A native of New Orleans, Cate Tiernan is the author of the young adult fantasy series, Sweep, Balefire and Immortal Beloved. She's here today to talk about her books, writing, inspiration and the challenges she faces as a writer, among other things.
Thanks for this interview, Cate. As a child, you used to explore cemeteries in New Orleans. Surely not the usual pastime for a child! What about cemeteries fascinated you?
Oh, is that not normal? Cemeteries in New Orleans are called “Cities of the Dead” because people are usually buried in little concrete mausoleums, aboveground. I loved looking at the family names and the dates — you could put together a whole story of who married whom, when they had kids, whether catastrophe hit their family. I still love looking at tombstones in any new city or country I’m in — the older, the better.
What was your inspiration for Balefire?
I wanted to set something in New Orleans, because I love the city and thought the setting would be evocative and mysterious. I was writing the fourth book of Balefire when Katrina hit, and I had to keep writing, describing the city as it would never be again. I sat there and cried — it was hard to finish that book.
Do you plot your novels in advance or do the stories and characters develop as you write?
Both. In general I work from an outline, but the outline is often a bit vague, just reminding me of certain elements I have to put in or develop. But I try to get the structure in place, so I can be sure to end up where I need to end up. But the characters and the book’s universe always develop more and more as I go, and become more real, and therefore more self-determining. I’ve been really surprised by some of the decisions some characters make.
Who is your favorite character in Balefire? Why?
I love the twins, of course, and it was their story I wanted to tell. But I developed a real fondness for Richard, even though he was abrasive and emotionally unavailable and calculating. I still love Riche.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?
Having to suddenly wrap up all the plot lines in book 4, when I hadn’t expected to. (And readers noticed, and weren’t thrilled about it.) With Sweep, it was planned to be only four books, but then it went going, and the story wasn’t necessarily structured to keep going. So I always feel like the books after #4 felt a little patchwork. So for Balefire, I set it all up to go on for 12 or 15 books, gave myself lots of characters and plot material to work with, but then it was decided to end it after four books, and I had to cram a lot into the last book, so it feels kind of clumsy and unfinished. Still kind of bummed about that, but those are the realities of publishing.