“A Triptych of Portraits” – Our Interview With Ilana C. Myer, Author of The Harp and the Ring Sequence
Ilana C. Myer is the bestselling author of The Harp and the Ring sequence. The third book in this trilogy – The Poet King – just published on March 24. (Keep an eye out for our review coming soon!) Author Ilana C. Myer graciously agreed to an interview for Comic Years, and today we bring you that interview full of insights about Myer’s writing process, and the lyrical world she created in Last Song Before Night and concludes with The Poet King. Many thanks to Ilana C. Myer for doing this interview with us!
Ilana C. Myer Interview With Comic Years
Photo by Dave Cross | Image via Author’s Website
Last Song Before Night was written as a standalone novel. Why did you choose to expand it into a trilogy? Was that always your intention?
The trilogy took me by surprise. I fully intended Last Song Before Night to be a standalone novel until I took a trip to Spain. The ideas that came to me after that trip included my characters and world in such a natural way, I suddenly realized I had a sequel. I saw a trilogy as an opportunity to go deeper into the character arcs, magic, and political complexities of the world.
In the end, each of the books still does stand on its own in terms of theme and character. I imagine them as a triptych of portraits, works in their own right yet inextricably connected.
Each book seems to focus on a specific character. The first book felt like Darien’s story, the second book was Lin’s story, and the third book was largely Rianna’s story. Did you consciously choose to write each book as a character vignette?
Character is my highest priority. When I discovered fantasy as a child I initially came to it for the wonder—the magic and dragons—but I stayed for the nuanced explorations of character, from children’s authors like Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper, up to Tolkien. And of course we know what dark secrets to humanity are contained in fairy tales.
I see each of my books as an ensemble piece. Each viewpoint character matters, and not all continue as viewpoint characters from book to book. The way I decide who will be a viewpoint character in each book tends to come down to one question: Who will grow and change the most?
Image via Tor
I’ve read that you were inspired by the Celtic Poets of old. Can you tell us a bit more about where you drew inspiration for these novels?
This may sound obvious, but every story needs to be about something. When I was a struggling writer—well, mostly a struggling administrative assistant trying to write at night—the question of what art meant to me became central. I wondered why I was compelled to give up the chance at a good living to do this invisible, likely to be unread work. I knew the chances of being published were next to nothing, but I couldn’t give up writing. Why?
The Celtic Poets, artists with magical and political power in their society, as well as the troubadours of medieval Provence, combined to inspire Last Song Before Night. Through the vehicle of these influences, via the poet protagonists, I explored the most pressing question at the heart of my life at that time.
If that story was about artists and power, Fire Dance and The Poet King explore the consequences of power. They introduce new mythical inspirations from the Middle Eastern and ancient Greece, as well as historic ones like Al Andalus.
The Poet King brings in some Fae characters, although they are never explicitly called that. What do the Otherworldly beings represent for you?
The Poet King unlocks the mystery that has persisted throughout the series: What was the original purpose of the Poets, and who were they? We’ve had hints all along, but due to the disappearance of the enchantments and lack of a written record, they remain hints.
A number of elements went into my conception of the Otherworld. It began, of course, with Celtic myth, from which I derived the term. The Celtic Heroic Age by Patrick Ford was an invaluable resource; so was Ford’s translation of the Mabinogi, as well as various works of Arthurian literature. There is also Robert Graves, whose considerable imagination sparked my own. And there was, unrelated to these, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, a tale that has unsettled and fascinated me since childhood.
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice reoccurs several times throughout The Poet King as the myth of Asterian. What is the significance of this mythology to you?
The Orpheus myth was a natural source of inspiration for The Poet King. For one thing, there was a crucial plot thread about the Underworld, deliberately left unresolved in Fire Dance. For another, The Poet King goes back to the origins of poets, and the myth of Orpheus is one of the earliest known tales of a poet that we possess.
The poet’s descent to the Underworld is therefore one of the most fundamental stories we have about what a poet does. He—or she—gets to the heart of things.
Image via Tor
Your writing style is very lyrical, and of course music is a huge part of the world. Are you a musician yourself?
An important element of language, for me, is rhythm. I don’t necessarily aim to be lyrical but I do care how sentences sound.
I am not a musician, but I do write poetry, and there’s a relationship between the two artforms when it comes to rhythms and what they evoke in us.
How did your journalistic experience factor into writing a fantasy novel?
Being a journalist, especially in a complex place like Israel, taught me innumerable things. I talked to people I would never have talked to, saw things I would never have seen, had I not been doing that work. There’s no way the experience didn’t leave a mark. But what I consciously learned mostly had to do with getting over my shyness. Social skills don’t have much at all to do with writing, but they are incalculably useful in life.
I read that you wrote this world as sexist because you are grappling with your own lived experiences. How did your own experiences factor into other elements of the novel?
That would be telling! But more seriously: Every artist’s experience informs what they create. Just not in the ways people think, when they try to draw direct parallels between a writer’s life and their writing. Our lives creep into our work in much more subtle and—dare I say—more interesting ways.
Image via Tor
Without spoiling the end of The Poet King, it seems like there is still a somewhat open ending. Do you plan to write more in this world in the future?
I’m drawn to the idea that while we experience our lives as the central story of the world, many stories came before us, and many will follow after. That might be why the end of the novel suggests the possibility for new stories.
I don’t plan to continue the series—there’s a lovely self-contained structure to a trilogy. But book ideas tend to come by accident, so I’d never dismiss the possibility of returning to this world.
What are you working on now that this trilogy is complete?
After a year of research, I’m in the very early stages of a new project now. It is a fantasy, but that’s all I can divulge at this point. It is early days.
Once again, I’d like to thank Myer for doing this interview. Our chat with Myer is the first prose author interview we have done for the site, but there are more to come. The Poet King is available now. If you’re not familiar with Myer’s work, I highly recommend The Harp and the Ring sequence by Myer for your quarantine reading. It is a beautiful, lyrical series full of wonder and magic. Keep an eye out for our review coming soon!
Did you enjoy our interview with Ilana Myer? Are you going to pick up her books? Tell us in the comments below. For more author interviews and book recommendations be sure to follow Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today!
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.