Cinda Williams Chima, author of The Wizard Heir series and the Seven Realms series, sat down with Figment to answer a few of our questions. She talks about being an avid reader (awesome), being in a folk band (awesomer), and liking villains (awesomest). You can read The Gray Wolf Throne, the latest installment in her Seven Realms series, on Figment.
1. You have a huge list of books you’ve read and enjoyed on your website. What makes a book your favorite?
There’s an even longer list on Goodreads. I read a lot of young adult literature, because that’s what I write. I read many different genres, but I am especially fond of fantasy. I am drawn to beautifully written, character driven novels with a strong story line (not easy, right?). For me, character is the soul of a story. If a writer does her job with a character, plot flows from that. The most important thing to know about a character is what she wants and what’s in the way.
2. Did you really used to be in a folk music band?
I did. It’s a source of endless embarrassment for my sons, who are not exactly folk music fans. But it will stand me in good stead, because my next two Heir books (to be published after The Crimson Crown, the fourth Seven Realms novel) will mingle music and magic. I may just get that guitar out again.
3. Are there any writing projects you abandoned early on that you wish you had continued?
The Seven Realms series is set in a world I created for an unfinished adult high-fantasy series called The Star Marked Warder. After I had written the first two books in the Heir Chronicles (The Warrior Heir and The Wizard Heir), I decided to try something else while I waited to see if they would sell. I had written 500,000 words when The Warrior Heir sold. I put that project aside and have been writing teen fiction ever since. After the third Heir book (The Dragon Heir) I knew I wanted to write high fantasy for teens. And I already had a world, and characters I loved, and a map. And so I took some of the characters back to when they were teens, and began writing The Demon King. So never throw anything away — you never know when you can recycle. I had a short story published last year that was a deleted chapter from The Wizard Heir.
4. Do you ever get tired of or nervous about discussing writing in front of a crowd?
It depends on the crowd (laughing). Hostile crowds, yes, but I don’t often encounter those. I love being with people who love books, and so generally it’s not too stressful. Unless the technology doesn’t work.
5. Are you completely attached to any particular character that you’ve written?
That’s like asking me which of my sons I love best. I do have an affinity for antagonists — what other people might call villains. I want to make them as layered, as complex, as three-dimensional as my protagonists. I don’t like one-dimensional monsters.
I do love my characters in the Seven Realms series. Han Alister is a reformed street-gang leader with a magical heritage. He’s smart, resourceful, flawed, and totally hot. Raisa ana’Marianna is willful and a little spoiled as the story begins (she’s a princess, after all) but she grows tremendously over the course of the four books. Characters should change in response to stress, and there’s certainly a lot of conflict in the Seven Realms.
6. How much did you plan ahead when you started writing the Seven Realms series? Did you have a general idea of where it was going or did the characters lead you?
I usually don’t do a lot of planning ahead, preferring to plunge in and clean up after. As I said above, this was a little different, because I knew the world and the characters so well. My editor said, “I can’t believe how rich and detailed this world is!” And I said, right, well, I’ve spent a lot of time in it.
Hemingway said that what the reader sees is just the tip of the iceberg exposed above the waves. What the author knows is under the surface, supporting what the reader sees.
7. How far is too far, in terms of plot, when putting a character through a bad or dangerous situation? How do you know where to draw the line?
I haven’t found the line yet, lol. I layer challenge after challenge on my characters. I do think that it’s important to give the reader a little relief along the way, alternating intense chapters with lighter ones. And I love to use humor to lighten things up.
8. You’re a dietician/nutritionist during the day, and master storyteller at night. Is it hard for you to transition from writing health articles to writing about wizards and warriors?
One of my writing teachers once said that all writing makes you a better writer. And I think that’s true.
I’ve been a writer since third grade, and I’ve been working for someone else since I was sixteen. Until three years ago. Three years ago, after my third book was published, my publisher offered me a contract for three more, and I left my day job. In my last day job, I was a college professor, teaching nutrition. I never mentioned my secret life to my students, because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t focused on my teaching. But then one day some of them ran across my author website. They came in with stunned faces, saying, “Mrs. Chima! These aren’t nutrition books at all!!”