Interviews · Uncategorized

Sereadipity Interviews… Coco Ma!

Hello my bookish badgers! Today I’ll be sharing the interview I did with the wonderful Coco Ma about her debut, Shadow Frost! Read my review here.

About Shadow Frost:

Publication date: 1st October 2019

IN THE KINGDOM OF AXARIA, a darkness rises.

Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes. Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm. Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down.

Not one has ever returned.

When Asterin Faelenhart, Princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, discovers that she may hold the key to defeating the mysterious demon terrorizing her kingdom, she vows not to rest until the beast is slain. With the help of her friends and the powers she wields — though has yet to fully understand — Asterin sets out to complete a single task. The task that countless, trained soldiers have failed.

To kill it.

But as they hunt for the demon, they unearth a plot to assassinate the Princess herself instead. Asterin and her companions begin to wonder how much of their lives have been lies, especially when they realize that the center of the web of deceit might very well be themselves. With no one else to turn to, they are forced to decide just how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect the only world they have ever known.

That is, of course… if the demon doesn’t get to them first.

From young author Coco Ma comes a dazzling new tale of adventure, power, and betrayal, weaving together a stunning world of magic with a killer cast in an explosive, unforgettable debut.

Hello and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me! You wrote the first draft of this book at the impressive age of fifteen- what was your initial inspiration to start writing this story and how did it develop and change over time?

Thank you for having me! A very long time ago, I fell in love with fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. And I also fell in love with writing in general before it ever occurred to me to try and write a book… Shadow Frost initially started as a school project in tenth grade. I meant to write a collection of short stories, but then the first one just kept getting longer and longer until I suddenly realized that I had over 50k words and half a story left to tell! Which, of course, led to a lot of problems in terms of pacing and plot, so those were main editing points later on. I recently finished the first draft of the sequel, and it was such a different experience going into the manuscript with the intention of actually writing a book! Still, I can really appreciate the editing process I went through in the first book, because I definitely learned a lot from it. A lot of authors will tell you that the only way to write better is to write, and I think the same applies to editing and publishing, too, so even though it was scary diving into the industry at fifteen, I’ll always be grateful for it!

The novel is written from multiple perspectives. Was it challenging to keep track of so many points of view?

It really depends! I actually think that writing in first person can be a lot more challenging because you lose so much of what is going on in other characters’ heads. My process for choosing what character’s perspective to tell the story from correlates very directly to the story itself. I never force a perspective when it isn’t natural to the story, and I try to think about which character a certain chapter or chapter section is going to affect most in advance, whether emotionally or physically or mentally. Or maybe I know there is going to be a big reveal affecting Character A in the next chapter, in which case I might pick a different POV because I want to showcase Character B’s specific reaction to that reveal. Since there are so many main characters in Shadow Frost, the hardest part was probably making sure all of them had a consistent presence—not an equal presence, which is a very important distinction—but just making sure that the reader isn’t startled by a character’s appearance because they’ve disappeared for like, eleven chapters!

Shadow Frost is full of elemental magic, centered around a complex stone system. I loved the idea of being unifinitied all the way up to being omnifinitied. What inspired this magic system?

I’ve heard a lot of people relate the magic system to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I didn’t watch that until waaay after I wrote the book, haha. If I’m being super, super honest… I think my liking for elemental-based powers came from the Rainbow Magic Fairy books, which I read when I was like, seven. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but I owned. A lot. Of those books. So I felt very comfortable in an elemental magic word, and I loved spicing it up with other spoken-word spells derived from the Immortal Tongue, which is basically the only other existing language in the Shadow Frost universe. Pretty early on, the first idea I had for the magic system involved wands instead of stones, actually! The idea was for there to be wands made of different materials—like wood, or iron, or sapphire, etc. It was based off the Mohs scale, so a ‘level ten’ wielder would use a wand made out of diamond, which ranks as a ten on the Mohs scale. And the elements and their respective kingdoms were a completely separate entity on their own. Then, during one of my revisions, I realized that the wand idea kind of sucked. And it suddenly occurred to me that the characters were already mostly using the magic originating from each of their kingdoms. Everything kind of clicked and fell into place after that, and it was just a big moment of, “well, of course it should be like this!”

