I wasn’t familiar with Paula Weston before becoming part of the tour. This is a shameful oversight which I am more than happy to have rectified. Her writing is compelling, her storytelling captivating, and her style fresh and fast-paced. Paula is Australian, and she works in communications – this makes sense when you see the ease with which she can draw you in to a story. At its core, I think “Shadows” is a mystery, and like any good mystery, it’s full of sexual tension and snappy dialogue.
Before I get to the interview I did with Paula, I want to tell you a little bit about some of the reasons I have fallen in love with her Rephaim series (of which “Shadows” is the first): A few years ago, a few of my friends began playing a Live Action Role Playing game that’s all about fallen angels. A while after that, I offered to help out on the editorial team for the main rulebook. I love that game, I love the setting, and I love the mythology – not necessarily the touchy-feely squirrel-by-the-light-of-the-full-moon angel spirituality that I don’t quite understand, but the actual nuts-and-bolts of the Abrahamic tradition’s angels and demons.
And Weston blasts this setting right out of the water with a few new twists, some very keen ‘powers’, and a narrative that drops you right into all of it seamlessly. So. There’s my gushing. I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read the next in the series (“Haze”). The series is geared for a young adult audience, but like all *really good* YA fiction, it’s what I want to read too.
Paula and I got in touch with each other, and had a bit of back-and-forth, which was awesome, and then I dropped the following bombs in her inbox. Sorry, Paula. ;P Now, to the questions:
What is the first book you remember reading and what’s on your nightstand reading stack now?
As a child, I had a large collection of Little Golden Books and beautiful fairytale picture books. I most vividly remember Snow White and Red Rose, and Beauty and the Beast.
Currently reading: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (Aussie author – cool book!)
Here’s my current TBR pile (in no particular order):
The top book, of course, is one of the most talked-about YA novels this year, which I’m itching to read. The second is a classic fantasy novel recommended to me by my local bookseller. The next six are hauls from book festivals I’ve been involved in this year, written by authors I got to hang out with. (These are the ones I haven’t had a chance to read yet – there’s a stack I have). The bottom two are acclaimed novels by authors with my Australian publisher. (I also have Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone waiting on my kindle.)
What is it that piques your fancy about the paranormal?
Any story that has characters you can connect to and an engaging plot offers a chance for escape, but with paranormal stories (or any kind of speculative fiction for that matter), escapism reaches a whole new level. Paranormal and urban fantasy stories tend to be set now, in a world that’s very recognizable to us. A big part of the attraction of these stories is the idea of the ‘other’ existing in our world. So often in life we feel powerless, so there’s something deeply appealing about the idea of another reality outside our own where other rules apply. Where people like us – and not like us – have powers and abilities to shape their own destinies. In these worlds the stakes are always heightened, frequently involving the possible end of our world, which ramps up the tension. These types of stories offer endless scope for creativity.
Do you consider yourself to be more comfortable with spiritual/mystical beliefs or with rational, scientific ideas?
I’m comfortable with both. Science gives us technical, clinical explanations about existence, while spirituality and myth provide context for our world and how we fit in it. There will always be things science can’t tell us – nebulous, esoteric things – that myth and faith give meaning to. As a storyteller, myths and the idea of the ‘other’ (whether it’s supernatural beings, magic-wielders or worlds beyond our own) are ripe with possibility.
Who is your favourite angel/character in “Shadows”?
Tough question! Of course I’m deeply attached to Gaby. But Rafa is probably my favourite to write because, while he’s a brutally efficient fighter and frequent smart-ass, he’s also completely adrift when it comes to interacting with the Gaby he finds in Pan Beach (as opposed to the Gabe he used to know). He also doesn’t have much of a filter, so his dialogue is always fun. If – in some bizarre alternate reality – I was to meet my characters, I’d probably want to hang out with Ez. She’s a badass fighter but also empathetic and level-headed. And she has Zak for backup. [Ed. Note: I'm am SO ON BOARD with Rafa and Gaby. They ooze sexy.]
What is the ‘kernel’, or the soul of “Shadows” and the Rephaim series?
I’d say: redemption. The series is intended to be fun, fast-paced and occasionally sexy, but along the way I’m exploring ideas of identity and responsibility: are we who we are today, or who we were in the past? The story also looks at the consequences of choices, not just those made by the Fallen, but also the Rephaim themselves - especially Gaby, Rafa and Jude.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing “Shadows”?
Initially it was working out the mythology. Once I realised the world of fallen angels would provide an anchor for my characters’ journeys, I had to decide how to handle the religious aspect – especially because I was taking my base mythology from an apocryphal historical text (the Book of Enoch, which talks about Semyaza and two hundred other fallen angels). There are really three main ways to deal with angels and demons influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition: make the theological aspect a core part of the story (which can be heavy-handed), ignore it completely (which can seem to be a cop-out), or acknowledge it and move on. I opted for the latter: the basis of the story is important, but it’s the imaginary world I’ve created from there (the world of the Rephaim) that’s at the heart of the story.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing a series?
For this particular series, it’s been keeping track of all the threads I’ve created and making sure they all come together neatly at the end. I’ve made the Rephaim series particularly challenging because I’ve got several levels of action going on: what’s happening now, what happened in the past (that’s still be revealed) and what will happen when all the secrets come out. Plus, there are multiple levels going on with my narrative character: who Gaby is now, who she used to be, and how people from her past react to both versions – all of which have to make sense at the time, and in reflection at the end of the series. There are also important sub-plots to plant seeds for along the way, so that the pay-off at the end is worth the journey. My aim is for people to get to the end of the book 4 and want to read the series all over again so they can experience it knowing the whole story. Ambitious, I know.
Other than the obvious tie-in with traditional Abrahamic names, is there a deeper significance to the names you chose for each Rephaim/Fallen character?
Without being too spoilery, the deeper significance relates to why Nathaniel chose that naming convention for each of the half-angels – which is also linked to his beliefs regarding their destiny. I realise that sounds rather obtuse, but it will make more sense as the series unfolds.