Q&A: Erika Johansen


Q&A: Erika Johansen

Emma Watson is set to star in the movie adaptation of this debut author’s dystopian fantasy series

By Cheryl-Ann Couto  July 31st, 2014

The first instalment in Erika Johansen’s Hunger Games-meets-Game Of Thrones trilogy takes place in the Tearling, a dystopian Middle-Ages kingdom in the 24th century, where economic injustice, drug abuse, flailing education and unemployment are rampant. Into this bleakness (inspired by the 2007 US recession), strides the young, idealistic and weight-conscious heroine, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, heir to the throne, who is thrust with the job of rescuing the land from exterior threats and interior corruption and is dead set on reviving democracy. And actor Emma Watson is all set to star in and produce the movie adaptation of this young adult novel.

ELLE: Your 19-year-old heroine is unusual in that she is most ordinary. What are her extraordinary qualities?

Erika Johansen: We have a dearth of believable yet heroic women in fiction. Too many heroines are either extraordinarily beautiful or obsessed with their own romantic lives to the detriment of more interesting problems. I thought that the mix could use at least one more woman who doesn’t meet the beauty standards of her time and has more pressing things to worry about than dating (a situation to which many contemporary women can probably relate). Kelsea’s life is fairly stressful, but she still manages to be intelligent, compassionate and, occasionally, altruistic. I wish that these were not extraordinary qualities.           

ELLE: How big a role does the supernatural play in the series?

EJ: Not too big a role. There’s magic present in the Tearling, but most of the time it serves more of a mythical and superstitious function, setting tone rather than driving plot. My heroine has a pair of magic sapphires, but what she’s able to accomplish with them doesn’t interest me nearly as much as what she’s able to accomplish by being herself in her environment. When I read fantasy, I’m usually less interested in the magic than in watching old human problems play out against an entirely new background.

ELLE: Which authors have influenced your work the most?

EJ: Since childhood, my favourite author has been Stephen King. It’s one of my great regrets that I’m completely inept at writing horror, but King’s writing style has certainly influenced mine pretty heavily, no matter what genre I’m working in. In trying to write fantasy, I usually look to Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Frank Herbert, among others. 

ELLE: When are the next two books due?

EJ: They’re scheduled to come out in the summers of 2015 and 2016. We’re currently finishing up editing on book two, and I will spend the next year writing book three.

The Queen Of The Tearling (Random House India) is out this month