Please welcome K Arsenault Rivera to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Tiger's Daughter was published on October 3rd by Tor Books.
The Qwillery: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
K Arsenault Rivera: The first thing I can remember writing is a story about the itsy bitsy spider. I named him Joaquin, and this was his totally dramatic backstory. I was maybe six at the time. It never really slowed down from there—I used to write new endings for things we’d read in class and hand them out to my friends on looseleaf!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
K: A hybrid! I like to have the major story beats in my head and a strong idea of my protagonist and her arc when I finally sit down to write. That said, I find a lot of joy in spontaneous creation. If a scene veers too far from the outline I tend to go with it. Sometimes your outline doesn’t quite match up with who the characters are at that particular moment, and since I’m such a character focused writer I like to let them lead a little.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
K: Y’know, for someone who loves epic fantasy and sweet swordfights, I struggle a lot when it comes to fight scenes. It’s part of a larger issue—diction and cadence are important to me. Taking the time to think up the right metaphor for the occasion, or the right tone for a piece to have—all of these things fascinate and challenge me. I think the tone of a work is just as important as its characters, and in some cases more important than its setting.
Which brings us back to fight scenes. I can’t seem to get through one without using the word ‘slam’ at least four times. And fight scenes are so important in Tiger! They’re all over! What’s been helping me lately—a tip from one of my good friends—is to approach writing fights the way I approach writing horror. Focus more on the slow build up of things and the mood of the scene than the actual actions themselves, that’s been my strategy on the current project.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
K: For Tiger I was specifically trying to recreate the feel of my favorite Classics: the Iliad and the Odyssey (I know, I’m really basic). I wanted to do a big, sweeping story, one that spanned decades; a story as epic as it was gay.
To keep the tone of the book appropriately epic I like to read poetry before I start work for the day; I keep coming back to If Not, Winter, and The Ink-Dark Moon in particular.
Of course, the other major influence on Tiger is my fascination with Gothic novels. The epistolary style and my gratuitous use of commas and em dashes are, I think, a direct result of how many times I read Dracula as a teen.
And I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t say that shows like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t play a huge role in Tiger, too.
TQ: Describe The Tiger's Daughter in 140 characters or less.
K: Two princesses from rival nations are fated to fight a traitor god together. They weren’t fated to fall in love, but they do anyway.
TQ: Tell us something about The Tiger's Daughter that is not found in the book description.
K: I’m a huge fan of Hyakunin Isshu. All of the chapter titles from Shefali’s perspective are lines from a poem found there. In Phoenix Empress, I took a bit of a different approach with Shizuka’s—in general I have a lot of fun with chapter titles.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Tiger's Daughter?* What appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy?
K: Barsalai Shefali started her life as one of my roleplay characters! The whole of Tiger was a way to make my backstory interesting for my GM to read. I’m kind of notorious in my roleplay group for overly long character backstories and campaign fanfiction. Shefali’s isn’t even the longest character backstory I’ve ever written—but it was the one I thought best lent itself to a novel-shaped object.
I wouldn’t necessarily call Tiger historical fantasy so much as historically inspired. Even then it’s not a one-to-one sort of deal in a lot of respects. Shefali’s mother, for example, led a life much like Genghis Khan’s—but Shizuka’s mother has no historical parallel. That said I’ve always been a huge fan of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Tiger's Daughter?
K: Obviously a setting like Tiger’s requires a lot of research. For the Qorin I turned to Jack Weatherford’s Secret History of the Mongol Queens and Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. There was a lot more poetry involved in the creation of Hokkaro: Ink-Dark Moon again and the Hyakunin Isshu come to mind, as well as The Tale of Genji. Romance of the Three Kingdoms has also been a long time favorite of mine, and I started a new read of it before really getting to work on Tiger.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Tiger's Daughter.
K: So, true story, my editor Miriam (who is incredible, by the way) first showed me the thumbnails for my cover while we were huddled on the street outside Books of Wonder. The thumbnails—just the thumbnails—were so beautiful I started crying like a total dork right there and then. For the next five months I told everyone how amazing they were, and I think they got sick of hearing about it, but I mean—look at that cover!
Jaime Jones, who has also painted some of my favorite Magic: The Gathering cards, is the artist. It’s not really something directly from the novel but it definitely could be—the girls make a lot of long journeys throughout, all on horseback. Shizuka, especially, is spot-on with how I’ve always pictured her—the red and gold, that defiant look on her face. Shefali’s coat also looks especially fluffy. And the horses! God, I could go on about the cover forever.
