Monday, February 10, 2020

Kelly Braffet Interview - The Unwilling

Photo Content from Kelly Braffet

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novels The Unwilling, Save Yourself, Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving. Her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University and currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, the author Owen King.

Brand: MIRA
Categories: Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Epic Fantasy
On Sale Date: February  11, 2020
Publication Month: February 2020
ISBN: 9781488055393


"Kelly Braffet is extraordinary... Familiar yet entirely unique, The Unwilling is the sort of story that seeps under your skin and pulses there, intimate and vibrant and alive. Fantasy at its most sublime." —Erin Morgenstern, New York Times bestselling author of The Starless Sea and The Night Circus

"A juggernaut of an epic fantasy novel with ingenious, thrilling twists and turns. Put this on the shelf beside Naomi Novik and George R. R. Martin. Kelly Braffet is a marvel and I'll read anything she writes." —Kelly Link, MacArthur Genius Recipient and and of Get in Trouble

"Kelly Braffet's The Unwilling is a viscerally powerful book. Full of complex and compelling characters, this is the story of the corruptions of power and the strength it takes to resist. This is an incredible, brilliant story." —Kat Howard, author of Roses and Rot

"Gorgeously told, The Unwilling is at once a sweeping epic and an intimate portrait of being trapped in an oppressive regime. Meet your new favorite fantasy writer." —Gwenda Bond, New York Times bestselling author of Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds

"Suspenseful, magical, wonderfully written, and never predictable, Braffet's first foray into speculative fiction is an essential addition to all epic-fantasy collections." —Booklist, STARRED Review

"Wow...The characters, the world, the magic and greed and politics and pain--all of it adds up to something wonderful. I love it." —Ellen Datlow, award-winning editor and anthologist

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
At the time I was reading a ton of classic crime novels, which I bought on Broadway in upper Manhattan for a dollar each. I was really taken with a Jim Thompson short story called “This World, Then The Fireworks,” which is about a creepy brother-sister relationship, and so I wrote the world’s worst short story about a pair of sibling con artists. I am pathologically honest, so the con artist angle didn’t work, but the siblings stuck with me, and they became Josie and Jack Raeburn.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
This is the least fun answer ever, but: everything. Every book, magazine or newspaper I’ve ever read, every movie I’ve ever seen, every walk I’ve ever taken, every train trip I’ve spent staring out the window. Every video game I’ve ever played, every city I’ve ever walked through, every restaurant I’ve ever eaten in. I believe very strongly that interesting input leads to interesting output, and I try to let things sort of stew around in my brain until they want to make a story.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
My third novel, Save Yourself, was about a man – Patrick - whose father was in prison for killing a child, and the way the shame of that association affected Patrick’s life. I did a reading in Pittsburgh where a man came up to me afterward and told me that he was in a similar situation, and that he’d really empathized with Patrick. It was rewarding because I’d captured the feelings accurately, but also very humbling. For me, it was a plot point; for that man, it was his life.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
What I want more than anything else is for readers to disappear in that book-space where the outside world melts away, which is my absolute favorite place to be. (But it’s also okay if they occasionally find themselves thinking, “Dang, this Braffet woman is an awesome writer.”)

In your new book; THE UNWILLING, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
The Unwilling is the story of four people (Gavin, Theron, Judah and Eleanor) who live in a castle surrounded by a huge wall, which is in turn surrounded by a sprawling, fairly grim city. Gavin and Theron are the sons of the city lord and Eleanor is Gavin’s betrothed, but the story is primarily told by Judah, who is a foundling raised with the other three. She and Gavin have a physical bond that nobody understands: when one of them feels pain or suffers injury, the other does, so she’s protected to keep him safe. All of my books are about power and powerlessness, in one way or another, and this one’s no exception.

What part of Gavin did you enjoy writing the most?
Gavin is basically your charming single friend that you will absolutely under no circumstances set up with any of your other friends, because you like them too much to inflict him on them. He’s well-intentioned, but has lived a life that’s let him be pretty clueless and selfish; on the other hand, his father, the City Lord, is a sadistic monster. So he has an excellent example of who he doesn’t want to be, but is sort of floundering to find an alternative. He’s a good person at heart, but he does stupid, selfish things, and even when he does good things, he can be kind of a brat about it. Writing back and forth across that line – and still keeping him likeable, which I hope he is! – was a fun challenge.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Judah?
Judah was another writing challenge. She has a lot of completely justifiable anger from page one, but in the beginning of the book that anger is sort of general and amorphous. Over the course of the story, it becomes more focused and specific. Going in, I knew she was angry, and I knew she could be biting and funny, but what surprised me was the depth of her love for my other characters. She’s been terribly wounded by her circumstances, but she has an immense capacity for love.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
If we’re just talking about my books, I have a tribe of angry women that I think would make a hell of a book club: Josie from Josie and Jack, Miranda from Last Seen Leaving, Caro from Save Yourself, and Judah from The Unwilling. There’s always a moment early on where I think, “Wait, is this angry woman the same as the last angry woman?” But they always reveal themselves to be different people as the draft goes on, thankfully. If we’re talking about books at large, I think Judah would really enjoy knowing some of the other angry women in my favorite books: Aerin-sol from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, Gideon from Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, and Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. She’d probably also get along famously with Izzy Spellman from Lisa Lutz’s Spellman books.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Read everything. Try every genre. Ask friends what they’re reading. Keeping your TBR diverse keeps your mind open and flexible, and you might find something you didn’t expect to love.

