Author Interview: Kaylena Radcliff
We sit down with the author of the dystopian fantasy series The Elmnas Chronicles.
Kaylena Radcliff is the author of several books and a number of short stories, articles, and poems. Aside from writing, she serves as a magazine editor, church planter’s wife, and a homeschooling mom of two. She drinks a lot of coffee.
When not working, Kaylena drags her loved ones on long hikes through Pennsylvania’s beautiful forests, joyfully plays keyboard piano with little talent, and indulges in all things nerdy.
(Copied from Amazon.)
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It is already April and in the spirit of encouraging the #indieapril trend of supporting independent creators, I will be conducting interviews with a number of great authors. First up is Kaylena Radcliff, author of Mouse and its new sequel Fox!
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In the thrilling second installment of The Elmnas Chronicles, FOX takes readers on an unforgettable journey through a dystopian world filled with danger, dark secrets, and unexpected allies. Mouse, a resourceful and courageous teenage girl, along with her loyal companion Toma, find themselves in the heart of Elmnas, a deadly labyrinth that threatens their very existence.
After the shocking events of the first book, Mouse and Toma forge ahead into the unknown, uncertain of who they can trust in a world where treachery hides in plain sight. As they navigate the perils of Elmnas, they forge unlikely alliances, discovering that the lines between good and evil are not as clear-cut as they seem.
Bound together by a mysterious power that grows stronger with every passing day, Mouse and Toma must rely on each other’s strengths and wits to survive the deadly trials of Elmnas. With enemies lurking around every corner and time running out, they must confront their own demons and face the truth about the world they thought they knew.
FOX is a gripping tale of survival, friendship, and self-discovery, weaving together elements of science fiction, dystopia, and fantasy to create a captivating and immersive reading experience. Fans of The Elmnas Chronicles will not want to miss this heart-pounding sequel that leaves readers eagerly anticipating the next installment.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me after talking with Radcliff was her encouraging worldview. The threads of uplifting themes that I saw in Mouse suddenly seem so obvious in light of Radcliff’s faith and optimism. I think you will find her perspective particularly refreshing in her chosen genre for the Elmnas Chronicles—dystopian fantasy!
Mouse is a unique YA adventure. Where did you draw inspiration for this series?
It all started with a job I really disliked. One summer between college semesters, I worked in the warehouse of a place that manufactured machine parts. For 10 hours a day, I sorted, deburred, and measured boxes and boxes of random parts. The pay was good, but it was mind-numbingly tedious, and for someone like me, kind of soul crushing! I wiled away the long hours daydreaming up a scenario in which someone was forced to do this work for nefarious purposes. I took the idea with me to a creative writing course the next year. My final project, a short story inspired by this scenario, became the building block for Mouse and the rest of the series.
Although Mouse is dystopian fantasy, I didn’t find it typical of modern dystopian fiction in terms of tone, character, and theme. How much of that would you say was a difference you crafted purposefully?
It’s hard to say how much of it was a purposeful choice and how much of it was a result of worldview. Modern dystopian fiction is inherently nihilistic and pessimistic about the human condition. (If you’ve ever watched Scrubs, the character Dr. Cox says it in a rather pithy way: “People are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling.”) I think there’s truth in that, and current society absolutely resonates with this cynical diagnosis of humanity. Dystopian fiction highlights the problem of evil, but it leaves out purpose, justice, and meaning, and therefore, it can never offer a satisfying answer. In Mouse, I acknowledge the problem as a lot of dystopia does—but it turns out I don’t end up at the same conclusion. So, I think that’s why the journey looks a little different.
What challenges and highlights did you encounter while writing this story?
Initial world-building was actually quite a challenge, because all I had to work with was Mouse’s limited, almost newborn-like perspective in the first chapters. I also had to figure out how to present the mixed technologies of the world, from highly advanced future tech to basically medieval, as coexisting with supernatural/magical elements.
Your teenage female protagonist is very likable. How did you approach writing this demographic?
Thank you! As a former teenager, I could draw a little from personal experience. At the time I wrote the book, however, I was also serving in youth ministry and got to mentor a few teenage girls. Teenagers are wonderfully complex—delightful and brooding, intelligent and goofy, thoughtful and impulsive. It was important to me to capture that multi-dimensionality in Mouse.
What did Mouse do well that you hope to continue or build on as the series continues in the second book Fox?
In Mouse, I wanted to give a little sense of that fantasy wonder that comes with building a mysterious and expanding world. Despite the limited settings and context Mouse had because of her memory loss and the particular trajectory of her journey, I think I was still able to breadcrumb that fantasy imagery. Fox and the rest of the series broadens the world and gives the reader more of the fantastical.
“Mouse” is the name of the protagonist of the first book. Is “Fox” also a name? Will the story continue from Mouse’s point of view, or are you planning to switch it up?
Correct, Fox is the alias of the bounty hunter from the first book, and we learn more about her and how she acquired the name. Book II weaves threads from the dual perspectives of Mouse and Fox. I’d say the split in POV is pretty even between them.
We saw giant wolves and a forest with presence in the first book. Will Fox deliver new fantasy monsters and settings?
Yes, and I’m glad you asked because I’m really excited about it! Fox will take us not only to various parts of Reidara, but we’ll also get a good look at its past, before the Coalition came to power. Some creepy and cool monsters make their debut, one of which might be a baby manticore.
Would you share a bit about your faith and how it influences your stories?
That’s a big question! I became a Christian at a fairly young age, had some real struggles with that faith as an adolescent, and now I’m quite joyfully serving alongside my husband as he pastors a church plant. Also from a young age, I’ve been an avid reader and writer. I grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and have always been drawn to stories in which God’s truth could be found somewhere on the pages. And I don’t mean stories that are necessarily Christian, but stories that are good. Good art necessarily reflects the Good Creator. I think I write in that tradition—with the desire to create what is good and beautiful, that which best reflects what is the highest good and most beautiful.
The antagonist of Mouse was a totalitarian government, with various characters acting for it. I didn’t want to put words in your mouth at the time of my review, but I am interested to know: is there a political worldview you sought to communicate in this conflict?
I drew inspiration from the major totalitarian regimes of the modern past, and one can certainly make parallels to the present. While I’m interested in the implications and warnings that this past holds for the future, I would say the conflict itself reflects something more eschatological than political. Even so, we’ll get to explore more of the political and social landscape that leads to the rise of the Coalition in Fox, and I’ll be interested to hear what you think when you read it!
I found a thematic thread relating to the importance of heritage particularly compelling in Mouse. Would you care to comment on that?
Sure! Heritage is a natural source of identity, which is really the main motivation that drives Mouse. Her search is a recovery, bringing with it both the joy of rediscovering her heritage and the grief of what has been lost. There’s a contrast and tension here, I think, with some modern understandings of identity, and it’ll be interesting to follow this thread through the end of the series.
What do you hope readers will take away from the Elmnas Chronicles?
Hope. The Elmnas Chronicles will take our characters through deep darkness, real dangers, and staggering bleakness, but even in the worst of it, they find hope. May readers find hope with them!
Did you enjoy this author interview with Kaylena Radcliff?
I also did a video interview with Radcliff. We had a great time talking a bit more conversationally about her work. I think you will enjoy it!