Last week at YALL Fest, our correspondent Ellie got a chance to chat with Leigh Bardugo about the Grisha trilogy: The characters! The challenges! The fandom! THE DARKLING.
There are no RUIN AND RISING spoilers in this interview, but if you haven’t read up through SIEGE AND STORM, there may be some major spoilers. Also, if you haven’t read SIEGE AND STORM, what are you waiting for?!
First off, how is RUIN AND RISING coming along?
Leigh Bardugo: Well, the first draft was finished back in February and we’ve done a couple rounds of revisions since then. Now we’re basically just going into copy edits, so it’s done!
Any warnings or clues for your readers?
LB: Not everyone is going to make it out of the series. Those that do survive will be much changed. And many, many secrets will be revealed.
Which book is the Grisha series was the most difficult to write?
LB: Easily book three. Writing book two was incredibly intense. It was the first time I’ve written on a deadline and I was making the world much more complex. There were more characters and the political dynamics of the world came much more into play. But book three… books one and two are really about opening doors and book three was really about closing doors. It was really hard to say goodbye to the characters and also to make everything so final, despite the fact that I had plotted out the book literally years before. To bring those things into to being was a much more difficult process than I had anticipated.
As you were writing, did you leave your characters possible for alternate outcomes or were you set in their journey from the very beginning?
LB: I always knew where they would end up, but there were certain characters– There was a character in book two– I talk about this a lot and people always get frustrated because I won’t reveal who it is. There was a character in book two that I intended to kill off, but I just couldn’t. That was because that character still had a big journey to go on. That was really the only surprise of the series. But for the most part, even despite that, the ending has never budged and I think I always knew where they needed to end up, why they needed to be there. Alina’s story is– I’ve always known where the heart of her story is. If she had gone someplace different, it would have betrayed all of the things I’d set up to begin with…. That was very vague. (laughs)
When I first got into the books, I knew very little except that people were in love with The Darkling. When I found out the truth about The Darkling, I was shocked. Did you expect people to fall in love with him? How do you feel about that?
LB: Any time people connect with your characters, it’s kind of this wonderful surprise. I was not very active in the YA world in terms of readers and fantoms. I had no idea what that would be like or even to hope for it. In that way it was really gratifying but… (laughs) Honestly, if I didn’t want The Darkling to be appealing, I would have just pulled a Vader or a Voldemort. It would be like “Oh! My evil is making me gross and disintegrating my nose!” I want him to be appealing because I feel like that’s what charismatic leaders and dictators are like, otherwise nobody would follow them.
What is the most unique fan art, costume, gift, etc that you have seen or received?
LB: It actually happened on this last tour at our first stop. Two people cosplayed Alin and the stag, but they based the costly on fan art by Irene Koh. I was like “Now, if somebody writes fanfic of this, we’ll basically open up a wormhole.” That was incredibly fun, especially because I love seeing readers interact with each other. It’s fun for me to chat with them, but it’s cool for me when people get each other to read the books or plan things together. I’m part of the fan community. I’m a member of the Game of Thrones fandom, The Brotherhood Without Banners, and those people are a really big part of my life. So it’s really cool for me to see other people being brought together by the books. Again, something I never really anticipated, but it’s really fun to witness.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you were to redo your writing process for the series?
LB: I wish I could go back and eliminate some of the self-doubt I experienced. That’s something that kind of perches on my shoulder throughout the books. I’m getting better about that, but there are still days when I feel like I’m not capable of finishing a book or I have no idea how to do it; I don’t know how I managed it before and I’ll never manage it again. There are some magic and alchemy that I can’t recreate. There was so much of that early on and I wish I could go back and reassure that past Leigh that I could do it. That’s why whenever I talk to aspiring writers, I tell them to let go of that voice inside that says you can’t and tell them that they can.
Are you set on the fantasy genre or do you plan on writing other genres as well?
LB: Whatever I write will have some element of fantasy or the supernatural in it, but there’s a good chance I will deviate from secondary world fantasy and write some horror. Who knows what else.
If you had to enter the Shadow Fold, what would be your survival strategy?
LB: (laughs) I would curl up in the fetal position and I would sing softly to myself. Start singing “Soft Kitty.”
Would you want to be a Grisha and if so, what class would you be?
LB: I would love to be a Heartrender, but I think deep down, I’m really a Fabrikator. I’m kind of crafty but also I’m most happy when I’m sitting in my workshop all by myself. I don’t think I would be on the front lines.
What’s next for you?
LB: I can’t really talk in too much detail about what I’m working on right now. I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement soon. I can tell you that it is fantasy. I was just at a writing retreat and I spent the first week of that retreat drafting this new book. I’m very excited.
Do you have any last messages for your fans?
LB: A very heartfelt thank you. I feel very, very grateful. I have basically my dream job and you’re the reason for it, so thank you.