I fell in love with the cover of Alexandra Bracken's debut novel--Brightly Woven--last fall and the scant synopses I could find at the time certainly piqued my interest. After managing to get my hands on an ARC, I found myself surprised and pleased with this unique fantasy. You can read my review here. As the release date approached, I invited Alex to participate in an interview and giveaway here on the site and, despite her crazy busy schedule, she kindly accepted. Enjoy!
Brightly Woven first hit you and what (if anything) did you know right off the bat?
I remember the exact moment it hit me—what I was doing, who I was talking to, what song was playing on iTunes. :) I had just come back from Winter Break my sophomore year in college and was sitting on my bed chatting with my mom. Sophomore year was pretty remarkable in terms of the insane weather that we had in Virginia (where I was in school) but it had also been a bizarre year in Arizona, too. That’s why I wasn’t all that surprised when my mom gasped in the middle of her sentence and said, “Oh my God, it’s actually snowing outside!” I grew up in central Arizona, right around Phoenix, so while it had flurried once or twice while I was younger, it hadn’t snowed that heavily in a while. (And by “heavily,” I of course mean that none of it stuck in Phoenix, but some of it did in Tucson, where my sister was in school!)
So you can imagine that I was a little annoyed that I had missed the Arizona snow by ONE DAY, but my mom only laughed and said, “Well it’s your fault. You jinxed us.” I still don’t really know what she meant by that, but I took the idea of someone unconsciously affecting the weather and ran with it.
The only thing I knew when I started was that I wanted an angsty and mysterious wizard with a somewhat tragic past. I’ve always found it interesting that North’s character came to me right from the start and he never really changed, regardless of how many revisions I did.
Your path to publication was a bit of a whirlwind. What were the high and low points along the way?
I think it must have looked like a whirlwind from the outside, but, for me, it was actually a very long haul. When things happened, they happened fairly fast, though—for instance, I was only querying for two months when I was offered representation. And later, when Brightly Woven was on submission with publishers, it took maybe two and a half weeks to get the offer from Egmont.
I love North’s multitude of colorful (and magical) cloaks! Where did you get that idea?
Excuse me for being a HUGE dork, but I love cloaks! I think it might be because I had a childhood fascination with Darth Vader’s cloak--just watch the opening scenes of The Empire Strikes Back!
Just kidding (not really).
I had it in mind that all of the wizards in Palmarta would carry a talisman that reflected their personalities. It’s explained in the story that a wizard’s magister (their mentor and teacher) is often the one to choose the talisman for them. In terms of North, I didn’t want to give him an actual weapon, because I don’t see him as having an aggressive personality—I see him as being someone who is very protective, and someone who has many layers. On the other hand, Oliver, the boy he trained with when he was young, has a sword because he is very direct and combative.
How do you go about naming your characters?
Thank you for asking this question! I agonize over character names, to the point that I often can’t start writing until I have a definite name in mind. North really did come to me fully formed, and that included the name North. When I was looking for a first name for him, I sort of happened upon “Wayland,” and I ended up really liking it. It’s the Old English cognate of the Germanic name Wieland, which I believe breaks down into “war” and “land.” In Germanic mythology, Wieland was said to be a craftsman of unequaled skill. But, mostly, I picked it because it was the closest name I could get to the word “Wayward.” J
Sydelle’s name is slightly less interesting—I honestly just liked the name and thought it was familiar but different enough to set her apart in a reader’s mind. I also have to confess that I pulled a lot of names from the classes I was in at the time, namely my two British Lit classes. Oliver’s last name is pulled from Jonathan Swift, Sydelle’s last name is Mirabil, which I stole and modified from John Dryden’s poem "Annus Mirabilis" ("The Year of Miracles/Wonder"), and Lady Aphra was named after Aphra Behn, who is pretty much a bad ass.
I kept getting a strong Diana Wynne Jones/Sherwood Smith vibe while I was reading Brightly Woven. I think it was because of the skillfully woven elements of humor, adventure, and tension in the story. What would you say some of your literary influences are?
What’s kind of embarrassing about my answer is that I hadn’t read any Diana Wynne Jones until after someone mentioned that North reminded her of the wizard Howl. (I really wish someone had pointed me in the direction of her books when I was younger!) I always say that Roald Dahl was my first and foremost influence, because he was the reason I grew up wanting to write for children. I also consider JK Rowling to be a major influence, since Harry Potter was such a huge and lasting part of my childhood and teens. What can I say? I like my Brits!
Is there a Brightly Woven soundtrack? Do you regularly listen to music while writing and/or plotting?
Yep, there’s a soundtrack that you can find here.
I have to listen to music while I write. I got in the habit while I was in school—I was almost always working in computer labs or on the floors of the library where you were allowed to talk, so I needed something to tune it out. Music definitely affects your mood, and I often need it to get in the right mindset for a particular scene.
You have a day job in addition to writing. How do you fit everything in and do you have a particular time of day that’s best for writing?
Wellllll… I will say that it was much easier to write while I was still in school, because I was constantly being presented with pockets of time to write throughout the day. Now, because I work from 9 AM straight through to 5 or 6, I can only ever really write at night or on the weekends. I like to write in long stretches of time, so I get the most done on the weekends. I’m still trying to figure out how to make it all work!
I felt that the story wound to a satisfying conclusion. Do you have any plans to revisit this world or these characters? And what do we have to look forward to next?
I hope I can come back to Syd and North one day! There are no definite plans for a sequel or companion book at the moment, but those two won’t stand for being ignored too long. In terms of what I’m working on next… you’ll have to wait and see. J
What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
I’ve been singing the praises for Before I Fall for months, but I’m also a huge fan of Rachel Hawkin’s Hex Hall. Both just came out this month, so go find them!
And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:
Star Wars: Dad
Thanks so much, Alex!
And now for the giveaway! Alex has generously offered up a signed copy of Brightly Woven along with several signed bookmarks to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave a comment telling us your favorite fictional wizard. If you *gasp* don't have one, just let us know why you're looking forward to reading this book. The contest will run for one week and will close at midnight on Wednesday, March 24th (the day after the book comes out)! It is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. I'll announce the winner on Thursday. Please be certain to leave me a way to contact you.