Recently, I posted a review on Kill Your Darlings, and now I get the chance to interview the brilliant L.E. Harper. I hope you enjoy.
What/who has influenced you the most as a writer?
I discovered series like The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings, Tamora Pierce’s works, and many others when I was quite young, since I read above my grade level in elementary school. Although I was already a huge fan of the fantasy genre (and dragons and magic in general), my early exposure to these stories shaped me as both a reader and writer.
I led a sheltered childhood and wasn’t allowed much access to movies, television, or radio. However, there were a handful of old movies I had access could watch—the animated 1977 version of The Hobbit, as well as The Flight of Dragons and The Last Unicorn. (Although when my mom actually saw the latter, I wasn’t allowed to rent it anymore. Whomp whomp.) These three were the pillars of my childhood media experience, and they influenced my storytelling in later years.
I know your real-life experiences inspired Kill Your Darlings, but did any songs/books/movies also inspire the book?
Indirectly, yes! My all-time favorite composers are Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix, who together made the band Two Steps From Hell. They create cinematic soundtracks and incidental music. Even if you don’t know their names, you’ve definitely heard their stuff all over: in film trailers, in commercials, even on the radio!
Ever since I discovered TSFH (appropriately, with their song “Dragon Rider”), I’ve listened to their music while I write. It helps me get in the mood and drift off into a fantastical place. I’ll admit, I’ve even written fight scenes choreographed to some of their songs!
How was writing Kill Your Darlings different than writing previous books/stories?
Kill Your Darlings was my first foray into adult fiction, and I worried that my voice still sounded “too YA.” It was also the first book I’ve written in first-person-present POV. This was a deliberate choice as I wanted the audience to be as close to the narrator as possible. Although I’d never written a narrative from this perspective before, it ended up coming to me naturally.
Of course, the biggest difference between this and previous works would be the topics I deal with. Kill Your Darlings is based on the world I created for my YA series; but whereas those books were fun fantasy adventures, this book is simply masquerading as one. The battle for the fate of the world that’s being fought in KYD is a metaphor for the narrator’s battle with mental illness. I had to weave a lot of the real world into my fantasy world, and melding the two was sometimes challenging. Ironically, the real-world aspects were the ones I struggled with most. I write fantasy for a reason—I like making everything up and being in charge of the universe!
Has writing about mental health in fantasy changed over time for you? For me, I’ve noticed that the more I’ve processed and learned about my own anxiety, the more I find my anxiety intertwined in my work. Do you have a similar experience?
Absolutely. As my mental health declined over the years, I noticed more and more of it creeping into my books. Most or all of my characters showed signs of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. More recently, mental illness has become a central theme in my work.
I’m not sure I’d be able to write something carefree and lighthearted anymore, and I’m not sure I want to. Although my mental illness does not define me, it is an inexorable part of my identity. It has colored and defined my worldview. Though I’ve suffered greatly, I’ve also become a more empathetic and open-minded person because of it. (That doesn’t mean I’m grateful for the suffering. It just means I’ve done the best I could with the hand I was dealt in life.) I’m kinder to others because I don’t know what invisible battles they’re fighting. I listen to people and believe them when they tell me what they’re going through. You’d be shocked to know how many times I told someone about an aspect of my identity, only to have the reply be, “no you’re not.” That’s hurtful and invalidating on so many levels, and those experiences have also shown up in my writing.
Do you enjoy the worldbuilding process? Any tips for it?
I love creating worlds—the idea of making a universe from scratch is undeniably appealing. However, I go about it differently from most people. I’m not a plotter, and I don’t write anything down. I keep it all in my head and let it marinate for a good long while before I put the metaphorical pen to paper. This is partially because writing things out makes me feel like I’m doing double work, but also partially because if I have it all in my head, I commit it to long-term memory. If you eat, sleep, and breathe the world of your creation, it becomes second nature. I’ve spent so long in the universe of my YA series that I know everything about its history, magic system, geography, cultures, and species without referencing any notes. That’s the kind of freedom and familiarity I crave.
Most people will write down their notes, and that’s okay! In fact, I recommend it, because most people don’t have an obsessive mind and memory like mine. But I do recommend becoming as intimately familiar with your world as possible, so you can answer questions about it as easily as you might answer questions about life on Earth.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of self-publishing?
Actually, I have an entire TikTok channel devoted to helping others with the self-publishing process! Well, it used to be devoted to that. I’ve noticed there’s an inverse relationship between my mental health and the amount of time I spend on that cursed app, so I’ve recently been less active there. However, I still consider my older video series to be immensely helpful to anyone who’s just getting started!
On a more generalized note, I would say this: self-publishing still has a stigma surrounding it, but we’re entering a new era in the publishing world, and I think our time in the spotlight is coming. We now have many digital tools that allow you to edit, format, print, and distribute high-quality work to the world without a traditional publisher. You have to do your own marketing, but with the way things are going, unless you’re a huge-name A-list author, you’ll be doing your own marketing even if you do get a publishing deal. Instead of letting someone else take a majority of your profits, you can do it all yourself. It’s not an easy process, but it can be a very rewarding one.
What are your hobbies besides writing?
Hah, kidding. Sort of. Many of the activities I used to enjoy, such as hiking and exploring with friends, were curtailed during the pandemic. My hobby game has admittedly suffered over the recent years, but you can always find me reading or doing something artistic. Sometimes it’s casual Photoshopping for fun, sometimes it’s digital art, and sometimes it’s filmmaking or playing around with After Effects. I also love spending time with my pet rescue snake, Medusa!
What is your favorite word and why?
The obvious answer here would be dragon. 😉
Where can readers connect with you and get your book?
If you’d like signed copies of Kill Your Darlings, you can order directly from my Ko-fi shop! I currently have a preorder package available which includes a signed first edition paperback, two book stickers, two character bookmarks, two postcards, and an optional “Rejected by more than 200 agents and publishers!” limited edition sticker you can proudly slap on the cover of the little book that couldn’t.
Thank you, L.E. Harper, for taking the time to do this interview. You can check out my review of her book, Kill Your Darlings, here.