Author Spotlight – Dana Swift (CAST IN FIRELIGHT)
Dana Swift started making up fantasy worlds when she was eleven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in English and Advertising. While in college, Dana competed as a saber fencer and learned a thing or two about fighting, parrying and how it feels to fall in love with your sparring partner. She currently lives with said husband in Miami, Florida. Her YA Fantasy debut, Cast in Firelight will be published by Delacorte Press January 2021. She is represented by Amy Brewer of Metamorphosis Literary Agency.
Welcome to the Hive, Dana Swift. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary romance this year, but by far my favourite fantasy I read was SHIELDED by KayLynn Flanders. It has my ultimate favourite trope which is the combination of arranged marriage and hidden identities. My debut, CAST IN FIRELIGHT, also has similar tropes so it was no wonder I’d fall in love with this book. SHIELDED was fun and she delivered a YA fantasy that feels familiar and yet fresh. Her main character Jennesara, is strong, enchanting and such an amazing heroine to follow.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I think right away I would answer Sorcerer with innate magic since that is what I write about and love to play characters with magical abilities. However, I’m not as knowledgeable about D&D as my close friends and my husband. When I asked him this question, he thought my personality fit more with a Cleric since I’m a rule-follower who supports people and doesn’t like to hurt anyone. I can’t say he’s wrong about that.
In terms of weapon I’d probably pick a sword since I fenced saber in college and competed in many tournaments.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
Haha, some of these examples are much more fun than reality. To start, I write with music, normally the same song out on repeat or a playlist I’ve cultivated for the book over time. I type the story on my laptop, but brainstorm using a journal, so all my notes and pieces of dialogue are written in sloppy rushed handwriting.
I’m a hard-core gardener who lets even things like worldbuilding elements find their way into the story naturally. I think you can guess that means I’m also a panster. I even write out of order at times whenever I hit a wall. I also work mostly at night, a habit I picked up in high school and college where I’d finish all my schoolwork and then have time for myself. And that time was used to write stories. I used to write on the go while traveling, in cafes, at work, but now I wear comfy clothes and mostly write at my desk or on the couch.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I’m a big fan of many female fantasy authors. To name just a few I admire: Sabaa Tahir, Susan Dennard, Mary E. Pearson, Naomi Novik, Kristen Cashore, and Hafsah Faizal. There are countless others who I greatly respect. I’m so appreciative for female fantasy authors who are forging a path for other fantasy science fiction authors.
I would love to cowrite a book with someone one day, but I think I would like to write a contemporary with fantasy elements rather than creating a secondary epic world with someone else. When it comes to crafting a whole magic system, different cultures, and new places it’s a personal journey of imagination and inspiration. So much worldbuilding and decisions go into it and many of those decisions come from exploration writing for me. I also think it would be easier to write a book with someone when it’s based on our world and that way we could outline and focus more on characters. It’s a dream to write a dual narrative story where one author writes one point of view and I write the other so their voices and personalities sound completely different. In regards with who I’d pick I don’t know. But maybe in the future once I’ve met more authors!
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
My most current TV show I’m watching is season 2 of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. I loved season one because it explores issues of grief and family while also being funny, romantic and of course musical. It’s such an interesting show and I can’t help but root for the main character Zoey.
I’ve been playing a few board games with family recently like good old-fashioned Taboo. But I love charades, fun word and memory games. In terms of online games most recently I’ve loved Among Us, Fall Guys, and one of my friends has introduced me to tabletop stimulator, where we can play board games online.
