We’re pleased to bring you the second in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’ll cover a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews Renée Ahdieh.
AMY: Before you published The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger—a duology re-telling the story of Scheherazade of The Arabian Nights with, as you’ve said, some Beauty and the Beast and a bit of The Count of Monte Cristo thrown in—you wrote for travel magazines and food blogs. Would you please talk about making the shift from working as one of my favorite kinds of authors (Travel magazines! Food blogs!) to working as another of my favorite kinds of authors (fantasy literature with smart, powerful women!)? What were the biggest challenges in switching to writing fiction? Were there any surprising similarities?
RENÉE: This is such a wonderful question! To me the transition was natural artistically, but decidedly less so in application. Writing about food and travel is about writing from a place of experience, and there’s a certain almost sensual nature to it. Even when the travel itself can be quite unromantic! Travel and food are transportive—both literally and metaphorically—and writing a book like The Wrath and the Dawn was, for me, a wholly immersive experience. I loved steeping myself into this culture. It’s the culture of my husband’s family, so there was also a personal element to it as well. Experientially, writing fiction is about depicting the nuance of emotion, whereas writing about food and travel can often be less so. For me, though, both are so much about a particular moment in time—about conveying the sentiments of that moment as honestly as possible.
AMY: You’ve spoken eloquently about why you chose to re-tell the story of Scheherazade, but why did you choose to write your version as young adult novels? Did you ever consider re-telling Scheherazade for adults? Do you think that there’s something inherently important in writing love stories for teens?
RENÉE: I have such a deep and abiding love for young adult novels. They’re what I most often choose to read . . . when I’m afforded the time to make a choice that is, haha! Since I tend to write novels with myself in mind—and with what it is I’d like to read—it seemed most natural to write the story of Scheherazade from the perspective of a young adult.
AMY: How did you craft Shazi and Khalid? How did you choose their traits, their passions, their instincts? How did you craft their relationship–a relationship that, for those who haven’t yet read your work, involves a powerful man, a world-class swordsman, willing to trust his wife to take care of herself, thank you very much.
RENÉE: Haha! I love this series of questions! I’m largely a character-driven author, and when I’m beginning to craft a story, I first start with the characters. I spend a great deal of time deciding which traits I’d like for each character to embody. And—as I mentioned above—I write for myself first. It’s never a conscious decision to write a book a certain way or for a certain audience. Or even for a specific message. I tend to find feminist men incredibly sexy, so—of course—I had to write the love interest with that angle in mind. Add to that the fact that Khalid is an alpha male? Alpha males who are also feminists are definitely my jam.
AMY: You’ve said in previous interviews that there are no heroes or villains, only people who want different things. Would you please expand on that a bit? What does that mean to you? How does that idea manifest itself in your fiction?
RENÉE: I tend to enjoy writing in spaces of moral grey. The world in which we live is really not as black and white as we’d like to believe it to be. When I began crafting The Wrath and the Dawn, I knew I wanted my characters to be faced with impossible decisions because often that’s what we are faced with in real life. Every choice—every experience—has risk and reward. And those risks/rewards are never as clear-cut as we wish they were.
AMY: There are a lot of important themes and choices in both The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger, which feature not only a love for all time, but an evolving bond between sisters, and a girl who risks it all to avenge her friend. Is there a theme that’s especially important to you–and why is it so important?
RENÉE: I think for me the most resonating theme—aside from the power of story—is the importance of relationships in all forms. I define the quality of my own life in terms of my relationships. If something isn’t working in my personal life—be it with a friend or a family member—that often has ripple effects through all else.
RENÉE: I had the wonderful experience of corresponding with Anne Rice early in my career. She gave me some of the most meaningful advice and offered so many words of support. This experience was definitely an epoch in my life, especially since some of the most formative years of my childhood were spent reading her work.
Renée Ahdieh is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her young adult fantasy novel The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and epically told love story centered around Shahrzad and her quest for revenge (and is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights). The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, was released in May 2016.