[This issue, we sit down with paranormal romance/urban fantasy author, Rebecca Chastain. Here, she discusses her new Terra Haven Chronicles series; the magical system and mythical creatures which populate her books; and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: Leads and Lynxes, the first book in the new Terra Haven Chronicles, is being released on 17 November 2020. Congratulations! How much of the series do you have plotted out in advance before you sit down to write? Or do you just let the story take you where it wants? Or a bit of both?
Rebecca Chastain: First of all, thank you for helping me celebrate the launch of Leads & Lynxes! I’m so excited this book is almost out in the world. It’s been a long time in the making!
Your question cracks me up, because you hit upon my biggest writing contradiction: I’m a series pantser and a novel (over)outliner.
When I started writing Leads & Lynxes, I knew one fact about the beginning— Kylie gets to ask an enchanted everlasting tree any question she wants, and the answer takes her on an epic quest — and I knew one fact about the end of the trilogy: Kylie must learn [redacted; sorry, no spoilers!].
Then my cover designer announced she was going to take a year-long hiatus from making covers, and I panicked. I had less than a month to get the trilogy’s covers from her, or I had to find another designer.
Since I love Clarissa’s designs at Yocla Designs, I scrambled to figure out what might happen in the trilogy. I sketched out my basic ideas in a couple of paragraphs, decided which mythic creature would be featured in each book’s title, and sent the information off to Clarissa.
That’s when I finally got around to outlining Leads & Lynxes.
I love outlining. I might even be obsessed. I outline each book from the main character’s perspective, from any key secondary characters’ perspectives, and from the villain’s. Then I combine all those into a massive outline, complete with scenes and beats, before I start writing.
The outline is when I see where the story takes me. It’s much easier to move around bullet points than it is to write a 100,000-word book that goes nowhere, or to chop 30,000 words from the middle of a novel, or to rewrite the first five chapters for the third time (all lessons I learned the hard way before I became a super outliner).
Remember those sketched-out paragraphs I put together to figure out the covers? Well, they got scrapped, but you’ll still find lynxes (of the mythic variety) in book one, hydras in Headlines & Hydras (book two), and minotaurs in Muckrakers & Minotaurs (book three).
ev0ke: Magic in the Terra Haven Chronicles is a common, everyday thing. How and why did you decide to use a five element basis for that magical system? And how much fun was it to create magical alternatives to the technology which is so common in our lives?
RC: Flying carpets and airships! Steam trains powered by khalkotauroi! Spells to clean clothes and send messages! It is such a blast to dive into a world shaped by omnipresent magic.
When I created the magic system, I was heavily influenced by feng shui. It’s a hobby of mine (so much so that I made the main character of my standalone romance, Tiny Glitches, a feng shui consultant). So I co-opted the concept of element-based energy and made it concrete.
Even more important, I wanted to give readers a near-visceral experience of magic. Earth, air, fire, water, and wood—every reader knows what each of the five elements feels like. And for the brief time you’re reading my books, you know what it feels like to wield magic. How cool is that?
The magic-technology balance has been interesting to explore — and far more complex than I originally thought. Since everyone can use a spell (or purchase a spell) to perform daily tasks like clean clothes or preserve food, many of today’s technological advances are redundant. On the other hand, without the drive to make life easier and more fiscally efficient through machinery, innovations are slower to unfold in my world. Terra Haven looks a lot like the United States in the late 1800s, minus the dramatic social overhaul of the industrial revolution.
However, I use a light hand when inserting alternate-history details. People read for the characters, not the setting, after all. The massive document on my hard drive devoted to alternate-history speculations only gets pulled out when I need to decide if the camera Kylie uses includes a flash bulb (it does) or if the streetlamps are gas (nope, they’re lit by fire magic) or if showers exists (yes, but I don’t go into the specifics of magical plumbing!).
ev0ke: The Terra Haven series features a number of both well-known and lesser-known beings from world mythology. How much research went into deciding which creatures to use, and how? How did you go about giving them your own unique spin?
RC: It all started with two words: baby gargoyles. Those words went off like fireworks in my brain, sparking the entire first book in this world, Magic of the Gargoyles. I created gargoyles as I want them to exist in real life: vividly colorful living, breathing, intelligent quartz creatures who can speak and fly. Then also have the ability to enhance the elements in others, making them wonderful companions for my heroines.
I chose the rest of the mythic creatures that populate the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles and the Terra Haven Chronicles out of pragmatism or simply because they made me go “oooh, neat!” Perhaps I should pretend to have more lofty reasoning, but half the fun of writing fantasy is getting to explore cool ideas in novel ways. (pun intended)
Giving each creature my own spin is the best part of being an author. Although I write fantasy, I want it to be logical. For instance, dryads in my novels are reclusive creatures with rough, wood-like bodies that blend in with their surroundings rather than the traditional milk-skinned nymph creatures of Greek myths, because naked women don’t tend to congregate in splintery forests. My pegasi riders are petite women whereas gryphon riders are larger and more muscular, because gryphons can handle more weight. My cerberi are just another breed of dog, and the same powerful bodies that support their three heads make them great sled dogs.
One of the things I love about Leads & Lynxes is the plethora of new mythic creatures that debut in the story. For starters: lynxes! I know, I know, they’re real wildcats, but they also have mythic elements, and those make Kylie’s adventure so much more torturous — I mean, eventful!
ev0ke: Where can readers find your books?
RC: You can find my novels at your favorite retailer. Or try your library, and if they don’t have the book you’re looking for, request it. My books are all available in ebook and print, and my Madison Fox urban fantasy novels are also available in audio.
If you’re looking for autographed copies, specific links to retailers, or more information and free content, you can’t go wrong with my website.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
RC: I just sent Headlines & Hydras, the sequel to Leads & Lynxes, off to my proofreader, so now it’s time to write book three: Muckrakers & Minotaurs.
Thank you for chatting with me!