WITH ELISA BONNIN, AUTHOR OF DAUNTLESS – AN AUTHOR Q&A

HELLO, MY FRIENDS! HOW ARE YOU? AND I AM BACK! well, not really back, but you will find me post stuff on this blog at least once or twice a month[?]. Not really sure, but just stay tuned!

also, without further ado! welcome to my second author interview ever since i started blogging! come and meet Elisa A. Bonnin, and her debut novel, Dauntless!

don’t forget to have some bookish fun! let’s go!

hello, elisa! thank you so much for coming to my blog for an interview! for those who don’t know you yet, can you tell us about yourself and maybe some fun facts?

“Hi Leo, thank you so much for inviting me! I’m Elisa, the author of Dauntless. I’m from the Philippines originally. When I was sixteen, my mother got a teaching job in the States, and I moved to the US with her and my sister. I stayed there until I finished school, which took a long time because I decided to get a degree in chemistry followed by a doctorate in oceanography. I now live in Germany, where I work as a researcher. 

Some fun facts: I used to do a lot of martial arts. I did aikido for about eight years, and I did battojutsu, Japanese swordsmanship, for six years. I haven’t trained in a while because of COVID and moving to a non-English-speaking country, so I’m horrendously out of practice, but I’m looking forward to practicing again someday. I’m also into anime, video games and other geeky things, and because I lived in Seattle for six years, I started enjoying conventions. I miss them, although I never did work up the courage to cosplay!” 

your book, currently titled Dauntless, is set to debut on 2022. however, i know our audience are very curious: can you tell us a bit about your debut novel and what was the inspiration behind it?

“Sure! Dauntless is set in a fantasy world, which means that the setting and locations are completely made up. I say that the world of Dauntless is Filipino-inspired, because while I was developing the world of Dauntless, whenever I needed to borrow something from the real world (such as culture, climate, clothing or housing), I made the conscious effort to not draw on the usual Western European stuff and instead used things from the Philippines. But there are a lot of differences between the world of Dauntless and any real place. Dauntless takes place in an endless rainforest, full of magical beasts and undiscovered locations, and its characters have not (yet) seen an ocean.

Even though the ocean doesn’t exist in this world, I was still inspired by it. I first started studying oceanography because I was interested in the ocean, in this place that is such a huge part of our world but that has hardly been explored. Oceanography is one of the few sciences where exploration is still a major concept–we still haven’t touched about 80% of the ocean. I was drawn to this idea of exploration, and I wanted to write a book set in a world that was mostly unknown, where the characters are still exploring it and trying to understand it. That was how I came up with the People, who believe they are alone in the world and who have built a culture around exploring it.

As I was writing, however, I asked myself what would happen if the People were not alone in the world. What would happen if, while exploring, they ran into another group of people, who were living in the land that they wanted to settle in. This idea was really interesting to me, so I decided to set Dauntless at that moment of contact, when the People first encounter another society. I wanted to try and explore an answer different from colonialism or war.

So Dauntless is a book about a society reaching that moment in time, when they first discover that they aren’t alone in the world, but it’s also a book about a teenage girl, Seri, who just wants to get away from her past, and who finds herself falling in love with someone she won’t get to be with unless she can make sure that their societies don’t go to war. And because I’m a huge fantasy nerd at heart, it’s also a book about heroes–who gets to become a hero, and what does it mean to be one?” 

of course, debuting won’t be possible without actually writing the book first. about the writing process, which part did you have a hard time with and which part did you highly enjoy?

“I’m a pantser, which means that I usually like to write the story first without outlining it, but every now and then, I think that I should give outlines another chance. That’s more or less what happened with Dauntless. I wanted to get this story “right”, so I sat down and came up with an outline. And I mostly followed that outline, up until I got about halfway through the story. At that point, I realized that the characters were pulling me in a different direction, and that’s the direction I chose to go in. 

The change that I made–which unfortunately I can’t really spoil here–was one of my favorite parts about writing Dauntless. It had to do with Seri receiving a certain thing which helps her come to terms with her heritage. Once the idea came into my mind, it felt as if the story had taken on a life all on its own, and it was a ton of fun to write.

