Eeekkk! I am super pumped for this interview today! As I shared yesterday for #onelinewednesday, Kingdom of Ash and Soot was one of my favorite novels this year and was thrilled when C.S. Johnson was up for an interview!
Shall we dive right in? 😉
Pull up a comfy chair and join CJ and I as we chat about book genres, Order of the Crystal Daggers, and an excerpt from book two.
I forgot something else to share with you! CJ has kindly offered to give away an e-copy of this excellent story! Yes, I am excited right along with you! Stay tuned for the details on how you can enter at the end of our chat. 🙂
About the Book
In an age of political unrest and racial divide, one girl’s search for truth will determine the future of her kingdom.
– Hi CJ! I am SO excited to be chatting with you today! For those who don’t know you, can you share three words to describe yourself?
Thank you for the interview! It is always lovely to talk with friends, and it’s especially easy to talk with friends about myself. Somehow I can convince myself I’m less narcissistic when it’s for a friend!
Three words to describe myself:
Honest, complicated, iridescent
– I might have to borrow your word complicated for me too. Hehe! You mention on your website that you walk the line between overlapping worlds. Currently where you are, what two worlds are overlapping? Any unicorns involved? 😉
There are lots of overlapping worlds I walk through to bring my stories to life. One of the earliest books I read was C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, and I remember the scene where Polly and Digory are transported to the worlds between the world of Narnia, where they see a lot of pools that lead to different worlds. I like to imagine I’m a water nymph of a worldkeeper, where I have my own set of worlds that feed into each other and run deep with their own vibrancy and life. Every time I think of a new story, I like to think of it as a gift to bring to life as much as to enjoy. God has been pretty generous and he knows my humor, so I’m only disappointed that my writing provides others with the dark mirror to look through.
Right now, I’m working on my Order of the Crystal Daggers trilogy, where the past in Prague meets the fairy tale-true-love-happily-ever-after mixed in with plenty of murder, intrigue, and explosives. It’s a bit of my family’s past (since I am playing with my heritage roots on both my mom’s side and my dad’s side of our family) and the current world, where things like freedom, trust, and identity all kind of roll together.
No unicorns involved — but maybe soon!
– I totally can’t wait to read more in your Order of the Crystal Daggers trilogy! Also, I’ll be holding out for a story with unicorns. 😉 You also mention on your website that you are a genre-hopping author. Do you read as many different genres as you write or do you regularly read the same genre?
I like to read a lot of different things. I think the Bible is a great example of my own influences — there’s history, law, letters, poetry, prophecy, testimonies, and even some romance. I’ve read fairy tales and literary work, historical everything from all over the world, and I enjoy mysteries and thrillers and all sorts of books. Books are the portals to other worlds, but they are also the keys to understanding this one. I especially like memoirs (The Great Good Thing and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years are my most recent) because when I read one, it is like getting to see behind the curtain to another life. For me, Aristotle had it wrong: plot is not the most important thing in a story, it’s character. So when I write, I like character-driven story lines that are very tightly choreographed with plot. There are universal things that transcend any genre, and I like to explore different places as much as different times and different people. Often times, I like to delve into the same themes in different ways. For example, if you enjoyed Kingdom of Ash and Soot, you’d likely enjoy my Divine Space Pirates series as well, since both series discuss the idea of trust in different ways. In Kingdom, the idea of trust is interwoven with that of freedom; in The Heights of Perdition, I discuss trust as it relates to truth and true love. The themes are similar, but everything else is different — The Divine Space Pirates is set in the future, where the UN has dissolved, the USA has absorbed Canada, and pockets of resistance to the new government fight battles in a world covered in ecological disaster (you can tell I wanted to write something realistic, haha!).
– The Divine Space Pirates is definitely on my to-read list (especially after you sharing this). I’m also fond of character-driven stories too. 🙂 Your latest release Kingdom of Ash and Soot was also very character-driven and I loved it. It was such an incredible story and will never view Cinderella the same. Since there was so much political intrigue, how were you able to keep up with different situations and overall country affairs? (I never got lost and thought that was super awesome.)
Political divide happens in a repeated sort of cycle, if you look at history in a general sense. The same themes are repeated but the tactics and goals shift somewhat. With political things, it all starts with the individual, and each individual character has his or her own background and understanding of why things should be the way they are. Lady POW, as an agent of change, understands that the end of civilization is different from the end of humanity, so her views are much more pragmatic than someone like Ferdy, who has his own reasons for wanting to understand the Bohemians he resides with, and much more so than Karl, who is actively trying to change the political landscape to match his vision for the future. Ella, who grew up poor and a servant in her home, is more or less thrust into the situation, but she comes at it from the perspective of someone who has never had help to better her life on a government level. She sees the pitfalls because she has experienced them, and she knows the dangers, since she can see her grandmother in action.
It is not too different from asking ten different people what it means to be an American. As an American, I can say that we all want the best for our country. But when you get into specifics, they change drastically (this is why I never pay attention to politicians who say “This is not American” about politics. It’s 99.99% empty rhetoric.) Ella wants to protect the right people and do the right thing, especially since she knows what it is like to be without the power to have a good light. But then the questions become “Who is right?” and “What is right?” That’s sometimes harder to answer, especially since when you have power to make your choices, you often have to pay a price to do so.
– Ooo I love your response to my question! Very good point! This was my first historical fantasy that I have read in a very long time. You made it such a wonderful experience! If you were suddenly thrusted into your book’s world, what country would you be from? Would you be part of the Order of the Crystal Daggers? If not, what would you be?
