February 17, 2015

The Last True Escape: an interview with Kelly Riad, author of "The Queen of Arethane"

It all ends here. 

War has come to Arèthane. The land is divided. Jabari's armies are on the move. The Royal Family is tortured by long-hidden secrets. And with Jarrad gone, Emily must learn how to cope on her own. 

Can Queen Karawyn keep her country and her people from falling into the clutches of the evil wizard? Will Dafne solve the mystery of her birth? As Emily faces new struggles and old foes, once again the fate of Arèthane rests in her small hands. 
And just like it began… 

It all ends with a Door.

Gef: What was the inspiration behind The Queen of Arethane?

Kelly: Inspiration comes from the oddest places, sometimes. The series was originally intended to end at 3 books, but then you get to the middle of the third instalment and you find you have more story to tell or maybe you’re not yet ready to let go and so I split the third book into 3 and 4. It was the inevitable conclusion to the series, but what had inspired me while I wrote it, what had set the tone was actually a documentary about Bruce Lee (see what I mean about odd inspiration?)

I remember little detail of the documentary itself, but something one of the people interviewed said struck a note with me. He had essentially compared Bruce Lee to a falling star that burns too bright and too quickly. It was so accurate and created such a stunning imagery of a great person that I often thought of it throughout writing TQOA. At one point in the story, Karawyn, Queen of the Arèthane elves, even makes a vague mention to Master Lee, as a nod to his inspiration and that comparison.

Gef: When it came to the mythology and lore surrounding elves and the Fae, how intensive did the research get for you, and how much of a magic system did you need to build up before tearing into the story?

Kelly: Surprisingly, there’s very little in the lore about elves--at least, there is if you want anything outside of what Tolkien created. While building the creatures of my story, I snatched up every book on elves and magical creatures I could find, including even a Dungeons and Dragons reference guide. And where elf-specific mythology failed to provide reference, I turned to Greek Mythology and even science. When I first started writing the very first book, I wasn’t sure what I wanted my elves to be.

I had read and established the Light Elf vs. Dark Elf system, but it wasn’t until I was further into writing that Karawyn and Jarrad developed these additional powers due to their sorcery ancestry. Suddenly you had two elf races that had traits and subsequent powers the other did not, and then two elves that could do what other elves could not. In my mind, the system ended up looking like one of those walls in a whodunit movie with the red strings connecting different faces and places.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the fantasy genre?

Kelly: It seems to be the last place a person can turn to escape, to truly escape reality. Even in sci-fi you have hints of this world we live in now, though it may be thousands of years from now or on some other planet. There’s that real world gripping you with its hard, cold claws and yet in fantasy you shake the hand of reality free and visit places that are only possible because of imagination. You get to wander around in someone’s mind in the beautiful, magical and dark corners and get lost and forget yourself for awhile. I think there will always be something appealing in that.

Gef: Since this is the fourth book in your series, what's been the biggest eye-opener for you in terms of the experience of the lead up to the release of the first book versus this one?

Kelly: In terms of publishing, the fourth book was so much easier than the first. I sort of published Return to Arèthane under a cloud of confusion and ignorance, just throwing darts against the wall and hoping to hit the target. By the fourth book, I had a cover artist I had developed a relationship and trust with, I knew the systems for formatting better, knew who I could rely on for editing and polishing. I think the confidence is quite evident in the first book compared to the last. And it’s sort of like raising children - you’re so careful with the first that you’re almost overprotective; by the fourth you’re saying, “Go out and live!”

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kelly: I don’t know if there’s any bad piece of writing advice as it’s up to the writer to do what he will with it (I sound so diplomatic there!) but the most frustrating advice I encountered was hearing agents and established writers push the voice. The story must have a strong voice! Find your unique voice! I remember thinking with profound frustration, “What does that mean?!” I found that you can’t force your voice; you write how you write and either that connects with people or it doesn’t. When I stopped writing for other people and wrote for myself, I found I enjoyed it so much more and the readers seemed to, too.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Kelly: What I consider a guilty pleasure, I imagine most other women don’t, but I’ve never been a big fan of romance or rom-com movies. And YET! I absolutely love BBC-made romantic comedies and regency romance novels. I’ve watched The Decoy Bride more times than I care to count, but who can resist David Tennant and his quick, witty way of wooing?

Gef: 2014 is said and done and everyone and their mama has come out with year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites the year?

Kelly: Oh dear. This last year was full of amazing movies and shows, wasn’t it? I’m trying to think back on all the things that caused me to exclaim, “You absolutely must watch/read this!” and I think it was said too often. I fell really hard for Penny Dreadful--it was such a surprise how well it was done and how intriguing it spun the Victorian monsters and horror stories. I discovered the band, Royal Blood, and loved their song “Figure It Out.” The video is masterful and smart.

I read a lot because it helps me stoke the desire to write myself so it’s hard to nail that down, but I became oddly re-interested in American history and the history of the American dialect and so a friend recommended Bill Bryson. He’s been around for forever and probably not new to anyone else like he was to me, but I really enjoyed his book, “Made In America: A Formal History of the English Language in America.” Neil Gaiman’s Sandman made a return to comics and I’ve been loyal to the Fables comics for so long and a couple of really good series of those came out last year.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Kelly: I have too many books waiting to be completed, I feel like I’m trying to keep a bunch of plates spinning on poles. Right now I’m working on a Young Adult novel about an odd and troubled teen girl who runs away to live with her grandmother. After she discovers her troubles were because she’s a witch, she has to return home to face the consequences of her leaving and the people she left behind.

I also have a prequel to my YA novel, Always Me, another YA novel that’s sort of a demonic take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses and finally a follow-up series to the Arèthane Elves that follows the adventures of the next generation. While I’m absolutely horrible at social media and sometimes forget it’s there, I can be found on my facebook page and website, as well as on Goodreads. Links below!

Thank you so much for having me on your site!


  1. Really enjoyed the interview, thanks for having me on your site!