Evie Manieri is fascinated by intricacy. She loves books with complicated plots where every detail matters. Her debut novel from Tor Books is Blood’s Pride, first in her Shattered Kingdoms epic fantasy series. Evie grew up a product of the Philadelphia public schools, played French Horn, acted in drama club, sang in show choir then went on to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, studied theater and medieval history, majoring in Taking Herself Too Seriously. Her acting past ingrained in her ideas about pacing, dramatic tension, holding audience’s attention, economy, and not dissipating energy that influence her writing. The next book in the Shattered Kingdoms trilogy, Fortune’s Blight, is due out later this year. She can be found on Goodreads, Twitter and via her website at EvieManieri.com.
SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in speculative fiction come from?
Evie Manieri: Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Read it in fifth grade and was smote, in the biblical sense. My agent mentioned it in her bio. It’s why I queried her.
SFFWRTCHT: I think many have been smited by L’Engle. Besides L’Engle, who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?
EM: Okay, so, SFF first, and then others, because I read a lot of non-spec, too. SFF: Lewis Carroll, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, Tad Williams, Roald Dahl, Robert Heinlein, Peter S. Beagle, Douglas Adams. Others: Dorothy L. Sayers, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, W. Somerset Maugham, Sinclair Lewis.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
EM: It’s embarrassing, but I when I was a kid I used to narrate myself as I did chores around the house, to keep from getting bored. I’ve also had very vivid, narrative dreams my whole life. I still remember dreams I had when I was a kid.
SFFWRTCHT: I used to do stuff like that too. Sometimes, I still do but pretend I’m talking to my dogs…How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?
EM: Reading and analyzing what appealed to me, and in college studying history, but no formal study writing fiction.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels? When was your first pro-sale?
EM: Novels. Never written a short story that didn’t make me cringe. Blood’s Pride is my first – and only – published work, paid or otherwise.
SFFWRTCHT: Blood’s Pride is the story of a family and culture on the brink of revolution. As slaves plot to rebel against masters/conquerors and even brothers and sisters must choose sides for or against each other. Where’d the idea for the Shattered Kingdoms come from?
EM: It started with the Mongrel coming out of the desert – someone being pulled apart by opposing forces, loves, priorities. The struggle of the Shadari and the Norlanders is the same struggle, just blown up to a different scale.
EM: The Shadari are a peaceful people, but also insulated and suspicious. Mostly human physiology. They’ve abdicated responsibility for their collective knowledge and power to their priest class, the ashas. When the ashas abandon them without a clear reason, they’re helpless and horribly demoralized. The Norlanders were similarly insular until they find out about the Shadari ore. Now they’re a formidable imperial power. They are telepathic, fair-skinned to the point of translucence, have superior healing ability but can burn to death in the sun.
SFFWRTCHT: Burning to death in the sun is a hell of a handicap to have in such a Mediterranean-like climate, too.
EM: Definitely. It makes keeping control of the colony challenging.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did the novel take to write?
EM: How long? That’s SEKRIT. Let’s just say it’s older than my child, and I spent more time on it than I have on her.
SFFWRTCHT: Well, it’s nice she has an older sibling.
EM: Ha! Well, there’s plenty of rivalry, that’s for sure!
SFFWRTCHT: Which came first: world, plot, character? I guess maybe you answered this with the Mongrel?
EM: Right. Character, then plot and world-building together, while the characters continue to evolve in response to the world. It’s ridiculously, painfully iterative. I don’t recommend it.
SFFWRTCHT: In addition to Shadari and Norlanders, a third race are also involved. Tell us a bit about Nomas?
EM: I love the Nomas. They’re traders, but the men travel in caravans through the desert while the women are all sailors. The two groups get together twice a year, have a big party, and then shove off again for another six months.
SFFWRTCHT: Yeah, it was interesting that they live apart much of the year. That’s gotta be tough.
EM: They’re very laid back, very accepting.
SFFWRTCHT: You’d think they’d be a bit stressed…from…well, you know lack of contact.
EM: There are a few different solutions to that problem, and I’m sure they avail themselves of all of them.
SFFWRTCHT: Moving on, the Shattered Kingdoms. Tell us about the geography of your world. Mediterranean inspired, right?
EM: Yes. In Blood’s Pride we only see the Shadar, a small city on a little strip of land between the ocean and a low mountain range. On the other side of the mountains is the desert. It’s arid, and very isolated. They have little white, domed-shaped houses, but it’s all dominated by the Temple, a huge rock formation that’s been hollowed out into a beehive of chambers and corridors. It’s really what allows the Norlanders to survive there and to control the colony, after they make it their fortress.
SFFWRTCHT: An interesting architectural choice. Are you an outliner or a pantser? Did you follow the surprising ride or have it planned?
