Hey folks, we have a great interview with a fantastic author who has a long history of reviewing independent and grimdark books on her website. Sarah Chorn, owner of Bookworm Blues, is the author of both Seraphina’s Lament and now Of Honey and Wildfires. Both books of which I enjoyed tremendously.
She was nice enough to sit down with us and answer a bunch of questions about the more recent of the two. I strongly recommend readers looking for a new independent book to try and check out either of those but especially Of Honey and Wildfires.
[CP] Please tell us what Of Honey and Wildfires is about.
[SC] Of Honey and Wildfires is really a family drama. I wanted to tell a story that shows what decisions can do, and how they can ripple through generations. I also wanted to tell a story set in a landscape I understand and live in, so I settled on the Wild West. I was reading a book about the early oil industry and the like at the time, and I realized that there was so much greed and hope powering the entire western expansion, the rush for gold, the early oil, the silver in Nevada and the like and the entire thing sort of just meshed together and out popped Of Honey and Wildfires.
Basically, what interests me with fantasy is less the broader scope, wider world, larger picture stuff, and more the emotional, intimate battles. I wanted to take all those moments that personally feel like these epic wars, yet so often get overlooked, and turn them into a book.
So I guess you could say, Of Honey and Wildfires is a family drama set in the Wild West, where oil and coal basically serve as the magic system, and money and greed rule.
[CP] What separates it from other books in its genre?
[SC] Oh hell, does it even have a genre? I can’t figure out what books really would be classified as being in its genre, to be honest. It’s not weird west, it’s not steampunk. It’s too fantasy for some, not fantasy enough for others… I think maybe what sets it apart from other books in its genre is it doesn’t really have a genre. I had a reader write me the other day and say, “You really are a genre unto yourself.” And not ten minutes later, another reader on Facebook said I write “Grimchorn. You are your own genre.”
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think “Grimchorn” is pretty cool sounding, so I’ll keep it.
[CP] Why did you decide to do a book set in a mining town?
[SC] I do a lot of research when I’m writing books. A lot. I like my worlds to be just fantasy enough, and yet rooted enough in reality that they really straddle that line. I think that’s why I do tend to get the “it’s not fantasy enough” or “it’s too fantasy” comments in some of my reviews. I like to sort of blend fantasy and reality like that.
Anyway, I was doing all this research on the early oil industry in the United States around the 1830’s, I believe, and one thing lead to another and I ended up on this wild chase through all these Wild West archives where I was reading about these mining towns that were out west, in places like Nevada, where the United States didn’t really have a huge foothold. These companies would go out there and basically just buy the entire place up, and the people who worked there often lived in HORRIBLE conditions. Crimes were solved by vigilantes, and justice was often harsh and the health conditions were just… surreal. Terrible in every respect. The overseers were often corrupt. Life was HARD, and it fascinated me. I mean, I live out here in Utah and we have a ton of old ghost towns around that were originally booming mining towns, lots of stories about these company-owned places that were just horrible… and I realized this is basically perfect for a book. It’s rarely, if ever, written about, and there’s so much conflict between basically every single person all the time just to survive, and a layer of desperation over all that that just excited me and seemed perfect to play with.
It just was fruit ripe for the plucking. The best setting for a book where I was exploring the little personal dramas of living in a place that is owned, literally, by a company. I was reading about all this, and I realized the external conflict inherent in such a situation would balance the internal conflicts I wanted to focus on really nicely.
[CP] Could you describe how magical your world is?
[SC] One of the things about this world, Sefate, that I set out to do from the start, was keep the magic system understated. It is based on oil and coal, and it is a big part of life, but I didn’t want it to be so intricate I had to map it out for readers, and so overwhelming it was all people focused on in the book. This book is very much about PEOPLE, and I needed to keep it that way. Honestly, the balance between keeping the magic system kind of nebulous, and the people in the foreground when the magic is literally what powers the plot was… quite a thing to behold. I really had to work at it.
However, Sefate is the world this takes place in, and Shine Territory is just one part of it. The Songs of Sefate series, of which this is the first book, is going to be telling stories from all different parts of this world, and “shine” will be the thing that unifies all these different locations. It will play a bigger role in some books than in others. Think of Sefate as a tree, and this is just one branch of it. I’m really looking forward to exploring how cause and effect work out in this system I’ve set up.
I talk a bit about Sefate, and this series, and all the different cogs in it and what to expect on this blog post.
[CP] Who are the protagonists?
