Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Sara B. Larson. She is the author of the Defy trilogy. This young adult fantasy trilogy follows a strong female character named Alexa, who is in charge of saving her kingdom as well as her prince. In this interview, we get insight into the Defy trilogy and into her writing in general. Thank you, Mrs. Larson!
1. What inspired you to write Defy?
DEFY came from a very difficult period in my life, when I lost someone I loved. I was so upset by his death that I couldn’t write anything, but a friend of mine told me to stop trying to write a book and just write what I was feeling. So that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and wrote a scene, not intending for it to go anywhere…but then I got curious about the characters. This whole fascinating world unraveled itself and I realized Alexa had a very intriguing, difficult, but ultimately amazing story that needed to be told. I threw myself into that writing and from there the story took on its own life. It became a story of survival and moving forward, a story of what true courage and strength is, and a story about the many different kinds of love, and hope (even in the most desperate of situations) and risking everything for the chance of a better future.
2. The Defy trilogy is set in a medieval kingdom surrounded by jungle. How did you decide on that setting?
As I said above, the world pretty much came to me how it was, without forethought. However, I’ve always been fascinated by the jungle and loved THE POISONWOOD BIBLE as a teenager, so I’m sure that was somewhere in my subconscious, waiting to come out!
3. Alexa experienced a lot of loss. Did her story parallel a time in your own life that you drew upon?
Her story definitely stemmed from a place of loss, and that had a major impact on these books. I have experienced loss in many forms throughout my life and Alexa’s story actually taught me so much about dealing with those losses. Loss doesn’t always have to be death, either. It can be the loss of a dream, or the loss of the life you thought you would have, the loss of health, or many other things that cause us grief and pain. So no matter what I, or any of my readers, may be struggling with, I really loved the imagery at the end of ENDURE to look to the sky and remember the sunrise, to remember the light always comes back after the darkness, and to always seek for the happiness in our lives.
4. Besides Alexa and Damian, who are your favorite characters in the trilogy?
I love so many characters in these books (and truly hated a few, too). Rylan was an amazing character who made me cry as hard as I’ve ever cried writing (or reading) a book because of the growth he went through and the selfless love he exemplified by the end of ENDURE. The same for Eljin. I loved his character and Tanoori, as well. And sweet little Jax. How could you not love him?
5. Defy and Ignite are told from Alexa's perspective. In Endure, why did you choose to tell the prologue and epilogue from Damian's perspective?
I wasn’t intending on writing from his point of view, but when I sat down to start drafting the book, it just came out and then it felt so right I stuck with it. He deserved to have his voice heard, to get the chance to share his side of the story. And I loved sharing seeing Alexa through his eyes for the first time, since the rest of the story is all from her limited (and sometimes negatively biased) point of view.
6. What drew you into the fantasy genre? Is it the freedom to step outside reality and create your own unique world?
I’ve always loved fantasy. I love the possibility of saying “what if this could happen?” and then running with it. And after writing realistic fiction once and having almost exactly the same events happen in my life, I really enjoy creating stories and worlds where the bad things can’t actually happen to me!
7. Your books are classified in the "YA" genre. Does this genre come natural to you, or do you find yourself having to "tone down" elements of your story?
It definitely comes naturally to me. I think if I wrote for adults I would get told you need to “tone up” the elements of your story!
8. What are some of the challenges of writing a trilogy versus a stand-alone story?
Trilogies actually come pretty naturally to me, too. I can’t seem to come up with stories that resolve in just one book. (Though never say never! It would be much easier to just write one book and be done!) It is definitely challenging to make sure you keep all the threads of the different plotlines and character arcs moving together, weaving it all into the one great whole that makes up a truly good trilogy. And though it can be tricky, I love putting in little tidbits and hints of things to come in earlier books that won’t make sense until you reach the last book. It’s such a thrill when readers tell me they went back to reread the books and caught so many things they’d missed before and that it was like reading a different book the second time. I love that!
9. How did you feel after finishing the trilogy? Did you miss it, or were you ready to move on?
I was so sad! I still miss writing in that world and those characters. It was such an emotional ending to write, it was very bittersweet, to say the least. But it is also very exciting to move on to new worlds and new characters. As with many things in life, it’s complicated. ;-)
10. What message do you hope readers will take away from your trilogy?
I hope they take away what I did – the courage to face whatever difficulties and losses they’re dealing with in their lives, and that imagery of the sunrise. I think my dedication sums it well: to look to the sky and remember.
11. What projects can we look forward to next?
I’m hard at work on edits for my new YA fantasy, DARK BREAKS THE DAWN, coming out with Scholastic in Summer of 2017. It’s being pitched as GRACELING meets SWAN LAKE. I’ve always loved Swan Lake and have spent years trying to figure out how to do a retelling or incorporate it into a storyline. When I finally came up with this idea it all just clicked! I’m so thrilled to share this story with my readers next year!
Sara B. Larson is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel, Defy and its sequels, Ignite and Endure. She lives in Utah with her husband and her three children. Visit her website.