EM: I’m a pantser in denial. I make obsessively detailed outlines that I never end up following. I switched up a lot of things as I wrote. Some of the reveals were planned from the beginning, but a lot of them evolved.
SFFWRTCHT: I’m an outliner in denial I think. Writing my first novel post synopsis. Never did that before and actually using it. It’s good to have that freedom to let the story goes where it needs to though.
EM: I literally get a stomach ache when I’m trying to stick to an idea or a plot line that part of me knows is just wrong.
SFFWRTCHT: I’m glad I don’t get physically ill, but I do understand those feelings. I get so I can’t go on until I figure out where the problem is and sometimes have to backtrack.
EM: I think I heard people tell me to “listen to my gut” too often, and now I’ve got a complex.
SFFWRTCHT: Heh, they ruined you. There’s probably a support group for that. This is the first of a series. How many books are planned? Are they chronological? Are there gaps?
EM: I need the multi-pack discount for support groups at this point. There are three, chronological, no gaps to speak of. Fortune’s Blight picks up a few weeks after Blood’s Pride leaves off.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about your path to publication. How’d you wind up at Tor Books? The novel came out in the UK first, correct?
EM: Both deals happened at the same time, actually. It just wasn’t possible to synch up the publishing schedules. The deal with Tor went through my agent, Becca Stumpf at the Prospect Agency. (Love her so much!) Stubbornly, ruthlessly traditional. Becca was my 99th query. I never considered self-publishing. I knew I’d be crap at it. Plus, I already had a day job. I didn’t want another one.
EM: When I can. I have more time for writing now, but it’s still just one piece of the adult responsibility jigsaw.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or silence?
EM: Word. Nothing fancy. I still like my pencil and notebook for outlines, notes, character stuff. It’s calming. I was writing to some ambient music that was supposed to help me concentrate. A month later, I realized it was making me sleepy and sad, so I switched to 80’s alt/punk. Incongruous as hell, but effective.
SFFWRTCHT: I can’t write to music with lyrics though. I start singing and can’t focus. Do you struggle with that?
EM: No. I would have thought the same thing. I can only guess it occupies a different part of my brain.
SFFWRTCHT: What were some of your inspirations for worldbuilding and characters?
EM: This book was very internal and personal for me, so I could say “none,” but it would be more accurate to say “everything.” To tell this story, I needed a setting that had a harsh glare to it that I wasn’t going to get from the woods. I’m a bit agoraphobic, so this landscape felt threatening to me, and that’s what I wanted. I feel safer in the woods. It’s important that although the Norlanders are ostensibly in control, this is a world that is innately hostile to them. If they’re too comfortable there, it won’t work.
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve imagined two creatures they use as beasts of burden. Tell us about them #sffwrtcht
EM: They’re called triffons, but the Shadari have nicknamed them dereshadi after some legendary hell-beasts. There’s only one creature – just two different names.
SFFWRTCHT: Ah okay. They sound a bit like flying horses?
EM: Flying horses is a perfectly good analogy. They have a similar relationship with their riders, serve a similar function. The Norlanders would never be able to control the colony without them. They’d be sitting ducks as soon as the sun came up.
SFFWRTCHT: The use of multiple names, and naming, is important throughout the story, isn’t it?
EM: Yes, it definitely is. There’s a lot going on with the idea of identity, and names are a huge part of that. Names we’re given, names that are given to us. Titles that are used, abused, claimed, abdicated.
SFFWRTCHT: How much research do you do when writing? Before, after, during?
EM: During, for specific things. But I’d love to do something in the future that’s more research-based. Love research.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
EM: Worst: “You should write something people take seriously.” –- my mother. Best: “Let the first draft be ugly.” Very hard for me to share that draft. I don’t like anyone peeking behind the curtain.
SFFWRTCHT: How much language building went into your world building?
EM: Language – the role that the telepathy plays is an important one in the relationships between the Norland and the Shadari. Other than that, it’s really mostly in the character names, which really are born with the characters.
SFFWRTCHT: We might mention that Blood’s Pride, the title, is the name of a swords and for Norlanders, sword names are significant. Also, what’s so important about telepathy? Does it really change how the characters think, act, or interact?
EM: Hard to sum up, but it leads each race to make assumptions and judgments about the other that are later confronted. For instance, the Norlanders look completely cold and still when they’re speaking, but their communication is richly emotive. There’s also the fact that the Shadari’s written language is forbidden to anyone but the priests – and they’re all dead. (Oops!)
SFFWRTCHT: Final question: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
EM: Books 2 and 3 are my only irons in the fire right now, which is enough, believe me. Fortune’s Blight (Book 2) is in progress, and Strife’s Bane (Book 3) is on the horizon.