NIGHTSPELL, the companion novel to Leah Cypess' debut MISTWOOD, released yesterday and I'm pretty sure you need to go get it. Now. It tells fantasy the way it should be told: all story, all heart, all stakes. Sure, it's full of magic and ghosts (even a spot of shape-shifting for those who are missing MISTWOOD) and fancy court dresses, but it's a (sibling) love story, it's a mystery, it's a hero's tale...it's just good stuff. Stuff you need. Your imagination will thank you.
And now, because Leah Cypess is delightful and because I like all of you, I have asked her a bunch of questions and she answered ALL of them. Even though I asked a lot.
Okay, I love hearing about origins. You've said that Nightspell's first incarnation was at least ten years ago–did it come before or after Mistwood? Were they always conceived as part of the same world, with the same crossover character from Mistwood (who pops up in NIghtspell and nearly steals the show)? How did Mistwood end up being your first published book, and when did Nightspell become book #2?
The original idea for Nightspell came long before Mistwood... but then it lingered unwritten for almost a decade, so Mistwood was finished first. In fact, I got the offer for Mistwood just about the time I was sending Nightspell to my critique group.
Originally there was no explicit connection between the two books, since I didn't know if Mistwood would ever sell. In my own mind, most of my high fantasies are set in the same world, though usually in different countries. This is mostly for my own convenience, so I don't have to keep coming up with new names for the cluster of mercantile islands or impassable mountain ranges or school of sorcery that tend to be constant features. After my editor read Nightspell and agreed that it should be my second book (I had a two-book contract, but with the second book unspecified), I mentioned this to her; I also mentioned that I thought one of the characters in Nightspell was very similar to Clarisse.
My editor really liked the idea of having an explicit connection between the books, so I blithely informed her that I would just make a few changes and turn that character into Clarisse. Ha! It took three extensive revisions before the change made sense and fit seamlessly into the story.
Well, the revisions were worth it. Clarisse adds so much to NIGHTSPELL. And now worldbuilding: a kingdom of dead souls who walk and talk and feel just like the living is a fascinating invention. Can you point to any specific myth/legend/fable(s) that sparked its inception? Any little random bits of lore that found their way into Ghostland's creation?
The spark for the kingdom of dead souls actually came not from myths and legends, but from murder mysteries, another favorite of mine. One day I started thinking about writing a murder mystery set in a kingdom where the dead came back to life to try to solve their own murders. I did the worldbuilding without any explicit reference to particular myths and legends -- though since I also liked to read ghost stories, I'm sure there are second-hand bits of myth that found their way in.
Hmm, I wonder what Nero Wolfe would think of that kingdom?
Two very distinct cultures exist in this part of the Mistwood world; to Ghostlanders, Darri and her siblings are barbarians, and to Darri's tribe, the ghosts' very existence is blasphemous. Were either or both based (however loosely) on any real-life peoples or places?
Originally, I was going to base Darri's culture on that of medieval Mongolia; however, after doing some reading on that culture, I decided it wouldn't work. Among other things, it would be very difficult for a woman who would work as my heroine to come out of that worldview. I guess I could have done it if I'd made the story all about Darri's reaction against her own culture, but that wasn't the story I wanted to write.
So even though some aspects of my research on Mongolia made it in, for the most part the tribal culture is my own invention. It's also somewhat vague, since Darri wasn't actually living in her culture at the time.
As for Ghostland, when I was thinking Mongolia, I was thinking that Ghostland would be based on ancient China; but once I abandoned that whole construct, I realized it would just distract from the main aspect of Ghostland I wanted to focus on, which was the presence of the ghosts. So I reverted to the late-medieval European model I used in Mistwood (and which is very familiar to me), with Ghostland being a more sophisticated and opulent sort of place due to its security and wealth. Then I tried to think mostly about how the presence of the dead would change the court.
I think the settings and backgrounds you chose serve the story very well. Completely silly related question: which kingdom would you rather live in, Samorna or Ghostland? Or out on the plains with Darri?
I'm tempted to say "out on the plains," especially since one of my teenage ambitions was to travel across the United States on horseback. But let's face it, I meant "horseback riding during the day, stay in a motel with a shower and a comfortable bed every night." So, probably Samorna. Though I doubt they have showers.
But they have magic. Magic trumps showers any day.
Sibling relationships tend to be messy and complicated and fierce and tenuous in your stories; brothers and sisters are always fighting for or with each other. You've mentioned, at least in reference to Mistwood, that you just wrote without plotting, so I'm wondering if this emphasis is deliberate, and if so, do you have any dark and twisty (and otherworldly and royal) sibling stories you'd like to share with us? What are some of your favorite sibling-heavy books?
I have four siblings, so my childhood was full of darkness and twistiness, intrigue and plotting. (Just kidding. Well, somewhat.) I can't share any of the stories, though, since all my siblings have web access....
