Fantasy books are simply magical. They have the incredible ability to help us escape, while also directly confronting issues we’re facing in our everyday lives. Here, four fantasy authors share the inspiration behind their new books, their favorite (and least favorite) parts of worldbuilding, and the books on their 2020 TBRs.

Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

Photo credit: Lei Gong

Andrea Stewart’s Drowning Empire series kicks off on September 8 and follows Lin, the emperor’s heir, on a journey to reclaim the throne.

 

This is your debut novel! What has your publishing journey been like?

Long! I started querying my first novel in 2007. I obtained representation in 2013. The first offer on this book came through late 2019. The Bone Shard Daughter was the seventh book I’d written. After the prior book failed to sell on submission, I had a good long, hard think about my flaws as a writer, where I was falling short, and how I could do better. I wrote The Bone Shard Daughter with all of this in mind.

 

What was the inspiration for this book?

There were a lot of little things that inspired this book, pieces that I added and removed until I could feel the shape of it. I knew I wanted to write something that I would enjoy reading—an Asian-inspired setting, an intricate magic system, a world full of mysteries just waiting to be uncovered, and magical animal companions. And I knew from the beginning that it would have multiple point-of-view characters whose stories intertwine in sometimes unexpected ways. These were the first sort of stories I read, the first ones I wrote, and I wanted to go back to my roots in a sense.

 

What’s the most challenging aspect of creating an original world? And what was your favorite aspect?

I think the most challenging aspect is keeping track of everything and maintaining consistency! I have a wiki I started to be able to track various facts about the world and the characters. I find myself having to refer back to it more often than I thought I would. It’s hard enough to keep real facts anchored in my head; trying to keep made-up facts from flying away from me is definitely a challenge.

I’d say my favorite aspect is writing all the little details that make a place come alive—the way a place smells, the feel of the streets, the way people live their day-to-day lives.

 

Which fantasy author or book inspired you more than any other, or has inspired you most recently?

N.K. Jemisin‘s Broken Earth trilogy is an incredible work of fantasy fiction—gripping, gorgeous prose, filled with characters caught in impossible situations. It’s the sort of thing you read wishing you had written it but also knowing you don’t have the chops or the perspective. It both entertains you and makes you think. I cannot laud it highly enough!

 

What do you hope to see more of in upcoming fantasy books?

I’m loving seeing so many new fantasy books inspired by other cultures and locales. Most of the fantasy (maybe even all of it?) I read as a kid centered around these Western European medieval settings and cultures—so much so that at first I didn’t even think to write fantasy centered around my culture and experiences. All my characters were white, with unusual-colored eyes marking them as “special.” Fantasy should have few or no limitations—it’s fantasy! I’m loving this broadening of the fantasy horizons. I’d love to see even more fantasy books centered around the experiences of marginalized groups.

 

Do you have any upcoming virtual events? If readers want to order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

Yes! It’s the tiniest silver lining that we have the technology now to do virtual events as we live through this pandemic. I have a page on my website for events, which I’ve been updating with current information and links.

As for indie bookstores, I’m hoping readers will consider A Seat at the Table Books. They’re new, and opening a physical location in 2021. It’s run by a friend of mine and seeks to promote marginalized voices in particular. They currently sell books online through their website and at pop-up locations.

 

What 2020 fantasy books are you looking forward to reading?

Oh, there are so many! I already read it, but The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell is lovely and a really engaging read about revolution and trying to correct the mistakes made by a corrupt regime. I’m looking forward to The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow—I loved her The Ten Thousand Doors of January! The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso sounds amazing, so it’s on my TBR list. Brandon Sanderson‘s Rhythm of War, of course. And I can’t wait for The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter, which is the sequel to The Rage of Dragons.

Milla Vane, author of A Touch of Stone and Snow

Photo credit: Doug Crouch

The second in the Gathering of Dragons series, A Touch of Stone and Snow is set in a world where tenuous alliances are formed when an ancient evil threatens to rise.

 

What was the inspiration for this book/series?

The inspiration for this series can easily be traced back to a childhood spent watching all of those classic (and sometimes awesomely cheesy) fantasy movies from the 1980s—The Beastmaster, The Last Unicorn, Red Sonja, Willow—combined with my love for historical romances and the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. Over the years, those stories swirled around in my head. So when it came time to write this series, I tried to take everything I loved about those texts—the sense of wonder and adventure, the swords and sorcery—while leaving behind what I didn’t love as much—the kind of sexism and misogyny that informed Red Sonja’s movie origin.

 

Your book is set in a fantasy world. What’s the most challenging aspect of creating an original world? And what was your favorite aspect?

My favorite part of creating a fantasy world is tossing in everything I love and that I think will be fun—why NOT have dinosaurs in my books?—but it’s also tied to the most difficult part of worldbuilding: making it all hang together in a coherent and sensible way. Some things can be handwaved away with magic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to consider the ‘real’ world consequences of those creations, from geography and habitat to how it all affects my human characters and their cultures.

 

Which fantasy author or book inspired you more than any other, or has inspired you most recently?

