by Leah Bobet
The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family farm.
When Hallie hires a veteran to help them, the war comes home in ways no one could have imagined, and soon Hallie is taking dangerous risks—and keeping desperate secrets. But even as she slowly learns more about the war and the men who fought it, ugly truths about Hallie’s own family are emerging. And while monsters and armies are converging on the small farm, the greatest threat to her home may be Hallie herself.
Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: October 6th 2015 by Clarion Books
ISBN 054428111X (ISBN13: 9780544281110)
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a writer, editor, and bookseller living in Toronto—the city where I grew up—in a house full of writers and artists. Things I like a lot: Indoor gardening, when our mint plants aren’t dying of spider mites. Cute little dresses with jet-plane prints on them! Playing old Final Fantasy games! Tiny bands that are just on the verge of making it big! BBC shows where people murder each other! Very good tea! Adorable dogs! (I know exactly what I will name all the dogs I will have when I live in a house where dogs can live too.)What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
I do a lot of my work around books: Both selling them as a specialty bookstore staffer and doing a lot of teaching-style critique as a Resident Editor at the Online Writing Workshop for SFF and Horror. But I’m also deeply interested in local history and municipal politics—the same tricks for looking at systems you need to revise a novel let you think about day-to-day problems in your neighbourhood as interconnected, too. So I’ve spent time as a City Hall-watcher and presented before committees there, helped organize workshops on how to bring issues to City Hall, volunteered with organizations that pick urban fruit trees and plant gardens in neglected spaces, and worked in politics for a few years. I love my city a lot. Stories are my heart, but Toronto’s the ground beneath my feet.
Obviously, craft matters: People spend their lives learning not just how to write strong characters or plots, but all the ways that elements of writing interact, influence each other, hold each other in tension. But the longer I spend as a writer, working with story, the more I’ve become convinced that the most important element of good writing is honesty.Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I think one can write very accomplished books just saying the things that one’s expected to say, or that are easy. But more and more, the books that affect me—that stay with me—are the ones where you can feel the blood and guts on the page: where the author is talking about something that desperately matters to them and you connect through the page for this shining moment. I will forgive a lot of messy craft for a story that’s raw and real and true.
I’m very focused on both sentence-level work—the right word, the right neighbours for it, the right tone, rhythm, and order. I can pick at sentences for hours to get them to do the things I want. But challenge means learning something new, which means growing, and I’d rather be growing than not.What books have most influenced your life?
My book—my best book—is and always has been Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. I watched the animated version when I was about three years old (and had nightmares about the Red Bull for years; still do sometimes), and ever since I was old enough to read it, I’ve read it once every year and always taken away something new from between the lines. It’s a book that unfolds like a flower: It always has something to say to me. I always have something to say to it. We have been together all our lives. We always will be.Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
The other book that floated to the top of my head is an adult hard science fiction novel: China Mieville’s Embassytown. I picked it up because it’s a revolution novel whose science-fictional element is linguistic, and linguistics was my degree major—but it’s also, quietly, a novel about what you put up with from other people and what you do not. There is one element of the protagonist’s backstory that looks like a throwaway detail (it’s not): She’s a living simile for an alien race who can’t say anything that’s not literal, and the simile she is? “The girl who was hurt in the dark and ate what was given to her.” In the four years since I read Embassytown, that detail has stuck with me: The idea of eating what’s given to you. Of eating dirt because that’s just what’s on offer. Of not doing that anymore.
I think I changed how I do things after I read Embassytown. I changed how I move in the world, for the better. In a whole sprawling epic of a novel, that one idea subtly changed my approach to the whole world, and still is.
A few, yes! The best book I’ve read lately is a first novel: Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal, which is about a twelve-year-old girl who lives in a floating village called Mermaid’s Hands, off the coast of Florida. She sends a message in a bottle into the sea, and it ends up across the world, in the hands of a political prisoner who’s trapped in a prison over a volcano crater. It’s a novel of their letters, and the way their friendship moves each other and the whole world, and it’s brilliant. It’s smart, it’s kind, and it’s absolute poetry.Can you share a little of your current work/projects with us?
In YA, I was blown away by Charlene Challenger’s first novel The Voices In Between, which is a Pied Piper novel—except the children the Pipers steal away are kids and teenagers whose homes and families aren’t the greatest places to be, and who need somewhere better to go. It’s a book about healing, and what makes a place safe or not, and it’s a book that’s kind, which is something I’m looking for a lot in my reading lately. There’s going to be a sequel, and I’m seriously excited for it.
An Inheritance of Ashes, which comes out in October, is the big thing on my plate right now. The protagonist of Ashes, Hallie, is sixteen and desperately trying to keep her family farm together: It’s been months since all the men marched south to fight a very epic fantasy war with a dark god, and her brother-in-law hasn’t come back. When a veteran shows up at their gate, wanting to hire on for the winter, she takes a risk and hires him on, thinking that if she can keep the farm going, it will fix things between her and her older sister Marthe—and make sure Marthe doesn’t send her away like her father sent her uncle away when she was young. But her new hired hand has secrets too; he’s on a quest too. And all hell is coming after him.How did you come up with the main character?
