Joining me today to chat about her YA fantasy novel, Legion of Loch Ness is Nadine Roman. Welcome Nadine. Congratulations on the recent release of your novel.
Nadine: Legion of Loch Ness is a novel based in modern day Chicago. I have always been fascinated by the origin of fairy tales and the more I learned about it the more fascinated I become with introducing it into the modern world. We all enjoy fantasy novels that are usually set in fantasy times and countries. I thought it would be fun to explore the lives of our main characters dealing with fantasy in every day life in our experience.
Helen: I bet you had great fun with that idea. I can imagine the misunderstandings arising with a fae character experiencing the modern world. What made you want to write this particular book?
Nadine: I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life. After reading many books I evolved to a point where I thought it would be fun to write a book of my own. Then I found myself making different scenarios and ending to the books I was reading and it made me want to write my own. Too often I wanted an alternative ending and more depth to the books I was reading so I decided to give it a try.
Helen: Who inspired you to write a novel? It is not easy to take an idea and complete a whole book. Did your family support you?
Nadine: A lot of my family members thought I had a way with words and thought I should write. They planted the seed in my head, and it grew form there. My father was my main inspiration to write. My great grandfather owned newspapers that were sold in three different languages in Asia. The most popular section of the newspaper was the short story section and my father said I had inherited my great grandfather’s gift for storytelling.
Helen: That is wonderful story. It must be a great feeling to continue the family tradition! So you’ve completed your debut novel, have you caught the bug? Is their a new project in the works?
Nadine: It’s really interesting. After finishing my Legion, I felt like I wasn’t done with my characters and I started planning it before releasing the first one. It is a lot darker and edgier. I’ve based it in London which is one of my favourites cities. I’m absolutely loving reuniting with the characters from Legion.
Helen: Characters do have a way of growing on you. Who was your favourite character to write?
Nadine: I enjoyed writing Chris the most. He was supposed to be a minor character, but his personality became such fun to write that he became one of my favorite characters. Another one of my favorites was Melusine because I was so fascinated by her story as one of the first incredibly powerful women and bringing her into the modern world and having her fall in love with a modern an has been an absolute adventure.
Helen: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about your book. Just to round us out, how do you fit writing into your daily life?
Nadine: It’s very hard to fit it in, however, the pure joy of escaping into my books and hanging out with the amazing characters makes it worthwhile. As hard as it is to carve time out to sit and write properly every time I enter the universe it is equally hard to pull myself out.
Joining me today to chat about her fantasy Sunspear series is Elizabeth Lavender. Welcome Elizabeth. Please tell us a little about your novels.
Elizabeth: My fantasy/sci-fi series is the Sunspear Series. I’m currently in the final revision stages of the 3rd book in the series. The first book in the series is The Spinning of Deception and the second book is Deception’s Hold. Our journey begins with meeting 18-year-old sunspearbearer Dante and a mysterious female sunspearbearer the same age who has been secretly trained. The reason why she’s secretly trained becomes apparent in the story. A powerful force led by the Dark Lord and his Black Dragon Commander threatens the galaxy; the Black Dragon Commander also is Dante’s father. Dante and his companions lead in the fight to stop the colonies from being massacred by the Dark Lord’s forces. In other scenes, our mysterious girl’s gift of visions from the Ancient One reveals a truth about a past event that could be key to breaking the Dark Lord’s hold.
The second book, Deception’s Hold, continues right where the first ended. Dante and his companions are told the truth of the past event, provided proof of it, and sets up a deadly task for Dante to undertake. Success could mean ending the Dark Lord’s power finally and much more. Failure would mean a much worse fate than even a blade for him. Even as they try to defend the colonies, they’ve come to understand something horrible is at work at Black Dragon headquarters. A race begins for the girl and her comrades to discover it and stop it in time. The girl knows though how short their time really is. She fears for Dante’s fate because she’s discovering her visions have created an unexpected connection to him and losing him isn’t an outcome she can accept. Too, she may be the only one that really knows the darkness he’s about to face.
Helen: This sounds like an amazing series, and I just love your covers, they are so complex, so many elements, tell us the story behind them.
Elizabeth: All of my covers have to do with that specific part of the storyline. So, for the first cover, there is a cloaked figure, two sunspears (one on either side), a dagger, and a blue eye. The cloaked figure represents the Dark Lord or darkness in general approaching. The two sunspears are for Dante and the girl. The dagger is directly related to the event from the past that has such a bearing on the present situation. It also has to do with an event in the girl’s past that happens in the book that will continue to haunt her through the series. The blue eye is referring to the girl’s eye as she sees visons, which play an important role throughout the series, but her visions of the one event set off a whole chain of actions.
The second cover shows the Black Dragon Commander who is also Dante’s father. On one side is the Black Dragon Helmet showing his allegiance now to the Black Dragon and on the other side is Ethan, the person that Dante once called Father. Through the middle is a sunspear, separating the two sides. The Black Dragon Commander/Ethan are on the cover because it ties into the task that lays ahead for Dante, which is at the heart of book 2.
Helen: With so much detail behind the cover design, I imagine as much thought went into the titles?
Elizabeth: The titles for both books are central to the story (The Spinning of Deception and Deception’s Hold). The power of deception is at the heart of both books and it’s how the Dark Lord has done what he has. While many of the battles in the books are the traditional swords, blasters, tanks, sunspears, and other cool technology to which you’ll get introduced, those aren’t the hardest battles fought. Many of the hardest battles fought in the book are these ones where being able to decipher truth from lie is the key. Otherwise, your fate is sealed. The Dark Lord has deceived before and he continues to do so. His mastery of it is how we find the Black Commander is at his side now. That’s the main way the title comes about. However, it’s not just the Dark Lord using it. You will see deception also used in other forms, but sometimes not for bad. Like I said, it’s a constant theme in the series.
Helen: It is so nice to learn the reasoning behind the covers and titles. It makes the book richer. What made you write this series?
Elizabeth: It was finally time to put it down on paper instead of bouncing around in my head. LOL. Seriously I’ve had pieces of it coming together since high school (that was over 20 years ago). There’s a point when you have a story, you have to tell it. It’s the writer in you.
Helen: Yes, as some point you just have to put pen to paper, you can no longer resist the urge! I don’t know why we resist, but sometimes we do. Why did you choose to write fantasy?
Elizabeth: This is my only series and it’s sci-fi/fantasy. I guess it’s the one I primarily read in myself and love, so I don’t know how much I would enjoy writing in another genre. Also, the story in my head ended up falling in this genre.
Helen: You have two books in the series published, I’m sure your die hard fans want to know when the third will be released. Tell us a little about your WIP.
Elizabeth: My current work is the 3rd book in the series. I’m in the final revision stage and hoping to have it published by the end of summer at the latest. This one shares the same things readers have come to love about the series. The characters haven’t changed with the way they face whatever the threat may be, while finding the opportunity to bring humor into even the most challenging situations. There are battles and close calls just like we like them to have too. However, there are some differences because we are in a different place in the storyline. The battlefields are a smaller scale to an extent. We’re getting to see the internal battles of one character in particular in book three and how it manifests itself outside. Also, the third book is a great deal about relationships being built between characters, ones that will take them through the entire series. For many of these characters, it’s the first time they’ve had a chance to actually meet in person and work/fight side by side. So, there are a lot of places in book 3 that read like a romance between certain characters, but for those who have been reading the series they will say it’s long overdue. It is where we find ourselves in the story.
Helen: I think as you write a series, and you live and breath the story, certain characters begin to resonate. Do you have a favourite character in your series?
Elizabeth: I have two favourites. There’s no way I can choose between them. It has to be Dante and the girl (yes, she is called that until book 3 because her identity has to remain hidden). Dante fights with all his heart to defeat the Black Dragon, and he’s already lost so much. As the series opens, his mother and brother are counted in those losses and his father now fights on the other side, causing the destruction he now sees around him. Yet somehow, he fights on even with that always there and as the series continues his incredible heart and spirit that make him a hero will shine through in the battlefields he’ll be put through. Then there’s the girl who fights just as hard, but between her own internal “demons” and the visions rest doesn’t come easy for her. There are moments she can’t move beyond, that still hold sway over her. She can give grace to others, but not to herself. We’ll see her be forced to take on many roles, play many parts to help win against Black Dragon. Even as she does it, it all adds to the turmoil that’s already creates such a nightmare for her at times. Yet despite all that, she has a spirit and heart that matches Dante’s, and she’ll need it to manage the battlefields that lay ahead for her.
Helen: You are well into your series, and have heroes and villains who are well defined. Who do you prefer to write?
Elizabeth: Heroes probably. I like seeing them going through whatever trial or battle I put them through and hopefully come out alive, even if barely. I like to delve into their emotions and their mind as they struggle with whatever they get thrown. I think too we can identify in real life with the hero and the challenges they face and how they struggle with them. I’ve said many times the struggles in my Sunspear world are not so different than those in our world. The battlefields may appear different on the surface, but they’re not. One of my characters says it better though. Here’s a quote from book 3 of the Sunspear Series (still under revision) “”I can’t tell you what happened, because it’s a part of my past. I found myself at a juncture which many do at a point in this life, many of us more than once, Dante. It’s a scary, lonely place to dwell. Everyone faces this Darkness. In reality daily. There are times though the battle is one not forgotten, leaving such a mark on one…” “Those are the ones that stay with you because you come face to face with how powerful the Darkness is. How quickly it can take you and destroy you and all those around you before you realize what is done. Yet you also discover how strong the One is who stands beside you, and that must be your refuge.” So, heroes are my favorite to write about as I think they inspire us to see that no matter how hard it gets or imperfect we are in our struggle, we can emerge victorious. We may have our body battered, our heart broken, and our face streaming with tears, but we come through. We need our heroes.
Helen: I agree. This sounds amazing. It is inspiring to see how people can survive what is thrown at them. We are often stronger than we realise are. Of course as authors we make it especially difficult for our characters. Author life can be just as challenging! Tell us a little about your writing process. How does writing fit into your daily routine?
Elizabeth: With great difficulty! I work fulltime during the week and there’s always stuff with the kids/school and just family stuff with the kids/husband. So, most of my writing stuff comes in the evenings and on the weekends. I don’t do mornings at all, unless I have to get up to go to work/take the kids to school. However, I’m a night owl, so most weeknights I’m until close to midnight and the weekends I’m routinely up until at least 3:00 working on stuff. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes that can be bad especially if I’m writing a villain scene. You can get strange inspiration at that time of night. That could be the reason my characters have such close calls and end up in such bad shape at the end of those scenes when facing the villians. LOL. They have to be pretty tough!
Helen: I often go to sleep thinking about a scene or a sticky situation. Often as not, I wake up with the solution in the middle of the night and I have to dictate it in to my phone and hope I understand it in the morning! When you are writing do you know what the story will be and have a plan? or do you let it unfold as it will?
Elizabeth: I’m definitely the pantser. I know how the last battle of the whole series will go and the dialogue has written itself in my head for a while. I know there are certain events and conversations that have to be revealed to get me there. I have a good idea of how those events need to unfold and probably how the dialogue will go, but that’s because I’ve been in my characters’ world for so long now. I just know what they would say and do now. It’s not because I sat down and outlined how it’s going to go or plotted it out. I can’t even imagine writing like that. I know my eventually endpoint and the dots in the middle to get me there.
Helen: I know fantasy is all made up, but do you find you have to do much research?
Elizabeth: None really. For the first book, I did some on names. The character names were not chosen randomly and neither were the places. I wanted them to mean something. I do make sure when I’m writing I have a copy of the other books in the series next to me in case I need to look something up. I have to be sure to keep my story straight throughout the series. I have plotlines that are unanswered or left mysterious in the first two books that will be answered later, some not until the last book in the series. That’s the other reason it’s essential I have the others nearby.
Helen: Ah yes, keeping track of all the threads! That can be challenging at times. What is your working environment like? Do you need music to inspire you, or is silence king?
Elizabeth: Actually, I don’t listen to music. Once I start writing, I’m in a zone, so I don’t know that I would even hear it anyway. When I’m revising, it’s the opposite. I really hate the revising process, so the music would probably distract me. I need quiet because I honestly welcome distractions then. I think my revising actually takes longer than the writing for that reason.
Helen: Which do you prefer, the creativity of writing or the polishing up of editing?
Elizabeth: LOL. I answered this on the music one, I guess. Love the writing part, detest the editing part. I know the editing part of the process is necessary, but I still can’t stand it. It’s like the 6-month check-up to the dentist or when we get a recall notice in for something on the car. Necessary, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Writing on the other hand is awesome. I love going into their world, and it doesn’t even feel like I’m doing the writing anymore. I know what they would say and do because I know them now. It really writes itself.
Helen: If you didn’t write fantasy, what genre would you like to write?
Elizabeth: That’s tough. Mine is sci-fi/fantasy, so it covers two genres. The current book has felt more like a romance in places, but long-term I don’t think I could be comfortable going there. Probably psychological/suspense thriller I could see. I have a counselling background and that influence is seen in my current series as many of the battlefields aren’t the traditional ones as we said earlier. I like delving into what they are thinking and feeling and making them struggle with their internal “demons.” So, I could see trying my hand at a suspense/psychological thriller.
Helen: I hope you do, that would be amazing! Most writers are great readers, after all, reading gives us insights into a well written book. What are some of your favourites?
Elizabeth: That’s too difficult. I have several favourites. One of my favourites is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I read it in 10thgrade and I’ve seen it on stage like three times now. It’s a beautiful story of redemption and grace. The main character ends up spending 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. When he gets out, he’s as you would expect, but a priest shows him true kindness, the true love of God in a sense. The rest of the book is the convict’s story of how he demonstrates the grace he was shown. Another favourite is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. That one is kind of the other extreme in the beginning. The young sailor is naïve and gets falsely accused and thrown in jail. Circumstances allow him to find a treasure and when he gets out, he gets revenge on everyone that put him in prison. However how he did it was what made the book, finding the secrets of each one and exploiting them to destroy them. In the end, he realizes he went too far and has to deal with and we see the young sailor re-emerge in a sense. I think the reason I always liked that one was how carefully he crafted his revenge. It was amazing all the pieces Dumas had going at once, but he made it work. The main character was only able to destroy them because he brought to light their dark deeds, things they thought they hid and no one could uncover. It’s just a well-done story. Some other favourites are The Star Wars Trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). It has everything. I love the battles, the dialogue between the characters… The story though can’t be beat. The epic story between good and evil, of redemption and sacrifice, and the triumph of light over the darkness. Another couple series are Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and the Narnia Series by CS Lewis. Okay, I’ll stop now because I could keep going.
Helen: I can see how these have influenced your writing! What books have you read recently?
Elizabeth: There are quite a few. Generally, I read at least two a month and post the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub as well as my Facebook and Twitter account. I also have a section in my newsletter that I post to. However, recently I finished Rise of Tears by Brand J Alexander, Dreamstate by Toni Cox, (Her Elemental Trilogy is the other one I read and it’s excellent too), A Twist of Night and Day by Aubrey Winters, The Enchanted Dagger by Vonnie Winslow Crist, Sentinals Awaken by Helen Garraway, Flames over Frosthelm by Dave Dobson, The Threat of Shadows by JA Andrews, First Earth by Cami Murdock Jensen… LOL. You can look on Goodreads account and check out my reviews. There are just too many awesome books out there!
Helen: It’s so cool to see my book in your list. It’s nice to see it is out there being read. Just to close us out, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Elizabeth: Just write the story that’s in you. The passion for your world and your characters will come through on its own. Have readers fall in love with your world and your characters as much as you have. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Surround yourself with people that will keep encouraging you to keep the journey going. You never know if your story is what someone needed to hear.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Lavender is the author of the Sunspear series. The first book in the sci-fi series is called The Spinning of Deception and the second book is Deception’s Hold. Originally from the Alabama coast, she currently lives in the Dallas area with her husband, Jeff, and her two children. She has a Master’s degree in counseling from Dallas Baptist University and has studied psychology and English. She enjoys science fiction and fantasy and hopes to bring some of that same enjoyment to others. She also enjoys suspense novels as well. However, as long as the storyline is intriguing, she will give it a try. Her reading spans from Les Miserables to Shakespeare to the Percy Jackson series to anything written by Ted Dekker or Frank Perretti. She works full-time and has been at the same company for over twenty years happily. She is a huge football fan and has a decent throwing arm, despite what her oldest son says when he practices throwing the football with her. Although she enjoys Texas, she does love going home to Alabama to visit. Besides visiting family and friends, it is nice to be back near the water again, where the seafood is the best.
I am joined today by author Tanya Ross who releases the second book in her YA fantasy Tranquility series, on June 7th, 2021. Her series is YA fantasy set in a dystopian world. Book One is called Rising Up and the second is called Face Off. Welcome Tanya. Congratulations on the release of your second book in the series. Please tell us a little about your novels.
Tanya: The story which begins in Rising Up takes place in the future in a domed city called Tranquility. Every citizen signs a contract to agree to the laws, called Accords, which require them to wear a wrist device similar to a smart watch, called the Alt. The Alt measures emotions of the wearer. All the emotional responses are calibrated on a super computer and translated into points whereby the people are assigned a corresponding Status. Happiness and positivity are rewarded, and negativity subtracts from the wearer’s points. The Status determines their standard of living. Those who don’t manage their emotions well are counseled and can be banished from the city.
The female main character, Ember, goes into an emotional crisis when her mother dies from a mysterious illness. No one helps her determine why her young mother has gotten sick in a society where there is no serious illness. When her Alt crashes and she needs emotional support, a young hero of the city flies to her aid. The two of them endeavor to uncover the mystery of the death, and find that uncovering that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Helen: Sounds like a really interesting world. It would be interesting to see if rewarding happiness actually works. For some reason I don’t think human nature is that simple. Why did you call your first novel Rising Up?
Tanya: I called my first book Rising Up because this has multiple meanings:
First, people in this city “rise up” in their Status levels by being happy.
Second, Ember and her friends find they have to “rise up” against the government.
Third, “rising up” includes the effort to go beyond one’s circumstances to prevail.
Helen: Which gives us an idea that all is not tranquil in the world of tranquility. I thought it might be too good to be true. You have a second novel releasing today, tell us a little about Face Off.
Tanya: I have two works in progress. My brand new book is called Facing Off. It is coming out on June 7th, so I’ve been working on editing and formatting that book while also starting the third in the series. Facing Off is a wild ride! The characters begin their revolution, but they find themselves mainly trying to survive what happens to them, as they discover new secrets, escape from the city leader’s horrific traps and ultimatums, and learn whether they can even trust each other. It’s full of twists and turns and will take the reader to places they weren’t expecting.
Helen: Writing a series can be tough, how do you get the ideas to torment your characters with?
Tanya: With a series, it’s picking up the threads, characters, and themes of the previous book and continue them. I know what each character is going to be dealing with emotionally and what their relationships with each other will be. However, my family brainstorms with me a TON to come up with plotlines and situations for the characters. I owe a lot to them. My husband and I together determined the plot for Rising Up. My daughter gave me a slew of direction and situations for Book 2, Facing Off. I love that it’s a family affair.
