer, is so much a part of my life these days that I have a hard time imagining myself any other way.
At the moment, I'm too busy waiting for it to sink in that I'm a college graduate. Publishing a novel seems like child's play compared to that BA.
Q: You have built a complex magical world in Nyeusigrube, filled with feuding shapeshifters, elementals, and vampires, amongst other races. How much time do you spend mapping out all the elements of your Den of Shadows, as opposed to writing stories in it?
A: Occasionally I have to go back and organize ideas in order to keep things straight, but I learn the most about my world by writing it. For every published work, I probably have about ten stories I start that go nowhere, but explore some section of Nyeusigrube, either in terms of characters, or organization, or history, or how the magic works.
In my early drafts, I also tend to ramble and have a lot of exposition, especially when I'm dealing with a new topic. I learn with my characters, and then pare back in editing to what's really necessary to have in the story.
Q: I jumped into your Kiesha'ra series in the latest episode, Wyvernhail, and (having found it rather complicated) would recommend other readers to start at the beginning with Hawksong - have you considered including an introduction to your world at the beginning of these books?
A: The modern-day Nyeusigrube (Den of Shadows) books are all stand alone despite being interconnected, but the Kiesha'ra books build off each other. I don't think there is any good way I could prepare someone for Wyvernhail or Wolfcry that would do justice to the series, except to say, "Read the earlier books first." So, I would agree with you; I would recommend readers start with Hawksong.
Q: Your leads seem to be often outsiders in their societies - have you ever felt like one or do you have a particular empathy with outsiders?
A: I've always had a few very close friends at a time, but I've also often been active in larger groups, so I have a sense of both roles.
I find the outsiders are more interesting to write about, since by definition they tend to have unique viewpoints, and see things about their world that other people don't. On the other hand, once you get in someone's head to tell a story, I think you always end up feeling like you're looking in from the outside. No matter how popular someone is, he or she is still unique, and the center of his or her own story. Writing that story means being able to break away from just who that person is in a crowd and realizing who she is when she stands alone.
Q: Racial prejudice also seems a common theme - is this a reflection of happenings in our own world?
A: Racial, sexual and religious prejudice are all common in my works, and yes, they do reflect real happenings in the world. I write fantasy, but the themes of my books tend to be ones that could just as easily be applied to the real world.
Q: Some of the romance in your series reminds me of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet - did that influence you?
A: Though I would not be able to specify where or how, I think I would be lying if I said Shakespeare in general hadn't influenced me. I read and acted in Macbeth in fourth grade and Hamlet in fifth. Those are powerful works.
I do find it odd, however, how often people try to compare my works to Romeo and Juliet. While it's true I do have some seemingly doomed romances, I tend to have a lower body count at the end. Hawksong in particular gets compared to that work, which tickles me, since they seem so different in my mind. Shattered Mirror feels much more Romeo and Juliet to me, but I almost never hear that comparison.
I don't mind being compared to Shakespeare, but I wouldn't say I draw direct influence from his works, many of which are based on stories that had already been done before his time. He just did them better than his predecessors and contemporaries.
Q: There were troubling visions of the future in Wyvernhail; can you tell fans anything about where you're taking this darkly suspenseful series next?
A: Wyvernhail is the last installment of the Kiesha'ra Series. After that, we return to the modern world with Persistence of Memory.
Q: In your advice to other writers, you say, 'Allow yourself to be fascinated.' Do you expect Nyeusigrube to continue to fascinate you for many more books?
A: Though I have dabbled with another world, Castrili, Nyeusigrube still holds a special place in my heart, and I anticipate many stories from it still to come.
Q: I just took the 'What kind of Shapeshifter are you?' quiz at your Random House website and found I was an Avian - what kind are you?
A: I come up as avian, too, when I take the quiz. Of the four options (serpiente, avian, falcon and wolf), that probably is the most like me. I tend to be more outspoken and direct than most avians, but I also have a need for privacy that is decidedly un-serpiente.Find out more about Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, her books and the fantasy worlds she writes about, and read her advice to writers at her Website. And don't miss the other interviews in the 2008 Amelia Atwater-Rhodes Blog Tour: