Today I am interviewing Tessa Gratton, author of the new fantasy novel, The Queens of Innis Lear.
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DJ: Hi Tessa! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Tessa Gratton: Thanks for having me! This is my adult fantasy debut, but I’ve been writing young adult fantasy since 2009–I have two series, The Blood Journals and The United States of Asgard, as well as two books for teen writers about writing fantasy. I have my degree in Gender Studies, and thanks to growing up in a Navy family I’ve lived on several continents and traveled all over the world.
DJ: What is The Queens of Innis Lear about?
Tessa: It’s a feminist fantasy re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear, and is about the different ways love and family can be poisoned by toxic patriarchy, about different forms of strength and how we make terrible choices thinking they’re for the best. There’s war, romance, international politics, violent magic and talking trees.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Queens of Innis Lear?
Tessa: Besides Shakespeare? LOL. I wanted QUEENS to feel both epic and intimate, where dynasties and family histories weave and tangle in tragic ways, which is something that I admire in writers like Juliet Marillier, especially her Daughter of the Forest series, everything N.K. Jemisin has done, but for this her Dreamblood series in particular, Anne Rice in The Witching Hour, and Melina Marchetta’s The Lumatere Chronicles.
DJ: Out of all of Shakespeare’s plays, why King Lear?
Tessa: It’s the one I’ve hated the most for the longest time! I read it in high school, and felt betrayed by Shakespeare–usually he wrote such complex, interesting female characters, and even when the women are villains, they have their own motivations and interior lives. But not in King Lear! The daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are one-note, either evil for no textual reason, or in Cordelia’s case, a cypher for her father’s redemption.
Despite that, the play is considered one of Shakespeare’s most genius! I didn’t understand when I was 17, and it took me a long time to be able to dig in to the complexities of the themes without dismissing it all as the women were dismissed. It already is about toxic patriarchy–Lear’s arc is discovering what a privileged life he’s lived and that by never examining his role in upholding the oppressive political structures, he’s been a terrible king. His people aren’t happy, they don’t care for him, and why should they? So the play is ripe for re-examining from 2018 with a global feminist lense.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Queens of Innis Lear like?
Tessa: Innis Lear is a small, cold island clinging just off the coast of the greater, more advanced kingdom of Aremoria. It’s managed independence from other nations for generations because of the hard, nuanced magic born in the roots of its trees, and recently because King Lear married the granddaughter of the empress of the huge, powerful Third Kingdom and so has an important ocean-trade monopoly. Every neighboring country would like control of Innis Lear, for its strategic location and ties to the Third Kingdom. The rest of the world considered Innis Lear to be a superstitious backwater, but their magic has always been just strong, just violent enough to drive off invaders. It’s a tense existence, balanced only with prophecies about war and peace, all made worse by the deterioration of the king.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Queens of Innis Lear?
Tessa: Getting to dig as deep as I wanted into characters, to really seek out the most nuanced, twisting motivations and find ways to put it all onto the page for readers to understand and empathize with. I hope every character is somebody’s favorite, even the ones who make the worst choices.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Tessa: I hope they’re talking about how affecting the ending is, how bittersweet and meaningful it is and relevant to their lives… but more likely they’ll be talking about how gutting and terrible all the many, many deaths are. LOL.
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 The Queens of Innis Lear that you can share with us?
Tessa: Oh yes, I have a few that always leap out at me:
“Regan remembered all their kisses, for they were as close to stars as she could get. A burst of light against a dark floral tapestry; bonfires kindled in a low feather bed; flickering quick as night-bugs, here and gone, there and gone, anywhere darkness lived; consuming and constant as a heart fire.”
“He was a shadow, a wormworker, a traitor, a spy. A bastard. He knew the secret paths behind sunlight and slipped through cracks, understood the language of ravens and the tricks of trees. He could see how, with one act, he could change everything here, destroy and re-create with a word.”
There’s also the one Harper Voyager in the UK chose to put on the cover of the advance copies: “It begins when a queen sits in a pool of stars.”
DJ: Now that The Queens of Innis Lear is released, what is next for you?
Tessa: Later this year I have a stand-alone YA fantasy called Strange Grace and next year a companion to Queens will be out, Lady Hotspur, a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part i. It takes place about 100 years after Queens and is focused on the neighboring nation of Aremoria.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Tessa: Thank you for having me!
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*** The Queens of Innis Lear is published by Tor Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.
About the Author:
Tessa Gratton is the Associate Director of Madcap Retreats and the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, co-author of YA writing books The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. Though she’s lived all over the world, she’s finally returned to her prairie roots in Kansas with her wife. Her current projects include Tremontaine at Serial Box Publishing, YA Fantasy Strange Grace coming in 2018, and her adult fantasy debut, The Queens of Innis Lear, from Tor March 27, 2018. Visit her at tessagratton.com