When I was in school, Jane Yolen, Meredith Ann Pierce, and Tamora Pierce ruled my world. They wrote exactly what I’d been desperate to read: fantasy novels featuring female warriors and heroes. After discovering them, I kept looking for more. When I was a little older, that led to Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series, which not only blew me away with its worldbuilding, but with its strong romantic currents and the dark edges. Reading those books changed everything for me. Not only because they were very much like what I desperately wanted to read, but because I didn’t know anything quite like them could ever be published. So as a writer, reading that trilogy gave me a jolt of hope.

 

What do you hope to see more of in upcoming fantasy books?

I absolutely love how fantasy has begun embracing more diverse voices—not simply Western or white writers incorporating aspects of other cultures into their own work and mythologies, but looking to other cultures and letting the people who are a part of them tell their own stories. 

 

If readers want to order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

I would love for readers to check out Loyalty Bookstore

 

What 2020 fantasy books are you looking forward to reading?

I have been stacking up books for as soon as I’m finished with my current deadline, and can’t wait to read Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

Andrea Hairston, author of Master of Poisons

Photo credit: Micala Sidore

In Andrea Hairston’s latest, a poison desert is spreading across the land and killing everything in the Arkhysian Empire. It falls to the emperor’s second in command to find a way to save their world.

 

What was the inspiration for this book?

I read about enormous tracks of Mississippi Delta wetlands, as large as a football field, getting gobbled up by the sea every hour and chunks the size of Central Park disappearing every month. These images haunted me. Pleas for contributions with envelopes featuring dead bees, skinny polar bears stranded on ice chunks, and elephants poking dusty riverbeds piled up in my mailbox. Folks were talking about climate dystopia as an inevitability. Devastation was normalized. We were just going to roll over and die, and oh well!

I am an Afro-futurist keeping company with Indigenous Futurists. I have South Carolina hoodoo ancestors who woke up in the morning with their minds set on freedom, who refused to entertain nihilist despair. They set out to make a way out of no way. Their conjure is still working through me. So I wanted to write myself out of the hopelessness and despair we feel facing climate devastation.

 

Your book is set in a fantasy world. What’s the most challenging aspect of creating an original world? And what was your favorite aspect?

The most difficult aspect of creating an original world is also my favorite thing! It’s really hard creating a map of the world, really hard finding out how the people, plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and stars make the weather and dreams. It’s a thrill to figure out how all these different elements come together across various timelines to make a story.

 

Which fantasy author or book inspired you more than any other, or has inspired you most recently?

Hard question! I love books and so many feed my spirit. Right as I started writing Master of Poisons, I reread a fantasy novel by Michael Ende in German: Momo (Or: The Strange Story of the Time-Thieves and the Child Who Brought the Stolen Time Back to the People). Momo is a young girl who listens to our spirits and allows people, young and old, to abandon themselves to the moment, to each other. The Gray Men promise to save time, but they actually roll our moments into cigars, and smoke time away. Momo’s challenge to their power is a thrilling, inspiring read!

Recently I have read and been inspired by The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas, The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older, The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty, The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.

 

What do you hope to see more of in upcoming fantasy books?

The books I mention in the question above are great examples of what I hope is a trend in fantasy. By trend I hope we mean a change that will last, that will alter the story landscape for a good while. The characters in and authors of these books are from all over the map—the geographical and cosmological map. The authors create a universe of stories that is multi-dimensional, surprising, and absolutely necessary in these trying times. We are suffering from acute mono-cultural-itis. These writers are the cure!

 

If readers want to order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

My favorite hometown bookstore is Broadside Bookshop.

 

What 2020 fantasy books are you looking forward to reading?

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty, The Burning God by R. F. Kuang, and Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse.

Bethany C. Morrow, author of A Song Below Water

On shelves now, Bethany C. Morrow’s debut YA fantasy transports readers to an alternate Portland, Oregon where sirens hide their gifts from humans who would persecute them.

 

What was the inspiration for this book?

I told my sister, “My voice is power,” while witnessing a Black woman being dogpiled and abused on Twitter, and immediately imagined it as something a Black girl who is also a siren would say, in a world where only Black girls are sirens and are therefore distrusted and silenced.

 

Your book is set in Portland, Oregon. What’s the most challenging aspect of writing a fantasy story set in our world? And what was your favorite aspect?

The challenging part, particularly when you’re not from that place, and when it’s not a place with its own mythology like NYC or Los Angeles, is knowing that people will be ready to critique your experience and presentation of that place against their own. Luckily, I am undeterred by that, so I enjoy it.

My favorite aspect is writing speculative work, period. I am driven to interrogate and indict the society around me, and having a specific locale whose personality is so out of sync with the observed reality and history is very much story fodder for me.

 

What do you hope to see more of in upcoming fantasy books?

I hope to see more Black American children in fantasy, full stop. I’d love to see fantasy that allows for that specific diasporic identity.

 

Do you have any upcoming virtual events? If readers want to order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

I will have many virtual events throughout the summer, and going into the fall. I’d love if people ordered my book through stores like Loyalty Bookstore and Cafe con Libros BK!

 

What 2020 fantasy books are you looking forward to reading?

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, and of course, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn.

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

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