Claire Eliza Bartlett on Her Feminist Military Fantasy, "We Rule the Night"

In We Rule the Night, debut YA author Claire Eliza Bartlett has written a thrilling, magic-infused feminist adventure inspired by the female Soviet military aviators from World War II. Bartlett discusses gender double standards, dieselpunk, and the authors who’ve inspired her.

Debut YA author Claire Eliza Bartlett has written a thrilling, magic-infused feminist fantasy adventure inspired by the fearless female Soviet military aviators from World War II. In a world where invisible magical threads align the world, two strong-willed and determined teenaged girls, Revna and Linné, must overcome their dislike for each other as they fight to survive and protect those they love against a powerful enemy. Bartlett discusses the authors who’ve inspired her, gender double standards, dieselpunk, and the world-building found in her book We Rule the Night.

This book is a real mash-up of genres: fantasy, alternate military history, and feminist adventure tale, with lots of suspense and complex friendships. Where did this idea of incorporating so many genres come from? Did the final version differ a lot from your original idea?

I feel like everything I write starts out more positive than it ends up. The initial concept was definitely simpler, and had more of a fantasy adventure feel. As I did more and more research into the history of the Night Witches, on whom the book is based, I was struck by how much they had to put up with from their male counterparts, and how they survived that by pushing on and forging strong friendships and being there for each other. That ended up becoming the core of the book.

Claire Eliza Bartlett headshotEven though the time period is in the future, the Elda and the Union of the North sound a little like the WWII Axis versus the Allied Powers. The Skarov troops, the Extraordinary Wartime Information Unit, sound similar to the KGB from World War II. Are you interested in World War II history and how has it influenced your writing?

I am interested in every kind of history out there. In fact, the book is based on World War II events surrounding the Night Witches, who I mention above, the Soviet women's night bombing regiment. World War II makes for a dramatic backdrop in writing, from the scope of the war to the horrors it brought, to the extraordinary actions of ordinary people. When I think epic war, I think World War II. The war also influenced the feel of the novel, this dieselpunk setting where technology is fairly advanced.

There are many strong, capable female characters in your book. The publisher says it has similarities to Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. I also see Kathryn Lasky’s book about Russian women aviators in World War II in your book. Are you personally interested in women aviators and flying?

First of all, thank you! I really strove to make each woman strong in her own way. And I love the idea of flying. I'd take flying lessons if I had the cash! What initially drew me to women aviators, however, was how they have to navigate the boys' club. I have so much admiration for the women who keep going—especially the women who also get pushback for their race, sexual orientation, disability, and more.

Your main characters, Revna and Linné, are very different. Linné isn’t initially that likable. Do you identify with characters who readers might not like or have to warm up to?

Definitely! Linné has grown up around a lot of hypocrisy, and it shows. I personally identified with her immensely. Her rage for a system that says you can't when she clearly knows she can, her frustration at seeing double standards applied everywhere, and her flaw of thinking that if she acts like a boy she'll be treated like a boy, are all things that I think many girls experience. I definitely experienced it.

The Weave, the invisible threads aligned to the world like those on a loom, remind me of the ley lines that have been the focus of other YA books like Maggie Stiefvater’s “Raven Cycle,” or the threads in Gennifer Albin’s Crewel. What’s the origin of the weave magic? Does your weave magic have anything to do with Greek mythology, where only women are weavers and they weave to control their fate?

I love the thought. Weave magic is not biologically based, in terms of the people who use it. The origin of the Weave is perhaps more practical than romantic: I wanted a way to move things and people around, and I didn't want it to be telekenesis. Thus, the idea of the Weave was born.

You did a great job with the world-building in this book. We Rule the Night coverYour descriptions of each of the locations make them really easy to visualize. Can you explain how this came about?

Again, thank you. I think I have my agent, editor and copy editor to thank on this as well! They kept me consistent in my descriptions and always let me know when something was confusing.

In world-building, it's so easy to rely on the visuals, but other sensory details are important for really putting a reader in a place. I always try for at least one other sense to come into play when setting my scene. And to ensure it makes visual sense, I sometimes draw hasty maps of the area, and sometimes write lengthy descriptions that are for reference rather than inclusion in the final draft.

I love the variety of aircraft in the book—metal Dragons, palanquins, serpentine-like vehicles with claws, war beetles. What was your inspiration for them?

I have always loved the idea of half-sentient metal creatures. For years they've been wandering through my brain, and they seemed to fit the story here. I could take elegant war machines such as Dragons, Sky Horses and Serpents—superior tools of the enemy—and square them off against stripped-down, barely functional planes. I felt the palanquins and war beetles fit the not-quite-Soviet aesthetic as well, which made it an easy choice to include them. To get visual inspiration I looked at art deco cars and jewelry, and threw in a dash of post-apocalyptic metalwork. Pinterest is a magical place!

What authors do you like? How have they influenced you?

Neil Gaiman has far and away been my favorite author for years. When I was fifteen he changed the way I saw fantasy forever. I also have to shout out to Jane Yolen, who was my first favorite author and the person who made me want to be an author in the first place. And finally, I've been heavily shaped by authors who dabble in historical or historically-inspired fantasy—Susanna Clark and Guy Gavriel Kay specifically.

Do you listen to music as you write? What would the playlist be for this book?

The playlist for this book is a mix of the Agent Carter soundtrack and electro swing. Anything by Caro Emerald makes a great backdrop, but also check out Alice Francis and the Electro Swing Circus.

The ending implies there will be at least a sequel. If so, when will it come out and will there be more than one? And will there be a map in the published book?

I can't say anything about a sequel right now. I'm currently focused on other standalone projects, and I'll have to get back to you about the fate of Revna and Linné. As for the map, there will not be one in the published book. I love maps, so maybe I'll try my hand at one down the line!

Thank you for writing a book with so many strong, capable women like Revna, Linné, Commander Tamara Zima, and many others. It’s really nice and refreshing to read a book with such a feminist point of view. Have you received good feedback from female teen readers as a result?

I believe so. Little, Brown has a school initiative and we received wonderful quotes from there. While I don't go hunting after reviews or the age of my reviewers, what I've seen has been very positive about how girls of all backgrounds and interests have a place here.

Sharon Rawlins is the Youth Services Specialist at the NJ State Library in Trenton, NJ. She is currently serving on ALA’s Library Information and Technology Association (LITA) Committee Recognizing Excellence in Childrens and Young Adult Science Fiction.

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