The Owl Bearer grew out of the worldbuilding work I did for Eleven Names. I was thinking about the origins of that society: a last, forgotten colony of humans left on an Earth that had become something akin to a holy monument. I knew I wanted the society to have grown out of six distinct cultures that were all thrown together in a relatively small area that they were unable to leave. I toyed with the idea of a YA novel with six main characters, one from each of the six groups, but it was filed away in the "maybe I'll write this someday, many years from now" compartment in my brain.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I read an article about redheads, which mentioned two interesting facts: 1) there is debate in the U.K. whether harassment of "gingers"qualifies as a hate crime against a minority racial group; and 2) there are those that believe that redheads will inevitably become "extinct", their recessive traits vanquished by dominant ones. That got me thinking about White Power groups, the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village, cordyceps fungi, and those six cultures that were forced to come together to make one. Then I stumbled across a picture of a young redheaded woman on deviantart.com, and she was so strong, sad, beautiful, defiant, and noble, I knew she had a great story to tell.