The hardest thing for me to write was Tsana’s character. Her actions and her personality changed frequently over revisions, and I didn’t really feel like I had a strong handle on her character up until I commissioned character art for her. Once I had her picture in front of me, her character started to make sense.” 

as an author with Filipino roots, which Filipino culture or practice helped you while writing Dauntless?

“I took a lot of inspiration from Filipino culture when I was building the world of Dauntless. I think that having this grounding in a culture that is so different from those often seen in fantasy really helped me put this world together. Once I started thinking about what the world of Dauntless looked like, I couldn’t stop writing, and the worldbuilding process was actually easier for me than it was with some of my more “European-inspired” stories (including Kingfisher and Crow, which I wrote before Dauntless but which will be published after Dauntless). 

I especially loved describing the food, because food is something that we use to connect with each other and to show our affection and appreciation for each other. Several of the characters in Dauntless express their feelings for other characters by bringing them food, which was not intentional, but I love how that aspect of the book turned out.”

not all of us immediately wanted to be writers when we were young. in your case, what made you fall in love with writing? who are the authors who greatly influenced you?

“I actually wanted to be a writer since I was young. I was a very early reader–I started reading at the age of two–and I remember reading books all the time as a kid, always carrying books with me anywhere I went. When I was small, I would often dream of writing stories, but I could never get farther than the first page. I wrote my first completed story when I was eight, and although it was very short (and written on scraps of notebook paper bound together with yarn), it made me realize that I wanted to be a writer. From then on, being published became my dream. 

I was initially inspired by all the fantasy authors that I read, which were mostly books that my mom lent to me. Since this was the 1990s/early 2000s, you can probably imagine which books those were–J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, the series that shall not be named, Anne McCaffrey…etc. Looking at all of that, it’s no surprise that I first thought that fantasy had to be set in a Western European sword-and-sorcery type world, with elves and kings and quests. Those were the first stories that I wrote, and I had a lot of fun writing those, although I’m happy that I’ve been introduced to more diverse fantasy since.  

I wrote all the time, whenever I could. I wrote in class. In elementary school, I wrote in notebooks. In high school, I had a special block of pad paper that was only for writing stories. After I learned to type in freshman year, I discovered that I could get my thoughts out faster while I was typing than when I was writing by hand, so I started writing novels on my home computer. When I discovered the internet, I wrote fanfiction and play-by-post roleplay as well. I took any opportunity that I could to write. 

I just loved being able to put my imagination down onto paper. I loved being able to describe the worlds and characters and scenarios that I saw in my head. I used to daydream stories all the time, used to mumble dialogue to myself when I was alone, but writing them down made them seem more real.

Of course it took me twenty years to finally get my book deal, and two more years after that to get published. But I think that eight-year-old me would be happy with how it all turned out.”

about the publishing process, what was your negative misconception about it that turned out to be wholesome?

“Going in, I was a little worried about the editing process. I waited so nervously for my first edit letter, worried that I was going to have to change the entire story or that the book would become unrecognizable. But when I got my edit letter, I realized that my editor understood what I was trying to do with the story. While I needed to make a lot of changes, most of them made sense and really helped shape the final version of Dauntless. I know that the experience depends pretty heavily on who your editor is, but mine has been great so far, providing guidance while also letting me make my own decisions for both Dauntless and Kingfisher and Crow

It is true that traditionally published authors are not in control of a lot of stuff about their books, but I am happy to say that Dauntless’s team has taken many of my wishes into account. I’m really happy with how the book is developing, and I hope that you all enjoy it too!” 

still about publishing, what is your favorite part and least favorite part in the process so far?

“My favorite part of the process is a bit vague. It’s watching Dauntless transform from a Word document into a book. That has been the most fulfilling for me, and covers a lot of different things, from choosing the cover illustrator, to seeing sketches, to reviewing sample pages and seeing pre-order links. Little by little, I am starting to get a picture of the kind of book Dauntless will be, and how it will look in my hands. I’ve wanted this for a very long time, so I’m super excited that it’s finally happening.

