Interview with Novel19 Debut Author Liz Kerin of The Phantom Forest, available 7/16/19!
Welcome friends to my third author interview as a part of my Novel19 Class! This year I wanted to do something to help boost new author voices and stories, and this is a project that I am really excited about! For more information about my Novel19 Class and the other five books that I’ve chosen, please check out my announcement post.
“If you’re into epic journeys across fantastical lands, enemies-to-friends-to-something-more, and strong sibling relationships, this is a story for you! If I’m being honest, I wrote this for myself. I created a world I knew I would want to immerse myself in.”
Today I am so excited to have Liz Kerin on the blog to talk about her debut fantasy novel The Phantom Forest, which will be published by Inkshares on July 16, 2019! Keep reading to learn about how The Phantom Forest began as a 12-year old’s short story, Liz’s path to publication, and about our combined love of the Buffyverse.
An Interview with Liz Kerin
Hi Liz, thank you so much for joining me on the blog today to talk about your debut novel! Can you share a little bit about The Phantom Forest and how this story came to be?
So excited to get to chat with you! The Phantom Forest is actually an idea that’s been lurking around in my head since I was about 12 years old. In middle school, when we were learning about ancient civilizations, we read about Mayan human sacrifice rituals and I was just horrified and mesmerized by the whole thing. I wrote a short story about a fictional society that sacrificed people to a demon, and the one girl who mysteriously survived the ritual. I was into some dark stuff as a 12-year-old, and clearly that hasn’t changed one bit! Later on, in my early 20s, I was on a road trip down the California coast when for some reason the idea came back to me. I decided it might be a fascinating kernel for an epic fantasy thriller. 7 years later, here we are!
Haha, I was also into some dark stuff when I was younger — I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt particularly and how Pharaohs were entombed with their servants. From a world that is shaped by reincarnation and ritual sacrifice to the notion of being worthy of those additional lives, The Phantom Forest appears to dive into philosophy. Did you take any inspiration from religion or philosophy in creating your world?
Absolutely, and that’s also a big part of why I wanted to write this story. I am not religious currently, but I was raised to be. As a kid, I had a lot of questions about the rigidity of Heaven vs. Hell, who gets to hand down judgement, and whether there was any gray area when we sinned. When I got older, in my own search for meaning, I researched many different facets of spirituality. To me, reincarnation is one of the most beautiful concepts we’ve ever created – this idea that everyone gets another chance. Every culture, in every era, has had their own idea of what happens to us after we die. I drew inspiration from several different belief systems to create the Underworld in this story, as well as Greek mythology and even a sprinkling of Dante’s Inferno. On a personal note, The Phantom Forest is my love letter to agnosticism. Our characters discover bonafide proof of an afterlife and it changes the course of human history. I definitely have an “I’ll know if it’s real when I see it” philosophy about the afterlife, so for me there’s an element of wish fulfillment in this.
You’re also a screenwriter and playwright. What was it like to write a novel as opposed to a screenplay or play? Why did you choose to tell this story as a novel over other methods of storytelling?
Sometimes different stories just “want to be” different things. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that I know would be a beautiful piece of theatre but definitely wouldn’t work as a movie because you need that immediacy. Or maybe I’ll come up with an epic serialized concept that simply has to be a TV show. The Phantom Forest started as a short story, as I mentioned before, and early on I had ambitions to write it as a screenplay. But it didn’t take long for me to realize it needed to be a book. There was so much intensive world-building to do, and prose was the best way to attack that. I’d only ever written one other book (a romance that took place in ancient Egypt that is forever in a drawer and honestly THANK GOD FOR THAT). This was definitely a learning experience for me. I worked on this book for over 6 years, not including the time I spent with my editor. I’ve grown so much as a writer during this process and I hope I’ve acquired the tools I need to write my next book a lot faster!
Your debut novel is published by Inkshares, a rather unique publisher in that they use a Crowdfunding model instead of agents to decide what to publish. Can you share a bit about what the process was like from inception to publishing? How long did it take and what made you choose Inkshares over traditional or indie publishing?
From the beginning, The Phantom Forest had a readership. It was a small, low-key thing, but people were reading it and passing it among themselves. I had great Film/TV reps who were showing it around town as a sample, and people really seemed to respond to it. I even used the MS to land feature film writing gigs! But for some reason, it didn’t get the same kind of love from agents. I queried for a little while and actually got a large number of full MS requests. I was even hip-pocketed by an agent for a minute. But none of that panned out, which was frustrating because at the time my Film/TV career was flourishing. I stopped querying and decided maybe it just wasn’t the right time for this book. That was four years ago. I got on Inkshares’ radar because of the Launchpad Manuscript Competition, in which Hollywood selects unpublished manuscripts that might make great Film/TV content. Inkshares was going to publish the winning books. I made the shortlist for that, and the readership I already had for The Phantom Forest really boosted its visibility on Inkshares. Even though I didn’t win the competition, Inkshares offered to publish the book anyway. Enough people said they enjoyed it and wanted to see it published, and they listened. I think that’s really cool. I worked with a fabulous editor and marketing team, and though their shop is small, it is mighty. For this book, this was absolutely the right path. I think reader-driven platforms like Inkshares and Wattpad are changing the game. It’ll be really interesting to see how this plays out in the future.