Helen: That is so nice that you get to involve your family; writing can sometimes be a lonely affair. Tell us a little about your writing process, once you have all these ideas and suggestions do you map them out in a plan? or do you find yourself just writing?
Tanya: I have tried so hard to be a planner. But it doesn’t work well for me. I think I’m going to be a pantser for life. When I try to plot outside of the writing, it is boring and dead. Once I’m in the story, the characters take me places I didn’t expect to go. For my new WIP, which is book 3 of the series, I have done some plotting, but how much I will stick to it remains to be seen.
Helen: I know authors hate being asked this question,but do you have a favourite character?
Tanya: My favorite character is Xander, the rebel in the story. He is somewhat stereotypical of a rebel, but I love how he embraces his rebellion and his desire to be himself in such a genuine way. He’s funny and arrogant and sarcastic, which makes him fun to write. He grows throughout both the first book and the second, and I love to see how he changes and what he learns to value. My readers love him, too.
Helen: If you didn’t write dystopian YA fantasy what genre would you like to try?
Tanya: If I didn’t write dystopian sci-fi for young adults, I would write romance. I would especially love to tie in some history in the romance, too, so there’s an interesting setting amid the steam. Currently, there’s a paranormal idea for romance churning in my brain, though, too!
Helen: I’ve enjoyed chatting with you today, thank you for joining me. Congratulations again on the release of Face Off. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Tanya: I would tell new writers that persistence is key. There are going to be lots of times when you want to quit. When the writing gets hard, or you’re not in the mood. Or when you don’t think you’ll ever be successful. Or when you get negativity from people who read your work–or don’t want to. And with persistence, comes learning and practice, without which you cannot improve
About the Author:
For thirty-two years she was an educator of English, history, AVID, and student leadership. She loves teaching and kids, her students a daily inspiration. Her exit from the educational arena allowed her to indulge her hopes, dreams, and goals in what she taught for so many years–writing. This first novel begins her lifelong dream of writing meaningful novels for young adults. When she’s not creating new worlds, you can find her reading, spending time with her husband and two kids, or walking her golden retriever, Honey.
Joining me today to chat about her new novel, Twin Flames, which releases today, May 31st, 2021 Is fantasy author Nicole Wells. TwinFlames is the third novel in Nicole’s Science Fantasy romance series, The Five Elements. Welcome Nicole. Congratulations on releasing your third novel, quite an accomplishment. You must be so excited! Please tell us a little about your novels.
Nicole:TwinFlames is a science fantasy romance that follows Maia, who is seeking revenge for her identical twin and discovers she can teleport. Gabe is a renowned MMA fighter who falls hard. He was my attempt at an alpha male (yes, he turns into a giant teddy bear, what can I say?).
It’s book three in the Five Elements series. The series can be started with this book, although it’s best to read book one first since there are spoilers. These books are based on the Five Elements of Chinese philosophy and culture. I also work in indigenous culture and history (for this book, Nez Perce). There’s also an inspirational aspect to the series. In TwinFlames, Maia has to work on anger and forgiveness.
Helen: I read the book blurb and this sounds like a great series, so I am off to find book one, UpSpark! Tell us about the title, what made you call this book TwinFlames?
Nicole: It’s funny, because I set out to do five books in the series and this book ended up being Books three (WildWood) and four (BareEarth) combined: the Wood and the Earth powers. I like the idea of twins, showcasing both elements and also highlighting the destined mate aspect to the word “TwinFlames.” There’s a focus on those people in our lives that feel like they are a part of us, friendships that are bound to happen. It turned out perfect, because Earth’s story is best told this way. I still have each “book” as a Part One and Part Two (Part Three is TwinFlames), so the symmetry was beautiful, especially as the prior two books also had three parts.
With this addition, each title has some theme of fire and light: UpSpark, StarDust, TwinFlames. Taking a step back, even before there are five elements, there is Yin-Yang. These books are the Yang–the light. The last book, World of Water, is the polar opposite. It is the Yin, the unknowing, the fear, the dark, and the possibility. That is the epitome of Water energy.
Helen: Incorporating the natural elements and their meanings sounds so interesting. It seems to be human nature to understand where we fit, and what we resonate with. For example, our star sign, our birth stone, our personality. What made you write this particular book?
Nicole: Did I mention how much I love putting real life knowledge into science fantasy fiction? I have a Masters in acupuncture, and the gifts of the elements, the relationships between the elements (the Shen and K’o cycles), the way they manifest in a person, etc — it’s all real. Feng Shui, Chinese medicine, and more are based on this paradigm that’s over two thousand years old.
For example, a Water energetic is not likely to have their back to the door in a room, and they probably know a bunch of esoteric facts. They have innate skill, and can pick up things that it takes others years to master. They might have a love/hate relationship with salt. Wisdom and stillness resonate with them, but so does fear. There’s a tendency towards long earlobes and large noses.
An Earth will have a sweet tooth and full lips and is someone you definitely want as a friend because she’ll get you and be there for you. This is the quintessential “mother” energetic, full of sympathy and understanding. But she’ll certainly have problems with boundaries.
Metal tends to have good posture and dry skin, enviable complexion and great boundaries. There can be a spaciousness to their words and an almost otherworldly presence; you tend to listen when they talk. But they can be perceived as cold or distant. The sensations in their body ground them, so they might gravitate towards piercings or tattoos. Their connection to spirit is automatic, and they’ll know grief like no one else.
Fire is more prone to stuttering and flushing. When a Fire looks into your eyes, they can look straight into your soul. They connect with you, and can be the life of the party not because they are trying to but because there’s this magnetism and draw, like moths to a flame. Similarly, they can have issues with burning out.
Wood has strong nails, tendons and muscles and is probably having a really hard time with isolation because they need to interact with people. They are immensely creative and can also be competitive, although at heart it’s all about benevolence–they want everyone to win and just like to play. Their edge is with anger.
I could go on forever! I’ve practiced acupuncture for about fifteen years and I love incorporating it into these stories. I also have a strong science background and love weaving that in too.
Helen: This is amazing. I am trying to figure out which one I am already! Maybe Water? I’m not sure. What made you begin writing?
Nicole: I am a voracious reader, but started having a hunger for books that were a little more complex, deep and less predictable. I read in the magical genres I loved, but I wanted something that left me feeling more complete, like I was better for having read it. I was probably battling some mom guilt, too, and wanted my reading to be “productive” because I had “shoulds” hanging over my head, like I “should” meditate. So I set out to write a book that felt like that, one that was all about the present moment. That book was UpSpark.
