Today, I’d like to introduce you to fantasy writer Kristen Kooistra and her debut novel, Heart of the Winterland.
Heart of the Winterland
In the heart of snow-cursed Trabor, a princess and her guardian live in a haze cast by an ancient spell. On the dawn of her 200th birthday, Princess Calisandra awakes with a clear mind. No longer happy to sit idle, Cali and Voice set out to find what lies beyond their shielded kingdom.
Joined by Angel—a fiery redhead who delights in ruffling Cali’s feathers—they soon find themselves fleeing from the legendary Captain Kota who is determined to capture Angel. Cali’s perfect vision of her journey is shattered and it takes all of her strength just to keep up in a world she doesn’t understand. Everything is a new experience and tests Cali physically and mentally.
Will she ever find out what happened to her kingdom? And what will Voice’s purpose be when Cali no longer needs her?
This book is a fun mixture of coming-of-age adventure and fairytale. There are two intertwined storylines: Cali makes her journey of discovery through the world, whilst learning about her past and the history of her country from Voice, her guardian. The history tells of mysterious sorceress, Amee and her desire for revenge fueled by strong magic.
My favourite character in the novel is Amee. Despite being decidedly evil, she’s very relatable and great fun to read. I also love the diverse cast of characters and locations, from the outspoken barmaid, to the Scottish sea captain (and his cat), and the island castaways. Cali’s growth over the novel is well portrayed from thoughtless princess to a queen fit to rule. The storylines pull together with a great twist at the end.
And now, I’m pleased to introduce Kristen, who kindly agreed to be interviewed for Magic Writer:
Elise: Kristen, thanks for stopping by to tell us about your novel! I notice it has elements of fairytales in it … which is your favourite fairytale and why?
Kristen: I really wanted to pull off a fairytale feel, especially at the beginning of the book and throughout Amee’s timeline. So I’ve been very happy to see people coming away with the impression of a fairytale.
My favorite original fairytale is Beauty and the Beast. Beauty is someone who’s good on the inside, not just pretty on the outside. She’s got a rather crummy family that she loves despite their flaws. I think that’s a good setup for her meeting the Beast and being able to see his true self. I also didn’t feel so bad that she left her family. If they’d been a kind family, I would’ve wished her back with them.
So there’s lots of little bits about Beauty and the Beast that I enjoy, but my biggest attraction to it is that it’s not a silly story. The two characters spend time with each other, get to know one another, and there’s this very clear problem in that he’s a monster and she’s a human. Beauty has to fight to look past his outside appearance and is almost too late. There’s no insta-love or “I must have you because you’re the most handsome/beautiful person I’ve seen”.
Elise: What made you choose a sentient orb to be Cali’s guardian? What was the inspiration for Voice?
Kristen: Interestingly enough, there originally wasn’t a sentient orb. Going to the inspiration for the characters, Voice and Cali, like many of the Winterland characters, had real life people I drew some of their traits from. We’ll call their doppelgangers V. and C.
V. and C. were very good friends that I knew. C. was the outgoing, bubbly, talkative one. She charged around and dragged V. everywhere with her. C. was the person you noticed first, because she was out there BAM. But the more you spent time around the pair, the more you noticed V.
V. was the person in the background who supported her friend, encouraged her, knew when she was struggling or insecure. She was the voice of reason, or as I started thinking when I started Winterland, she was the voice of love.
So when I made Cali, I wanted her to stand out, be the one everyone noticed right away, the one leading the charge. But behind her would be Voice and I wanted to focus on what made Voice special, which was just that, her voice. And I created a character who had no body, was invisible, and was just this voice that followed Cali around and provided that verbal love and advice aspect.
But early in the novel, I started running into issues. It was really hard to work around a character that had no visible or physical form. The more people I added to the story, the worse it got with trying to place Voice and have the characters talk to someone they couldn’t see until she spoke.
I still wanted to hold to my idea of Voice’s words being what was the important thing about her, but clearly what I had wasn’t working. And that’s when Voice as we know her was born. Something that Cali and the rest of the cast could see, that I could add physical movements for, and that in the end I think helped make her more personable.
Elise: In your book, we meet many characters, some of whom could have further stories to be told. Do you plan to write additional books set in the same world?
