"I’ve always loved crows. They brought her magical-esque things, such as color and spring. I really liked the idea of a magic system based on crows.”- Kalyn Josephson @KalynJosephson #thestormcrow #yaauthor #authorinterview
A murder of crows. When given a collective name that ominous, anything can sound scary. Seriously, try it. Call a pile of teddy bears a murder, and you start questioning just how huggable those fuzzy critters really are. In reality, crows are smart enough to recognize human faces, gather around their dead as if conducting a funeral, and generate long-term memories from a single experience. Think of them as the misunderstood teens of the bird world, clad in black and emitting an emo vibe—or at least that’s all some people see. But get ready to shelve your preconceptions, because crows may have found a new PR agent in debut author Kalyn Josephson. Dive into The Storm Crow, the first novel in her duology, and discover a vivid fantasy world where crows, magic, and majesty entwine.
By day, Josephson works as a tech writer in the Bay Area, and that means constantly using both sides of her brain to merge creativity with facts. So, it makes sense that reading a nonfiction article about crows spurred her to start this novel. “I’ve always loved crows,” she revealed, “and [the article] gave me the idea for a short story about a princess who is trapped in a tower and the crows who brought her pieces of the world. They brought her magical-esque things, such as color and spring. I really liked the idea of a magic system based on crows.” And that’s exactly what readers will find in The Storm Crow.
The kingdom of Rhodaire depends heavily on its magical crows, until the Illucian empire invades, wiping them out. Sisters Caliza and Anthia both suffer devastating losses in the takeover. Caliza reacts by immersing herself in running the kingdom. She also agrees to marry her sister off to the crown prince of Illucia. Meanwhile, Thia is caged by a deep depression. When she discovers a sole surviving crow’s egg, she sees a spark of hope for both Rhodaire’s future and her own.
“The book deals with the themes of family and friendship,” said Josephson.
“One of the things I was exploring with Caliza and Thia is how two people can go about trying to accomplish the same goal. They both want to protect Rhodaire, but they have completely different opinions on how to do that. Caliza, who has never cared for the crows and has never had a connection with them, thinks that relying on them is dangerous, and that’s what got them into the situation to begin with. Whereas Thia thinks the crows are their one last chance. And so, when the betrothal happens, it starts the divide between them and their attempts to accomplish the same goal—just in very different ways.”
Many authors draw inspiration from their own experiences and that’s true for Josephson too. She channeled her own struggles with depression into Thia. “I wrote this book after college, after what had been a very hard year for me and it was a giant diary entry at first, a big journal of me figuring things out,” she explained. “Thia’s experience really emulates mine and I wanted that in there because it fit her character—she has absolutely everything ripped away from her. Also, [depression] wasn’t something I’d seen in a fantasy before, and if I’d been able to read while I was dealing with that, it would have helped me to understand a little more and to feel less alone. I wanted to fill that gap.”
“It was a challenge because, with young adult fantasy novels, there’s an expectation for pacing and for action that didn’t fit with who Thia was at the time. I struggled with figuring out a balance between her dealing with her depression and with maintaining the story, which hopefully worked out.”
Making sure that the crows were fully fleshed out also mattered deeply to Josephson. “When it came to writing the animal characters in my book, I wanted them to be their own, individual characters. I recently saw an Internet meme that referred to crows as ‘sky cats’ because if you have a pet crow you’re actually the pet human for that crow. You know, like cats own people. Same thing.”
“Crows love it when you feed them. Berries, nuts, stuff like that. Then they’ll be your best friend.” - Kalyn Josephson @KalynJosephson #crows #thestormcrow #yaauthorinterview
Josephson is happily ruled by two cats and she infused some feline traits and behaviors into the crows. But much of her character development was based on scientific studies. “For example, crows hold grudges,” Josephson explained. “If one crow has a grudge against you, it will go get its friends and come back. Crows can remember people’s faces, so there are documented stories of people who have made them angry who they just stalk every day.” Note to self: never antagonize a crow! Thankfully it’s not hard to stay on the good side of these birds. “Crows love it when you feed them. Berries, nuts, stuff like that. Then they’ll be your best friend.”
“People have a perception of birds in general as gross, dirty animals and don’t realize how intelligent they are. Also, there are a lot of movies that use crows as bad omens and bad luck. Before all that started happening, crows were actually positive symbols, signs of magic in Celtic mythology. I get a lot of people saying, ‘I didn’t really like crows, but then I read your book and now I think they’re cute.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh good.’”
Before she could reach readers and convert them into crow appreciators, Josephson had to secure an agent and an editor. She majored in English and biology, but deserves an honorary degree in persistence. The Storm Crow was her fourth manuscript and she racked up over a hundred rejections, combined, for those novels. Submitting work is tough even when you’re feeling resilient, never mind when dealing with depression. Josephson learned ways to deal with the stresses and uncertainties of the publishing industry.
“One of the biggest areas of support in my life is my writing group. They’re friends of mine who also write young adult, middle, fantasy, and a lot of them have struggled with depression. Having them there throughout this process has changed everything. I had one friend who’s a really good critique partner but, besides her, I was still looking around. I found [the group] right before my book got bought and their support and help has meant everything during this whole process. Having people who understand what you’re dealing with in the publishing world is extremely important.”
