The Big Idea: Laura R. Samotin

For The Sins On Their Bones, author Laura R. Samotin was challenged to do several tricky things at once in order to make the whole story work. And how were these things tricky things accomplished? As today’s Big Idea explains: trickily!


One of the big ideas motivating my debut adult fantasy novel The Sins On Their Bones was “how do the characters who lost the war and survived continue to live after the shooting stops?” We see many a fantasy novel where the battle is the climax, and yet I wanted to explore what it would feel like to be living in the aftermath of trauma, to be a character dealing with devastating political and personal scars. So The Sins On Our Bones starts at the end—with a Tzar in exile, having (quite spectacularly) lost a civil war to the ex-husband who deposed him.

What I didn’t anticipate when writing was that this narrative choice posed intertwined challenges, not only for the telling of the story, but for the ability of readers to connect with deeply traumatized characters they meet at the lowest point of their lives, with the least agency and self-esteem they’ve ever had. The setup of the book is this: Dimitri Alexeyev is the former Tzar of Novo-Svitsevo, and he and the few surviving members of his court are in exile. His court is concerned—there have been rumors that his ex-husband, Alexey, is coming to finish the job and kill Dimitri and the rest of his them. And besides, it seems as though Alexey is preparing to do some rather unsavory things to the country and people they care for in the name of shoring up his rule.

Dimitri, though, would prefer to languish in bed, chain-smoking and drinking himself to death—he is profoundly depressed and dealing with serious PTSD. There are dozens of rejections sitting in my agent’s email inbox that go something along the lines of Dimitri is too passive, he’s not an engaged character. The thing is, those rejections are right—but the implication that the only books worth publishing are the ones in which characters immediately pull themselves up and out of horrible situations by their bootstraps really frustrated me. It didn’t feel realistic to me that Dimitri would immediately spring out of bed and start drawing up plans for how to retake his country after just having suffered the biggest personal and political trauma of his life and rule. At least in my personal experience, that’s not how grappling with depression and anxiety works

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Source: The Big Idea: Laura R. Samotin

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