Deena Byrne is the author of not one, not two, but three fantasy novels.
Her novels (Raindropt, Riffed, and Rooted) follow the story of Leah Fox, a rich, beautiful Manhattanite who struggles to find her place in a new world, when she is magically transported to the Bosch Rainforest. Unicorns, dragons, true love, and stardom await Leah in Bosch – as well as an underground cult longing to turn Leah into their first human sacrifice.
Deena was kind enough to answer a few questions about the themes in her novels, her writing process, and her publishing experience for me:
JK Rowling famously had the entire plot of the Harry Potter series planned out before she began writing. How much of your story do you know ahead of time?
I knew I wanted to write your typical “girl meets gnome” love story from the start, so I’ve stayed true to the original paranormal love story I had planned from the beginning. I started writing Raindropt to cope with a blizzard that left me housebound in New York City in 2008, so for several years I thought it would be just the one novel. By 2015, I got serious about finishing the story, and during the editing process I realized I still wanted to tell their love story, but I also wanted to tell the story of Leah growing from an entitled socialite into a character of great strength, intelligence and resourcefulness.
I thought I needed a trilogy to tell that story, but as I was writing book two I knew I needed the space of five books to fully develop all the external conflict and explain how Leah fits in. The story evolved organically, and by book three I knew exactly where I was going for the final two books. But, yes, I wish I knew the last line of the last book when I started writing a la Rowling! I aspire to that sort of greatness.
In your second book, Riffed, Leah has a run-in with a creature called a butterfrogow – a cross between a butterfly, a frog, and a crow. Where do you come up with creatures like this?
It’s no secret that I flirt with absurdity in my writing. I’ve always been drawn to and inspired by authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller – and I idolize Tina Fey –but I am also equally interested in societal concepts of beauty and innocence and juxtaposing those with what we traditionally think is ugly or dangerous.
Butterfrogrows are two parts innocent – the butterfly and frog– and one part ugly – crow. I thought it was interesting to make them the unwilling participants in illegal fights thrown every night by the gargoyles in the rainforest, because it messes with your traditional ideas of what should be protected and what should be feared. You’ll notice I do the same thing with a variety of creatures in the series – the witch, the gargoyle bodyguard, the minotaur director, and even the surly dragon.
The people in your rainforest, Bosch, have a big problem with porties, people who immigrated to Bosch from other worlds. Is there some relationship between that conflict and the refugee crisis we are experiencing today? What message would you like people to take away from the Bosh-portie conflict?
There are some comparisons to the refugee crisis today, but broader than the current situation is what we’ve seen throughout history –Jews during the Holocaust, the Japanese during World War II, African Americans since slavery, Native Americans since colonization – there’s a tendency for people to let fear cloud their judgement, and it gives way to the rise of evil. Since I enjoy playing with the societal norms of what should be protected and what should be feared, I thought it was interesting to have the wealthy, beautiful, white woman experience life as an outsider.
I’d like people to understand what it must feel like to be marginalized while experiencing it through Leah’s eyes.
Throughout your books, a witch named Deidrana dreams of creating an emphaticaserum, a potion that would force people to empathize with everyone they meet. What do you think is the closest thing to an emphaticaserum in real life?
Traveling! I think exploring the world and getting to know people from all walks of life broadens your perception of the shared human experience. Travel is broader to me than creating the most envy-inducing Instagram feed, though. It’s tempting to let ourselves fall into this egocentric rhythm in which we only have shallow conversations if we’re even talking at all. I think in order to benefit from travel we need to ask questions and listen to one another, at home and abroad. We need to embrace our curiosity and put it towards really understanding one another.
I think there’s this perception that we already know so much, or there’s so much readily available information so there’s no need to keep learning from each other. I wish we had a serum so everyone could just naturally understand one another, but it takes work!
So far, you’ve chosen to self-publish your books, which means that you are responsible for everything from writing your book to editing it, overseeing cover design, and marketing it. How has all that gone for you?
So far so good! I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so I’ve embraced trying to build something entirely on my own. I work in tech in my day job, so that’s afforded me the benefit of being able to adapt to the changes in the book industry quickly. There’s so much information out there from self-publishing experts like Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson, and they’re forthcoming about how they’ve gotten to be prolific authors who also make healthy salaries.
I’m able to soak up all their advice and steadily implement into my own efforts. I like having the freedom to experiment and make changes until I feel comfortable with the end result. For example, I didn’t think my first covers for both Raindropt and Riffed were a great fit for the series, so I was able to hire a new designer to create new covers within a year. I wouldn’t even have a say in the cover design with a traditional publisher, so I’m grateful for that.
Have you altered your writing process or style at all over the course of writing three books?
The biggest change to my process is that I plan a lot more – I always outline the book and have a synopsis for each chapter before I begin. I used to write whatever popped into my head (my blog MyWordVom.com says it all), but now I’m more thoughtful about when I introduce or bring back certain characters, and I make sure every scene is essential for the overall story.
Stylistically, I’ve worked to trim down the big words. I love a colourful vocabulary, but it can make for unnecessarily dense reading. I’ve always worked really hard to iron out my plots so everything flows better. Also, my editor has helped me work on my character voices so each one has a distinct and unfaltering style.
It’s a work in progress, but I think my readers can see the evolution from book one. I’m playing the long game with my writing career, so I’ll continue to work on my craft so that it improves from one book to the next. I hope my readers enjoy the ride as much as I do!
Want to learn more about Leah’s journey through the Bosch Rainforest? Look for Raindropt, Riffed, and Rooted on Amazon!
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