Author Interviews

Interview with Nicki Pau Preto

If you saw my review of Crown of Feathers you will know how obsessed I am with this book about phoenix riding and sisterhood. I jumped on the chance to interview Nicki and I hope you enjoy!

Summary

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

Find Crown of Feathers on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.

Interview

Can you describe your book in song titles? Just trying to find other ways to attract readers!

– I See Fire by Ed Sheeran
– Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine
– My Immortal by Evanescence
Lili here, these are some powerhouse song choices and I totally support them!

The sister relationship between Veronyka and Val is complex and contentious. It is one born of secrets, pride, but also love. Can you talk more about this relationship and how writing it was? Were you inspired by your own life?

I don’t know why this particular dynamic resonates with me…I have two older brothers, but no sisters of my own, so maybe it was the chance to explore something that I had no personal experience with that drew me to the idea. I also think that, while they’re very different from one another, Veronyka and Val represent dueling parts of my own personality. According to the Meyers-Briggs personality test, I’m an INTJ, and we are described as “simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics.” To me, that describes both Veronyka (starry-eyed optimist) and Val (bitter cynic), and that’s likely how I am able to connect with both characters (yes, even Val), but also understand the opposing viewpoint represented in their sibling. I absolutely loved writing their characters, where every interaction was loaded. Such fun tension!

So even though the Goodreads synopsis doesn’t talk about Sev, can you describe to new readers who Sev is? He is one of my favorite characters because he’s being pulled in so many different directions and throughout the course of the novel, you really get to see the different conflicts and ways he grows as a character.

I’m so glad you like Sev! I think he gets overshadowed a lot by Veronyka and Val, and certainly Veronyka is the main protagonist of the story, and she and Sev’s paths are quite separate. Sev is one of my point of view characters, and through circumstances not entirely within his control, he finds himself a soldier for the empire and on the wrong side of the conflict that Veronyka, Tristan, and the rest of the main characters are about to find themselves in. Sev has had a hard life, like many of the children who have grown up parentless after the war, and has made choices that he regrets. Thanks to the people he meets, Sev really has to confront who he is and where he belongs, and he undergoes the most growth of any character in the book.

Finding your community is a really important theme in Crown of Feathers. We can be so convinced we are on our own. Can you talk about what this theme means to you and why it is so important throughout the book? People have this potential to hurt us, and we definitely see characters who are still feeling betrayed, but they also have this immense power to support us and lift us up.

As a writer, so much of my daily life is solitary, so I think I’ve realized in recent years how valuable it is to have a community behind you. I’ve also played team sports all my life (basketball and soccer primarily), and I think it did much to give me confidence and a sense of belonging when I was younger. Also, because of that, I’ve always really appreciated the power of teamwork. We’re stronger together than we are apart, and there’s something so satisfying about seeing a ragtag group of people grow and develop and achieve something together.

I know that Crown of Feathers was described to me as a comp title to Wild Magic, but can you talk more about some of your inspirations when writing this book? What initially inspired this book?

I’m so glad the Wild Magic vibes shone through! I absolutely adore Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe, and would cite both The Immortals quartet (the first of which is Wild Magic) and the Song of the Lioness quartet (starting with Alanna: the First Adventure) as inspiration for Crown of Feathers. The former inspired the animal magic found in COF, and the latter gave me the “girl dressed as boy” trope. I also owe a lot to Fire by Kristen Cashore, The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and the movie Mulan.
The initial spark of the book was three main ideas converging: the “girl dressed as boy” trope, phoenix riders, and sisters who wound up enemies.

The world building is so immersive in Crown of Feathers whether it be the stories, or the little snippets of text before the chapters, can you talk us through your process of creation?

Some of this was there from the start—namely the epigraphs at the start of each chapter—but the letters and historical documents sprinkled throughout were actually my editor’s suggestion! I think we were trying to find a way to break up some of the dense world building and present it in a way that was more interesting and less info-dumpy. I thought it was a genius idea, and have so enjoyed developing those extra bits of content.

If you had to have your own Phoenix, what would it be named and how would it act? Also did you always know it was going to be about phoenixes?

I think my phoenix would likely behave just like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, who reminds me of my dear pug Rocky that I lost a few years ago. Ridiculous, cute, and loyal. In terms of a name…if I’m going by the conventions I’ve established in Crown of Feathers, wherein all phoenix names contain an “x,” I might go with something like Roxy—a riff on my dog’s name 🙂 I also created a phoenix name generator that I shared online! According to that, my phoenix’s name is Luxuna.

How has the process of writing book two differed than Crown of Feathers? Did you learn anything new about yourself as a writer?

Hah. Hahahaha. Oh boy. I swear, from the moment I started writing book 2, it was like everything I thought I knew about myself as a writer changed. I used to write best in the mornings; COF2 wanted to be written at night. I used to write quick, short first drafts (Crown of Feathers took 6 weeks and clocked in at 75,000 words), and COF2 took me 5 months and the word count was 138,000. It’s at 180,000 now and still climbing. Gulp. I’m also usually a very organized, structured reviser, and I was all over the place during my first rounds. I’m still working hard on book 2 at the moment, but I think I’ve finally got it going in right the direction.

What are you currently reading that you are obsessed with and know you are going to love?

I just finished The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth and I absolutely adored it. I’m devouring Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake (this might be my favorite in the series yet), and I’ve just started Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore and it’s so lush and atmospheric!

Find Crown of Feathers on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.

About the Author

Nicki Pau Preto is YA fantasy author living just outside of Toronto, Canada––though her hatred of hockey, snow, and geese makes her the worst Canadian in the country. She studied art and art history in school, mostly because she thought it would be hard to get a job with an English degree…but it turns out it’s hard to get a job with an art degree, too (surprise, surprise) so she went back to school again for graphic design.

The common thread in all her studies was creativity (art and graphic design) and a love of stories (art history is, after all, the stories behind famous works of art). This may be why the fantasy genre, where the writer can create brand new worlds with histories and cultures of their own, always appealed most strongly to her.

When Nicki’s not reading or writing, she can be found watching basketball (go Raptors), playing soccer (forward or midfield), and online bargain shopping with competitive zeal (she’s a starving artist, after all). Oh, and sometimes she manages to go outside and see friends and stuff.

Discussion

If you could ride a mythical animal, what would it be? A phoenix probably would have been my choice….


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