Monday, February 25, 2019

Michelle West Interview - Firstborn

Photo Content from Michelle West

Michelle writes as both Michelle Sagara and Michelle West; she is also published as Michelle Sagara West (although the Sundered books were orig­i­nally published under the name Michelle Sagara).

She lives in Toronto with her long-suffering husband and her two chil­dren, and to her regret has no dogs.

Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is some­times paid for her opin­ions about what she’s read by the vener­able Maga­zine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many book­shelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
That I had actual agency; that we collectively could take an action that had actual (positive) consequences. This would be in High School, though.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

This one is hard. As a child, I think it was probably the (collective) Chronicles of Narnia, until I was twelve years old. Then it was Lord of the Rings, a book I read every year at least once until I had children.

Has reading a book ever changed your life?
Yes. It was Left Hand of Darkness. I was 15 years old. I was reading it – I loved it – and I reached a part where a character I hated went into kemmer. For background, this is a world of people who are sexually completely neutral during most of their life, but the kemmer cycle causes them to take on actual sexual characteristics. I fully expected that this hated character would become an actual male.

That didn’t happen. They went into the feminine sexual form.
There was so much cognitive dissonance for me that I had to stop reading. And then, I had the AHA moment: I realized that I was also sexist, or rather that I had absolutely categorized certain behaviour as male. It wasn’t just that I was categorized; I did it as well.

From there, I went on to examine – in as much as a fifteen year old can – other visceral responses, other “truths” that were perhaps... overly broad and prejudicial. I couldn’t necessarily transform other people, but I could start to work on me.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
  • 1. Go for it.
  • 2. Ignore prescriptive writing advice. Learning how to write a book is actually the process by which you learn how to write your books. However you manage to reach your first THE END is your process. If you have to stand on your head and type upside down to do so, then you have my deep sympathy, but—also, congratulations. You might try different things. There are as many How-to-Write books as, well, books. Some of the things might work for you. Some won’t. Don’t be afraid to jettison the things that don’t work.
  • 3. Hold on to the joy of creativity, the joy of discovery. Keep it as separate as you can from all of the rest of the external things. Being an author is not the same as writing, although you have to write in order to become an author.
Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about FIRSTBORN?
Firstborn is the seventh of eight books in The House War series. It’s a book, for me, about consequences. About the clash between foresight and human nature, or perhaps a specific person’s human nature. It’s also about the things long buried beneath a large city that—if woken—will destroy the city and everyone who lives within it.

But... it’s also about Jewel, a woman who is born with the talent of foresight, who has learned at cost how to control or command it. It’s about the things that foresight changes, and the things that can’t be changed.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Jewel?
Jewel was not meant, when she was first created, to be a protagonist. She first appeared in Hunter’s Death, and I created her and her den-kin, a ragged group of street orphans, a proto-gang, because there were events that were happening within the city itself that the protagonist wouldn’t see; he didn’t live in the city and he didn’t know it. Jewel was a thief when necessity demanded it, and she could see: there were demons in the streets. There were people who had disappeared. They were poor, they were not people who would be easily missed, and even if they were, who would care?

But from the moment Jewel appeared on the figurative page (I work on a computer), she was viscerally real to me. She was seerborn; she was, in dream and occasionally while awake, visited by prophetic visions—visions she could not completely understand and could not control.

Her relationship with her den, the family she built, and her fear of losing them was so profoundly relatable to older-sister me that I could not really stop writing her. What she became, she became without planning or intent.

What was your inspiration for the series?
For The House War, or the world in which it’s set? For The House War, I wanted to focus on Jewel ATerafin, her den, and her climb from the streets of the poorest of the hundred holdings to the ruling seat of one of The Ten, the families that, beneath only the Kings, set the course for the Empire. By this point, I was very attached to the den and their various supporters (and in one or two cases antagonists).

If you mean did I have external inspiration, not so much; I had three scenes that came to me over the course of six months. I don’t take notes; books take a while to write, and I generally consider that any idea that won’t stick to me in some fashion probably won’t support a book. This is relevant to me and my process and other people’s processes and the gestation of ideas can be both totally different and totally valid. I started Hunter’s Death with several character arcs in mind—and Jewel’s is the first I’ve finished; it was the only one not dependent in some fashion on the final battle.

The end of The Sun Sword is the mid-point of one arc: Kiriel’s. The end of that arc is the end of everything. So those three scenes have an emotional weight to me that I want to share.

I want people to feel the way I felt when I first envisioned them. And the only way to do that is to write to give them context and meaning.

Aside from Jewel, which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
I don’t have just one character, but I’d suggest either Angel, Jester or Finch. Angel has fully committed to the House in a way he refused to do until Jewel was at its helm. Jester has opened up enough to allow at least one stranger to become important and he has begun to understand that his uneasy avoidance of general responsibility is based in some part on half-truths and the lies he tells himself about himself. And Finch?

Has gone from mousy, silent observer to active observer. She’s made choices, has had to make choices, and has taken up the mantle of regent and all that that entails. She’s come to understand that she will never feel ready—but it doesn’t matter because the responsibilities are still hers.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing THE HOUSE WAR?
All of them? Haval and Jarven, possibly. Hectore. Andrei, especially toward the end. Calliastra. I feel strongly about and for the characters even if I don’t like or trust them (Jarven, for instance is charming and amusing and I would never turn my back on him).

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The last arc of this series, which moves from Jewel and her den to Kiriel, Adam (who was a reasonable part of The House War series), and the Breodani hunters, one of whom is Stephen. It’s hard to discuss it without spoiling the ending of the series or discussing what happens after War, and I don’t want to be burnt in effigy!

