Interview with Charlie N. Holmberg!

By Christina Ladd on

About Christina Ladd

One of the Books & Comics editors at Geekly. She/her. Sailor Rainbow. Glitter and spite and everything bright.


Do you like action? What about romance? And how about apocalyptic magic that literally turns people inside out? I hope it’s all three, but even if you’re not so sure, Charlie N. Holmberg’s Smoke and Summons will convince you. It’s a wild, breathless dash through a grim urban environment, with mobsters and demons around every corner. Sandis, an escaped slave with a heretical secret, might be the only one capable of averting a fiery disaster. Unfortunately, Rone is definitely the only one willing to defend her. But is a thief who can spend only a single minute every day as an immortal fighter going to be enough? I (obviously) can’t tell you, but I can tell you Smoke and Summons will be nonstop thrilling from beginning to end. Yes—until the very end, since like a lot of trilogies, there is a cliffhanger. But Charlie N. Holmberg has kindly agreed to answer some questions to break up the waiting.

What surprised you most when writing Sandis’s and Rone’s stories?

The little pieces that came together to make the whole. And honestly, this is true of any novel. I’m an outliner; I like to know everything that’s going to happen before I start Chapter One. But even storyboarding and jotting down notes and the like can’t tell me everything. Little things, whether it’s characterization, setting, subplot . . . they come out as I write, sometimes unexpectedly. And when those little things add up and affect the story as a whole, it’s kind of a magical thing. It’s as though the story has come alive and is telling itself.

2. The longing for or hatred of family drives a lot of the decisions in this book. Did this emerge naturally, or were you looking to write a story about family? Will the other books continue this theme?

Honestly, it emerged naturally—one of those things I mention above. I did plan certain family relations ahead of time, but their depth and the theme that emerged among them came as I wrote. Then I took the bull by its horns and instilled it into the rest of the series. Those themes will definitely continue through the last book (even through the last sentence).

3. Most familiars—or demons—in fantasy novels are cats, wolves, dogs, and dragons. Why did you choose to make Ireth a horse?

When I started brainstorming this series, I pulled anything and everything I had in my notes that I thought would be interesting. One of the story ideas I reaped from was an urban fantasy about the horses that pull Helios’s chariot. Ireth stems from them.

All of the demons in this book are meant to be bizarre and otherworldly. They take the shape of something familiar, but with twists that make them their own monster.

4. The characters make full use of the urban setting—up on rooftops, down in the sewers, and all around the various districts. How did you construct Dresburg? Did parts emerge as necessary, or was it all planned beforehand?

Dresberg is the result of pre-planning and pantsing. The foundation of the city was plotted ahead of time—it was one of the first things I created. I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before, and an industrial city leant well to the story I wanted to tell. Some parts—like the city being divided into districts—came as I wrote. I have a funky hand-drawn map of it to help me keep my places straight.

5. How much bigger will the world(s) get for Sandis and Rone in the next book?

In size? Not at all. Dresberg is Sandis’s cage, and it will stay that way. But the readers will see more of the city, above and below, and follow the characters as they sneak into its darkest corners.

6. How would you use one minute of immortality?

You know, I would probably use it sky diving or hang gliding! Those are both things I think would be amazing, but I’m very much a person who likes a safety net.


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