Sequels are notoriously hard to promote. Although SFF fans are no strangers to long epics or the famously adored trilogy format, these days, they seem to have less of a predisposition to pick up new series and stick with them. Blame it on the constant stream of fantastic new releases, the increasingly stifling schedules of the average book nerd, whatever reason, it’s always nice to spotlight sequels here at the Asylum.
Motivated by Sue Bavey’s #MarchOfTheSequels event and by the recent release of Rise Red Kingdom, I sat down to talk with Kerstin Espinosa Rosero about interdimensional dragons, their summoners, and her illustrations for the popular tv show Arcane.
Kerstin Espinosa Rosero is the author of SPFBO7 finalist Burn Red Skies. Her quest to be a translator has led her to live all over the world, including the US, Germany, Taiwan, and the Philippines. When she is not writing or working, she is traveling, sketching, or kickboxing. It is her goal to turn her sketches into stories.
Connect with Kerstin Espinosa Rosero
It starts with a rift that burns a thousand scars into the sky. It makes the winds stop. It makes the stars go dark. It awakens an ancient beast. And with it, a new reign of blood. It is the Summoning. And at the heart of it is fire.
Dove’s plan to slay a dead dragon has backfired spectacularly. Now there are two dragons, and Valerya the Fireborne is burning everything in her path to hunt her down. In the aftermath of battle, Dove must use her courage, wits—and an erratic, impulsive dragon—to protect her companions, make unexpected alliances… and survive.
Hi, Kerstin. Welcome to the Asylum, we’re very excited to have you here! Mind any stray knives and souls wandering about, the tenants tend to get eager when we have a visitor. Since we have your author bio, care to introduce yourself in your main character’s voice?
Hi Arina, thanks for having me! I’m used to things flying towards my face, so we’re good. Yes, Dove is non-verbal, but I’m pretty sure this is how she’ll see me in her head:
Dove wondered with dread where Kerstin was from. Poets, bards, and historians were noble professions, to be sure, but in the capital, they sang nothing but lies.
But the more Dove watched, the more she was convinced Kerstin was not from around here. Black hair and black eyes were uncommon in the capital, but it was the way she said “chamomile” that gave her away. It sounded too much like “caramel.” That and the hand wraps that curled up to her elbow.
She had traveled around the world drawing castles and fighting hooligans, but settled into a cozy apartment for quills and a cup of tea.
How would you describe Rise Red Kingdom, bullet-style?
- Airship smugglers on a mission!
- Badass female tyrant on the warpath!
- Evil king on an ego trip!
- Interdimensional dragons on a rampage!
- Everyone else… on the run!
Actually, that about sums it up pretty well.
Rise Red Kingdom is the sequel to your debut novel, Burn Red Skies. How different was it from writing your first book? What other difficulties and ease did you face when writing this sequel?
In a way, Rise Red Kingdom was easier because most of the worldbuilding had already been laid out in the first book. It has the advantage of feeling familiar from the start, and while there are a few things here and there that help readers remember events from the first book, I wasn’t afraid of bombarding them with blocks of new info.
Unfortunately, that’s also what made it more difficult! While introducing info was a challenge in Burn Red Skies, I underestimated how hard it was to re-introduce info. I’d been working on these books continuously for a year, but readers will have had that year between books—will they remember who Valk is? How can I re-introduce Valerya without explicitly saying “Dragon Summoner and General of the Firelands”?
But generally, it was smoother this time around. I think anyone’s debut—or first experience in anything, really—is overwhelming, and you agonize over that one typo for ages. Why, oh why, did I say “azure” instead of “blue”? But with the next book, you just sort of accept that you don’t know what you’re doing and go with it. That helped a lot, I think.
I wouldn’t say Rise Red Kingdom was an easier journey, but I was much more forgiving to myself. I also drank a lot of bubble tea, so maybe that’s the real reason.
What storytelling inspirations and aspirations did you channel into this book and the series as a whole?
I drew a lot more than I wrote, so I was obsessed with video games—especially 90s RPGs like Final Fantasy and Suikoden—when I was a kid. It was such a visual way to tell a story, and although the graphics back then were… well, compare FF7 to its remake… the end result—the imagery, the music, the text—created a beautiful form of storytelling that allowed players to experience worldbuilding through the main character’s eyes.
