Thursday, April 30, 2020

Andrea Robertson

Andrea Robertson began writing novels after a horse broke her foot. Twelve books later, she believes that horse must have been an agent of fate.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Robertson resided in the academic world where she was a professor of early modern history. She now lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs.

Robertson's new novel is Forged in Fire and Stars.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Forged in Fire and Stars takes readers directly into the story. The first chapter of the book takes place at a smithy, introducing readers to the forge and its fire. Getting to the stars requires a journey with the protagonist Ara and her companions, while digging into the lore and history of the kingdom – Saetlund - they are trying to save.

The working title for Forged in Fire and Stars was Loresmith. By birthright, Ara should become the next Loresmith – a blacksmith who is able to craft weapons blessed by the gods. Her father would have passed his skills and secret knowledge onto her, but he was killed when the Vokkan empire conquered Saetlund. Ara must prove her worth to the gods before she can ascend to the mythical role.

My editor and I decided against keeping Loresmith for the title as it didn’t feel evocative enough. We wanted a title that would draw readers into a world of fallen kingdoms, hidden magic, and deep mysteries. We hope that Forged and Fire and Stars conveys those characteristics and piques readers’ interest.

What's in a name?

I spend a lot of time discovering the names of my characters. I say discover rather than choose because I believe that they already have a name and it’s my job to find it. My previous novels have been set in our world that I infuse with fantastical elements. The characters in those books have names that were picked for either their cultural origin or their meaning. For example, in the Nightshade series there are two Guardian (shapeshifter) packs that originated in the Middle Ages – one in France and one in England. The first and surnames of each pack member reflect those distinct ancestries. The meaning of the three central characters’ names were also significant. Calla’s name relates to her features, white blonde hair and golden eyes. Renier means “deciding warrior”; he’s a pack alpha who is a fighter and as a leader has to make brutal choices. Shay, short for Seamus, means “usurper.” His role in the novel is the disruptor.

Forged and Fire and Stars is high fantasy so my usual name discovering tactics were moot. Instead of going for meaning I relied on the sound of the name and what that evoked for me. I also used invented ancestries to create culture consistency in characters names. The kingdom of Saetlund is divided into five provinces. Once I’d decided on the sound, spelling, and shape of a name I worked to create similarities in the names of other characters from the same region. I’ve also learned that I heavily favor one or two syllable names and I’m not particularly sure why that is, especially considering my own name is three syllables.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

After the jumping up and down and screaming had passed, I would have been ecstatic that I’ve published not only one book, but twelve and that I’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t think the content of my novels would surprise my teenage. My favorite genre has always been fantasy and I dabbled in fantasy writing throughout my childhood. My teenage self would also like how important a role nature and animals play in my books – that’s something that has been close to my heart for as long as I can remember. A question my teenage self would ask: Why haven’t you written a horse book yet? I was a horse crazy girl (still am, truth be told) and I’d be impatient to see myself writing a book that centered around horses.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are much more difficult to write than endings. I struggle with the balance between action and exposition. I know the ending of each book when I begin writing it. More than that, I know the ending of a series when I begin writing its first book. Having a conclusion fixed in my mind makes for a target to build toward, the plot arc to follow. By contrast, I fumble around in drafts until I stumble upon the right beginning. I think it happens because I haven’t hit my stride as a writer when starting a book. Once I find that pace and rhythm it’s like being carried on a current.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

To varying degrees. My characters emerge as complete beings – though it takes the course of a book, sometimes a series, to see that completion – and because of that I don’t like to look for myself inside them. Having said that, I think it’s impossible to not have parts of yourself and your experiences appear in characters. For example in my upcoming novel the character Eamon struggles with a chronic illness. Two years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after several prior years trying to figure out why my body and mind seemed to be falling apart. My life has been transformed by learning to function with this illness. I didn’t set out to write a character with a chronic illness, but as I wrote Eamon it became clear that he was struggling physically and mentally. My own experience then informed the ways that Eamon coped with his condition.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I draw inspiration from everything around me. For me writing is a contradiction of solitude while being hyper-aware of the world all the time. I’m incredibly close to my family and we’re a family of readers, so the theme of family and loyalty appears frequently in my writing. I grew up in northern Wisconsin and my backyards was a massive forest; that was the place my imagination thrived and love of nature and animals figures prominently in my books.

My favorite genre has always been fantasy, so classics like Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Chronicles of Prydain, The Dark is Rising, etc. built the foundation of my literary imagination. My all-time favorite book is Watership Down and I believe that’s because it is the perfect blend of nature and fantasy.

As far and other media and pop-culture go, I like to say Joss Whedon taught me how to write dialogue; Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite TV show. I love witty banter a la Much Ado About Nothing (not coincidentally I think, Whedon made an excellent film adapation of that play). I listen to a lot of music and play a lot of RPG board and video games. All of these things feed into my writing life.
Visit Andrea Robertson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue