Author Interview: Kristina Elyse Butke

1. Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

For a huge chunk of my life I was a playwright, but I always wanted to write a novel. When I read Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest in college, it inspired me to write fiction, particularly fiction that could be influenced by fairy tales in a unique way. Another author who inspires me currently is Margaret Rogerson, author of perhaps my favorite YA fantasy, Sorcery of Thorns. She is so imaginative and I would love to pick her brain.

2. Does writing energize or exhaust you, or both?

For the most part, writing exhausts me, unfortunately. I put a lot of myself into it, work for hours at a time, and just feel spent. But there are times when I feel energized, too, like when a scene is going particularly well, or the characters feel like they’ve fully come to life and are doing their own thing. I get so excited when I’ve found my rhythm, and that’s when I feel a great burst of energy to write.

3. Have you ever traveled as research for your book?

No, but at some point I would love to have the income to be able to do so. As of right now, places I’ve lived figure into the books that I write. For Son of the Siren, a lot of my time living in Japan flavored the novel. For my work in progress The Name and the Key, I was inspired by the time I lived in Wales. If I ever live abroad ever again, the location would probably end up in my next book. But moving overseas is difficult and costly, so if I could just visit the places that inspire me, that would be wonderful!

4. How do you come up with character names for your stories?

Sometimes I choose a name based on how it sounds and flows; other times I try to go by meaning (shoutout to the website Behind the Name) or am inspired by characters in folklore and myth. For example, Lirien, the lead in my novel Son of the Siren, has a name based off of a god that appears in both Irish and Welsh mythology. Lir or Ler is the god of the sea in Irish mythology, and his Welsh counterpart is Llŷr. On top of using “Lir” as the basis for the name, I also wanted the name to have a lovely, flowy rhythm to it, which is why I added “ien” to the end of it.

5. What comes first for you–the plot or characters–and why?

Characters always come to me first and I’m not entirely sure why–maybe because plotting has always been difficult for me (I’m a pantser). I’m a very visual person, and I have a great love for manga and anime, so often the character appears as a drawing in my mind that resembles those styles. I also picture multiple facial expressions the characters would have and then I begin to ask myself, what happened to them to make those expressions? I also adore costumes and costuming, so the outfits the characters wear in my mind are very important to their characterization. I try to work through why a character might wear the clothes that appear to me in my head. It’s a weird system, but having such clear visuals of the characters as I write is really helpful.

6. What inspired the idea for your book?

Son of the Siren was inspired by the desire to mash multiple fairy tales together, in this case, Allerleirauh, The Wild Swans, and The Little Mermaid. I didn’t take complete plots from each, but rather motifs. In Allerleirauh, the King tries to marry his daughter after his wife the Queen dies; in The Wild Swans, a girl must weave nettle shirts for her six transformed brothers in complete silence in order to change them from swans into humans; and in The Little Mermaid, the mermaid gives up her voice to the evil sea witch. I wove all of these together, gender-swapped characters, and made some alterations to make my plot more unique and cohesive. My beta readers told me that while people may recognize the stories in my novel, for the most part Son of the Siren comes across as a totally unique story.

7. What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?

I always wanted Son of the Siren to be like a fairy tale, but in the earliest drafts, I actually had a pantheon of gods that controlled magic in the world. It just wasn’t going anywhere and it completely changed the tone of the book from what I was going for, so I cut all mention of deities. I think that was like seventy-eight pages of writing completely scrapped.

8. What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

I have so many problems with outlining and plotting. I may have a rough idea of what I want, and sometimes I write bullet points out of things that I want to occur, but for the most part, I have no idea what I’m doing as I write and I tend to let things happen. The downside to this is that when I do have something plotted, I end up completely ignoring the plot in service of what the characters want. This makes drafting take a really long time, and I am a very slow writer.

9. What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?

In Son of the Siren, my antagonist is Queen Aurinda, and she is bewitched by the siren song, becoming obsessed with Lirien. She treats him badly–very much like an object–and will stop at nothing to secure his affections. Every time they interacted it was difficult to write, and in particular, a scene near the end of the book where the two confront each other was the bane of my existence for the longest time.

10. What part of the book was the most fun to write?

In Son of the Siren, there is a mystical wandering forest called Elythia that is home to the fae and other magical creatures. I wrote by the seat of my pants for all of those scenes, and it just flowed out of me. In particular I enjoyed writing Lord Iesin and Lady Ariana, the rulers of Autumn Wood in Elythia. In their first iteration they were mostly benevolent fae, but beta readers said to make them more morally gray…so I rewrote them and made them much more mischievous and treacherous, which ended up being a lot of fun.

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