TQ: In The Tiger's Daughter who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
K: Shefali was the easiest for me, which is fortunate, since we spend most of our time in her head. I’m not as quiet as she is, but I have a lot of the same hesitation around crowds and new people, the same idealistic outlook. Although, unlike her, I think I’d implode if I had to live in the woods for more than two days, and I’ve never ridden a horse!
Shefali’s brother Kenshiro gave me the most trouble. First off, I’m an only child, so sibling dynamics have always been something I’ve admired from a distance. Second, Kenshiro makes some pretty terrible decisions over the course of the novel. It’s hard to see him in a sympathetic light because of that—but those decisions also come from a place very dear to my heart. Unlike his sister, Kenshiro has never felt like he belonged in either Hokkaro or among the Qorin. His constant struggle to fit in and be liked is something I see a lot of myself in, as well as his clashing sense of identity. The hard part was writing him so that the audience didn’t hate him on sight.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Tiger's Daughter?
K: Tiger was from the beginning a queer love story, and from the beginning a story centering people of color. Even when it was a character backstory this much was true. When I translated that backstory into a full novel, those aspects were important to me—I wanted to write both the kind of fantasy novel I wanted to read.
On top of the main queer romance there are also lots of queer side characters, too. It isn’t necessarily a big deal, except for Shizuka and Shefali themselves, but that’s because they’re young for most of the novel.
TQ: Which question about The Tiger's Daughter do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
K: Hey K! If you were going to stat out your heroines for Pathfinder, what classes would they be?
I talked about this with my friend Paul once! He made a good case for a Ranger Shefali, which I agree with. Your other option for her would be a cavalier, I think, but that doesn’t allow you to have an animal companion—and Shefali’s not going anywhere without her horse. Shizuka is a bit harder to pin down—I think I’d go with a paladin, but even that’s not quite right.
Stats wise, Shefali is high wisdom, con, and dex; low cha. Shizuka is high cha, dex, and very, very low wisdom.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Tiger's Daughter.
“Home, for me, means two things. The first is you. Above all, you are my white felt ger, you are my bright red door, and you are my warm fire. But if I cannot have you, then I will have silver—the silver of the steppes’ swaying grass, the silver of winter, the silver clouds coloring Grandmother Sky.”
“I am Burqila Alshara. O-Shizuru entrusted me with the care of her daughter. If you doubt me, you are welcomed to try and stop me. I have killed in front of my children before.”
TQ: What's next?
K: The Phoenix Empress, out in July! It picks up right where Tiger left off. This time, we spend most of the novel in Shizuka’s head as she tells her wife about the War of Ink-on-Water.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
K: Of course! Thank you for having me!
The Tiger's Daughter
Their Bright Ascendency 1
Tor Books, October 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 528 pages
K Arsenault Rivera's debut, The Tiger's Daughter, the beginning of a new epic fantasy trilogy
"Rich, expansive, and grounded in human truth...simply exquisite.”—V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author of the Shades of Magic series
Indie Next List October 2017 Pick Paste Magazine's 10 Most Anticipated Books in October 2017 io9's Best Books Coming in 2017 The Verge's SF/F Books to Read in October 2017 BookRiot's Most Anticipated Titles of 2017 Medium's Most Anticipated Books of 2017 Bookish's Fall 2017's Hottest SF/F Books
Even gods can be slain
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach—but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.
A crack in the wall heralds the end…two goddesses arm themselves…K Arsenault Rivera's The Tiger’s Daughter is an adventure for the ages.
K Arsenault Rivera was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, but moved to New York when she was a toddler. When not managing a nutritional supplement store in Brooklyn, K is an avid participant in the roleplaying community, from which she drew inspiration for her debut novel, The Tiger’s Daughter. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her partner.
The Phoenix Empress
Their Bright Ascendency 2
Tor Books, August 28, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
The Phoenix Empress, the sequel to K Arsenault Rivera' the wildly buzzed about The Tiger's Daughter, an epic historical fantasy in the vein of Patrick Rothfuss and Naomi Novik
"Rich, expansive, and grounded in human truth...simply exquisite.”—V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author of the Shades of Magic series on The Tiger's Daughter
The Tiger's Daughter was... Indie Next List October 2017 Pick Paste Magazine's 10 Most Anticipated Books in October 2017 io9's Best Books Coming in 2017 The Verge's SF/F Books to Read in October 2017 BookRiot's Most Anticipated Titles of 2017 Medium's Most Anticipated Books of 2017 Bookish's Fall 2017's Hottest SF/F Books
Since she was a child, the divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an untouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.
Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.
As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?