Christian fiction writer Carla Laureano is the two-time RITA Award-winning author of contemporary inspirational romance and Celtic fantasy. A graduate of Pepperdine University, she worked as a sales and marketing executive for nearly a decade before leaving corporate life behind to write fiction full-time. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and two sons, where she writes during the day and cooks things at night.
In this interview, Carla discusses her newest novel, Beneath the Forsaken City, which is book number two in her The Song of Seare Series.
FF: What inspired the story in your new book Beneath the Forsaken City?
This is the second book in the Song of Seare trilogy, which follows the attempt of two characters, Conor Mac Nir and Aine Nic Tamhais, to stop the sweep of evil magic from overtaking their island. In the first book, Conor was separated from Aine to save his life and build the skills he would need to face his foes, but there was always the tension between his call from God and his love for Aine. I turned up the tension even more in this second book by truly testing their devotion to their faith and to each other: only two days after being married, they’re shipwrecked and separated, with neither knowing if the other survived.
I was inspired by the idea that only God knows the full picture of our lives, and at times, we’re just walking blind into what looks like trial upon disaster. It’s easy to trust when you think God is giving you everything you ever wanted; it’s more difficult when it looks like He’s taking that all away.
FF; What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
Conor and Aine are truly some of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. Conor isn’t the typical fantasy action hero, in that while he becomes exceptionally good with a sword, it’s through dedication and pure grit rather than any innate, otherworldly talent. In truth, he’s happier playing music and studying than he is fighting: he’s a gentle soul forced into an ugly situation. We share a “never say die” sort of approach to life, so it was easy to imbue him with that same stubbornness.
Aine, on the other hand, originally came as a response to the sudden spate of sword-wielding shieldmaidens in fantasy; I didn’t like the idea of physical prowess being the only kind of strength a woman could own. She’s actually pretty good with a bow and has a sharp mind for military strategy, being raised to someday take over clan leadership in her home country, but her real strength is her unwavering faith and her willingness to step into necessary roles, however distasteful, dangerous, or difficult. She is the real rock in this couple, and I felt like women could relate to that kind of strength.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
I’m not sure he surprised me the most, but I think the one that will surprise readers the most is Haldor, a Northman (Viking) who commands the settlement that captures Conor after his shipwreck. (I promise that this isn’t much of a spoiler… it happens in the first few chapters of the book!) We often get a picture of the Scandinavian raiders as being violent and pitiless warriors, thanks to Christian writers who took every opportunity to demonize them in literature in the early Middle Ages. Some of these stories are undeniably true, but their society also owned a rich and complex cultural life. I wanted to portray a more balanced picture of the people: while the violent aspects are true, they were still God’s children who needed to hear His truth.
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
Science tells us why: when we read a story, the processes in our brains almost exactly mirror what we would happen were we to experience it in real life! Being able to step into someone else’s shoes, even fictional shoes, lets us see life from a different perspective. It makes us kinder, more empathetic, and more likely to reach out to people who aren’t exactly like us. From a spiritual perspective, I always like to quote a friend who says that stories “bypass the brain and go straight to the heart.” We’re much more likely to take spiritual messages to heart when we come to them gradually along with the characters than if we have them spelled out plainly for us.
FF: What can readers expect from the rest of this series?
The final book in the series gets darker and more dangerous, with new problems presenting themselves and old foes finally forcing a climactic battle. This last book explores God’s faithfulness in dark times without shying away from the personal cost of war and violence. I’m exceptionally proud of The Sword and the Song, though it remains the hardest book I’ve ever written.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
As you might guess from my other answers, I did a fair amount of research on dark ages Irish/Celtic society. One of my main resources was a weighty two-volume social history of Ireland that covered everything from how the ancient Celts dressed their hair to what kinds of weapons they used in battle to the penalties for every imaginable crime. I, of course, took liberties with history to create my fictional Seare, but the backbone of the society is rooted in fact.
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
No matter how dark the situation, as long as there is God, there is always hope. Bad things happen in life, but for those who trust God, we can believe that He will redeem them in this life and the next.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
It’s tricky to straddle the line between genre expectations and uniqueness. I always want to give my audience the elements that they expect from a fantasy novel, but I also want to surprise them along the way. I think it’s a tension that all writers feel, but it can be particularly daunting for fantasy writers, considering the giants of the genre who came before us.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
Guy Gavriel Kay’s books showed me how effectively history could be used as the basis for a fantasy world; Juliet Marillier’s eerie and ethereal Celtic fantasies pretty much set the bar for the subgenre. Then there are the great writers of both classic and Christian fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, C.J. Cherryh, and Karen Hancock. I also learn a lot about storytelling in general from other genres. Reading and writing romance, for example, taught me how a romantic relationship can be used as a catalyst for a character’s internal change. Inspiration is everywhere if you’re open to it!
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
The things that I’m thinking about or struggling with always find their way onto the page, consciously or not. I don’t generally set out with a spiritual message in mind: it usually grows naturally from the characters and the challenges they face. Conversely, I’m always surprised to find God using my own words to teach me a lesson I personally need to learn. I think most writers are figuring out the world around us as we put pen to page, and the Lord has clearly always known that the best way to get through to me is through my own writing. It’s easier for me to sort out my own struggles through a character’s faith journey, even if I don’t realize it at the time.
Beneath the Forsaken City
The Song of Seare Series # 2
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, YA/Teen
Release Date: June 8, 2021
With a storm on the horizon, who will stand against the darkness?Conor and Aine have barely escaped Seare with their lives. Conor knows he must return to find the harp that could end the Red Druid’s reign of terror, but he must first see Aine safely to her family home on the isle of Amanta. When an unnatural storm tears them apart, they find themselves in even more danger than that which they fled.Because magic is not the only thing to fear in Aine’s homeland, where the Sofarende invaders harry the coasts and shifting clan alliances make it impossible to know who to trust. Conor and Aine must cling to the whispers of Comdiu’s plans for them and their enduring love for one another, even when the future looks darkest.But with betrayal at every turn, will they give into fear? Or will they learn to depend on Comdiu completely … before all hope is lost?
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