Arwen Elys Dayton began her career as a teenage staff writer at a foundation that produced Peabody Award-winning educational shows for PBS.
Soon afterward, she began writing screenplays and novels, including Sovereign’s Hold and Resurrection, the #1 Amazon bestseller in Sci-Fi in both the US and the UK (and the #2 book on all of Amazon, behind The Hunger Games). Her Seeker series for Penguin Random House is published all over the world.
Arwen spends months doing research for her stories. Her explorations have taken her around the world to places like the Great Pyramid (which she explored by flashlight when researching Resurrection), Hong Kong and its many islands, and lots of ruined castles in Scotland. She enjoys creating complete worlds inhabited by characters who charm, frustrate or inspire.
Arwen lives with her husband and their three children in both sunny Southern California and the rainy Pacific Northwest. You can visit her at arwendayton.com and follow @arwenelysdayton on Twitter and Instagram, or reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arwen is represented by Jodi Reamer at Writers House. For interview inquiries, please contact Kathleen Dunn, email@example.com.
- Virgil’s Zero Rootbeer (addicted)
- Timer to keep me from spending too much time on the Internet
- New book!
- Blank paper. I’m partial to yellow legal pads.
- Finger pushing thingy that is constantly asking for new batteries
- Old timey writing things
- Secret project
- Rooibos tea with milk
- Lily’s chocolate (addicted)
- Well annotated copy of Seeker used for writing books 2 and 3
- Short story
- Seeker lookbook
Where did you go to school?
I went to an independent boarding high school in Oregon. I got into Stanford (I think because I wrote a good essay) but I didn’t show up my first day, and then continued to never show up. Instead I took a job working as a writer for a company that made PBS shows, and my career as a writer began.
When did you know you wanted to write and how did you start?
I did a video on this! Check it out here: What inspired you to become a writer?
What is your favorite book?
This is an impossible question to answer. So many books have made a meaningful impact on my life. But I’ll try to give a few examples.
When I was a kid, I read Dune out loud with my father and it felt like we’d opened a golden door into a vast landscape of what fiction could be. There were whole worlds and races people, and politics and intrigue and battles and love, and all of it was wrapped around the intimate story of a boy and his family. Wow. I probably shouldn’t have been reading that book when I was 10, but I have never listened to other people’s ideas about what I should and shouldn’t read.
I had a similar feeling as an adult, reading Cloud Atlas. In that book, David Mitchell completely shreds the idea of genres like science fiction and fantasy and historical fiction being somehow “separate” from the rest of literature. Wow, again.
I’ve read so many fantasy books (I love dragons) and so many science fiction books (I love science and human exploration) and I’ve read lots of great books and some terrible books, and all of them have changed the way I look at the world at least a little bit.
How many books have you gotten published?
When the third book of the Seeker Series comes out, I will have five published books.
How do you do research for your books?
Research can mean anything when you’re writing fiction. It can mean riding a city bus and watching people, or striking up conversations with strangers on the street. A lot of times it means learning about suspicious subjects like ancient poisons and unusual weapons, and weird diseases, and how opium is made. Or it can be much more boring, such as when I spent several days learning about what kind of crops grew in Egypt four thousand year ago.
Wikipedia is incredibly useful, but it can be limited when it’s the lowest common denominator of what everyone thinks about a topic. So books—real, solid books—can sometimes be much more interesting. In a book, you get to dive into the writer’s opinions and loves and hates and that can lead you unexpected places.
Every now and again I travel for research and try to see a new part of the world through the eyes of my characters. Here’s a video you might enjoy on this topic: …Story Locations in the Seeker Series
Here are a few other videos I did that may give you more insight into my research process:
- Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
- SEEKER Estate Map Research Video
- The Hong Kong Transit Bridge in the SEEKER Series
How did you think up the weapons in Seeker?
My stories always start with the characters. Once I have a sense of the main characters, and I have a feel for their lives and the world they live in, lots of details start falling into place. Whipswords were like that. I knew Quin and all Seekers would fight with something amazing, and that idea quickly came into focus as a whipsword.
The athame and lightning rod came about by asking myself lots and lots of questions, after reading The Elegant Universe by Dr. Brian Greene. If string theory is true, and there are so many “extra” dimensions curled up at every point in the universe, how might one access those dimensions? And then, imagine you were constrained by a barbaric time, such as the Middle Ages. What sort of tool would you come up with then…?
Will there be a sequel to Resurrection?
First of all, thank you so much for reading and enjoying Resurrection enough that you would like to read a sequel. (I’m assuming that’s why you’re asking — not because you hated it so much you need to make extra sure there won’t be more of it coming into existence.)
