Book Tour Q&A: The Way of Unity by Sarah K. Balstrup
Today we're taking part in the book tour organized by Escapist Book Tours for The Way of Unity by Sarah K. Balstrup! Continue reading for the book blurb and a Q&A with the author.
About the book
The Seven Lands of Velspar put their faith in the Intercessors, a psychic priesthood responsible for the purification of the spirit. Where passion flares, they soothe its intent. Those who cannot be soothed, are cast out, their spirits destroyed by fire.
The Intercessors are mystics of the highest order, but Velspar’s ruling Skalens believe their power has grown too great.
Surviving the Intercessor’s murder plot against her family, Sybilla Ladain rises to power. The Skalens come together under the banner of her grief, bringing the practice of Intercession to its brutal, bloody end.
Yet victory brings Sybilla no peace. In time, she will have to face the people of Velspar, forced to live in a psychically alienated world, and a band of rebels led by an escaped Intercessor set on her annihilation.
On to the interview...!
Thank you so much for joining us for this Q&A! We’ll start off with one of our standard podcast opening questions–tell us something great that’s happened recently.
Seeing The Way of Unity in bookstores has been a dream come true. I didn’t know what to expect approaching booksellers, but so far, they have been wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic. Self-publishing is challenging because you have to build these connections one at a time.
What are you currently reading or what’s up next on your TBR? What made you pick up this book?
Last year I started Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle and I am up to the final book in that series, The Other Wind. I love the way Le Guin incorporates religious concepts into her work and the unique worlds she creates. After The Other Wind I plan to read The Left Hand of Darkness. Beyond that, I have a few on my list that I know little about but that look interesting - John Langan’s The Fisherman, Gene Wolf’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus and Elspeth Barker’s O Caledonia.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always kept a journal, where I could organise my thoughts and get to the bottom of things. In high school, when I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (for four torturous years) my journal became a lifeline. Among its pages were ideas that seeded short stories, poetry and artwork, but I never attempted a long-form story.
Decades later, after completing a Religious Studies PhD and publishing my first academic book on mystical experience and film, I found myself in a bit of a dead-end. Housebound by lockdown and with two young children at my heels, I knew that I would go mad unless I found a new and all-consuming project. Taking inspiration from my old journals (and the weird dreams recorded there) I signed up for a novel writing course through Retreat West in the UK. Going from academic writing to fiction might seem like a significant shift, but I soon realised that in both forms I experience a sense of exploration and discovery that ends, if not in an answer, then in a feeling of resolution. That is why I write.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
I love storytelling musicians like Nick Cave and Tom Waits and writers like Virginia Woolf who are not afraid to get experimental. Present-day writers I admire include Kazuo Ishiguro, Susanna Clarke, Jen Williams, Joe Abercrombie, Seth Dickinson and Christopher Buehlman. I also get a lot of inspiration from television series where a lot of brilliant writers are working these days e.g. Midnight Mass, Raised by Wolves and Severance.
How much do you plan when you write? What’s your writing process like?
Because I have young kids, I have to be efficient with my writing time. In Scrivener, I have everything plotted and planned, but when I feel I have lost touch with the imaginative spark, I shift gears. I use tarot cards and other divination methods to help me think about character and plot in an abstract, symbolic way. I draw things out on paper, turn them into shapes, into numbers. I look for correspondences that will reveal the story to me. I often write to a particular playlist so that the music sinks into my subconscious, helping to shape the mood of the story.
They say to never judge a book by its cover, but a cover is still a marketing tool that helps sell books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of your book?
In writing The Way of Unity I created a rough map of Velspar, an emblem to represent the Seven Lands and their respective clans (The Skalens’ Star) and a religious symbol, The Eye of Velspar, which distills the concept of twin deities protecting the source of consciousness. UK illustrator Andy Paciorek did an amazing job adapting these sketches and imbuing them with his own style. His maps are truly unique, and I was so impressed by his ability to capture Sybilla’s character in the front cover illustration. Once he had created her portrait, we played around with the colour and design elements a fair bit, finally settling on a gold and maroon colour scheme.
I also got Andy to design the logo for Burning Mirror, my publishing imprint. I like to think of inspiration as coming from outside us but being shaped and distilled into a concentrated form. This idea reminded me of the way glass concentrates the sun’s rays, and of ancient burning mirrors – objects used to harness the power of the sun. I sketched the image and Andy rendered it with his signature bold lines. I love how it turned out.
Can you give us an elevator pitch for your book?
Driven by spiritual grief, a band of rebels pursue the woman responsible for the slaughter of the faithful, but she is not the only one who will have to face the darkness within.
In your opinion, what kind of reader would like this book?
People who enjoy lyrical prose, layered symbolism and philosophical ideas. As a piece of epic fantasy, I think fans of Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree or Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne will enjoy The Way of Unity. The religious horror element, and related moral themes will appeal to fans of Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires or Kerstin Hall’s Star Eater.
How different is the final version of this book from the first draft?
Quite different. I wrote the first 20,000 words from the POV of a young girl called Bridie, discovering the dark secrets of the Elshender clan, rulers of the island of Avishae. As I went deeper into that secret past, I created a villain who lived on the mainland. A distant figure whose story ended up subsuming all others, changing the timeline, and kicking Bridie out of the story altogether. The only remnant of that original character is Bridie’s father, Patrick Milwain, who makes a cameo in the final version.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? What are your favorite kinds of characters to write?
I like to write characters that challenge me. I combine attributes that appeal and repel me so there is no easy way to categorise them. The four POV characters in The Way of Unity all have their flaws. Sybilla’s fear causes irreparable harm, yet some of her suffering is relatable. Waldemar’s grief at the world he has lost is genuine, but he is also arrogant and blind to his own failures. Ambrose wants what he cannot have but does not have the wisdom to bear it. Zohar is sometimes frivolous but has an untapped capacity for compassion. Of these characters, I think Sybilla is the most difficult – I pushed her a little further along the grey scale.
Is there anything you can tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
I am currently working on the sequel to The Way of Unity, titled A Trail of Stars. At this stage I can reveal that the main POV characters will be Kalet Askier, Voirrey Braedal and Edric, Head Guard of Nothelm. We will be moving beyond the shores of Velspar into unchartered territory.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
I just want to say thank you for having me! This book is very close to my heart, and I hope readers enjoy it.
And finally, where can you be found on the internet if our readers want to hear more from you?
I’m active on Twitter and Goodreads and have just started a quarterly newsletter. I’ve also included the merch link for The Way of Unity where you can pick up awesome t-shirts, mugs and scarves featuring artwork from the book.
The Way of Unity Merch: https://www.redbubble.com/people/SarahKBalstrup/shop
Where to buy the book:
Universal Link: https://tinyurl.com/evnxuawm