L. Penelope Launches New Series with Major Publisher | Debut Spotlight

Photo by Valerie Bey

L. Penelope’s Song of Blood & Stone (LJ 3/15/18), winner of the 2016 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Self-Publishing Award and the first book in the author’s “Earthsinger Chronicles” series, finds a new home with publisher St. Martin’s.

This novel was originally self-published. How did a book deal occur, and how are you finding the transition to traditional publishing?
In early 2016, I received an email from Monique ­Patterson at St. Martin’s. She told me how much she loved the book. I pitched an idea for a new series, but she got back to me saying that Song of Blood & Stone was really in her heart and she felt she could bring the series to a wider audience.

The transition has been a real learning curve. Self-publishing is by necessity collaborative…but at the end of the day, it’s all on your shoulders and there are so many different skills required. I appreciate being able to rely on the expertise of the team at St. Martin’s and their access to all the avenues that aren’t available to independent authors. Ceding control is both difficult for someone who considers herself a control freak and an incredible relief. But it’s wonderful to work with people who are working to make each book a success.

How would you describe the power of fantasy as a commentary on society?
I believe the default of human narrative is fantasy. Fantasy has always been the lens we use to make sense of the world around us, so it’s naturally a perfect vehicle to explore current society. Reframing everyday struggles as epic battles between good and evil or as a heroine’s journey to discover the magic inside her gives us some distance from the mundane. That altered perspective can bring clarity or simply provide another way to attack a problem.

For black and brown people especially, I think speculative fiction gives us space to both escape and examine the painful parts of our culture, society, and history. We can find some solace in an alternate world while exploring solutions.

What led you to tackle othering in this novel—specifically when it comes to your heroine Jasminda?
To a certain degree, I think I’m always writing about identity. It’s a theme that resonates with me having grown up black in majority white spaces and really having to cultivate my own identity and carve out a place in which I could feel comfortable being myself. A fish-out-of-water story, or really, a fish with no water story appealed to me. Jasminda lives in the margins…on the border between two lands, neither of which fully accept her. It seemed like a fantastic starting place for her journey. Everyone at some point has felt left out, not accepted or included, even if not to the extent Jasminda felt it.

What has inspired your worldbuilding?
I wanted to see something different. I wasn’t interested in a medieval-inspired fantasy; I wanted to explore a different time period, one that isn’t specifically defined but contains elements of modern technology. However, I still wanted to retain that feeling of otherworldliness and wonder from historical tales. Folklore and myth are important to worldbuilding because they’re intrinsic elements of any society. I researched lore from a variety of cultures, including African, Native American, and Pacific Islander.

What is your process for writing a series?
I’m a plotter, but my road map is very loose and allows for plenty of detours along the way. Even the most detailed plot will likely change massively about 20 percent of the way through. I write very lean; my first drafts are about half the length of the finished books. I layer meat onto the bones of the story, and that’s where the real fun is for me.

It wasn’t until after I finished the first book [in the series] that I knew it would take four more to complete the larger arc. Then I was able to sketch out in a paragraph or two the necessary points to hit in each novel, where to start and end, along with ideas for possible side stories that would deepen the world.

Which books and authors excite you?
Growing up I read widely. My favorites ranged from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess to Virginia Hamilton’s “Justice Trilogy.” The magical realism in Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day led me further into sf/fantasy. In college,

I discovered Octavia Butler as well as Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson. Then…I delved into romance with favorites such as Nalini Singh, Kresley Cole, and Colleen Hoover.—Kate DiGirolomo

 

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Kate DiGirolomo About Kate DiGirolomo

Kate DiGirolomo is the SELF-e Community Coordinator at Library Journal. She received her Master's degree in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @KateDiGirolomo.

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