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Rachel Hartman on SHADOW SCALE, Why She Loves Writing YA, and More

Rachel was born in Kentucky, but has lived a variety of places including Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She has a BA in Comparative Literature, although she insists it should have been a BS because her undergraduate thesis was called “Paradox and Parody in Don Quixote and the satires of Lucian.” She eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books. She now lives in Vancouver, BC, with her family, their whippet, and a talking frog and salamander (who fight zombies)(really. There are a lot of zombies in the Pacific Northwest).

Kristin Centorcelli: Seraphina was a hit, and fans are eagerly awaiting Shadow Scale! Will you give us a hint at what’s to come in the new book?

Rachel Hartman: Shadow Scale sees Seraphina leave the comfort of her home and friends and head out into the wider world in search of the other half-dragons. She hopes that by gathering them together she can save Goredd from the ravages of the dragon civil war, but collecting the half-dragons is more complicated than she ever imagined. One of her own is working against her, determined to see both sides go up in flames.

KC: What do you think makes Seraphina a heroine to root for, and how do you think she’s grown or changed the most since the first book?

RH: I think Seraphina strikes a chord with a lot of readers because she is – literally – what so many of us believe ourselves to be during our teenage years: not quite human, and terrified of what will happen if anyone gets the slightest inkling of the truth. The first book sees her struggle and grow toward self-acceptance. In the second book, she has to move on from there, to move out of the safety of home and the confines of her own head, in order to carve out a place for herself and others like her in the world.

KC: Why dragons?

RH: I’ve always liked dragons. They’re very versatile. On the one hand, they are the most bestial and horrifying of monsters; on the other, they may be depicted as supremely intelligent or transcendently wise. Sometimes they encompass both extremes at once (Smaug is a famous example). I feel like they are the best and worst of ourselves, a prism through which to get another look at our own natures.

KC: Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

RH: I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old, but I didn’t decide to pursue it seriously until I was about thirty. Before that, I wrote and illustrated a comic book called Amy Unbounded, which was also set in Goredd. I used to take it around to comic cons, which was wonderful fun but a terrible way to make a living. When my son was born and we moved to Canada, I decided it was time to write in earnest, and that’s when I began writing Seraphina.

KC: What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?

RH: The first things I ever wrote were comic strips with all the words spelled backwards (accidentally; I was unclear on left vs. right). It was my sixth grade teacher who really introduced me to the idea of creative writing, and then I began writing bad fantasy novels longhand in spiral notebooks.

KC: What do you enjoy most about writing for a young audience?

RH: I write for a young audience because I found books the most magical at that age, and single book still had the power to change my life. There are authors who made a huge difference in my life, who I can never thank. Writing is my thanks, an attempt to light a lamp for the next generation in turn.

KC: Worldbuilding is an important part of a series like this. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?

RH: Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain was one of my favourites as a kid, along with Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley. Middle Earth, Narnia and Pern all had their moments, of course. As an adult, I’ve been particularly fond of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I like his model of setting many different books in the same world, with characters who move in and out and are seen from different angles. I’d like to do something like that with Goredd.

KC: What are a few of your favorite authors?

RH: I like Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, and George Eliot best. I could go on. And on.

KC: What are you currently reading?

RH: I just started Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian, although I haven’t gotten very far with it yet. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been so busy for the last month or so that reading has had to take a back seat for now. I’m hoping to get back to it soon; the books just pile up otherwise!

KC: You’ve lived in quite a few diverse places. Where have you not visited yet that you’d love to travel to if you had the chance?

RH: Machu Picchu and Pompeii are right up at the top of the list. I really love ancient ruins.

KC: What’s next for you?

RH: I’m working on another pair of books set in Seraphina’s world but with different characters. These books will follow the adventures of one of her younger half-sisters. Seraphina will have the occasional cameo, and I find I really enjoy showing her from a different viewpoint.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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