Notes & Narratives goes “On the Record” with author L. Penelope

by: Tania Lasenburg

Here is something you should know about L. Penelope. . . She is living a writer’s dream. Not only was her “debut” novel Song of Blood and Stone self-published but all of the books in her Earthsinger Chronicles were self-published. But one day, she received that call, that email, that message from St. Martin’s Press stating they want to publish her book nationally. From there the rest is history.

Song of Blood and Stone is a Young Adult fantasy novel. But before you blow this book off keep reading. This book is about a girl named Jasminda, who is an outcast in her homeland because of her gift of Earthsong. When a group of soldiers comes to her isolated home to seek refuge, they bring a captive, who isn’t who he says he is. Thus opening the world to Jasminda, her ability, and the mysterious captive.

We’ve read this book and absolutely loved it. The world building is rich and deep. There are turns within the plot that add just the right amount of complication that reminds you of sitting with an elder listening to them talk about their good ole and bad days. You see and feel the world of the Earthsong and you want more of it.

Due to our love of this book, we had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Penelope and ask her a few questions.

Why did you choose to write fantasy? How has it been able to help you to tell your story?

Fantasy was always my default. The very first short story I wrote at age 5 featured a boy with a magic clock that made it so he was never late for dinner, and I never really looked back. Growing up, my favorite shows and movies were either outright fantasies, like The Neverending Story or featured a world somewhat skewed from our own, like The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside, and The X-files. So my mind just naturally went to the magical, supernatural, and strange first.

Fantasy unlocks the imagination and allows us to create new worlds and new ways to view our own. So, in telling a fantasy story, I’m ultimately still talking about the real world because the triumphs and struggles of good vs. evil, overcoming prejudice, and falling in love are ones we can all relate to.

  As an African American woman, do you feel the pressure to tell only certain stories? If so, why and how do you deal with that?

I don’t feel pressure to tell certain stories at all. I do feel a responsibility—and more than that a strong desire—to write stories featuring people who look like me. My feeling is, if I don’t write them, who will? And representation is so, so important, not only for African Americans and marginalized groups to see ourselves, but to show ourselves to the world in all our complexity, beauty, and pain.

The world really doesn’t need me to write another medieval epic fantasy featuring all white people, or savage “others”. There are plenty of those stories. So it’s not pressure from some external source, it’s motivation that comes from within.

What inspired you to write this series? What came first: The characters or the world? What was your inspiration for the magic of Earthsong? Were you inspired by other books? Movies?

When I first wrote this book, up until the time I gave it to my first editor, I thought it was going to be a novella. It was always meant to be a fairytale-esque story of a girl’s journey from the margins of society straight to its upper echelons. The characters Jack and Jasminda were there before the world was ever clear in my mind. The first scene I wrote was the one where they meet in front of her cabin. I knew they were from different, warring countries and they came from very different sorts of lives, but that was all.

Through the magic of revision (lots and lots of revision) I discovered the journey that the characters would go on and all the conflicts they would face. I love fantasy and there were so many inspiring series that I soaked in prior to writing the book, from Graceling by Kristin Cashore to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. But I think this book owes its biggest inspiration to the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. Her fantasy world felt well realized and complex, filled with incredibly detailed characters, groups, nations, and settings. But I also wanted to write a kinder, gentler fantasy novel that wouldn’t double as a doorstopper.

What advice would you give aspiring authors, especially authors or color, striving to have their stories and truths shared?

I would tell aspiring authors to really investigate your goals and be frank with yourself about why you want to do this. It’s a difficult path emotionally, creatively, and professionally and what will get you through the low points is being very clear about your “why”. It can also be incredibly rewarding, but knowing what you’re getting yourself into is key.

Writing and publishing are two different disciplines. Your “why” will inform whether you pursue traditional publishing or seek to self-publish. It will keep you going through rejections, delays, bad reviews, disappointment, and the imposter syndrome that we all go through.

The other very important thing is to have a community to fall back on. Whether that’s a chapter of a professional organization like RWA, SFWA, SCWBI, and others, or a Facebook group, critique group, or writer’s circle, having others to commiserate and celebrate with you makes the journey much easier.

What do you most hope that readers take away from SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE?

I really just hope readers enjoy the story and the characters. Jasminda is a heroine that I had been longing to see, so I hope people get as much joy and heartache from her story as I did when I wrote it.


  Song of Blood and Stone  is available now at your local bookstore. 
Photo Credit: Valerie Bey

You can follow L. Penelope on Twitter and her website


Song of Blood and Stone is available now at your local bookstore.