Today I’m chatting with the lovely Danielle L. Jensen, author of upcoming YA release STOLEN SONGBIRD. The book is out this April with Strange Chemistry and I was lucky enough to read an early copy. It’s a truly magnificent story of magic, politics, love and deception. I loved it so much it hurt! So Danielle and I have been discussing the book through a series of emails to create a somewhat conversational interview, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Here’s a little more about the book before we start:
Description: For those who have loved Seraphina and Graceling comes another truly fabulous fantasy… For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined. Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity. But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader. As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.
KO: Hi Danielle! I’m so fortunate that I got the chance to check out your book early and, as you know, I LOVED it! The first thing that caught my attention from the book description was trolls. What attracted you to writing about them?
DLJ: Firstly, let me say that I am so glad that you loved it. I can’t even begin to describe how exciting/terrifying it is when you know readers have your book and you’re waiting for the first reviews to come in. So. The trolls. From what I’ve heard, you aren’t alone in having your attention caught by them. They certainly seem to be the aspect of the story that people are most interested in. Truth be told, when I first conceived of this novel, I didn’t plan on calling my mythical creatures living under the mountain trolls – I thought I’d be a good fantasy writer and come up with a wonderfully original name for them. But as I began drafting and developing the lore surrounding these creatures, I realized that I was drawing heavily upon the mythology associated with trolls. Combine that with the appeal of using the name of a monster that already has really negative associations in the minds of people, and I really had no choice BUT to call them trolls. There was a bit of risk to the choice given that people immediately envision the massive dumb creatures in The Hobbit or Harry Potter, but hopefully readers appreciate my twist on things.
KO: I definitely think it makes the book stand out on a first glance. I was very interested to see how you’d present them. And I certainly appreciated your twist. Speaking of creatures, let’s touch on the sluag, the slug-like flesh-eating creatures that lurk in the labyrinth surrounding the city. There’s something you don’t read about every day! Which just adds to the originality of your story. How did you come up with these monsters? A dislike toward slugs, perhaps?
DLJ: Does anyone like slugs? When I was coming up with the sluag, I knew I needed something that would leave a lot of…residue. And I’m not talking a few little turd pellets – I’m talking some serious nasty slime. I also wanted it to reflect the utter darkness of the labyrinth, which got me thinking about those weird looking eyeless fish that live really deep in the ocean. I have to chuckle a bit about originality, though, because while I was vacation last week I read the second book of Del Toro & Hogan’s vampire series where the vampires have sort of a stinger tongue thing for sucking blood. And I was like shitttt, did I totally steal that idea from back when I read the first book? Just goes to show you how weird stuff sinks into your brain without you evening noticing!
KO: Haha, I guess not! They are horrible creatures, so job well done! Yes, it is strange. I’ve panicked plenty of times when I’ve read or watched something that has similarities to what I’m writing/have written and wished I could unsee it! Now, let’s chat Trollus—the city under the Forsaken Mountain, surrounded by a labyrinth full of sluag creatures, and a magical barrier that keeps all the trolls from leaving. Despite its gloom, I thought it was a glorious setting, particularly the glass gardens. What do you like most about the world you created for this book?
DLJ: Thank you! Setting is such a tricky balance of saying enough to paint a picture but not so much as to be overbearing. I’d have to agree with you about the glass gardens being the most memorable – they are certainly the place that makes the greatest impression on Cécile. As far as my favourite aspect of the world of the trolls, I’d say that I like how precarious and fragile it is. Everything can quite literally come crashing down on Trollus at any minute.
KO: That is true. I felt a constant sense of unease while reading, as Trollus can be an incredibly cruel place. And the trolls are very much divided, which creates a lot of tension. Most of my concern was for Cécile, though. She is stuck in a strange and dangerous world where some view her as precious, but many view her life as disposable. Even so, she is feisty and brave, and I liked her right away. What do you hope you readers will come away with when they finish her story, or at least the first part of her story?
DLJ: Cécile is a total optimist. She always sees the best in people (and trolls!), and tries to make the best of bad situations. There’s a scene in the book where Cécile and Tristan’s aunt are talking, and she is more or less presented with two options: she can be a prisoner or a princess. She can sulk in a corner or take advantage of all this strange world has to offer. The plot of the book really hangs on her choosing the latter. So I hope people pick up on that characteristic, because her optimism is going to be seriously put to the test in the second book.
KO: Yes, I can think of many situations where her optimism is inspiring and gives her real drive. She’s a wonderful character. I really want to talk about Tristan now *swoon*! He must have been a hard character to get your head around because he has SO many layers. We get to see a lot of different sides of him throughout the story. What was your favourite side of Tristan to write?
DLJ: Tristan’s a bit of a complex guy, that’s for sure! But ironically, I find writing the chapters from his POV much easier. I’d say my favourite side of him to write is when he’s being snide and sarcastic because even though he’s being a bit of an ass, he’s also quite humorous (I hope!). I also like writing the scenes where he is uncertain or unsure, because it’s not something he’s used to. He’s quite the Machiavellian plotter, but Cécile really throws a wrench into his five year plan. I enjoy messing things up for him.
KO: I would agree that the snide/sarcastic side is a favourite. He is so funny even if he’s being a tad insulting! That side of him definitely had me laughing out loud at times. Let’s wrap up with a bit about your beautiful cover. It’s stunning, and represents the book perfectly (IMO). Can you break it down and explain in a little more depth what’s happening within the image—the dress, the tagline, the background—if we were to look a little more closely?
DLJ: I love it too! I definitely won the cover lottery, which makes me really excited to see what I get for books 2 and 3. The cover is really a window into the world of the trolls. In the background you can see the city, which is made of stone and is quite beautiful, but you can also see the cavern that encloses it. I think the artist, Steve Stone, did an amazing job of showing both the darkness of a cave city and the light of the trolls’ magic. Obviously Cécile is the girl in the picture, and I like how seeing only part of her face hints at what she looks like while still leaving a bit up to the imagination. Her dress was designed to show the wealth of the trolls, as well as to convey that the story takes place in more of a medieval era world. The glass rose plays a role in the story, but I think the main reason it was included was because my editor loved that part of the novel so much. The tagline is a quote from Tristan – I believe he says it twice – but you’ll have to read the book to find out what the unthinkable is for our two protagonists.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.
Strange Chemistry is currently running a Goodreads giveaway with 5 advance copies of STOLEN SONGBIRD up for grabs. Open to US, CA, UK, and IE, this is not one to miss! Click here to visit the giveaway page and good luck!