Please welcome Kacen Callendar to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge
Interviews. Queen of the Conquered
, their adult debut, was published on November 12, 2019 by Orbit.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Kacen: Thank you! The first piece I remember writing was actually fanfiction when I was maybe about ten or eleven years old. It was for an anime called Card Captor Sakura, and I wrote an “alternate universe” fic based on The King and I. It was just as ridiculous as it sounds. As for original fiction, though, I was probably about sixteen and tried to write a fantasy novel about a girl who’d been raised on an island inhabited by only women. I still have pieces of the first draft somewhere on my laptop.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Kacen: I’m definitely a hybrid. I tend to write out a pretty loose, basic outline based on the beats from Save the Cat, and allow pantsing in between points, which could influence the outline and the direction of the story in ways I don’t always expect. There are also a lot of times when I don’t know the outline yet, so I pants until I get a better sense of the story, before writing out the beats.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Kacen: The most challenging thing right now is getting voices of critique and criticism out of my head and allowing myself to write the story I want to write, and continuing to believe in myself as an author. It can be very easy to persuade myself to give up on first drafts, and I have to work hard to force myself to keep going.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Kacen: Definitely other books and authors, movies and TV shows, and real-world events and society. For Queen of the Conquered, I was specifically influenced by the history of the Caribbean and novels like The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, and Octavia Butler.
TQ: Describe Queen of the Conquered using only 5 words.
Kacen: Brutal, unforgiving, lush, methodical, vengeful.
TQ: Tell us something about Queen of the Conquered that is not found in the book description.
Kacen: Queen of the Conquered feels like a blend of historical fantasy and classic mysteries, and is often described as a cross between Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.
TQ: What inspired you to write Queen of the Conquered? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Kacen: A number of things inspired me: the history of the Caribbean and the knowledge that Black people had once owned slaves were the initial spark of the idea years ago, but the story continued to develop and form in my mind as I experienced situations where I was an oppressed person with privilege, helping me to think more about Sigourney Rose’s character. I love writing SFF because these stories allow us to write metaphors and parallels to our real world that can help us writers and readers see our own world even more clearly.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Queen of the Conquered?
Kacen: Most of the research was based in the language of the Fjern, or the colonizers of Queen of the Conquered. The setting is based on my own home islands of the US Virgin Islands. Before being bought by the United States, the USVI had been a part of the Danish West Indies. Because of that, a lot of the language in the novel is Danish. For example, “Fjern” means foreign, and “kraft,” or the magical ability throughout the book, translates to power—both magically and systematically.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Queen of the Conquered.
Kacen: The cover was designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio, and I really lucked out—I think the cover is absolutely gorgeous. It depicts Sigourney with tropical flowers and a snake, which is a running theme throughout the book. My favorite part of the cover, though, is that it looks even more amazing beside the cover of the sequel, King of the Rising, which depicts Løren, a significant character in Queen of the Conquered and the main character in the second book.
TQ: In Queen of the Conquered who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Kacen: The easiest character was Sigourney, because even if it was difficult to put myself into her head and imagine being a horrible human being committing atrocities, a lot of her character was also based on something I’ve experienced a lot in my life as a person who is both oppressed and discriminated against, and someone who has experienced privilege, and been in situations where the two intersect. It did take vulnerability, but because I understand this experience so deeply, it was easy to draw from. The most difficult character would be all of the Fjern and kongelig on the island. I had to put myself into the minds of colonizers and enslavers and make themselves seem viably acceptance and redeemable to themselves so that they’d feel realistic, but I did not want to seem like I was attempting to make them morally ambiguous or relatable characters—I had to show that the narrative and I as an author understand that they are unforgiveable characters.
TQ: Which question about Queen of the Conquered do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Kacen: I wish someone would ask whether the spirits throughout Queen of the Conquered are real. The spirits aren’t real in the sense that this is a book, and it’s fiction, but I enjoy playing with the concept of reality and fantasy. For a lot of cultures and people, myself included, spirits are very much so real and revered, so while some readers might consider the spirits and ancestors in the world of Queen of the Conquered and King of the Rising as a part of the fantasy world, for me, they’re as real as the islands themselves.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Queen of the Conquered.
Kacen: Storms and the constantly encroaching tide are both metaphors throughout the book, so I’ll go with this atmospheric line from the beginning of chapter nine:
The sky, normally so blue, turns gray—and by the end of the morning, the trade-winds breeze turns to a wind that lashes rain upon the islands, blackened storm clouds rolling over the hills and waves crashing into the cliffs of Hans Lollik Helle.
TQ: What's next?
Kacen: I have three books coming out next year: first is the middle-grade King and the Dragonflies, out on February 4th. Next is the young-adult Felix Ever After, out on May 20th. And, finally, the sequel to Queen of the Conquered, King of the Rising, should be out in December of next year.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Kacen: Thanks so much for having me!
Queen of the Conquered
Islands of Blood and Storm 2
Orbit, November 12, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.
Sigourney Rose is the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage on the islands of Hans Lollik. When she was a child, her family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers, who have massacred and enslaved generations of her people — and now, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.
When the childless king of the islands declares that he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney uses her ability to read and control minds to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. But when she arrives, prepared to fight for control of all the islands, Sigourney finds herself the target of a dangerous, unknown magic.
Someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. As the bodies pile up and all eyes regard her with suspicion, Sigourney must find allies among her prey and the murderer among her peers… lest she become the next victim.
Queen of the Conquered reckons with the many layers of power and privilege in a lush fantasy world — perfect for readers of S. A. Chakraborty, Ken Liu, and Tasha Suri.
Kacen Callender was born two days after a hurricane and was first brought home to a house without its roof. After spending their first eighteen years on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, Kacen studied Japanese, Fine Arts, and Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received their MFA from the New School. Kacen is the author of the middle grade novel Hurricane Child
and the young adult novel This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story