Imagine that all of your characters were invited to Hogwarts. Which houses would they be sorted into?

Oh, god, I love this question. Let’s see.

  • Asterin — Gryffindor. Like, the hat wouldn’t even touch her head before screaming out.
  • Luna — oh this is hard. Like, if I tell you honestly, it will spoil sequel stuff. I’ll just leave it at that.
  • Orion — Hufflepuff. I know that might come as a shock. But what can I say, he’s a good finder! Or maybe he would be a hat stall between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. I don’t know.
  • Eadric — Ravenclaw. Or Gryffindor. But IMO he thinks more with his head than his heart.
  • Rose — Ravenclaw.
  • Quinlan — I kind of want to put him into Slytherin. He would look really good in green and silver.
  • Harry — Either Hufflepuff or Gryffindor. Immortals, I’m so bad at this, I can’t pick a single house! I should do a poll and let all of you decide for me…
  • Garringsford — Slytherin. *hisses*

I’ve heard that you’re a brilliant musician, which instruments do you think Asterin, Orion, Luna, and Quinlan would be good at playing?

Aw, thank you! Wow, okay, never thought about this.

  • Asterin — er… for some reason, I feel like Asterin would be tone deaf. And not have the patience, at all, to practice any instrument. Maybe she could do the cowbell. Or another instrument that involves hitting/beating/striking something.
  • Orion — I can see him playing classical guitar. I don’t even know why. Or maybe the accordion so he can serenade people (badly) as they walk by.
  • Luna — She gives me violinist vibes. Like one of those scarily talented seven-year-old prodigies. And also, she can probably sing really well while playing the ukulele or something like that.
  • Quinlan — Undoubtedly, the flugelhorn. Just kidding. Probably jazz piano, although that might just be me projecting. He has a really smooth voice, so I would die to hear him sing some slow ballads while accompanying himself on the piano. Think Chet Baker It’s Always You, or I Fall In Love Too Easily, or But Not For Me. All of which are really amazing songs that you should listen to if you haven’t heard them before if you like the kind of jazz that melts you into a puddle of ahhhh.

Which books and authors inspired you to write?

It’s a cliché answer, but basically every book I’ve ever read has inspired me in some way or another (yes, even those Rainbow Magic books). The first five off the top of my head are: VE Schwab, Vicious; Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom; Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer; Holly Black, Cruel Prince; and Alex Bracken, Never Fade. Obviously, there are so many others. Oh, god, I didn’t even mention Sarah J Maas and Marie Lu. I think the first two YA books I ever read were by them, and obviously, they are Queens™. Anyway, the point is, these are just a few (and only from YA) out of a gazillion.

Can give us any hints as to what the next book will have in store for us?

For a lot of characters, time is running out… in every sense of the word. You’ll get a much richer look at the Immortal Realm and one Immortal being in particular. You’ll meet a few new players in the game… and lose a few more. Relationships get tense. Some end well, some just… end. Lots of happy/sad/angry crying from just about everyone throughout. If you thought the betrayal stung in Shadow Frost, get ready for a world of hurt. Also…… Luna. Just… Luna. Overall, stuff is gonna hit the fan. But there’s cake involved! With the sequel in general, not the stuff hitting the fan.

And I, for one, cannot wait. 😉

About the author:

Coco Ma is a Canadian author and pianist. She wrote her first novel, Shadow Frost, at the age of 15, and since she began playing the piano at the age of five and a half, she has also performed on some of the world’s greatest concert stages and graduated with a pre-college diploma in piano performance from The Juilliard School in New York City. Currently, she studies at Yale University. When she isn’t practicing piano, writing, or studying, you might find her bingeing Netflix or eating cake. Lots of cake.
Follow Coco on Twitter @shadowfrost2019 and Instagram @CakeForCoco or visit her website at!

Thank you so much to Coco Ma for doing this interview with me, it was a pleasure!

Incidentally, I also used to be obsessed with the Rainbow Magic books when I was much younger so it’s cool that we have that in common!

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Interviews · Uncategorized

Sereadipity Interviews… Annie Sullivan!

Hi, hello! I’m honoured to share this interview which I did with the amazing Annie Sullivan about her latest release, Tiger Queen. You can read my review of the book here!

About Tiger Queen:

Publication date: 10th September 2019

From Annie Sullivan, author of A Touch of Gold, comes Tiger Queen, a sweeping YA fantasy adventure that tells the story of a fierce desert princess battling to save her kingdom. Fans of Rebel of the Sands and Meagan Spooner will devour this retelling of Frank Stockton’s famous short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.

Hello and thank you for doing this interview with me! Tiger Queen is a retelling of ‘The Lady, Or The Tiger?’. Which elements of the short story did you adapt and include in your novel?

Yes! Tiger Queen is heavily inspired by that short story, and I kept a great deal of the original story. Everything from the king throwing the princess’ lover into the arena to the princess having to help choose what door gets opened made it into my version. But I also included a lot of new elements in my novel, like the fact that the society is running out of water. Plus, the original story ends with a cliffhanger. In my version, I give the story the ending it always should have had!

The world that the book is set in has very interesting and unique customs, legends and beliefs. What were the inspirations behind these various cultures and traditions?

I love coming up with new creatures. I often do a lot of research into what animals and insects live in a certain environment, and I then I see how I can twist them so they belong in a fantasy setting. For example, I created Grieving Spiders, which are so named because if you get bitten by one, everyone around you will be grieving because you’ll die. So overall, the setting was inspired by the creatures that live in desserts, but it was also inspired by the time I spent in Antarctica. Believe it or not, Antarctica is actually one of the world’s largest desserts because it is so dry, and I wrote a lot of Tiger Queen while I was there. I simply replaced the endless stretches of snow with sand. However, since I was writing about the desert, I worked with a sensitivity reader just to ensure that I didn’t delve into any harmful stereotypes of desert cultures.

Kateri was a brave, strong character who went on a great journey of self-discovery. What inspired her character and what were the challenges of writing her?

I loved writing Kateri because she is so strong. She was practically born with a sword in her hand and won’t back down from a fight. She’s fiercely loyal and a little bit stubborn. I think she gets those elements from me. I loyal to a fault and can be stubborn when I think I’m right. But overall, her strength was inspired by the landscape she lives in because you have to be strong in order to survive the Achran desert.

I would say the challenge of writing such a strong character is making her relatable and giving her a softer side that can still come through. It takes her a while to open up, but Kateri eventually learns to trust others.

Did you have to do a lot of research before writing Tiger Queen? What was your main method of research and what interesting things did you find out?

A lot of the research I did was into what types of creatures live in the desert. I had so much fun taking actual insects and twisting them into something new and dangerous. I also did some research into clothing and food that would be common in the desert. Outside of that, I made a lot of it since it is a fantasy world.

How do you write? Do you carefully outline or discover the story as you go? Was writing this book a different experience from writing your other book, A Touch of Gold?

I’m a total “panster,” meaning I fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline. I like to discover the story right along with the reader. Sometimes that means I write myself into a corner, but then I go back and start again until I get it right. I might know where the story is going to end up, but I don’t always know how we’re going to get there until we do.

And I would say this book was very different. Just the fact that there’s no real magic involved made it easier to write because magic complicates things—who has it, how you get it, how can it be used, etc.

Which books would you recommend to people who enjoyed Tiger Queen?

What a fun question! I think people who love Tiger Queen will love books like:

About the author:

Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels. She loves fairy tales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).

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Thank you so much to Annie Sullivan for doing this interview with me- it was a pleasure!

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