What did you do for your last birthday?

I wrote. I had a pretty normal (for me) day. I am not really a big event celebrator >.>. There’s a cake I really like, though – strawberry meringue – and I had that, with my family and my extended family (which I guess would be considered found family?) in attendance.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Over the years, the thing that I’ve found quietly the most rewarding is the email I get from people who have read—and been moved—by my books. I have had people read them while they were in the hospital, people who read them all through chemo, people who have found touchstones, symbols that have helped them to make sense of the general despair of their world at the time.

I think it is constantly rewarding.

I don’t really write to impress people; I write to move them. I read to be moved. (It’s true that odd things can move me in ways that leave others cold—but, reader.)

Books were hugely important in my childhood. They continue to be hugely important to me now. I can shriek in loud dismay while working in the bookstore when I discover that a book I was so looking forward to (the new Megan Whalen Turner) has been pushed from March 2019 to “Fall 2020”. There were tears. Tears, I tell you.

To know that there are people who feel that way about books I’ve written is both humbling and a life goal. I cannot love my books the way I love books written by other people; I’m too aware of the flaws or the execution decisions I might have changed had I been writing the book Right Now, etc. But... I’m so grateful that readers exist who can.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
I’m going to have lunch with my editor and I cannot dress like this, OMG. (Lunch was excellent. I did not spill soup or anything else in my lap. The company was great. Well, the editor’s company was great <wry g>)

If you could live in any period in history, where would it be and why?
Now. I admit that while I love fantasy and science fiction as a reader, I don’t want to live in a world where childbirth is the biggest killer of adults who have managed to stay alive to that point. Among other things.

Where can readers find you?
At:, as @msagara on Twitter, as Michelle Sagara (page) on Facebook. Also, as a bookseller a couple of days a week at BakkaPhoenix books in Toronto, where I also live.

The seventh book in the epic fantasy House War series returns to a beloved world of magic and political intrigue, where new threats are stirring.

Jewel ATerafin has never wanted to be a power. What she truly wants, she built in the streets of the poorer holdings. To protect what she built, to protect what she values above all else, she has accepted that power is necessary.

But with power comes responsibility.

Jewel has forced herself to do what would have once been unthinkable: She has surrendered her den-kin, Carver, to the wilderness, because she must if she is to have any hope of saving the rest of her family, and the city in which they dwell.

But she cannot leave him with nothing. Into his hands, she has placed the single, blue leaf that came from the wilderness and the dreaming combined. She doesn’t know what it does or what it was meant to do—but it is the most powerful item on her person, and it is the only thing she can leave him.

That leaf, however, was created to serve a purpose that Jewel does not understand. Nor does Carver, who now possesses it. With Ellerson by his side, Carver intends to traverse the wild Winter in an attempt to reach home—and the people who are waiting for him.

There are those who do understand the significance of Carver’s gift, and the disaster that will prevail if it remains in his hands. But time is of the essence. These lands are not unclaimed, and the Lord of these lands is waking from his ancient slumber.

Nor is the Lord the only threat. Firstborn, demons, and wild elementals are swirling around two mortal men in a storm that threatens to end the only chance the city of Averalaan has of surviving what is to follow.

Praise for THE HOUSE WAR Novels

“Richly and superbly detailed. Her characters live and sing.” —Examiner

“Lush, richly intricate…Jay is charismatic, deeply compelling…. The story sucked me in and didn’t spit me out till the end…. Some say Michelle West has been propelled into the ranks of George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb—I say she’s been there all along.” —Night Owl Reviews

“Fans of award-winning Toronto fantasy writer Michelle West will be delighted with this return to the vivid and detailed universe of the Sacred Hunt and the Sun Sword series…. In a richly woven world, and with a cast of characters that ranges from traumatized street kids to the wealthy heads of the most prominent houses in Averalaan, West pulls no punches as she hooks readers in with her bold and descriptive narrative.” —Quill & Quire

“This is a compelling story with riveting and finely wrought characters that will keep you up well into the night. This story will go down as one of the best novels in its genre, propelling West into the ranks of Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin. It’s simply a great read, don’t miss it.” —The Main Edge

“West is growing into a superb storyteller as demonstrated by this best effort to date with a fully realized world populated by a diverse range of nicely developed characters and a compelling storyline that hooks readers in from the start.” —Monsters and Critics

“I am glad I read it. It is out of the ordinary for a fantasy tale, and is a Hamlet rather than a Henry V.” —Grasping for the Wind

“Michelle West tells a wonderful tale…. I really like the way West draws the charac­ters, making them, even the children, memorable. A lot of untold riches are implied here, and I’m waiting eagerly for sequels.” —Philadelphia Center City Weekly Press

“The power and majesty of the series is in the characters, although the world itself is extraordinary…. The House War series is timeless and clearly takes it place at the top of its genre. It is a full-bodied piece of work that is satisfying, intriguing and thought-provoking.” —Bitten by Books

You can purchase Firstborn (The House War #7) at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MICHELLE WEST for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Firstborn (The House War #7) by Michelle West. 


  1. "The person you would never want to meet?" I think anyone in this country with brains knows who I would never want to meet!

  2. Ditto me either don't care for him at all.

  3. I would not want to meet Trump, he is always crying like a spoiled child. I am getting tired of him saying everything is fake news. I feel so fortunate that I live in Canada.

  4. I would never want to meet Donald Trump. Given the opportunity, I would refuse.