Interview enough writers and you’ll start to see a pattern. Specifically, that some come to their stories the same way every time. Some always start with a character, some a scene, others the plot. But in the following email interview with writer Rebecca Ross about her new novel A River Enchanted (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), she mentions that the path to this epic medieval fantasy tale took a different route than her previous books.
To begin, what is A River Enchanted about, and when and where does it take place?
A River Enchanted is about a bard named Jack who is summoned home to the Isle Of Cadence after ten years away, estranged from his clan. Jack returns, albeit a bit begrudgingly, thinking it is his laird who has called him back, only to discover it is his childhood enemy, Adaira, who just so happens to be the heiress of the clan. But Jack soon sets aside his resentment and plans to return to the mainland when he realizes Adaira needs his assistance — girls are vanishing from the isle — and Adaira believes Jack and his music may be the key to solving the sinister mystery. As the two of them work together, they realize they make better partners than rivals, and that there is a deeper, darker secret of Cadence lurking beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.
And is there a reason you set it on an island as opposed to in a remote mountain village or somewhere else equally isolated?
The very first vision I had for this story was of a misty, mountainous isle. It was very unusual for me, since my stories always begin with character first, setting second. So the fact that the island came first was a sign to me that the setting was going to play a very important role in this story. It was also so striking that it never occurred to me to change the setting.
It sounds like A River Enchanted is a Gothic horror novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
Hmm. I wouldn’t classify it as gothic or horror, but more of an epic fantasy novel with medieval Scottish inspiration and a mystery at its heart.
I stand corrected.
Now, A River Enchanted is your fifth novel after The Queen’s Rising, The Queens Resistance, Sisters Of Sword & Song, and Dreams Lies Beneath. All four of which were Young Adult books, while River is for, uh, old adults. Did you sit down to write something for adults and A River Enchanted is what you came up with, or did you start writing A River Enchanted and realize oh geez, this is not for kids?
It was the “oh geez, this isn’t for teens!” realization. [laughs] Although let me add here that I do think A River Enchanted has crossover appeal, meaning teens who frequently read up for their age level might love this story. Same goes for adults who prefer to read YA. I think this is a story that will draw readers from both categories.
Where then did you get the original idea for A River Enchanted and what made you realize this was not a story for kids? You mentioned having a vision of the island…
The very first idea came from my vision of the isle, and I knew right away it was an enchanted place. I knew the roads were the only things to resist enchantment, and that the trees, the lochs, and the hills could shift and move. I knew the wind carried gossip, and that plaids could be woven with secrets to create armor. I was so intrigued by this setting that I had to ask myself, “Who lives here?”
I found Torin and Sidra first — two people in their 20s who had a marriage of convenience. Strangely enough, I still thought this story was going to be YA, and that Torin and Sidra would be playing supporting roles to the teen characters, who were Jack and Adaira. So I began to write with Jack as the main protagonist, but when I wrote Sidra’s chapter…I quickly realized that this book was pulling toward adult themes and tone. But it wasn’t until my critique partner asked me point blank, “Is this YA or adult?” that I truly acknowledged that I was writing a story for adults.
Speaking of your other novels, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on A River Enchanted but not on any of your previous novels?
Juliet Marillier is an author I’ve admired for many years now, and I think A River Enchanted is my first novel that truly has been influenced by her style and themes. If you are a reader who loves Marillier’s works, I believe you would also enjoy A River Enchanted.
How about non-literary influences; do you think A River Enchanted was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Can I say music?
James Horner, Ramin Djawadi, Eivør, Skippinish, Daniel Pemberton, and Bear McCreary’s music has all played a very important role in the writing of this book. There are some songs that I cannot listen to without thinking instantly of characters and moments in A River Enchanted.
And what about Sierra, your Frisbee-addicted Australian Shepherd? What influence did she and her crippling addiction to Frisbee brand flying discs have on A River Enchanted?
Sierra’s greatest contribution is making sure I get up from my desk and walk outside. There are times when I’m drafting and I’ll be hunched over my laptop typing, completely lost to the world, and she’ll come up to me and nuzzle my elbow. I know it’s time to close the laptop and get some fresh air.
She’s ten years old, and has been retired from Frisbee catching for a few years now, since she acts half her age and doesn’t know how to go easy on herself (a common Aussie dilemma). When she kept injuring herself catching the Frisbee, I knew it was time to put it away. Now we just enjoy nice and easy walks outside.
Now, you have already said that A River Enchanted is the first book in a duology called The Elements Of Cadence. What was it about this story that made you realize it needed to be told in two parts as opposed to one or three or thirty-seven?
When I was half-way through the draft, I realized I had some intense story threads and POVS that truly could not be wrapped up or resolved in one book. I needed another installment, and I’m so happy that my publisher agreed. I think duologies are truly a sweet spot in publishing — you get more than one book to explore your characters, themes, and plot, but it’s not too long of a series to have to commit to as a reader.
So, do you know what the other book will be called, and when it will be out?
I know the title, but I’m waiting to announce it. I’m not sure of the release date yet, but I’m hoping to unveil everything in the upcoming months.
There are some people who, upon hearing that A River Enchanted is the first book of a duology, will wait for the second book to come out before reading River, and may even decide to read both books back-to-back when the time comes. But is there any reason why you think someone shouldn’t wait to read A River Enchanted?
Yes, absolutely. I think you should read A River Enchanted as soon as it publishes because it is a book that not only delves into human experiences and emotions with a fantastical lens but is lyrically written. It is a story that I am enormously proud of, one that grew me the most as an author. I wrote a book that I was desperate to find as a reader, a novel that I wish I could stumble upon at the bookstore and escape into.
I will also provide a good recap in the beginning of Book 2, touching on all the most important aspects of Book 1, so don’t worry about forgetting things.
Earlier I asked if A River Enchanted had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think A River Enchanted — and thus The Elements Of Cadence duology — could be adapted into a movie, show, or game?
I think this series would work best as a television show. There is so much to unpack in my books — the mythology, the worldbuilding, the characters, the mystery, the history between the two clans, the magic, the slow-burning romances — that I think it would make for a very good show. I can also envision it being cinematically stunning and very atmospheric with the right director.
And if someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Adaira, Jack, and the other main characters, and why them?
I don’t often cast movie stars for my stories. However…I will say that Timothee Chalamet [Dune] would make an excellent Jack. As for Adaira, Sidra, and Torin, I would love to see up and coming actors and actresses fill those roles.
Finally, if someone enjoys A River Enchanted, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
If you love A River Enchanted, I think you will also really love my young adult debut, The Queen’s Rising. It has Celtic influences with Renaissance inspiration, themes of family and belonging, and characters to root for.