WRITERS TELL ALL
In which the incomparable Kendare Blake invites us into some of the worlds she's created--and how lucky are we!
Note: Before we begin, you can order all of Kendare Blake's books here. And here. And here! It's very shocking to find an author as accomplished (and so young!) as Kendare Blake who is willing to open up so much of her heart and her own world, as well as the many worlds she creates, for us readers. I'm so delighted to let you know that Kendare the person is just as brilliant and kind as the worlds she creates. Kendare, along with a few other writers, are straddling multiple age groups and genres, breaking rules, and refusing to treat young people any less than the brilliant media consumers they are. I loved reading Kendare's work, and talking with her is just as magical as you'll see. I highly encourage all of you to buy her Three Dark Crowns series, but also all of her books--I believe it was Lyndsay Faye who introduced me to Kendare's work initially? Her books require your attention in the grandest of ways, absorb you and more often than not, you don't want to leave the worlds Kendare creates (even when you're heartbroken and lost and lonely and but you're still cheering on all of her complex, vulnerable, powerful, and unmatchable characters. I loved her work, and I am sure you will too. Without further ado, Kendare Blake.
Matthew Turbeville: I’m extremely excited to talk with you, now that you’ve concluded your epic Three Dark Crown series. Would you mind telling our readers about how you came up with this series? Did you have each book planned out in advance?
Kendare Blake: I did NOT have each book planned out in advance. I didn’t have ANY of them planned out in advance, and I didn’t even know that the last two would exist until after the second was written.
How I got the idea though, that I can tell you: it was a swarm of bees. A ball of bees. Like, an actual ball, made out of 100% actual bees. It was at a book event, and the ball of bees had parked itself right next to the hotdog truck where I intended to order many hotdogs. Needless to say, everyone at the event was afraid to go near it. But a handy (and very conveniently located) beekeeper who happened to be attending the event told us not to worry: when bees form a ball like that they’re on their way to a new hive. In the middle of the ball is their queen, and their only concern is protecting her. So we could have all the hotdogs we wanted. Which was, a relief. That truck sold Seattle dogs, and I am VERY partial to a Seattle dog.
BUT—I was fascinated by this bee story. Why was the queen in the middle? Did she travel like that often? It seemed like a lot of trouble just for a trip to Target. So I pestered this beekeeper who very politely answered my bee questions. The one that stuck with me was this: When a queen bee leaves her hive, she lays several baby queen eggs. And when the baby queens hatch, they kill each other until one is left, and she gets to take over the old hive. When I was driving home from the event, I just really wanted to do that to people, and that’s when I started writing Three Dark Crowns.
MT: There are many characters, all important, in the novel. How did you manage to make each character count, eat person important, and each life significant? Was there ever a point you felt you got too attached to a character? Was there a time when you perhaps disliked a character you were writing?
KB: I loved every character in this series. Did they frustrate me at times? Sure. Most of the last book was just me rocking back and forth in front of my computer screaming, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!! But it was never hard to make each of them count. They earned their way into this story and you better believe that they fought to stay in it.
MT: I do have to ask—is it more thrilling to write from the point-of-view of a hero, or someone you might deem a villain? Who would you say are the heroes in the series, and who are the villains?
KB: To be a good hero, or a good villain, you must be compelling. So for me, there’s no difference in writing a “good” person, or a “bad” one. There are no villains in the Three Dark Crowns series; there are only people with different goals and different points of view, making their own choices. A lot of people might say that the current ruling class of poisoners are meant to be the villains, but I never thought of them that way. In their view, the poisoners are on top for a reason and everyone else is a fool. Poisoning is their culture. They take pride in it, and don’t think of themselves as unnecessarily cruel.
MT: I love that your books are considered young adult, but you never condescend to your readers by assuming they won’t understand language or characters. I’ll come back to characters next, but what about writing—the way you write, the language you use, the way you switch points-of-view—how did you manage to avoid explaining everything to the reader without sacrificing your writing style or anything else about your use of language?
KB: Explaining everything is storytelling poison. You know what I hate about horror movies sometimes, is when they have to go and EXPLAIN everything. I was so wary of the trailers for IT: Chapter Two because it looked like they were going to give Pennywise a full human backstory and I was like, shit, I don’t want to know that! I am almost always let down by the explanation. I adored US, but the last quarter of it really lost me. We don’t know everything, and we don’t need to.
As for condescending to readers and assuming they need things dumbed down for them? Never. I remember what I was reading at that age, and I remember that I read to challenge myself. I didn’t want books that held my hand. I wanted books that held me over the abyss.
MT: A lot of tremendous writers can write in third person but make the reader feel like they’re in the characters head, even if only briefly. I found myself so close to characters, one of your many great gifts in writing, and I loved being there, even if I didn’t like the character. How do you do this, and how do you decide if a book should be in first or third person?
KB: Deciding the POV is part of my pre-writing process. I think extensively about the story concept (because I only have the concept, not what is going to happen) and try to discern how it would best be told. Some things are easy: like when I write in first person, I know if I use past tense then the narrator is unreliable; the narrative has been colored by their experience. They’ve already distilled it in some way. So if I’m cool with that…ok. But if I’m not, I need present tense. Before my character can get their filthy mitts on it.
MT: Of the four books in the series, assuming we’re separating them into four completely separate books, which is your favorite, and which was hardest to write?
