What inspired the monsters?

The monsters are a part of Bulgarian folklore. All of them have their beginnings in the various stories and fairy tales that I grew up with, but I’ve added a few tweaks of my own. Folklore is always oral, so every storyteller adds their own interpretation and little tweaks, and I did a bit of that as well. The Yudas, for example, are based on several different legends I’ve read about: monsters that come from the forest, one that can tell the future, another one that’s human-shaped.

The worldbuilding also draws from history.

My biggest historical inspiration is probably the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, more from a social side of things rather than the war side of things. I’m really fascinated by the recent history of Eastern Europe and how they enclosed us within a very small space where we were exchanging culture, music, and books only between each other. So when I decided to base the book on the Foul Days, the folkloric belief that there’s 12 days where monsters roam the streets, I thought it’d be even more terrifying if you’re contained within a small space. I was trying to invoke that feeling of being trapped that I associate with recent Bulgarian history.

Witch Kosara teams up with detective Asen. How did you create their dynamic?

With Kosara and Asen, I really wanted to write a relationship between two people who have baggage and explore how their trust issues from past relationships add tension to the new relationship. In general, I really like pairings where two people are opposite to each other, because I think that dynamic adds so much tension to a book narrative. So that’s what I was going for: I wanted Kosara to be a more mistrustful, jaded person and Asen to be a bit more of a cinnamon roll, though he also has a lot of issues in his past.

Part of Kosara’s past is her abusive relationship with the monstrous Zmey. How did you approach this sensitive subject?

I suppose my approach echoes how I approach fantasy. The abuse is very real, but the abuser is a literal monster. I was trying to build an allegory of abuse: sometimes the people who act like that towards the people they love and treat them like they own them are beyond redemption. They’re just monsters and there’s nothing you can do to redeem them. And again, I tried to echo folkloric beliefs about Zmeys when building his character. In a lot of songs, the Zmey is presented as a love interest, but when you start looking deeper you realize that he kidnaps young women and keeps them contained in his kingdom and doesn’t let them out. That really resonates with real-life experiences of abuse.