We had the opportunity to ask Seraphina author Rachel Hartman a few questions about her stunning new novel Tess of the Road, the book scenes she scrapped, writing, touring, and more!
Did you always know that you wanted to tell this tale in the same world as the Seraphina novels. If so, did you always know Tess would be the protagonist?
This world I’ve created has been with me a very long time – since junior high, in fact! – and so I always knew I was going to set more stories there. It’s so big, and has evolved in such interesting and complicated ways, that it would’ve felt like a shame to waste it on one duology. That said, I didn’t always know Tess would be my next protagonist. I have a lot of side characters I to choose from as well. One day, though, she grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go.
In your opinion, what makes fantasy a great genre in which to explore a character’s very personal journey?
I think fantasy is particularly suited to exploring personal stories because you’re in the realm of myth and metaphor anyway. Dragons, for example, can just be face-value, literal dragons, but they also carry meanings for readers that are bigger than themselves. They can represent wisdom, avarice, the raw power of nature. So there’s always going to be extra echoes of meaning in a fantasy story. You can use that to delve inwards as well as explore outwards.
This book doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t strive to wrap every detail up neatly (which we absolutely adored.) Why was that approach important for you?
The particular inward journey Tess is one – from trauma toward healing – is, unfortunately, not a neat and tidy journey. There’s lots of convoluted twists and turns through memories, guilt, anger, the whole spectrum of emotion. And at the end of the day, alas, one is never so completely healed that the old wounds will never ache again. I think you just get better and better at taking care of yourself when it comes back.
What are some of your favorite YA books that follow young women dealing with trauma?
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is kind of the classic. All the Rage, by Courtney Summers. I seem to recall everyone was pretty traumatized in Mockingjay. And I just want to give a special shout-out to Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston, where the community rallies round after the heroine is sexually assaulted, and I think things go a bit easier for her as a result. That one is, in some ways, a fantasy of how things could be, of how we could treat young women to help them through these kinds of situations. Weirdly, that one made me cry the hardest.
This novel is jam packed with people, places, and sights. Were there any elements or characters that you wanted to add into the world, but ultimately put aside?
My stories are always very full because for me that’s an important quality of the world: packed with people in all their variety. In this novel, if I recall, I cut out a scene with a lecherous shepherd — and I didn’t regret that, ultimately, because he was gross. I also originally intended Will to come back at the very end. All my beta readers hated that, my editor tried to talk me out of it, but apparently I am very cruel and cared nothing for their pleas. Finally my agent said, “If Will comes back, then the story is all about him again. Can’t we just end on a high note for Tess?” That was the right way to phrase it, apparently, and I saw his point.
What’s your writing process like?
Every book is different. With Tess, I worked from the emotions up, which is not my usual thing at all and was very precarious at times. Seraphina’s stories were much more intellectual, which is easier in some ways, harder in others. In either case, though, I require a lot of down time for thinking. Walking the dog, riding my bike, recharging by singing — these are all very important for me to recharge my batteries and shake the ideas loose.
You just went on tour – what’s your favorite part of touring?
Talking to kids, hands down. They have the best questions, and I know they’re going to remember the time they got to talk to an author. When I write, I certainly hope my books will make a difference in the world, but when I talk to kids, I know I’ve just succeeded.
In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.
Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl–a subspecies of dragon–who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.