In November, fantasy writer Sarah Raughley released Legacy of Light, the third book in her Effigies trilogy (Simon Pulse). The series, about a group of teen girls who become celebrity superheroes after they develop the power to control the four elements, has been embraced by critics and fans. We asked Raughley, who lives in Ottawa, for some of her takeaways from the six-year journey of writing and publishing, and what she learned about herself, her characters, and the industry in the process.
Now that the final book is published, what have been some of your initial reactions to wrapping it up?
I actually thought that I would feel more sadness in finally having the last book released, and in a way, I do. At times I’ve been hit with a sense of nostalgia looking back at various points in the series’ development: brainstorming the book’s premise with one of my brothers at a restaurant one day; writing the first – pretty messy – draft for Fate of Flames during NaNoWriMo 2012.
But more so than anything else, I think I was relieved. I finally have a series under my belt. I finally did this thing. I’ve learned a lot and grown a great deal, but now I want to move on and do something else. I want to take the lessons I’ve learned through this process and use it to make my writing stronger.
What did you learn about yourself when writing these books?
I learned about my capacity for weaving very complicated tales. The back story for the Effigies series is pretty complex and putting it together often felt like completing a puzzle in the dark, but inevitably everything came together. Writing and finishing the last book gave me a lot of confidence as a fantasy writer moving forward.
What did you learn about your characters that you didn’t envision going in?
I knew they were going to be a team, but I didn’t know they were going to work that well together. While writing Legacy of Light, I really had this thought that, “Wow, no matter what happens, these girls are gonna be friends forever.” Actually having that feeling for fictional characters was pretty powerful.
What did you learn about the publishing industry?
Well, there were more technical lessons owing to experiencing for the first time what it’s like to be published by a bigger trade. This was the series that gave me my first royalties; and it was the first time I went through a more thorough editing process. But most of what I learned about the industry during these past three years probably comes from meeting with and talking to other authors at the promotional events I was able to do. I know that there’s a lot of effort that goes into launching your first book and a lot of anxiety in what happens if you don’t meet expectations. I know that there are great people that work at publishing houses that genuinely want you to do well and will give their all to help get your work out there. I know there are ups and downs, triumphs and heartaches. Going through the process of writing and publishing this series, I’m definitely in a better position to handle whatever might arise in the future.
Can you talk about the desire for strong female characters in today’s climate?
There’s definitely a hunger for it. But what I’m kind of happy about is that we’re seeing a more diverse understanding of what “strong” actually means. I think that there has been this expectation that being a strong female character means you have to be infallible – you have to kick ass, you have to be fearless, you have to be a perfect role model. And that idea is exactly what I wanted to challenge with the Effigies because these girls are very human. Yes, they fight, but they had to work hard to get to the point where they could be bad-asses. Yes, they are role models, but they screwed up a lot. There were moments where they turned on each other, where they underestimated their own value. They made mistakes, but they also had triumphs, and they also grew. And I think that is what we need: strong female characters don’t need to be caricatures. Part of the issue with patriarchal conceptions of female characters is that it doesn’t allow for dynamics, for humanity, for complexity.
I will say that in today’s climate, especially in movies, we’ve been getting more strong female characters especially in the superhero genre. Wonder Woman was a huge hit; Captain Marvel is coming out soon. And of course, we have Star Wars led by Rey. And there are more superhero women on screen in the vein of Katniss [from The Hunger Games], but I have always wanted to see more diversity in the women we uplift as heroes on screen. I think there’s definitely an appetite for this, which is why the female characters in the Black Panther movie became so popular. I do hope we continue to progress when it comes to showing different conceptions and images of what a strong female character looks and acts like.
Having diversity in YA has become a rallying call during the years you’ve published this trilogy, what has your experience been?
In terms of the YA industry, I think several things need to happen or continue to happen: first, we need to make sure that our conception of “diversity” is not limiting what kinds of stories can be told and sold. For example, when publishers say they are looking for books featuring black characters, what do they mean? There are a lot of books about black teens suffering from police brutality or suffering under the justice system (which is amazing and needed). But how many big books do we see about black characters in a Twilight or futuristic Hunger Games–like conflict? We need to make sure we don’t put stories in a box and demand certain tropes whenever we see black main characters, Asian main characters, etc., in play.
There also needs to be more effort in supporting marginalized authors. A lot of books written about non-white characters are still written by non-POC authors. There’s so many people out there writing from their own perspectives and all those people deserve to be supported.
I know one thing that scared a lot of people when they saw publishers asking for more diversity was the fear that this would end up being a trend, much like how paranormal, dystopia, etc., was a trend. But diversity shouldn’t be treated like a category nor should it be sprinkled in for the sale. Representation is all about reflecting life. Obviously, not every book can have every identity, and I don’t think it should become a process of ticking boxes or keeping score. But I think for publishers, simply publishing and supporting a greater spectrum of authors can fill bookshelves with a greater amount of perspectives and peoples. And I hope that’s where we’re heading.
Can you give us any info on your next project?
I’ve definitely got different projects I’m tinkering with and they’re all lots of fun. If you’re a fan of manga, anime, or just geek-stuff in general, I think you’ll love them.