On December 13th, 2021 I got to interview New York Times bestselling author Shelby Mahurin. I asked her a few questions about Serpent and Dove, also some other writing and inspiration questions.
Question 1: What author/book inspired you to write the Serpent and Dove trilogy?
Mahurin’s response: Both Outlander and Six of Crows hugely inspired the Serpent & Dove trilogy. Jamie and Claire, Nina and Matthias—I was obsessed with both couples. Specifically, I loved the former’s marriage of convenience and forced proximity and the latter’s enemies-to-lovers dynamic. Lou and Reid’s relationship developed as an homage to all those things I loved.
Question 2: Which character was the hardest to write about?
Mahurin’s response: Reid was the trickiest to write. He starts Serpent & Dove as a bigot, indoctrinated in his father figure’s beliefs, hunting down the occult and burning witches at the stake. Of course, when he falls in love with Lou—a witch in hiding—all of that changes, as she forces him to re-examine both his beliefs and his actions. That sort of internal change can read superficial or cheap if it’s rushed, so I needed to take particular care and time with him.
Question 3: Were there any other books that helped embody your characters?
Mahurin’s response: Not my characters, per se, but I do have books that shaped me as a reader and writer: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander, and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. I also devoured Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series.
Question 4: What is a significant way your books have changed since the first draft?
Mahurin’s response: Ha! I think a better question would be how my books haven’t changed since the first drafts. Writing is revising, which means we shouldn’t grow too attached to anything in our stories. I’ve added POVs, changed major side characters, completely cut others, restructured major plot beats, rewritten huge sections of each book—nothing has been sacred except the heart of the story, which is Lou’s and Reid’s love for each other. As for specific examples in Serpent & Dove, however:
- Reid wasn’t a POV character. I added him later. He also kept a journal, and each of his chapters opened with a snippet of his daily entry.
- Coco was originally a loup garou, not a Dame Rouge. Dames Rouges didn’t even exist in the first draft.
- I cut something like eleven side characters, including a bawdy maid in Chasseur Tower who Lou immediately befriends. Her name was Charlotte. It was hard to let her go.
- Lou didn’t practice magic in the infirmary; she basically sat around arguing with Reid for 200 pages in the middle of the book.
Question 5: If your books got turned into a movie or a tv series who would be the characters in your story?
Mahurin’s response: This question is so hard! I haven’t yet found an actress for Lou, but for Reid—maybe Leo Suter if he dyed his hair red? He plays Mr. Stringer in PBS’s Sanditon. I’ve also received several messages about Joshua Stradowski from Amazon’s new adaptation of Wheel of Time, and he would be an excellent Reid!
Question 6: When you started writing your books, were you a planner or did you just come up with the idea on the spot?
Mahurin’s response: I came up with the idea for Serpent & Dove—and most of its plot—on the spot! In the writing community, this is called “pantsing,” as in “flying by the seat of your pants.” I endeavored to outline more with Blood & Honey and Gods & Monster, following a beat sheet from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, but my true process is a hybrid between plotting and pantsing. I love discovering things about my plot and characters as I write!
Question 7: What is your favorite writing snack or drink to have?
Mahurin’s response: I never much liked coffee, but since my Gods & Monsters deadline, I’ve started drinking it. My current favorite is a double shot of espresso over ice with oat milk and a shot of caramel. This might just be a way of saying iced caramel latte? I’m not fluent in coffee-speak yet!
It was so insightful to understand how Shelby Mahurin writes and I enjoyed interviewing her. I hope you all like the article. My hope was it would give some good, behind-the-scenes, perspective on writing from an author, and if you are interested in the trilogy, why don’t you go ahead and give it a read!