Helen: I believe you’ve written a few books now, not just the Five Element series; which genre would you say you write in?
Nicole: Ha! I wish I knew! I think all my books will have some touch of romance and magic, but beyond that all bets are off. I’ve published books with spiritual, humorous, paranormal, magical realism, mystery overtones. My current WIPs include YA, dark fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, steamy adult reads and a children’s picture book.
Helen: Wow! How do you come up with all these ideas?
Nicole: I exercise. Seriously, I run on the treadmill in the dark with my music blasting. Other times stories strike as just idle thoughts. My biggest problem is having to cull all these ideas! There’s so many books I want to write.
Helen: So you’ve written quite a few books, but I know you’re also a mom of three. How do you fit writing into your everyday life? I’m sure there are a lot of writer’s who want to know the trick!
Nicole: Far too often I stay up until one or two am. Then my daughter wakes me up every two hours until I finally get up for good around six or seven. This I do not recommend.
I wrote Upspark in three weeks. Sometimes I would write a few sentences on my phone when I literally had five minutes of downtime, back when my baby was a newborn. I do not recommend that either.
Now I try to write primarily in the evening and weekends, but it takes a toll on family time. Brandon Sanderson recommends set boundaries. I’m working on that.
Helen: Yes, I am not so good at boundaries, I grab the time I can. So in your hectic life, with your brain on overdrive, do you plan your books, or are you a complete pantser?
Nicole: Okay, full disclosure. I have a book. A trilogy actually. I have been harboring this baby for thirty long years. She has become so built up in my mind, I can no longer craft the words into existence. So I outline. I have outlined the hell out of that story. There is now a whole network of twists and turns, like alternate realities to the same story, and I can’t make heads or tails of it. I have a smattering of non-temporal chapters, ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle pieces. I know what I want to do, and I look at that beast of a mountain built of notes, and instead sit down and gorge on chocolate instead.
I will write her one day, but in the meantime, I am a hardcore pantser.
(Total aside–is it just me or does that sound naughty?)
For someone who would plan every minute of the day (who am I kidding, for someone who does plan the day to the second), sitting down in front of my computer with nothing but the opening and end scenes and going on a merry ride to fill in the middle is exhilarating! I don’t know if it’s just me (probably is; I’m thinking a virtue of prosopagnosia?), but I often don’t recognize what I’ve written. So when I write and then edit (if enough time has passed) it’s like getting to enjoy someone else’s story!
Helen: I agree. Sometimes I’ll go back to one of my drafts, and I’ll think, Did I really write that? And then I get lost in the story again and forget I am supposed to be editing!
It’s been such a pleasure finding out about you and your books. Thank you for joining me. Congratulations again on the release of TwinFlames. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other writers?
Nicole: Don’t compare. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t compare your works. Don’t compare how you were to how you are to how you want to be. Be in the present moment. Enjoy the journey and see if you can let go of attachment to outcome, at least most of the time. Stay open-minded, which will help you hear the things you need to and learn the skills to improve. Being free in this way lets you flow on your path, versus bucking and forcing and constantly “trying.”
I did not do these things. I suffered. I know better now, and that’s what I’d pass on so you can skip straight to the awesome parts of writing!
About the Author:
In the ethos where herds of story ideas run wild and free, I am known as the Devourer of Books. A voracious predator, I–
Okay. I’m a mom of three young children. And I spend way too much time in the fantasy world in my head. But, hey, in this world I’m still supernatural. I channel the powers of my insomnia for good. I’m impervious to kid whining and insults (well, mostly). I have a second sense for cereal disasters and broken toy catastrophes. They call me Mom, which is code for You’re-Awesome-We-Love-You or Stop-Writing-On-Your-Computer-and-Play-With-Me. I’m not sure which. My kryptonite is my pet peeves: water running down my elbows, food stains on papers, and losing the little plastic tethers when you remove the tags off new clothes.
So, yeah, that’s me. Your average superhero mom. Oh, and I’ve got three eyes (one in the back of my head).
If you’ve read my novels, you’ll know I created the world of Remargaren. A diverse environment comprised of four kingdoms: Vespiri, Terolia, Elothia and Birtoli. Each has its own political structure, landscape, setting and culture, which drives the behaviour of its inhabitants.
The fun part of world building is that you get to create everything! A lot of the time you are creating backstory, so the story you are writing has depth and makes sense, but it doesn’t mean it is all included in the book. Even though some characters are only mentioned as a legend or ancient history, once upon a time they lived the events that made that history. I have so much backstory that one day there will be a prequel so I can use it all!
My starting point was the deities who created the world of Remargaren in the first place. The sisters Leyandrii and Marguerite. Goddesses who did everything they could to protect the people of Remargaren and its people, and I had my religious structure, and the source of the ancient magic.
As I started to write the first book, the environment began develop and the idea of basing it on the diverse countries found on the European continent was born.
Vespiri is predominantly forested; a land of trees and rich timber, lush green growth, plentiful water and arable fields. The sentinal trees are scattered across a system of Watches which divide the kingdom into manageable areas. Vespers, Greenswatch, Deepwater, Stoneford, East Watch and Marchwood.
Each Watch has a lord responsible for defending the land, who looks to the king, and each Watch has a council to help with day-to-day management.
Terolia is a hot and arid desert territory ruled by the nomadic Families. Water is scarce as are towns and cities, and sentinals. The Familes are led by a Medera and Sodera, the mother and father, and the family structure is core to their way of life.
There are six Families comprised of three main Familes: the Atolea, the Solari and the Kirshan, and three affiliated lesser Families: Kiker, Gusar and Miner.
Elothia is an icy territory to the north. Flat plains of icy tundra stretch all the way to ridges of snow-capped mountains. Most of the year, snow covers the land; only the southern reaches are ice free and arable. Food can be scarce when the winters are harsh, and the land remains frozen shortening the growing season and causing strife in the villages.
The Grand Duke rules Elothia, supported by his ministers and the generals that command his army.
Birtoli is an archipelago of islands extending to the south. White sands and turquoise seas, although beautiful, mean that without a boat, the islanders are constrained to the island they born on, and tend to coalesce in tight knit clans. The Birtolian Empire is ruled by an Emperor.
Diverse settings provide the opportunity to create different cultures, political structures and of course the vivid landscapes my characters live in, which also contribute to setting the mood an ambiance of a scene.
