The final book in Samantha Holloway‘s epic fantasy trilogy is coming out soon, and to celebrate, I’ve asked her here to pick her brain about the specifics of writing books in series format rather than one by one.
When you started Wisewoman’s Daughter, did you know Married to the Wind was going to end up being a trilogy? Or did you discover along the way that you had more story to tell?
Oh my gosh, I had no idea it was going to be a trilogy. I thought I was writing one story that happened to have three sections because it was easier to plot that way. But then, inexplicably, it wound up with each section being as long as a book, so it wound up being three books, because one nine-hundred page book would cost way too much to print on demand, and I was determined to have actual physical copies of my book! There’s no reason for it to not be an actual object in the world just because it’s self-published!
Did you feel pressured to write a trilogy because that is a bit of an expectation within the fantasy genre?
The funny thing about this question is that when I started writing it, I was like “Why does every fantasy book ever have to be a trilogy? I’m going to write a stand-alone book like Robin McKinley.” And then I wrote a trilogy, thinking I wrote a single book. It must be an intrinsic part of the genre, the sense of trilogy-ness. And, actually, there’s two future books that I might write that will probably go the same way, so it’s technically a trilogy of trilogies.
How do you balance the internal plots of the novels while also having them contribute to the overarching plot of the trilogy?
I’m going to answer this two ways.
For these three books, I just plotted them like one book, since I thought I was writing one book, and I feel like any trilogy or series that runs directly from one to the next could be plotted that way. Write it like it’s one book and keep it going that way, because it’s just one story broken up into readable chunks.
But I also wrote this supposedly-one-book with the understanding that I was probably going to have sequels. I decided those sequels would be like N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy–in the same world but being their own stories. So in that case, the ramifications of this book would carry over, but the character arcs and plot points would be wrapped up here. So Married to the Wind has things that will feature in the next book-trilogy, but it’ll have new characters in new places.
I don’t really do in-depth plotting because I’m a pantser and my creativity basically relies on the spontaneity of not planning what I’m going to write ahead of time beyond, like, “they go to the city” or something. But I feel like this approach can apply to a trilogy or series just about any time, if the books aren’t directly dependent on each other like one long story. Keep a few things around that can be spun off or elaborated on or can domino into something else later on.
Was it difficult escalating the risks and rewards of each book?
This is going to sound smug or something, but not really? It’s all one story, so the risks and rewards naturally escalated–they did this, and then that happened, so they did this, and then that happened, so they did this…
What I had problems with was (a) where to made the divides between sections, and (b) how to buck the expectations of stories like this without violating the agreements made when setting up a story in this way. I wanted huge epic fantasy that doesn’t come down to might-is-right, so I had to get creative about problem-solving, especially here in this end part!
How has promoting a series differed from promoting a single book? Any tips?
Well, it happens repeatedly instead of once, for one. And I haven’t promoted any single books yet, but I’d guess there’s less of a feeling that you’ve already said all this? I try to talk about different things, but it gets hard remembering what I’ve talked about to who!
I’m still figuring out the promo thing; I’d actually love to hear if any of your readers have any tips!
What’s worked best for me is just quietly reminding people that I have a book, and talking about it on the Blog, Twitter, Tumblr, and sort of waiting for people to want to talk back. I have auto-reminders for Twitter and Tumblr set up so that I don’t have to post the same thing every day, and I periodically put it out there that I’m looking to talk about these things, or that I’ll answer writing questions for this amount of time, or whatever. Sometimes I contact book reviewers and book blogs and politely ask if they’re interested. I really don’t like the feeling of selling, so I look for ways to not have to!
What other series or trilogies have inspired you the most as a writer?
Oh, man, so many. The series that got me writing intentionally, for myself instead of for an assignment at school, was the Dragons of Pern series from Anne McCaffrey. I read all the ones that existed up to that year (I was 12, so there was four or five at that point), and I was so ready to read more that I started writing stories. All sorts of stories. It was like a dam broke and for about four years all I did was write and read. Then I discovered her Tower and the Hive when I was a teen, so that, too.
Robin McKinley’s books have also been a huge influence–deep, beautiful, epic stories about girls who get to do things and feel out of place but find heroic destinies. Love them still! I wait for her books like I wait for food. And Narnia, also, when I was a kid. I read a lot of British regional children’s fantasy when I was little because we were living in the UK, and it left a sort of preferred story imprinted on my brain.
Later, as I started actually learning about writing and as I decided to get serious about it, I’ve been influenced by Neil Gaiman and his lyricism, Jim Butcher and his amazing ability to keep a story going (though Dresden is much more of an influence on my next book, Beacon, than on these), by Cassandra Clare who tells gorgeously complex stories in a really clear and personal way, Charles de Lint and Peter S. Beagle, who write some of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read…
I feel like writers need lots of influences. And I was a passionate English Major before that, so there’s, like, Romantic poets and Shakespeare and all that, too, but that’s sort of pretentious to talk about and more of a foundation than a direct influence…
And finally, tell us why we should read the Married to the Wind trilogy, and leave us with a favorite excerpt from the last book, Goddess’s Hand!
You should read it because it’s awesome! I mean, I’m very proud of this story, this series. It’s epic fantasy, but I hope I’ve managed to do something new with it, and it’s Girls Doing Important Stuff, and it’s kind of strange and complicated and I wrote it as beautifully as I could. I don’t think there’s anything else like it out there, or at least not much like it.
An excerpt, from close to the part of the story where stuff starts coming together:
Everything around them stood eerily quiet. Glorisa saw it all double—she saw the bright, clear way each room had been all her life, filled with gilded statues and lush tapestries, the floors mosaicked, the windows leaded with colored glass. And she saw the ruin it had all become, haunted with the cracking of the crumbling walls and the groaning of the New Mountain, all the more terrible for how clearly she remembered the former beauty.
Everywhere her feet touched the cracked flagstones and the crumbling mosaics, the earth rumbled and the stones cracked like eggshells under her weight. Little flames leapt up from the stones, and ash and burned flesh crept up her legs. That it didn’t hurt or slow her only made it more unnerving. “Why does it keep breaking?” she asked her double, but didn’t look at her. For one, the light pouring off her now made it hard to look at her without being blinded by holy tears, and for another, the longer she knew this girl, the more she saw her own quirks and mannerisms translated into a wild, country-born, barbarian context, and she didn’t like it. “Why does my weight break my Palace?”
Annissa didn’t answer, but even without looking at her, Glorisa could feel the girl’s sympathy. It had been slower for Annissa, this transformation, it had taken months, En said, before she became what she was now, a light in the dark, leaving trails of green growing things wherever she went. It was little consolation to Glorisa that her own transformation had gone so quickly—or that it would lead to her end before it could destroy her itself.
Samantha Holloway is unfit for anything but writing expansive fantasy and the occasional science fiction story, so she does it full time. She’s the author of the upcoming epic fantasy novel Married to the Wind, and has published dozens of book reviews, TV reviews and a few short stories. In between writing and thinking about writing, she lives in North Carolina with an aptly-named cat called Ninja, wears too much jewelry, runs a home made nail polish company for a lark, and subsists mostly on tea.