Two months ago, I was invited to attend a lunch to meet author Sabaa Tahir and to watch the filming of the trailer for her book An Ember in the Ashes. The shoot took place here in Los Angeles, and while I’ve been on location before as a film publicist, this was the first time I’ve ever walked into a studio filled with smoke! It was a dark, moody setting that suited the book perfectly, since the story follows an orphan named Laia who risks her life to save her brother Darin, who’s held captive by a brutal empire.
The actress who played Laia was friendly and chatty, and she showed us the scar painted on her shoulder. It’s an important and serious part of the book, so it was cool to see the attention to detail in the make-up and costumes. The Kommandant was small, blonde, and totally badass in her uniform (I wish I had a photo of her, sorry!), though she was very gracious when she wasn’t in character. There were a couple of small sets, including a tent which we ducked into, and some props such as a whip which was fun to speculate about.
Over sandwiches and cookies, Sabaa Tahir told us that her own background played a big part in writing An Ember in the Ashes. Growing up in an 18-room motel owned by her parents, she never felt she fit in, from her food to her color to her culture; because of assumptions based on mere appearances, she was often bullied. As a child, she found solace in reading fantasies and comic books, so when she started writing, she decided she wanted to write about a girl much like herself–powerless, voiceless, and isolated. But she would choose to give her heroine a way to fight back.
It took six years to write the book, including two years of preparation and world-building. It also started out as a middle grade story!
Ember finds the basis for a few of its key elements in history:
Treatment of slaves —> Ancient Rome
Social structure, tribes, training young boys —> Spartans
Fun character to write: The Kommandant, because “She’s such a bitch.” We all agreed with that! Apparently the Kommandant also was originally a man. I told Sabaa I thought it was much more interesting that she was a woman, and Sabaa agreed, saying the Kommandant definitely acts as a foil to Laia.
Authors whose books she loves: Terry Brooks, C.S. Lewis, Marion Zimmer Bradley, J.R.R. Tolkien, Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin
Strong female characters she loves: Alina from the Grisha trilogy, Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Cinder, Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Mare from Red Queen, Samantha and Andy from Under a Painted Sky
And here’s the Elias trailer we’re helping to unveil today, along with a few other Ember Ambassadors:
Sabaa said that Elias was a challenge to write, though she got a handle on him once she conducted a few interviews for his character and the Kommandant; she spoke to West Point cadets and a few other sources for background information, as well as for psychological insight. She said that when she asked what the most difficult experience they’d ever had was, she expected to hear some war/job-related story–but in fact, the person told her that the hardest thing he’d ever experienced was his divorce. A sobering reminder of how deeply our personal lives can affect us.
She revealed that Darin was a composite of her two brothers, whom she’s very close to. One of her brothers is even a producer on the film adaptation of the book! She said it’s definitely great to have someone she trusts looking after her project, and handy to have an inside source for updates.
We also spent some time talking about author/blogger relations, touching on topics both serious and light-hearted. I’m not a big events person, so it was fun to meet some of the other bloggers and booktubers (I had no idea Christine and Kat lived in LA, for example) and to hear their perspectives and experiences. I especially enjoyed meeting Renee from Alice Marvels, whom I’ve followed online for years but had never really had a chance to speak to. We’ve hung out since then and you guys should totally check out her awesome write-up of this event, too!
Right now, An Ember in the Ashes is a standalone, but there’s huge potential for a sequel, which all of us are absolutely clamoring for. Sabaa accidentally let slip a detail about what might happen in future books, and all I have to say is, PENGUIN YOU HAVE TO GREENLIGHT BOOK TWO.
Thanks to our friends at Penguin Teen, there’s a giveaway for 5 signed ARCs and 5 tee-shirts! This giveaway will run for 1 month and 5 winners will be selected.
Leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re excited about reading this book (and what you think of the trailer), and fill out the Rafflecopter form.
An Ember in the Ashes will be available in stores and online on April 28, 2015; you can sample an excerpt from the book here.
Right now there is also a super special pre-order deal for the Kindle edition at $2.99. This is a CRAZY price for a new release from a major publisher, so definitely snap that up before it’s gone! It’s a fun book that’s sure to make a splash this spring. Look for our review closer to release.