Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the creator of the Grishaverse (now a Netflix original series) which spans the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, The Language of Thorns, and King of Scars duology—and much more. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Los Angeles and is an Associate Fellow of Pauli Murray College at Yale University. Her latest novel is Hell Bent a sequel to 2019’s Ninth House, and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Ninth House and Hell Bent?
The very real secret societies at Yale. They have these bizarre, wonderfully elaborate clubhouses all over campus that are called "tombs," and they produce so many powerful and accomplished alumni. So, I thought, What if these places aren't just old boy drinking clubs or networking opportunities? What if they're repositories of occult knowledge? What if they wield magical influence right alongside social and economic influence? That's where the story began.
Are Alex, Darlington, Dawes, Turner, Tripp, Mercy, or any of the other characters in the novels inspired by or based on specific individuals?
At the risk of sounding like a bit of a narcissist, all of the characters have quite a bit of me in them. Like Darlington, I'm a snob who loves poetry and dreams of magic. Like Dawes, I'm an introvert who wants to be left alone to work on projects I may never finish. I think I see plenty of my own anger and my longing for connection in Alex. Mercy was shaped by my friendships with a lot of people, including my own college roommates. And Tripp? Well, I think we all know guys like Tripp. Not cruel, but careless with their power.
How did the novels evolve and change as you wrote and revised them? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
If I love a scene, I find a way to keep it, or I make sure to hold it in reserve for future books. The story of the Phantom Ship didn't make it into Ninth House, but that turned out to be a wonderful thing because I got to bring it into Hell Bent. I write from an outline, so there are rarely big changes or cuts, and my drafts tend to get longer in revision, rather than shorter. It's the characters who provide the surprise and excitement as I move through their stories.
Your first novels were published as Young Adult titles, and you made the transition to Adult fiction with Ninth House. Did you know when you began Ninth House that it would be an Adult novel? Did it alter how you approached your writing?
Ninth House was one of the first ideas I pitched to my agent when I signed with her over a decade ago, but we knew it didn't fit on the YA shelf. There were themes I wanted to explore and places I wanted to go that didn't sit comfortably next to my YA work. I don't think my approach to the writing was radically different, but I do think I'm a different—and hopefully better—writer than when I first started publishing.
Is there something you haven’t done yet but are hoping to have the opportunity to try?
I'm currently writing my first historical fantasy. It's set in Renaissance Spain and it features a very different kind of magic from my other novels, so I'm definitely swimming in unfamiliar waters. I'm also working on my first picture book with my longtime friend John Picacio. He's a brilliant artist and collaborating with him has been such an intense education. I can't wait to share what we're working on.
Like Ninth House, Hell Bent ends with some unresolved issues for Alex to pursue (literally!). What are your plans for this series? Do you know have an idea at this time how long the series will be and how many books will be necessary to tell the story you want to tell?
I first conceived of the Alex Stern novels as a long-running detective series, but when I got into the writing, I quickly realized how much research they required. So my goals have gotten a lot more modest. This will be a trilogy. The next book will be the final chapter in Alex's fictional journey, and I wrote Hell Bent with that in mind.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. He has such a wonderful body of work that I think this graphic novel sometimes gets forgotten. But it's a fantastic story about the first Asian superhero, and it works for everyone: kids, adults, reluctant readers. I even got my mom to read it. She's never picked up a comic book in her life and she loved it.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
I read Interior Chinatown at the start of the pandemic and I'm still talking about it because it hits on so many levels. Funny, strange, profound. I really loved the first season of Slow Horses. It's a study of unlikeable characters doing remarkable things. And I recently picked up Bestiary by Donika Kelly which is some of the best poetry I've read in a long time.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
I'd meet up with Aubrey Plaza at a disco on Santorini. Ok, I'd like to be that kind of person, but really I'm a bore: I'd have a wonderful writing day, gazing out at a beautiful view, surrounded by friends. Then my husband and I would have dinner in and watch tv while snuggling our dog. That's it. No Santorini.