Interview: Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor calls herself a “writer-artist-daydreamer-nerd-person” – a fitting description for an author of books that push the boundaries of genre fiction. Her award-winning short story collection Lips Touch, Three Times blended fantasy with everyday emotion to create something uniquely relatable, and her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy has captivated readers world-wide. The first two books – Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight – were released in 2011/2012 to critical acclaim, and now the long awaited end to the trilogy is nearly here. In celebration of Dreams of Gods and Monsters being released in April, NZ Booklovers caught up with Laini to talk about the book:

In the Smoke and Bone series you have a unique take on the age-old angel/demon story – where did the idea come from?

In all of my books, beginning with my first (the Dreamdark series), I’ve enjoyed playing with the idea that human mythology and folklore are inspired by a veiled reality, that all the creatures from myth are real, and humans have gotten glimpses of them over time. From these glimpses—a “monster” here, a serpent “goddess” there, etc—we have spun whole detailed stories and even religions that are our own invention, with only the barest seed of truth. In this case, I like to imagine that, seraphim and chimaera being the dominant species in a neighboring world, humans had spotted them now and then over the past several thousand years, and created the myth-versions of angels and demons. We’ve glorified and demonized them, but really they’re just physical creatures living out their own lives and wars and tribulations. It’s much more interesting to me that they’re neither good nor evil, but just creatures, the same way we are.

The locations in the books are all beautifully rendered, both earthly (especially Prague and Morroco) and within Eretz. Where in the world would you like to visit most, and does this relate to the way you’ve written the settings? Also, do you find it easier writing about a fictional or existing place?

Dreams-of-Gods-and-MonstersThank you! I love to travel; I have a huge dream travel list! As for where I’d like to visit most, that changes all the time, but I am craving a remote and exotic travel experience, like Borneo, or the Andaman Islands, or the Galapagos. It’s easiest to write places I’ve been, like Prague and the kasbahs of Morocco, but fantasy settings are fun in a different way. I love to create places that make me (and I hope readers too) dream of going to them, like Poison Kitchen or the Kirin Caves, or even the very final location of Dreams of Gods & Monsters.

I came across this question asked by HachetteNZ recently, and it’s too great not to share: “If you could snoop through any celebrity’s bookshelf, who would you pick?” (And why?)

Gosh, that’s not something I’ve ever wondered about! The person who comes to mind first is Angelina Jolie, and I think that’s because her work in the world goes so far beyond acting. I imagine her bookshelves are pretty interesting.

Ok – this might be hard to narrow down, but what books or authors would you say have inspired you the most in your writing?

The easiest answer is JK Rowling, because it was Harry Potter that brought me back to fantasy in my post-university days. I’d stopped reading it, though it had been my great love as a young reader, and it was only when I found my way back to it that I discovered my own voice as a writer.

So far, all your published stories have had a supernatural element.  What is that draws you to the fantasy genre?

Partly, it’s just more fun. My imagination just naturally wants to take these paths toward magic and mystery and color. But deeper than that, fantasy enables us to frame huge themes and ideas in ways that are not just palatable and digestible, but even delicious. When we look at things like war and hatred and slavery in the context of our real world, we see the through the haze of a lifetime of associations and preconceptions and cultural identifications, and we also feel helpless, because they’re massive and overwhelming, and we’re just one person. But in fantasy, we can provide fresh context and invest ourselves, via our characters, with the power to act and create change. It’s hopeful.

One of the best parts of reading about Karou and Akiva is that, despite their differences, their relationship is so relatable and honest – even the parts where Karou kind of wants to kill him. What did you find hardest about writing their story? And, conversely, what did you enjoy the most?

Thank you! I hope so! I spend a lot of time in each character’s head, trying to discover what they would “really” do in a given situation. A book often feels to me like a web consisting of each character’s emotional truth, and how their unique set of wants and fears “tangles” with every other character’s unique sets of wants and fears. At one point in the writing of Dreams, it felt to me like rolling a bunch of balls of yarn at each other and seeing how they collided! I can’t always predict in advance what the outcome will be. I’m trying to do the natural “true” thing at every step, and make every action feel like the natural result of an organic motivation. Whew! With Karou and Akiva, I had to see if I could arrive at a place where forgiveness felt true. I admit that when I started writing Days of Blood & Starlight, I had my fears that I’d set myself too great a challenge! In the end, I’m very pleased with how it all came together. (Thank you, balls of yarn!)

In Dreams of Gods and Monsters, you introduce a few new faces, and explore new aspects of familiar characters (Liraz in particular comes to mind). The character growth comes across very naturally – is it more difficult writing new sides to characters, or exploring the newer chracters such as Eliza?

I try very hard to let the character lead. What does this mean, in practice, since of course I’m creating them at every step? I don’t decide in advance what they will do. I create situations and put myself in their heads. I write scenes and try to follow the unique “emotional logic” of each character. Not: what do I, the author, want them to do for the sake of the narrative endgame? But: if I were Liraz right now, what would I do? As far as which is more difficult, new characters or established ones, it’s all the same challenge: to create believable people at various states in their own journeys. They surprise me all time.

I know that the trilogy has been optioned for a potential film series – are you looking forward to seeing your characters brought to life on-screen? How involved are you with this process?

I am very much looking forward to it! Universal Pictures is making the movie with the Roth Company producing (Roth’s latest picture is the forthcoming Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie). Australian director Michael Gracey has just finalized the screenplay with British playwright Jez Butterworth, and I’ve been able to be involved all along the way, including writing an intermediate draft of the screenplay. The visual development is absolutely stunning so far, and I cannot wait to see more!

I absolutely adored Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and am very sad to see the trilogy end. I assume this is the last we’ll see of Karou and Akiva? (though I hope I’m wrong). Are you working on anything new at the moment you would like to tell us about?

Thank you so much! I wouldn’t absolutely rule out seeing more of Eretz and the world of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. At a certain point in the writing I got very excited about a particular spin-off possibility. That said, I’m on to new ideas at the moment, and have just decided what my next several books will be—just not quite which one will be first!

Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the final is the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, is published by Hachette, RRP $29.99, and available now.

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Arielle is a avid reader, writer and music-geek in her final year of a Bachelor of Visual Arts degree. She loves all fiction but can’t seem to stay away from sci-fi and fantasy. She lives in Auckland with too many books and not enough shelves.

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