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Books Interviews

London Shah feels compelled to tell stories: an interview with the author of Journey to the Heart of the Abyss

London Shah has been dreaming about a submerged world for years.

The British Muslim author, who is of Pashtun ethnicity, said in an email interview that she specifically dreamed of a submerged Britain. Not that she wants the current world to be flooded; just that it’s an image that has hovered near her for much of her life.

And now London’s sophomore novel, Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, the second in a duology about a 16-year-old submersible racer named Leyla who goes on an epic adventure to save her father and discover the secrets the government is hiding, is about to release. It’s set, fittingly, in an underwater version of Great Britain.

“The setting came first, long before any characters,” Shah said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not fantasize about our world carrying on beneath the surface of the seas. I imagined a submerged world as aesthetically close to our current one as possible, and nothing too hard sci-fi.”

Shah was mesmerized by the idea of a realistic underwater world, not one populated by mermaids but one where humans could watch present-day sea creatures — a huge whale, maybe an octopus — living their lives right outside our spheres of existence.

The first book in the duology, The Light at the Bottom of the World, was published in 2019 and the closing book publishes on Nov. 16, 2021. 

“Every feeling and thought I had ever held about what life might be like living deep underwater, I have explored in these books,” Shah said. “All the wonder and magic, all the constant, suffocating perils, and of course all the endless possibilities! I explore them all. I have lived with this fantasy forever, and I am excited beyond words to finally share it with everyone.”

Shah said that growing up she loved studying English, writing fiction for assignments and telling stories, but that she never considered that “author” could be a viable career option. 

“As a South Asian Muslim, back then I never believed writing was even an option for people like me,” Shah explained. “I have always loved creating with words but was never exposed to the idea of doing anything with that passion. Nobody I knew was a writer, and I knew exactly nothing about the publishing industry.”

Despite this, Shah said she is filled with ideas, which compel her to write. She has a vivid imagination and has been envisioning different worlds and stories since at least kindergarten. As much as creating new worlds to play in can be difficult, Shah said she loves doing it.

Worldbuilding is intoxicating,” she said. “It is a lot of hard work, but watching your very own creation come to life—this whole other reality!—makes all the challenges worthwhile. It is exhilarating.”

She is motivated to write as well to tell the stories of characters of color. As a woman of color herself, Shah said she loves to fill her stories with main characters whose backgrounds and ethnicities reflect real-world people who do not often get to see themselves in the pages of their favorite books.

“To provide representation for those who have rarely seen themselves in the pages of a book, rarely experienced those like themselves going off on epic adventures and leading amazing quests, is the best motivator,” Shah said.

And in fact, because she writes for teens, Shah indicated that their reactions also propel her forward and motivate her. Her first book was a Battle of the Books selection and she’s been blown away by the reception among teens and students.

Another demographic who’ve embraced her book? German readers.

The book has been translated to German and published by Loewe Verlag, and Shah said she has loved seeing the book’s reception in that country.

“Its reception has been heartening and affirmative, and readers in Germany have been so enthusiastic and positive and lovely,” she said.

In order to write Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, Shah said she planned the book out scene-by-scene. Famously among writers, the second book in anyone’s career is notorious for how difficult it can be to write. Shah said she worked to overcome this slump by planning the whole book and by focusing on her craft, including by reading.

In fact, Shah believes so much in the power of reading to a writer’s craft that it’s what she recommends to aspiring writers.

“Expose yourselves to the art of storytelling whenever and however you can,” she said. “Recognize the things you feel most passionate about and that way if you are ever stuck for ideas, you will already have a rich source of details to pick from. Using and exploring what we feel an intense connection with ensures the story remains exciting to us, and has plenty of heart.”

In addition to Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, which is an anticipated conclusion to a fantastical debut, Shah recommended several other books she’s loved.

Currently, Shah is reading The Silver Tracks, which is book four in the Mirrorworld series by Cornelia Funke. She described it as, “remarkable.” In addition, she recommended Ciannon Smart’s summer debut Witches Steeped in Gold, saying, “It is different and fierce, and I loved it. Smart’s worldbuilding is to die for; it is rich and original, and you completely lose yourself in its ferocious heart,” and adding that book is a “thrilling, unpredictable read.”

Finally, Shah recommended the entire Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon. “Despite the heavy themes throughout, there is a tenderness to the narrative I have rarely encountered elsewhere in fiction,” Shah said. “The result is an enthralling experience. I barely took any breaks between the books, hardly breathed for fear of being rudely dragged out of that mesmerizing world. The next instalment in the series is my most anticipated book.”

