Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor grew up in Arizona's desert and now lives among Connecticut's trees. She writes fantasy novels for teenagers, and magic is always at the heart of her stories. (What world isn't better with a bit of magic?)

For her writing, Taylor has won the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature and twice received the Young Adult Romance Writers of America Rosemary Award. She's worked as a proofreader, copywriter, and instructor of university writing courses before deciding to write her own books.

Taylor's debut novel is We Are the Fire.

My Q&A with the author:

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

My editor, Emily Settle at Macmillan, came up with the title We Are the Fire. It’s partly inspired by some lyrics from the song “Missile” by Dorothy, which my editor said would be a great theme song for my book. And she’s right!

I loved this title the moment my editor suggested it because it had the bold, powerful, punchy vibe that I’d been searching for to draw readers into this story. In my book, the fire magic is forced onto the teen characters through alchemical transformations. And some of them—particularly Oksana—greatly struggle with what they’ve become. But winning the fight for their freedom starts with reclaiming themselves and repurposing these powers they didn’t choose to have. They truly have to become the fire.

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

It’s certainly much darker than anything I read as a teenager and would have expected to write! Teen Sam would be quite shocked and maybe even a little overwhelmed by this book. (Teen Sam also had a lot to learn about herself and the world.) But I’d have absolutely loved my cover, and I think a part of me would have been very proud and awed to know I’d write such a bold and fierce story.

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

I rewrote the beginning of We Are the Fire many more times than the ending, so I’d have to say beginnings. Though I tend to have a lot more energy and momentum while writing story beginnings, as a fantasy writer, it’s challenging to figure out how to introduce readers to the worldbuilding: what information to include in those first chapters, what to hold back for later, how to pace everything in, and how to present the characters’ feelings toward their world and their conflicts with it.

I’ve lost count how many times I rewrote that first chapter in particular; it underwent some major changes until the line edits stage with my editor. When I finally landed on the current opening—Oksana and Pran witnessing the Scarlet Embers attack and rebellion—it felt so obvious, so right, I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t figured that out before! But it’s a truth many writers come to terms with: you have to write a lot of the wrong words before you uncover the right ones.

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

I definitely see a lot of myself in Pran, for good and for ill: especially his ambition, his thirst to prove himself, and doing what it takes to succeed. Though thankfully, I’m not pitted against such dire circumstances, and therefore I’m not faced with the gut-wrenching choices he must make. I’m just trying to launch a writing career, and therefore my scheming consists of spotting out new ways to promote my debut novel (released during a pandemic, alas). But like Oksana, I also struggle to balance of taking care of others while holding true to my own dreams and hopes for myself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Lots of music! It always helps to listen to music while I write; that can easily transport me to the mood of each scene. The movie score-esque group Two Steps from Hell fit particularly well with many moments in my book.

I also love to cook and bake foods inspired by my writing. Eating a slice of spiced cake with cardamom buttercream while working on revisions for this book was an excellent treat.

And visiting a historic alchemy lab and museum within Heidelberg Castle in Germany was an inspiring experience. It helped to see real tools that had been used by alchemists in our world, so I could better visualize the alchemy for my story’s world.
Visit Sam Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: We Are the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue