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March 5, 2015

What would you do if you trained for something your entire life --- something that you believed in, and that helped the world around you --- and as soon as you achieved it, you realize everything had been a lie? That the very thing you were working towards was nothing like you imagined? That’s what happened to Quin Kinkaid and her best friend Shinobu in SEEKER, the first book in a thrilling new fantasy series by Arwen Elys Dayton. Read our interview with Arwen below to get the inside scoop on the book --- from her favorite scene to a character name that may have been based on a high school crush --- as well as her favorite books growing up, the fascinating  places she got to travel for research and more!

Teenreads: What inspired you to write SEEKER?

Arwen Elys Dayton: The main character in SEEKER, Quin Kincaid, showed up in my mind one day and simply wouldn’t leave. Quin brought with her a complicated family situation and a terrible sense of betrayal. I understood right away that Quin was a talented and optimistic girl whose life wasn’t going to go at all the way she wanted it to. This made me a little sad for her, but I was also intrigued.

Quin was soon joined in my imagination by a guy named Shinobu, who was her loyal friend and an excellent fighter, and then came a fellow named John, whose intentions were not at all clear. The story built from there.

TRC: Much of SEEKER takes place in Scotland and Hong Kong. Why did you choose these places specifically, and have you visited either of them?

AED: Almost as soon as Quin showed up in my imagination, I saw that she lived in Scotland, about 40 years in the future, and I also saw that Hong Kong would be an important part of her journey.

I’d been to Scotland before and had fallen in love with the sense of timelessness in the countryside. Once you get away from the cities, you feel that you’re seeing Scotland much as it was hundreds of years ago, and much as it will be in the future. That timelessness is perfect for this story, which blends past and future.

I love Hong Kong’s mix of East and West, its crowded streets, the wild markets for all sorts of strange things to buy, and the relationship of the whole city with the ocean. Hong Kong already feels futuristic, so it’s not much of a stretch to push it forward in time and envision what it will be like a few decades from now, when takes place. It’s an ideal setting for this story.

While I was writing SEEKER, I traveled to both Scotland and Hong Kong. My research was focused mostly on locations, geography and the sensory experience of these places. A lot of that ended up in the book, particularly for Hong Kong. When I was traveling, I began to see through the characters’ eyes and experience the world as they experienced it. The world of SEEKER came alive. I hope the sense of place comes through in the story --- I spent a lot of time trying to get that right.

TRC: There are many legends and lots of history woven into SEEKER. What’s the most interesting thing you learned when conducting research for the book?

AED: I read a wonderful and terrible book called ROYAL MURDERS by Dulcie M. Ashdown, which is full of true stories of siblings and cousins plotting against and killing each other throughout European history. This is an unpleasant book that was nevertheless quite inspiring. It showed me families at their worst, which was an important part of writing SEEKER.

TRC: Which scene in SEEKER did you have the most fun writing, and why?

AED: There’s a chapter where Shinobu and Quin are hiding among the rafters on the underside of the Transit Bridge in Hong Kong. They are filthy --- especially Quin, who’s been through a very rough time before this --- and the water of Victoria Harbor is far below them. Quin doesn’t remember Shinobu’s name, even though every part of her being is screaming out that she knows him as well as she knows herself. They go around in circles, arguing and learning to be friends again --- sort of. I like this scene because so many things are happening for each of them. Shinobu is unbearably frustrated with her, and yet he can’t help being happy to see her. Quin is a basket case at this point in the story, and yet she becomes calmer simply because Shinobu is there.

TRC: Which character do you most relate to?

AED: I probably relate most to Quin. She is so sure she’s going to do amazing things with her life. When she discovers her future is not at all what she thought it would be, she’s devastated. For some reason that reminds me of certain moments I experienced as a teen --- though nothing in my own life was nearly as dire as what happens to Quin!

TRC: Was there a character you particularly enjoyed writing?

AED: I enjoyed writing Shinobu because he has a sense of humor, even in the worst situations. His inherent sense of playfulness is still alive throughout the book, despite his life being turned upside down, despite his ruined future. He makes Quin smile when she’d rather yell or cry. He makes me smile, too.

TRC: Do the names of the characters have any significance?

AED: I wanted Celtic/Scottish names for the Scottish characters. Quin fits that mold and is also just a great name. (I think it kicks butt all on its own.) J

Shinobu is a Japanese name I’ve always liked. (Okay, actually I had a crush on a Japanese boy in high school named Shinobu, and I’ve liked the name since then. Happy?)

John is a simple, unremarkable name on purpose. Later in the story we find out why his mother wanted to give him such an ordinary name.

And Maud, well, it seemed the right name for her from the first moment I saw the Young Dread walking through the nighttime forest on the Scottish estate.

TRC: John takes a complicated, twisted path throughout this novel. When you began to write SEEKER, did you know how he would turn out, or did you discover it as you wrote?