I should add that it was only AFTER my Inkshares deal that I connected with my book agent and she’s just the bomb dot com. Life is funny like that, and my publishing journey was definitely not linear! I think it’s important for aspiring authors to hear that. It’s not always, “I wrote the book. I queried the book. I got the agent. I got the deal.” I zig-zagged a lot!
In addition to editing and distribution, Inkshares works with partners for selling movie and tv rights. Since you are also a screenwriter and playwright, did this have anything to do with your publisher choice? Based on the synopsis, The Phantom Forest definitely appears like a story made for the screen.
Yes, my choice was absolutely related to that! My publisher has a great reputation for putting its books in front of the right Film/TV auspices, and they hustle hard. The Phantom Forest is cinematic in every way, and I knew I’d have a good shot at seeing it on the big screen someday if I went with this publisher. As I said earlier, I tried to write it as a screenplay before I went full-on novel with it. I think it wanted to be a movie, but it needed to be a book first. And I’m glad that’s the way I approached it.
Who did you write The Phantom Forest for? If you had to compare your debut to any other book, who definitely shouldn’t miss this book?
I wrote this book for inquisitive minds who want to explore complex philosophies about what it means to be human and readers who like a little darkness mixed in with their whimsy. If you’re into epic journeys across fantastical lands, enemies-to-friends-to-something-more, and strong sibling relationships, this is a story for you! If I’m being honest, I wrote this for myself. I created a world I knew I would want to immerse myself in.
If you loved Children of Blood and Bone and The Hazel Wood, you should definitely check out this book! I also drew inspiration from films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Princess Mononoke, so if that’s your jam, this will probably fall nicely into your wheelhouse. Kaleena also mentioned that there’s an awesome parallel in this book to the “deeper well” storyline from the show Angel. I squealed aloud when she said that, because the Buffyverse is so ingrained in my DNA that I’m sure my work is filled with unintentional little nods to it. That’s not to say that this book feels like Buffy. But that mythology runs deep for me. Plus, now you know my self-destruct code: Just play that Sarah McLachlan song from the end of “Becoming Part 2” and I become putty in your hands. *sobs uncontrollably*
Thank you so much, Liz, for taking the time to chat with me about your debut novel! Words cannot express how wonderful it has been to chat with and get to know Liz over the past couple of months, and I am really looking forward to her book hitting the world!
Also, I love it when my weird brain analogies wind up being spot on. “The Deeper Well” storyline from Angel is probably my favorite from the series (despite it being so freaking heartbreaking). In case you want to know how to undo me emotionally, play Angelus’ monologues from Passion. It’s been literally 21 years and I still remember how I felt.
If this book sounds up your alley, it is available for request on NetGalley now and will be published in July! I am honestly really excited to read this one and it is next on my Fantasy TBR.
About the Book
Every tree in the sacred Forest of Laida houses a soul. Though each of those souls will return to the mortal world for many future lives, not all of them deserve to.
Seycia’s father told her this story as a child — a story of the most holy place in the Underworld, The Forest of Laida, where all souls go to rest before embarking on a new life. But Seycia’s father is dead now, and his killer has put a target on her back.
After being chosen for her village’s human sacrifice ritual, Seycia is transported to the Underworld and must join forces with Haben, the demon to whom she was sacrificed, to protect the family she left behind from beyond the grave. In this story of love, survival, and what it means to be human, Seycia and Haben discover that the Underworld is riddled with secrets that can only be unlocked through complete trust and devotion, not only to their mission, but also to one another.
About the Author
Liz Kerin is an author, screenwriter, and playwright currently living in sunny Southern California. The Phantom Forest is her debut novel and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript Competition. A graduate of the Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Liz is also developing a number of Film/TV projects, adapting a YA series to screen, and workshopping her award-winning play, “Stop-Motion.” She is represented by Verve for both books and Film/TV.
She is also the proud co-parent of two unruly small dogs, both of whom you can meet if you follow along on social media.
Thanks so much for reading, friends! What do you think about The Phantom Forest? Is this a book that is on your TBR, or have you read it yet? I’d love to chat with you in the comments below.
Let’s go on another adventure together!