One of the hallmarks of urban fantasy tales is that they’re usually set in contemporary or near-contemporary locations. But in the following email interview with Keren Landsman, she talks about how hers, The Heart Of The Circle (paperback, Kindle) has some contemporary social issues at work in the story as well.
To begin, what is The Heart Of The Circle about?
Reed, an Empath, and Daphne, a Seer, try to maintain a normal life, until Daphne receives a vision of Reed’s death. Add some religious extremists, the murder at equal rights marches, and the inability of the police to protect minorities, and you get an Israel very close to our own, minus the magic. The weather, however, is accurate.
Where did you get the idea for The Heart Of The Circle, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote this novel?
I really, really, really wanted to write a happy-romantic-sweet story that takes place in a very happy-romantic-sweet version of my world. It lasted about three pages into the first draft and then I realized real life was pouring into the story and started again, this time in my real-Israel, only with magic. When I finally understood that my story is about real people in a real world who fight against religious extremists, everything else kind of dropped into place.
It sounds like The Heart Of The Circle is a fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s urban fantasy, and the story is set in a real city. If you ever visited Tel Aviv you will recognize some of the places mentioned (though not always by their real names). However, I think there are other threads in the story. There’s romance, there’s action, there’s a bit of a dystopian-near-future flavor, which unfortunately got a bit too real in the time since I wrote the book…
The Heart Of The Circle is your first novel, but you’ve written a number of short stories. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on The Heart Of The Circle but not on any of your short stories?
I think I’m basically writing about the same themes in my long fiction as in my short form, because they are things that I really care about. I believe in equal rights, I believe in coexistence and I write about those topics. The main influence on The Heart Of The Circle came from real life and not literature — the murder in the Pride parade in Israel, 2015. I think anyone who knows a bit about Israel’s recent history will find it in the book, and can see the influence throughout it. After my editor accepted the book she sent me to do homework and to read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, to understand how to increase the sense of overwhelming danger in the story. During the final stages of the editing process I inserted a little bit of The Hunger Games inside the book intentionally.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on The Heart Of The Circle?
I have a friend who said that this is what Friends would look like if it were in a dystopian universe — lots of laughter and love, but overarching fear.
Now, The Heart Of The Circle was originally released in your home country of Israel, and written in Hebrew. Besides being translated to English, is there anything else that was changed or added for this new edition?
Actually yes, I did do some changes between the Hebrew version and the English one. After the book was released I was fortunate enough to speak with readers who had great suggestions about dialogue and characters, which I then had a chance to change in the English version. It was mainly changing a few lines here and there to address some issues in the book. I hope I did a good enough job.
The other change was dropping some too-Israeli references, some things that just weren’t clear enough to someone from a different background. I was sad to let them go, but it was necessary for cultural adaptation. I have to shout out here Daniella Zamir, my translator, who did an amazing job keeping the story without losing clarity for a person from a different culture.
You have said that The Heart Of The Circle is a stand-alone novel, but that you are writing a sequel. Is your thinking that this will be a series of self-contained novels, or just the two, or what?
After finishing the book, I was convinced the story was done, and I was going to continue to work on something else. However, the characters weren’t done with me, it seemed. While the book was going through editing I started working on the sequel, which starts a bit after The Heart Of The Circle ends, and is told from a different point of view. I love stand-alones, like the Pern chronicles or the Vor saga, and I’m trying hard to keep the second book a closed story as well, while expanding the world and deepening the relationships in it.
And what are your plans for this series?
I don’t know! I wish I did, but right now I’m only planning a second book. If I sell it, I’m hoping for a third, but I’m not allowing myself to be optimistic yet. Optimism is not for dystopian authors.
Earlier I asked if The Heart Of The Circle had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
I didn’t receive any offers. I would love to see my characters on screen, to experience how other people see them. Writing is extremely lonely, and I never know how anyone else might imagine my story in their mind. Watching the book on screen would definitely lift some of that mystery.
If The Heart Of The Circle was being made into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast the other main characters?
I have no idea! I think it would probably work best as a mini-series, but it’s mainly since we’ve just finished watching Chernobyl, and the intensity of the episodes left its mark on me. You should ask me again after I finish Jane The Virgin…
Whatever the adaptation may be, I would love to see a table top game like Privilege! that’s mentioned in the book.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Heart Of The Circle, what similar fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
One? I have to pick just one? If you enjoyed Heart Of The Circle, please read more, and as many as you wish!
I think the closest in flavor are Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory, which has an amazing sense of friendship and love, Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, and Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, both of which have a strong heroine who must struggle against an entire society, and maybe Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones in which family and friends are extremely important to save the world.