Tabletop Stimulator is one of the things that got me through lockdown…
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Lately, I’ve been spending many days not writing and using my time to promote my debut coming out. But that’s not a very fun answer and it still counts as work. I normally use my free time to read, watch TV, and take my puppy on walks. If the Pandemic wasn’t going on in this reality shift I’d travel or go to a museum while spending time with my husband and family.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
My current WIP is the sequel to CAST IN FIRELIGHT so I can’t say much. It is in the editing process now and I’m so excited about it. It’s more action-packed, fast-paced and with a twisty plot. I wrote over half of it in the middle of the Pandemic and am really proud I was able to finish it in a time where I was isolated and didn’t have my normal creative outlets, for instance writing in cafes. It’s a little darker than my debut, but overall I think the story digs into deeper issues and develops the characters even more.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
This is a great question that I feel like I should know off the top of my head, but it’s hard because during debut year I’ve learned so much about publishing and how to edit my work.
In summary whatever I’m about to say is probably the thing that stuck to me personally the most. And for me that’s learning about myself and my process. I’ve had countless writers tell me the importance of having a community and a tribe and I always agreed and yet kept my writing and publishing ambitions a secret for most of my life. So, the truth in that statement of embracing friends, family, and writers support has been life changing.
The least helpful advice I’ve ever gotten is probably the few people I’ve met along the way who really love self-publishing and advise everyone to do it. I love self-publishing as well, but I always knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to collaborate with a team of people. I wanted other people’s opinions and I wanted my book on bookstores’ shelves. Everyone has to do the research and make the decision what path they would like and so I don’t think anyone should try to convince you one way or the other.
That is an excellent point Dana! We’re all different after all.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I actually seem to hit a block around the 20% mark and the 60% mark where the book is entering a new act and I need to make a decision of where the story goes from here since I don’t outline much. So, there are many days I don’t want to write. And some days I don’t.
Overall, before the Pandemic I would say I forced myself through it and was a bit harder on myself, but this year I’ve taken a bit more breaks. And I’ve learned a lot about when to take my breaks. I do find switching locations to be the most helpful for instance writing in a café instead of at home. That’s why with the Pandemic my best technique has been impossible so I’ve found opening up the document and telling myself I will just read what I have already written. Sometimes reading a good scene will motivate me to keep working. I’ve also used going for a walk and listening to music as something to change up the mundane of my apartment. Another huge motivation is going to an in-person writing group (now virtual) and reading my work or even listening to other’s stories and critiques. It makes me remember the importance of storytelling and the beauty of language.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Truthfully, I think I opt more for the future than the past in these kinds of questions and of course for made up magical worlds whenever possible, but if I had to pick, historically I would really love to visit Classic Greece during it’s prime. Their society has always fascinated me, and I love ancient Greek mythology so it would be wonderful to explore the culture first-hand.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Some of my favourites are: Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games. In TV and Film, I’ve always loved Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Princess Leia from Star Wars. There are countless others. I always appreciate a well written female character doing amazing things.
In regard to my writing I really enjoy confident, witty and sarcastic female characters. I simply love being in their heads, especially first person and really getting the sass non-stop. I also love in books seeing confident characters have vulnerability and moments of doubt and insecurity which I think is harder to portray on screen.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
A book I love that I don’t think gets enough attention is FRACTURED TIDE. A lot of 2020 debuts didn’t get as much promotion as I think they deserve. One of my top reads this past year was this YA thriller that came out in May. It’s about survival, family, monsters and interwoven in the narrative is science fiction elements that were both surprising and unique. The story is so well written, and I wish I saw more people talking about it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Dazzling is a strong verb and I’ve always felt like pitching my book was the hardest part of the process, but I will try my best, haha.
CAST IN FIRELIGHT is a YA Fantasy Romance following Adraa and Jatin, two teens arranged to be married, but neither too happy about the prospect. After years of writing letters from afar the two meet again and mistakenly don’t realize who the other is. Then when Adraa’s inventive magic called Firelight, gets stolen the two team up undercover and as vigilantes to find the criminals and discover why and where her magic is being taken. All while neither realizes who they are partnering with and maybe falling for.
I wrote it to have the voice, humour and romance of a rom-com and the action, fantasy and pace of an adventure story. I do hope many connect with it.
That’s brilliant, thank you so much for joining us Dana, and we wish you the best of luck with your debut!
Cast in Firelight is out from 19th January