Laini Taylor, who wrote the YA fantasy Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Lips Touch: Three Times, has a great smile, a winning way with an audience, a wicked sense of humor and pink hair.
Taylor was on the last leg of her book tour promoting Daughter of Smoke & Bone when I met her at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma, California. Taylor attended the Santa Rosa Junior College, just up the road from Petaluma, and graduated from Berkeley with a degree in English, so she is practically a local, even though she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her artist husband Jim and their daughter Clementine.
She spent a few minutes with me, discussing growing up, reading and writing. I asked what her favorite book was when she was a child, and she wasn’t sure she had one. Taylor grew up as a Navy kid, moving from place to place in Europe, and didn’t feel the service library for kids was that good. She remembers reading a lot of Madeleine L’Engle. “And Forever. I remember reading Forever, by Judy Blume,” she said. “And a lot of teen romances. They were sweet and clean.”
Taylor said that as a teenager in Orange County, she had no cool place to hang out; no cafés or music places, or even good bookstores then. “The teenagers hung out in the parking lot of the In And Out Burger,” she said. “One of the great things about Portland is that there are so many things for young people to do.” In part, she created the Poison Kitchen, one of the colorful locations in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, as a gift to her younger self; a cool place to hang.
Since I had just read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, (read my review) I had a few questions for Laini about the book. I was curious about the “tooth fairy” theme (teeth exchanged for wishes) and Laini addressed this during her presentation. “When I knew what the teeth were for,” she said, “I knew I had a book.” I had other questions, too, so we discussed them by email:
Marion: Prague plays a big part in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, especially in the beginning. Have you been to Prague or is this an imagining? If you have not, what resources did you use to develop the city?
Laini: I have been to Prague and love it! I went first in 1996, then again in 2004, this time to research a graphic novel with my husband Jim. Our first graphic novel, The Drowned, had just come out and we were plotting our second — which we never ended up doing because I decided to finish writing my first novel Blackbringer instead. So, flash forward to 2008 when I was trying to choose a setting for this new story that would become Daughter of Smoke & Bone: Prague was really the perfect location. Sadly, you are right that there is no Poison Kitchen. I made it up in pure wish fulfillment on behalf of my own teenage self who had no cool cafes to hang out in! Incidentally, I had not yet been to Marrakesh when I wrote the book, but pieced together my picture of it from narrative accounts, blogs, photos, and Youtube videos.
Marion: You seem like a truly original voice not only in the YA fantasy field but in fantasy generally. Do you have influences? Who are they?
Laini: Influences … I’m a fan of Angela Carter, and other writers very gifted with prose (and weird, highly original stories) like Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman. Harry Potter was transformative for me in reminding me, after college, that fantasy was what I had always loved and what had made me a reader. I also love Philip Pullman and Garth Nix. Their fantasy creations — daemons and the necromancer’s bells, respectively — are ideas I wished I had come up with myself!
Marion: This is not a question, and it’s a hope, not a wish. Zusana is a delightful character and I hope we will see more of her in the upcoming books. Karou, a delightful character too, is a little more constrained by the plot, while Zusana has more freedom. Does this make her easier or harder to write?
Laini: Just about the only thing I have been freely giving away about book 2 is that you WILL see more of Zuzana! There was just no way she wasn’t going to barge her way in J. Seriously, Zuzana is such a necessary character, for the levity and brightness she brings to the narrative. It’s not that I shy from darkness, obviously, but I want there to be fun and richness and humor. I want these books to be places the reader wants to LIVE, and if they are purely dark and tortured … who wants to go there? Zuzana is a joy to write, one of those characters who just kind of leap onto the page like it’s a stage built for HER, and I’m so sorry I had to kill her off in book 2 … Ha ha. Just kidding. Maybe.
Marion: Lately it seems I’ve read a lot of YA with sad endings. That may be a coincidence but I don’t think so. Daughter of Smoke & Bone has a tragic ending. Do you agree? It is just where the book ends as a part of the overall story, or do you have a point to make with the sad ending? Why do you think YA may be moving into a “sad” phase?
Laini: I’m not trying to make a point with “the sad” and honestly, I’m not always a fan of that! I can think of books where it felt unnecessary. (I agree with you it’s happening a lot!) I think you can look to Lips Touch for my overall sensibility: three stories, two happy endings. I want my characters to be happy. Oh, not right away, of course… they have to earn it! I’m not certain what kind of happiness Karou can achieve, if any (or at least, I’m not telling!) but I am in no way committed to tragedy. The ending of Daughter of Smoke & Bone was really the only possible ending, the only possible break, and I knew I was leading up there, and I knew it was right, but there was a part of me that hesitated a little. But only a little.
Marion: In one passage in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, you mention that various clans and tribes of chimera, even those who were enemies, were driven together into this one city by the seraphim. That mirrors the experience of several Native American tribes during the Indian wars, where hereditary enemies were pushed together onto reservations. Did you know that and was that a deliberate comment, or was it just the natural extension of the events in the book?
Laini: Well, I did think about various historical models, yes (and thank you), but in this case it’s an envisioning rather of: supposing the Native Americans hadn’t been corralled together by the enemy, but rather had chosen to band together against the onslaught and had successfully protected their own territory as one great tribe, for centuries. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a powerful scenario to me, and one you might see more of in the trilogy…
Thanks to Laini Taylor for fitting me into her tight schedule! Read our reviews of all of Laini Taylor’s work.