Meet Dana Swift, Debut YA Author of Cast in Firelight

Romance. Action. Magic. Debut author Dana Swift’s Cast in Firelight has it all, and more. In her fast-paced YA fantasy, we follow the paths of two young royals with magical skills given to them by the nine gods. Heirs to their respective thrones, Adraa and Jatin have been betrothed since they were children, their union sure to unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But growing up, they were fierce rivals, always trying to one-up each other, especially when it came to mastering their magic. After years of fierce competition from afar while Jatin was at school, Adraa and Jatin can both agree that his return isn’t likely to be heartfelt. However, when their kingdoms are threatened by a criminal plot, Adraa and Jatin unknowingly unite, and must work together to save their people—only they’ve lied to each other about who they truly are.

With compelling main characters and action-packed fight scenes, Cast in Firelight is captivating. Swift’s magic system is refreshing and new, mixing the ideas of magic and religion together. By showing the determination of Adraa and Jatin to save their people, while a slow-burn romance plays out, Swift shows the balance between unexpected love and duty, and the strength it takes to fight for the kingdoms they were born to lead. Dead Darlings is pleased to introduce a writer who is sure to be a rising YA star—Dana Swift. 

Cast in Firelight, your debut novel, is due out in three days. How does it feel to know your book will soon be in people’s hands? 

It’s a truly amazing feeling. Surreal is probably the best descriptor, though. Even holding the final book in my hands still produces some shock. It’s a book not only I, but a whole team of people put attention, time and work into. And I can’t believe soon it will accessible to readers.

In many ways, publication day is the day the story is no longer only mine. People will read it and bring their own thoughts and feelings to the experience. I do hope it inspires and helps at least one reader feel a little less alone.

In this book, you created a unique magic system and religion in which magic is granted to the characters by nine gods, each of which has a respective color. Where did the idea for this system come from? Did you plan it out in advance, or did you figure out the rules as you wrote? 

I always knew I wanted a pantheon of gods, so many of my decisions revolved around the details of the gods. For instance, I grappled with how many gods there would be, if they were in fact real, and what exactly they did. I spent days brainstorming about their colors. Fun fact, I had ten at one point, with the color brown being used to manipulate earth and stone. But I really liked the idea of nine, so I decided to stick with green magic to cover all earthly material. The actual names of the spells, however, were a late edition in the editing process. In summary, I started with a solid foundation for the magic system and built in the details as I wrote.

This story has two very strong protagonists, Adraa and Jatin, both heirs to their kingdoms and talented magical casters. When you’re writing characters, what is your greatest struggle? Which character did you have the hardest time with, and how did you overcome this? 

My greatest struggle with writing characters is making sure their voice and point of view is consistent throughout the book. Not to say my characters don’t grow and change, but since I write out of order and it takes me months to write a book, sometimes half way through I start writing a character a little differently, to the point where it doesn’t sound like the same person who started the story. It can be difficult, but that’s why revision is so important to a “pantser” like me. I go back and decide who I want this character to be and make sure to edit when their dialogue sounds off or they make an uncharacteristic decision. Beta readers can help and be on the lookout for this. My husband, who is always one of my first beta readers, has spotted discrepancies several times. I’m grateful for his eye to detail. Overall, Jatin was the harder character to write. I struggled with him a lot more than Adraa.

First drafts are often very different from the final product. Was there anything you cut from the book that you wished you didn’t have to?  

This is a great question. For Cast in Firelight, I only truly regret cutting one scene and it was at the very end of the book. However, I was able to put it at the beginning of the sequel, so I don’t feel like I’ve lost it. Plus, this cut made for a better ending for the first book. In terms of big differences from first draft to final, the major one is the ending. At my agent’s suggestion I rewrote the ending, and then rewrote a few timeline things and middle scenes my editor recommended. For the most part, I actually added more scenes from first draft to last draft than deleted.

Did you always know you wanted to write a fantasy, and which titles or authors inspired you to do so? 

I’ve always been drawn to fantasy in stories and in my imagination. I love creating new worlds and I love reading about magic, creatures, and new societies. Some of my favorites as a child were: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, the entire Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, and a book I don’t see many people talk about called The Various by Steve Augarde. My favorite as child was Anne of Green Gables. It just seems when I’m crafting my own stories it’s much more fun with fantasy elements. Fight scenes and romance are wonderful, but I’ve always been drawn to magic.

All aspiring authors want to know…how did you land your agent and publisher?  

I actually got my agent by pitching to her at a writing conference. I was part of a writing critique group in Dallas and they put on a writing conference every year called DFW Con. I happened to approach the president of the group at the time to ask her a question when she was talking with Amy Brewer, who would become by agent by the end of summer. The president of the group told Amy I had an amazing book. Amy asked to hear more about it. And after a nervous explanation of the plot and characters, it all went from there.

Delacorte Press was the first publishing house to show interest in my book and offer to buy it. I’m so lucky to have them.

Cast in Firelight is the first book in a series set in Wickery. Did you always know the story was going to be more than one book? How were you able to decide where one book would end, and the next pick up? Can you tell us anything about the sequel? 

I like to create complex plots that need more than one story to finish them. About halfway through drafting the first book, I had ideas for the second one. When I got my agent, I told her I planned for this story to be a series. I find the very ending of books difficult to write and my agent actually recommended I rewrite the ending of Cast in Firelight, and that is exactly what I did. The last 10,000 words, I deleted and rewrote. Even in a series, you have to have certain threads resolve and I wasn’t doing that to the full extent that was needed.

The sequel is more than underway. My editor and I have been hard at work editing and making it the best it can be. It’s even more fast-paced, with even more twists, but I can’t say too much more for fear of spoiling something.

And finally, what writing advice would you pass on to a young, aspiring author like me? 

There are a few things I would say, besides reading and writing a lot. One: find out what works for you in terms of your process. There’s no one way to write. Two: Try to find friends or a community of fellow readers/writers so you can get critiques and feedback on your work. Publishing is a hard journey and you will need support along the way. Three: Remember, the importance of storytelling and hold onto the joy of writing. We, as a society, live on stories and need new voices in the industry, including yours.

Dana Swift graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and is a member of the DFW Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Cast in Firelight, and the forthcoming sequel, Bound by Firelight. She lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband. To learn more about Dana and her books visit danaswiftbooks.com or follow @swift_dana on Twitter and Instagram. Purchase a copy of Cast in Firelight, out on January 19, at Swift’s local bookshop, Books and Books.

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