My least favorite part: social media. I like social media sometimes, and sometimes I really do enjoy making posts, but as an autistic author, there are times when I don’t have the spoons to engage as much as I would like. I am working on this, because I would like to be able to get the word out about Dauntless, but it has not been the easiest for me.”

do you have a writing snack or snacks? if you do not mind, can you share to us what they are?

“I usually write in sprints, so I don’t snack on much while writing except for water. I have to emphasize “while writing” because I definitely snack a lot (possibly too much!) when I’m not writing. I like both sweet and savory snacks, but it totally depends on what I feel like that day. 

If I really need a snack during a writing session, I might break off a few pieces from a chocolate bar. Chocolate is an easy writing treat, because it breaks into pieces and I can eat them without getting my hands dirty.”

what is your writing routine? do you have some sort of “ritual” to get into writing mode?

“I realized pretty early on that I was never going to find the time to sit down and write unless I made it, so I decided to treat writing like part of my job. I use Google Calendar to schedule my time, and I set aside time each day to write, usually about 30 minutes to 1 hour. When it’s writing time, I sit down at my desk, put background music on, and write until I hit my word count goal (usually about 1000 words per session). When I’m drafting, I try not to edit. For me, the first draft is about getting all the words out on the page, and editing happens when the story is done. That makes drafting go a lot faster–although of course there’s a lot to fix in editing! I do this every weekday, but I try to take weekends off when possible to give myself a break. 

If I have a hard time getting the words out, I break my writing goal into several smaller chunks and do “sprints” throughout the day. I find that it’s easier to convince myself to write 250 words than it is to write 1000, and then usually by the time I hit 250 words, I’ve tricked myself into being in the zone and I want to keep going. Sometimes, if I’m stumped about what happens next, I’ll take a walk or listen to music to get inspiration. But that’s my basic writing routine. I try to do a little every day.”

your book features an f/f couple. what is your message to the queer community?

“I don’t really have any grand visions or messages. In a way, the world of Dauntless is a bit escapist, because the characters live in a society where queerness isn’t thought of as anything strange. Seri’s relationship with Tsana is treated in exactly the same way as Eshai’s M/F relationship with her partner Lavit (well, not exactly, but the reasons for the differences have nothing to do with their sexualities). 

I started reading fantasy because I wanted that escape from the real world, and I started writing fantasy because I wanted to give readers that, but it isn’t just escapism. I wrote this book because I wanted people, especially teenagers, to feel more comfortable with who they are and to see that being outside the norm doesn’t stop someone from being heroic, from being good and doing amazing things. In my life, I have been constantly inspired to do better and be better by the stories that I’ve read, and I wanted to provide that experience for my readers as well. To show them that no matter who they are, no matter what the world tells them, they are still valued, and they can still be great. 

The main message of Dauntless is on the back of the book. 

Be dauntless.” 

title: dauntless
author: elisa a. bonnin
publisher: swoon reads
release date: 19 july 2022
age category: young adult
genre/s: fantasy
purchase link/s: [ indiebound | bookshop | libro.fm | pre-order ]

about:
A teen girl must bring together two broken worlds in order to save her nation in this lush, Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from debut author Elisa A. Bonnin.

“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”

Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace. [ goodreads ]


I’m an author, freelance writer, scientist, and science communicator.

I grew up in the Philippines, and am very proud to be Filipino. As an author, I specialize in speculative fiction, particularly fantasy. Currently, I write for teens, but I would love to write for adults too someday. I’ve been writing since the age of eight, and publishing my books has always been my dream, so I’m super-excited to announce that my debut YA novel, Dauntless, is coming out in 2022! I’m still seeking representation, so if you know any literary agents that might be interested in my work, feel free to contact me.

As a scientist, I have a PhD in Oceanography from the University of Washington, and I’m a chemist by training (BS Chemistry, University of South Carolina). Right now, I work in a neurology department running a super cool instrument called a NanoSIMS, that can take images of the chemical composition of surfaces. I also do some freelance work making scientific discoveries accessible to a general audience, through Massive Science and Complexly, and I’m always looking for more writing opportunities. [ author website | twitter | instagram ]

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