This winter I read STARCROSSED by Elizabeth C. Bunce and fell completely head over heels for the writing, the characters, the world. I reviewed the book a while ago, but it’s one of those titles you can’t stop thinking about even when months have passed. With the sequel, LIAR’S MOON, on its way, I’m thrilled to have Elizabeth on the blog today to talk about Digger, history, fantasy, and the world of STARCROSSED:
E. Kristin Anderson: When I read STARCROSSED I thought of it as a high adventure fantasy. But on your website you describe your writing as historical fantasy. What does historical fantasy mean to you?
Elizabeth C. Bunce: STARCROSSED is definitely more traditional fantasy than my first novel, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD, but they both draw strongly from history, and I try to be as accurate with the period details of day-to-day life and technology as I can. I would define historical fantasy as fantasy based in or strongly influenced by history, but what it means to me as an author is the opportunity to highlight historical themes and issues and ideas that fascinate me, while simultaneously playing with all the fantasy aspects that I love. For instance, I find the real-life conflict between religion and science during the Renaissance to be an incredibly compelling backdrop for a story, but adding magic to the mix just brings another dimension to it, a spark, if you will, that makes it even more fun to write and, hopefully, read about!
EKA: Your world is completely made up, with seven different moons. How did this world come about?
ECB: Gradually, over a long (long, long) period of many (many) years. I started writing stories set in Llyvraneth when I was in high school (!), and so much of the world building is what fascinated me when I was fifteen-sixteen years old… although the adult stickler for accuracy had to figure out a way to make it all actually work! Thankfully I had the support of finer scientific minds than my own to work out the nuances of the moons and their orbits, and I learned so much about real moons in our solar system that led to entirely new and wonderful ideas I would not have come up with without the research.
EKA: I sensed elements of World War II, the Bosnian War, and other major world history events in your book. Have you always been a history buff, or did you end up doing a lot of research?
ECB: Yes, and yes! Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved stories set in the past, and as I got older began to appreciate the cultural and political intricacies of history, as well. But every new period I work with requires extensive research to get all those everyday details right. And you never want to skimp on the research, for fear of missing out on those obscure-yet-amazing tidbits you weren’t even looking for, but that send your story spinning in all kinds of new directions.
EKA: Why did you choose to make religion such a major part of the conflict?
ECB: It was actually a natural outgrowth of those early stories I wrote as a teen, which focused on the Llyvrin gods and the disappearance of magic. Later I grew interested in what the world would be like a few hundred years later, when the religious landscape had changed. When I first described the story that became STARCROSSED (about a thief mixed up in a religious civil war) to my editor, she exclaimed, “Oh, I love religious civil war!” Which, obviously, I understood to mean she found the topic as compelling story-wise as I did. I also knew that it was something teens would find relevant, particularly now.
EKA: You have a lot of invented language in STARCROSSED. Where did you draw from for this?
ECB: My background is in anthropology, and I’ve always had a strong interest in languages and etymology. One of the things I find so intriguing about the Renaissance era in our own history is how very cosmopolitan life in Europe was, with various nations all in contact with one another, and that was something I wanted to explore with these books. Often in fantasy you get the sense that neighboring countries all just sort of sprung up together out of the same soil, and there’s nor much to distinguish one region from the next. I wanted Digger’s world to feel real, as though people really were traveling across borders, speaking different languages, dealing with foreign politics and cultural idiosyncrasies, etc.
EKA: I felt so cold while reading STARCROSSED, with all the ice and snow and mountain air. Was your setting inspired by any specific time you spent in a cold environment?
ECB: This made me laugh out loud! Almost all my life I’ve lived where it snows a lot in the winter, so cold and blizzards (but thankfully not avalanches!) are certainly nothing new to me. But the winter of 2009/2010 was the coldest on record in decades–in some places for the last century! Where we live, we got 44″ of snow between Christmas and the end of February, which was the most we’d had locally in years. And then our furnace broke. On a Saturday night. I can’t recommend that kind of research, but it was an excellent reminder of how the cold seeps in through your bones until you can’t get warm again, how pitifully inefficient a fireplace truly is, and just how inconvenient dealing with all that snow can be. I found myself really empathizing with Digger’s situation, particularly as she was living through her first real winter.
EKA: Your previous novel was a fairytale retelling. How was writing this story – part of a planned series – different?
ECB: I think many writers see a big change between their debut and sophomore books, simply because the timing tends to work out so differently. For first books, you have years to craft and polish and shape the manuscript, and you seldom have that liberty with Book 2! But aside from those externally-imposed pressures of scheduling, deadlines, and writing on proposal, I was surprised by the characters, and how much research “they” needed me to do to tell their stories. That sounds a bit flaky, I realize, but the main characters of STARCROSSED and A CURSE DARK AS GOLD had such disparate personalities, it really did leak over into all parts of the writing process. Digger turned out to be a lot more impatient and impulsive with the research process than Charlotte, the protagonist of CURSE. It was almost as if she were sitting beside me saying, “Enough, already. I will tell you what you need to know to understand my story, but we have to go now!”
EKA: You had virtually no romance in this book, which is pretty rare for female-centric YA. Was this intentional, or did it just sort of happen?
ECB: This is such an interesting question, because it definitely reflects what’s going on in the industry, as well as reader expectations. Some readers may remember that the original cover of STARCROSSED was changed because buyers felt it implied a romantic tone to the story that wasn’t borne out by the text. I won’t say I set out to write a novel with no romance, but it honestly didn’t feel appropriate for Digger’s character. She had just lost the love of her life in Chapter 1, and in the time remaining for the story (which takes place over the course of about a month) it wouldn’t have felt right to thrust her into another relationship. Plus, as my mom said after reading it, “Digger was much too busy!”
I’ve been really intrigued by the response to this — people either love that has no romance, or they’re speculating about possible future romantic entanglements… and I got my first (very nice) review in Romantic Times, which was kind of funny for a book without a romance in it! Of course, there is much more romance in LIAR’S MOON, so now I’m sitting back and waiting (or bracing myself!) for everyone’s reaction to that.
EKA: Have you read anything truly wonderful lately?
ECB: I have. I’ve just finished Bill Bryson‘s newest, AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE which is the most fascinating thing I’ve read in ages. There is a germ of a story on practically every page. Fiction-wise, I got a sneak peek at Rebecca Barnhouse‘s upcoming historical fantasy from Random House, PEACEWEAVER, which is set in the world of Beowulf and follows a young noblewoman on a perilous journey to bind two warring peoples together. I just loved it, and felt like I was crouched in a shadowy longhouse, listening to a tale sung by a bard.
EKA: What’s next for you? And what are you working on now?
ECB: My agent has just sent a pitch for a third Digger book to my editor, and I am sketching out a possible outline for that while I wait to hear back!
Thanks so much to Elizabeth C. Bunce! If you haven’t already picked up STARCROSSED, I recommend you do so as soon as possible. It’s an absolutely exquisite reading experience!