Cabin Tales Author Interview #21: Sarah Raughley

An interview with Dr. Sarah Raughley, author of young adult fantasy novels including The Effigies series Fate of Flames; Siege of Shadows; and Legacy of Light – which she describes as “Sailor Moon meets Pacific Rim.” Hear about her love of third-person point of view, her advice on getting unstuck in your story, and her experience of getting the best ideas when you stop trying to find them. 25 minutes.

Read the full transcript:

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:25] Interview with Sarah Raughley

CA: So first some questions about plotting. …. Do you tend to know what’s going to happen when you begin? …

SR: I definitely do outline. I’m definitely a plotter. I think that’s especially important when you have this big sprawling fantasy. …. So it’s good to know the motivations of the characters, it’s good to know key driving moments in the plot. But at the same time you can’t know everything. So I always, as much as I outline and I plot, I always leave room to be surprised. …

[2:10] CA: … And do you tend to keep the endings that you plan? …

SR: I do think the endings change. I’m writing a book now which is coming out under Simon and Schuster called The Bones of Ruin, and it’ll be out in Fall 2021. ….And then my editor gets back to me and she’s like, I don’t like this ending. So I had to rethink and we had to brainstorm, how else can we end this story? Yeah, endings can change even if you have an ending in mind….

[3:30] CA: …And how do you feel about tormenting your characters? 

Bones of Ruin cover

SR: I think people expect it. … I think they secretly love it because it keeps you invested in those characters. … If you read his story and that character’s path is easy, no matter how much you love that character it’s not going to feel real and, whatever the gain at the end of the book, it’s not going to feel earned. …And you need to give the characters those sweet moments and those moments of pause and joy as well.

[4:50] CA: …Do you have any advice for getting yourself unstuck in the middle of a story? 

SR: I’ve had this experience very recently, and what I did was I just put the book away. … I did other kinds of writing, not even creative writing. … I was able to you know gain some experience writing and editing outside of the realm of novel writing. … And when I came back to the novel, I realized that I was almost rejuvenated. … So I would say, if it’s really getting tough, don’t be afraid to put it away for some time and just dive into something else. And those ideas will come when you least expect it, when you’re not worrying about it.

[6:50] CA: And how do you feel about sad endings? 

SR: Yeah, I think it depends on the story you’re writing. …there are times when sad endings have made me think, they’ve touched me, they’ve made me think about life, they made me think about what does it mean to rise above a challenge?. What does it mean to succeed in something? … So I think you need to be open to different kinds of endings, and know that there are different kinds of stories that you can tell that are just as powerful as a happy ending.

Feather Bound cover

[8:30] CA: And a few questions about revision. Some people draft and get it all out and then start revising, and then other people revise as they go. … Do you tend to do one or the other of those things? 

SR: I revise as I go, but … I concentrate more on … just getting it finished, especially now that I’m on deadlines. …Once you get to the point where you’re getting editing letters from an editor — things are going to change. It doesn’t matter whether you painstakingly edited this paragraph, that paragraph might end up being completely cut out of the final draft. So, I always edit as I go just to make sure that the story makes sense, that the ideas and basic motivations and all those things are there. But I make sure that I finish it first…

[9:55] CA: And do you have a critique group or a peer support group or somebody who sees your work in addition to your editor? 

Fate of Flames cover

SR: I’ve been trying actually to put a group together. … It’s not necessarily about sharing work. … But it’s just about like commiserating and talking about just being a writer and some of the challenges that we’ve come across. But these days I don’t really have time to  write a draft and then send it over to somebody to read for me before I revise it and send it back to my editor. … But my editor is so phenomenal when it comes to notes that I usually just, I trust her, her point of view. But … I think critique groups have helped a lot of people. …Having other people that you can share your work with, you can talk to – just that alone can be a great help to a writer.

[12:10] CA: And do you have a favorite POV to write from?

SR: It’s funny because I have always been about sort of limited third person point of view. You’re sort of in the mind of the character but it’s still a third person POV. … But when I first started writing YA, I was told that a first person POV was more marketable. …But the books I’ve read have always been in third person and I just really love that POV. So the last two books I wrote have been in third person. … Personally I feel that high fantasies — you know, big sprawling fantasies – they really lend themselves to a third person POV, and also to multiple points of view. …

[13:40] CA:. And did you have oh do you have a regular writing practice…? 

