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Author Interview: Alina Sayre

One of the wonderful aspects of YA novels is not only it introduces young people to reading itself, fantasy YA introduces them into fantastic worlds of the imagination. Author Alina Sayre began her literary career chewing on board books and is now the award-winning author of The Voyages of the Legend, a fantasy series for readers ages 9-14. I’d like to welcome Alina here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Alina SayreHi! My name is Alina Sayre, and I like books. A lot. When I take a break from writing, I usually go read a book. If you made a pie chart of everything I owned, at least half would probably be books. I’m also the author of the middle-grade fantasy series The Voyages of the Legend. My first book, The Illuminator’s Test, was published December 2013 and was a silver medalist in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards this year. Book 2, The Illuminator’s Test, was just released on December 2, 2014! On the rare occasion I’m not to be found reading or writing, I also like to hike in the California hills, experiment with cooking international food, and discover independent coffee shops.

When and why did you begin writing?

I actually hated writing as a kid—probably not least because it made my hand cramp and my penmanship was horrible. (I always loved reading, though.) But when I was in fifth grade, I wrote a story that made my mom cry. That was my light bulb moment—that words carried the power to influence people and create real emotions, even about fictional characters. I felt like I’d discovered a magic wand. After that I really dove into writing.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I think I knew I wanted to be a writer starting at age fourteen. I was writing stories with a friend who was a few years older than me, and she matter-of-factly said she planned to be a writer when she grew up. I guess it had never crossed my mind that that could be a real job. After that, of course, it was settled. I didn’t really consider myself a bona fide writer, though, probably until my first book was published. (Sometimes self-acceptance takes a while.)

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Illuminator’s Test is the second in the fantasy series The Voyages of the Legend. The series follows Ellie, an orphan girl who discovers she has a powerful, supernatural gift of second sight. In the first book, The Illuminator’s Gift, Ellie joins the crew of a flying rescue ship and finds herself and her friends caught up in a war for their island world of Aletheia. The second book continues Ellie’s adventures as she trains at the Academy of the Vestigia Roi and is tested against enemies who come from both without and within herself. The second book is fun because Ellie gets to travel through new and different parts of the water-based fantasy world. There are also some surprising plot twists along the way 

What inspired you to write this book?

My writing style is more like pantsing (flying by the seat of your pants) than plotting. Rather than a plot coming from my imagination fully formed, like Athena, I usually collect ideas like stars that gradually form a constellation. Then I start to connect the dots between them and a story spins together. Some of the inspiring experiences for this book, though, included a college study-abroad tour to the British Isles, a silent retreat to a monastery, and an afternoon on an old-fashioned sailing ship.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m inspired by a lot of different writers and types of writing—classics, fantasy, children’s lit, poetry—so probably my writing style includes little bits of all of them. I’m told I use a lot of big words, a comment which pleases me greatly 

How did you come up with the title of this book?

The title is usually the hardest part of the book for me. So much weight rests on so few words. I’d actually written two whole drafts of the manuscript and was still undecided, so I polled my team of test readers on three potential titles. The Illuminator’s Test was not only the popular vote, but also sums up the themes of the book really well.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

On one level, this book can be read as a simple, fun fantasy adventure. On a deeper level, it’s informed by my own faith and experiences of life. But readers tend to pull out the themes most relevant to their own lives, and I marvel that that’s one of the powers of fiction.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I think all books have a certain degree of autobiography in them, and mine is no exception. All the characters have a certain amount of me in them. I particularly identify with Ellie, as she learns to work past a history of loss and rediscover herself as strong, lovable, and courageous. I experienced loss early in my life and have found a lot of healing and hope through writing this series.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

J.R.R. Tolkien is my literary idol and has been since I was eight years old. While I enjoy the adventure of The Lord of the Rings, I also love the realism of Middle Earth and the themes the story celebrates: courage, faith, friendship, and hope. I also love an endless list of classic authors, from Victor Hugo to L.M. Montgomery, and almost every kidlit book I can get my hands on. Kate DiCamillo is an absolutely amazing writer. I admire her ability to package powerful and difficult themes in stories that children can understand and relate to.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I want to be the female C.S. Lewis when I grow up. I deeply admire Lewis’s wisdom, humor, and storytelling, as well as his ability to write any genre he wanted and do it well.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

My amazing illustrator, Amalia Hillmann, did not only both of my book covers, but also the interior illustrations for The Illuminator’s Test. We’d actually met some years ago, but it wasn’t until I was ready to publish my first book and started looking at her portfolio that I knew I’d found someone of talent and versatility who shared my artistic vision.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

It’s important to define your goals. People write books for all sorts of reasons. If what you want is to be rich and famous, best of luck to you. But if what you want is to share the story in your heart, you can find success through a number of different channels, and it doesn’t necessarily have to look conventional. Publishing is a world full of options right now, and there are lots of ways to be heard.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you to everyone who reads my books, especially those under the age of eighteen! You inspire me and keep me motivated. Always keep reading!

Book Cover The Illuminator's TestAlina Sayre
San Francisco Bay Area, California


Cover artist: Amalia Hillmann

The Voyages of the Legend on AMAZON:
The Illuminator’s Gift
The Illuminator’s Test