Julia Ember is an author I always want to keep up with. Please ignore the fact that I haven’t read The Navigators Touch, I promise I will before 2020 ends okay!? But Ember is a master at phenomenal world building premises with endearing characters. Ruinsong is no exception! Once I finished I knew I wanted to ask to interview Ember!
Her voice was her prison…
Now it’s her weapon.
In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.
But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.
Do you have favorite music to listen to while writing?
It really depends on what stage of the process I’m at! When I’m still plotting, I like to listen to music with lyrics that sort of capture the mood of the project I’m working on. With Ruinsong, unsurprisingly, I listened to A LOT of Phantom of the Opera and also Symphony by Clean Bandit pretty much on repeat. However, once I start drafting, I can’t listen to music with lyrics at all! I listen to a lot of game music because the soundtracks are really long and have sort of an epic feel. My favorite drafting music right now is the Witcher III: Isles of Skellige music!
I love the idea of music being our voice and power. What is the first thing you would do with that power?
If my voice were magical in the same way Cadence’s is, I think I would probably rid myself of back pain like she does for Remi in the book! I hunch when I type, and it gets painful! After that, I would turn my attention to ending my enemies and a certain orange politician. In a more allegorical sense, I already think that our voices can have tremendous power, which is the message I hope carries through in the book.
When did you first come up with the idea of Ruinsong? And how was the drafting/writing process?
Because I like retellings so much, I do try to reread a few classics a year to see if they inspire anything for me. I did a Phantom of the Opera re-read in early 2016, which percolated for about a year before I actually started drafting Ruinsong. I also have some background in musical theatre, and have always been drawn to the dark gothic opulence of the Phantom of the Opera. I lived in London as a teen, and would frequently go with my friends to the West End to see productions, which at the time felt like magic to me. The question I kept coming back to in the early planning was what would happen if music really were magical, and how would it affect a society if only a few people had it? After that, I was pretty heavily influenced by the political events of the last four years. The drafting process happened in a couple of stages. I wrote an initial 15k in February/March of 2017, which basically just sketched out some of the worldbuilding. Then The Seafarer’s Kiss came out in May 2017, and Interlude Press decided they wanted to do a sequel, so I put Ruinsong on hold while I wrote The Navigator’s Touch. I came back to it for Nanowrimo 2017, and then spent the next six months polishing and greatly expanding my 45k draft. Drafting for me is a lot like making a layer cake — I create lots of components, but I frequently have to take breaks from projects to let them cool, and then it takes me a while to assemble all the parts and frost them!
Do you think Ruinsong has anything in common with your previous books?
I think the theme of your voice mattering is definitely shared with The Seafarer’s Kiss and Ruinsong is also set in a pretty brutal dystopian society. Like all of my previous work, Ruinsong is also about queer characters and centers their journeys. The central romance in Ruinsong is also f/f.
Which character came to you first and was there an easier character to write?
I had the idea for both of them pretty simultaneously! Since Ruinsong is inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, my two girls have a loose connection to Christine and Raoul. However, Cadence was far easier for me to write because she is so much more like me. She’s indecisive, a little bit insecure. She’s also deeply invested in her musical craft, even if she doesn’t always love the path its pursuit has put her on. She’s still figuring out who she is and what her role will be. Remi is much more direct. She knows who she is and what she wants. She’s not afraid to say what she’s thinking and she doesn’t fear other people’s judgement.
I love the world of Ruinsong, if you were to write another book in the world, do you already have ideas of where you’d want it to go?
I think I would delve into the distant past! There are little snippets of history in the book, which tell the legend of how the Goddess Adela passed the gift of magic to the first mage, but it’s not really explored. I would be interested in a writing a book about that. I’ve been asked before if I would write Queen Elene’s story, and I’m still not sure. I think she has a compelling origin as a villain, but at the same time, where she ends up is so dark I’m not sure I would want to write exactly how she got there! Something I’m still thinking about!
About the Author
Julia Ember is the author of The Seafarer’s Kiss duology and Ruinsong. Her work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many other prominent outlets. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews. She currently lives in Seattle with her wife and two very fluffy cats.