Swanky Seventeener Cale Dietrich recently interviewed Sweet Sixteener Hamilton about her YA fantasy debut, which will published by Viking on March 8th.
About the Novel
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.
About the Author
Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King’s College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.
Talking about REBEL
Your protagonist, Amani, is an absolute gem of a character – intelligent, totally bad-ass, and on top of all that she’s so darn likable. Can you talk a bit about the process of creating her? How does one come up with a character who is more gunpowder than girl?
Thanks so much! Amani was the girl with the gun before she was anything else. Literally, all I knew about the story was that there was a young female sharpshooter in a desert. I tend to play scenes from a story out in my mind before I put anything on paper. And when I envisioned the first scene from book, the shooting contest, I gave her the nickname of the Blue Eyed Bandit. Then when I decided that this western would be crossed with the Arabian Nights, I decided to keep that nickname and that became an integral part of who Amani is.
At that point I had all the big picture stuff about Amani—what she could do, what she wanted, who her family was, what her secret was etc. But I still didn’t really know who she was. Finally I went to put fingers to keyboard while procrastinating on another book which was driving me crazy because the MC’s personality was a bit vague. The first thing I typed was an early iteration of what is still the opening of the book: “They said the only folks who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good. I wasn’t up to no good. Then again, I wasn’t exactly up to no bad, neither.” And just like that I knew her personality (she wasn’t looking for trouble but found it anyway), what her voice sounded like (a little rough-edged with some strange turns of phrases), and what would carry her through the plot (the fact that she was reckless and impulsive).
I had Amani nailed down from that point onwards, even though I still didn’t even name her until I’d got to Chapter 3.
The desert in REBEL is filled with a variety of supernatural creatures, like the Buraqi (AKA the coolest things ever). Were these creatures entirely new inventions or are they based off of any myths? Either way, can you talk a bit about your decision to include these creatures (I.e how they reflect the world of REBEL).
I think the biggest part in figuring out any mythological system in fiction is to figure out your origin myth, because that informs everything. My origin myth came from quite an elemental place, there’s a lot of day and night and fire and earth in there. So when it came time to create the mythological creatures, they half pull from real world myths, but coming back to the elemental always. For instance, there are variations of magical horses and flesh eating monsters in myths across cultures. Buraq is actually a proper name, a bit like Pegasus, and he is more of a winged horse in our world. But for my world I brought that back to the desert and the earth and the sand and made him a horse with all that speed but he came from the sand instead of the heavens.
The action scenes in REBEL are so incredibly spectacular – they’re fast paced and engaging and fun. Do you have any advice for writing action/fight scenes?
Those scenes are some of the most fun to write for me! I tend to draft very quickly, which I think probably lends itself well to action sequences because they should have a slightly frantic. The only thing that slows me down is if I don’t know the logistics of exactly where a character is and what is going to end the action sequence (escape, death, victory?) and then I can go. Because perception narrows to the immediate in situations of high peril, I stop describing things that aren’t immediately important to keeping my narrator alive, I try to bring it in to the internal (“I was more Gunpowder than girl” was actually originally a line in an action sequence), and have one action chase the other one really quickly. And all that is just me rushing words on the page, and hopefully some of my excitement translates to Amani’s point of view. And then I go back and edit to make sure that it all makes sense and isn’t too frantic to the point that it becomes incomprehensible.
What was the publication process like for REBEL? How did it go from an idea to a finished book?
Rebel was a brewing idea for a long time before it was words on paper. And then, even when I did go to put it on paper I realized the idea would have to change because I’d plotted it out way beyond what could fit on paper. It took me a couple of years to write it, with long periods of letting it sit. I’d written probably a half dozen books before I wrote REBEL, all of which were practice books, I never did anything with them really. I finally finished REBEL in May 2014, realized it was less terrible than all those practice books, and so I queried it. I was expecting a long process and a lot of rejection but I was luck and my now agent requested it the day after I queried, and replied 5 days later. I signed with her shortly after.
We did some edits together and went on submission in early November. My agent told me to take up a hobby, and if we were lucky we’d hear before Christmas. That was on a Friday and again, things moved faster than expected. I wound up having my first call with an editor who wanted to offer the next Wednesday. After that things kind of went a little bit crazy and moved very fast and all at once. The book sold in Germany first, then a bunch of other countries while we were having calls with US editors and meeting with UK editors in London. We ended up having two auctions the first week in December and everything was done and dusted by Christmas.
And then the editing work started with Viking in the US and Faber in the UK, to get it to shelves!
Okay, tough one first: Rey, Poe or Finn (and why)?
This is an IMPOSSIBLE Question. Ok, so my heart will always belong to badass girls with a hint of vulnerability like Rey…but let’s face it, I’ve retweeted and reblogged way too much of everyone’s favourite resistance pilot to deny the truth. If I didn’t already love Poe from seeing the film, the hypable article that came out about him, casts him as a hero in such poetic (pun intended) detail that it would probably have made me love him from description alone
What kind of music (if any) did you listen to while writing REBEL?
I work best in noisy cafes so music is a must for me. If I’m drafting the best music is upbeat and has a repetitive rhythm, so that when I put it on loop for 6hs at a time I don’t get distracted by noticing the rise of the song opening again, and time loses all meaning. Avicii is really good for this but LaRoux’s (thematic) Bulletproof if a fave too.
Favorite Youtube video?
I am a YouTube Procrastination addict so there’s a lot. But, I love love love The Video of Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance, set over famous movie dance scenes. It makes me unbearably happy. But for something original created for Youtube, I’d have to pick Shipwrecked’s Kissing in the Rain Series, little vignettes about actors who keep finding themselves cast in movies together where they kiss dramatically in the rain.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you know?
In 2012, Emma Coats, who worked at Pixar at the time tweeted a series of Storytelling Advice, which I found so helpful I saved it on my phone at the time. Every piece of advise in there is essential, but the one I needed the most is n.5: Simplify. Focus. Combine Characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. I refer to this every time I feel like my story is getting too big or out of hand. So much so that the word document where I move cut scenes from the book is called “Detours”.
Did you have any input into the cover for REBEL? If so, what was it?
I could have—I saw it before the world did—but was such a beautiful cover from the beginning I really didn’t have anything to say except how much I loved it! The finished version is gilded and I can’t wait for everyone else to see it.
Top 3 Taylor Swift Songs and Why?
I Knew You Were Trouble – I listened to this song a lot when drafting REBEL, I kind of think of it as the anthem for the first few chapters of the book, where the ‘you’ refers to both Amani and Jin alternatingly.
Bad Blood – The whole 1989 Album is killer. But this song is standout for making me feel like a badass.
Sparks Fly – If this song comes on my headphones when I’m walking home I sometimes check around myself and if the street is empty there’s a chance I might dance to the chorus.
You can pre-order REBEL OF THE SANDS on Amazon
About the Interviewer
Cale Dietrich is a bookseller/YA writer from Brisbane, Australia. He has a level 100 Slurpuff, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about him/his priorities. His debut is called LOVE INTEREST and it comes out in 2017!