Shah can be found online or on Instagram, and Journey to the Heart of the Abyss releases on Nov. 16, 2021.

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Editor's Picks Books Interviews

Victoria Aveyard talks about her newest fantasy “Realm Breaker”

The ever-popular Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard debuted in 2015, taking the world by storm with a fascinating premise – a world that’s divided across genetic lines, where power and oppression stem from families that grow cushy because of their supernatural abilities, only to have their worlds turned upside down when the ‘have-nots’ realize a unique power of their own. The series is officially being adapted into a TV show, and Victoria Aveyard has taken another step into the genre of high fantasy with her newest release, Realm Breaker, which we reviewed here.

Author Victoria Aveyard sat down for an exclusive interview with The Tempest, where she talked about her latest release, her story-writing process, and her thoughts on the future of fantasy.

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? And if you could be a member of any Guild from Realm Breaker, which would you choose and why?

 Obviously, I would love to be some kind of immortal, but I know in my heart I would realistically be a hobbit. Or, some townsperson who is not involved in any of the adventures at all. As for Realm Breaker, I always play as an assassin in RPG games, so I suppose I would have to go with the Amhara Guild. Even if they’re incredibly intense. I probably wouldn’t survive the training, honestly. 

Are there any challenges you faced when writing this book – with regards to world-building or otherwise?

 My biggest challenge with worldbuilding is when to stop and rein myself in. You only have so much motivation when starting a new story, and I don’t want to waste it all on backstory and research. At a certain point, I have to switch over to drafting and just get the story itself started. Otherwise, a big challenge with Realm Breaker was deciding which piece of the story required which point of view. Which perspective and which character will be most interesting to an audience, and which one services the story best? It’s certainly a fun challenge, to filter each plot point through a different lens. 

When writing a story of this caliber, do you follow a set plan, or do you start off with characters in particular situations, and let the story tell itself?

I’m really into story structure, and I always use the 3-act, 8-sequence [structure] to outline. I usually know my Act 1 and 3 really well, with Act 2 being where I flounder, but also where the story and characters really grow. 

The spindles were an interesting point, similar to the portals in Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Was his work an influence in your writing, or even in your literary tastes?

I’ve actually never read those. I was more inspired by The Elder Scrolls video game, Oblivion, which featured portals opening in a fantasy world that the player had to fight and close. 

What’s your writing process look like – a typical day in your work?

I’m lucky enough that this is my full-time job and I work best when I treat it that way. I try to keep office hours from 10 am-5 pm, with a break for lunch, and I almost never work on the weekends. This helps me stay in a routine and really keep my momentum going, especially when I’m drafting.

Did you plan for the companions to come together (like a fellowship) or was that where the story took you?

I always planned for Realm Breaker to be a Lord of the Rings meets Guardians of the Galaxy kind of story, so the team element was central to the idea. I loved throwing together these misfits and criminals who don’t like each other, don’t care about doing the right thing, but have to save the world to save their own behinds. 

What do you think the future of the genre will look like – whether there’ll be more works that are set in medieval eras?

I don’t think the medieval era is going away any time soon, but I think an expansion of exactly where that medieval era falls geographically is happening. There are some incredible fantasy works set in worlds inspired by that same time period, but outside the stereotypical Western European location. It’s fantastic to see!

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, what would you change?

Oh, that’s a can of worms I don’t want to open. Every single creator can point to anything they’ve done and find the flaws. I could find something wrong on probably every page of every book I’ve written. 

 In Realm Breaker, what character did you create that surprised you the most for the decisions they made?

I knew Erida’s place in the plot and what her journey would be, but only when I was drafting did I realize she needed to be one of the POV characters. And that was a delightful surprise, to hear her voice and use her perspective to give a very, very different angle of the story. 

Queen Erida’s lust for power reminds me of Queen Cersei, and her drive to do what she must to conquer the realm. However, (slight spoilers), her betrayal to the Companions was surprising – was that something you planned for her or was that how the story moved, something you didn’t really foresee?

Definitely planned. All my big plot twists are planned out, and I think that allows me to really dig in, and trick the audience. I know what’s coming, so I know how to lure them in a way that they are either really surprised or really pleased they figured it out. 

 

Any favorite fantasy publications for authors with no credits looking to grow their audience? Tips to stand out with anthology/ezine/contests, for budding fantasy writers.

I’ve never had anything featured in an anthology or magazine or contest, so I’m definitely not the person to ask for advice! I am a huge fan of the Reddit forums, however, and I lurk on r/fantasy, r/imaginarymaps, r/worldbuilding, and r/fantasywriters. They have some amazing tips and tricks!

