A lover of libraries, secondhand bookstores, and tea, Elle Katharine White is a native of Buffalo, New York, who is a fantasy writer everyone should keep an eye on. After contributing short stories to the collections In Creeps the Night and Call of the Warrior: An Anthology Presented by Read, Write, Muse, White published Heartstone, which was the first in the Heartstone trilogy. With the concluding volume – Flamebringer: A Heartstone Novel – being published soon and wanting to learn more about White’s career, I was able to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Elle Katharine White: Fantasy, science fiction, and mystery stories have always dominated the bookshelf of my heart. My mom used to work next to a library, and I would spend my afterschool hours sprawled out on the reading rugs with a book in hand, usually a collection of folktales from around the world. I’m still a sucker for anything with the word “myth” or “legends” in the subtitle.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a professional career as a writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
White: The seed of the idea had been in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember, but I never thought anything would come of it until I finished my first novel. That particular story was terrible and won’t ever see the light of day, but it was the first time I’d ever finished anything that long and it felt incredible. I set myself the challenge of finishing the next one, and then the next. It wasn’t until I went to my first writing conference, though, that I seriously imagined anything could come of my little hobby. That was when I found my writing tribe. Their encouragement is what pushed me to finally pursue this professionally.
Yanes: Prior to getting the Heartstone series launched, how did you first get your foot in the publishing world? On this note, do you have any suggestions for people who would also like to get into publishing?
White: My journey into the publishing world started with a year of cold queries and lots of rejection before I finally connected with my agent, and through her, with my publisher. To any writers out there looking to go the traditional publishing route, my advice is this: be patient, be persistent, be humble, and don’t ever stop writing. Don’t wait for inspiration—write like it’s your job.
Finally, be willing to accept constructive criticism. You will get a lot of rejection and that’s okay. Wear it like a badge of honor. Use the opportunity to learn from it, improve your craft, and above all, keep writing.
Yanes: You are born and raised in Buffalo, NY. While New York City gets a lot more attention, it always seemed to me that Buffalo had an underappreciated charm. With that said, how do you think Buffalo’s history and geography shaped how you tell stories?
White: That’s a perfect description for the Queen City. It really is full of underappreciated charm. National news networks tend to file everything in New York that’s not NYC under the title “Upstate New York,” and that irritates us Buffalonians to no end. (Buffalo, for the record, is in Western New York.) It’s a playful exasperation but exasperation nonetheless, being dismissed by out-of-towners simply because we’re not part of New York City. I channeled some of that exasperation into Aliza Bentaine’s character, especially in the first book. Being from a small and relatively unimportant area of the kingdom, she has to deal with a lot of snubbing from city folks.
When it comes to geographical inspiration, any discussion of Buffalo wouldn’t be complete without mention of snow. Barring chicken wings, it’s what we’re best known for. I grew up with lake effect snow and everything that goes with it: snowbrushes and salt and waking up early on the morning after a storm to listen to the glorious litany of school closings on the radio. Everyone in Buffalo has stories of where they were during particularly bad storms, and those are stories we share with great pride if only because we survived them. Nothing builds camaraderie like digging cars out of a snowbank together. There are several blizzard scenes in Dragonshadow that were inspired by real-life experiences.
Yanes: The Heartstone series is currently monopolizing your attention. What was the inspiration behind this series?
White: In general, the Heartstone books started as my attempt to unite two of my greatest literary loves, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and high fantasy. This specific story was born after my housemate happened to put on the movie How to Train Your Dragon while I was reading Pride & Prejudice. The image of Mr. Darcy riding a dragon was just too good an opportunity to pass up. I had to write that book.
Yanes: Flamebringer is the third book in the Heartstone series. What were your goals for this novel? Specifically, do you see it more as a standalone story, or do you see it as stepping stone for the plot’s overall development?
White: Flamebringer is the last installment in the Heartstone series and wraps up Aliza and Alastair’s adventures. They’ve come through a lot since that awkward meet-cute over a muddy inconvenience of hobgoblins, and happily ever after doesn’t come easily. Like all good things in life, they’re going to have to fight for it, and Flamebringer is the story of that struggle, both literally and metaphorically.
Yanes: Aliza Bentaine is an amazing character. Is she based on people you know or other literary characters? On this note, was there a moment in which she took on a life of her own?
White: Aliza started off based on the character Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, but it wasn’t long after starting Heartstone that she blossomed into her own person. The world she inhabits, full of monsters and subtle magic, demanded nothing less. Austen gave the world a heroine fully engaged with the society around her, at times challenging it, at times moving with it. I wanted Aliza to do the same, but their worlds are very different, and so too are their motivations. Elizabeth acts in response to the societal pressures to get married and provide for her family; Aliza acts in response to the need to protect her family from getting eaten by monsters every time they leave the house.
Yanes: Of the many things I find impressive about your writings is your attention to detail. How much time do you spend structuring your stories?
White: I’m a chronic outliner. Each chapter gets spelled out in detail, beat for beat and scene by scene. When I’m actually writing the story I’m willing to ignore that outline if I feel inspired in a different direction, but I’ve learned never to count on inspiration. (She’s fickle and a tease and never on time.) The outline keeps me grounded and gives me something to come back to when I’m stuck.
Yanes: When people finish reading Flamebringer, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
White: I hope to leave readers with a satisfying sense of closure as they **sniffle** cheer on Aliza and Alastair one last time.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
White: I’ve got an epic space opera in the works that I’m really excited about. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll sum it up in two words: singing spaceships.