Kat Ross - Magic, Monsters and Doomsday Scenarios
Kat Ross loves to weave tales of magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. She is inspired by folktales and legends from different cultures, using them to create believable scenes in a world where everything is not as it seems. Today, Ross reveals to us how she uses Wikipedia as an inspiration for her writing, why she does such horrible things to her characters and talks about her fascination with weird Victoriana.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Midnight Sea is about
The one-liner might be Gladiator meets Romeo and Juliet in ancient Persia. With magic. I just made that up, but it pretty much works! The plot is fast-paced, but the heart of the story is the things we do for love—and hate. When The Midnight Sea opens, the wealth and military power of the empire is intimately connected to the slavery of creatures called daevas. They can wield the elements of earth, air and water and make deadly soldiers. The priests teach that they're Druj—impure. But as the human protagonist trains with her own daeva, she comes to question everything she's been taught about them. So the first book focuses on her evolution and eventual rebellion, while the next two develop conflicts in the larger setting. I mean, what's epic fantasy without a diabolical demon queen?
What inspired the concept of the daevas and the golden cuffs?
I like to poke around in Wikipedia's religion and mythology pages. All the folktales and legends from different cultures are fascinating—and a great place to find inspiration for my own writing. The daevas come from Zoroastrianism, which emerged around the time of the early Achaemenid empire (550 to 330 BC) and is still practiced today. When I discovered that the daevas embodied evil and sin, and yet once had been deities, I got to thinking about how that fall might have come about. In my story, there are specific historical reasons for the daevas' demonization (which I won't reveal in the interests of keeping this spoiler-free!).
Then I also find the idea of being unwillingly tied to the emotions of another person or creature to be intriguing. Nazafareen and Darius are very wary of each other when they meet, and yet they have an immediate forced intimacy because of the cuffs that join them. The story took shape from there.
Why do you enjoy dark fantasy? With doomsday scenarios and monsters?
I think most of us have a secret fascination with mundane life suddenly falling apart. This can be anything from a zombie virus to a magical door at the back of an old wardrobe. The greatest writers (Neil Gaiman comes to mind, and Stephen King at his best) are the ones who find those hairline cracks in reality and blow them wide open. There are often unpleasant things lurking on the other side, but that's the fun part.
Your story pushes your characters to their limits, emotionally and physically. Was that intentional?
Oh, yes. If you want to see what people are made of, you have to methodically strip away every illusion they hold dear. I spent a lot of time pondering exactly what my characters' worst nightmares would be and then making them come to pass. It might sound silly, but I felt pretty bad about it, especially toward the end. They all seemed so real to me, I found myself muttering apologies as I typed. But there's redemption too, and a reasonably happy ending, so I made peace with the horrible things I did!
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
I try to avoid being too heavy-handed with themes, but slavery and free will and whether we are, in fact, basically decent, moral beings at heart are a few of the larger ideas in the series. There's darkness in the books, but my basic world view is optimistic. One of my favorite characters is Balthazar, a necromancer who does some very rotten things but never completely loses his humanity. The last book, Queen of Chaos, digs deeper into his character than we've seen before. It's funny because he first appeared in a very impromptu epilogue to The Midnight Sea, and he's grown into a major antihero whose choices shape the culmination of the whole series. Even though I'm a hard-core plotter, I love it when spontaneous scenes or characters gain a life of their own.
Do you have a set of rules for your world? Is there a process you go through that helps define these?
I have pages and pages of rules and exceptions and general world-building docs and hand-drawn maps that I refer to all the time. It all continues to evolve along with the storylines. There are several different kinds of magic, as well as three distinct worlds: The Moon Lands, the Sun Lands, and the Dominion, which is sort of a limbo between the others. It sounds complicated, but then I look at Robert Jordan's thirteen-book Wheel of Time epic, which has something like 137 distinct POV characters, and I'm like, yeah, mine is pretty manageable.
What was your greatest challenge when writing The Midnight Sea?
Honestly, it was figuring out where to begin the story. I had a few false starts on that one. I loved my characters and plot, but the manuscript kept fizzling. I just knew in my bones it wasn't working. Then it came to me: I was opening my story way too late. So I backed up some, to the point where Nazafareen is first recruited to the Water Dogs, and everything fell into place. I find that in general, if you're having difficulty in the drafting stage, it's rarely true writer's block. There's something wrong with the story, and if you curl up and gnaw on it like a dog with a bone, you'll eventually discover where the problem lies.
Do reviews and reader feedback shape your work? Or do you feel like it's better to avoid the feedback—both positive and negative—so that it won't interfere with your vision?
I aim for a happy medium. I don't read every single review on Goodreads or Amazon or other public places—therein lies madness, or at least many hours of self-pity. But I very much welcome any kind of direct reader feedback, by email or social or whatever. I think it's important to know what people think, and what works and what doesn't. I had one blogger suggest a glossary to help keep track of all the terms and places in The Midnight Sea, and it was a great idea, so I added one.
Can you give our readers a sneak preview into what you are working on now?
The second book in the series, Blood of the Prophet, comes out on September 12. A month later, on October 12, the first of my Dominion Mysteries releases. It's called The Daemoniac and my nutshell for this one is Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files. It's set in New York in 1888 and was my favorite book to write, ever. If you liked Caleb Carr's The Alienist, I think you'd enjoy this one too. Besides the (possibly) supernatural mystery at the center of the story, I worked in lots of juicy historical tidbits, like the insane taxidermied cat's head that Kate Fearing Strong, a.k.a. Puss, wore to Mrs. Astor's famous costume ball, and the entire town founded by mediums and spiritualists at Cassadaga Lake.
I plan to focus on gaslamp fantasy next year, which is a fabulous genre that blends Victorian-era atmosphere and intrigue with magic. The Daemoniac is sort of a prequel to that whole series, and will be followed by The Thirteenth Gate in January or February.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Like I said, I absolutely love hearing from fans! I can be reached by email at [email protected], or through any of the following social links. My Tumblr page is devoted to weird Victoriana and people/places/things related to The Daemoniac. If that's your bag, feel free to share! I grew up in New York City and find it utterly fascinating how much has changed in the last century—and how much hasn’t at all.