Exclusive interview with Erika Johansen, author of “The Invasion of the Tearling”!

June 2, 2015

The long wait for the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling is almost over – The Invasion of the Tearling will be released next Tuesday, June 9! To tide you over for these last few harrowing days, we’ve got an exclusive interview with author Erika Johansen where she discusses Kelsea, the Tearling, and of course, which Hogwarts House she aligns herself with.

[*Note that there will be one or two light spoilers for The Invasion of the Tearling – if you’d rather not know *anything* prior to reading the book, come back and check out this interview after you’re finished reading!]

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The signing of your book deal was big publishing news. Has your writing process changed now that you are able to write full-time? How does it feel to go from an unknown writer to an internationally recognized one?

My writing process hasn’t really changed. It’s wonderful to be able to write full-time, to be able to sit down and work whenever I have an idea. Not so much the recognition. I’ve always thought of authors as distinct entities from the books they create; in my own fantasy kingdom, I would remain unknown while the books became internationally recognized.

I love the way that, though Tearling is a fantasy, you actively engage with many of today’s most pressing social issues, such as women’s equality, sexual violence, gay rights, self-harm, and others. Does writing about these issues in Kelsea’s world help you process what’s happening in our own?

It helps me work out my anger, certainly. The powerlessness I feel as an individual is debilitating. I’m pretty introverted, so my only way to act on these issues with a wider audience is through writing and character. Kelsea is definitely her own person, not my mouthpiece, but her social ideals are mine, and so she’s often a helpful outlet.

Obviously, Kelsea is a character that has lived with you for a long time – you know who she is, inside and out, and part of your task as an author is to convey that person to the reader. However, because of the publicity of the movie production deal, many readers equated Kelsea with Emma Watson before they’d even read the book. Did that worry you at all? Did it bother you to give up some control over how Kelsea was perceived before the first book was even published?

I’ve never been worried, mostly because I view books and film as two entirely separate animals and manage my expectations accordingly. When I see a book I love made into a mediocre or even terrible movie, it’s disappointing, but the movie in no way diminishes the book, which remains, for me, perfect and pristine and untouchable. I have great faith in the people who are making this movie, but even if I didn’t, my own lack of control probably wouldn’t keep me up at night. That said, I think Emma Watson will be a fantastic Kelsea. She’s tough and principled, she’s an active feminist, and she conveys extreme intelligence in every role I’ve seen. If readers want to equate Kelsea with her, I say have at it.

One of my favorite things about The Invasion of the Tearling was the introduction of Lily, a pre-Crossing woman, and the chance to see the world from her point of view. Did you always plan on telling Lily’s story? Why did you decide to wait until the second book to start sharing her point of view?

Very early in the first book, I decided to tell the story of the pre-Crossing as a real story, not a huge chunk of exposition. Deciding how I would do that took a little longer and extended the story from two books to three. I knew only two things about the pre-Crossing when I started: rampant socioeconomic inequality and a serious misogyny problem. It was then a logical step to pick a woman to tell that story. I waited until the second book mostly because I thought it would be an enormous amount to dump on the reader just getting to know this world and would distract from the plot early on. Also, if I’m being honest, I have a bit of a contrary streak. Many readers seem to demand immediate answers to all questions, but I dislike books that explain everything, that don’t allow me to use my deductive powers and [that] make inferences based on limited information. I decided to give the reader enough information to follow the story at hand but not enough that she would feel she knew everything; this, essentially, is the spot in which Kelsea finds herself as well. I like the idea of rewarding the patient reader.

Though it certainly has its share of darkness, The Queen of the Tearling is a pretty optimistic book – I loved that I could trust Kelsea as a ruler. The Invasion of the Tearling, though by no means entirely bleak, is quite a bit darker. Not only does Kelsea grow up a little bit and make some tough choices, but the reader also starts to understand that the Crossing was, in many respects, a failure. You’ve said that part of your inspiration for writing the series was a sense of hope you felt after watching Barack Obama speak in 2007. Is that sense of hope something that will carry through the rest of the series, or was it more of a starting place?

I always have hope. So does Kelsea. I think the darkness of the second book is simply a reflection of the fact that good intentions can always be subverted and undermined. Our republic is so complex that one person with the right idea is often not enough. I created the Tearling because I wanted to examine a simpler form of government, one in which a single idealist with a good heart could actually turn the tide of a nation. I think Kelsea’s idealism will continue to erode a bit as the series continues, but I’m also certain that she’ll never lose the core value of trying to do what’s best for her kingdom as a whole, rather than what’s best for the few.

I read in an interview last year that prior to writing The Queen of the Tearling, you weren’t a huge fantasy reader. Has that changed at all since the first book was published?

Not really. I read more fantasy when I was a kid, but as I got older I found that too much of the fantasy I encountered was either derivative or sexist, or both. So now I tend to only read fantasy when someone I trust presses a book on me. I get the “have you read *insert new fantasy book here*” question a lot, and the answer is almost always no.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently (from any genre)? What did you love about it?

Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. My favorite genre is horror, but it had been a while since I’d seen anything to get really excited about. Joe Hill’s first two novels were good enough that I bought the third, and it absolutely blew me away. Horror is a very trope-bound genre; I love these tropes, but it’s rare to see something wholly original. Christmasland, as Joe Hill imagines it, is one of the darkest and most awful ideas I’ve ever encountered, and for a horror lover, that’s pure gold.

Has there been any progress on the development of the film adaptation since the release of the last book? How involved are you in the process?

Early in development, I was in touch with the screenwriter, Mark L. Smith, answering questions and trying to strike a balance between things I kept secret from the reader and things that needed to be shown on film. But that’s the extent of my involvement, so I can’t comment on the progress of the adaptation.

Last but not least! Our readers were excited to see a brief homage to J.K. Rowling in Kelsea’s library in The Queen of the Tearling – are you a Potter fan? If so, do you identify with a particular House?

I love those seven books with all my heart, and I like to think I would be sorted into Ravenclaw.

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Special thanks to Erika for taking the time to speak with us and to her publisher, HarperCollins, for arranging this interview. The Invasion of the Tearling hits bookstore shelves next Tuesday – watch our for our review then!