I am asked this question all the time, and every time I’m asked, I feel bad about my answer. The answer is: I left the storyline of Resurrection open for a possible sequel…but as of right now, I don’t plan to write one. I love Pruit and I don’t want to say goodbye to her forever, but on the other hand, I was happy to write a book that was satisfying in and of itself and which doesn’t, from my standpoint, require a sequel to feel whole. It makes me happy that readers can imagine for themselves what happens after the book ends.
That said, I might change my mind tomorrow and start work on a sequel. There are so many other stories queuing up to be written, though, that I can’t pin this one down.
Is someone going to make Resurrection into a movie?
I really, really want this to happen. The movie rights to the book were bought some years ago, and I even wrote a script for the producer, but the movie didn’t happen and the rights have since come back to me. Every now and then, as I’m falling asleep, I see the chase scene through the Cairo bazaar playing out in my mind and I think: I have got to turn Resurrection into a movie.
Recently, I’ve had several offers for the rights, but I’m waiting for just the right time and just the right production company. And I’m also waiting for Seeker to come out so I can give some attention to other stories like this one.
But please keep asking me this question! Some day, I hope the answer will be Yes!
The name Arwen sounds kind of familiar. Where is it from?
Arwen is a Celtic name that occurs all over the British Isles, particularly in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. However, my parents did not know that and wouldn’t have cared if they did. They named me Arwen after the Elvin princess Arwen Undómiel (Arwen Evenstar) in The Lord of the Rings.
Both parents (but especially my mother) were obviously huge LOTR fans. I took some heat for the name in grade-school and high school, but usually people brightened up and became friendlier when I mentioned JRR Tolkien. When I was about fourteen, I thought about changing my name to something more common—but this brief whim helped me realize that I loved my name, that I wouldn’t want a name everyone else has, and that it was a perfect name if I wanted to be a writer (which I very much did).
So that may be why Arwen sounds familiar to you. I’ve only met one other Arwen in the flesh (and she’s the young daughter of a friend of mine), but I’ve met quite a few over the Internet, and it’s fun to swap stories of why our parents chose the name and what it was like growing up Arwen.
Do you write every day? For how long do you write each day?
I think the answer to this question is: No, I don’t write every day. It’s a bit hard to respond, though, because the real answer is: It totally varies.
I’m not one of those write-1000-words-every-morning-of-every-day sort of writers. I think of myself as a “binge writer”—I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about a story, making notes, outlining it, doing research. Then I’ll sit down to write it and I’ll try to do that in as fast and as concentrated a fashion as I can.
When I’m writing, I usually aim for 5000 words a day. I often don’t make that target, but it’s a good goal, and I’m pretty happy if I land somewhere north of 3500 words.
I usually write about 20,000 words in one burst of many days. Then I’ll stop and edit, sometimes several times, before another burst. I edit frequently throughout the writing process, so by the time I’m done with the first draft, I’ve already been over most chapters several times.
How do you actually write a book?
When you figure out the answer, will you please let me know?
I don’t know how to describe writing a book other than to say it’s simultaneously jumping off a cliff (“I’m committing to this idea and these characters! Wheeeeeeee!”) and locking yourself in a room for months at a time (“If I keep calling up friends to chat or looking at email, I’ll never write another word.”)
I talk about the process a little bit in these videos:
- How Do You Begin Writing a Book?
- How Do You Discipline Yourself to Write Productively?
- Do You Outline?
- One Piece of Advice for Writing a Book?
And by the way, you can send me your questions for future 1 QUESTION, 2 MINUTES episodes if you have something specific to ask.
Additionally, here are a few guest posts I did on different aspects of writing that you might also find helpful and interesting.
- “Spying for Your Characters”
- “Taking a Blind Leap”
- “Arwen Elys Dayton Talks “Seeker” and World Building in YA Fantasy”
How can I get a copy of your first book, Sovereign’s Hold?
This is a tough question. I was pretty much still a kid when I wrote Sovereign’s Hold. I sold it to a small press, and they hired Adam Rex to make a series of illustrations. (Adam has since gone on to authorial and illustratorial stardom, and I’ve treasured his illustrations, which are hanging in my house). After getting the illustrations done, I’m honestly not sure what that small press did with Sovereign’s Hold. Sometimes I think they tied lead weights around it, rented a ship, and then dropped the story into the Mariana Trench, where it was promptly eaten by phosphorescent deep sea creatures, who pooped it out into sand that lies in perpetual darkness. Basically, I’m trying to say that that small press never actually released the book. The company imploded, and SH was dragged into oblivion with them.
I recently got a very nice offer to publish SH again. Maybe I’ll do that! But right now I’m concentrating on Seeker. When I have time to take a breath, I’ll re-read SH and decide what should happen.
In the meantime, I know it sucks that the only copies available have an exorbitant price tag. It’s possible I’ll just release an ebook for cheap and call it a day.