That’s what I wanted to bring to Burn Red Skies. I wanted readers to slip into the characters’ POVs and live the adventure through their eyes.
How did you work at developing the characters from the first book? Did you have a goal in mind for them, a final plot point you built towards, or was it a spontaneous process?
As much as I liked defining each character’s quirks and strengths, it was a lot of fun exploring their weaknesses. For example, if we take the “quintessential strong character” in my book—in this case, Valerya, who has command over a dragon as well as an entire army—and sort of pick apart her shortcomings, we realize that her temper and inability to forgive creates a hole in her that quickly becomes a weak spot. How deep and how wide can this void go before she reaches her breaking point? (In Rise Red Kingdom, she definitely comes close.)
The advantage of exploring these questions is becoming very familiar with how characters can work on their blind spots—and what happens if they don’t. As such, some characters develop for the better, and some for the worse. But no one really stays the same, I think, and that’s what drives the heart of the story.
Burn Red Skies is set in this fantastical world, a world of political turmoil and a general commanding a multiversal dragon for war. There are these power plays between nations and the culmination of a rebellion to uphold the balance of such power. Does Rise Red Kingdom further this worldbuilding? Without giving much away, can you tell us what new places and conflicts readers will encounter?
This book explores the concept of interdimensional dragons more in depth—both the “dimensions” and “dragons” part of it. I’m excited to see what you think!
Besides being a writer, you’re also a fantastic artist. I’m constantly in awe of your illustrations! Any recent work you can share with us?
Thanks, that means a lot to me! And yay, thanks for asking! I’m still trying to figure out how to run a website, but you can find all my illustrations here.
You can find concept art for Burn Red Skies, art projects I’m working on with other authors, and fan art (because sometimes… sometimes, I just need to let loose my love for Arcane and Attack on Titan).
To answer your question, my most recent art project is an SFF anthology of 13 short stories that deal with grief and joy called The Alchemy of Sorrow. I’m so excited to be part of the crew—not as an author, but as an illustrator!
Skies delighted the judges in SPFBO 7, climbing its way to the much-contested finals of the competition! How’s your journey throughout the competition been and what has it taught you about yourself and your writing?
It has been a roller coaster!
…that starts with a confession: I had only heard of SPFBO when a friend told me to enter. Even then, I didn’t really know what it was, but the idea sounded wonderful! I would get to meet a lot of indie fantasy authors and pick up some cool reads, which sounded like a win to me. So I submitted Burn Red Skies and, in a puzzling move that was completely counterproductive to my goal of meeting other authors, just left the socials.
I didn’t know it was an entire process, that blogs would be transparent about how they chose and let go of books. I didn’t even know you could follow along. I was just gone somewhere, until my friend—yes, the same friend—pinged me one day and said I made the list!
So I guess it was like a roller coaster I didn’t know I was on until we were right before the first drop, and before I could say anything, we just plunged.
The cool thing is, I landed right in the middle of an indie SFF party, which I’d been looking for for a long time! I’ve met such wonderful people in the community, and it feels like I’ve become part of a weird, but welcoming, blob. I am one with the blob.
How did you plan for it? Did you set out to write it as a series or did the story just develop one book into many?
It was always meant to be a series, but it was supposed to be a project for myself. I thought I would keep writing and adding to it, like a secret project that would accompany me forever.
But, well, my friends convinced me to publish it (I feel like this interview just shows how easily swayed I am by my friends, haha), so I decided to set a definite ending and keep it to three books.
What about writing the Burn Red Skies series are you most proud of?
Readers have given a lot of cool feedback, both positive and negative, but it always makes me feel great when I see people identify with different characters. Some loved (or hated) Bard and Dancer, while others loved (or hated) Dove, Valerya, the airship smugglers, etc. I’m proud of writing characters who have different facets to them. It makes them feel human.
Before we let you go, where can our readers connect with you?
I have a website that I don’t know how to run!
Grab a copy of Rise Red Kingdom by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero