Besides from getting the opportunity of reading the amazing book Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope, I also got a chance to ask her a couple questions, also included is a general Q&A. I want to thank L. Penelope for taking the time to answer the questions.
- How did publishing Song of Blood & Stone change your writing process?
Each book that I’ve written has been a little bit different. The first draft of Song of Blood & Stone came to me really, really quickly—I wrote about 21,000 words in two days. But then came many, many drafts to get the story just right. It was my first book, and once I signed with St. Martin’s Press, I got the amazing opportunity to go back and edit it again after I’d written four other books, so I brought all that knowledge to this process.
Writers are constantly tweaking their process because each book requires something a little different. So more than anything I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Some books are going to be like pulling teeth, whereas other are like eating ice cream (including brain freeze). But if I keep at it and am gentle with myself, I can create something that I’m very proud of.
- What did you edit out of this book?
I did a big revision on the book, so there are quite a few changes from the self-published version. I did have to lose some scenes that I really loved. Originally, when Jasminda is in the caves she had a vision of the Cavefolk—people who lived there thousands of years ago. It was a plant for something that becomes important in book 2 of the series, but I had to let it go. There was also a scene once Jasminda gets to the capital city where she confronted her grandmother. In this version, she confronts her grandfather instead—it does the same job but supports a new subplot that I added. There are lots of other changes. I moved some events around and lost a scene in the refugee camp that I really liked. But the book is stronger and better paced now, so the edits were worth it.
- What inspired you to write this series? What came first: The characters or the world? What was your inspiration for the magic of Earthsong? Were you inspired by other books? Movies?
When I first wrote this book, up until the time I gave it to my first editor, I thought it was going to be a novella. It was always meant to be a fairytale-esque story of a girl’s journey from the margins of society straight to its upper echelons. The characters Jack and Jasminda were there before the world was ever clear in my mind. The first scene I wrote was the one where they meet in front of her cabin. I knew they were from different, warring countries and they came from very different sorts of lives, but that was all. Through the magic of revision (lots and lots of revision) I discovered the journey that the characters would go on and all the conflicts they would face.
I love fantasy and there were so many inspiring series that I soaked in prior to writing the book, from Gracelingby Kristin Cashore to Seraphinaby Rachel Hartman. But I think this book owes its biggest inspiration to the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. Her fantasy world felt well realized and complex, filled with incredibly detailed characters, groups, nations, and settings. But I also wanted to write a kinder, gentler fantasy novel that wouldn’t double as a doorstopper. And mix in a really strong romance like some of my favorites Nalini Singh or Kresley Cole.
- What were your favorite scenes to write for SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE? What was the hardest scene to write? Is there a scene or moment that really sticks with you?
Though Usher, Jack’s valet, spends relatively little time on the page, I loved writing the scenes with him and Jack. When two characters have known each other for a long time, it can be really fun to play with how to show their relationship. Usher has known Jack his entire life and so the way they interact is unique. I also loved writing the visions that Jasminda gets from the stone. They were in a different voice, from a totally different perspective and the peeked in on a vibrant, fully formed world that’s different to the one of the main story. Hardest to write were the ones where Jasminda is confronted with the racism and bias of Elsirans.
The scene that sticks with me is when Jack and Jasminda are in the army base and he sleeps on the ground beside her, holding her hand. I find it really sweet and romantic.
- What advice would you give aspiring authors, especially authors or color, striving to have their stories and truths shared?
I would tell aspiring authors to really investigate your goals and be frank with yourself about why you want to do this. It’s a difficult path emotionally, creatively, and professionally and what will get you through the low points is being very clear about your “why”. It can also be incredibly rewarding, but knowing what you’re getting yourself into is key.
Writing and publishing are two different disciplines. Your “why” will inform whether you pursue traditional publishing or seek to self-publish. It will keep you going through rejections, delays, bad reviews, disappointment, and the imposter syndrome that we all go through.
The other very important thing is to have a community to fall back on. Whether that’s a chapter of a professional organization like RWA, SFWA, SCWBI, and others, or a Facebook group, critique group, or writer’s circle, having others to commiserate and celebrate with you makes the journey much easier.
- Is there a character in SONG OF BLOOD & STONE that you most relate to? How do you select names of your characters?
I think Jasminda represents various aspects of myself both as I am and as I’d like to be. She’s definitely bolder than I am, but her struggle to feel a part of things is one that I understand.
As for naming my characters, for each nation, I asked questions about how the names should generally work. Things like: which prefixes and suffixes are common? Which letters and sounds are prevalent? Which letters or sounds either don’t exist or are more rare? So the Elsirans have a lot of double vowels in their names. Qs, Vs, and Zs are prominent, but there are no hard Cs.
Lagrimari names generally don’t use Js. I set up which suffixes were for men and women and the types of sounds the names would have. There are only 9 last names in Lagrimar, corresponding with the Houses. Jasminda as a name is an exception. Her parents didn’t follow the naming conventions of either country for her or her brothers. Because their interracial relationship was unique, they wanted their children’s names to be distinctive as well.
- What do you most hope that readers take away from SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE?
I really just hope readers enjoy the story and the characters. Jasminda is a heroine that I had been longing to see, so I hope people get as much joy and heartache from her story as I did when I wrote it.
- Can you tell us more about the next books in the series? What are you working on now?
Book 2, WHISPERS OF SHADOW & FLAME, follows a parallel timeline to SONG. It’s about Darvyn, a character we hear about in SONG who was the Earthsinger responsible for disguising Jack. The disguise’s failure gets Jack captured and he wonders what happened to Darvyn. So in WHISPERS, we find out. But it also pushes the story forward, showing what’s going on in Lagrimar in the days before the Mantle comes down and setting up the next challenge that Jack, Jasminda, and Darvyn will face.
Book 3, CRY OF METAL & BONE picks up the story of how Elsira and Lagrimar deal with the fall of the Mantle and the new threat facing the nations.
I’m also working on a brand-new series with dragons J.
- What are your favorite books you would recommend to readers?
Among my favorites of all time are Wild Seedby Octavia Butler, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Maybe Somedayby Colleen Hoover, Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor and Shelteredby Charlotte Stein. I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it there.