In terms of sibling-heavy books, I really love the dual sibling relationships in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon series, and the very complicated relationship between sisters in Phoebe Kitandis's Whisper. But I think the most impressive treatment of a sibling relationship I've seen recently was in a non-fantasy book - Split by Swati Avasthi, about two brothers who both escaped from an abusive home and the secrets they're keeping from each other.
I was actually thinking of DEMON'S LEXICON when I wrote the question! We should be friends.
Related question: romance definitely takes a backseat to the other relationships in the book. Was that intentional? I myself found the Ghostlander prince to be quite alluring; I don't know that his non-living status would have been enough to turn me away.
It was very important to me that the relationships between the siblings - especially between Darri and Callie - not be overshadowed by a romance. Darri wouldn't be who she was if she would allow a growing romance to in any way take precedence over her loyalty to her sister, no matter how alluring the guy is! And of course, her attraction to him is complicated by a whole host of other factors, which I think would make it unrealistic for a relationship between them to fully bloom over the course of the book. I'm sort of a qualified romantic; I think that love can conquer all... sometimes.
Right. When it's loooooove.
What would happen if Darri and Isabel met? Would their cultural differences attract or repel each other? Would a Shifter be an abomination to Darri's people?
I think they would hate each other, mostly because of their different feelings about loyalty. I don't think the Shifter would be an abomination to Darri's people, though.
Was there anything in this book (without being spoilery) that ended up surprising you? Any characters or scenes take you off on a trail you never expected?
What ended up happening with Clarisse was completely different from what I had written for her original stand-in character, and that surprised me. My editor deserves full credit for that. I was wedded to my original character arc, and she kept saying, "But this is CLARISSE. She would never DO that." She was right.
Okay, so now–-considering where Clarisse ends up––I really want to know what the original character was meant to do.
Let's talk writing: You were once a practicing lawyer, and now you are a published writer. So obviously you are not unfamiliar with the concept of working really really hard. Do you have any other advice or wisdom that kept you going and got you to the point you are now? Anything you learned later that you wish you'd known earlier?
My main piece of advice, and what got me to where I am now, is that a writer should never pin all his/her hopes and expectations on a single manuscript. Mistwood was the fifth manuscript I submitted to publishers... and much as I liked it, I was completely prepared for it not to sell, and for Nightspell to go on the rounds after that. A lot of getting a book published is about quality, but a lot is about luck - hitting the right editor with the right manuscript at the right time.
That is excellent advice, although sometimes, when you have stars in your eyes and a really good manuscript, I'm sure that's not easy to remember.
Do you have any interesting writing tics or habits? Some people talk to themselves, act out scenes, cry with their characters...what do you do? What helps you be super focused? What kills productivity?
I find that I do my best writing outdoors - ideally, while sitting at a scenic overview or at the beach, but fortunately for my productivity, being at the playground with my kids seems to work just as well. So not surprisingly, what kills my productivity is... winter. My output drops HUGELY when it's too cold to hang around outside.
Maybe you should move to Southern California. We're outside most of the year here. Which I, personally, find less than awesome...but then, I'm not entirely normal.
I hear you're into hawking [it comes into play in Nightspell at a certain point]. How much fun was that research? Any advice for those (ahem, *me*) who have been casting longing glances at hawking group websites?
I wouldn't say I'm "into" it, but it was definitely fun to take a lesson in how to handle hawks! It was not so much fun to read an actual hawking manual... and my only advice would be to save up! Hawking lessons are somewhat expensive.
Noted. And now for some quick questions: What's your favorite fantasy book that you feel is entirely too unsung? How many more kingdoms are left to explore in this world, and will we be getting to read stories set in them? Will Varis ever become less tightly wound? What's your favorite current tv show? What do you think of the Hunger Games casting?
Favorite unsung fantasy book: The Night of the Solstice by L.J. Smith. (I know people have heard of L.J. Smith. But this mid-grade fantasy was, in my opinion, her best book.)
Kingdoms: Many. And I hope so!
Varis: I doubt it.
Current favorite tv show: There's really nothing that I set my schedule by, the way I did with past favorites (Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars). I'm watching old episodes of Bones and Chuck at the moment, and enjoying them.
Hunger Games casting: I never had a problem with it. Maybe partly because while I didn't have a clear picture of Katniss in my mind, Prim's blond hair was referenced often, so I assumed the whole family was white. Given that starting point point, exact shadings of skin color seem kind of beside the point to me. I'm not a fan of whitewashing, and I understand what people are concerned about, but I don't think it makes sense to talk about whitewashing a white character.
Buffy and Veronica Mars and Bones? We should definitely be friends!
Thanks so much, Leah, for answering my (many, many) questions! And thanks for writing such an awesome book!