We were thrilled to catch up with the author who has us daydreaming about dying our hair, moving to Prague and falling in love with an angel…Laini Taylor of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series.
What inspired the gorgeous and monstrous world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone? It’s funny, it all began in the midst of this other book I was trying to write. It just wasn’t panning out at all and I was miserable, so I gave myself a play day to write anything I wanted. It seriously felt like a kind of prison furlough: one day to have fun, then come back to the drudgery! And it was fun. The most fun I’d ever had writing. I had no ideas, no plans, not even a prompt. I just started writing and out of nowhere came this dialogue between a blue-haired teenage girl and her foster father, who wasn’t human, and who was wearing this wishbone around his neck. Who were they? What was their story? I was riveted, and I never wanted to go back to that other book!
Karou and Akiva are classic star-crossed lovers. Do you have another favorite pair of classic star-crossed lovers? It all traces back to Romeo & Juliet. There were star-crossed lover before them, and there have been star-crossed lovers since, but they are the distillation of this reckless passion that blots out everything else. With Daughter of Smoke & Bone, the chimaera came first: a little girl raised by monsters. The idea of seraphim came in later as a direct result of my wanting to add star-crossed love to Karou’s story. “Romeo & Juliet with angels and devils.” That was the notion that took hold, and the whole world of Eretz and its history stemmed from that. I should add that one of my college Shakespeare professors referred to Romeo, unfondly, as a “homicidal maniac,” so perhaps that was an inspiration, too. Akiva is so much more homicidal than Romeo!
In spite of having very a close-knit group of friends, both Karou and Akiva have moments where they are torn between their love for their world and feeling like an outsider in it. Was this conscious, or did it evolve?
It was conscious with Karou. From the start, she was someone who didn’t know who she was, and this question was always going to be the backbone of the book. I had no idea who her counterpart would be, though, and even when Akiva stepped (or flew) into the picture, it took a while before his story gelled. But it did, and it’s interesting to me now, in retrospect, that it does mirror Karou’s. But they are both children of war, and so perhaps this isn’t so surprising.
This series is a story of contrasts—beautiful monsters, terrible angels, senseless war…no side is completely good, no side is completely evil. Was it hard to keep this world in balance? No, not really, and I think it’s because life is like this. There’s very little pure good or evil out there, even in war. People almost always have legitimate reasons for their point of view—or at least believe they do. As Izil tells Akiva in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, “It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such.” To me, a story is a collection of individual wants and compulsions and motives colliding. You cook up a bunch of characters who all want things, then nudge them toward each other (or hurl them at each other!) and see what happens. Each character acts according to his or her own innate logic, and these actions become entangled. I find it really compelling when “good people” do bad things, and vice versa. What makes a monster? Is it possible to experience the worst of grief and betrayal and not lose yourself? Can you ever come back from it? It’s my challenge to myself to inhabit each character and figure out “what would they really do” in a given situation. The more you get to know your characters as “real,” the more complex the moral questions become. Of course Akiva would do what he did. But how can Karou possibly forgive him? You leave the simplicity of good versus evil behind.
In addition to the epic plot, two elements that made your writing stand out are the gorgeous, cinematic writing and the humor you inject in moments of intensity. Now that you’ve completed the series, is there any scene that is your favorite? And does Zuzana’s refeshingly outspoken and sassy attitude reflect your voice, or is that an alter ego? Thank you! I love language. I could play with sentences all day long. Moving the story along requires a high degree of self-butt-kicking, because tinkering away with language is my natural state. As for humor, my guiding principle with Daughter of Smoke & Bone was that I wanted to write a book that readers (starting with myself) would want to live in. Friendship and humor are such a big piece of that. Even when the story veers in a very dark direction, the humor had to be there to keep the despair at bay. I didn’t want to write a bleak book! Looking back, some of the scenes I most vividly recall writing and relishing from Daughter of Smoke & Bone include Karou and Akiva eating hot bread on the roof of the cathedral at dawn (swoon), the ball scene in Loramendi (sigh), and Madrigal and Brimstone’s dungeon scene (sob). In Days of Blood & Starlight, the scene that I was writing toward the whole time was [no spoilers here]…the deception. That was always the heart of the book, and the trick was to line everything up so that it could come to pass. When I finally got there, it just flowed. It was the best feeling ever. I was locked away in a hotel on a writing retreat, and I was euphoric to finally get to write those scenes. It felt like I’d been swimming toward a buoy for months and had finally reached it. As for Zuzana, I’m not like her at all personally, but for some reason her voice comes really easily and her scenes were always a breeze to write. Maybe she is a kind of repressed alter ego! (We should all have an inner Zuzana! ☺)If you love Zuzana as much as we do, don’t miss her story in Night of Cake & Puppets!)
Daughter of Smoke & Bone introduced us to Karou & Akiva’s tortured love story, then Days of Blood & Starlight took a darker turn as heartbreak, betrayal and vengeance fueled an epic war between the seraphim and chimaera. Would you give us a sneak peek into what we can expect in the conclusion, Dreams of Gods & Monsters? Hm, let’s see….A fraught alliance between age-old enemies, lots of yearning, a bit of frustration, plenty of smoldering, a failing sky, deception and betrayal, an eyebrow showdown, an evolutionary biologist with a mysterious past, a menagerie where all the creatures are dead, a harp strung with taken lives, a cataclysm of epic proportion, and also, maybe, the fulfillment of Mik’s three fairy tale tasks. Among other things!
OMG – The Movie Deal! What did you think when you first found out and are you nervous about a movie studio being able to bring your wildly lush and magical world to life? I’m definitely more excited than nervous. The whole process has been thrilling and surreal, and I have nothing but awe for the visual artists who bring scripts and books to life in movies. I can’t wait to see what they will bring to the story! Universal Pictures and producer Joe Roth have been fantastic throughout, and it’s exciting to watch the new Maleficent trailers and see the big gorgeous visuals and strong female characters that Roth is known for.
Can you give us an update on the status of the movie?
Currently, the amazing British playwright Jez Butterworth is at work on a new draft of the screenplay with director Michael Gracey, and I can’t wait to read it. Jez’s work is incredible. Very soon, there should be more news!
OK! Time for… Quick Questions!
One adjective each – what’s your favorite characteristic of Karou and Akiva?
Are you more like Karou or Zuzana?
Karou, I guess. I don’t have Zuzana’s boldness or confidence—or eyebrow prowess!
If you were a Chimaera, what kind would you be?
Definitely a Kirin.
Favorite epic fantasy movie?
The Lord of the Rings
Favorite book setting to live in?
Hogwarts, of course! And this is random: I don’t reread books all that often but I read A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson three times in a row because: a ballet company sailing up the Amazon in 1912? Um. Yes.