Nicki Pau Preto came late to reading.
“I wasn’t bookish, when I was young,” she said. “As a kid, I was very active.”
Growing up near Everett, in Adjala-Tosorontio, she ended up spending a lot of time outdoors, exploring local woods and forests. Left behind by her two older brothers “to create worlds for myself,” Pau Preto said, “I spent a lot of time alone. That’s where I learned my storytelling, and my writing, and my world-building.”
Pau Preto is the author of the just-published fantasy novel, Crown of Feathers. Her debut novel, published by Simon & Schuster Canada, is the tale of the Golden Empire, its legendary Phoenix Riders, and the conflicts and bonds between sisters.
It’s filled with action, secrets and betrayals, coming of age, empowerment, and magic – a young adult novel that easily reaches a broader audience.
It wasn’t until high school that Pau Preto discovered books, especially the world of fantasy, and she readily acknowledges her favourite authors, from whom she has drawn inspiration.
“Tamora Pierce. She was writing fantasy in the early 80s,” said Pau Preto. “Kendare Blake. His Three Dark Crowns series – it’s dark and beautiful and very matriarchal, and that inspires me.”
Pau Preto has a visual arts degree, a master's in art history from the University of Toronto, and a diploma in graphic design from Humber College. When she isn’t writing at her home in Bradford West Gwillimbury, she’s working as a freelance graphic designer – something, she said, that provides a balance, a mental break and “pays the bills… but writing is the primary thing.”
What she has found more difficult is balancing the demands of being a newly-published author with her other commitments.
“It’s crazy to meet people who’ve read your book. It’s amazing,” she said.
Pau Preto is already working on a sequel to Crown of Feathers, due out next year – but she has found it a challenge to keep from getting distracted by the public aspects of authorship.
Crown of Feathers was launched on Feb. 12 in Toronto, and Pau Preto has a book-signing coming up March 2 in Brampton at Chapters Indigo. Add to that the blog posts, emails, requests for interviews, and social media commitments, and it has become harder to find a balance.
The key is to put writing first, she said.
“You either make the time or you don’t… You have to be disciplined. You do eventually have to get the work done.”
Crown of Feathers is actually the third novel completed by Pau Preto, although it is the first to be published. She had an agent for her second novel, which didn’t sell – and now, looking back at that earlier effort, she’s grateful. “I shudder to think of publishing that second book!”
It was a different story with Crown of Feathers. With a new agent, and greater confidence in this book's fantasy world and her own writing ability, “this one just came together easier.”
Pau Preto was also fortunate to have an editor who encouraged her to fully develop her characters and situations for her young readers.
“People do tend to underestimate young readers,” she said. “Young readers have the energy to dig,” to immerse themselves in a world of fantasy and imagination. “They’re hungry for it!”
Paul Preto noted, “I didn’t become a reader until I was that age. Some of my all-time favourite books are teen books – everything that you love about fantasy.”
When asked how much of herself is in Crown of Feathers, she said: “Veronyka (the heroine) is my ideal self. I wish I could be her."
“I’m much more cynical… On my worst days, I do have some of Val (Veronyka’s sister) in me. I think you have to have some of almost every character, to write.”
Crown of Feathers is an epic, gripping tale, with moments of astonishing beauty, and terrifying darkness. Kendare Blake, one of Pau Preto’s favourite authors, has called it “absolutely unforgettable. This is an instant favourite.”
Crown of Feathers is published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Canada, and is available for $24.99 in hardcover.
One surprise: Pau Preto, despite her background in visual arts and graphic design, had nothing to do with the design of the dramatic cover – but she said she was “joyfully happy” with the image: a phoenix, feathers aflame, and its rider.