"Reading is a retreat for me. I just close my door, hide in my room, and read for an hour." - Kalyn Josephson @KalynJosephson #authorinterview #reading #fantasyworld
Josephson uses several other tools to balance her moods. “Exercise is a big one for me, even if it’s just going for a walk. It gives me a boost during the day, especially with the stress of work. Also setting strict schedules so that I don’t feel overwhelmed with everything that’s going on or that I have to do. Reading is a retreat for me. I just close my door, hide in my room, and read for an hour.”
Some people are book monogamists, preferring to immerse themselves in one story at a time. Other readers pitch their tents in the “more books the better camp,” and juggle multiple reads at once. Josephson has no problem making the mental leap between different plots. “I read so much. I commute usually about two to two and a half hours a day, so I always have an audiobook going. Then I have a book that I’m reading at home and a book in my car for when I’m waiting. So, I’m usually reading three or four things at a time, especially with critique partner stuff.”
Once you’ve zipped through The Storm Crow, Josephson recommends Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto. “It’s a bird book, but they’re phoenixes. It’s another debut. The [book] came out in February and it’s really really good. I love the phoenixes, obviously.” Josephson’s a voracious reader across the fantasy genre. “Every once in a while, I’ll read a thriller or a contemporary to break it up,” she shared, “but mostly fantasy. That has been the case for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid, my mom used to read us Harry Potter, which definitely influenced my reading choices.”
“When I was in high school and middle school, there wasn’t a ton of young adult fantasy out, so I was always reading adult fantasy, probably before I should have been. I remember picking up Neil Gaiman’s American Gods when I was 13, and I reached a point where I was like, ‘I probably shouldn’t be reading this,’ because it’s a very adult book!”
Josephson has been writing since she was a child. In fact, her first fan fiction was a Scooby-Doo story that she penned around age seven.
“I was obsessed with Scooby-Doo as a kid,” she confessed. “I had a bazillion stuffed animals, every single movie, and a couple of video games. My mom claims to still have [my fan fiction story], but I’ve specifically requested her not to find it because I have a feeling that it’ll show up at my book launch if I do!”
In many ways, starting a creative pursuit at such an early age made the writing process easier for Josephson. “When you’re a kid and you’re learning how to do something, you naturally find your own way, and what I mean by that is that you’re just doing it. When I was writing as a kid, I obviously wasn’t reading craft books or looking up stuff on the Internet. As an adult, while I was trying to get better at writing books and get an agent and get published, one of the things I discovered was that there’s so much advice out there.”
“The most important thing you can do is to figure out what works for you in particular. For example, a lot of people say, ‘If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.’ If I do that, I’m not going to like writing. There are some hard and fast rules and guidelines to adhere to, but when it comes to your process, finding what works for you and staying with it is really helpful.”
Still, Josephson isn’t immune to second guessing and doubts. “I’ll see authors who I really admire who say, ‘This is how I write a book,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s not the way I do it. Is my way wrong? Do I need to learn their way?’ You don’t. You just need to know what works for you. If you need to outline, to make a playlist, to know your character’s favorite foods before you can write about them, then that’s what you need to do. It’s okay if it doesn’t match up with what everyone else is doing.”
In terms of more fixed writing rules, “the normal advice is don’t write or start working on a sequel until you at least get an agent or book deal for the first book, and so writing a sequel was a fun challenge,” said Josephson. “On one hand, you know these characters and this world so well but, on the other hand, you’ve set a bunch of rules and limitations that you can’t change now. It was both easier in some regards and harder in others, but I’m really proud of how the sequel turned out, even though literally the moment I submitted it I was like, ‘I need to change this and this and this!’”
The final book in Josephson’s duology is now with her editor, while The Storm Crow was released in July. “Remind people that there is a sequel,” she joked, “because [book one] ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t mean for it to be a cliffhanger but, apparently, from the reader’s perspective it is, which I apologize for. That’s why it ends like that. To be continued.”
Obviously, authors hope to attract a wide readership, but Josephson feels that animal lovers in particular will connect with her work. If you’re a fan of How to Train Your Dragon, Eragon, or The Dragon Prince, you’ll definitely want to add The Storm Crow to your summer TBR list. You can pick up a copy here.
Do you have a close connection to a particular animal, like Kalyn Josephson with crows? Let us know in the comments down bellow!
"There are some hard and fast rules and guidelines to adhere to, but when it comes to your process, finding what works for you and staying with it is really helpful." - Kalyn Josephson @KalynJosephson #yaauthor #authorinterview
This article was originally printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Curiositales. If you would like to receive a free digital copy of the magazine, sign up for our newsletter at the top of this page! Then, confirm your email address (be sure to check your spam folder). Once you click the link in your welcome email, you'll get regular news from Curiositales, including notifications when the latest magazine is published. You can unsubscribe whenever you like. Or, you can read it for free here.
Prefer physical copies? Us too! Subscribe to the magazine and receive a print magazine in the mail every quarter along with a whole bunch of bookish surprises!