Today I am interviewing Rowenna Miller, author of the new fantasy novel, Torn, first book in The Unraveled Kingdom trilogy.
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DJ: Hey, Rowenna! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Rowenna Miller: I’m a novelist, living historian, and mom of two from Indiana, and have been a stationer, college administration lackey, and college writing teacher and tutor. I have my Master’s in English—Film and Literature—and I currently use this to annoy people who watch movies with me.
DJ: What is Torn about?
Rowenna: The story follows a seamstress whose business is built on a traditional magic practice from her immigrant family—she stitches good luck charms into couture. Her business is blooming, but political unrest in her city is growing, spearheaded by her idealistic brother. As it becomes clear that revolt is likely, her attempts to remain neutral will be challenged.
DJ: What were some of your influences Torn and the series?
Rowenna: One of my hobbies is living history and historical sewing, so my real-world experience with needles, thread, and draping fabric show up in the story. In developing the plotline of political upheaval, the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth century revolutions, riots, and reforms was a major influence—not just our American Revolution, but the messier French Revolution and the fear of riots and subsequent reforms in England. How do the political elite deal with discontented citizens, and how do discontented citizens face political injustice? In a lot of different ways, it turns out.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Rowenna: Sophie is a workaholic with understandable motivations of achieving economic stability for her family. Kristos is an idealist who sometimes forgets to pitch in at home because he’s too busy reading a fascinating political treatise. Theodor is a duke who is just becoming aware of his unjust privilege but also really likes botany.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Unraveled Kingdom trilogy like?
Rowenna: The world of Torn is loosely inspired by late eighteenth century Europe, so fans of that particular period will find some familiarity there. The story unfolds in Galitha City, the capital of Galitha, a monarchy whose governance is by a noble elite. The city is fairly cosmopolitan, with active international trade and foreign nobility mingling and intermarrying with neighboring countries, and the lower class includes immigrants from the impoverished nation of Pellia, like Sophie. Long-standing stability, both economic and political, has highlighted the stagnation of the common people under an unjust system; broadsides and pamphlets fill the city’s taverns and coffee shops with debates and ideas. Despite a large cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Natures, most people are not overtly religious, and the role of religion, for most, is more traditional than active.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Torn?
Rowenna: It’s hard to pick a favorite! I enjoyed developing these characters and their relationships to one another, especially Sophie and Kristos’ sibling relationship. Writing about sewing was such a delight—translating the sound of silk to the page, or the kind of stitches one uses for each part of a project. And I really loved the ethical quandaries the characters found themselves in—each had competing motivations making “right and wrong” choices not so easy to discern.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Rowenna: Without giving away any spoilers, Torn *is* the first in the series, and political change, historically, is rarely finished in one act. Revolution gives way to nation building; riots are quelled but unrest threatens until reforms are passed; factions fight for years, wresting control of a country from one side to the other. There are many variables, so however Torn’s political situation resolves—or doesn’t—I think readers will be wondering where the country will go next.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began The Unraveled Kingdom trilogy? Torn is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Rowenna: I’ve always been interested in the choices of ordinary people during extraordinary times. Our narratives of revolution often focus on the ideals and ethics discussed at a high level—but people were still worried about their livelihoods, their families, their safety, what was for dinner…many concerns that we might identify with today. I wanted to explore the complexities of motivations and resist the impulse to simplify these choices, and to interrogate a bit those who are willing to simplify ideals to the point that they disregard the impact on the people around them.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Torn that you can share with us?
Rowenna: There are some fun Easter eggs for history dorks in the novel, and one is the use of red caps by the revolutionaries as a wearable symbol—which is a nod to “liberty caps” used symbolically in the eighteenth-century revolutionary era. However, I think they’re kind of…awkward looking. Thus, as Sophie and Kristos discuss her sewing some caps some caps for them:
“Red wool caps.”
“I have a sketch.”
“Of course you do.” I took the paper. “These look ridiculous. You do realize that everyone in Galitha City…is going to think you’re wearing a phallus on your head, right?”
DJ: Now that Torn is released, what is next for you?
Rowenna: I’m busy working on the next book in the series!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Rowenna-Miller
Website (with blog): rowennamiller.com
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Torn and The Unraveled Kingdom trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Rowenna: One element that I found myself exploring while writing is that Sophie is a woman in a fairly “traditional” culture in terms of gender roles. Even Sophie’s unique abilities of dressmaking and magic casting are, in her culture, from the women’s sphere. I love works that challenge typical fantasy tropes of a “male world,” but in this work I wanted to explore how women can effect change and make their mark in a male-dominated world. This probably comes from my love of history—sometimes it’s easy to forget that in any given period, the population was about 50% female J I love asking, “What were the women doing?”
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Rowenna: You asked such great questions—I think Torn is fully covered!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Rowenna: Thanks for having me!
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Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.
Sophie is a dressmaker who has managed to open her own shop and lift herself and her brother, Kristos, out of poverty. Her reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly-embroidered charms for luck, love, and protection secures her a commission from the royal family itself — and the commission earns her the attentions of a dashing but entirely unattainable duke.
Meanwhile, Kristos rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement. Their worlds collide when the revolution’s shadow leader takes him hostage and demands that Sophie place a curse on the queen’s Midwinter costume — or Kristos will die at their hand.
As the proletariat uprising comes to a violent climax, Sophie is torn: between her brother and the community of her birth, and her lover and the life she’s striven to build.
About the Author:
Rowenna Miller grew up in a log cabin in Indiana and still lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughters, where she teaches English composition, trespasses while hiking, and spends too much time researching and recreating historical textiles.