Though she wrapped up her Seven Realms series with 2012’s The Crimson Crown, Cinda Williams Chima has not left that fantasy world behind. On April 5, HarperTeen will release Flamecaster, the launch title of the Shattered Realms series, introducing the next generation of characters living in that same universe. The novel brings together a trained teenage healer tempted to use his magical gifts in a different way to avenge a cruel king, and a downtrodden girl, abandoned at birth, who is hunted by the monarch’s guards. Shattered Realms will be a four-book series, with the second installment, Stormcaster, due out in winter 2017.
Though Chima began writing poems and stories in third grade and novels in junior high school, her path to becoming a published author was rather circuitous. After earning a master’s degree in nutrition in 1984, the Ohio native practiced as a clinical dietician and taught classes in nutrition on the university level. As a freelance journalist, she also published feature articles on nutrition and other topics, as well as personal essays, in various publications, including Cleveland’s Plain Dealer.
Yet, Chima confided, “I always had a secret life as a fiction writer. I worked in dietetics for years because I needed to make a living, but I never stopped writing. About 15 years ago, I told myself if I really had hopes of publishing a novel, I was going to have to focus on it, so I put my freelancing aside and went to work finishing a novel.”
Chima’s determination paid off. The Warrior Heir, which Disney-Hyperion published in 2006, launched the Heir Chronicles, a contemporary fantasy series centering on a seemingly average, small-town Ohio teen who discovers he is one of the last warriors in an underground society of magical people. “I had always heard that you should write what you know,” said the author of creating her first novel. “And I do believe that it is true that if you can’t remember what it was like to be a teen, you have no business writing for them. At the time I wrote The Warrior Heir, my sons were in junior high and high school, so I used what was at hand and wrote a story about a teen living in Ohio.”
Chima then headed into high fantasy with Seven Realms, which kicked off in 2009 with The Demon King, also published by Disney-Hyperion. Moving in this new fantasy direction fulfilled a creative dream of the author. “I’ve always loved high fantasy – like the fiction of Tolkien, Tamora Pierce, and David Eddings,” she explained. “For a long time I’ve wanted to create other worlds, so I did with Seven Realms.” Though representing two different strains of fantasy – contemporary and high – both of Chima’s series have struck a chord with fans of the genre: their combined in-print tally is close to two million copies.
Something Old, Something New
And now, with Shattered Realms, Chima is sticking with what she knows – setting-wise. “I know this world so well – almost as well as I know Ohio,” she said. “I really love this world and its characters. I wanted to move on to a new generation, introducing teenage characters that have known nothing but war in their lives, and so must develop very differently from their parents. I’m fascinated by the question of how people survive in a situation like that.”
Chima noted that setting a second series in the same universe – where the protagonists of Seven Realms are now the parents of the teenagers in Shattered Realms – presented additional challenges. “Fantasy has a reputation of being a thicket that, as a writer, you have to hack through, with so much world-building to do,” she said. “And though writing Flamecaster didn’t present that challenge, I was very conscious of writing a story that would reward readers of Seven Realms, while making the world totally accessible to new readers who haven’t read the earlier series.”
Abby Ranger, senior editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, oversaw Chima addressing this challenge in Flamecaster. Ranger edited the last two Seven Realms novels, The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown, while at Disney-Hyperion, and acquired Shattered Realms after moving to HarperCollins in 2012.
“It has been an amazing experience for me editorially to see Cinda take the vast richness of four books worth of world-building and essentially pull back the camera to reveal more,” Ranger said. “She digs deeper, and gives treats to fans of Seven Realms, yet her new series easily stands on its own. In Shattered Realms, Cinda once again does an incredible job of mixing action and romance, politics and entrenched war, betrayal and loss. She is a master of layering plot lines so you follow multiple characters’ individual stories, and you know they’ll merge at the end of the book, but you can’t imagine how. To me, she’s the queen of narrative tension.”
HarperTeen has a 200,000-copy first printing on order for Flamecaster, and will support this series launch with a marketing campaign that includes online consumer advertising, extensive promotion and galley giveaways on Epic Reads, YA blogger author interviews and giveaways, a radio satellite media tour, and promotion at book festivals, conventions, and conferences.
On April 5, Chima will embark on a seven-city tour, an experience she’s looking forward to. “I love meeting readers, since I see myself in so many of them,” she said. “Books totally changed my life, and I always feel in context when I spend time with booksellers, librarians, teachers, and readers who feel the same way I do about books. It’s really the best part of my job.”
The author has no worries at all about coming up with her next book project after wrapping up Shattered Realms. “Sometimes I get letters from kids, saying ‘here’s an idea for your next book – you write it and we’ll split the money,’ ” she said. “I tell them, ‘I will never live long enough to write all my own ideas’ – I’m quite sure I’ll never run out!” Which, she added, is a satisfying place to be: “Sometimes I wake up early in the morning in an almost dream-like state, surrounded by characters. I finally figured out a way to daydream for a living. Now, instead of getting in trouble for daydreaming, I get paid for it. What could be better?”
Shattered Realms: Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima. HarperTeen, $18.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-06-238094-4