You know those authors who you’re a big fan of and would love to interview? Those dream interviews? Well welcome to one of mine – Lori M. Lee author Forest of Souls! I absolutely loved the world building (see my review) and also did a post pairing teas with characters! Keep reading this interview to see all my burning Forest of Souls questions!
Forest of Souls
Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.
Forest of Souls is wonderfully atmospheric, how did you become inspired for the world and magic in Forest of Souls?
Thank you! For the world, I wanted it to be a marriage of the traditional medieval-style fantasy and my own cultural influences. This felt truer to me and my identity than just one or the other. It’s definitely not what I would call an Asian fantasy. It’s a fantasy that just happens to revolve around Asian-coded characters.
The magical system was inspired by Hmong shamanism and the belief that spirits in the natural world and within ourselves play a large part in keeping balanced and healthy. Hmong shamans can also call on animal familiars in the spirit world to help them. Drawing on that, the shamans in FOREST OF SOULS can only access their magic through a spiritual bond with a familiar.
Was the friendship, which is so pivotal in the book, always the same throughout the drafts or did it go through many changes?
There was always a friendship at the heart of the book, but not quite in the same way it is now. I actually split them up for a good chunk of the book, and thankfully, my editor thought their relationship would be more powerful if they stayed together, and she was completely right. Now, it’s hard to imagine how those particular scenes in the final version weren’t always that way!
Do you always know before beginning a book, who will come into conflict with the main characters?
I thoroughly outline, so yes. I need to know all the major players and all the major plot points before I can start a draft. That doesn’t mean the plot doesn’t change—it always does. It just means I need to know what I’m writing towards. The process of actually writing it out, though, usually reveals plot holes I didn’t consider, weak motives, or the necessity to completely rework the plot. I don’t necessarily need to know the ending, though, which I can usually discover after writing the first draft.
A huge part of Forest of Souls was Sirscha’s exploration of her own powers, can you talk about what it means for her and her view of the world?
Throughout the novel, Sirscha is constantly searching for validation. She wants to prove that she’s someone worth noticing. Then, suddenly, she’s told she has this rare and miraculous power that turns all eyes on her, but it comes at the price of her best friend’s life. So not only does she have to reconcile with this new truth about herself but also how that affects her best friend and how to make it right.
The thing is, even though she wants validation, she also doesn’t want to be told she’s special, because it comes with a whole host of new expectations that she isn’t ready to deal with. She’s been looked down on her whole life, so on top of the fear of not meeting those expectations, there’s the fear that maybe she’s not worthy of them. Her journey throughout the book is really about her coming to the realization that the only validation she needs is from herself.
Part of what I found endearing about Sirscha was her desire to be something, her dedication to be meaningful. How did you first meet Sirscha in your own mind?
Although it took a while for Sirscha to completely form as a person in my head, the part of her that was there from the very beginning was that desire to be seen and acknowledged. She wanted to become someone worth noticing, because she’d been brushed aside her entire life. I hadn’t yet determined why or how, but that drive in her was definitely the spark for her character.
If Forest of Souls had to have a different title, what would it be?
The very first title for the book was The Spider King, so that might have been a fun alternative 😊
Do you have other recommendations for YA Fantasy focusing on female friendships?
What’s really sad is that I can’t think of many. That’s not to say they don’t exist—only that I haven’t personally read much. Among those I have read, I love the friendship between Iseult and Safiya in the Truthwitch series. I also adore the relationship between Nina and Inej in Six of Crows.
Are there animals you are afraid of? I am pretty scared of spiders so I wasn’t sure how much there would be going into Forest of Souls, but I survived!
This is going to sound weird, but I’m not afraid of spiders. I don’t enjoy them at all, but I don’t have a phobia (unless they’re huge…). I did, however, grow up with a massive fear of dogs due to childhood trauma. I was terrified of them for the longest time, and to be honest, that fear still sometimes lingers at the back of my head, especially with big dogs. But I’ve since owned multiple dogs myself, and I know that any behavior issues tend to be the fault of their owners. Otherwise, as hinted at above, I do have a fear of very large bugs.
About the Author
Lori M. Lee is the author of FOREST OF SOULS, first in the Shamanborn duology, as well as GATES OF THREAD AND STONE and THE INFINITE. She’s also a contributor to the anthologies A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS and COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES. She considers herself a unicorn aficionado, enjoys marathoning TV shows, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family.