[SC] Cassandra is the daughter of an outlaw. He drops her off with his sister when he’s five, and he sets about trying to destroy the company that owns the territory. Her story is told about the act of growing up, becoming a woman in a world where you’re overshadowed by your father’s crimes, and an outcast simply because you happened to be born.
Arlen is a young man who is sent into Shine Territory to find a place to build a textile mill for his father, the owner of Shine Company. He ends up in the Territory and soon learns that absolutely nothing is what he thought it would be, and so his story is more immediate, more the outsider looking in, and all the changes that a person goes through as they begin to understand.
While I do think these are the main protagonists, this book really wouldn’t exist without that outlaw, Christopher Hobson and all his secrets and pain. When I talk about decisions rippling through generations, it’s him I’m referring to. Without him, absolutely nothing that happens in this book would have happened.
[CP] Who is the antagonist?
[SC] You know, I always kind of hate questions like this because I never know how to answer them. Matthew Esco is the person most readers will think of, because he’s at the head of Shine Company, but he really did everything he did out of love. He was stupid about it, but he did it because he loved his daughter, and who wouldn’t do literally everything in their power to protect their children?
If I had to pin down an antagonist, I’d say it is Shine Company as a whole. They own Shine Territory, they make the laws, the own the people, the land, the resources, and they can determine the system of labor. They closed the Territory off. It’s theirs. I tried to keep the antagonist from really being one person, and more explore the wider ramifications of corporations having too much power. Hopefully, it worked.
[CP] How does this book differ from Seraphina’s Lament?
[SC] Oh wow. It differs in like… every conceivable way. Seraphina’s Lament is likewise a personal drama, but I think Of Honey and Wildfires was a lot easier for me to write and conceptualize. It’s a lot narrower of a scope. The world is closed in, and basically takes place in one town. There’s no fate of the world, or apocalypse. It’s just a bunch of people living in a town called Grove, trying to survive. Seraphina’s Lament involves gods and goddesses, generations and eons, apocalypse and rebirth. Of Honey and Wildfires is more personal, day to day decisions. Throw a rock in a pond, and see what happens. Christopher Hobson is the rock. Shine Territory is the pond. Grove, specifically, is the ripple that this book is exploring, through the eyes of Cassandra and Ianthe, and then, a little later, Arlen.
[CP] How has the response been so far?
[SC] Honestly, it’s been a bit hard to get off the ground, and I think that’s largely because no one knows how to market it, least of all me. Seraphina’s Lament was very clearly fantasy, with a much wider scope and that makes a difference. This one is narrow and quieter. Think, macro photography. Like I said, it’s not one thing and it’s not another. Wild West Fantasy isn’t really a huge thing, and I don’t really think my specific brand of it really exists. Maybe it does, but I’ll be damned if I’ve found many others. People hear “Western fantasy” and they think steam and weird weapons, and creatures that are strange… and my book just isn’t that. So it doesn’t really FIT anywhere. There are no strange beasties. No steam. The fantasy is understated the world is similar enough to ours it could be ours. The people who do read it tend to really love it, but I’ve really had a hell of a time figuring out how to market it. I will say, the responses to it from those who have read it have been overwhelming, to say the least. The readers who have found it, have brought me to tears not a few times with their enthusiasm.
[CP] What can we expect from you next?
[SC] Heh. Okay, buckle up. I have a lot of balls in the air.
I will have a novella that takes place right after Of Honey and Wildfires dropping either at the end of January or the beginning of February. The novella is called Oh, That Shotgun Sky, and I will probably be planning a cover reveal and stuff for it soon-ish. At the end of March (hopefully) I will be releasing Glass Rhapsody, which is a book set five years after the events of Of Honey and Wildfires.
Then, sometime in the summer, I’m going to release a novella called Butterfly Falling, which is the prequel to a book called Daughter of the Bright Earth which is going to take place in a different part of Sefate. A jungle culture that is… well, this one is probably the most fantasy book I’ve ever written. It’s been a whole lot of fun.
After that, I’ve got a novella, The Roses of Perdition which will serve as the prequel to The Reason for Stars, which will take place in the Union, which is mentioned peripherally in the Of Honey and Wildfires books. This won’t likely release till early 2022.
All of these groups can stand alone. You don’t have to read one to read the other. They’ll interconnect in some ways, but very, very subtly. I basically want The Songs of Sefate series to be just the umbrella for which a bunch of standalone novels reside (though Of Honey and Wildfires, Oh, That Shotgun Sky, and Glass Rhapsody are a series, they are currently the only series of books I have planned in this world.)
It’s a lot, but I’m having so much fun playing with this world, with cause and effect, and all the different ways to use shine.