Today I'm pleased to have Keira Gillett, author, and illustrator of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy. Her latest book, Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim released on May 1st and she's here today with a guest post on how her trilogy expanded into a multibook series. Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!
Hi everyone! My name is Keira Gillett and I am the author-illustrator behind the Zaria Fierce Series. I’ve been here to Brenda’s Log Cabin Library before so you may recognize me from another post. If so, nice to see you again! It’s always a lot of fun to hang out with you all to discuss books and writing. Thank you as always Brenda for having me over to visit and talk with your readers.
For those who don’t recognize me, my elevator pitch for the Zaria Fierce Series is this: Join a motley group of loveable characters as they traipse all over Norway to stop dragons from taking over the world. You’ll fall in love with the gang and they will become some of your favorite literary friends. Don’t just take my word for it - check out the reviews :)
When I began writing the Zaria Fierce Series, I expected it to end at three books. I planned for a trilogy, but I had a feeling by book two, — and this feeling was solidified when writing book three — that it wouldn’t stay that way. As the story was written out the plot expanded like rising dough and the world grew beyond the bounds of three books. The trilogy simply couldn’t contain it all.
When a story expands beyond its original premise — as Zaria Fierce most certainly did — an author has a choice to try to force the story into its original box or let it grow. The trilogy (or box) was known and yet I knew there was so much more to discover in Zaria’s world and in the lives of her friends. I wanted to know more!
I decided to let the story grow, but then faced an immediate conundrum — Zaria’s story was complete. What to do next? It wasn’t a difficult choice at all. If there’s more story to tell and yet it’s complete for the main character the obvious conclusion was to hop into another character’s head. With the setup in place from Zaria’s trilogy I now knew that the series is would be nine books long and broken down into three sets of trilogies.
But whose would be next?
The first character to grow from his status as a side character into a main character in his own right was Aleks Mickelsen. From the beginning, he just wanted to be normal and from the very beginning, he was not. His friends’ knew he was fey and had heard his grandmother’s stories about the magical realm of Norway, but it’s one thing to notice your human-looking friend having pointier ears and insanely good navigational skills, and it’s another to truly understand it. Until you see it for yourself it’s still more story than reality — which is frankly how certain aspects of Zaria’s story were able to play out in book one and why Christoffer couldn’t imagine a river-troll was, in fact, real, despite having some intimate knowledge of some pretty cool secrets.
I also love playing with expectations. It’s not just the main character facing down challenges in my books. Everyone has a role in the fight against evil and combined their abilities to help save the day. They can’t do it alone. So even though there are more friends than trilogies planned, each one has an integral part to play. It’s important to my series and world-building that everyone plays a part in fighting evil.
Speaking of world-building, having a sandbox already built by the Zaria Fierce trilogy meant that I could lean on the existing structure for the following trilogies. I could even leave plot holes — or as I like to think of them — things left unfinished — to come back to later and answer in new and unexpected ways. I could create new components or expand even more on previously known things. Also, getting into Aleks’ and Christoffer’s headspace was relatively easy, as I’ve known both characters for several books. I already had a solid feeling for their mental spaces and didn’t have to start from scratch. A blank page can go anywhere (and it can also sit and go nowhere.) I like editing things and mixing them up and basically playing with how things go together.
The challenges with writing a series like this are to keep it consistent with the previous trilogies, to bring readers back into the fold of a wonderful group of friends to learn how the dynamics work from another perspective, and yet give the trilogy its own unique flavor so that it feels like the character whose name is on the cover. It can sometimes take a lot of time to navigate properly and also quite a bit of rewriting, especially in the first book of each trilogy.
Did you know that Aleks’ story was meant to go to Jotunheim? He never quite got there though, did he? Some might see that as bad planning. That’s okay. For me, I see it as an opportunity. I let the characters speak and by listening better stories emerge. Those aspects form the original plot for book four were placed aside for the next (and current) trilogy. When mountain-trolls hijacked the forest scenes in book four and pulled me into a whole new and unexpected direction I certainly wasn’t going to say no. I might have become their lunch if I did that! Which meant I spent a lot of time remapping the dynamics of the magical realms and shifting timelines. But it was also a lot of fun opening up my computer to explore how everything changed from what I thought was going on to what really was going on. It felt new. I was discovering with Aleks like I had with Zaria.
Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim by Keira Gillett
Series: Zaria Fierce #7
Publisher: Keira Gillett
Number of Pages: 296
Published: May 1st, 2020
For the first book in Christoffer’s trilogy, he spoke to me in first person and I found myself writing that way a lot and having to go back and change it over to third person to match the other two trilogies. I also had to age the group of friends up again and peek into the group dynamics. Some things stayed and some things went by the wayside as I wrote. By the end of the book, Christoffer was playing nice and keeping to the third person, which certainly made it easier and faster to write. His cooperation came when I agreed to add more jokes to the story.
So there you have it — Readers/Writers - Do you like head-hopping? When do you think it’s acceptable to do? Or is it never acceptable?