Author Interview: Chelsea Abdullah

Today I am interviewing Chelsea Abdullah, author of the new fantasy novel, The Stardust Thief, first book in The Sandsea trilogy!

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DJ: Hi Chelsea! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Chelsea Abdullah: Hi DJ, thanks for having me! My name is Chelsea. I’m an American-Kuwaiti SFF writer who loves writing found family dynamics, exploring innovative storytelling structures, and twisting fantasy tropes and archetypes.

DJ: What is The Stardust Thief about?

Chelsea: The Stardust Thief is a quest narrative about a merchant, a prince, a thief, and a jinn who travel the desert in search of a mythical magic lamp. It’s an epic fantasy filled with stories-in-stories, chaotic misadventures, and…ghouls? So many ghouls.

DJ: What were some of your influences for The Stardust Thief and the series? 

Chelsea: The central inspiration behind The Stardust Thief are the stories I grew up listening to, both Arab oral tales and stories from the 1001 Nights collection. I was born and raised in Kuwait and, when I left home to go to university in the U.S., the first thing I latched onto as a writer were those stories. It was my nostalgia for those tales, and my pride in my heritage, that inspired me to write the Arab-inspired fantasy that would eventually become The Stardust Thief.   

DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? 

Chelsea: Love this question! How about…

Loulie: Loulie al-Nazari is a legendary merchant who keeps her secrets close and her heart hidden. I fondly refer to her as a being of chaos because she always manages to stubbornly carve her own path forward. She’s a bit of a wild force, a storm cloud of emotion that is difficult to predict.

Mazen: Mazen is a prince whose head is filled with more daydreams than common sense. Soft-hearted and empathetic, he’s a bit of an untraditional hero; no combat skills, no adventuring experience—but he’s incredibly passionate about storytelling, and perceptive of those around him. Also: he’s the comic relief character. I’ve always wanted to write a comic relief POV character! 

Aisha: A stab-first-ask-questions-never thief, Aisha is a jinn hunter and one of the legendary forty thieves—a woman who single mindedly pursues her revenge against jinn. Aisha’s mind is filled with a bunch of closed doors, even to herself. But in the story she’ll be forced to open some of those doors…and face her prejudices in ways she never expected.

DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?

Chelsea: There’s a politician in the story named Ahmed bin Walid who I have an extreme soft spot for. In earlier drafts, he had more of a presence (10,000 words of extra content, actually!), so I know a lot more about him than what ended up making it into the novel. I hope I can share that extra content somewhere someday; I’m very fond of those cut scenes! 

DJ: What is the world and setting of The Sandsea trilogy like?

Chelsea: It’s a sultanate that has cities overseen by governors/guardians (“wali” is the Arabic word I use) that are appointed by the sultan. The setting that the characters traverse is a desert landscape dotted with vibrant oases, lively outposts, buried ruins, labyrinthine cities, cliffs with cascading waterfalls…and much of that beauty springs from the silver blood of slain jinn. (This is a central piece of lore in the story and is explored in depth in-narrative.)

DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Stardust Thief

Chelsea: 100% the characters! I loved discovering who the characters are and who they became to each other as I wrote them. The Stardust Thief cast is made up of reluctant allies, which was especially fun to write. Lots of snippy dialogue involved! 

I’d say my favorite relationship to explore was Loulie and Qadir’s. I love reading/writing strong platonic ties, and it was a joy to place that kind of relationship front and center in this book. These two have such an effortless repartee; writing them is always such a breath of fresh air.

DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?

Chelsea: The characters, I hope! These protagonists are all near and dear to my heart, and I hope readers find them as fun to read as they were for me to write. They’re flawed, emotional, and kind of disastrous all around. But that’s what I love most about them. I hope people find them compelling/relatable/likable! 

DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began The Sandsea trilogy? The Stardust Thief is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?

Chelsea: I think the themes will continue to expand as I work on the series but, at its heart, The Sandsea trilogy explores how stories have the power to shape our identities, our world, and our beliefs. Specifically, The Stardust Thief is a love letter to oral storytelling, and to the power those passed down stories have in keeping our histories and traditions alive (sometimes in harmful ways). 

The Sandsea Trilogy explores the blurred lines between truth and fiction, and the way stories—and storytellers—exist and wield influence in that space. 

DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Stardust Thief that you can share with us?

Chelsea: Absolutely! There are two I really like (and which I’ve been so excited to see early readers sharing online already!):

–       “The only difference between a hero and a coward is that one forgets their fear and fights, while the other succumbs to it and flees.”

–       “Let us speak of lies and truths, and of the story hidden between them.”

DJ: Now that The Stardust Thief is released, what is next for you?

Chelsea: The Stardust Thief is a trilogy, so I’m currently working on Books 2 and 3. However, I’m also a fan of backburner projects, and I’ve got two concepts I’ve been trying to mentally untangle in my head when I need to take a break from this world. One concept is a standalone fantasy that explores themes of diaspora and fabricated history. The other is about legacies, lullabies, and found families.

DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?  
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Stardust Thief and The Sandsea trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?

Chelsea: Hmm, maybe that The Stardust Thief is not a romantic fantasy? There’s the potential for romance later in the series, for sure, but romance is not a focus. If it’s there, it’ll be a subtle element of the characters’ growth/arcs. I’ve seen this pop up a few times, so I thought I’d mention it here!

DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions! 

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***The Stardust Thief is published by Orbit Books and is available TODAY!!!***

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Goodreads | Publisher

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About the Book:

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Neither here nor there, but long ago . . . 

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

About the Author:

Chelsea Abdullah is an American-Kuwaiti writer born and raised in Kuwait, where she grew up listening to stories about mysterious desert creatures and wily (only sometimes likable) heroes.

Consumed by wanderlust, she has put down roots in various states. After earning her MA in English at Duquesne University, she moved to New York, where she currently lives. When not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she spends her free time playing video games, doodling characters, and hoarding books she doesn’t have the shelf space for.

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