We never know when inspiration may strike. It may come when we’re sleeping. It may be when we’re driving. Or — if you’re writer Andrea Stewart — it may be when a friend chokes on something they bought in a food court in Texas. In the following email interview, Stewart explains how a friend’s momentary inability to breath inspired her to write The Bone Shard Daughter (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), the first book of her epic fantasy trilogy, The Drowning Empire.
Photo Credit: Lei Gong
To start, what is The Bone Shard Daughter about, and what kind of world is it set in?
The Bone Shard Daughter is an epic fantasy in an Asian-inspired setting that follows the stories of several characters: a daughter trying to reclaim her rightful place as heir, a smuggler who professes not to care but can’t seem to stop doing good things, two women in an established relationship struggling with the class differences between them, and a stranger on a remote island trying to unravel the mystery of why she’s there. These stories all intertwine and intersect in varying ways and to varying degrees, some of which don’t become apparent until further on, so I won’t spoil it. This all takes place on an Empire on the brink of revolution, where bone shard magic powers the Emperor’s monstrous constructs.
Where did you come up with the original idea for The Bone Shard Daughter, and how did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
I came up with the first inklings of the book years ago in San Antonio, at a food court. I was there with friends, and my friend Marina Lostetter (who happens to be an incredible sci-fi author) almost choked on a shard of bone she found in her lunch. It started me thinking about shards of bones being used for magic. I knew I wanted them to be used to power constructs, and what provides that power? Why, living people of course! So bone shards have to be taken from the living in order to work. From there, I started to build out the plot and the world, thinking about the repercussions of such a magic and how it would affect the people living with it.
And is there a reason it’s called The Bone Shard Daughter and not The Bone Shard Son or The Bone Shard Uncle or The Bone Shard Second Cousin Twice Removed On Your Mother’s Side?
I had briefly considered The Bone Shard Lady I Briefly Lived Next To In A Very Loud Apartment Complex, but it didn’t have quite the same ring to it.
No…no it does not. Anyway, earlier you said The Bone Shard Daughter was an epic fantasy tale. Are there any other genres at work in this story?
Oh, I definitely see it as epic fantasy. I think epic fantasy describes fantasy with really big stakes — which is what makes it epic. Is the world order at threat? Is the world itself at threat? Bam! Epic fantasy!
While The Bone Shard Daughter is your first novel, you’ve published a number of short stories over the last couple years. Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Bone Shard Daughter but not on anything else you’ve written?
Hmmm, that’s sort of hard to say. I feel like when I read something I enjoy, it goes through a process of digestion where I have all these bits and why I liked them just floating about in my head. I don’t think I always consciously draw from my influences. I would say I draw more influence from short stories I’ve read for my short stories and from novels I’ve read for novels. Short stories can be a lot more experimental in some ways. So I suppose the short answer is no? I can’t name specific influences for the book, because that would be me basically just listing all the authors I love and it is a loooong list.
What about movies, TV shows, or games; did any of those have a big influence on The Bone Shard Daughter?
I was definitely thinking a bit about the puzzle-solving aspect of video games when I was writing Lin’s storyline. In role-playing games especially — you pick up one item or piece of information, and you need this thing to solve a puzzle over here. Solving this puzzle gets you further along in completing your main quest, but it also unlocks yet another puzzle. Lin lives in a palace of locked doors and secrets, and while unlocking these doors gets her closer to her goals, they also uncover new questions.
In doing my due diligence for this interview, I went to your website, where the first category is not “Bibliography” or “About” but “Artwork.” Given that, why did you decide to do The Bone Shard Daughter as a prose novel as opposed to an illustrated one or even a graphic novel?
Heh, so the ordering of that was a bit arbitrary. I think I created the website back when I had more of a presence as an artist than as a writer. It took me a long time to make my first professional sale. That said, I always felt I had more potential as a writer than an artist. It would take me forever to illustrate my own book. I am not a quick artist.
In the same vein, the “About” section of your website says your parents, “…always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek…” Why did you decide to tell this story as a fantasy one and not a sci-fi one? Or a sci-fi fantasy one?
This particular story I knew would be fantasy. I’d actually already had two books go out on submission with my agent and fail to sell, and I thought maybe I just needed the right idea to start out with. I pitched I think it was five or six very different story ideas to her? She liked the idea for this one and a sci-fi idea. I was a bit farther along in developing the plot and ideas for The Bone Shard Daughter, so I went ahead with this one. I’ll still write the sci-fi one someday.
Now, The Bone Shard Daughter is the first book in a trilogy called The Drowning Empire. Do you know yet when the other two books will be out and what they’re going to be called?
I have ideas brewing for the next two titles, but nothing for certain yet. The next two books should be out the next following two years. So a-book-a-year schedule.
And is The Drowning Empire saga going to be just be the three novels or are you thinking there might be some side short stories or other books or maybe a prequel?
As of right now, I’m thinking it’s just going to be the three novels. I mean, I’ll never say never, but I have a lot of different worlds and ideas I’d like to explore, and only so much life left to live (is that morbid?)! If an idea occurs to me later that fits in this world, I’ll definitely dig into it. I can see a short story or novella more than I can see more novels taking place here, though.
As you may know, some people, upon hearing that The Drowning Empire is a trilogy, will decide to hold off reading The Bone Shard Daughter until the other two books come out, and some will even decide to read all three in rapid succession. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
Oh, I’m the author, so I’m incredibly biased and I’m going to say they should read The Bone Shard Daughter when it comes out. In the end, I think all authors want to be read (widely and quickly). Otherwise we’re doing a lot of yelling into the void — which can be cathartic, mind you, but ultimately unsatisfying in terms of impact.
In all seriousness, the plotlines in The Bone Shard Daughter come to a close by the end of the book. Are there new questions raised? New conflicts hinted at? Yes, most definitely. But I hope, in the end, for readers to feel like they’ve visited a nice new restaurant — the meal is over but they’d like to come back (please come back!).
Earlier I asked if The Bone Shard Daughter was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in adapting The Bone Shard Daughter and The Drowning Empire trilogy into a movie, show, or game?
Not yet! I know it’s being looked at.
If someone decides to do something with it, you have a preference as to the format?
I mean, I would love any one of those. I’d be torn between a show or a game. I think movies can be tough especially for a book with multiple points-of-view. There’s just not a lot of time to cover everything. I’ve really loved the fantasy shows that are popping up on streaming services these days, and it seems a good medium for novel adaptations. As for video games, I think the bone shard magic would be a fun thing to play around with in that context. I just don’t know if the story would translate well.
If The Bone Shard Daughter and The Drowning Empire trilogy were going to be adapted into a TV series, who would you want them to cast as Lin and the other main characters?
I think Lana Condor [X-Men: Apocalypse] would be lovely as Lin. I think she could pull off both Lin’s hesitance and her strength. And maybe Lewis Tan [Into The Badlands – season 3] for Jovis. He’s got that charisma I think. I wouldn’t be sure about the others. I honestly never even thought about it until people started asking me.
What about a game? Any thoughts as to what kind or who should make it?
If it were a game, I’d definitely say role-playing game with some action and puzzle-solving elements.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Bone Shard Daughter, what similarly epic fantasy trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The Bone Shard Great Aunt Beatrice, You Know, The One Who Smells Like Butterscotch to come out?
I’d suggest some other Asian-inspired fantasy that I’ve enjoyed. K.S. Villoso’s Wolf Of Oren-Yaro with just an incredible, nuanced protagonist you both root for and sometimes want to shake. Fonda Lee’s Jade City, which has a really interesting magic system and social structure. And R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, which is a brutal, engaging story that’s difficult to put down.