This summer has been so good to me. Not only have I gotten to read some amazing YA fantasy titles, but I’ve also gotten to interview the authors who have written them. In this interview, I get to talk to Ellen Goodlett, the author of Rule and its incredible sequel Rise. Both novels have a dark atmosphere, where three sisters must compete for the crown that rejected them for most of their lives. Oh, and they’re also being blackmailed by someone who knows each of the girls’ sinister secrets. The characters are compelling and so full of emotion, and the romance is delectably swoon worthy. The best part about this is that the book is already out! You should definitely go out and get it both of these titles, if you haven’t had the opportunity to read them yet!

Hi Ellen! Tell us a little about yourself!

I’m an author, originally from Pittsburgh, and then I lived in New York for 7 years, before I left to go traveling full-time for the last 2 years. I’m still on the road now (in Europe at the moment). Rule was my debut novel, and Rise, the sequel, just came out this past June.

For those who don’t know about the series, can you tell us what readers might expect?

My elevator pitch is that it’s Pretty Little Liars meets Three Dark Crowns, with a touch of King Lear. If you like blackmail, intrigue, and juicy secrets set in a fantasy realm (with a hint of magic), then you’ll probably enjoy this series!

What research did you have to do when you started writing Rule and Rise?

Since it’s fantasy, I didn’t need to do a lot of the more intense research I might with contemporary or historical fiction. But in my worldbuilding, I did research settings and locations for visual inspiration behind the major locations in the book. I also used baby name databases to generate ideas for naming side characters and locations in the book. And of course, when it came to the physics of the occasional fight scene, or figuring out how long it might take someone to die when placed in a particularly compromising situation, I did do some basic medical research.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process with Rise?

Rise was a lot more difficult for me than Rule. Before Rule, I’d written 7 (never published) novels. In doing that, I got a good idea of how to write a first book, as well as a standalone novel. But Rise was the first time I had to write a sequel. Tying up all the loose ends from Rule, not to mention making sure all the clues were in the right places, especially when I couldn’t go back into Rule and change anything… that was a huge challenge. I definitely had a couple of moments where I worried I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Luckily, my editor very patiently talked me through some of the worst quagmires. When I was really stalled, I also found it helped to take long walks, just to clear my head and reset. That was often when I’d get an idea for how to fix the problem I’d been battling while parked in front of my screen for days.
In the end, I’m really happy with how Rise turned out, and excited to see readers’ reactions to it!

Could you tell us a tidbit about the girls that might not have made it into the book?

Akeylah is tougher than she gives herself credit for. Ren and Sarella’s fights have underlying sexual tension that neither of them will ever address. Zofi is less like her mother than she wishes she were, at least when it comes to forming attachments.

What was one of your favorite scenes to write in the books?

The ending. Without spoiling anything, I loved detailing where each girl winds up, and how their lives will continue from here.

What was your inspiration for the books?

I drew a lot of inspiration for the setting from traveling: visiting jungles, rocky beaches and deserts led to the settings behind Kolonya City, the Eastern Reach and the oasis where Zofi’s story picks up in Rule. For the plot itself, I really wanted to talk about the way women are forced into competition with one another, and what can happen when you push back against that expectation. Rule and Rise both also deal with family: the question of how you build them, where you draw the line between blood and found families, and how much you can necessarily trust someone just because you share a bloodline.

If you could pick real-life occupations for the girls based on the talents that they have in the books, what would they be?

Ren would be getting her law degree, with a 5-year plan to prosecute for the DA and then run for local office afterward. Zofi would be a programmer or web designer—something you can self-teach and do remotely, so she can travel while she does it. Akeylah would work with animals, maybe volunteering at an adoption center during the day, and painting the same animals at night (though she’d be way too shy to ever show anyone her art).

Was there anything about the books that was hard for you to write about, or made you pause?

King Andros’s story. I knew from the start what choices he’d made in the past and why, but when it came to writing Rise, it was challenging to portray the girls’ reactions to it all. Especially when part of me just wanted to let them live in happy ignorance, now that they’d found one another through him. But personally, I’d always rather know the full truth, and I think that as different as Akeylah, Ren and Zofi are in some regards, they’re alike when it comes to that. They’d rather know the truth and be disillusioned than to live in a fantasy world (no pun intended).

What is something that you absolutely must do or have when you sit down to write?

I try to give myself as few rules as possible, so that I have less excuses when it comes to being productive (for me, sometimes “I must have XYZ” can turn into “I don’t have XYZ, so I can’t write right now, back to Twitter instead”). But I do generally like to write in public spaces if I can, usually cafes or coworking spots, just to have the background noise of people coming and going. It’s also easier for me to convince my brain that it’s time to switch to work mode if I leave the place where I’ve been in sleep mode or hang-out-and-watch-TV mode.

Can you tell us about any projects that are coming up?

I’m working on something a little different next—it will be paranormal fantasy, with a contemporary setting. But you can still expect plenty of juicy drama, mostly female characters, gay girls kissing, and disastrous magic!

If you could give us one spoiler about Rise, what would it be?

Not sure if this really counts as a spoiler, but it’s something I want to make clear: I do put my queer characters through the wringer, but they survive in the end.

Will you be checking out Rule and Rise? Tell us in the comments below!