Daily Archives: November 19, 2009

WBBT: Laini Taylor – Characters, Creativity & Clementine Pie


I am so, SO excited to be hosting Laini Taylor today for WBBT. *dancing elf* I am a giant, GIANT fan of Laini’s books, Blackbringer, Silksinger, and the National Book Award nominated, Lips Touch. Laini is one miraculously talented writer, and she’s an artist too. All of Laini’s novels have earned places on my “special shelf.” You know the shelf where you put the few books that you actually embraced once you finished reading them? Laini’s writing is that special. Laini blogs about her art and writing and other things besides at Grow Wings, and today she’s right here, chatting with me about creativity, her characters, and her pixie-faced baby daughter, Clementine Pie.

You might want to start off by reading my reviews of Laini’s books, just to get in the general spirit of celebration and excitement: my review of Blackbringer, my review of Silksinger, my review of Lips Touch. Good. Now we’re ready.

Welcome Laini!

In Silksinger, your latest novel in the Dreamdark collection, Whisper is a phenomenal character. She’s more than she seems. She’s a creative force. She’s bold when she needs to be. What do you most admire about her, and what was the first scene you imagined her in?

I dreamed up Whisper alongside Magpie and Poppy, before I even started writing Blackbringer. They were a trio, but I decided to save Whisper for another book—her own book. I knew that she would be a singer of flying carpets who [mild spoiler alert!] gets captured and held prisoner, and I knew she would be completely different than bold, brave Magpie. The first scene I imagined her in was in prison, though in the early conception, the power of her voice was even greater: she could whisper open passageways in solid rock. Which made it difficult to keep her prisoner, obviously. When writing magic, one must be careful not to give characters too much power, or there can be no tension! So, I scaled back Whisper’s power. (As for Magpie, she has to have a slow learning curve with her power, or else no villain would ever be a match for her.)


(Here’s a picture of the paper dolls I made that were the earliest incarnation of the characters, before I even thought of writing the books. Left to right: Poppy, Magpie, Whisper; I drew and oil-painted them, with multiple outfits, and turned them into fully articulated dolls. I was obsessed with them for months!)

Something I admire about Whisper is her tenacity. From the first chapter of the book she’s thrust completely outside of her sphere of experience, into a nightmare, really. It’s so overwhelming and terrifying she really just wants to give up and join her loved ones in the Moonlit Gardens, but she doesn’t. She musters her courage and she tries. And tries. And tries.

It’s not a bad metaphor for writing a book! Here’s a great quote:

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.” – Louis Pasteur

In your acknowledgements in Silksinger you reveal the rather serendipitous way you found the name for your spooky devil general Ethiag. How do you name your characters? Do you have different sources of inspiration of do the names just come? How is naming a character the same as / different from naming your own child?

Yes, the word verification function on blogs is kind of a pain when you’re commenting, but I have gleaned quite a few cool-sounding words from it. So far Ethiag is the only one to find its way into a story.

I love naming characters. When I was a kid this was my favorite part of writing, and often was as far as I got. Now, I have lists in various notebooks—weird names I hear in the news or see in film credits; made-up names; names from other cultures, including languages I’d never even heard of until I stumbled upon them doing research—like Tamazight, the Berber language spoken by a character in my current book). Dreamdark names mostly come from nature: birds, plants, etc. Some are nature words in other languages. Kipepeo is Swahili for butterfly, and briefly mentioned in Blackbringer, Bellatrix’s mother was the Ice Princess Fidrildi, which is Icelandic for butterfly. (Do they have butterflies in Iceland?)

As for baby names, that’s so much harder than character names! With characters, you know you can always do a search/replace and change their name at the slightest whim. With babies, it’s got to stick. Jim would probably tell you I wasn’t fun when it came to naming Clementine. He was always thinking up new names, and I was always shooting them down. By the time I went into labor we had two to choose between and it took us a couple of days in the hospital to finally settle on Clementine. It’s inspired by Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is also what inspired me to dye my hair, so I guess that movie made quite an impact on us. As for her middle name Pie, it’s in honor of Magpie, of course. We didn’t come up with that one until after she was born, when the other options we had in mind seemed suddenly not cute enough.

Lips Touch is a collection full of strong and complex female characters: Kizzy, Estella, Anamique, Esme, Mab and the Druj Queen. Who was the trickiest of these to create? Who would you especially like to write more stories about?

Each character presented their own challenges. Anamique was difficult because she doesn’t talk. It’s hard to give a character “voice” when they literally don’t speak! And the Druj Queen was tricky because she’s incredibly unsympathetic, but I still wanted the reader to care what happens to her. Kizzy was the character who came the most naturally, because I was sort of channeling (and exaggerating—slightly) my own long-ago teen angst and longing.

I could see continuing Kizzy’s story, because of the way it ends. I’m curious to know how readers take the ending: does it seem ambiguous, or do you have a pretty solid feeling of authorly intent there? What I was shooting for was ambiguity that leans in one particular direction, that is, where the reader comes away feeling, “This is probably what happens to Kizzy.” Still, I think there’s room to play there, and maybe some day I will pick it up and make Goblin Fruit the beginning of a novel. I’d like to see more of Kizzy, Cactus, and Evie, and certainly more of the goblins.

Anamique’s story feels complete to me so I don’t think I would revisit it, but I do hope some day to write a whole [unrelated] novel set in Raj-era India. I’m fascinated by that period, but I need to do a lot more reading and I need to travel in India before undertaking such a thing. Historical fiction is daunting; this was my first stab at it. What I’d really love is if someone could please invent a time machine just for writers of historical fiction. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

As for Hatchling, I will certainly be writing more stories about the Druj. I have lots of ideas! Continue reading