You can create a world as complex and diverse as you choose, or as simple as needed. It becomes the canvas on which your characters live their lives. They react to and manoeuvre through the different territories, and the setting provides the opportunity to create more obstacles and conflict and we enjoy their adventures as the characters deal with them. The reading experience becomes immersive because you can imagine the world, and you can picture yourself in that environment, and you can compare your reactions to those of the characters.
World building is a core component of high fantasy as we need to explain the world our characters live in. High fantasy means that the book is not set in the real world. It is not set on Earth; it is not real. An integral part of this is a map. A map helps a reader visualise where the characters are, and as they traverse the world, you can follow their journey as well. The majority of the time, a high fantasy novel will have a map.
The author uses a map to keep track of distance and locations. One of the hardest parts is consistency when writing a novel. It is so easy to be inconsistent, and a map helps you to see that actually Old Vespers is in the west of Vespiri, not the east for example, or that Stoneford Watch is in the east and borders Elothia to the north and Terolia to the east, and that is where it will always be!
I hope you enjoy the world building in the Sentinal Series and fall in love with the wonderful world of Remargaren and its diverse peoples and cultures.
Book One: Sentinals Awaken is set in Vespiri.
Book Two: Sentinals Rising starts in Vespiri and ends up in Terolia.
Book Three: Sentinals Justice, due to release in the fall travels to Elothia.
Today I am finding out more about British Fantasy author Tom Dumbrell, who is the author of his debut fantasy novel The Look of a King, which released on March 7th of this year. Welcome Tom. Congratulations on launching your debut novel, quite an accomplishment. Please tell us a little about your novels.
Tom:The Look of a King is my debut novel. It’s a fast-paced adventure that pays homage to classic fantasy while trying to provide the genre with an accessible, contemporary voice. It’s the first book in a trilogy and is a quick read at only 270 pages in length. The idea was to create a story full of twists and danger, and to deliver the plot through a cast of relatable characters.
Helen: It sound really intriguing, so I went to find it. I am about half way through so a book review will be coming soon! Tell us about the cover, what inspired the design?
Tom: The cover was something that came to mind very early in the writing process. It reflects the two main protagonists in my story, Augustus & Cyrus. I can’t say too much without betraying the plot, but the book explores the similarities (and differences) between the two boys and how their stories become intertwined. I am very fortunate to know a graphic designer who took my original concept for the cover and turn it into something that I am very proud of.
Helen: It is a lovely cover. What makes a king we wonder? I imagine that is why you named the book A Look of a King?
Tom: As with cover art, the title is one that makes far greater sense to those who have read the book. Not a very helpful answer, I know! “The Look of a King” is a direct quote from within the book and has a few different meanings. Loosely speaking however, the story explores what it means to be a king and behave like one. It’s a tough thing to find a title, but this was never in any doubt and I’m lucky that it has not already been used a thousand times!
Helen: What made you write this particular book?
Tom: It was a lifelong ambition of mine to write a book, however this particular project was enabled by unexpected redundancy April 2020. I worked (and work!) in the Travel Industry and the extra time and freedom enabled me to turn an idea into reality. Like most authors, I have plenty of unfinished projects, but ‘The Look of a King’ was an idea that came at just the right time, providing a sense of purpose and escapism when I needed it most.
Helen: A wonderful bonus from a terrible situation. I am glad you managed to find a silver lining from what must have been a difficult time. I think writing is a form of cathartic release, I know I began writing after a difficult time in my life. What was your inspiration to choose to write?
Tom: A desire to remain active and productive during redundancy, but also a love of books and in particular, a desire for more fantasy books that are not centred around magic systems and mythical creatures. I know that these are hugely popular, but not always to my tastes
Helen: You write fantasy. Who or what inspired you write in this genre?
Tom This series of books is my only work to date and is a work of fantasy albeit not a magical world. I’m told that it reads like Historical fiction. This is very much aligned with the type of books that I most enjoy reading, so perhaps no surprise! My wife is a huge reader but also a professional editor. Her feedback helped me to shape the story and start to realise the project as a reality – I would never have been able to complete it otherwise. From the perspective of authors – I would cite Pullman & Tolkien as my childhood inspiration, more recently Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and Chris Wooding to name but a few.
Helen: How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Tom: For ‘The Look of a King’ I literally woke up with a broad outline of 18-chapters which were then hand-written for reference before my wife/editor helped me to shape it into something more conclusive. When writing the sequels, I am now finding that the ideas are driven by the characters.
Helen: You’ve already said, The Look of a King is the first book in the series, tell us about your current work in progress.
Tom: I am currently writing the third and final book of the ‘Pillars of Peace’ trilogy (of which The Look of aKing is book one). I am editing the second book concurrently ahead of an October release with one eye toward my next project!
Helen: So exciting, not long to wait for the next book then. Which type of character do you prefer to write, and who is your favourite character in your books?
Tom: For me personally, I find it easier to find a villain’s voice. I quite enjoy dialogue and find that you can really express your villainous character through those exchanges. My ‘hero’ is a fairly reluctant one, so the traits tended to be delivered through actions more than words.
Cyrus is my favourite character. He is one of the main protagonists and the one whose character and decision making most closely resembles mine. He is the character I was always destined to write; I think.
Helen: Cyrus has to overcome quite a lot. I bet he was a great character to write. Let’s talk about your writing process for a bit. Tell us about where you write.
Tom: I’m not one for moving around, and UK weather rarely permits outdoor work, so more often than not, I am at the same desk that I use for the day job. It’s probably not the most inspiring space and is often shared with my three dogs but it’s a permanent set up where everything works and I can focus on the important stuff, the writing!
Helen: Yes, I am quite jealous of those writers string out over an amazing view, with the sea in the distance! Though maybe I would spend more time staring at the view instead of writing, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all! So you’re concentrating on your writing. Music or silence? Pantser or planner?
Tom: 100% no music! I need silent conditions for my art! 😛 Book One and Two were definitely planned, so that I had a beginning, middle and end checkpoint for each chapter. Book Three I am writing with a little more freedom and it has created some nice surprises albeit I expect a larger job on pacing etc in the editing process, to reverse engineer that planning process.
Helen: I’m the opposite. I always listen to music! Which do you prefer, writing or editing?
Tom: Writing. I admire the editing process, but I am someone who wants to finish a task and move on. My wife is my editor as well, so that creates a fair bit of healthy tension at home!
Helen: Even though we fantasy writers build our own worlds, I find it quite surprising how much research is still required. Do you find yourself spending a lot of time on research?
