Hey, fellow ramblers! This has been one of my most anticipated posts for a while now, and I’m so excited to finally share it with all of you! Today I’m interviewing the author of a Filipino-inspired sapphic fantasy that I can’t wait for, called Dauntless, Elisa A. Bonnin! So before we get into the conversation, let me introduce you to the book!
Author: Elisa A. Bonnin
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Release Date: July 19th, 2021
Published by: Swoon Reads
A teen girl must bring together two broken worlds in order to save her nation in this lush, Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from debut author Elisa A. Bonnin.
“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”
Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.
Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.
Hi Elisa! I really appreciate you taking the time to be here, so before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about you and your upcoming book (which I’m so excited for, by the way)?
Hi, Rania! Thanks so much for having me. I actually have two books coming out in 2022, Dauntless, my debut novel, and Stolen City, which is coming out in September. Both are YA fantasy. Dauntless is a sapphic Filipino-inspired fantasy, and Stolen City is a heist that takes place in a city that’s been colonized by an empire.
I love writing and have wanted to be an author since I was eight years old, so having my books published next year is a dream come true. Outside of my life as a writer, I work as a postdoctoral researcher and I have a PhD in chemical oceanography. I do a lot of science communication work, which I’ll talk about a little later in this interview.
A little bit more about me: I was born in the Philippines, but moved to the US when I was sixteen. I stayed in the US on a student visa to finish up my undergraduate and graduate education, and now I live in Europe. Currently, I live in Germany. I like baking, and I’ve started taking up cross-stitching again to get me through the pandemic.
So the two main leads in Dauntless are Seri and Tsana. What was the process like for creating their characters and who do you resonate with most?
Seri and Tsana are from two different cultures, and when I was creating them, I wanted to make sure that their upbringings were clearly visible in their personalities. Seri was a little easier because I had previously written short stories in her world (focused on Eshai, another character in the book) and I already knew how her culture would treat someone Seri’s age. Tsana, though, was harder because I had to create her and her cultural background from scratch.
I settled on emphasizing the points of difference between Tsana and Seri’s culture. So I gave Tsana’s culture the ability to forge metal, while Seri’s culture used mostly wood and bone, and then I followed up on that by making Tsana’s culture more technologically-inclined, so that they value knowledge. As a trade-off, I made them more insular than Seri’s and less likely to care about the outside world. I made Tsana’s culture older, more rigid, and more hierarchical than Seri’s. Once I had that set up, I could picture how the way Tsana was raised would affect her personality, and I started working on the things Seri and Tsana have in common. For example, one of the things that helps them bond is that they’re both outcasts in their own cultures, for one reason or another.
I resonate with Seri the most because even though she’s insecure and uncertain, she never lets that stop her from doing what she thinks is right. I wrote this book towards the end of my PhD and wrote a lot of my insecurities and uncertainties into Seri. I wrote her overcoming her fears. Stories like that resonate with me because I try to do the same thing in my own life, although I don’t succeed as often as fictional characters do.
As this is your debut novel, what are some things you learned from the writing and publishing process that really stuck with you?
I’m always amazed at how much Dauntless and Stolen City have transformed over the editing process. The draft that I sent to Swoon Reads wasn’t my first draft. I had done several rounds of editing and revising on my own. But having a professional look over both novels really made a difference.
It’s comforting in a way. I struggle with impostor syndrome but seeing the way that my books have changed with some editing has reminded me that it wasn’t right for me to compare my rough drafts with the final versions of books that I buy in stores and read. Everyone needs editing, and no one writes a book perfectly on the first try. I believe I’m a better writer now than I was when I started, and I hope that I’m able to write many more books.
Additionally, I absolutely love the fact that you’re a scientist too! How did your experience in the scientific industry play a part in the creation of this story?
I used to joke that I wrote fantasy, not science fiction, because I had to think like a scientist during the day, and writing fantastical worlds was how my brain took a break from it all. But I think those two worlds—fantasy and science—can’t be separated as easily as that. I wrote Dauntless while I was finishing up my oceanography PhD, and a lot of the inspiration for the endless rainforest in Dauntless comes from the ocean.
Oceanography is a science with its roots in the exploration and I think that aspect of it is deeply tied to the world of Dauntless. I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean as this vast, unknown place and I wanted to write a book with characters that had to deal with that immensity on a daily basis. Seri and company feel the unknown even more strongly than I did as an oceanographer because I only ever stayed on the surface of the sea while Seri and the others are always surrounded by their forest.
From a technical standpoint, working in science helped me learn to write for a variety of audiences. I do a lot of science communication work, which means I translate scientific findings for a general audience, and I’ve also written academic research papers. While that all sounds very different from fantasy, it’s all taught me something about how to write. I’m a better writer now because of the things I learned from writing in these other genres.
If Dauntless got adapted into a movie or tv show, who would you cast as the lead?
I have to admit that I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to actors, so I have no idea who I would cast. But it’s very important to me that the actors in Dauntless should all be of Filipino descent. I wrote Dauntless in a world and setting populated by characters that I imagined as Filipino, and I think I’d be upset if any adaptation of Dauntless didn’t respect that, at least when it came to choosing the actors for the three POV characters—Seri, Tsana, and Eshai.
I don’t have specific actors in mind, but I always love seeing who people think should play the characters, so please, make fan casts and share them on social media! I would love to see them.
Without giving us any major spoilers, what was your favourite scene to write?
My favourite scene to write was absolutely the watchtower scene, where Seri makes a particular choice to get out of a situation. Before I wrote that scene I was still struggling with Seri’s character and trying to figure out how I wanted her to develop. I hadn’t planned for that scene to end the way it did, but it gave me a clearer picture of Seri and helped me shape the remainder of the book.
Also, without going into any spoilers, special mention goes to the scene not long after the watchtower, where Seri opens up for the first time. That scene was a joy to write and I’m glad so much of the original made it into the final book.
And lastly, what is something you wish for readers to take away from Dauntless?
Be dauntless, be yourself, and don’t let anyone else decide who you are.
I wrote this book because I wanted people, especially teenagers, to feel more comfortable with who they are and to see that being outside the norm doesn’t stop someone from being heroic and doing amazing things. It definitely isn’t always easy to be who you are, especially when the world tries to tell you to be someone else. Living your truth means different things for different people, but no matter who you are there are times in life where you have to make a hard choice, between what’s expected of you and what you want for yourself or what you believe is right.
Thank you so much, Elisa, for taking the time to do this interview!
Elisa Angeles Bonnin grew up in the Philippines and specializes in speculative fiction, particularly fantasy. She has a PhD in Oceanography from the University of Washington and is a chemist by training. She now lives and works in Germany.
And that’s all for today! What did you think? Have you read Dauntless yet? Is it one of your most anticipated reads? Let me know in the comments!