By Zabé Ellor
Set in a planet-sized matriarchal city where magic and technology freely bleed together, a male courtesan’s quest for vengeance against his aristocrat father draws him into an ancient struggle between dragons, necromancers, and his home district’s violent history.
In the world-sized city of Jadzia, magic and ancient science merge into something dark and wondrous.
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Hello and welcome! I had the incredible pleasure of interviewing Z.R. Ellor, a brilliant and talented author, about Silk Fire and writing and inspirations. Check this interview!
1. Silk Fire is set on a planet-sized matriarchal society where magic and technology are intertwined, with rich and lush worldbuilding, where you created past history and traumas, politics, languages, rules, traditions, substances, powers…The reader is right away surrounded and thrust into a new and captivating world, highly original. What inspired you to create and write it?
For me, I think a lot of fantasy is rooted in exploring some version of the past. I wanted this world to explore the contemporary, to paint tightened layers of emotion and magic atop a world that in some ways is recognizable and in some ways is very distant from our modern day.
At the core of this world, or at least the part of the world explored in this novel, is the tension between the future and the past. The rulers of the War District—Koré’s estranged family—define themselves as the heirs to a violent history, a history that has cast significant shadows on the modern day. The conflict between War and the Engineering District, the treaty governing the judge’s succession, the existence of the Fire Weavers—all the institutions Koré, Ria, and Faziz deal with are the products of a struggle much bigger than themselves. And Koré’s character arc is rooted in understanding himself and his traumas as the complex result of this history, and deciding to make his own future instead of continuing to play the role society lays out for him.
2. Silk fire has one of the best characterization I have ever read, since the characters, from mains to side ones, are complex, flawed and realistic. They mess up, they are angry, upset, they make mistakes. I love them very much. Who’s the closest to you and who was the most difficult to write and why?
Out of all the characters in the novel, Koré’s journey is definitely the closest to my own. His story is rooted in a lot of the personal things I was struggling with when I wrote the book, and through writing his character, I found the strength to face those challenges. In fact, the biggest challenge of writing him was that so many of his actions and reactions only made sense after I worked out the different ways they related to me.
Faziz was the hardest character to write. Compared to Koré and Ria, he lacks the magic and power, and I had to do a lot of thinking to figure out his place in the plot. At the same time, I know I needed him, because I needed the viewpoint of a character who lived outside the upper class. Finally, I realized it’s his difference from the others that makes him strong. He’s completely ruthless and unapologetic when it comes to fighting for the people under his protection, and his determination and inventive spirit put him on level with bright, powerful characters who let their arrogance lull them into a false sense of security.
3. How was born this book? Were there many drafts and how different were they from the last one?
I’m so curious about deleted scenes!
The overall plot of the book didn’t change from the first draft to the final, though there were at least five or six different versions. I always knew the basic bullet points of the story I was trying to tell, and most of the slight changes I made were me experimenting and trying to figure out how to best fit Faziz into the novel.
I also made quite a few changes to the finer points of characterization and dialogue. This was my first time writing romance, and so the conversations between Koré and his partners took lots of development to flesh out the emotional intimacy. The first draft of the book was much shorter, and that’s because it didn’t have much of Koré’s internal monologue. An excellent critique partner told me to put that deep emotion in, and that helped gift him a voice. While the overall sequence of events has remained the same since 2017, the details took a lot of tweaking to right.
4. In Silk Fire, Koré struggles to realize his self-worth and that he’s worthy of love and protection and his journey was one of my favourite. If you could describe him with a quote, what would it be?
I think my favorite Koré quote is from near the end of the book where he thinks “Love hasn’t blunted my edges. It’s cast me wicked sharp where it matters most.” Koré struggles to be vulnerable. At heart, he’s a deep-feeling, loving person, and people have taken advantage of his nature to hurt him. So he’s put up walls. He’s developed a fear of love, and a deeper, more profound fear of showing the world how much he loves, how much he feels. But to connect with Faziz and Ria, he’ll need to show the world these parts of himself that he’s hidden away for his own protection. He needs to develop a relationship with himself that’s authentic, not just rooted in society’s gender roles and what other people have done to hurt him.
It’s not a coming-out narrative—Koré has been openly and securely bisexual since he was a teenager—but it’s about coming into your identity, understanding how it can be a source of power.
5. I personally love the trio and how they support, love and help each other. Their relationship was realistic and well written. I love there wasn’t any love triangle or petty games. Why did you choose this relationship for them?
From the beginning, I knew the relationship between Koré and Ria would be the driving engine of the book. They’re similar in many ways, and different in many others. They care deeply for each other, and yet their different motivations and positions within this world, their professions, and their cultures, create real obstacles for them to work through. Ria struggles to understand how Koré’s past trauma gives him trust issues; Koré struggles to communicate his needs to Ria. So that was what I started with—two people who immediately have this chemistry, this spark, and need to learn and grow what it means for them.
But since this was my first time writing an openly bisexual character, I wanted Koré to also have a male love interest. And because Koré and Ria struggle so much to understand each other, I wanted Koré and Faziz to have this very innate, very intimate connection. Both in their own way, they’re gender-nonconforming men who have risen to positions of power through unconventional means. Koré doesn’t need to pretend to be someone he isn’t with Faziz—and that in itself frightens him! Faziz helps him explore parts of himself he’s kept quiet, and in return, Koré helps Faziz re-connect with his own desire to be loved.
7. Could you tell me more about your future projects, like Acting the part?
Acting The Part is a YA rom-com about a queer teen actor navigating their gender identity while pretending to date their costar! It’s a fun, upbeat story about pop culture and self-discovery.
I’ve also just announced my first YA fantasy novel, No Better Than Beasts. It’s a dark retelling of The Nutcracker full of morally-grey queer characters, featuring machines fueled by human souls and a forest that turns anyone who enters into an animal. The main characters are a brother and sister, each struggling with an abusive history in different ways, and they both have their own romance arcs!
8. Is there a genre you want to explore?
Yes! I would love to write a middle grade fantasy novel. I think there’s an excellent challenge in trying to write something so short and simple for young audiences. I also have a bunch of fun adult rom com ideas I’d love to write!
9. What’s your most recent favourite author(s) and/or book(s)?
My most recent book obsession has been The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty, which is the first trilogy I’ve read completely in a long time. I love the worldbuilding, the magic, and the high stakes, and it also has some excellent romance!
10. What’s your writing process? Do you enjoy listening to music while writing or do you create your worlds and characters in your mind first or do you prefer already putting them on paper/pc?
This might be odd, but I listen to both music and podcasts while writing, just to have background noise, and I draft on my phone as often as I draft on my PC! I have special notebooks for each story where I brainstorm ideas freehand as well. Often I’ll have a seed of an idea in my head, but I need to actually write it several times before I really know where it’s going and what I want to say. So there’s a lot of papers I toss out!
Do preorder this book, it’s amazing!!!! Check my ARC review on this blog or on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CbnAMMKAeJM/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Zabé / Z. R. Ellor is a writer and lit agent from Washington, DC. He holds a BA in English Lit and biology from Cornell University. When not writing, he can be found running, playing video games, and hunting the best brunch deals in Dupont Circle.