Tom: Writing in a fantasy world does give you a bit of freedom to make things up as you go – however, my book offers a setting that is similar to Medieval Europe, so there are certain words and technologies that contribute to the aesthetic or detract from it. Most of my research is done on the go and is usually: When was this word/object first used? Or specifics about period clothing, weapons, fighting techniques. Oh, and a whole lot of Google searches for synonyms!
Helen: Thank goodness for google! It is often said a writer should write every day. Do you find it difficult to write everyday?
Tom: At the start I was very hard on myself, forcing it at every possible opportunity. Over time, I’ve learned that inspiration tends to come when you least expect it and that reading is, in itself, an important part of the process. With this current book, I am just trying to read as much as I can and write when I know I have something to say!
Helen: I agree reading is important to all writers. What are you reading at the moment? Do you have a favourite author?
Tom: My favourite book is The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. It’s dark, gritty and has the most unique characters that I have ever read. A perfect book for me!
My current read is Valour by John Gwynne. A purchase inspired by legions of fans on Instagram. It’s a fantasy epic with multiple POV which is a great read while contributing plenty to my own writing! I’ve also been trying to read some classics. I loved Great Gatsby and Around the world in 80 days, in particular. These books are beloved for a reason and I enjoy seeing the evolution of writing styles over time.
Helen: What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve been given as a debut author?
Tom: That’s a tough one. I had literally no background in writing so everything that I hear and learn has value. Perhaps the biggest hurdle at the start was understanding POV. Once I understood which characters I was following; their voices, limitations etc, it made a massive contribution to the way that the story was formed and delivered
Helen: It’s been such fun chatting with you today, thank you for joining me. Congratulations again on the release of The Look of the King and good luck with the next book. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Tom: Read about writing. There are some amazing craft books out there. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, Philip Pullman’s ‘Daemon Voices’ and anything from Ursula le Guin in particular, for fantasy. It’s also really healthy to listen to authors speaking about their processes and to understand that everyone is different. Ultimately, stick at it and you’ll find your way. If one person enjoys your work, it will all be worthwhile – especially if that person is you!
About the Author:
Tom was born in 1987 in Chelmsford, Essex. As a boy, he fell in love with the fantasy worlds of video games and those written by the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Philip Pullman.
Despite an early passion for storytelling, Tom obtained a BA in Tourism Management before a varied career in the travel industry, bringing to life another of his passions. When he is not working, Tom is an avid fan of his beloved Ipswich Town. He also writes and performs music and enjoys long walks with his wife and dogs.
Tom currently lives in Colchester, Essex, and The Look of a King is his first novel, written during the 2020 pandemic with huge influence and editing support from his wife, Breana.
I am joined today by author Andrew King to talk about his debut thriller novel, Cold Blood. which released April 2nd, 2021. Welcome Andrew. Please tell us a little about your novel.
Andrew: My book is called Cold Blood. It’s about a detective in Victorian England covering for the fact that his wife is a serial killer.
Helen: What made you call your novel Cold Blood?
Andrew: Originally the title of the story was The Vampire Detective but I thought that was a bit too on the nose so I decided to change the title to Cold Blood as a reference to the phrase “to kill in cold blood” meaning to kill without remorse.
Helen: It sounds appropriately chilling! What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Andrew: This particular story had two inspirations, the book The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the killings of jack the ripper. I first read the first in English literature taught by David Dalrymple and the second in History taught by Mrs Bugler both of whom have been thanked in the acknowledgements of the story.
Helen: Your book sounds really intriguing, part historical and part fantastical. Did you do a lot of research for your book?
Andrew: I don’t do a lot of research, honestly. I wrote the story and looked through it trying to find things that stand out as inaccurate and checked if it was. most of my stories have less of a focus on realism.
Helen: What inspired you to first start writing? Was there anyone in particular that lit that spark in you?
Andrew: I began writing when I was 14 after a, particularly long day meaning the main thing that made me start writing was boredom. I decided to continue writing after I showed a few people because I realised how much I enjoyed entertaining people. In the beginning, there wasn’t a particular person that inspired me to write mostly because I didn’t take it too seriously but the closer to cold blood I got and I talked to more writers I found more people that inspired me, If I had to say now it would be Myria Candies, author of Black Hollow, The Bitter Taste and White Embers.
Helen: Congratulations on finishing your first novel, and now you’ve written a thriller, what’s next?
Andrew: I plan on writing a mix of genres but this book is historical fiction because of its main inspiration, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Both stories are set in 1886.
Helen: How do you get ideas for books?
Andrew: Most of my ideas for stories, of which I have 21, come either from reading other works of fiction, like Cold Blood was, or general observations of the real world like my current WIP, Cup of Sleep, which was inspired by all the people saying they couldn’t survive without coffee.
Helen: Oh my, that’s great to hear. Tell us more about your latest work in progress, Cup of Sleep. That sounds like a really fascinating premise.
Andrew: My current work in progress, as mentioned in the last question is called Cup of Sleep. the basic plot is that a coffee company has taken over the world and has made sleep illegal so people need their coffee to stay awake. the main character finds a product called a sleep pod and must hide it from the government because the punishment for sleeping is death. the two main inspirations being all the people saying they couldn’t survive without coffee and how boring I thought 1984 was.
Helen: Every writer has a different way of writing, and favourites elements. Writing thrillers I suppose you have an interest in writing villains. Do you prefer writing Heroes or villains?
Andrew: I definitely prefer writing villains, I like seeing how people react to the evil things they do, both the reader and the characters in the story as we don’t know how we’ll react to something until it happens.
Helen: Tell us about your writing environment. Do you have time to write every day?
Andrew: I don’t find fitting writing into my everyday life difficult because I am a student in college. for the most part, I have one lesson a day and that lesson is two hours long meaning when I get home I have plenty of time to do both work and writing. I do listen to music, I write on my computer and have youtube open on a different tab. The main people I listen to are Dodie Clark, Anna Akana and The stupendium. there is no writing-related reason I just love their songs.
Helen: What is the most useful piece of writing advice you have received?
Andrew: I would have to say that the most useful is not to edit as I write that was given by the previously mentioned Myria Candies. This is because doing that will prevent progress as you constantly look at the same section without writing any more.
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today, it has been a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you all the best with your next book. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Andrew: The main advice I would give is simply to start small, it was a problem I had when I started writing that I would try to make everything much bigger than it needed to be for example my first story being part of a five-book series, I didn’t have the skill to write a series yet I was trying anyway.