I’d be someone like Annie Oakley, for sure — maybe a little older version of her, anyway, since she would be about 10 at the time of this novel. My favorite biographies as a kid were about Annie Oakley and Maria Mitchell. I think Annie Oakley would jump at the chance to help Ella save the day. I have an American character showing up in Book 2 of the series, and he’s a gunslinger of sorts, too.
– Eeeekk! A gunslinger?! I can’t wait to meet him! I’ve heard on numerous occasions that most authors can’t choose a favorite character, BUT I wonder who you would want to hang out with for a day. Who’s the lucky character to hang out with you? What would you guys do?
I don’t think I could choose a certain character, but in this case, I would want to actually spend time with the person who inspired the character. I based Amir Qureshi on Nabeel Qureshi, who died last year. He was an author and a wonderful speaker who was able to be a bridge to many of his own worlds. He was an immigrant to America who grew up in a Muslim family, and he came to become a Christian during his college years. I have his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and I am going to buy the special addition coming out in a few weeks. I think as introverted as I am, I am drawn to people who can use words so well, and reading through his work, watching his YouTube videos, I was captivated by how Nabeel was able to see so much about the West from his culture from the East, and so much about God from both his Muslim upbringing and his Christian faith. So much of the magic of a good writer is getting people to see things that matter from a different perspective, and Nabeel did this consistently in such a wonderfully empathetic way.
I would love to have spent time with him. I am still so sad at his passing.
I like that I am a writer because I sort of do get to spend time with Nabeel this way. I never met him in person, so I get to imagine what he is like. Amir is inspired by Nabeel, and their characters overlap at their faith. After that, the differences are stark and immediate, and more uncertain. Amir’s life is complicated because of his love for Ella’s mother, his allegiance to Lady P and the British Empire despite his father’s objection, his own faith in God despite his losses, and his resolve to see it through faithfully. He becomes one of Ella’s mentors, but he is much more of a father figure to her, and this is further strained by his alliance with Lady POW, Ella’s own secrets, and of course, the secrets of Ella’s mother and the past. He is definitely my own character, but one that reminds me of someone far greater.
– Beautifully said, friend. <3 Lastly, would you be willing to share an excerpt from book two? (To throw it out there, I totally can’t wait to read it!)
Sure! While it’s still mostly a work in progress, most of this, if not all, will remain; with my editor’s approval, anyway!
This is the scene where Ella and Amir talk after Harshad’s first training session with Ella and Ben. Harshad is the one who is the expert in fighting styles, and while Ella has had some experience fending off her stepbrother and rough-housing with Ben, she is in a new world, and an uncomfortable one at that. Learning to fight in more decisive battles is not easy, and it’s further uncomfortable, of course, because of Ferdy and the secrets that follow him. Here, Ella and Amir discuss some of the uncomfortable truths of her first lesson and her current situation:
It was only after Harshad left the room that Amir finally said anything. “You did well for your first lesson, Eleanora.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t feel like it.”
“You are not the judge of this matter. Harshad is, and I can tell he was satisfied.”
“If this is what it is like to win his approval, I’m not sure I want it.” I hid my gaze, focusing on scrubbing scuff marks off the floor. “I did not want to hurt Ben.”
“His weakness is not his leg.”
“I know.” I lifted my chin proudly. “It’s not going to stop him from being a good fighter. He can do anything he wants, just like anyone else.”
“That is not quite true,” Amir said. “If he is to be a good fighter, he has to acknowledge his shortcomings. That includes his physical ones as well as his emotional ones. Ben is able to compensate for his injured leg. He has done it for years, and he is able to work through our exercises with accommodations.”
“You just said that his leg was not a weakness.”
“And it is not. You are.”
I stopped moving, my eyes wide. “I am?”
“He loves you, as much as a brother can love his sister, and he cannot easily forget that connection.” Amir gave me a wistful smile. “I know that from my own sister.”
“You have a sister?”
He nodded, and I blinked in surprise. It was not just Ferdy who I did not know as well as I should have.
“There is a reason that Lady POW requested that he fight you. He is clearly worried for you, but he did not say why.”
“Lady POW wanted him to fight me?” My voice raised in anger and surprise. “I can’t believe—”
Amir gave me a warning glance. “Things are not always as they seem. She talked with him after your return.”
“I know that. I thought she was sending him out to find Tulia and others.”
“Your grandmother is not worried about Tulia. She was injured, but she has lived a long life, and she knows how to take care of herself.” Amir crossed his arms. “Lady POW wants to know more about you. She knows you are keeping something from her.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Well, that would upset Lady POW. She does not mind keeping her own secrets, but she is quick to seek out others’.”
“Is your brother right to worry for you, Eleanora?”
Before I could think through it, I shook my head. I had promised to keep Ferdy’s secret safe, and I did not know yet if telling my brother was a good idea or not. He would be furious that Ferdy had lied to me, and then there was the fact Ferdy knew more about Karl than he had revealed.
With no substantial proof leading us to Lord Maximillian, and our only other leads missing, Ben would not hesitate to confront Ferdy.
“Are you certain?”
At the note of sympathy in his voice, I was unable to brush aside his concern. Lying to Ben to keep Ferdy safe was necessary, and lying to Lady POW, knowing she had her own secrets, was nothing. But lying to Amir, a man my mother had loved and trusted, felt very different.
I will have to tell him something.
– Oh my! I need to get my hands on this book ASAP! Thanks so much for chatting with me CJ!
Ready to enter to win an e-copy of this book? I hope so because Kingdom of Ash and Soot is amazing! Click the link below to enter. Giveaway ends August 9th!
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About the Author
C. S. Johnson is the author of several young adult novels, including sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.