I have a winner to announce.
The winner of DRAGON OF THE STARS is Jeremy Hawkins!
Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.
Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement that debut author Sabaa Tahir is here with us to share about her super fantastic YA fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES that releases today. I LOVED this story and am going to be sobbing when I give away my ARC that Sabaa was so incredibly kind to send to me.
Laia and Elias are such sympathetic characters. Right away Sabaa shows us their intense internal struggles which drive what they do and want. I loved the diversity in the world building that felt like a Mideast desert setting and the characters. It’s so important in our world today to have more books like this. But the world Laia and Elias live in is so brutal that it’s hard to see how either of them will do anything but fail. I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I had to see what would happen next. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel. And trust me you want to read this book.
Here’s a blurb of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES from Goodreads:
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
Hi Sabaa! Thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you here.
Thank YOU. I’m so excited to be here!
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’ve always loved reading, particularly fantasy books. Writing was a natural extension of that love. I started writing down stories when I was in first grade and continued doing it all the way through school. When I was 11, I had this big binder with a whole fantasy story in it—maps, character backgrounds, everything. Later, I wrote mostly contemporary short stories—but never with a major aim to publish.
When I got into journalism after college, I left fiction behind for a little while. But then in 2007, I got the idea for EMBER and jumped right back in.
2. I love fantasy books and started writing them too. Where did you get the idea for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES? And how did your own childhood inspire the story?
I grew up in a small, sort of insular town in the Mojave Desert. Early on, I knew I didn’t really fit in. I always felt like an outcast—lonely, voiceless. My only solace was books. When I decided to write one, I knew that it would be about people who, like me as a kid, feel voiceless and powerless.
At the time I was working at the Washington Post and I read a story about Kashmiri women whose brothers, sons, fathers and husbands are taken by the military and never seen again. I asked myself what I would do if I were one of those women, and that was the springboard for EMBER.
3. That's awesome how you drew on your personal and work experiences to get the idea for this amazing story. I read that you did a lot of research for this book, including interviews. Share about who you interviewed and why you felt the interviews were important to your story.
One of my characters, Elias, is a warrior. I, however, am not. To characterize him (and other warriors in
4. That's a great idea to interview the people that you did. You really are so talented in creating both Laia and Elias as tortured and incredibly sympathetic characters. What’s your character development process like and what advice do you have for the rest of us?
Aww, thank you! I write by iteration, and my characters revealed themselves over time. So while I had a general sense of who they were going in, I didn’t really start to understand them until I’d written an entire draft. Every draft help me understand them better, and hone in on the things that fit with their personalities, as opposed to the things that weren’t in character.
My advice on characterization is to keep an open mind. Your characters will often surprise you. But never subvert their personalities to that your stories will go in the direction YOU want. Let your characters’ natural actions guide you.
5. I read that revising was the most challenging part of writing AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. Funny because that’s the part I love the most. Share about your challenges and what you learned from them.
I actually love revising too—to me, revising IS writing. But after a few years, revising was discouraging, because I started to wonder if my editing instinct was leading me down the wrong path. I start wondering if I knew what I was doing.
While I revised, I learned a million things, but here are the two that stick out: First, always leave a few weeks between major drafts. I usually leave 4 to 6 weeks. Second: have other people who know your genre but who aren’t your family or close friends read your book. It’s good to get an outside opinion. That’s why CPs are so great.
6. That's such great advice. I must ask you about Elias’ mother, the Commandant. I totally hate her! How did you think up her character and all her cruelty? Was she hard to write about?
The Commandant, like so many villains, is a product of her history. I thought up her back-story first. She was difficult to write at times because I wanted to protect my characters from her cruelty. But that’s not what would actually happen in life, so I had to learn not to pull my punches.
7. Your book is getting incredible buzz. I think it’s one of the most anticipated debuts coming out in 2015. And you’ve already been interviewed by many bloggers and in other media. How are you handling all the attention and is it and what Penguin Random House is doing to market your book pretty much marketing it for you?
I’m very thankful that EMBER has gotten such a lovely response so far. I feel super fortunate, but I actually try not to think about it too much and focus on all the stuff I focused on before I sold the book—so: family, writing, eating chocolate and buying ugly socks. ;)
8. What are you working on now?
Another YA fantasy!
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sabaa. You can find Sabaa at:
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.
Here's what's coming up:
On Saturday I'm participating in the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great newly released YA choices or a $10 Amazon Gift Card for you to choose from.
Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Krista Van Dolzer and a giveaway of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, her MG historical contemporary story.
Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Donna Galanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTENING ROD. Donna was an intern with an agent and has lots of great advice to share on querying.
The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!