Author Spotlight: Sam Taylor talks WE ARE THE FIRE
I'm so excited to be hosting Sam Taylor on today's blog! Sam grew up in Arizona’s desert, but decided she likes trees and seasons better, so she moved to New England. With a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree from Purdue University, Sam has worked as a proofreader, copywriter, and instructor of university writing courses before creating her own books. We Are theFire (Swoon Reads/Macmillan) is her debut novel.
As electrifying as it is heartbreaking, Sam Taylor's explosive fantasy debut We Are the Fire is perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes and the legend of Spartacus.
All will burn.
In the cold, treacherous land of Vesimaa, children are stolen from their families by a cruel emperor, forced to undergo a horrific transformative procedure, and serve in the army as magical fire-wielding soldiers. Pran and Oksana―both taken from their homeland at a young age―only have each other to hold onto in this heartless place.
Pran dreams of one day rebelling against their oppressors and destroying the empire; Oksana only dreams of returning home and creating a peaceful life for them both.
When they discover the emperor has a new, more terrible mission than ever for their kind, Pran and Oksana vow to escape his tyranny once and for all. But their methods and ideals differ drastically, driving a wedge between them. Worse still, they both soon find that the only way to defeat the monsters that subjugated them may be to become monsters themselves.
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Hi, Sam! Welcome and congrats on We Are The Fire. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thanks so much for having me, Megan! This is such an honor. We Are the Fire is about two flame-wielding teen soldiers in love, pitted against each other as they fight to tear down the empire who kidnapped them from home and forced them into its army. It’s An Ember in the Ashes with fire magic, twisted alchemy, and ash-gray morals.
I wrote We Are the Fire, in short, because I was angry. My former day job had me working among some rather corrupt people, and I was pretty powerless to do anything to fix their mess. It was discouraging, and sometimes soul-crushing. I turned to writing to vent my emotions. I wanted a story with fire magic because, let's face it, I wanted to watch something burn. I wanted a story where the right choices weren't always clear… because sometimes they're not! I wanted a story where the right choices came with consequences, because often they do. Above all, I wanted a story with characters who faced seemingly insurmountable odds but were able to make a difference—a story that ended in hope.
Pran and Oksana both have such strong, well-developed POVs. What’s your best tip for staging and executing a story from more than one perspective?
Make sure each POV character has clear and distinct wants and motivations. That will shape not only their goals (and hence their side of the plot!), but the things they pay attention to. Pran intends to tear down the empire who stole him from home and transformed him to breathe fire. He’s also desperate to prove his strength and capabilities—stemming from a fight he once had with his older brother, which haunts him to the present day. Both of these shape his perspective throughout the book. He’s sharp, he’s astute, he’s always looking for ways to get ahead. Those are the filters through which he interprets all the events on his side of the story.
Oksana, meanwhile, yearns to return home and have life go back to the way she remembers before she was taken into the army. She’s also fiercely protective of the people she loves. She’s always looking to stay out of trouble—unless someone she cares about is in danger, then you’d better watch out. Those are the creeds she lives by and the lenses through which she views the same world.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing We Are The Fire teach you?
I feel like this is the book where my writing skills really leveled up, that WAtF is the book that truly taught me how to craft fiction. During the intense editing process this book went through after it sold to Swoon Reads, I learned how to pare down my writing. In the past, I had a tendency to overcomplicate plot lines, which can leave a story cluttered with unnecessary scenes and subplots. While revising WAtF, I learned that sometimes the simplest, most straightforward story events can be the most effective and emotionally impactful.
How did you approach your magic system for We Are The Fire?
This book actually has the simplest magic system of any manuscript I’ve written! Essentially, after undergoing an alchemical transformation, the characters are able to breathe sparks into bonfires. I had a lot of fun researching alchemical practices and beliefs from our real-world history, then warping them up to create the magical, fantasy version of alchemy that appears in my book.
It was also important to me that this fire magic wasn’t something any of the characters were born with. Rather, it was a change made to them, something forced onto them, which fuels the characters’ different emotions and reactions regarding their fire magic, as they dream and scheme for freedom.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
Two things, really: The constant need for perseverance and the importance of a supportive writing community. When we’re in the earlier stages of our writing career, still honing our craft and querying, it’s easy to believe that once we hit certain milestones—signing with an agent, and especially landing a book deal—that we’ve “made it” and it will be smooth sailing from that point on. But matter where we are in our writing journey, there will always be ups and downs. Even after a book deal, it can be easy to feel lost in this industry. In those times, all you can do is have gratitude for what you have achieved, and keep telling the stories you need to tell in the best way possible.
And, lean on the support of your writing friends and the book community! Book people are some of the most kind and generous folks I know. We get this industry and the difficulties of it in ways non-writing people simply don’t. There are situations and set-backs I may not have gotten through without support from my writing friends.
So keep persisting, and Build. Your. Community. Both are necessary to keep a writer going in the wonderful, wild world of book publishing.
So many thanks go out to Sam for taking the time to tell us more about the work that went into WE ARE THE FIRE, as well as for sharing tips and lessons she's learned along the way in her publishing journey. Be to sure to add WE ARE THE FIRE to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more information, keep up with Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and visit her author website at samtaylorwrites.com.
And, as always,