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever written, but it’s got a lot of things I love: Epic battles, fixing relationships that are broken, people who try very hard. Walking trees made out of deer horns. Jokes. Quests. Diverse worlds. The good kind of love. And telling a different kind of story.
With AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES, I wanted to tell the other side of the Great Epic Fantasy War Story: What all the people at home go through, the questions they can’t ask, and what happens when someone you love comes home from Mordor and can’t sleep. So Hallie was very much a product of her situation: If someone had survived this terrible, tense family life and then war punched a hole through her family—and left her with the terrible responsibility of somehow running a fifty-acre farm singlehanded so the people she loves most didn’t break apart or starve—how would she feel? The answer came pretty quick: Angry. She’d be furious, and so afraid all the time, and the loneliest person in the world. Hallie knows she’s up against pretty impossible odds, but she tries. She wants to be a good person, and she wants a home and family that works right. Everything she does sprung out of that: Her desire to love people well and be loved in return, and her fear she’s never going to make it.What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of your finished book?
Really, really happy. The cover for Ashes is kind of breathtaking—there’s so much detail in the bird’s feathers, and so much big, endless sky. I think I probably said something impressed and unprintable, and then ran around for a week singing a little song under my breath about my bird with no head and not knowing how it says caw under those conditions, and then my friends laughed at me.If you didn't like writing books (Which you do), would would you see yourself doing for a living?
I can’t honestly say that I like writing books 100% of the time. Like any kind of work a person does, there are ups and downs, and the fact that the ups are great and fun and exciting doesn’t make the downs or difficult parts any less real, frustrating, boring, or sad. Writing for a living is a three-dimensional experience: It’s important to expect that and not let the hard parts make you think you’re somehow doing it wrong just because they, well, exist.What is something you hope to accomplish before you die?
If I was doing something else, though—there’s so much. I think Alternate Universe Me would be ridiculously happy doing urban agriculture or anti-poverty work for a small non-profit; I do a lot of volunteering around that, and it makes Current Universe Me ridiculously happy. I’d love to go do a Master’s degree in social history or urban planning and help create better neighbourhoods; I’d love to throw myself all the way into video game design and learn a programming language or two or five; I’d love to start a local gardening and canning business; I’d love to open a tea house with good music and a ridiculous pun name; I’d love to design knitting patterns.
I’m always going to be making something. I’m always going to be tinkering with systems, or being a bit entrepreneurial. I’m not sure writing novels is going to be forever, for me. But I’ll be making things until I die.
This may sound a little ridiculous, but: I really would love to learn how to ride a bike. I was a cautious kid, who was maybe not pushed enough to try things that could hurt, and so I never actually got past training wheels. There is a bright green fixie in the window of the bike shop down the street from my house, and I know it would just fit right under my feet.
Author Guest Post
By Leah Bobet
Hanging out with him was not what I was used to.
He wasn't trying to impress me with money or cool or a mastery of pop culture, and he wasn't trying to not impress me either. He was just himself, all the time, and he obviously liked it when I was just myself, even when it was a little outside of his experience. Without the fear of going on a date wrong lurking over our shoulders, we had a lot of fun: We left our phones at home, made a picnic, and snuck away to the beach on a whim. We jumped in big piles of autumn leaves in High Park. We walked back to his place through underground malls and pretended we were dungeon-crawling, complete with treasure drops. When problems came up—and they did, because they do—we sat down and worked through it, what he needed and what I needed, until we had a solution to try.
During the day I would sit with my laptop and build this novel about one desperate girl trying to keep her farm and family together in the aftermath of a strange and terrible war—and how that war kept showing up on her doorstep. In the evenings he and I would get Vietnamese and stay up all night to watch NASA's Curiosity rover land. And when I hit the part of the novel where the romance thread kicks in, I thought about the trope of what a being a great boyfriend means in lots of young adult—and adult!—books. And it didn't sit right in my gut when I thought about that guy I liked.
There's a stereotype of what a heterosexual romantic relationship in YA fiction will look like, and I think as a category, we've grown past it. I love the messy, real-people complexity of the relationships in books like Cristina Moracho's Althea and Oliver, Tessa Gratton's United States of Asgard books, or Maggie Stiefvater's Sinner. I love books that show us more, because while there's a satisfaction in a book giving us the thing we expect sometimes, I've come to think that where those tropes fail us is when they make it look like there's just one way of being in the world—that this is what love has to look like.
And, y'know. We all negotiate our own terms. With life, and with each other.
So along with all the other tropes AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES was working on flipping, I got to work on writing a different kind of relationship: between an exhausted, despairing, stubborn, brave girl and a boy who's been to war and back with a leg that doesn't work half the time now, but who is, in many ways, just a regular teenage boy—one whose mouth gets ahead of him, who gets shy sometimes, who loves and squabbles with his sister and wishes his parents were a little less overprotective; who's enthusiastic, who's afraid of things too, who has dreams and role models; who cries when his heart breaks. A guy who's all too human, and whose humanity is enough because it's what makes him easy to love.
And I worked on writing a relationship for them that might actually work, even in the messes they were in. If they were good to each other. If they sat down and worked things out when they were in pain. If they were partners.
Because I love being loved for being just myself. It's not glamorous; it's quiet, but it's magic. And because sometimes we can upset the tropes, break the conventions, and still end up, arm in arm, with our happy ending.
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