Interview with Rebecca Ross (RUTHLESS VOWS)
Rebecca Ross is the #1 New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of fantasy books for teens and adults. She has written multiple highly acclaimed duologies, including Letters of Enchantment, Elements of Cadence, and The Queen’s Rising as well as two standalone novels: Dreams Lie Beneath and Sisters of Sword & Song. When not writing, she can be found in her garden where she plants wildflowers and story ideas. She resides in Northeast Georgia with her husband and her dog.
Welcome back to the Hive, Rebecca! Congratulations on your new duology Letters of Enchantment, which starts with the hugely successful Divine Rivals and follows with Ruthless Vows. For readers who may not know, can you tell them a little about both books? What can they expect in the conclusion, Ruthless Vows?
Thank you so much! Divine Rivals is about two rival journalists, Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt, who form a magical connection with letters against the backdrop of a war waged by gods. Ruthless Vows is the continuation and conclusion of the story, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but we see Iris and Roman not only fighting to be with one another again, but having to make difficult choices in order to change the tides of the war. I pitch this duology as “You’ve Got Mail” in a WWI inspired fantasy setting.
Your worldbuilding is richly layered with myths and forgotten legends surrounding the God’s War and the effects of their conflict and lingering magic. What initially inspired you to write about these two warring gods? Are Enva and Dacre based on any well-known mythological figures?
When I was initially envisioning the world, I asked myself, “Why does magic exist in this world? Where is it coming from?” Sometimes these are fun questions for a fantasy author to delve into and answer, and sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming. But I do discover most of my worldbuilding as I’m writing, so it was during those first few chapters that I realized gods and goddesses were involved, and they had been previously championed by mortals and put to sleep in graves. I then asked myself, “What would happen if two of the gods woke up from the grave? What if they had tangled history they still needed to resolve between them? How would they go about it, and what would happen to human kind in the process?” The mythology and magic bloomed from there. And I also drew inspiration from Hades and Persephone for Dacre and Enva.
And can we expect to delve even deeper into the God’s myth in Ruthless Vows?
Yes. The gods will not only be on the page, interacting with both Iris and Roman, but secrets and revelations will also come to light in Ruthless Vows.
As a genre, fantasy often touches on war, but rarely is it influenced by any as modern as the 20th century; what made you base yours on WW1?
My very first vision of Iris and Roman was the two of them competing for the columnist position at the newspaper. I could see typewriters and cups of tea and golden lamps on desks. It gave me an immediate sense of time and place–the early 1900s. I also knew that Iris’s brother was missing in action at war, and it drew me to the trench warfare of WWI.
There is a very poignant and honest reflection upon loss, grief and lives torn apart by warfare. Did you always plan to explore these themes in such detail, or did that naturally occur as you began writing?
I actually didn’t plan them. Those themes effortlessly emerged as I was writing and exploring both Iris and Roman’s pasts and present struggles and emotions. But I will say I started writing Divine Rivals at the end of 2020–a very difficult year for so many of us. And as I was preparing to draft Ruthless Vows, I lost my grandmother after she spent months bedridden, suffering from dementia. She was an integral part of my life, and to lose her was painful. In many ways, I think these books were a way for me to process my grief.
And yet your writing maintains a cosy atmosphere which is further punctuated with much whimsical magic sprinkled throughout. How did you find writing the balance between dark themes and the lighter parts?
I feel like hope and wonder and love shine the brightest when they can be contrasted with those dark, sad, difficult moments. And even though this is a YA series, I didn’t want to shy away from the gritty topics. I think it makes for an emotional and powerful read, because you are experiencing those hard moments with the characters, but then the hope and the coziness and finding love against all odds feels even greater. It is a balancing act, but I honestly wasn’t trying to weigh the scales as I was writing this story. I wrote what I felt would be true–there are such horrors and terrible things that happen in the world, and yet there is also such beauty and goodness and hope.
Which leads us to discussing your two main characters: Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt. What inspired you to write about two rival journalists who fall in love through anonymously writing to one another? And how did you find crafting each of their letters?
I’ve always wanted to write a story about writers. I’ve also always wanted to write a story where two people who don’t like each other in real life fall in love through letters. When I first envisioned Iris and Roman, I was so intrigued by them and their initial spark–their banter at the Gazette, their vast differences in upbringing and class, as well as how they secretly harbor respect for the other’s writing. The letters give them both the chance to be vulnerable and to open up parts of their past and present, and I thought that was just a beautiful idea to build a story on. I loved crafting both of their letters. It was my favorite part of writing these books.
If you could borrow Iris’ typewriter for one letter and have it magically sent to anyone anywhere, who would it be and what would you write?
Such a fun question! This might sound odd, but I wish I could send a letter to my younger twelve-year-old self. I would tell her to keep going, keep dreaming, keep writing. To not compare myself to others. To reassure myself that I am perfect, just as I am and just as I was.
Such a lovely answer!
Aside from enemies to lovers, are there any other tropes you feel particularly drawn towards? Or any that you would like to explore in the future?
I love found family and marriage of convenience! I’ve never written fake dating before, which I think would be so fun to explore in a fantasy setting. I’ve also avoided writing a love triangle, simply because I’m not so sure how I would handle it, lol. But I never say never, and one day might challenge myself with it.
What’s next for you, Rebecca? Do you have any upcoming projects which you can share?
My lips are sealed about my next project, but I will say that I am very excited about it and I can’t wait to officially share more about this book (hopefully within the next few months). I do have both YA and Adult books coming in the near future, so while 2024 will hopefully be a “rest” year for me (rest in the sense that I’ll be at home writing my next books without publishing anything), I think we can expect something to hit shelves in 2025. 🙂
And how will you be celebrating the release of Ruthless Vows? Is there any chance of you coming to the UK to tour?
Ruthless Vows published on December 26th in the US, which made for a very interesting book release! I visited my local Barnes & Noble for a signing, which I loved. It’s a tradition of mine to go to a bookstore on pub day so I can see my book on the shelf. It makes it feel all the more real.
As for a UK tour…I would absolutely LOVE to come visit and meet my readers! I’ve had so much support and love from UK readers, and I truly hope to have a tour at some point. Nothing is currently in the works, but fingers crossed it’ll happen within the next few years!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from this duology?
I’m going to quote the inimitable Kate DiCamillo. Years ago, when I had just signed my first publishing deal, I came across this quote of hers, and it left such a mark on me as a soon-to-be-published author. I have never forgotten it, and nor could I say it any better:
“I hope that readers laugh. I hope that they think about their souls. I hope they think about how they are connected to the people around them. I hope that the story makes them feel less alone.” –Kate DiCamillo
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you for having me!