KB: Three Dark Crowns was the hardest. It was writing in a new voice, a new tense, a new tone, and it took me FOREVER to nail it down. I wrote that book over from start to finish no less than four times. Not because the events were wrong, or the plot was wrong, but because the way I told it was SHIT. But every book since then has gotten easier. I only had to rewrite Five Dark Fates like, one and a half times. Maybe twice.
MT: It was hard letting go of your series, so much so I had to read the final book many times over. I love how you complicate characters in a very adult and mature way, almost as if you’re preparing young adults for the future. I love that someone can love two people at the same time, complicating situations. I love all of the similar issues like multiple love interests (although thankfully the book never becomes a romance novel, or fantasy which switches to romance and stays there) and the way you complicate characters, even giving them conflicting wants and feelings. I don’t see this in a lot of young adult literature. Why do you think it’s important for young readers to see characters as complicated beings, even if the characters are just sixteen—we forget their age and instead focus on who they are as people.
KB: I tend to think that people are complicated at every age, and that’s compounded when they’re placed in complex situations that push them toward finding out what kind of person they really are. You never really know what you’ll do, until you’re pushed. Honestly, some of the most twisted games of mental chess I’ve ever played were played between friends and frenemies in high school. Is that not normal? Were we small town Machiavellians?
MT: When the series begin (and what a beginning!), there’s one sort of reigning, one sort of person governing over the land of Fennbirn. Later, things might change. Were you at all affected by what’s going on in the US and the world as a whole? Were there things you look back on having written, and you realize they were in some way influenced by the world around you?
KB: Well I’ll tell you one thing, it has been a great source of solace to be working within a matriarchy these past few years. It was wonderful to be able to convey these women in positions of power, heads of state, heads of families, heads of the church, and not for one second need to justify why they were there. It was natural to see them in those positions.
MT: I’ll try not to spoil anything, but in one scene at the end of the second book, One Dark Throne, we see this tragic incident, and one character leave the rest—this is my attempt at being incredibly vague, so I don’t ruin anything for any of our readers. Scenes like this were my favorite, overwhelming me with emotion and the power of your writing, the way you have with words, with characters. What do you think when you write these scenes? How do you write powerful scenes, if you don’t mind answering briefly, and really make these moments both grand and world-shattering for readers and characters alike? Have you ever read a book and felt this way, in the scene I described before (trying not to use spoilers)?
KB: Every book I have every loved has affected me that way. That moment where I take a deep breath and stop reading and really just revel in the author’s words, and what they’ve done. It doesn’t need to be a death, or a sad moment, or even anything particularly momentous. I love nothing more than a writer who can creep up on you and smack you in the face with significance.
MT: In the book, everyone says “Thank goddess” instead of “Thank god,” and I see some other television and books series using this phrase.
KB: Haha, yes, only boys who have been to the mainland say “god”. So, Billy and Joseph. Billy’s father. I think Madrigal might have ventured to say it once in a draft, but she did it (as per her usual) as a form of transgression.
MT: At the end of the day, when all is said and done, you’ve written a phenomenal book series. What’s even more amazing is—unlike some great fantasy series—I feel you pulled off a really great phenomenal ending, one that really works for readers, and helps teach writers today how to end their own series. You make every moment count, every character have their own fate (as mentioned in the title!)—we’re baffled at how you pulled this off, and are wondering how hard was it to end this final book, and the epic conclusion to the series?
KB: It was incredibly hard, because I love this place. I love Fennbirn, and I love every person on it. I love these young women. I want readers to know that, and to know how much it means to me to see them come to events in cosplay as one of the queens, to see their art…when they ask what so and so is up to these days I get a little misty. That readers have come to care for these people like I do (and to know them so well, too! I read a few of those AU posts and the way the characters are portrayed is so on point), it means the world.
BUT, I think you are being kind about the ending. I went into the ending knowing that it wouldn’t please everyone—that it couldn’t, there was no way because every reader wanted something a little bit different. So I know that some will be disappointed, or even angry. I’m sorry about that. The story ended the way it ended, the way it had to, after all of this. I’m glad for all the tears. All the anger. I’m grateful they care.
MT: What are you working on now? When can we expect another great Kendare Blake novel? I love the books so much—do you ever plan on returning to this world, or do you think the series is done for good? So far, what has been your favorite thing to write—any scene, chapter, or book can work!
KB: Another great one! Haha, Matthew, you’re really putting the pressure on! How about the next passable thing with my name on it? I feel like I could probably exceed that 😊But to answer you: I’m working on a book now about a string of unexplainable spree murders, the girl at the heart of them, and the aspiring journalist boy who is tasked with taking her confession. It’s inspired by the spree killings of Charles Starkweather in the 1950s, and the Clutter murders explored in Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD. My riff on it will have a supernatural spin, and will come out in 2021. So I guess, not for awhile? After that, I’ve got another female led fantasy in the works about an order of female warrior heroes, and the girl who desperately wants to join their order. And for Three Dark Crowns fans: one of the characters will be a former Queen Crowned.
MT: Thank you so much for letting us interview you, here at Writers Tell All. We love your writing so much, including all of your other novels and series. However, Feenbirn is a place we loved to visit, and hope to visit someday. Thank you so much for allowing us to get inside your head, and learn more about your writing and your books. We hope you’ll talk to us again in the future, Kendare!
KB: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so happy that you’ve enjoyed your time on the island. So have I.
Citation for photos: All photos are retrieved from Kendare's professional website, the Three Dark Crowns official Facebook page, and my favorite, the photo labeled "SECRETS!" from epicreads.com