9 Questions with Rebecca Ross, Author of Sisters of Sword and Song

A new favorite of mine from the author of The Queen's Rising duology.

But first, a summary!

After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.

Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

And now, the questions:

On Writing: 

1. How do you think you've developed as a writer and how can you see that in SISTERS?

I think I have grown quite a bit in my craft since that day I first started writing The Queen’s Rising in 2015. Sisters of Sword and Song stretched me in many ways, and they were good growing pains. I wanted to challenge myself with this book. I wanted to write about something that was very complicated and difficult and messy. I wanted to deepen the relationships that I was writing about, starting from the ground up: the tangled relationships with family—between fathers and mothers and daughters, between sisters, between fathers and sons, between brothers.

I also wanted to delve deeper into what makes us human, and the difficult yet redemptive journey of forgiving oneself as well as those who have hurt you. When I look back on Sisters of Sword and Song, I realize that I could not have written this book if I had not written The Queen’s Resistance, and I could not have written The Queen’s Resistance if I had not written The Queen’s Rising. My books feel very much like a staircase—each story building on the previous one—and I hope to continue ascending in craft and storytelling.  

2. Is there anything you love about your writing that you would recommend to writers in the future?

Now that I have quite a few books to my name (some yet to be announced and published but they are drafted), I can see how the same themes continue to emerge in my stories. I gravitate toward writing about family—blood family and found family—and sisterhood—the soul sisters we find later in life and choose and the sisters we are born connected to. I also tend to feature family secrets, music, political intrigue, love interests who are intelligent and introspective, and I place a great importance on education. There is always a school or a university in my books, and when I realized this, I was like, “oh my goodness, why do these elements keep emerging in my writing!?” But then I realized, I love these things. I love writing about family and sisterhood and music and intelligent love interests and secrets and intrigue and education. These are elements that are important to me, and I love that these are the threads that arise in the stories I weave. So my recommendation to writers is to embrace the elements that you love and write about them with passion. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or that you should be writing about A when you love to write about B.  

3. Is there anything you regret about your writing that could help writers in the future?

Yes. Haha. When I was revising The Queen’s Rising, I remember feeling this pressure that made me think, “This story must be perfect. It must be beautiful. Every single line must by lyrical.” And so I overwrote a good deal of the book. All that being said, I am naturally that sort of writer who wants to wholly transport the reader. I want you to see everything, smell everything, taste everything, feel everything. I love to describe things, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it must be wielded carefully. When I glance back over The Queen’s Rising, I see my writing (in parts) as over descriptive. It was a good learning lesson, and something that has sharpened me. I still want to wholly immerse the reader into my story—and I don’t think that will ever change—but I look at what I’m describing and I am ruthless about it. Sometimes, less is more. And I challenge myself by saying, “Okay Becca. How can you describe this room in just one sentence and still deliver the same sensory punch that would have previously taken you three sentences to accomplish?”   

On Advice: 

4. How has writing your books changed the way you look at life?

Writing is like taking a magnifying glass and holding it up to the human heart, to secret pains and regrets, to an array of pulsing emotions, to the memories of firsts and lasts, to the choices good and bad we make, to the bravery and the cowardice, to the selflessness and fears and desires we hold. Writing has made me slow down and examine the things of life more deeply, to question and seek answers. 

5. What's your #1 piece of advice for when one is drafting their first book?

Write the book you want to read. The book that would stop you in your tracks if you saw it on the shelf at the bookstore. Write because you love it. The other piece of advice I have is don’t feel pressured to rush. Don’t feel like you have to rush to complete the draft, rush to edit, rush to query agents. Take your time and enjoy each step of the process. 

6. How do you continue to love what you write? 

This is a great question, and something I face more often than not. You write your debut, and it’s the book of your heart, something you love, as if you breathed a dream onto the page. You get the book deal and it is exciting and life changing, but then you realize you must now write against the current: you write for a contract now, you write on a deadline now, you write with reviews and reader expectations haunting you now. All of those things can make it extremely difficult to write something you love. I think what has helped me the most is staying true to myself and what I want to write. Even if that means I have to rewrite an entire manuscript and re-pitch an idea to my editor (both have happened to me). I will not publish a book that I am not in love with. And if that means I need more time to figure that out, then I will ask for more time. But also, it bears importance to say that as a creative individual, you will most likely have waves of feelings when it comes to your work. Some days, I love my writing. The next day, I hate it. These feelings can be difficult to tame and work through, but I think it’s vital for every writer to look back on their books and realize that their stories are literally magic pressed into pages, and that is an extraordinary feat and accomplishment. 

On Sisters of Sword and Song:

7. How was writing SISTERS different from TQR and TQR2, aside from characters, setting, plot, etc.?

Sisters of Sword and Song was a story I had to work very hard to find and write and polish. Not that The Queen’s Rising and Resistance weren’t, but Sisters was definitely a different beast to tame. I wrote the first draft in first person, from Evadne’s perspective only. Then I decided to bring Halcyon’s perspective in, but I did not want to write another first person dual narrative, so I re-wrote the entire book in third person, weaving Halcyon’s new chapters into it. This shifted the entire tone of the book. It took a lot out of me at the time, and my doubt thrived like weeds. I look back on the entire process, and I would not want to relive it. But I am immensely proud of this book, and I hope my fans of TQR and TQR2 will enjoy this new adventure. 

8. What was your main influence while writing SISTERS?

I’ve always wanted to write a sister story, as well as a fantasy book inspired by Ancient Greece. I also had been holding onto this idea of a girl who stepped forward and offered to take part of her sister’s punishment. This story seed would not leave me alone and haunted me for several years. I knew that I would write it one day, but I was waiting for another idea to spark against it. Well, that other idea centered on a mage and a scribe and magic that favored one hand over the other. All of these elements and desires came together in the right moment, and Sisters of Sword and Song was written.

9. What's been your favorite part of writing SISTERS, and what can you not wait for readers to experience when reading it?

My favorite part of writing this book is Evadne and Halcyon, the two sisters who this story is about. I love both of the girls immensely, and I will miss writing from their perspectives. I also enjoyed writing the slow burning romance that unfolds in Evadne’s narrative. It was a deeply rewarding story thread, one that I savored to write. I’m excited for my readers to discover this new world of Corisande and all of its dangers and beauty—the mythology, the relics, the olive grove, the Hoplite army. I’m also excited to see readers sink into another one of my plots. Expect those elements I love most: large, vibrant families and the tangled secrets they hide, sisterhood, intelligent and brave heroines, music and enchantments, a school of magic, a love interest who is introspective and poetic, a slow burning romance, and political intrigue. 

Sisters of Sword and Song by Rebecca Ross is available June 23, 2020 in hardback from most major book stores. Make sure to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!!

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