The following is an interview with author Kelly Braffet regarding the recently released fantasy novel, The Unwilling, from HarperCollins and MIRA Books. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Braffet about the inspiration behind the novel, the creative process in balancing various genres and narrative tactics, the impact that the story may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your fantasy novel, The Unwilling, through HarperCollins and MIRA Books! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Kelly Braffet: The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond: any injury or strong emotion suffered by one is suffered by the other. As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that her own position in the castle is perilous at best, and hopeless at worst. As the scheming courtiers and Gavin’s father weave webs of control around her, she starts to realize that her seemingly luxurious life is actually a trap.
BD: The novel deftly combines elements of speculative fiction with literary action and political turmoil. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these elements together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
KB: This novel had the unusual luxury of incubating in my head for almost twenty years, so I had plenty of time to work out the knots. I do a lot of what one of my grad school writing professors called “writing outside the story,” which literally just means that I open a new document and type my thoughts onto the screen as they occur to me, without thinking about prose at all. And I mean at all. It’s just about recording my thought process and trying to find a way through the tangle that makes sense.
I read a ton – fiction, nonfiction, history – everything I can get my hands on. I’m actually not a great schemer which is why my crime novels are never about elaborate long cons, so when it came to the political stuff, it was mostly a matter of figuring out what all of the characters wanted and what they could or would do to get it.
BD: What makes HarperCollins and MIRA Books the perfect home for The Unwilling?
KB: I really can’t imagine a better editor for this book than Kathy Sagan at Mira! From the very beginning, she understood the heart of the book, and she had amazing suggestions for how to make sure that readers understood, too. The book, which is massive in its final published form, was even longer when she first laid hands on it, if you can believe that. Her ideas for streamlining and cuts were instrumental in making sure that nobody looked at the page count and ran away screaming.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
KB: There’s a sequel in the works – hopefully, it’ll be out next year. I would love to do a third one, as well; I’m pretty sure the story stretches that far. As far as other entertainment mediums, if somebody wanted to film it or turn it into a graphic novel, I certainly wouldn’t object! I’d love to see it portrayed more visually.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that The Unwilling’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
KB: For me, the story is primarily about powerlessness, about what it’s like to feel powerless and about the search for some way out of it. I wish we all had access to the magic that Judah finds, but, in the meantime, I hope that her spirit and determination – and Elly’s, too! – is of some sort of comfort to people who feel similarly powerless.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
KB: Right now, I’m frantically working on the sequel to The Unwilling. There’s also another crime novel sitting on my desk just waiting to be worked on, and I have another weird idea that’s not quite crime and not quite fantasy kicking around my head. I’m also excited because the film version of my first book, Josie and Jack, is making its rounds through film distributors, and will hopefully find a home soon. It’s a great film starring Olivia DeJonge, William Fitchner, and Alex Neustaedter. I co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Sarah Lancaster. As Kathy did with The Unwilling, Sarah really understood the heart of Josie and Jack. I’m so lucky to have found people who can see so clearly what I was trying to do.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Unwilling and your other work?
KB: I’m probably most active on Twitter, @KellyBraffet. But my website is www.kellybraffet.com, and new updates always find their way there . . . eventually!
*Author photo (above) by Missy McLamb