Interview by: Hanna Lou R. & Andi P.

In case you missed it, the 12th annual Texas Teen Book Festival took over the virtual world on Halloween weekend! One of the amazing people in the line-up was Tracy Deonn, whose debut novel Legendborn took the world by storm in 2020! One of the most buzzed about books, and also a Teen Press Corps favorite (you can read Andi’s review here). We were so excited to get to ask Tracy all about writing, inspiration, finding joy during quarantine, and more! Check out the interview below.

Get your copy of Legendborn here!

Teen Press Corps: What was the writing process of Legendborn like?

Tracy Deonn: Writing Legendborn was at times entirely liberating, but also terrifying! It is the book that I needed as a teen and as an adult, so writing the story that is so deeply tied to both my personal story and to my own personal desires as a reader was very challenging. In terms of the nuts and bolts, the book definitely went through a lot of changes over time. I learn more about my story as I write it, and so there were a lot of false starts and experiments that helped me get to that final draft. 

If you’ve read Legendborn, you know that I love a nuanced, dynamic magic system! This aspect of the novel took over a year to refine. I used spreadsheets and several whiteboards to try out ideas and organize information. For example, I have one sheet that is just about the Scions (characters descended from the knights of the Round Table), their bloodlines, their rankings, and their magical inheritances and abilities. I also collaborated in Google Sheets with my Welsh language and medievalist consultant for all of the Welsh terms, both made up and real. And outside of that I worked with several consultants for research! I am an academic at heart in that way.

TPC: What inspired you to write Legendborn?

TD: It’s interesting, because a number of people have asked if I was inspired by King Arthur to write this book, but I actually didn’t start with King Arthur at all! I started with Bree and her question: “What happened to my mother?” When my own mother passed away, I learned that she had lost her mother at the same age that I lost her, and that the same had occurred with my grandmother and great-grandmother— a strange pattern with no explanation. As an SFF writer, I started to imagine a story that could explain the pattern of loss in my family, which led me to ask: “Whose lives and losses get memorialized and whose get forgotten?” That’s where Arthur showed up. To me, there was a natural connection from my question to this fifteen hundred year old idea about a man who may or may not have existed, but whose life and death are considered epic and legendary.

“I started to imagine a story that could explain the pattern of loss in my family, which led me to ask: ‘Whose lives and losses get memorialized and whose get forgotten?'”

TPC: Who is your favorite character and why?

TD: This is such a hard question! I think it changes week to week. Right now my favorite character is the resident Legendborn healer and descendant of Sir Gawain, William. He’s so level-headed and self-assured, but also fierce in his own way. I love his emphasis on informed consent with his patients and with Bree as a new member of the Legendborn. He’s a very satisfying character to write.

TPC: Did you always want to write YA fantasy?

TD: Even though “writing” was the first profession I remember declaring that I wanted at age nine or so, I wove in and out of that idea for a long time. The only thing I always knew I wanted to do was tell stories, and I was very fortunate in that I was able to pursue stories in many different formats. I wrote scripts and directed theater, I worked on video games, I was able to do documentary film shorts at one point. I always loved reading YA fantasy, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I started to seriously consider and pursue publication of my own.

TPC: Do you plan on writing a Legendborn series or just a sequel?

TD: Legendborn is a series! We recently announced the sale of the trilogy in Brazil, so I know for certain that there will be three books.

TPC: What is your favorite YA novel?

TD: These are hard hitting questions, y’all! I am so bad with favorites, so I’m going to tell you the first YA novel I ever called my favorite. That’s The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. It’s a classic contemporary fantasy, and part of a series that helped inspire Legendborn in some ways.

TPC: If you could be one character in your book for one week who would it be? And why?

TD: Probably Selwyn, just so I could enjoy his powers. I’m not interested in wiping peoples’ memories, but I love the idea of creating constructs from magic in the air. A week would probably be enough, though, because he has a very stressful life!

TPC: What has it been like getting such an outburst of positivity and love in your book? 

TD: It’s been incredible! Especially because the story comes from such a personal place. It’s really wild to hear people talk about their favorite parts of the book because very often those parts are my favorite, too. That’s not always the case and you can’t predict how people will receive your work, so I value those moments a great deal. I love that people respond to Bree, with all of her rage and passion and pain alongside all of her joy and power and resilience. I found a wiki for the series online the other day, and that blew my mind. I’m a lifelong fangirl so I know how big those can grow into! It’s been thrilling.

“…enjoy the ride and follow your instincts.”

TPC: What would you say to your younger self now that you’re here?

TD: I’d say to enjoy the ride and follow your instincts. As a kid I spent a lot of time worried about my destinations, and often questioned myself growing up. As an adult I can look back and say that every time I pause to enjoy the ride, it is worth it. And every time I follow my instincts, professionally and creatively, it is worth it. I am getting better about following that advice even now!

TPC: Quarantine has obviously been super tough but what is something recently that has brought you joy?

TD: Organizing my space! I worked from home before quarantine, but now that I’m spending so much time at home, I’ve been nesting in my office by hanging art on the walls and clearing clutter. I love walking into my writing space and feeling like the room and my desk are bright and full of possibility; it helps my creative brain move into that vibe, too.

Get your copy of Legendborn here!

And guess what? You can still catch the replay of Tracy’s panel at TTBF along with authors Trung Le Nguyen and Jenny Elder Moke here!