A Chat with Rae Carson

Jan 11, 2012

By Lisa T. Bergren

If you caught my review of The Girl of Fire & Thorns, you’ll know I was pretty captured by Rae’s story. So I thought I’d use my authorial superpowers to reach out to her and ask her some questions (okay, so I just emailed her). Here’s our chat:

There’s a vaguely Spanish feel to your fantasy world. If that’s right, why’d you choose Spain as a “lead” for landscape, language, names, etc? Have you been there before? And if it wasn’t Spain that inspired you, where did you draw your inspiration from?

Good observation! Yes, I took inspiration from historical Spanish Morocco. At the southern tip of Spain/northern tip of Africa, there’s this amazing marriage of culture and architecture and food. I was learning to speak Spanish at the time, and I knew I wanted a desert-based fantasy, so Spanish Morocco seemed the way to go.

Did you get to go to Morocco to research?

I did all my research via Internet. I love living in the future!

Me, too. But someday I want to GO there; reading about a rich locale always whets my appetite to see it for myself.


I was amazed at the amount of faith and religion in this book. What’s your own religious background?

I realize I’m taking a risk to say this to your audience, but I am not a religious person. I do, however, believe strongly that religion is a prime mover of history. In the U.S., 83% of the population affiliates with some kind of denomination. Of those, the vast majority are monotheists. It occurred to me that faith is an incredibly important part of the coming-of-age experience for a lot of teens. Why, then, don’t we find this experience explored more in teen literature? Or if we do, why are religious people so often portrayed as evil or crazy?

I decided that, in a world that showcases jihads and honor killings and church schisms right along with “See You At The Pole” and masterworks of religious-inspired art and CCM, that teens need more stories of kids coming to terms with their own beliefs while being hit with conflicting views from all sides. And they need those stories to be respectful and empathetic of their journey, not contemptuous or condemning of it.

We who practice our faith really appreciate that! But, hmmm…the fact that you’re not religious fascinates me, because a lot of what your heroine experiences, I could totally correlate with my own spiritual experiences. God’s urgings and warnings often feel like you describe when Elisa is feeling her “godstone” react–placed symbolically in her gut. How did you write that if you haven’t experienced it yourself?

Authors do this sort of thing all the time. Stephen King, for instance, makes me genuinely terrified–but I doubt he’s ever actually been chased by a mallet-bearing psychopath through a haunted hotel. It’s an author’s job to get inside the characters’ heads and offer up an authentic experience! It makes me so very happy that those moments resonated with truth for you.

Interesting. Someday I’d love to chat more about that. 🙂  Tell me…what did you learn, personally, through following Elisa on her journey?

I learned how very much I have to learn about writing, for one. I also learned that, like with Elisa, determination is often the key to success. My publication journey was fraught with obstacles!

What was behind you making our heroine a little pudgy with a serious taste for good food?

I was dating this guy who was obsessed with my appearance. He knew I would be the perfect girl for him—so long as I dropped about 5 lbs. Whenever I reached for seconds, he would say, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” I was a trim, athletic size 6 at the time. His standard of beauty was unrealistic and devastating.

After I broke up with him, I spent a day eating ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough) and thinking about the qualities I admire in my girl friends. “Skinny” was not on that list of qualities. So I jotted down the fictitious diary entry of an overweight, foody princess who was destined to save the world with smarts and compassion and determination.

I adore an imperfect-looking heroine, when readers tend to like the perfect. That was super brave of you! Also brave of you? The one major I-Can’t-Believe-She-Just-Did-That scene. Avoiding spoilers, did you think twice about carrying through with it? What made you decide to move ahead?

I knew from the very beginning that XXX was going to die. I have an uncle who is a Viet Nam vet, and I felt it would be dishonoring to him and to all the people in the world who risk their lives in war to not acknowledge war’s tremendous personal cost. It was also important to me that Elisa experience loss and consequences for the decisions she makes. It ultimately makes her a stronger person to know that she can survive anything.

Agreed. But man, I cried! What scene made you weep as you wrote it? (Pg #)

Right after XXX dies, there’s a moment on page 337, when a girl who has shown Elisa nothing but contempt is the one to comfort her. It’s a major turning point in their relationship that signals forgiveness and acceptance, and for some reason, it felt even more poignant to me than XXX’s death.

It was powerful! What scene made you so excited you could barely stay in the chair as you wrote it? (Pg #)

I had sooo much fun writing the sandstorm scene starting on page 162. It felt like writing a set piece for a blockbuster action movie. I keep telling myself that one of these days I’m going to write a book that’s nonstop action—just for the fun of it.

That was a good one! Among many others…thanks for stopping by my blog to answer my questions, Rae. I appreciate it. And I look forward to your next book!

For more on Rae, check out her web site, RaeCarson.com.

Book 2, Crown of Embers, releases in September 2012.