Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interview with Leslie Ann Moore (author of Griffin's Daughter)

Review last week on The Edible Bookshelf was Griffin's Daughter, and the author, Leslie Ann Moore, was kind enough to do and interview and tell us all a little more about herself, her books, and what she has coming up next. I want to give a big thanks to Leslie for such a great interview. Read on to find out more! 

1. What was your inspiration for Griffin's Daughter, and the series? 
Back when I was a freshman in college, about a hundred years ago, I had an idea to write a short story about a girl who was half-human, half-elf, except I didn't want this to be a typical fantasy tale where humans viewed elves as stunningly beautiful, ethereal and somehow better than they were. I was more interested in the hard truths of racism and how a person deals with being born mixed race in a society that despises the other race and looks down on those born with mingled blood. Humans in the world of Griffin's Daughter are not in awe of elves; in fact, they view elves in the light of religious bigotry. They are taught by the Soldaran church that elves are demonic in origin and therefore without souls. Of course, the elves have an entirely different view of themselves and of humans, but they are not without their own racial prejudices, as Jelena eventually learns.
Another important inspiration for the series was my feelings about imperialism and war, but this happened much later, when I actually started writing the books in earnest. I began developing the plot outline in 2001, right after 9/11. I was against the Afghan invasion and the Iraq war from the very beginning, and I felt a lot of anger and frustration over the direction our nation was going in. I participated in several anti-war marches and rallies, but ultimately, our voices were ignored. It seemed like a logical leap to me to parallel in my fantasy world what was happening in the real world. The Soldaran Empire is huge and rapacious and needs a steady supply of natural resources to maintain itself. The elven nation, Alasiri, is rich in natural resources, but small in population and no match militarily for its human neighbor. The Soldarans justify their invasion to themselves via their bigotry, but it's much more about expansion to ease overpopulation and the control of resources than it is about racism. Lest you think I spend all my time brooding about grim realities, I must confess I'm really a hopeless, or more accurately, a hopeful, romantic! More than anything, I wanted to write a love story about two people who overcome great odds to be together. The love in this series is MONUMENTAL!! It is the kind that I yearned for and eventually found, and I am so very grateful!
2. I loved the opening chapter with Jelena's mother. How did you decide how to open this book? 

I needed to give my readers some some important back story so the rest of the plot would make sense as it unfolded. This was to avoid too many info-dumps in the main body of the story. It made sense to do this as a prologue. That whole mini story is really more about the group of elven mages who set everything in motion than it is about Jelena's mother. I do have great sympathy for her, though. She chose to go against everything her culture had taught her to seize on love, and she paid a terrible price. Maybe one day, I'll write in short story form the tale of Jelena's parents. 

3. Griffin's Daughter opens with so much history already developed in your world. How long did it take you to work out the details of the history and structure of Soldara?

 I worked on the world building for almost six months. I have detailed files on both Soldara and Alasiri, which include a lot that never made it into the books. I also have notes on other nations and groups of people that are only mentioned in passing, but may one day get more 'stage time' in future books set in this universe. One of the most fun aspects of being a fantasy/sci-fi writer IS the world building. The only limitations are those the writer's own imagination places on her or him. I think the reason why so many fantasy books are these massive 800-page tomes is because of all the world-building details that have to go into the story. People writing stories placed on modern-day, reality-based Earth can leave so much explaining out because the audience already knows what a cell phone is, for instance, or that France is in Europe.   

4. You do a great job with the politics within Asmara castle, and between the humans and Alasiri elves. How did you develop the social structures in this book?

Both societies are hierarchal, with fairly rigid social strata, typical of human societies throughout history and into modern times. Soldara is loosely based on Imperial Rome, while Alasiri is based on feudal Japan, and I do mean loosely! The main difference is with gender equality. Both the Soldarans and the elves are much more egalitarian across the board and this was deliberate. I wanted to write a story that had many of the familiar tropes most fans of the genre expect with so-called epic or high fantasy--most of which is based on medieval technology and social structures--but I was tired of the inherent stereotypical gender roles that went along with that. Yes, there is a fair amount of oppression going on, but it is more class and hierarchy-based, rather than gender-based. For instance, and this may be a bit of a spoiler, so beware, Jelena's uncle would have sold her off just the same, even if she'd been a boy.   

5. The story in Griffin's Daughter isn't just about Jelena. Her cousin Magnes plays a significant role as well. Was his story part of your original plan, or did it develop along with the story? 