Best date you've ever had?
I’m not sure this counts as a date, but before my husband and I were married, for my birthday he bought us tickets to see the National Theatre adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials on stage in London. We flew there, spent all day watching incredible theater, and flew home. I think I slept for like four hours total. It was amazing.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
I don’t know about ridiculous facts, but I know a lot of fun words. Lagomorph is the scientific name for the rabbit family. Defenestration is to throw something out a window. Pantufla is one of the Spanish word for bedroom slippers. And aphasia is the word for when you can’t think of the word for something.

Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
My dad is a pilot, so this question caused a great deal of discussion in my family. I think I remember being taken up in somebody’s small plane when I was too young to really remember much of it; nobody else can confirm this, but it would have just been around whatever small Phoenix-area airport the plane flew out of. When we lived in Yuma, Arizona, my dad used to land his helicopter in our (very large) backyard and take us up for rides occasionally. My first commercial flight was the summer after my family moved from Arizona to the Pittsburgh area. I was ten or eleven, and it would have been from Pittsburgh to Phoenix. My older brother and I were flying alone and we got stuck in Dallas (or Denver?) for about four hours.

Favorite things to do alone?
My very favorite? Reading, playing video games, or watching the Bon Appetit YouTube channel. I bake complicated things. I do yoga, but not enough. I would say that I talk to my cats, but if my cats are with me, I’m technically not alone, am I?

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
If you live in the United States, you should vote. But not just once in your life, obviously; in fact, you should vote every time you get the opportunity, in every election possible. Even if you’re not enthusiastic about the candidate (it’ll take fifteen minutes of internet research to figure out who you’re least unenthusiastic about) and even if you think politics aren’t important to you (impossible; if you drive on roads and breathe air, politics are important to you). There are too many people, both throughout history and today, who couldn’t and can’t vote for reasons beyond their control. If you’re not one of them, you have no excuse.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
The 2016 United States presidential election.

Who was the last person you slow danced with?
The last person I slow-danced with was my husband, Owen. The last being I slow-danced with was my cat, Barney, who hated it. He put up with it anyway because he’s the Nicest Cat Ever.

1. I might never have had the idea if I didn’t totally tank my college housing lottery.
At my very small private college, almost everybody lived on campus, and housing was assigned by seniority, and then by lottery number. My senior year, my lottery number was 275. There were 276 people in my class, so that sucked. I ended up in half of a tiny converted attic, where I could nearly stand upright if I stood in the exact center of the room. The other half was occupied by a woman I hardly ever talked to (my fault; I wasn’t the friendliest). The only thing I know about her is that she played a lot of really loud Tom Jones music and halfway through the year, she came down with scabies. (We shared a closet. And a towel rack. This was a bummer.)

Anyway, that particular year would have been terrible even if my housing situation hadn’t been a drag, for various reasons, but the lousy (scabies-y?) housing situation meant that whenever I was in my tiny little room, I did everything possible to escape it, mentally. I read a ton, and for the first time ever, I tried writing a novel, which became The Unwilling . . . eventually.

2. The idea is old enough to go to college itself.

I graduated from college in 1998. These characters have been kicking around in my head for over twenty years; whenever I wasn’t working on something else, I puttered around on this story. In 2014, the poet and spoken-word artist Maggie Estep (who I’d liked a lot back when I was living in that terrible dorm room) died suddenly. I’d never met her, but she was only ten years older than I was and lived near me, and we had a few mutual friends. I was shocked and came down with a fairly serious case of the memento moris. I realized that if I, like Maggie Estep, were to wake up one morning, take my dog for a walk and then die suddenly, all of the characters in The Unwilling would die with me, and nobody ever knew they existed.

Maggie was amazing. You should go look her up. HERE'S A TASTE

3. Part of it is basically a hidden object adventure game.
I’m not proud of this, but there was a time in my life when I used to play a lot of hidden object adventure games – the kind where you are brought to your late uncle’s mysterious mansion and poke around in his study, greenhouse and kitchen looking for pieces of an umbrella or a clock or a statue. In order to progress through these kinds of games, you have to open doors which are often locked with gemstones or musical notes or slider puzzles. Because obviously that makes more sense than a key that you could just keep in your pocket, doesn’t it? I was so amused by this that I decided it would be hilarious to fill a wing in my fantasy house with those kinds of locks. Thus was the legend of sad, paranoid Mad Lord Martin born – and also his son, who went after those locks with an axe the moment Martin died.

