Wednesdays are a struggle for everyone, so today, I had the chance to interview Shana Abé, author of The Sweetest Dark, and I'm sharing the conversation with you. Her answers are lovely, and I'm so thankful I had this opportunity to chat with her.
I just finished The Sweetest Dark a few days ago, and my favorite part was being able to relate everything I learned in my British Studies class (I took this when I studied abroad in England last spring) to this, and I absolutely loved the historical setting. (But more on that later in my review) I also had no idea she wrote another series, which I soon plan to check out somewhere, and I'm getting ready to start the second of this one.
1. What inspired you to write The Sweetest Dark, or where did your idea come from?
I had been writing about the drákon, my shapeshifters who can Turn from human to smoke to dragon, for a few years, and I’ve loved every moment of it. But I realized that even though I wasn’t ready to give up the drákon, my next heroine was going to be very different from any of the others. For starters, she sixteen. She’s sassy, clever, and alone in the world—or so she thinks.
Her name is Lora Jones, and she’s one of those characters who spoke to me so strongly and so beautifully that I knew I had to write down her tale.
2. The Sweetest Dark is not only a paranormal fiction, but it is also a historical fiction. What interests you about the time period, and why did you want to set your book in it?
I had this very clear vision of a scene: a young dragon battling an airship. I wanted it to be as historically accurate as possible, and airships as weapons were only deployed during World War I. (As the Hindenburg later demonstrated, flying around in giant balloons filled with flammable gas wasn’t the best idea, even in times of peace.)
I was already drawn to the Edwardian era, the fashion, the technology, the way the world was changing so rapidly. So having Lora be an Edwardian girl made perfect sense. She’s a natural part of all the elegance and wonder of that time, plus she has to deal with German airships!
3. What was your research process like?
I’m one of those people who actually enjoy doing research, so it was a lot of fun. I learned a great deal about the way people lived then...it really helped me to appreciate how good we have things now! There was a huge shift from the years right before the war to the war years themselves in terms of civilian lifestyle. Edwardians swung from this period of golden prosperity and leisurely refinement (for the upper class, at least) to one where food became strictly rationed, and brothers and boyfriends were sent off to die in trenches far away, and everyone worried about where to flee in case your town got bombed.
Yet people on both sides of the conflict thought the entire matter would be resolved in a matter of months—both the Germans and the English were certain they would win that quickly. Obviously things didn’t turn out like that at all.
Lora also endures a dramatic shift in her life, but in her case, the war was the catalyst to get her out of London (where she lived as an impoverished orphan) to the southern coast of England, where suddenly she’s a charity student at a very, very elite boarding school. And for the first time in her memory, she has enough food to eat, and clothes without holes, and a room of her own.
It’s a tremendously different world for her. But it all still had to be realistic for 1915, so she lives in a gothic castle that isn’t wired for electricity, and she wears long skirts and corsets every day. She’s never talked on a telephone or ridden in an automobile or even taken a train before. It was very interesting to put myself in her shoes and figure out all those things for her.
4. Which character did you most like to explore while working on the book? Who is your favorite, or who was your most interesting to write about?
I have to say that all three of the main characters are my favorites, and all for different reasons. Lora is awesome because she’s the most like me, I think. She’s narrating the entire tale, so everything she said and did had a real immediacy for me.
Jesse’s wonderful because he’s the patient, kind boyfriend I always wanted to have. He knows he’s fallen in love with someone who’s extraordinary in every way, and he relishes it.
Armand is great because he’s the dark horse of the story, and I love that. He’s the guy you want to dislike but you just can’t, because deep down he’s decent and caring, even though he tries to disguise it.
5. Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what's the most productive work music?
I usually work in silence, but sometimes I do listen to nature sounds, recordings of rainstorms or birdsong or things like that. I can’t listen to any sort of music with words, because that distracts me from the words I’m trying to write. And I can’t listen to any sort of music that becomes too familiar to me (even without words), because then I find myself anticipating what comes next in it, instead of focusing on my story.
I don’t know how anyone can study or work while listening to music they love. I would never get anything done!
6. What can you not get enough of right now?
Pasta. Seriously. Since Lora was starving as an orphan (that was historically accurate, too; poor children died of malnutrition all the time back then, even in a city as sophisticated as London), she really, really enjoys eating now. I gave her a superfast metabolism so she can handle it and stay skinny, but essentially she’s starving still. So each meal becomes this sort of symphony of hunger and pleasure for her, where she tries to eat as much as she can, as politely as she can, without having any of her teachers notice and make her stop. The food in the story had to sound luscious, and writing those scenes always made me hungry, LOL.
7. A little bit of advice to aspiring writers?
Never, never give up. Never listen to anyone who tells you that you aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough, to succeed. Write because it makes you happy. Write because otherwise the stories in your head will drive you insane if you don’t get them out into the world. Write because writing is like breathing for you, like the blood pumping through your heart that keeps you alive. Just keep writing. :-)
Look out for my review of The Sweetest Dark, I'll have it up in the very near future! (i.e. most likely today at some point)