Author Spotlight: Natalia Leigh talks Song of the Dryad
I'm so happy to be featuring Natalia Leigh on the blog today! Natalia graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. While in school she enjoyed blogging for her university and had multiple articles published in CSU's school paper, The Collegian. Natalia worked as an English tutor and now enjoys assisting her clients with their own fictional works, as well as sharing her writing experience on her popular YouTube channel.
Natalia's latest novel, SONG OF THE DRYAD, releases on October 20th. Check out the official book trailer and synopsis below!
Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Barclay is still haunted by an encounter she had eight years ago—a run-in with a fairy beast that had eyes like witchlight and a taste for flesh. Charlotte has avoided the Greenwood ever since, pretending fairies don’t exist and choosing instead to focus her energies on graduating from high school and perfecting her audition piece for the Bellini Institute. However, everything changes when her mom goes missing, kidnapped by the fairies that haunt the forest behind Charlotte’s home. When Charlotte’s search for her mom leads her into the fairy realm, she discovers that she hails from a line of Shrine Keepers—humans tasked with maintaining ancient fairy shrines. Charlotte’s family has failed their duties to the fae, and now she has no choice but to strike a deal with the dryad, a powerful tree nymph responsible for her mom’s disappearance. But the dryad only gives her a month to complete her task: retrieve five stolen fairy stones and return them to the fairy shrine. If she doesn’t return the stones in time, the dryad has threatened to imprison another of Charlotte’s loved ones. Charlotte dives into a world as magical as it is deadly, coming face-to-face with fairy creatures that never get mentioned in the story books—including the creature that haunts her dreams. She must embrace her task and conquer her fears, or else she’ll never see her mom again.
And now, here's my chat with Natalia!
Hi, Natalia! Welcome and congrats on Song of the Dryad. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hello Megan, and thank you so much for having me! Song of the Dryad is about a teenage girl, Charlotte, who has been able to see fairies her whole life. After a bad experience in the woods late one Halloween night, Charlotte tries to cut the fairies out of her life. This works for a time, but everything changes when Charlotte’s mom goes missing. She’s been kidnapped by the fairies, and Charlotte will have to face her fears in order to bring her home.
I got the idea for this story when I was hiking a trail called Enchanted Forest with my boyfriend. We stopped for a break on this old, creaky wood bridge, and as I started to look around, I thought, “This is where fairies would live.” I didn’t know anything about fairy folklore at the time, but NaNoWriMo was coming up, and I decided I was going to write a story about the fairies in the woods. Song of the Dryad is that story.
As a fantasy writer, I’m always interested in world building. What was your experience/method like for Song of the Dryad?
World building can be so tricky, can’t it? Song of the Dryad mostly takes place in a small mountain town in Colorado, and I built this town out of my own experiences as a Colorado native. Charlotte does venture into the fairy realm, however, and this was harder to build. It mostly came together through many rounds of edits and trying to add more details to make the world come alive. The most important aspect for me was the use of fairy magic. Magic works differently in our realm than it does in the fairy realm, and it plays a big role in the story, so I needed to get it right. I asked myself lots of questions, and I figured out a set of rules that the magic needed to abide by. It’s a bit more freeform in the fairy realm, but the fairies have to use it wisely in the human realm.
My next novel will be taking place primarily in this fairy realm I’ve built, so I’ll get to really dive headfirst into developing a magical setting. Hopefully I’ll have more worldbuilding tips after exploring more of the fairy world for myself!
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
I find writing the first draft to be the most difficult and tedious part of the process. Since I don’t really know the story yet at this point, every word I put down could potentially be leading me in the wrong direction. I outline extensively, so I always know where the characters are going, but I’m not always sure how they’re going to get there. Characters have a way of telling the story themselves once you get to know them, and if they want to take me in another direction, I try to let them do that.
My best method for working through the difficulty of a first draft is to set a writing schedule for myself. Even if I only write a couple hundred words a day, I’m still making progress, and that way I’m never getting too stuck. I find that if I go too long without writing, I’ll start to fear the mess I’ve made and then be even more hesitant to return to it. Because of this, writing 5-6 days a week, in the morning, is my method for slowly (but surely!) working my way through the first draft.
What is your favorite thing about Charlotte?
Charlotte is extremely special to me. I didn’t mean to do this, but I poured quite a bit of my own personality into her. I’ve never written a character so similar to myself before, and I’m not even sure why she turned out this way. Song of the Dryad has some environmental themes, and Charlotte is the type of person that wants to take care of every rock, shrub, tree, and animal in the forest. She has this quiet determination as she goes about her journey, and she has quite a few fears that she has to overcome along the way. Charlotte isn’t perfect, but she has a big heart, and this is probably my favorite thing about her.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Song of the Dryad teach you?
I agree! Song of the Dryad taught me so much. It honestly was the hardest book I’ve ever written. I used to really struggle with plot holes and telling a cohesive story, but I knew that I had to work hard to make sure this story was solid. I threw away 49,000 words from the first draft at one point, and then had to start fresh again after giving my outline a complete overhaul. All of this was pretty frustrating and time consuming, but I knew I had to do it in order to tell the best story that I could. I really pushed myself and am proud of how far I’ve come, in terms of story-telling and learning how to make sure all my plot holes are filled. I’m already excited to discover how this next book is going to challenge me and teach me new skills.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m currently reading Twisted Fate by Jessi Elliott and The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci. Jessi writes about fairies as well, but our fairies are so different that it’s fun to get a new perspective on them. And wow, Jenna’s book is intense, and I’m loving it so far!
I’m currently watching The Good Place on Netflix, and I’m having a fun time with it! I just started season two, so I’ll probably be finished in the next few days. Then I’m going to return to The Vampire Dairies, because dang it, I’ve watched the first few seasons so many times but have never been able to finish this darn show. I really want to commit to finishing it this year.
Can you give us any hints about your next project? Will it be another fantasy?
Absolutely! My next novel is going to be a companion novel to Song of the Dryad. It will take place primarily in the fairy realm, so I’m going to really get to work on my worldbuilding skills. I’ve never written a sequel or a companion novel before, so I’m both excited and nervous to see how this turns out. The way it’ll work is that you could read either novel first without being spoiled about the other. They’ll take place in completely different time periods, but there will be threads connecting them to one another. I’ll be writing the first draft for NaNo this year, and I can’t wait to get started.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing/publishing career?
I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to be proud of your work and have confidence in yourself as a writer. I used to keep my books a secret because I was embarrassed about them, and I kid you not, the first time someone asked me what my first book was about, all I could think to say was, “It’s a young adult fantasy.” That was it! I was so nervous and had no confidence in what I was doing, and I had to learn how to be proud of myself and my work. YouTube has been a huge confidence booster for me. It allowed me to meet other writers and share my writing struggles, and through doing so I was able to start believing in myself and trusting in what I was doing. Developing your confidence takes time----I’d written four books by the time I finally was brave enough to tell people about them. Finding your community will help, though. Find a circle of writer friends that will help support you and lift your spirits when you’re feeling low. I’ve truly found a family of writers online, and they’ve made my experience so much brighter.
Thank you so much for having me, Megan! I absolutely loved these questions and had such a fun time thinking about my answers. I’m so honored to be part of your blog, along with so many other talented creators. Happy writing, my friend.
Many thanks go out to Natalia for taking the time to tell us more about her writing journey and SONG OF THE DRYAD. Be to sure to add this YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) pre-order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,