AED: I had to discover a lot of things about John as I wrote. I knew from the start that he was hiding things from Quin, from Quin’s father, Briac, and even from himself. For me, the question was always: is John bad or is he good? I think we can all agree he’s ambiguous. But he wants to be good, doesn’t he? I think so. The problem is in how John defines being good. And that’s a work in progress. John’s concepts of good and bad are still moving around, and I am learning the answer to these questions right alongside him.

TRC: The Dreads are both strange and fascinating. Can you tell us a bit more about them, and how you came up with them?

AED: At the beginning of SEEKER, the Dreads are mysterious figures, dangerous and a bit spooky. Quin and John and Shinobu can only guess at their purpose. Are they a sort of judge of Seekers? Why are they observing their training?

Slowly, we focus on the Young Dread, a girl who appears to be about 14 years old. The Young Dread moves silently, deliberately and with terrifying precision. She is not someone you want to tangle with. And yet we learn she can be trusted to choose what is right --- most of the time.

The Dreads live for a long time, spanning many generations, so they have seen a lot of history and have a much different perspective than people living in the ordinary way. For me, they embody the timelessness and danger of the Seeker world.

TRC: SEEKER is written from multiple perspectives. Was it difficult to switch perspectives while writing, considering each character has different ideas regarding right and wrong?

AED: That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing process. Different perspectives fascinate me. All people believe they are making the right choices from their own viewpoint---or even if they feel they’re doing something bad, they usually have a long list of reasons why their actions are justified. I love putting those different points of view into conflict.

John and Quin have an interesting relationship, and it was both fun and cruel to make John walk a tightrope as he tried to figure out how much of himself and his intentions he could safely reveal and how much he had to hide.

TRC: Would you say that there is a “message” to SEEKER? If so, what is it?

AED: I never set out with a particular message, but sometimes when a story is finished you realize there is a message. For SEEKER, that message is about inventing yourself. And I don’t mean re-inventing yourself --- I mean actually deciding who you are to begin with, not who others think you should be, not who your parents raised you to be, but who you are --- in your heart and by your own choice.

Quin lived most of her life in a state of false happiness, when she believed that the life her parents wanted for her and the life she wanted for herself were perfectly aligned. When she discovers she’s been betrayed by those she trusts most, her life falls apart. SEEKER is the story, really, of Quin and Shinobu and John either accepting the life others have forced upon them or deciding for themselves who they want to be. Will they succeed? Whichever way they choose, the path will not be easy.

TRC: You’ve written the adult books SOVEREIGN’S HOLD and RESURRECTION. How is writing a YA novel different from writing an adult novel, and how is it similar?

AE: I liked the idea of having teenagers as the main characters in the story because that time of life is naturally so full of hope and pain and awkwardness and love and other dramatic experiences. Teenaged main characters naturally make a story more exciting to write.

But other than that, I did nothing differently. I got really interested in Quin and the other characters and I wanted to find out about the world they lived in and what happened to them. I wrote the story as I imagined it happening and didn’t make any conscious changes to the way I wrote.

TRC: What books have influenced your writing the most?

AE: As a young reader and writer, I was first inspired by C. S. Lewis. Reading the Narnia series over and over as a kid sent my imagination into overdrive. It was an entire world --- actually many worlds --- created in the author’s mind, and yet it was almost as real to me as my own life.

Now I read and enjoy many genres, but particularly historical fiction, contemporary fiction, science fiction and fantasy. If I had to pick just one genre, it would probably be historical fiction --- I love the feeling that you, as the reader, are getting to see a small slice of a much larger story that began long ago and will continue into the future.


TRC: Bringing a story from the conception of the first idea to publication is a long, hard road that takes dedication and a real passion. Why do you, personally, write?

AE: I don’t think I have a choice in the matter! I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was a small child. I was the sort of kid who, at age nine, would write 100-page stories (usually science fiction), and then force the rest of my class to listen to them at read-aloud. Frankly, I get unhappy very quickly if I’m not writing. The publication aspect is a wonderful bonus --- it’s lovely to have an audience read one’s work --- but I think I would be writing stories even if no one else wanted to read them.

TRC: SEEKER is being made into a movie! Are you involved in the adaptation process at all?

AE: I am involved. The producers (Columbia Pictures and Mark Gordon Productions, of Saving Private Ryan, Source Code, and The Day After Tomorrow fame) and I are on very friendly terms, and they have been dedicated fans of SEEKER and its characters from early on. While I am not writing the screenplay (that would be difficult while I’m still in the middle of writing the books!), my door is always open to the production team when they have questions about the book and the overall series. They’re a great group of people.

TRC: Can you give us any hints about what’s to come in TRAVELER?

AE: TRAVELER picks up just a short while after SEEKER leaves off. The danger for Quin and the others is real and immediate. There are new characters, and new perspectives on old characters. (We get to meet some of the parents from book one when they were teenagers.) It’s been very enjoyable to follow these characters around the world as the story continues, and I can’t wait to start sharing book two.

Arwen Elys Dayton spends months doing research for her stories. Her explorations have taken her around the world to places like the Great Pyramid at Giza, Hong Kong and its many islands and lots of ruined castles in Scotland. Arwen lives with her husband and their three children on the West Coast of the United States.