SR: I write whenever I feel like writing. … if the words are flowing at 3am, why not write at 3:00 AM? If the words are flowing, you know, at 9:00 PM. That’s just how I do it. …I’ve given the advice before, Well, just block out 30 minutes and you can’t do anything else for those 30 minutes. And that can help some people. It might push them to write something, even if it’s a sentence. But then it’s like, but what if you can’t? Then what if you wake up at 3:00 AM with a really great idea and the words are flowing? I wouldn’t miss that opportunity. …

[15:10] CA: And do you have a favourite scary story or scary movie? …

Siege of Shadows cover

SR: I don’t like scary things at all. … when I was a kid I liked … “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” … on YTV. …But as an adult, I think I’m less brave.

[15:55] CA: Do you have any phobias, any fears? 

SR: I hate bugs and spiders. That’s the big thing.

CA: Do you ever put bugs and spiders in your fiction?

SR: Nope….

[16:15] CA: And at any stage in writing, do you ever read your work out loud? 

SR: Sometimes if I really need to. I think more so than reading my work out loud, I will use the voice recorder to record ideas. …

[16:50] CA: Is there somewhere that you get your best ideas?

SR: Usually it’s when I’m sleeping or when I just wake up. … I think it’s in those relaxed states… Those are the times for me when the ideas just kind of come, which is why I need to have a recorder handy in these odd places.

[17:20] CA: And do you keep a journal or just the voice recordings?

SR: Just the voice recordings. In terms of a journal, I will often have just a Word document in which I’ll … write down, here are the characters, here’s the world building, and all that kind of stuff. I’ll just put that down in a Word document so I have it all there. …

[18:00] CA: Right. And are any of your stories based on your own childhood or adult life? 

Legacy of Light cover

SR: I think mostly because there’s such high fantasies, they’re not really based on my own life. I might put little bits of experiences that I’ve had, but for the most part I think that they’re based off of the things that I loved as a child, the stories that I loved as a child. …I don’t think I have plans yet to write a book based off of my own childhood because I don’t even know what that would look like. …

[19:05] CA: … Do you have any recommendations to young writers for worldbuilding or for developing an effective setting? 

SR: There are great worldbuilding books out there. …. Oftentimes they’ll talk about creating a world that suits the story that you want to tell…You want the story to speak to the setting, you want the setting to speak to the characters, the characters to speak to the setting. …You want to be able to answer the question of why. If your story is set in a floating island, why? Does it have something to do with the isolation from the world below? Is that an important part of your story? … And just keep asking yourself questions — about language, about culture, about institutions. … And I would always say look out for good worldbuilding books and try to learn from them as much as you can.

[21:46] CA: Thank you so much for your time. …. So good to talk to you.

SR: Great to talk to you…. Bye

[22:15] Sarah Raughley introduces herself

SR: My name is Sarah Raughley. I’m the author of the YA fantasy trilogy called The Effigies series, which I like to pitch as “Sailor Moon meets Pacific Rim.” I’m also, on top of being an author, I’m a writer and an academic. I’m currently with the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, and I do a lot of public writing for magazines like Quill & Quire and other venues like CBC and The Washington Post. So you can catch my work in many different places. And you can catch me on Twitter @S_Raleigh and my website,, if you want to ever hear more of my ramblings or my random tweets. I promise that I try to be as honest and funny as possible. So hello and if you ever want to reach out to me, please do. I love hearing from fans, librarians, teachers, anybody.

[23:35] Find out more about Sarah Raughley

You can hear more creative writing advice from Sarah Raughley on Cabin Tales Episode Five: “Squirm,” about Plotting; on Episode 6.5: “Author Interviews about Beginnings;” and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. You can find out more about Sarah Raughley and her books from her website at

[24:30[ Thanks and coming up on the podcast

I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with the picture book author David McArthur, who joins me from BC.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Visit the Cabin Tales home page.


Guest Author:

Dr. Sarah Raughley is the author of five YA fantasy novels, including the bestselling Effigies series and the forthcoming Bones of Ruin series. Her books have been nominated for the Aurora Award for Best Young Adult novel. Find her online at .


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