So excited to welcome Laura Rueckert, author of A Dragonbird in the Fern, to the blog today. One thing that resonated with me, and made me surprisingly emotional, was Jiara’s difficulty learning a new language and fitting into a new culture. As someone who has lived abroad in a few different countries, this made me teary eyed. Today Laura and I are going to chat about being an international book worm!
A Dragonbird in the Fern
When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice. While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.
Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate.
Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.
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Lili: Without further ado, Laura, can you tell me what’s your “origin story” – where are you from, when did you move there and where do you live now, and why did you move there?
Laura: Thank you so much for having me, Lili! I’m American, but I won a scholarship to study in Germany for a year after I finished college. Before I left the US, my dad specifically told me not to fall in love with a German and move far away permanently, and I said, “Don’t worry, that’ll never happen.” Famous last words! I met my now-husband in the student dorm. I knew it was love when we stayed together in the TV lounge even though only awful movies were on (this was before streaming). Now I’ve lived in Germany longer than in the US, and I’ve been lucky to have business trips and vacations in many other countries.
How about you, Lili? I loved finding out we had living abroad in common. What’s your origin story?
Lili: First off, that story is ridiculously cute!! I’ve lived abroad in both Austria and Germany before mostly because I too was swooned away to Europe by love! What a coincidence, but also a universal motivator. For me, the major thing that has impacted it is the language – which is why I fell in love with A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN. Learning German has been….an experience. And having to relate to the world in another language? Talk about something that is still so alien to me. Don’t even get me started on how much I miss the familiar bookstores! What about you? Do you think that your immigration experience to Germany was a main motivator for A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN?
Laura: Oh, I know what you mean about the language! After all these years, my spoken German is not perfect, but pretty fluent, but my husband (or kids!!!) still shake their heads while correcting my written German every time. Being an immigrant, traveling internationally, and working with colleagues from all over the world at my day job definitely inspired a lot of Jiara’s experiences in Dragonbird. In general, I’ve noticed that most of the stories I write tend to have communication as a theme in some way, so being an immigrant is definitely a core part of me.
What is it like being a book reviewer/influencer for English language books while living in a foreign country? Are there advantages and disadvantages?
Lili: I think the biggest differences have to be in terms of opportunities. I have been blogging for over five years, and lived in a few different places (US and abroad) and being an international book reviewer certainly has different opportunities. Especially since the book community can be, in a lot of ways, very US centric.
I think one of the main disadvantages can be access to books. It’s not as easy to just walk into a bookstore on new book day and pick up a book I love. The selection can be limiting depending on the store – do you have a favorite bookstore here? As for advantages? I am a big book nerd and love being able to examine the different trends in book markets in terms of trends for covers, what kind of English titles do well here or appear. On an intellectual level, I’m kind of obsessed with that kind of stuff.
Speaking of A Dragonbird in the Fern, do you want to talk more about Jiara’s experiences which parallel your own? Do you have specific incidents that were inspired by your own?
Overlap Between Laura’s Life and A Dragonbird in the Fern
Laura: I totally get what you mean about not having easy access to English language books. They’re usually not available in stores, and if you order them, you pay import prices! Ouch! Even so, I do have a favorite bookstore here. It’s a small, indie one called Bücher, Medien und Mehr. They don’t stock many English-language books, but they’re happy to special order them. Despite being in a small town, they were so popular that they bought a second building across the street and have two locations across from each other!
As for which of Jiara’s experiences are similar to my own, there’s the obvious getting words or customs wrong and slowly learning more and more. But I can think of three specific incidents that came more or less directly from my life.
- Being in a bus or a crowd and not understanding what anyone was saying. I found it relaxing. No one’s thoughts intruded on my own.
- The first time I dreamed in German. I was shocked the next morning, not only because I’d dreamed in German, but because my mother, who only spoke English, was speaking German in my dream.
- Many years ago I was on a business trip in China, training a group of about 25 people on a new computer program, mostly young women in their early twenties. When I’d finished the first session, I asked if there were any questions, and one woman raised her hand and asked if she could touch my blond hair. I said sure, and nearly the entire group flocked to me to do the same. In the book, Jiara’s annoyed by people trying to touch her hair, but I found it kind of nice–everyone laughed and it totally broke the ice of me being the trainer from faraway headquarters.
Lili, I love following your reviews and posts about the books you read. I’m truly in awe of how quickly you read! What books can you recommend that include immigration and/or living in more than one culture?
Books about Immigration and living in more than one country
Lili: Well honestly, until A Dragonbird in the Fern I hadn’t really found many books that tackle that learning to live in another country – especially in fantasy. I feel like a lot of characters are just like, “okay yeah I guess I’m going there” and there aren’t that many growing pains? I think the most recent one I can think of – which is in a totally different direction that Dragonbird – is Himawari House which is a graphic novel, but what I loved about it is that when the character doesn’t know the word – and is translating in her head – like the word kind of just appears as a line. It makes us see the world through her eyes and knowing that she really doesn’t just understand everything. How about you?
Laura: Himawari House sounds fascinating! I don’t think I know any recent books that include learning to live in another country either…just older ones (if I’m remembering correctly!) like Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, the Die For Me series by Amy Plum, and Ink by Amanda Sun. But I also tend to like books where the main character has parents from another country like Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, and The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance. Even if the all of the cultures in books like that are not my own, the feeling of living in two worlds at the same time is familiar.
About the Author
Laura Rueckert is a card-carrying bookworm who manages projects by day. At night, fueled by European chocolate, she transforms into a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura grew up in Michigan, USA, but a whirlwind romance after college brought her to Europe. Today, she lives in Germany with her husband, two kids, and one fluffy dog.
The YA Fantasy A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN is her debut novel.