Want to know what we thought of the book? Check out my review of Realm Breaker. Support local bookstores and get Realm Breakeron Bookshop or Indiebound.

Looking for more book content? Follow our Bookstagram for international giveaways, exclusive excerpts, and more author interviews!

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Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.


Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.


But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

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The Tempest Reading Challenge Book Club Books Pop Culture Interviews

The ultimate 2020 romance, “What I Like About You,” is debut author Marisa Kanter’s first masterpiece

Marisa Kanter’s debut young adult novel, What I Like About You, is the heartfelt, funny, and romantic tale of a friendship between two people that begins online — and what happens when they meet in person, but only one of them knows it.

To celebrate, we’re giving away a copy of What I Like About You — enter the sweepstakes here. And be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Marisa and our own editor, Ellen, this Thursday, June 18. 

The tagline, Can a love triangle have only two people in it?, is a spot-on description of the main conflict of the book, which becomes almost a comedy of errors as Halle and Nash, the main character and her online-friend-turned-real-life-one, navigate the stormy waters of their relationship. 

In addition to the focus on romance and comedy — as this is a rom-com — the novel is about book blogging. In the book, Halle is the teenager behind “One True Pastry,” a blog in which she writes reviews of books and pairs them with cupcake recipes. Meanwhile, Nash is also present in the online book world. 

“But I wondered, how would I have reacted if I had met one of my internet friends as a teen?”

Every page of What I Like About You is saturated with a passion for everything bookish, which, as it turns out, was intentional — Kanter herself was a teen blogger and wanted to pay homage to the online friendships she made (she says many of her closest friends were forged online) and the blogging community-at-large.

“As an adult, meeting these internet friends in person has always been a wonderful and validating experience,” Kanter said in an exclusive interview with The Tempest. “But I wondered, how would I have reacted if I had met one of my internet friends as a teen? I wanted to explore this tension between the personas we craft online versus who we are in real life.”

When she was a teen blogger, Kanter said, the blogosphere looks a little different: Twitter wasn’t around as much, and most bloggers were on Blogspot. 

“Today’s book bloggers and bookstagrammers are truly content creators,” she added. “I believe bloggers add so much value to publishing and I really wanted to write a book that shouts out all of the hard work that goes into running and maintaining a blog.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-7O1MTA59g/

Another aspect of the book that was important to Kanter was that she represented Halle and Nash — both Jewish, like the author herself, as “Jewish teens that were simply existing in the context of their rom-com problems—something I would’ve loved to see as a teen.”

For Kanter, writing is a form of communication that has always been easier than speaking. And she said she loves losing herself in a world she created.

“Outside of the career of it all, writing is the closest thing I have to create magic (when it’s working!),” she said. “Storytelling is fun, first and foremost, and it is certainly not always fun but the moments when everything clicks into place make the hard parts worth it.”

Speaking of fun, Kanter said she decided to “savor” every part of the publication journey for her debut novel — everything from the stress of hard revisions, to the elation of holding ARCs (advanced review copies) and finished hardcovers for the first time.

“Also, I have readers!” she added. “Which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, as that is kind of the point, but that still blows my mind. My readers have been so incredible, I’m so thankful that people have found my book and are connecting with it.”

On the flip side of that, Kanter’s book came out in April — shortly after social distancing orders were put in place due to the coronavirus. Like many other authors, her debut day turned out far different than expected. There was no going to the bookstore to see the book of publication day; no launch at a local bookstore; definitely no physical tour. 

CBD PILLOW

“Well, debuting during a global pandemic definitely threw me through a loop—and I certainly went through all of the stages of grief realizing that my debut experience wasn’t going to be what I had planned—both in terms of the mental preparation that goes into debuting and the actual publicity plans and events that were lined up,” Kanter said.

“Debuting your novel during a global pandemic definitely threw me through a loop.”

“Every virtual event I have been a part of has been a blast and I’ve been so grateful to every platform that has hosted me and for the love What I Like About You has received during my quarantine debut,” she added.

Kanter’s second YA rom-com is slated for release in 2021 and, she said, is a love letter to theater. “I cannot wait until I can share more!” she said of the book.

If you pick up What I Like About You and love it, you may be interested in a few other books the author recommends. Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed is out now and is “an utterly charming and empowering romcom about teens canvassing for a local election,” according to Kanter.

In addition, she recommended Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, which hits bookstores on July 14, 2020, saying it “is the academic rivals to lovers rom-com that dreams are made of.”