4. If I’d never written it, I never would have learned that my kitchen has no wild yeast whatsoever.
In the second half of the book, my four main characters are left mostly on their own, without all the people who used to bring them food and firewood and other useful things. One of the things they’re left without is bread – and, obviously, the convenient little jar of Red Star yeast that I keep in my refrigerator. So Elly and I both tried making sourdough bread. Day one went fine. Day two seemed okay. On day three, my husband said, “Are you sure this looks right?” and it didn’t. I kept trying, but I never managed to make anything more than rock-hard, unrisen bread. Neither did Elly. Someday I’ll try again.

5. In fact, it’s full of excuses I came up with to learn to make random things in the kitchen.
In the name of research, I made Nate’s flatbread, which is basically naan with cardamom in it, and ate a whole lot of pastry. (I love this kind of research). I also dragged a friend to a goat-cheese making workshop in a nearby town. It took all of a Saturday; we made the most delicious feta I’ve ever tasted and got to play with baby goats. When we were all introducing ourselves, I said, “I’m writing a novel. My characters have to survive with limited resources, and one of the resources they have is a ewe and her lamb.” Then I realized everyone was staring at me, and hastily added that I realized that sheep and goats weren’t the same, but there were no sheep-cheesemaking workshops near where I lived, so I was making do with what I had. (Everyone else there wanted to make goat cheese for a living, except for one couple that was clearly on some sort of Air B’n’B vacation, and had maybe gotten a little more rustic charm than they’d bargained for.)

Also, I want to add that the farm we went to, at the time, was not planning to send any of the male baby goats we played with to slaughter, which made me happy. I hope it’s still true.

6. Most of those things got cut in editing.
“All of this stuff about Elly’s ingenuity is really interesting,” said my very wise editor, Kathy, “but it also slows down the story at a pretty crucial point.” She was right. I think the only thing I miss is Elly’s long musing on the difficulties of unraveling yarn to re-use it, which I swear was more interesting than it sounded.

7. When you spend 20 years working on the same story, bits of it inevitably show up in other books.
In my third novel, Save Yourself, one of the characters reads a graphic novel that is very loosely based on The Unwilling, which only existed in partial draft form at the time. I’m reluctant to even mention it, because it has a little bit of a spoiler in it, but if you read that book after reading The Unwilling, you’ll see it immediately.

8. Sometimes those books were written by other people (damn it).
And that was how, in the next-to-last draft, I ended up having to change Nate’s name and the name of the province Elly comes from, because they both appeared in other books. I was able to swap Nate’s name out for something with a similar sound and feel, but Elly’s home was much harder. I ended up borrowing a name from my neighbors, the McTiernans. I did ask first. They said I could.

I actually don’t tend to put too much thought into character and place names, which is why this was particularly annoying. I know what their name should sound like; in my novel Last Seen Leaving, Miranda was both Maria and Mariah, because I knew the name had an M and an R in it. But there’s also that ineffable feel thing, which is harder to describe. Some names are sharp-edged and some are soft. We used to read our child a wonderful picture book by Sophie Blackall called ARE YOU AWAKE? and one of my favorite lines in it was something along the lines of, “Some names are yellow, like Peter and Edward.” I assure you, those names are extremely yellow.

9. I really wanted to add a bit about hedgehogs in it but I couldn’t squeeze it in.
Actually, it’s not impossible that the hedgehog thing will end up in the sequel, but I’m going to leave it here anyway. In theory, if one is left with no alternative but to eat a hedgehog, one could wrap it in mud and roast it; when the mud is hard, it will break off like a shell, taking the spines with it. Am I suggesting you eat a hedgehog? Absolutely not. In fact, I’m suggesting you do everything possible to avoid needing to eat hedgehogs – but if you find yourself in this position, this might work. It might not. Unlike the flatbread and the goat’s cheese, I didn’t research this one, and have no intention of ever doing so.

10. I dumped another book to write this one.
After Save Yourself was published, I spent a year and a half working on a crime novel about an actor which was much more in line with my previous work. Metaphors I used to describe the process of working on the actor book include, “It never grew legs,” “The engine never turned over,” and “It was like when you’re in a bad relationship, but you don’t realize how bad it is until it’s over and you never have to deal with it again.” When I finally put it aside, I wrote The Unwilling in about a year, and suddenly remembered why I liked writing, because it was no longer agony.

The moral of this story is that you have to get out of a bad relationship before you can get into the good one. Also, while I was waiting for The Unwilling to sell, I finished the actor book; the moral of that story is that sometimes you just have to wait for the timing to be right.

A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival…and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban—a lord as mighty as he is cruel—has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

You can purchase The Unwilling at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KELLY BRAFFET for making this giveaway possible.
4 Winners will receive a Copy of THE UNWILLING by Kelly Braffet.
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