Critically acclaimed author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Holt, 2008) and A Room on Lorelei Street (Holt, 2005), Mary Pearson has written across many genres—contemporary YA, sci-fi, romance, and during the last few years, she released her first series of high fantasy, the Remnant Chronicles. This month sees the publication of Dance of Thieves, first in a new series set in the same world as the Remnant Chronicles. PW spoke with Pearson about writing fight scenes and the secret origins of her fantasy world (but no spoilers!) as she was packing her bags for a five-city book tour to celebrate her new novel. The tour kicks off with a launch at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego with YA author Robin LaFevers, and ends at Parnassus Books in Nashville, at an event with author Sara Raasch.
Did you always want to write high fantasy?
Well, if you look at my career and all the books I’ve done, they are all very different. I’ve done gritty contemporary with A Room on Lorelei Street, magical realism with The Miles Between (Holt, 2009), and I’ve written romance with Scribbler of Dreams (Harcourt, 2001). The Adoration of Jenna Fox is science fiction, because it takes place in the near future and there’s medical and computer technology that doesn’t exist in our world—but I would call it soft science fiction, because it’s only 50 years into the future. The first time somebody told me it was sci-fi I said, “No, it’s not.” To me, it was a family story and I didn’t even realize I’d written science fiction.
Basically I just write whatever comes to me, and I’m very fortunate that my publisher supports me hopping around like this. But I always knew that one day I would return to stories that have a strong love story element in them. I had so many requests for sequels to Scribbler of Dreams, and I knew that what readers really wanted was more of a love story, and that’s what’s at the heart of my new series.
You now have two fantasy series set in the world of the Remnant Chronicles. Can you tell us about this world—and whether it’s all fantasy or has a connection to reality?
The Remnant Chronicles is set in a world that has 12 kingdoms. I am fascinated with history and how we keep repeating history, and how history keeps being revised. I wanted to play with how people are raised in different kingdoms—how they believe one history because of where they grew up, but then when they step out of their kingdom they realize, “This history is just my point of view.”
In this world, there was some cataclysmic event centuries ago and it erased one civilization. A whole new civilization blooms from these devastated beginnings, and since the kingdoms are so spread out they each develop their own traditions. At the end of the Remnant Chronicles, new treaties are drawn because some people got the short end of the stick. Now new settlements have grown up because of those treaties, which is where Dance of Thieves begins, and where the clash of this book begins.
There is a map of the kingdoms on the inside of the book, but there is also something recognizable about this world. I plant little Easter eggs throughout the Remnant Chronicles, and continue to do so in Dance of Thieves, about the real origins of this world. Some readers have guessed what it is and some haven’t—and that is okay. It is a world that is recognizable in some ways—but that’s all I can say! It’s based on a real place.
You write such strong female characters in your books—from Lia in the Remnant Chronicles to Kazi in Dance of Thieves—and they are all excellent fighters. How did you learn how to write such great fight scenes?
Part of it involves watching fight scenes on TV and in film, and part of it is just trying to actually choreograph them. Like, can an arm really wrap around the neck in that fashion? Sometimes I get my husband to help me!
I also do a lot of research. Sometimes my female characters are encountering male characters that are bigger and stronger than they are, and I had to address this. I think women are formidable warriors, but I wanted to be realistic about what they can do. There are lots of ways that women warriors—though they don’t have the massive size of the male characters—can overcome this. There are skillful ways to kill someone with your hands, for example. Sometimes I think I’m going end up on some FBI watch list for all my research about this stuff!
Who are your biggest YA fantasy influences?
Oh, what a difficult question—there are so many! Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin series—I really admire her. I adore Leigh Bardugo’s writing, especially her Six of Crows series. There’s Laini Taylor, too. I just read Daughter of the Pirate King [by Tricia Levenseller], and I love it when a book just makes me laugh out loud. There are so many great fantasies out there—but of course, the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is one of my favorites, too.
Is there a movie in the works for any of your Remnant Chronicle books, or have they been optioned?
No—no movies at this time. I do have a film agent, and I think he’s looking at interest for various opportunities, but there is nothing in writing yet. But keep good thoughts!
When will the sequel to Dance of Thieves be out?
Next year, in 2019—I’m not sure of the exact month. I’ve only got a temporary title for it for now, so I can’t announce it yet. It’s just Untitled at the moment!
Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson. Holt, $18.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-250-15901-4