Caitlin Sangster is joining us today to talk about her novel, She Who Rides the Storm. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this atmospheric YA fantasy that is Wicked Saints meets There Will Come a Darkness, four teens are drawn into a high-stakes heist in the perilous tomb of an ancient shapeshifter king.
Long ago, shapeshifting monsters ruled the Commonwealth using blasphemous magic that fed on the souls of their subjects. Now, hundreds of years later, a new tomb has been uncovered, and despite the legends that disturbing a shapeshifter’s final resting place will wake them once again, the Warlord is determined to dig it up.
But it isn’t just the Warlord who means to brave the traps and pitfalls guarding the crypt.
A healer obsessed with tracking down the man who murdered her twin brother.
A runaway member of the Warlord’s Devoted order, haunted by his sister’s ghost.
A snotty archaeologist bent on finding the cure to his magical wasting disease.
A girl desperate to escape the cloistered life she didn’t choose.
All four are out to steal the same cursed sword rumored to be at the very bottom of the tomb. But of course, some treasures should never see the light of day, and some secrets are best left buried…
What’s Caitlin’s favorite bit?
When I first started writing She Who Rides the Storm, it was a terrible mess. I’m a bit of a world building nerd, but I’m not great at being organized about it. That whole iceberg analogy where you can see the tip of what an author has created in the story with a massive unseen system underneath to support it is the goal, for sure, but my world building tends to look more like an ant colony. It’s built from the inside out, it doesn’t float, couldn’t stop the Titanic if you paid it, and there are ants everywhere. I keep trying to pretend I’m not a discovery writer because discovery writing is so painful for me—I end up writing the story two or three times instead of once. The few times I have managed to create an outline that worked, writing has been magic. I start at the beginning, then write until the end and it’s done! Unfortunately, what usually happens is I write that outline and those world building notes, then somehow find myself millions of miles away with no boat and…ants.
For She Who Rides the Storm, my main goal was to write a magical heist, but somewhere in all the building there were suddenly shapeshifters (not the hairy howling at the moon kind) and tombs and an archeologist and a girl using a goddess she made up as a front for her thieving business and unicorns who ate people. It was a mess. An awesome mess but needing some serious wrangling into submission because there were all these little pieces running in all directions, trying to escape.
On my let’s-make-some-sense-out-of-this draft, there was this scene I really wanted to make shine. It was a turning point in two key characters’ relationship, and I just needed some sense of wonder and romance and a change in atmosphere. I was thinking about it while laying on a futon under the Montana sky with my kids, watching the Perseids. I knew nothing about the Perseids, only that they were fun to watch, and listening to my eleven-year-old son talk about where the meteors come from and why they’re predictable while we all lay there together watching lights streak across the sky was a fabulous moment.
Which made the wheels start turning in my mind. A meteor shower sounded like a perfect tie-together between the gods and their celestial wars and the conflict happening between the two characters on the beach, especially if it had fantastical proportions—you have to be patient and watch for the Perseids. I wanted this meteor shower to invade, to be an act of war that no one could miss. So, I went down the rabbit hole trying to come up with an explanation for how that could actually happen, when my son pointed me toward Io.
Io is the most volcanically active moon the solar system with bursts of lava going miles into the sky, sometimes even through Io’s thin atmosphere. What are meteors but space junk getting caught in a planet’s gravity and burning up in the atmosphere? So, what would happen if a moon nearby the planet in this story was volcanic, spewing ash out of its own atmosphere?
A whole war between gods was born. Two brother moons who fight in the sky with flaming arrows, trying to get closer to Calsta the sun…shooting stars you can predict because the warrior moon turns black. Something that happens just before Mateo, archeologist searching for the cure to his own magical wasting disease in an ancient, blasphemous shapeshifter king’s tomb ends up on a beach opposite the monster of a girl to whom he very much does not want to be engaged.
After so much planning, then writing the thing, then rewriting it five times (discovery writing! Argh!), I never get to explain the why of that scene in the book because it doesn’t matter to the story. I guess in high fantasy, if you really wanted to, you could just say “look! Flaming ants!” and if your reader is on board it doesn’t always matter if there’s an explanation or not. For me, it’s making sense of things that I love most, which is why Jaxom, the god of war, volcanic moon, and sometimes provider of a little va-va-voom to a late night walk with a killer unicorn and her rider is my favorite bit of She Who Rides the Storm.
Lore IpsumCaitlin Sangster is the author of the Last Star Burning trilogy, She Who Rides the Storm, and A Baker’s Guide to Robber Pie. She’s the founder and one of the hosts of Lit Service podcast. After years of secretly writing stories when she was supposed to be doing math homework, a silly sort of compulsive habit she could never quite shake, Caitlin realized that people like reading stories and she liked writing them and there wasn’t much silly about that. She currently lives in the Chicago area with her husband and four children.