Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Interview with Leena Likitalo, author of The Five Daughters of the Moon

Please welcome Leena Likitalo to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Five Daughters of the Moon is published on July 25th by Tor.com.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Leena a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Leena:  Thank you so much for inviting me! It's a pleasure to be here!

I have always loved telling stories. In fact, so much that I started writing before I learned to read. No one else could make sense out of my scribbling which somewhat dented my credibility. Yet as far as I was concerned, the adventures of the butterfly-fairies had been duly recorded and that sufficed to me for the time being.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Leena:  I'm definitely a plotter.

I like to understand the big picture and what needs to happen in each chapter before I unleash creativity from the gilded cage where I keep it until a story is ready to be fully written. Creating an outline also enables me to know pretty accurately how much time I need to complete a bigger piece of work – I could never imagine committing to a timeline without being absolutely certain that I can pull it off!

If we do look into my dark past, I used to be a pantser. Let's just say I've learned my lesson. There was this story where it took me over 200 pages to get the main character and his horse to the right continent… After that, it was borderline impossible to get the pacing of that story back on tracks!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Leena:  To me, it's not knowing if what I wrote, especially when it comes grammar and idioms, is at all correct English.

When I was in my teens, I really struggled to learn foreign languages. My father grew quite concerned about this and came up with a cunning plan. He dared me to read a novel from his fantasy and science fiction collection without the help of a dictionary.

Did I mention that his plan was cunning? The first book I read was none other than The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, and very soon indeed I found myself utterly and totally addicted to Wheel of Time and not so accidentally learned English.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Leena:  Endless curiosity in such scale that the world's kitten population is truly in danger here.

I've always been immensely interested in a wide variety of things: ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, fairy tales, royalty and aristocracy, French revolution, mechanical machines, early computers… I still go "ooh, shiny" every time I see an article about the history of a scientific discovery or an autobiography about a kick-ass woman. Usually after these "ooh, shiny" moments my brain starts ticking: where can I use this piece of information!

In terms of writers who've influenced me, Russian literature works fantastically in Finnish – though, I was probably the only kid in school who was ecstatic to read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I have a long lasting love-love relationship with Patrick Rothfuss' novels and I really enjoy the works of Mary Robinette Kowal, Gail Carriger, and Maria Turtschaninoff.

TQDescribe The Five Daughters of the Moon in 140 characters or less.

Leena:  Court Intrigue. Revolution. A Great Thinking Machine that devours human souls. No one is safe, not even the Five Daughters of the Moon.

TQTell us something about The Five Daughters of the Moon that is not found in the book description.

Leena:  Some of my favorite scenes were brainstormed over lunch breaks with my friend at the Helsinki museum of modern arts. And the two dogs, Rafa and Mufu? Completely based on her Italian greyhounds – I studied their mannerism and habits for weeks to get the details right!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Five Daughters of the Moon? What appealed to you about writing historical fantasy based on the Romanovs?

Leena:  It all began with the Great Thinking Machine. For years and years now, I have wanted to tell the story of a girl genius who hacks the machine. I knew all along that the story would take place in an industrialized empire, some time after a revolution. But I really needed to know more about the world to be able to flesh out the storylines – and that's where intensive research kicked in.

One day, I happened upon an article about the Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov family. Midway through the article, inspiration struck me with such force that whole scenes unfolded before my eyes and I started hearing voice - the Five Daughters of the Moon came to life and demanded I tell their story.

Though The Five Daughters of the Moon is inspired by real historical events, it's to be noted that I would never presume to write about real persons. Rather, I explore how a fictitious character placed in similar circumstances might feel and react.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Five Daughters of the Moon?

Leena:  Sensory details are very important to me. I need to understand what everything feels, smells, and sounds like. And when applicable, I also want to know how everything tastes.

Whenever I visit an old house, a ship, or a forest that strikes me a as a place that I might want to use in a story later on, I stroll around brushing surfaces and… much to the imminent embarrassment of my friends and family, sniff things until I can provide a sufficient description of the object in question.

I'm also obsessed with getting even minute details right. My friends can testify on this – I've turned to their areas of expertise when it comes to the direction of shadows during specific timeframe, diseases that cause the desired symptoms, plants that grow only in certain latitudes, and fabrics that give just the right touch of authenticity.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Five Daughters of the Moon.

