Recently I had the opportunity of reading From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey. I posted my review on Goodreads (you can read it here), and now I have the opportunity to interview Cait about her novel.
So this novel you guys…this NOVEL! You need to read this!
Here is a little bit about From Under the Mountain:
As the second child of the Aridan imperial family, nineteen-year-old Guerline knows exactly what is expected of her: be unobtrusive, be compliant, and do not fall in love with her low-born companion, Eva. She has succeeded at only two of those.
But before her feelings for Eva can become a point of contention for the royal house, Guerline’s calm and narrow life is ripped away from her—in the course of a single night—and she is abruptly cast in the role of empress.
Faced with a council that aggressively fears the four witch clans charged with protecting Arido and believes they are, in fact, waging war against the humans, Guerline struggles to maintain order. As her control over the land crumbles, she learns that the war is rooted in a conflict much older than she realized—one centuries in the making, which is now crawling from under the mountain and into the light. With the fate of Arido hanging in the balance, Guerline must decide who to trust when even her closest councilors seem to have an agenda.
Darkly cinematic, From Under the Mountain pairs the sweeping landscape of epic fantasy with the personal journey of finding one’s voice in the world, posing the question: how do you define evil, when everything society tells you is a lie?
An interview with Cait:
Sydney: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Cait: This book was very exploratory. The fact that it’s the first book set in this world, and that I’ve been working on it for so long, means that there was a lot of discovery and conceptualization involved in the process. The best part of writing is always the asking and answering of “What if?” And with this book, I got to do that over, and over, and over, and over again.
Sydney: Your main character, Guerline, what was your inspiration behind her?
Cait: When I was younger, I tended to gravitate toward the super powerful characters. The idea of being able to silence everyone with a gesture, Vader-style, of not having to explain myself or compromise, really appealed to me—I am a Slytherin, after all. This is still somewhat true (Fiona and Ianthe are my favorite characters, which is probably telling). But as I got older, I read books about the powerful and wondered what it would be like to be in that situation with no real power. That’s the process that led to Guerline. She’s an empress, yes, but her power comes from a collective societal agreement to give her power, and compared to that of the magical beings she encounters, she’s got no obvious way to match them, and that’s something she has to deal with in the book.
Sydney: What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the world-building within your book?
Cait: Because I started on the book so young and worked on it so long, I’m afraid I can’t recall specific examples. Everything has a real-life analog, though, whether it’s direct (like the government hierarchy) or something that gets changed and questioned. In the latter case, it was mostly a question of thinking of something in the real world and asking, why? Why is it like this? How could it be different? What would cause that difference? A lot of the world-building evolved in the last few years, in subtle ways, based on the conversations I’ve witnessed about representation. Those discussions, mostly on Twitter and Tumblr, were a major influence on me to question the world I’d created.
Sydney: They say an author puts a bit of themselves into novels. Did you put a bit of yourself into any of your characters – which ones?
Cait: Oh yes, I think it would be hard not to, even if it’s just the tiniest sliver of ourselves. To be honest, I think the character who is most like me is Fiona: stoic and stern, has difficulty showing compassion despite feeling it, vulnerable but proud. I’d like to think I’m like Guerline sometimes, but I don’t really have her patience, haha.
Sydney: I am always interested in how authors come up with their titles and the process they went through with that. How did you come up with the title and how long did it take?
Cait: It took me seven years to come up with From Under the Mountain. The story, such as it was, was originally called A Witch’s Way, and then Of Magic and Might. I didn’t come up with the current title until I finished the manuscript in 2012; I pulled the title from a scene that I’d written. That’s the way I like to do it, if at all possible. I did the same thing with I See the Web.
Sydney: I see on your Twitter and Facebook author page that you did a fashion show and have done a lot of art work (painting/drawing) that goes along with your book. That is fascinating and I think takes your artistry to a new level. When you started that, did you think the art work would be a part of the cover of your book? Did you work with anyone to design the cover and what was that relationship like?
Cait: Thank you! I’ve always been an admirer of art, and fan art especially. When I decided to rekindle my artistic skill, it was primarily out of a desire to make sure my characters were represented accurately. This became even more important to me after I decided to make Guerline a black woman. I didn’t have any idea of that art actually being part of the cover, when I started, until I became aware of the dearth of stock photos, especially fantasy stock, with black models. At that point—and this was before I even signed with REUTS—an illustrated cover became my goal. Once I signed with REUTS, I still wasn’t sure that my talents would be up to snuff, but I kept at it, until I produced something that I thought was good enough. I did the illustration, and Ashley (Ruggirello) put the cover together.
Sydney: Last question, and it’s a fun one – you could be any animal for a day (real or fictional), what would you be and why?
Cait: I would be a dragon. Wings, built-in armor, constantly warm? It’s a dream come true!