Kristen: There are so many characters in Winterland, and most of them with just enough “screentime” to make it possible for readers to wonder about their lives past the novel. I didn’t want to wrap up all of the endings, mostly because not all endings end at the same point in real life and I wanted this to reflect that.
But there are some characters I’d love to visit in the future. Without giving away anything, I’ll say that I’m currently a third of the way through a second book in the series which revolves around two of the Winterland characters (seen in the last scene of the book) and a whole new cast. New races, new magic, new land, and a whole new story.
At some point, I’d possibly like to write a third novel in the series. Loosely titled Heart of the Warrior. And I don’t know if there’ll be any familiar faces in that one or not. I do have a country to set it in and a musical magic that I want to include. I may end up calling it the Heart of the Bard at that rate!
Elise: Which of your characters do you think you’d be close friends with, if you lived in their world?
Kristen: Probably Amee. She was one of my favorite characters to write and in the process of wanting to make a sympathetic antagonist, I fell in like with her. I think she’d be the no-nonsense, tell you like it is, friend. The friend who’d be in jail with you, not bailing you out. Despite her dark side, I think we’d be good friends.
Elise: You pulled off two converging timelines well. What inspired you to write the book in non-linear fashion?
Kristen: Originally, I didn’t plan on it. I started the book without knowing Amee existed or had a story to tell. My first prologue was . . . not good. I’d set up this idea that there was a sort of wise woman who watched various worlds in a magical pool. I thought it’d be a good launching point to give my stories something in common but would allow me to show different worlds.
I realized that was a very bad idea. It had nothing to do with the story and was just this extra thing that sent the few people who read it on this whole path of “how does this tie in”.
When I rewrote it, I decided to change it to the scene with Cali’s mother and how Cali ended up being alone. Setting the stage for chapter one. Now I had these interesting characters from the past and I wanted to know their story.
Things snowballed from there and I ended up having Voice tell Amee’s story. It became obvious early on that Amee’s story was a huge draw to readers even in the early draft stage. So I started working in more parts of her story and ended up with two timelines that worked very well together.
The hardest part was finding logical places for Voice to tell the story.
Elise: What’s your next writing project, and how’s it going?
Kristen: I’m currently working on Heart of the Sorceress which will take place after Winterland, but I’m hoping to have it stand alone for the most part. I meant for Winterland to end in a way that didn’t require reading further if someone doesn’t want to. And in the same way, I intend for someone to be able to just read Sorceress without needing to have read the previous book.
But there are things that connect to each other. Characters that cross over, so I’d definitely recommend reading them in order as you’ll look at Sorceress in a whole new way if you know the history.
I’m about a third of the way through my first draft, and I’m hoping if I can keep up this pace to have the first draft completed this fall.
Elise: And finally, which character was the most fun to write, and why?
Kristen: Ooh, this is a tough one. It’s a tossup between Amee and Kota. I love Kota’s thoughts and mannerisms. She had a temper, but was a thinker, she was a fighter, and we even get to see a little of her softer side.
Amee, though, allowed me to embrace my inner villain and I LOVED writing her dramatic scenes where she’s being a truly evil sorceress and loving it. She embraced it, I embraced it, and it was a blast.
Elise: Thanks for stopping by, Kristen! I will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Kristen Kooistra fell in love with reading at a young age and never resurfaced. She loved solving mysteries, riding across the prairie, and sailing on the open sea. But her favorite books were those that held the fantastical. So when the time came for her to seriously approach publishing a book, it had to be fantasy!
Living in Michigan (her own winterland) with her husband, three kids, and two cats, she has lots of free time . . . Okay, so more like she squeezes in writing time late at night when only the cats are awake to pester her.
“Heart of the Winterland” is Kristen’s first novel, and though it started as a whim, it grew into so much more and has inspired a sequel (in progress), “Heart of the Sorceress”.
Tucked into a quiet countryside, Kristen spends most of her time being Mommy. She loves spending time with her family and hopes that her writing will entertain and inspire them as well.
Besides writing, Kristen enjoys reading (of course!), chatting with her writer’s group, sewing, swimming, gardening, and cooking (please no baking!). She’s also developed a fondness for water gun fights with her three year old. Actually, she’s found that most everything become a lot more fun with little kids.
Heart of the Winterland is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book.