This week we talked to Romina Russell, author of the ZODIAC series, about the world she’s created in her novels, her writing habits, and what we can expect in the third installment of the series, Black Moon, coming Fall 2016 from Penguin/Razorbill.
RFS: How did you come up with the fundamental idea for this series? What went into your world building process?
Romina Russell: I’ve always been obsessed with Space, so I knew I’d write a SciFi story one day. However, like Rho, I can’t solve for x to save my life—so I was searching for a concept that felt more Fi than Sci. My editor at Razorbill is a friend from college, and it was actually her idea to combine astronomy with astrology, and from that marriage came ZODIAC!
In this series, a person’s sign is her race/nationality, so it informs her appearance, education, upbringing, lifestyle, values, etc. When creating the Houses, I began by exploring the traditional traits of each Zodiac sign so I could build the foundation for the planets and people of each world. For instance, citizens of House Scorpio live in waterworlds within planet Sconcion’s ocean—I thought this would suit their culture best because besides being a water sign, Scorpio is associated with secrecy and mystery, so their cities would probably be hidden and hard to access. The underwater setting also means Scorps don’t see much sunlight, so their skin is semi-translucent, and those who live in the deepest waterworlds have evolved red eyes that cut through darkness. (And so on.)
RFS: Which house do you think you’d belong to? Which was your favorite to write?
RR: I think I would belong to House Virgo because I am the consummate Virgo—pragmatic, perfectionist, obsessive, controlling, fastidious! In ZODIAC, I think my favorite House to write was Libra, and in WANDERING STAR it was probably Sagittarius….
RFS: What’s Rho’s biggest fault? Which quality is her biggest asset? How about Hysan and Mathias?
RR: Rho’s greatest asset is also her greatest fault: Her amazing ability to love and forgive others can at times prevent her from fully seeing a person or evaluating a plan. Hysan’s greatest asset is his empathy, which enables him to understand people and assess situations without passing premature judgment. His biggest fault is his lack of trust—or faith—in others, which keeps him from really opening up. Mathias’s greatest asset is his discipline—he is nearly always able to do what’s right over what’s easy—yet as a result, he often acts on what he wants to want instead of what he wants.
RFS: Why do you think love triangles are so popular in young adult fiction?
RR: I love a good love triangle, and I think they get their bad rep from writers who use them as dramatic devices. For it to work, a love triangle must begin with character, not plot.
In ZODIAC, Rho is a caring Cancrian from a world that prioritizes family, friends, and loving one another—she’s a Nurturer. Yet she’s been slow to emerge from her shell, as shown by the choice she’s made of loving an unattainable guy from afar, in the safety of silence, rather than risk anything. When Lodestar Mathias Thais notices her at last, it naturally follows that she would want to explore what’s between them.
Then Rho meets Diplomatic Envoy Hysan Dax of House Libra, and he’s the first guy to truly see her. Due to Rho and Mathias’s age difference, it took Mathias five years to know what Hysan knew in an instant—and what gal wouldn’t swoon when a handsome, smooth-talking fella falls for her? Who wouldn’t want to be looked at by someone in that way?
For Rho, particularly, it presents her with the perfect crossroads that parallels what’s happening in every part of her life: The choice between the known and the unknown, who she is and who she could be, House Cancer and the Zodiac.
RFS: There are only a few constellations we haven’t visited. Will we get to see these in Black Moon?
RR: We will definitely get to see the rest of the Houses in BLACK MOON and ZODIAC 4!
RFS: Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you write everyday?
RR: I wake up around 6am every morning, make myself an iced latte, and begin writing! Since I’m on deadline for BLACK MOON at the moment, I’m writing every day, but that’s not always the case—I think it’s a good idea to take breaks from writing and do something else, to fuel new ideas.
RFS: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Romina Russell: I think the thing that made the biggest difference in my writing life was starting a critique group with other aspiring authors. We were five people, and we would meet every two weeks to submit chapters from our books and offer feedback. It was an education, and I don’t know that I’d be published today if not for everything my critique partners taught me.
It doesn’t matter how old anyone is, or what genre they’re writing—what’s important is that you’re at the same place in the process. That way, you can go through the whole journey together—and trust me, it makes a huge difference to be able to share this experience with friends.
RFS: Which authors have influenced you the most?
RR: JK ROWLING, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, Shel Silverstein, Gabriel García Marquez, Leo Tolstoy, and I could go on…
RFS: What’s your all-time favorite book?
RR: HARRY POTTER!
RFS: Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show?
RR: The Originals!
RFS: As an author, how do you use social media?
RR: Pretty much all my social media usage is about interacting with readers—and that’s been the biggest surprise of my publication experience. I’m kind of a hermit who prefers the company of her laptop to people; so once I got published, I thought I’d want to hide behind the pages of my story. Only instead, I find myself eagerly logging online every day just to chat with Z’s amazing readers.
RFS: You’ve recently announced that Black Moon will be released Fall 2016. Without giving away to much, what can we expect next from Rho and the Zodiac?
Romina Russell: When we reconnect with Rho, the galaxy’s atmosphere is still dark with distrust, and she finds herself having to navigate a series of universal developments that have her visiting new Houses and reconnecting with some of the people she’s met on her travels.
The first two books in the ZODIAC series, Zodiac and Wandering Star, are available now! Check out our review of the series, and join the conversation on the official website and on Facebook. For updates and promotional details, you can follow Romina Russell at her author page and on social media.
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