KayLynn Flanders has a degree in English Language and editing, and has been a freelance editor and book designer for over twelve years. Her debut novel, a YA fantasy, will be published by Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House) July 21, 2020. KayLynn and her family live in Utah between some mountains and a lake, and she is directionally challenged without them. She loves reading, writing, traveling, and volleyball, and thinks there’s nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment road trip.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: I am so excited to be interviewing a fantasy author. I fell in love with fantasy from such a young age and I’m in awe of anyone who writes in the genre. Did you always love fantasy, too, and what were your favorite books/authors as a young adult?
KayLynn Flanders: Yes! I’ve always loved fantasy. I remember The Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks, David Eddings’s Belgariad series, and the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan being the books that got me into fantasy. These were books I read in a day, that I stayed up late to finish, and took with me everywhere so I could get a few more pages in. In high school, I tackled The Lord of the Rings, and I am still in awe of Tolkien’s ability to create such an immersive world. The magic and terror and hope in those books are the type of book I want to create.
I read a lot of other genres as well, and some of my favorites were: The Farthest-Away Mountain (Banks), Ella Enchanted (Levine), The Animorphs (Applegate), Jane Eyre (Brontë), Sense and Sensibility (Austen), Ender’s Game (Card), Harry Potter (Rowling, #3 is my favorite), and The Counte of Monte Cristo (Dumas).
RVG: You have a background in editing. How has this been helpful—or not—as you wrote and revised your debut?
KF: It’s both really helpful, and really challenging at times. Drafting new words is difficult for me since my internal editor is pretty ingrained. But I have years of practice looking at sentences and words and finding a different way to say them, and that’s really helpful, both on the micro and macro level of writing. The reason I became an editor is because I love seeing words shine brighter and communicate more effectively, so I don’t get the revision burnout a lot of writers experience—I love seeing the story get better with every draft!
RVG: You also have a background in book design! (Seriously I’m in awe of your multi-talents!). How has this experience helped you with your debut? Did you have a lot of input with your book design?
KF: The design team at Delacorte Press is insanely talented, so I didn’t feel like I needed to change much. I was given a couple options for design choices within the book, but it was easy to pick because all the options were gorgeous. For the cover, the artwork was insanely good from the first draft. I only had a few little adjustments I suggested, and we worked together until we got The Perfect Cover (in my opinion, at least).
RVG: How did you approach world building with SHIELDED?
KF: It started by asking a lot of questions. I had a general idea of a main character and some antagonists and key plot points, but the world’s basic structure grew around them as I asked why, how, when, etc. Then, as my characters traveled through the world, I brought it to life by bringing places I’ve been into the story—everywhere from the rolling hills of Tuscany to the super tall pines of the Pacific Northwest. Building the world became an adventure of pulling different pieces of road trips, vacations, and everyday life, and quilting them into a world of my own making.
RVG: Did you do a lot of research for your debut? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
KF: I did little bits of research along the way—searching out languages and names, different dwellings and instruments and customs. The kingdoms in the book’s world are based heavily on Icelandic, Scandinavian, and Etruscan/Italian influences, with a tiny bit of influence from the Baltic region as well. I also researched fighting and weaponry from Medieval times, and tried to put my own spin on every detail.
RVG: Were there any landscapes—real or literary— that informed the setting for SHIELDED?
KF: Definitely! The books I’ve read over the years, the places I’ve been, and the emotions I’ve experienced are what I poured into Shielded. I took what I loved about the books I read in my youth, and tried to infuse that wonder in my book. Books like The Farthest Away Mountain (Banks), Ella Enchanted (Levine), Jane Eyre (Bronte), The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein), Sword of Shannara (Brooks), The Goose Girl (Hale).
I also used the places I’ve been to create a world of my own. The Wild was inspired by a hike in the Pacific Northwest near Snoqualmie to the Big Four Ice Caves, Turia was inspired by a mix of Tuscany and the rolling farmland of eastern Washington State.
RVG: How did you plan the magical system and culture for SHEILDED?
KF: The whole concept of SHIELDED started from a single moment—Jennesara facing imminent danger, and needing a way to escape. I built the magic around that moment, and built the world on that moment—asking questions about who she was, why she had magic, why she was in danger, what would she do next, etc. The idea that everything has its opposite kept coming back as I was developing different aspects of the magic and world. I wanted Jenna’s magic to be able to help her, but also to work against her.
RVG: How did you choose the characters’ names?
KF: Oh, boy. Names, names, names. Jennesara’s name kind of came out of nowhere, but I loved it and kept it through all the drafts. One fun fact is that I really wanted her to have a nickname, because my own name is kind of un-nicknameable, and I always wished I’d had a good nickname. For others, I used the internet to search out lists of common medieval names from the region I based the kingdom off of. I also keep a note in my phone that has names I like so I can jot them down when I hear them. The name Halloran comes from an exit off of I-15 in California.
RVG: Do you outline your novels, or just write and see what happens? Can you explain your process a little?
KF: I usually start a story with a spark of an idea—a big event with characters in peril of some sort. Then I ask questions—who are they, where are they going, what’s standing in their way, etc.—to build an outline. I let this brainstorming stage simmer in the background for several weeks and outline as extensively as I can before diving in to draft.
When I draft, I like to get it all out as fast as possible. First drafts especially are all about dumping words on the page. And I always listen to music when I draft. I usually put a bunch of soundtracks into a big playlist, and then when there’s a song that hits the right mood for what I’m writing, I add it to a book-specific playlist, so by the time I’m done drafting I’ve got a really tailored playlist.
Being an editor, I love revising. I’ve got a massive spreadsheet that helps me look at the macro and micro together, and I always print out the manuscript so I can edit by hand—reading a printed manuscript is an entirely different experience than reading it on a screen and helps me catch more things to change.
RVG: What is next for KayLynn Flanders?
KF: A nap, I hope. And more books, of course! The Shielded series will be a duology, and I’m working on book two with my editor now. There are two new point-of-view characters, and they get to visit new places and confront new perils on the Plateau!
I’m also working on a retelling that I really hope gets to see the light of day someday. It’s got loyalty and betrayal; forests of oaks with huge, twisty branches; and a knifer who must choose whether to trust the boy who’s always been her enemy, or her friend, who has started crossing lines she’s not willing to cross.