Magnes is an original character; in fact, he goes back to the original short story, although his name wasn't Magnes. Jelena had to have a human ally from the beginning, because I wanted to make it clear that not all humans believed the bigoted crap the church taught them about elves. Magnes represents the hope that someday, humans and elves can co-exist in peace and with mutual respect. He is all that is good and decent about humanity. Though he does disappear halfway through the first book, he is integral to the plot and his story arc plays out fully over the next two books.  

6.  Jelena's true heritage is a mystery through most of the book.  You did a great job of slowly revealing her background. Did you plan out each step, or let is develop more naturally? 

Each step was plotted in advance. I'm not one of those writers who works without an outline; in fact, my outlines are very detailed. That doesn't mean I don't depart from an outline once it's finished. Sometimes, my story will veer radically away from the outline, which can be very surprising! An example of that is a character who has yet to show up, but debuts in book two, Griffin's Shadow. This particular character was completely plotted out in advance, but kept telling me that it (and I use 'it' to not give away the gender!) was totally miscast! The role I'd chosen for it was not its true one. I listened, and now this person is completely different from how it was originally written. That's the most specific example of a character developing naturally as the story progressed.  

7. Behind Jelena and Magnus and their stories is a darker, more encompassing evil. This threat is the basis for the trilogy, yet is only a small portion of the first book. Does the focus switch in the second book, or is it a slower transition? 

The nature of the dark force that lurks in the background for much of Book 1 does become more evident in the second book. The reader learns just how dangerous and ruthless this adversary is, and more of its plans. At the same time, the reader learns that there are people who are committed to defeating this evil, but the price they must pay is devastatingly high. The climax comes in the third book, where this courageous band of people are tested with choices that would break all but the most determined of warriors, and I use the term 'warriors' to mean those who battle an opponent and not necessarily through force of arms.

8. Do you have an interesting quirks or rituals when you write?

Not really. I do a lot of my work in coffee houses and cafes, so I like to drink hot coffee or tea while I'm writing. When I'm home in my office, I'll sometimes make a bag of popcorn to munch on. That's about the extent of it.

9. Can you tell us about your publishing experience? 

Griffin's Daughter was first published by a small, indie outfit out of Pennsylvania called Avari Press. I had sent the manuscript to them on recommendation from an acquaintance who had heard they were looking for submissions. It turned out that my book was chosen to launch their company. GD went on to win a Ben Franklin Award for Best First Fiction of 2008, given by the Independent Book Publishers Association, a large trade group of indie presses both tiny and huge--St. Martins Press is their biggest member. So, it was a very prestigious award and I'm very proud of it. Sadly, the award didn't help Avari. They became victims of the recession and went bankrupt, shortly after publishing Griffin's Shadow, book 2 of the series. That left me orphaned, two thirds of the way through my series. Well, after indulging in a very short pity party for myself, I got on to my various social media sites to let my tiny group of fans know what had happened. Within 24 hours of my post to the Goodreads Fantasy Group, I was contacted by Robin Sullivan, a fellow member and wife of fantasy author Michael Sullivan. She was starting up her own indie publishing business and wanted to pick up my series. Needless to say, I was relieved and several months later, Ridan Publishing put out new editions of both Daughter and Shadow, and then published Griffin's Destiny, the third book, thus completing the series. Things started out slowly, but sales have really picked up steam recently. The books have done well for Ridan. 

10. Can you tell us about any future projects? 

I've just completed writing the first book in a new trilogy. It's a retro-futuristic, political action/adventure story, loosely based on a well-known fairy tale. I've chosen to refer to it as retro-futuristic, rather than steampunk, because it isn't hard-core, though there are definitely recognizable steampunk elements woven throughout. Book One is finished, and the second and third are outlined. There are no definitive titles yet, but a lot of the time, publishers choose titles anyway, so I'm not sweating it. I plan on delivering the manuscript to Ridan within the next couple of weeks. I also have a couple of collaborations in the early stages with my fiancee Aaron Mason. We have a couple of children's books we want to do, as well as a screenplay. I also have a paranormal romance/horror novel I've begun work on, though it's on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

Thanks again to Leslie for answering my questions!
If you’d like you learn more about Leslie and her work, visit www.leslieannmoore.com or connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Leslie-Ann-Moore/256313141074775 (Don’t forget to “Like" Leslie’s page!).

Leslie will also be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the campus of the University of Southern California, on 4/21-4/22 to sign copies of the Griffin's Daughter Trilogy. She'll be with the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society at Booth 970.