Interview With the Author of On These Black Sands: Vanessa Rasanen!

Today, we welcome author Vanessa Rasanen to the Literature Approved platform in order to really dig into the behind-the-scenes of On These Black Sands! You can thank our reviewer, AnnaScott, for these glorious questions!

You can also read Rayleigh’s review of On These Black Sands: HERE.

Q: Tell me about your inspiration for the book. What influenced some of your key decisions?

A: This book didn’t start with any profound question or deep theme. My husband and I did a pub crawl in Nassau, and the final stop was at Pirate Republic Brewing Company. By the end of the tour, I knew I wanted to write about pirates. But what that story would be, I didn’t yet know. I had two plot points in mind (which I can’t share, because *spoilers*), but the overarching story unfolded as I wrote. And it changed often.

My main female characters tend to be on the more awkward side, and Aoife (EE-fuh) is no exception. I love seeing characters who stumble in everyday life as I often do. They say the wrong thing. They trip when it’s least desirable. They may show courage when it matters, but they also struggle with self-doubt.

Declan and Tommy’s friendship means the world to me. There is something so unbelievably special about male camaraderie. It’s an element I wish we saw more of in books.

Q: What are some common misconceptions that you’ve heard about your book? Why do you think people make them?

A: When I first started this book, I anticipated it being marketed as a YA fantasy, but as I got to know my
characters, their goals, and their struggles, I realized it wasn’t YA at all. But it also wasn’t fully adult either. And I had this hard decision to make on whether to change it slightly to fit it into the YA mold and meet YA readers’ expectations or choose to market it as New Adult (NA). New Adult is unofficially recognized among readers and some publishers, but in the broader publishing world, it hasn’t gained any footing.

Unfortunately, it has become nearly synonymous with steamy college-aged romance novels, and there is (I believe) this expectation that New Adult books will have some rather graphic intimate scenes. It’s why a lot of cleaner authors tend to avoid marketing their books in this category and choose to steer clear.

I’m not necessarily a clean author. I swear like a sailor and don’t mind intimacy in the books I read (though it really has to fit the story and can’t just be there to be there). That said, I didn’t want to put steam into my books if it didn’t warrant it. And it really doesn’t fit into my characters’ arcs in this first installment. But I also had to take into account my husband’s opinion. His name will be on these books, too, since we share a last name, and I needed to make sure I didn’t write anything (in this book or in later books) that he would be embarrassed to have his name on. He has challenged me to write intimacy in a way that keeps it from being risque or smutty.

I’m hoping that we will start seeing more authors venture into this New Adult category and maybe broaden the scope of its themes and content because I think there is room for both types of writing here. 

Q: What was your most memorable moment during the writing process? 

A: This whole writing process was rather frustrating to me. I’m a plotter by nature, but this story would not be plotted. I took copious notes and did a lot of brainstorming, but any time I attempted to force it into an outline, I’d get stuck. The most memorable moment didn’t come during the first draft but when I sent my second draft to one of my critique partners. She had told me the ending needed higher stakes, and she was absolutely right. I had rushed to finish the first draft and you could tell my energy had fizzled by the time I got to 115,000 words. When she read my revision, she told me I had achieved “Sarah J. Maas level tension”. For those who haven’t read SJM’s novels (and she’s certainly not for everyone), she is rather known for edge-of-your-seat finales that keep you glued to the pages for the last hundred pages. It was a huge compliment to receive!

Q: What is one thing that you want your readers to walk away with?

It isn’t some profound lesson or anything. I simply want this to be an enjoyable escape from the day-to-day. Are there deeper themes? Sure. How does a people escape an oppressive regime that has ruled for centuries? Can family ties be strengthened over years of neglect? The book explores loyalty, truth, friendship, and trust, but at the end of the day, if nothing else, I want readers to close the book and feel that they have new friends (and perhaps some new enemies), that they’ve just been a fun journey. A journey they can’t wait to continue. 

Q: Tell me about your writing process. If we had a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of On These Black Sands, what would it include?

Being a morning person (and because my children are all morning people, too), I work best early in the morning. I have to wake up at 4 am (if not earlier) in order to get a good chunk of uninterrupted time at the keys. I always have coffee, but it will often go cold before I’ve finished half a mug. I may have actually mentioned my favorite coffee brand in my acknowledgments (along with my favorite brand of gin… but that’s another story).

I might be one of the few authors who actually use a desktop and not a laptop *shrug*, but I prefer it. I now have a wonderful setup with two monitors, a mechanical keyboard (helps limit hand fatigue), and an extensive art wall for inspiration. My husband bought me two pirate posters to hang in the space, and he seems to ignore the plethora of artwork depicting Killian Jones from Once Upon A Time. Ha!

