Interview with Andrea Stewart (THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER)
Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes.
Hi Andrea, thank you so much for joining us on the Hive today!
Your debut novel The Bone Shard Daughter is due to hit shelves in September – could you tell our readers a little about it?
Sure! It’s an epic fantasy set in an empire of many islands, where law and order is enforced by the Emperor’s monstrous constructs. Each citizen has to tithe a shard of their skull to the Emperor, and these shards are used to power the constructs. But the Emperor’s rule is failing, and whispers of revolution are sweeping across land and sea. The story follows several characters. Lin is the Emperor’s daughter and erstwhile heir–seeking to prove herself to him and reclaim her position. Jovis is a smuggler, searching for his missing wife and doing his very best to avoid other entanglements (albeit unsuccessfully). Ranami and Phalue are two women in an established relationship, deciding where they fall on the lines of a rebellion while also dealing with class differences. And Sand is a woman trapped on a distant isle, trying to unravel the mystery of why she’s there.
It’s already had quite a strong and positive response from bloggers (I loved it). How has it felt?
A bit surreal? It was the seventh manuscript I’d written since trying to get published, so this all still feels like I’m drifting through a dream. Having a deadline for the second book does bring me back to earth a bit, though! I am so glad and a little overwhelmed that people seem to be enjoying it. Confession: every time someone says something wonderful about the book I have to take a moment before I can even respond. It definitely makes me determined to deliver the best next two books I possibly can! I have a whole complex about disappointing people.
I find it very hard to believe you could possibly dissapoint!
Could you tell us something about your writing process? Are you a serial planner, or do you find your plot is more organic? Do you find yourself getting lost in research?
Oh I’m definitely a planner. Now whether I completely stick to those plans…well that’s another matter. Since this trilogy follows a number of characters, I outline the plot for each storyline separately–with an eye for how the characters may interact and how their storylines affect one another. I outline chapter-by-chapter, since I strongly feel each chapter should be its own mini-story. Once I’m satisfied with the outline of each plot, I go through and shuffle them together in the order I think they should be in. And then I write!
Things have happened organically, though, where an idea occurs to me and I find I have to go back and reorganize or rethink plot points.
As for research, doesn’t every author get a little lost in research sometimes? At the very least, it’s an excellent procrastination tool!
I absolutely loved the world building in The Bone Shard Daughter, particularly the migrating islands. Could you tell us about your influences here?
One of the things I love most about fantasy is that sense of wonder and escapism you get from reading–you can very quickly be transported to a place that feels both strange yet lived in. I’ve always enjoyed stories with islands. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was by far my favorite Narnia book, and A Wizard of Earthsea was another early favorite. And I’m forever fascinated by the adaptability of humans. The islands migrate, keeping the inhabitants trapped in one season or another for a number of years and making navigation a matter of very complicated charts and equations. But for the people of the Empire, this is normal, and they simply get on with their lives.
You have a fantastic cast of characters, who were your favourite to write? Are there any fictional women who inspired and influenced you?
Oh, this is like asking me to choose a favorite child! I love different aspects of all of them: Lin’s intelligence and ability to work through problems, Jovis’s lightheartedness combined with his deep grief, Ranami’s fierce nature, Phalue’s big heart, and Sand’s determination. I think Jovis was quite fun to write sometimes; I also get amusement from my own jokes and almost certainly think I’m funnier than other people do.
There are so many fictional women I’ve loved that will forever influence me–Menolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall series, Lirael from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Alanna and Daine from Tamora Pierce’s books, Harry and Aerin from Robin McKinley’s Damar books…I am certainly leaving many out, but these are all such strong characters in their own unique ways. I have at many times alternately wished I could be them or be friends with them.
If The Bone Shard Daughter was to be adapted for television or film, who would you ideally cast for your main characters?
This is a really tough one for me! I have ideas in my head of what the characters look like, and they don’t really look like any specific actors I can think of. Maybe Lewis Tan (but uhhhh…a less muscular version) for Jovis? Maybe Lana Condor for Lin? Ranami and Phalue would probably be played by newcomers. Phalue is just this big, broad-shouldered woman, and Ranami is darker-skinned–and there haven’t been a lot of roles for darker-skinned Asian actors.
I found the idea of the Emperor’s constructs fascinating, comparisons can certainly be made between the commands of bone shard magic and the world of artificial intelligence and writing code, and the reflection of Asimov’s First Law. What were your inspirations here? Did you actively pursue these comparisons?
Yes! As soon as I thought of the magic in this world being bone-based, and that these bones were used to power and command constructs–I knew that there would have to be some logic to the way it worked. Lin needs to figure out how to essentially reprogram her father’s constructs to prove her worth, and to do so without breaking the entire chain of their commands. My husband is a software engineer, so I’d run some ideas past him when I was writing. And I love logic puzzles–I, Robot was the first science fiction book I read.
In my former job I was a compliance officer for grants, which often meant perusing document after document in a certain hierarchy to piece together what was and was not allowable spending for a particular grant. Sometimes there would be wiggle room in the language and I’d have to just make a judgment call.
I think language of any kind is messy, and no matter your intent nothing you write will be ironclad.
So I sort of live for this stuff.
Although The Bone Shard Daughter can be described as deliciously escapist, there were plenty of issues – for example negligent governments – that resonated with real life. How important a role do you feel fantasy has in holding up a mirror to issues we experience in the real world?
While I don’t think fantasy has to hold a mirror up to real world issues, I think it’s an excellent medium for doing so. There are so many possibilities available to us in fantasy that I think it can allow writers to cast a different light on issues or to explore different aspects of them–aspects that people might not normally think of. There’s a rhythm to stories that we don’t have in the real world. Stories circle back. Stories make sense even when exploring senselessness. There’s safety in that–and it can lower defenses we might otherwise have and make real world issues feel less overwhelming.
Looking Medusa in the eye might turn you to stone, but you can get a good, long look at her by using a mirror.
What can we look forward to next in the series? Please tell us more magical creatures are on the way! *crosses fingers*
Definitely more magical creatures and constructs, mysteries revealed, a deeper look at bone shard magic and where it comes from, more exploration of the past, reckoning with damaging legacies, bigger battles, and a couple new characters!
Finally, what one thing do you hope readers take from your stories?
I hope that readers can feel as immersed in the story reading it as I was writing it. There’s something lovely about living outside your world and even your own skin for a little bit. I want to lead my readers into the story so deeply they’re fully below the surface and our world is just a bit of shimmering light, far above.
I think we could all use a little bit of that right about now.
The Bone Shard Daughter is due to hit shelves on 8th September.
It’s available now to pre-order.