The Falling Kingdoms is a fantasy series for young adults that follows the lives of four teenagers, Princess Cleo, Prince Magnus, Princess Lucia, and the rebellious Jonas. The book explores the political realities of the kingdom of Mytica, as it bounds the fate of these four teenagers, in a complexly, compounded way. The book is filled with intrigue, politics, romance, rebellion, magic, betrayal, loss, and sacrifice, and, its thrilling narrative and depth-filled writing, compels the reader to keep turning the pages of the book, way past their bedtime.
1) Can you tell me about your early life, where you grew up, where you went to school, and when you realized that you wanted to be a writer?
I grew up in Southern Ontario, in a smallish town west of Toronto. I knew I wanted to be a writer as a teen when I got really good marks in creative writing, but after a year of English Lit at university, I decided I needed a more dependable profession, so I went to college for Graphic Design, which was my career for over a decade while I worked on my writing.
2) Who were your role models growing up, both within and outside of the writing world, and what inspired you to become a writer?
I can't recall any specific role models. I read lots of books, but I didn't idolize authors as a kid. As far as I can recall, the moment that made me want to become a writer was the movie Romancing the Stone...and not because Kathleen Turner hooked up with Michael Douglas. I just loved the idea of writing books for a living, as portrayed in the movie (which isn't a super accurate representation, but actually not too far from the truth). I also tended to rewrite, in my mind, the endings to movies that disappointed me, and did some very early fan fiction to a book series I read as a pre-teen. All signs pointed to WRITER.
3) I actually just discovered that you write under the name Michelle Rowen, I definitely have to check out some books you have written under that pen name. What made you decide to write under a pen name?
Yes, I am a writer of many names. Well, two, presently. The main reason for the pen name is that the feel of my Rhodes books and my Rowen books are very different. Rowen writes very quirky and romancey, while Rhodes writes multi-POV high fantasy - two genres that don't have a great deal of reader crossover. It felt different enough that two names seemed like the best way to go to avoid confusion and specific expectations.
4) I know that this is probably the most difficult question ever, but who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book of all time?
It is a difficult question! I have a lot of favorite authors, but I have to say J.K. Rowling would top them all, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite of that series. Harry Potter is a classic that will last the test of time.
5) I really enjoyed reading Falling Kingdoms and Rebel Spring, and I cannot wait for the third book to come out this December, and for the spinoff series coming out next summer. What inspired the storyline for this book series?
Thank you so much! After writing two dozen books as Michelle Rowen, which typically followed a single viewpoint - the heroine's - and mostly were written in first person POV, I wanted to take on a project that had a bigger canvas to play with. I wanted to get into the heads of both villains and heroes, and I wanted to write about princes and princesses and magic. High fantasy definitely fit the bill. As a kid, I'd been obsessed with movies like The Princess Bride, Legend, Willow, and other fantasies of the eighties, and more recently I'd begun to watch the grittier Game of Thrones on HBO, which I adore. Falling Kingdoms was the perfect blend of everything I'd seen and loved, and the story and characters evolved from there.
6) My favourite character in your book is Cleo, I absolutely love her and I relate to her a lot, in so many respects and on so many levels. Since I know it might be excruciatingly unfair to ask an author their favourite character in their own book, what character do you think that you relate to most in the book and why?
Good question! I'd say there's a little bit of me in every character. I think I can be stubborn like Cleo, both trusting and self-doubting like Lucia, I can definitely hold a grudge like Jonas, and Magnus...hmm. I don't have much in common with him, but he happens to be my favourite character to write.
7) Can you tell us what to expect from A Book Of Spirits And Thieves, the spinoff of the Falling Kingdom series?
I've been spending a lot of time with this book in first draft and edits and I can tell you it's unlike any book I've ever written or read before. It brings the best of both worlds (literally) in my writing, and I get to blend contemporary and high fantasy. Like FK, it's got several points of view (but only three in book one) that create a tapestry of story and character agendas that begin to weave together in unexpected ways. Two of the characters live in modern day Toronto where there is a secret society fixated on a dangerous new magic that's been discovered, but the third character lives in Mytica at the "time of the goddesses," which is a thousand years before the events in Falling Kingdoms. There will be lots of Easter eggs for readers of the original series, especially when it comes to the mythology and history hinted at in the FK books, but the two series will stand apart from each other without any confusing overlap.
8) Is there anything that readers can expect from Gathering Darkness?
Plenty! I really want to avoid spoilers, but I'll say that GD picks up almost immediately after the end of Rebel Spring. There is plenty of intrigue with the addition of Prince Ashur's sister, Amara, to the cast and we learn more about the empire of Kraeshia - are they friend or foe? There are some big moments in GD that will define the Big Four characters (Cleo, Lucia, Magus, and Jonas) going forward. And that's really all I can say!
9) Can you tell prospective readers out there why they should pick up your book, what you think that they would enjoy most about the series?
I think what sets Falling Kingdoms apart from other YA series, is that it's told from multiple viewpoints. I have four main characters and several secondary characters. Some readers have said that they were originally intimidated by my character list, but as they began reading, they found that everything fell nicely into place and they weren't confused at all. This is very important to me! I know I have a large cast, so I try to keep my "camera" focused where it needs to be. I also feel that my writing style is easy to get into. I'm a character writer, so my first priority is the interactions and conflict between my characters. It's got a medieval feel, but I am not a by-the-books historical writer - so this is not a history lesson with lots and lots of description. It's a fantasy! The magic, the court intrigue, the backstabbing (sometimes literally), the war, the romance, the friendships and family issues...this is the stuff I love to write, and I hope that comes across on the page. Another reader told me that they'd never read high fantasy before because they didn't think they'd like it - but they tried my book and it's led them to try other fantasy books. I'll definitely take that as a compliment!
10) Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process, and how your ideas transform to drafts, and the final product?
I am an outliner. I like to have my plot set before I start writing - kind of like having a map when you're going on a long road trip. For FK, each chapter is outlined - which helps since each chapter is from a specific character's POV. The great thing about writing this series is that the characters are all very real in my head, so if I come to a scene that doesn't work as well as it did in the outline, I will (to a point) allow myself to be taken in a different direction. If it works, it can, (and has!), changed the direction of a character's journey. For example, there's a new character introduced in Gathering Darkness who didn't behave anything like he was supposed to, according to the outline. He was also supposed to get killed. However, he strongly disagreed, and now he's a viewpoint character in book four (which I'm writing now)!
11) One of the hardest scenes for me to read was watching Cleo's life fall apart in the books. What has been the hardest scene for you to write in your falling kingdom series?
Cleo's losses were difficult to write, but necessary. Every one of them (especially, arguably, the first one) helped to turn her into the person she was meant to become. The hardest scene for me was probably the battle scene near the end of book one. I'd never written anything like that before and my first attempt was way too removed, like a camera on a crane pulled far back from the action. In my second attempt, I brought things down to a much more personal character level, since character to me is the most important thing in writing, and really seeing things first hand, and focusing, not on the entire battle, but the moment to moment horror of being in a situation like that seemed to work best - but it didn't make it any easier to write!
12) Apart from the Falling Kingdoms series and its spinoff, do you have any other book ideas that you are currently exploring?
My muse is never quiet. She likes to whisper shiny new ideas to me all the time. Currently, with more FK books in the works, and the A Book of Spirit and Thieves trilogy taking up my time, I can't delve too far into these distracting ideas. There is a book I need to finish and self publish under my other pen name that readers have been waiting for, for a very long time, which I try to work on in my spare moments. Otherwise, there is nothing else officially planned.
13) Would you like to write for the young adult genre for the span of your writing career, or would you like to try other genres?
I have written for both adults and young adults and enjoy each. I don't find a huge difference in my writing process when it comes to either age group. One thing my books do have in common is that they are all fantasy novels. The question might be: do I see myself writing something that isn't fantasy? I'd like to try it someday, but my ideas trend to the fantastical. So far, I've been just fine with that!
14) What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there, like myself?
My advice would be to enjoy the process of the writing itself. So many people get tangled up in the idea of being published and having an online presence and fans and all sorts of other things to do with writing, that they forget that it's all about the journey. Writing is hard work, so be sure that you love your idea and your characters, and that you're telling the story that you want to tell - no matter what it is. Make it your own and put your heart and soul into it without worrying about what the future will bring. That's when the magic happens!