While I have a playlist created for all of my books, this book was actually written in a lot more silence than I expected. But I listen to the playlists so much in the car that my kids can now sing all the lyrics to the songs.

Also, I rely heavily on writing sprints when I’m writing that first draft. I am an awful overthinker, and my perfectionist side wants to step in and derail my fingers a bit. My writing sessions usually consist of four to five sprints that increase in time with each. I do a short five-minute sprint first just to get my fingers warmed up. Then I move to ten minutes and fifteen minutes. I can’t go longer than fifteen, though, as it is too inviting for my editor-side to come out to play.

I’m a data analyst in my day job, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I keep a rather detailed google sheet of my writing progress. On days when my word count is lower or where I didn’t write at all, I jot down why… whether it’s a headache, or the kids woke up early, or I decided to sleep in. It helps to keep me from getting down on myself and look back at less productive days.

Q: Which character was your favorite to write? Why? 

A: I honestly loved writing all of them. They each bring their own flavor to this world. If you forced me to choose a favorite, though, it would be a tie between Declan and Cait. They both have this snarky side that guards their inner brokenness. Both of them are focusing on staying strong despite a pain and feeling of abandonment they’ve been carrying for years. It’s these complexities (and their sharp wit) that made them so fun to explore.

Q: What made you decide to become a writer? 

A: I have no idea. I wasn’t even a very big reader until my thirties. We often hear authors talk about how they always knew they’d be writers or always spent their days reading as many books as they could. In all honesty, I was more enamored with boys instead of books. But I was always creative. I wrote a lot of stories and created a family newsletter (called The Runt, by the way). Years later I started blogging and trying my hand at flash fiction and freelancing. I started writing my first book (the first three drafts were awful), and then I rediscovered a love for reading. I learned so much about the craft from simply reading book after book of varying genres, picking up on the action beats and the patterns that existed throughout. In the end, I think I decided to become a writer because I couldn’t get rid of the itch. Even though I wasn’t a big reader, I loved words. And no matter how many times I stepped away from it, I’d always come back.

When friends tell me they wish they could write or they wish they were authors, I tell them “no, you don’t”. And maybe that sounds awful, but I’m being honest. It is a difficult passion to have. It is a nagging worm in your ear that can distract you from everything else in life, pushing you to write. I think George Orwell put it best: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but still. I think it fits.

Q: What did your research process look like? Did you try acting out scenes? Does your google history look questionable? What sources did you turn to for information? 

A: This was a mix of reading books on the golden age of piracy, watching a few episodes of Black Sails for inspiration, and working with the incredibly talented and knowledgeable Carla Hoch, author of Fight Write, to work through some of my fighting scenes. I did a lot of research on weaponry and sailing. I didn’t want to get too technical in the book, but I did want to make sure I didn’t write anything completely off-base. I also did quite a bit of research on the mythology of sirens and fae. I had quite a few discussions with my husband about totalitarian regimes: their motives, their methods, and how the people successfully rebel against them.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing this book?

A: Being forced to pants it was by far the hardest. Could I have insisted on outlining? Possibly, but it never felt right for the story (as I said before). I found I stalled whenever I tried to box it in and shape it ahead of time. I had to really give up my structured process and let the story and characters take me blindly on this journey. My first book was a contemporary, and fantasy is another beast entirely. We are creating whole worlds from scratch, and the endless possibilities and options before me were sometimes suffocating and overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many random notes I have strewn about with all the different paths I considered.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about this book?

A: I didn’t expect to have as hard a time with my fae. We only meet them briefly in this first book, but I still had to know a lot of their backstory beforehand. I’m still unclear on some things surrounding them, but I’m trusting they’ll tell me in the end. I would often end up on my friend’s doorstep muttering curses at my fae, because they threw me for so many loops in my head.

With all the frustration I had with having to change my process and approach with this, I am ultimately surprised by how the first draft came together. I look back at it now and wonder how it happened, because I don’t remember. I didn’t have an outline, so I’m a bit amazed at what came out of my head. Ha!

Thank you so much for your time Vanessa, and thank you for sharing Aoife and Declan’s story with us!

Links to purchase On These Black Sands are included in the review!

One comment

  1. Love this! I love that her husband has challenged her to expand the horizons of New Adult to include less smutty but equally intriguing stories. I, too, have voiced a need for that, and am eager to see how Vanessa takes on that challenge. Definitely adding this to my TBR list!

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