Leena:  I'm the luckiest author in the world when it comes to covers! I absolute adore the artwork by the super talented Balbusso sisters and the cover design by Christine Foltzer.

To me, the cover oozes the very essence of the novel. I love the girl's expression – it's haunted and haunting but defiant, all at the same time. Her posture is that of someone standing before a tide of change that can't be avoided, only accepted. And the composition of the cover, with the Summer Palace at the back and the mechanical peacock in the front – yes, I'm a lucky author indeed!

TQIn The Five Daughters of the Moon who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Leena:  I love all the daughters, and it's borderline impossible for me to pick a favorite from amongst frail Alina, opinionated Merile, angsty Sibilia, passionate Elise, and rational Celestia.

But if I do have to pick one, I'm going to have to say that Sibilia was the easiest--and funniest--character to write. Fifteen years old, over-the-top emotional, sarcastic, and just a teeny-weeny bit self-centered, there was never a boring moment with her! She took control of her scenes as soon as I started writing, and then steered off the tangent, revealing the juiciest plot twists.

The hardest character to write… As the point of view character changes in every chapter, each of the daughters was the most difficult one to write on their own turn. Keeping track of who knew what and when was beyond challenging at times!

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Five Daughters of the Moon?

Leena:  Fantasy, especially steampunk, as a genre provides the option to explore social issues relating to industrial revolution and its aftermath.

The Five Daughters of the Moon is written from the perspective of aristocracy. In the beginning, the main characters are very young and hence somewhat naïve. But as the novel progresses, they gradually become aware of the reasons behind the revolution and start questioning the things they earlier took for granted – and this also opens the window for them to consider social issues.

TQWhich question about The Five Daughters of the Moon do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Leena:  Is it true that some of the scenes came to you in the form of an opera?

Yes, this is indeed true. Almost all the main characters have their own theme, which plays on the background of every scene in which they make an appearance. I could see and hear these themes weaving together to form a grander structure – this novel was a very sensory experience to write.

There's one scene in particular (looking at you, Chapter 9) where my writing prompt to myself was "Elise and Captain Janlav sing their famous duet about [removed due to spoilers]"

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Five Daughters of the Moon.

Leena:  I've gushed earlier about how much I loved writing Sibilia - and reading her early chapters always cracks me up. Here's a sample:

“Dear Father Moon.” Elise curtsied between giggles. I curtsied too, heart beating with guilt and excitement. Nurse Nookes would chide me if she learnt of this. To sneak from my room, to fool around outside without a coat or gloves!

But Elise spread her arms wide, bent her head back, and addressed our father. “Please send us lovers, handsome and tall.”

“Elise! You can’t just . . .”

Elise glanced at me, grinning. She fluttered her painted lashes. “I can’t just what? We are the Daughters of the Moon. We have the right to call out for his help when in desperate need.”

At that moment, I did consider if I really was that desperate to meet K again. His lineage is impeccable; not that I care about that sort of thing. He adores me. I’m sure of that, though we shared only one waltz, in secret, during Alina’s name day celebrations. But the look he cast me afterwards, from across the dance floor. Smoldering.

TQWhat's next?

Leena:  The second part of the Waning Moon duology, The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, is coming out in early November. You'd never guess, but I'm super excited about that!

I've also got two more stories set in the Waning Moon world in works. The first one takes place directly after The Sisters of the Crescent Empress. The second one will be the story about the Great Thinking Machine – at last!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Leena:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Five Daughters of the Moon
The Waning Moon Duology 1
Tor.com, July 25, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 224 pages

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.

The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future.

Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. The gagargi claims that the machine can predict the future, but at a cost that no one seems to want to know.

Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim.

Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn't care less about the unrests spreading through the countryside. Or the rumors about the gagargi and his machine.

Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have ever predicted.

And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the empress one day. Lately, she's been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fuelled by evil magic.

About Leena

Writers of the Future
LEENA LIKITALO hails from Finland, the land of endless summer days and long, dark winter nights. She breaks computer games for a living and lives with her husband on an island at the outskirts of Helsinki, the capital. But regardless of her remote location, stories find their way to her and demand to be told. Leena is the author of The Waning Moon Duology, including The Five Daughters of the Moon and The Sisters of the Crescent Empress.

Website   ~  Twitter @LeenaLikitalo  ~  Facebook


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