I’m so excited to have Hanna Howard, the author of IGNITE THE SUN, on my blog this month, because her lyrical writing style–especially her fondness for creepy descriptions of the darkness–is right down my alley.
Before we get into the interview, here’s a little intro to the book.
Once upon a time, there was something called the sun …In a kingdom ruled by a witch, the sun is just part of a legend about Light-filled days of old. But now Siria Nightingale is headed to the heart of the darkness to try and restore the Light—or lose everything trying. Sixteen-year-old Siria Nightingale has never seen the sun. That’s because Queen Iyzabel shrouded the kingdom in shadow upon her ascent to the throne, with claims it would protect her subjects from the dangerous Light.
The Darkness has always left Siria uneasy, and part of her still longs for the stories of the Light-filled days she once listened to alongside her best friend Linden, told in secret by Linden’s grandfather. But Siria’s need to please her strict and demanding parents means embracing the dark and heading to the royal city—the very center of Queen Izybel’s power—for a chance at a coveted placement at court. And what Siria discovers at the Choosing Ball sends her on a quest toward the last vestiges of Light, alongside a ragtag group of rebels who could help her restore the sun … or doom the kingdom to shadow forever.
LL: Thank you, Hanna, for being on my blog! Let’s jump right in. Your main character, Siria, lived a pampered life of ballgowns and servants until circumstance thrusts her into the wilds. What attracts you to the “fish out of water” characters like Siria?
HH: I really enjoy watching characters adapt to circumstances they are utterly unprepared or even unsuited for! I hope it’s not sadistic, but I think it makes really compelling storytelling when you have a character with an enormous learning curve, trying to adapt to something that’s way outside their wheelhouse. I’m also a big fan of the fantasy journey trope, and one of the things that makes a journey through the wilderness interesting in fantasy is having someone along for the ride who really doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing.
LL: Yeah, I’m not sure how well I’d do roughing it for that long. If you got magically transported into your story, where would you land on the one-to-ten scale of “doesn’t have a clue” to “would put an REI guide to shame”?
HH: Haha, well sadly right now I’d be in the “knows generally what to do, but is waaaay too out of shape to do it correctly” camp. (Rocking the postpartum bod over here!) But in days gone by I might have fallen a little closer to midway on the spectrum. You?
LL: I don’t do cold, so waking up with frost on my eyelashes is a complete nightmare. I’d have to wear fifteen jackets and three pairs of shoes to stay warm. And then I’d make a fire and do this to myself.
LL: Let’s move on from my camping failures to Siria’s wardrobe, because that’s not an awkward transition at all. If IGNITE THE SUN were a movie, it would get an Oscar from costume design. Can you tell us a little about how you built that part of your world and where you got your inspiration?
HH: Oooh, thank you!! When I was building the visual elements of the world, I really wanted to set a very stark line between the courtly side of the world and the common side. The court represents Queen Iyzabel, who is all about opulence and seductive beauty, and the common world is a sort of stand in for the life that has gone missing from Terra-Volat with the absence of the sun–which of course includes a lot of the natural world that has suffered in darkness. So it seemed to me that the court should have sort of high-fashion couture, with glitz and glam and silks and jewels, and the rest of the kingdom would be its polar opposite, with rough fabrics and natural sources and inspirations; a sort of peasant-meets-Rivendell kind of aesthetic. I always make Pinterest boards for new projects when I start brainstorming, and I think I probably drew a lot of inspiration from the images I collected there.
LL: I’d love to see a Halloween costume this year based on Queen Iyzabel, with all her evil green and black grandeur. Please tell me you’re dressing up this year as one of your characters.
HH: Ooooh! That would be so fun!! My husband and I tend to dress in corresponding costumes (last year while I was pregnant, we were Patcha and his wife from The Emperor’s New Groove), so if we could find a good trio that included a role for a very small person, I’m sure we could make it happen! (Maybe my son could be a little sun!)
LL: Your descriptions of the darkness are both beautiful and disturbing. As a writer, how did you strike that balance without tipping too far one way or the other?
HH: Darkness, in this book, claims a very physical presence, and is almost as much the villain as Queen Iyzabel. When it came to describing it, I think I mostly just wanted to be true to how I visualized it, which meant pulling in some of the despair and dread I feel in the winter, when the gray sunlessness seems eternal, as well as giving honest tribute to the things about darkness that are actually very lovely. I think it’s important to shoot for honesty when it comes to describing setting, even if that just means being honest to describe it the way you see it in your mind. Honest descriptions that focus on detail can be very beautiful, I think.
LL: There are several scenes in IGNITE THE SUN that take place in complete darkness. As I read those scenes, I felt disoriented without being confused—I still had a handle on what was happening both inside and outside of the character. Was it difficult to write in a world where sight is severely limited?
HH: It was! In quite a few of my revisions, I found myself working hard to darken scenes that I had written too light–because it was always easier to communicate what was happening when my main character could see at least a bit of what was going on. But it was a really good challenge, I think. I had to stretch myself in both narrative and plot, because I had to rely on more than just Siria’s sight to give my reader information, and I had to get my characters out of situations without giving them the ability to see anything. Difficult, but also fun!
LL: And now for my favorite question, seeing as I love to talk about monsters. The Night Wyrm. This is one terrifying and original creature. What was the inspiration for this deliciously hideous beast?
HH: Yes! I was very proud of the Night Wyrm when I first drummed him up. I had originally thought it would be fun to have a dragon, and actually that scene had no monster at all for a while; only soldiers. So when I arrived at wanting a dragon, I quickly realized that I needed a good reason for Iyzabel to have a dragon in her service, and I wasn’t sure I was willing to put those delightful creatures into my world only to make them serve the villain. So I took the dragon template, and turned into something Iyzabel would have.
LL: I can’t let you leave the blog without asking you about water monsters. Do you have a favorite movie or book that features a terrifying creature of the deep?
HH: So true confessions… I’m not very good at scary stories. (*facepalm*)
LL: Say it isn’t so!
HH: It’s sad but true! I’m such a scaredy cat. But I love Scottish folklore (Nessie has to be my favorite monster from mythology), and there’s a wonderful book called Quest for a Kelpie by Francis Hendry that features kelpies. (Demonic water horses for those who don’t know.) It’s wonderful!
Thank you, Hanna, for being on my blog this month! And for all your readers of fantasy out there, you can pick up a copy of her book wherever fine books are sold, but here’s a link to her website for cool info about her swag and full details about how IGNITE THE SUN came to be!
Leslie Lutz, author of this blog, is the author of FRACTURED TIDE, a young adult thriller. You can check it out here.