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Books Pop Culture Interviews

T Kira Madden talks sharing her story of survival and personal writing as an introvert

T Kira Madden is a writer, photographer, and amateur magician living in New York City. Her essay “The Feels of Love” is a powerful story of her adolescence, assault, and survival at age 12. The Tempest sat down with her to talk about what kind of reactions she received, and her process for writing vulnerable personal stories.

The Tempest: I noticed that you used to publish more fiction, and that your more recent work is more creative non-fiction. You’re currently working on a memoir. Is there a difference in your process between the two genres?

T Kira Madden: With fiction, I focus on closeness. A closeness to the body, the mind of the character, the point of telling. I think very technically about direct and indirect discourse. I spend days at a time on a sentence. I focus on precision and mechanics. In nonfiction, I think more about distance. What do I know now that I didn’t know then? How do I block my current consciousness from leaking into the story I’m trying to tell about being 8, or 16, or 25 years old? How do I remove the excess details that may be important to my own self-story but less important to a reader? What is the narrative pact I am creating between lived experience and that which I share with an audience?

You’ve described yourself as “an introvert with a severe anxiety disorder.” As an introvert, do you find it easy to write about yourself?

 It’s interesting, people read my tweets and social media posts or my stories and essays online, and they have this impression that I’ll have a certain garrulity in person. I’ll be opinionated and talkative and maybe even, sometimes, funny. In reality, I often cry when I speak because my own voice scares me. I’m known to offer an overly-enthusiastic, childish wave when I recognize someone before skittering away into the darkest corner of a room. I speak softly, and slowly; I jumble my words. I have no posture—both literally and figuratively—and I once spit up on myself when I met Eileen Myles.

In writing, I can be bold…The written word is a superpower for the timid, though timidity is not the same as weakness—some people just scream more quietly.  

Your piece, “The Feels of Love”, describes your experience of sexual assault and survival in such a vivid, vulnerable way. What kind of reactions did you see, on Twitter and elsewhere?

I received a great bounty of kindness and understanding, for which I will feel eternally grateful. I received messages from victims all over the world, victims of the same perps and victims of experiences completely different than my own… I’m so humbly appreciative of every kind word and new person I’ve met because of it.

That being said, I think it’s important to be honest about what publishing a piece like The Feels actually meant for my life. It meant reopening trauma that was (truly) long closed. It meant hearing from “Chad” [the pseudonym of her rapist in the piece] again, who stalked and harassed me in every way one would imagine. It meant leaving the safety of a writing residency (twice) to fly cross-country to appear in court for a bill of protection. It meant listening to the gurgling stomachs in the court waiting room when none of us women had eaten. It meant other women using my body, quite literally, as a shield from their own rapists in the hall of that courthouse. It meant exponential attorney bills. It means keeping a folded wad of paper, a wad of paper that is supposed to protect my life, on my person at all times.

It meant asking my editors to send cruel comments and messages directly to my girlfriend when I couldn’t read any more. It meant someone in my immediate family, a man, saying “I don’t believe her.” It meant other people in my family, all women, saying, “People will never believe us.” It meant receiving a video of a girl being hacked by a chainsaw on my Facebook page. It means checking under the bed, and in my closet, and behind the shower curtain, every time I come home. It means being told maybe I’m just gay because men once violated me. It means being told “what happened to you wasn’t real rape.” It means receiving hundreds of messages detailing how survivors have survived various violences; how they’ve been drugged and dragged across bathroom tiles and strangled with their own underwear. It means responding to each and every one of these messages because I get it—I understand what it means to have no one to talk to. To have no one believe your own story. To feel that if you speak up, you will only be served with more violence.

If you’re a woman, or a survivor, you understand what I’m talking about. There is a way in which telling the story of what it means to live inside your own body becomes a target itself. The words of your story will balloon into punching bags. In four words, “I don’t believe you,” people will try to strip you of your very body-hood. Don’t let them. Be louder.

How did you deal with inhabiting the memories of traumatic events when you write? Do you have a self-care routine?

There’s something rather lovely about giving shape to your fears, or organizing your experiences and traumas. I try to think of writing that way. I’ve spent most of my life feeling out of control, or without voice, and writing is my way of containment. The fact that I am writing the scenes means I survived them, and that fact alone brings comfort. I can’t change what happened in the writing of the happening, but I can change the shadows in the room. I can supplant knowledge and tenderness where fear once lived. I can write the moment my father died, or the night my mother suffered a violent beating, and I can pause that scene; I can suspend each character or person in my mind and offer some speck of new faith.

Regarding self-care: Movie theaters. Hot sex with my woman. A terrific therapist. Japanese food.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.