Interview: Alina Sayre Author of The Illuminator’s Gift

FINALIST of the 2016 Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Independently Published Book

“Ellie is a 12-year-old orphan who joins the crew of a flying ship and discovers she has magical powers, but will they be enough to combat a deadly enemy bent on destroying her world?”

Shelf Unbound: How did you go about creating your main character Ellie?

Alina Sayre: For me, characters tend to come from lots of different sources. The first inspiration for Ellie was a little girl I met when I was a 15-year-old junior camp counselor. Her eyes were so blue they were almost clear, and her name was Ellie. I filed the idea away in a notebook. Over time, other ideas joined it: a character who could see a deeper truth behind the reality of the world, someone with a talent for manuscript illumination. Plus, for some reason, I’ve always loved orphan stories. Eventually, about eight years ago, all these ideas started to spin together, and the character came to life. 

Shelf Unbound: This is Book 1 in your the Voyages of the Legend series. Did you map out what’s going to happen in the whole series before you began writing the first book?

Sayre: I wish I could say I’m that organized, but my writing style is sometimes known as “pantsing” (flying by the seat of one’s pants). I tend to let each book, each set of characters, drive the story, so that the first draft really is a voyage of discovery (followed by a heck of a lot of editing). I do work within a general outline, but the Voyages of the Legend series has definitely evolved since I started writing it. 

Shelf Unbound: What are the challenges of writing a series as opposed to stand-alone novels?

 Sayre: On the one hand, I thought it would be easier to write a series, since many of the characters carry over from book to book and I’m already familiar with them. On the other hand, sequels pose a particular challenge: The writer has to set new goals, raise the stakes, and present a compelling adventure, all without repeating or contradicting anything from previous books or letting the characters get static or flat. Luckily, I enjoy a good challenge!

Shelf Unbound: What authors or novels have influenced your writing?

Sayre: I could write you a novel just on that topic. My home library is full of “book friends” who have kept me company and mentored me on my own writing journey. For this particular series, though, I have to say that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Kate DiCamillo, and several poets helped shape the way I thought about writing a story.

Shelf Unbound: What do you enjoy about writing middle-grade fiction?

Sayre: Well, I’m pretty sure I’m eight years old on the inside, so I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing in this genre. But really, the late elementary/early middle school years are a crucially formative time. Students at this age are trying to figure out who they are, what they love to do, what kind of people they will be, and navigating life at this age can feel like trying to cross a swamp full of alligators backward and blindfolded. I know that books were important friends and guides to me as I navigated those difficult years of my life. If I can write books that offer that same friendship and guidance to middle-grade readers and inspire them to be the kind and brave heroes of their own stories, then I can be satisfied that I’ve done something worthwhile. 

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