Please welcome Sarah Chorn to The Qwillery. Seraphina's Lament (The Bloodlands 1) was published in February 2019.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Sarah: I wrote a book in Kindergarten. It was about a family of bears that got lost in the woods while it was raining. I remember stapling the pages together and tying them with yarn and then proudly giving it to my teacher, who thought it was so wonderful she read it to the class during story time. I still have it sitting in a box in my basement.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Sarah: I’ve tried so hard to plot. I keep seeing people wax poetic about how wonderful plotting is and I try. I try so hard, and I hate every second of it. I feel too constrained, I think. I’ve never been good at coloring inside the lines. I guess I’m a pantser and always will be. It’s just how my mind works. I love the discovery I feel as I write.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Sarah: Finding time to do it. I have a day job, I’m also an editor, I have two small kids, and a house and family to take care of, plus health problems due to my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I almost never get an hour to just sit down and write. Seraphina’s Lament was written in 5-10 minute chunks throughout the day. I rarely get more time than that to sit at my computer.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Sarah: I’ve been reviewing books for about ten years now, and I’ve been an editor for going on three. I’ve read a lot of books. It would be impossible for me to say that those books didn’t influence me in some way. I love lyrical writing, and poetic prose, and I tend to glom onto authors who write that way and study their books intensely. Mark Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, Catherynne M. Valente and so many others.
TQ: Describe Seraphina's Lament using only 5 words.
Sarah: This question is killing me. Five words? I had to turn to my writing group to help me out here, because the tagline for the book is six words – “You must break before you become.” And one of my friends in my writing group piped up with, “A song from the Decembrists popped into my head when I was thinking of your book. The lyrics are, ‘Everything is awful.’”
So… there you go. I guess. This should be a question writers are asked in hell.
TQ: Tell us something about Seraphina's Lament that is not found in the book description.
Sarah: A lot of Seraphina’s personal story arc is almost autobiographical. There’s a whole lot of me in her. I gave her my spine and leg injury and chronic pain. She walks with a cane. Her days are dictated by the limits of her body. More than that, she’s coming to grips with herself, her situation and her body in ways that I very much felt during my own life when I was going through cancer treatments, and coming to grips with my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome diagnosis, and the ways this chronic illness is altering my body. The book’s tagline, “You must break before you become” was a line I thought up when I was in the hospital.
TQ: What inspired you to write Seraphina's Lament? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Sarah: I’ve always enjoyed fantasy. I think there’s a certain freedom with exploring complex ideas, that can often be uncomfortable, that you get in a secondary world, that you just can’t really accomplish when you write fiction set in the real world, and I’ve always liked that. Plus, I just really dig being able to create my own world, and the people that fill it. I guess I have a bit of a god complex in that way (har har).
Seraphina’s Lament was inspired by a trip to the historical nonfiction section of my library. I happened upon a bunch of books on Russian history and basically thought, “This looks neat and I know nothing about Russia so let’s change that.” It happened that the first book I read was on the Holodomor, which was a tragic genocide that I knew nothing about until I happened across it. I was transfixed. Up to 10 million people died in 1932-1933 due to Stalin’s horrible policies. Almost no one in the west knows anything about it, which is, in my opinion, completely and absolutely wrong.
I was reading this book, and the story just came to life in my mind. I knew I had to tell it.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Seraphina's Lament?
Sarah: I had to do an absolute ton of research. I had to not only understand what had happened, but it’s broader impact, and all the events that took place that led up to the Holodomor. I’ve spent over a year buried in Russian history. You can’t understand Stalin and his policies unless you understand Lenin. Lenin doesn’t make complete sense unless you really know more about the last three Tsars (at least), and Europe leading up to and through WWI, and the list goes on. One thing led to another, which led to another. A lot of my research gave me context for the events I was writing about. I didn’t realize how important that context would be until I was actually writing the book and detailing the events that take place in it.
However, it was equally important for me to understand the events of the Holodmor, and all the things that surrounded it. Yes, my book is set in a secondary world, and yes, I absolutely do take liberties with events and twist them enough to fit my book and the trilogy this is going to become, but the Holodomor was a tragic, horrible event, and I wanted to stay as true to it as I possibly could and doing that took a shocking amount of research.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Seraphina's Lament.
Sarah: Pen Astridge did the cover art, and I cannot praise her enough. She’s amazing. I’m pretty terrible with that sort of thing, so I sent her a rundown of the plot, some important points, and basically told her to go nuts with it. I was probably the least helpful person she’s ever worked with in her life. However, she sent me the cover for Seraphina’s Lament and I just about died. It doesn’t depict any one person or event, it’s more symbolic of people being marked by drought, and famine, and the death and tragedy that flows in its wake.
She’s an amazing cover artist. I can’t recommend her enough.
TQ: In Seraphina's Lament who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Sarah: The easiest character surprised me a bit. I expected him to be the hardest, but he’s the one where the story just took off and I wrote without thinking. That’s Taub. I expected to have a hard time writing about him because cannibalism is gross and just generally uncomfortable, but his part of the book came easiest. Maybe because he’s just so far outside of my comfort zone it was easier to write about him? I’m not sure why, but Taub just flowed out of me.
The hardest was Neryan, who is Seraphina’s twin brother. He is basically smothered by survivor’s guilt and he’s emotionally torn a few different directions. I had a hard time pinning him down, trying to keep his guilt relatable without overdoing it. I had to rewrite a lot of his chapters during edits, and nailing down his motivations was really a struggle for me. I think he was so difficult because he’s so incredibly close to the center of events, but not actually the center of events, and trying to keep him balanced just right was one hell of a task.
TQ: Does Seraphina's Lament touch on any social issues?
Sarah: There are a lot of social issues in the book. Slavery is a topic, as are governmental policies and how they affect people. Disabilities take a role through Seraphina, and so does race. There’s a lot here for people to chew on, if they want to, but I also tried very, very hard to not be preachy or in-your-face about any of it.
TQ: Which question about Seraphina's Lament do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Sarah: I think I’d like someone to ask why I thought it was important to make Seraphina disabled. The answer would be for a lot of reasons. One of which I mentioned above. Another is because I don’t see a lot of myself (my chronic pain, and disabilities) in fantasy books, and I really wanted to write a character that I could relate to. It’s important to see ourselves in the books we read, and I really wanted my chronic pain to be represented, not just for me, but for all the other people out there who deal with chronic pain. Maybe someone else with chronic pain will pick this book up, and see a character being strong, and central to the plot WHILE dealing with chronic pain. Too often we get swept into the margins or pushed onto the back burner. I want people to see a disabled person being badass because we belong in stories too.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Seraphina's Lament.
Sarah: I’ll give you the start of Seraphina’s first chapter, where I’m trying to describe her (my) chronic pain – this is how she starts the book:
Seraphina felt like she had swallowed the sun.
Agony, to her, wasn’t something that happened; it was a force that burned inside, as much a part of her as her soul. It started in her right foot, and traveled like a forest fire up her twisted leg to settle in her hip, and then eventually made a home in her lower back. Skin too tight, too much sensation for one body to hold. This was how she imagined the universe felt before it birthed planets. All this pain and pressure, this stretching and then, inevitably, the explosion.
TQ: What's next?
Sarah: I’m currently working on An Elegy for Hope, which is the book that follows Seraphina’s Lament. I’m also writing a social SciFi book about genetic modification called Glass Rhapsody.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Sarah: Thanks for having me!
The Bloodlands 1
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook
The world is dying.
The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.
In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.
Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a freelance writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, three-time cancer survivor, and mom to two kids. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.