I’m delighted to welcome Elisa A. Bonnin to join me for a chat about her debut young adult novel.
Elisa A. Bonnin was born and raised in the Philippines, after which she moved to the United States to study chemistry and later oceanography. After completing her doctorate, she moved to Germany to work as a postdoctoral scientist.
A lifelong learner, Elisa is always convinced that she shout “maybe take a class in something” and as a result, has amassed an eclectic collection of hobbies. But writing will always be her true love. Publishing a book has been her dream since she was eight years old, and she is thrilled to finally be able to share her stories. Dauntless is her first novel.
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I grew up in the Philippines, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I started writing when I was eight years old. I wrote a short story called The Little Princess, which was about a fairy princess who gets trapped in the human world and tries to find her way back. From then on, I dreamed about seeing my books on the shelves, and I kept pushing myself to write longer and longer stories. I started submitting books to agents when I was about 16 years old, but it took me 12 years after that to finally get a book deal.
When I’m not writing, I really enjoy reading (especially science fiction and fantasy), video games, baking, learning languages, traveling (pre-Covid and hopefully again very soon) and things like that. I have a lot of interests and I like trying new things, so I’m always finding new hobbies.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
Dauntless is my debut novel, but I’ve written a lot of books prior to this book deal. I’ve been trying to get published for a while, and have written, edited and queried somewhere between 5-10 novels before finally succeeding. My second novel, Kingfisher and Crow, was actually written just before Dauntless.
What genre is it, and what is it about?
Dauntless is young adult (YA) fantasy.
It follows a girl named Seri. At the start of the story, Seri is just trying to get away from her past, but when she ends up working as an aide for a real-life hero, Eshai, she starts off on the course of becoming one of her people’s warriors. When she meets Tsana, a girl from a society that stands against everything Seri’s People believe, Seri’s life gets turned on its head. She falls in love with Tsana but realizes that for the two of them to be together, they must get their people to see eye-to-eye.
The world of Dauntless is Filipino-inspired, which means that it’s an invented fantasy world like any other fantasy, but that instead of reaching for European influences when designing the world, I reached for Filipino influences. So, while the book is not set in the Philippines, the characters have Filipino features, eat Filipino food, and live in Filipino-inspired fantasy buildings. Of course, their world isn’t 100% reflective of the Philippines, because the characters have not seen an ocean (yet).
What or who inspired you to write this book?
Even though the world of Dauntless doesn’t have an ocean, I was still inspired by it. I was studying oceanography while I was writing Dauntless, and I was first drawn to oceanography because the ocean is such a huge part of our world and we truly know very little about it. About 80% of the ocean remains unexplored, so it is one of the few sciences where exploration is still something commonly done. I wanted to write that feeling into a novel, so I came up with a world that was still mostly unexplored, with a society that thinks they’re alone in the world and have made it part of their culture to explore and understand it.
That’s the People. But as I was writing, I started to wonder what would happen when the People encountered another society living out in the unexplored regions of their world. Dauntless became a book about that moment of contact, when one civilization realizes that it’s not alone in the world and must deal with its neighbours for the first time. I wanted to have these two cultures meet and explore an answer to their meeting that would be different from colonialism or war.
And I wanted to write that from the point of view of someone who, like me, has a reason to be in the middle of the conflict, in between two worlds. For me, it’s because I’m biracial, but Seri has her reasons as well. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I hope that you enjoy it.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Write what makes you happy. I was in a slump for a long time because I was writing what I thought would get published. When I gave up on that and just started writing the books that I wanted to read and the stories that I enjoyed, I started having a lot more fun, and that showed in my writing.
Dauntless, which eventually got me my book deal, started as me just exploring themes that I liked. Kingfisher and Crow, my second novel, was me reusing characters that my best friend and I had developed for fun in high school. When you write what you enjoy, other people are more likely to enjoy your work too.
And this doesn’t just count for original fiction. If you enjoy writing fanfiction or other forms of writing, why not explore that for a little bit? Writing is never a waste of time. I learned a lot while writing fanfiction and while writing characters for play-by-post roleplay campaigns, because the immediate feedback that you get while doing these is hard to find anywhere else as a novice writer. No matter what you do, if you are writing and getting words down, you are improving.
What do you enjoy most about writing and why?
My favourite thing about writing is when characters “take over the story” and it feels less like writing and more like recording a scene I’m seeing in my head. When that happens, although it isn’t as common as I would like, it feels like everything comes easily. It reminds me of why I started writing – because there were stories that I wanted to tell, and I couldn’t think of another way to share them.
I love how stories can surprise even the author. I love that I can be writing something for weeks and then suddenly realize what the story is about, or suddenly feel like I can take the story in a different direction. When that happens, it feels like the story is taking on a life of its own, and it feels amazing to be part of that. I prefer when my stories surprise me, which is why outlining has never really worked for me.
List three interesting facts about yourself
One: I did martial arts for a while when I lived in the US. I did aikido for about eight years, and I did battojutsu (Japanese swordsmanship) for six. Since moving to Europe, I haven’t trained in martial arts, but I would love to get back to it someday.
Two: I’m a huge nerd (if the fantasy novels and the martial arts haven’t already clued you in). I love anime, manga and video games, and I miss going to conventions, so I’m really hoping that the world goes back to normal soon.
Three: thanks to the pandemic, I’ve gotten back into cross-stitching. I’m still not very good at it, but I completed a kit for the first time and immediately went and bought three more.
What is your least favourite part of the publishing/writing process?
I’m not the most comfortable with social media, and my least favourite part about the publishing process is having to use social media frequently to promote my book. Posting regularly takes a lot out of me, and as an autistic author, I sometimes don’t have the energy to keep up with a regular posting schedule.
But I’m working on this, because I understand that this is one of the ways that I can engage with readers in real time and on some days, I really do enjoy it. My hope is that I’ll be more comfortable on social media by next year when Dauntless releases. In the meantime, please forgive my sporadic posting schedule and know that I will update you all promptly when there are any announcements to make.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
Dauntless isn’t out yet, but if the premise intrigues you, the best thing that you can do to help is spread the word. Follow me on social media or subscribe to my newsletter, and let your friends know about any updates I share. Keep your eyes open for ARC giveaways and reviews and share the pre-order campaign once it launches. Consider pre-ordering Dauntless or requesting copies at your local library (library copies also count towards sales). If you read Dauntless after launch and enjoy it, please don’t forget to leave a review. And if you like Dauntless, please consider supporting my future books.
What is your next project?
I have another novel coming out a few months after Dauntless. It’s currently titled Kingfisher and Crow and is something a little different. Kingfisher and Crow is the story about twin thieves in a conquered city, who work together to steal back a magical artifact that once belonged to their mother. It’s a story about family, heists and fighting colonizers, and like Dauntless, it’s YA fantasy. If you like the sound of that, you can add Kingfisher and Crow to Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54808979-kingfisher-and-crow.
Connect with Elisa here:
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