Today we're packing up the Interrogation Room lights and moving off-site to interview author Leah Cypess in a mysterious network of caves, similar to those in which her new YA fantasy-mystery novel DEATH SWORN takes place. Here's a quick summary:
Ileni is losing her magic. And that means she’s losing everything: her position as the rising star of her people, her purpose in life, and even the young man she loves. Sent to the assassins’ cave, hidden deep within the mountains, she expects no one will ever hear from her again. The last two sorcerers sent died within weeks of each other. Accidents? Or something more sinister? As Ileni navigates the dangers—both natural and human—of the caves, she’ll discover secrets that have been kept for decades. And she’ll find an ally in Sorin, the deadly young man who could be the assassins’ next leader. With Sorin determined to protect her, sparks—magical and romantic—will fly. But will even he understand the choice she must make in the end?
And here's a bit about Leah Cypess:
Leah Cypess wrote her first story in first grade. The narrator was an ice-cream cone in the process of being eaten. In fourth grade, she wrote her first book, about a girl who was shipwrecked on a desert island with her faithful and heroic dog (a rip-off of both The Black Stallion and all the Lassie movies). After selling her first story while in high school, she gave in to her mother's importuning to be practical and majored in biology at Brooklyn College. She then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years. She kept writing and submitting in her spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after her first short story acceptance, she sold her first novel. Leah currently lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband and children.
DEATH SWORN releases on March 4th (tomorrow!), so we're detaining Leah with a few questions. Leah, you'd better hope your answers satisfy our readers' curiosity...that is, if you ever want to see the light of day again...
1) DEATH SWORN was an interesting angle on the traditional fantasy featuring magic. What inspired you to write this story?
I got the basic idea for Death Sworn while reading The Elenium by David Eddings, which featured a sorceress who served as tutor to a military order. I started wondering what would happen if the sorceress and the knights didn't get along as well as they did in Edding's book, and several twists or turns later, I had the basic idea for Death Sworn.
2) Ileni was such a strong and realistic character. Her fatalistic attitude and philosophy in general were very interesting. Can you talk a little about how she came together as a character for you?
3) Many events in DEATH SWORN were linked to (or could only happen because of) incidents long in the past, pivotal moments carefully planned out by the Master and others. What is your process of puzzling together a mystery that is dependent on a complicated history involving many different players?
"Process" might be too kind a term. I don't have one set way, but it usually involves a lot of revisions, a lot of charts, a lot of outlines that I then discard in favor of new outlines, and a lot of oaktags and colored post-its. At some point in the process, I swear that with my next book, I will plan everything out in advance and be super-organized and efficient. But so far I haven't managed that.
4) If you could meet one of your characters in real life, who would you choose, what would you take them to do (out to dinner? mini-golfing?), and what one question would you ask?
Well, I think it would be kind of cool to talk to the master, assuming we had some sort of you-promise-not-to-have-me-killed agreement. Since he never leaves the Caves, I guess I would have to meet him there, and I would ask him to tell me the most valuable secret he knows. I suspect it would be very valuable.
5) Dare we ask...? Are there sequels planned for Ileni and co.?
Yes! There is a sequel scheduled for publication a year after Death Sworn.
6) What did you learn from the process of writing DEATH SWORN? How do you think you've grown as a (mystery) writer?
All my books are fantasy-mystery blends, but Death Sworn is the first where a straight-up murder mystery plays a central role, so I did some reading to help me plot it out. One book I read, How To Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat, was especially helpful, as was this blog post by Lisa Harris: http://keepmeinsuspense.blogspot.com/2006/07/plotting-your-cozy-mystery.html. Both these books continue to inform my writing, even for those books where a mystery is a secondary element of the plot instead of the primary one.
7) What is the hardest part of writing mystery for a YA audience? What's the most rewarding part?
I've never written for another audience! And to be honest, when I started Death Sworn, I thought of it as an adult fantasy novel. By the time I finished it, I had published two YA books and realized how vast and rewarding the YA field is -- and also realized that my books seem to naturally finish at around 70,000 words ;). So there was no question in my mind that Death Sworn would be YA. The great thing about YA is that it's such a warm, helpful, enthusiastic community, both among fans and among other writers.
8) What is something no one knows about you?
Earlier today, I was at my sister's home, and when she went out to take care of an errand, I ate the last of her zucchini sticks. (Hey. If it was important, I would hardly be spilling it on a blog.)
9) Do you have any writing quirks, superstitions, or customs that get the job done?
I think I do my best writing outdoors. In an ideal writing world, I would wake up every morning, eat breakfast, take a brisk walk to someplace scenic, and then write for two hours.
10) What do you hope readers will take away from DEATH SWORN?
I don't hope they will take anything specific -- but whatever aspect of the character or the story resonates with them (even if it's "oh, cool, twisty solution to the mystery"), I hope it makes them close the book feeling satisfied.
11) What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh lights of this Interrogation Room?
My list of overused words that I have to go through and delete in every manuscript. It's over a page long. Oh, you want the complete list? You're going to need some harsher lights.
Rats, I knew we should have replaced those! Thanks, Leah, and congratulations on DEATH SWORN's debut!
Want to learn more about Leah?
Follow her on Twitter @LeahCypess