About the Author:
Andrew King is a self-published author whose main goal in life is to entertain others; we will see how successful that is. Born in Manchester, Droylsden to Edward and Sarah King I first began writing when I was in Secondary school at the end of a particularly long day. I wrote many stories in private until the year 2020 when, during lockdown, I decided to try and publish one. Cold Blood was born.
I am joined today by author Kristen Braddock who releases her novel Whisper of Darkness today! I have been fortunate enough to read an eARC, an advanced copy, and I can tell you, you are in for a treat! Welcome Kristen. Congratulations on the release of your book, the first in the Banshee’s Curse series. I am really excited to talk about your books, because you introduce a lot of diverse characters, all of which have emotional baggage that you just want to unravel, and you address some difficult topics through your character’s experiences. Please tell us a little about your novel.
Kristen:Whisper of Darkness is the first book in my new Banshee’s Curse series where a young woman believes she is cursed due to how death seems to follow her through her life, only to discover she’s actually a banshee- a predictor of death. After being saved by another fae, she’s forced to join a competition to fulfill her life debt to him. The first book focuses on the discovery of this other realm, and surviving the deadly trials she is now a part of. Personally, what I think is unique about my books are the representation I include. I feel the fantasy genre can be greatly expanded with its diversity, and I’m not simply talking about race. The main character, Cara, struggles with her mental health. Her sister is a lesbian. The love interest, Killian, has burn scars that marr the left side of his body. A friend Cara makes in the fae realm is autistic. These are a few examples of the diversity I include. I want my books to not focus on coming out stories or focus on these traits, but for them to be a natural part of who they are, just like in our world. A person is more than their depression, their physical ailments, their sexuality or neurodiversity. I want a cast of characters that are as diverse and complex as the world we do live in.
Not only this, but I want to put my money where my mouth is. So, for each book/series I will donate 10% of my profits to nonprofit organizations. For example, for Whisper of Darkness (potentially the whole series), I will donate to the Foundations of Divergent Minds which is run by autistic people, instead of parents of autistic people, and has a high employee rate of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ persons.
Helen: That is amazing. I hope everyone is rushing off to buy your novel right this minute. (Links at bottom of post.) With so much diversity in your novel, how did you come up with the title?
Kristen: Again, Cara battles depression, and her powers are generally dark. Whisper of Darkness is the whispering of her dark thoughts from her mental health, but also represents the dark powers she’s learning about.
Helen: Sounds just right, fits the book and the cover is gorgeous! How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
Kristen: My covers have key elements from the book. Every single feature is chosen for a reason, even down to why the main character has her back turned away. However, I don’t want to explain it too much because I could reveal elements that I’m interested to see if readers pick up on instead of what I explain. Also, some things will be represented across all the covers, almost as if the covers tell their own story. For example, I plan to have the main character slowly turning around with each consecutive cover because with each book she learns and accepts more about herself. So, the unveiling of her on the covers, represents the acceptance she has for who she is too.
Helen: Very clever. Your book sound very intriguing, and definitely delivers. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Kristen: It started with a “what’s a supernatural creature that isn’t common in stories?” I came across a banshee in my research, and thought that would be cool. Upon further investigation, I learned banshees come from Irish/Celtic Folklore, which the rest of the series is highly inspired by. From there, I wanted to write a fantasy novel that contained characters you did not often come across in the genre. A diverse cast with the kinds of representations I would love to see in books.
Helen: I must admit I write what I like to read as well. What made you choose fantasy?
Kristen: I write fantasy, a variety of subgenres, because the sky’s the limit. I love to see where my imagination takes me, how the characters become alive. It’s my favorite genre to read, and I love when I become so immersed in my writing it feels like I’m reading a book as I type instead of writing it myself.
Helen: I think that is what is magical about reading fantasy, a lot is left to your imagination to build that world how you want to see it and how the characters live in it. What inspired you first start writing?
Kristen I’ve always loved to create stories. My first was a two page short story at 6 years old about a cat who ate too much. I even studied Creative Writing in college before swapping my major to Biology. I have slowly accomplished my childhood goals, and one of them was being a published author. Thankfully, with what indie publishing has become, the only thing stopping me from realizing that dream was myself.
Helen: With such a diverse cast of characters, who was your favourite character to write?
Kristen: I would definitely have to say Cadan, her autistic fae friend. Actually, I was initially going to have him die, an emotional burden Cara would carry, but by the time I reached that point in my story I couldn’t do it. First off, I totally loved him by that point, and the friendship that formed between him and Cara. Also, I felt it was almost stereotypical for diverse characters to be killed off. Time and time again, writers for movies, books, tv shows, etc are criticized about the LGBTQ+ or BIPOC characters coming to a demise or not finding a happily ever after. I didn’t want the same fate for Cadan. I want Cadan to find his happily ever after by the end of the series.
Helen: I hope he manages to find one, and he truly is a wonderful friend for Cara! So who do you prefer to write? Villains or heroes?
Kristen: I love both as long as they are complicated. I love to understand what makes a character tick. I want a hero who isn’t naturally perfect, and I want a villain who isn’t “evil because they’re evil” but because they have a reason. No one sees themselves as a villain, everyone would view themself as the hero in their own story. So, diving into the grey area of all my characters is amazing.
Helen:Your novel is full of complex characters. All of which have interesting back stories which you slowly reveal, and tempt us with. You must have had such fun writing them, as they all tug at the heart strings. As you wrote this book, which part of the writing process did you prefer? Writing or editing?
Kristen: Writing all the way! It can be difficult when creative blocks hit, but editing is where I spend hours upon hours criticizing my work and questioning everything. If there was a way I would never have to edit my own work, I’d take it. Helping others with editing I don’t mind at all, but I loathe the process for myself. However, when the initial spark of a book occurs, and you begin writing and watch it develop is **chef’s kiss**.
Helen: Love it. Btw my daughter had to explain ‘chef’s kiss’ to me, but I get it now! Tell us a little about how you write. Do you plan everything in advance and follow it religiously or allow it to develop as your write?
Kristen: I’m a planster. I usually outline each chapter with a few words. For example, “Chapter 17: fae ball.” It helps ensure I don’t get stuck, the book is progressing, and there’s a reason for each chapter. I usually know the general idea of where I want the chapter to end up or key things I want to occur, but otherwise I let the scene develop on its own as I write.
Helen: Tell us about your writing environment. Do you write in silence, or do you like to listen to music?
Kristen: Sometimes, and if I do it’s classical, often film scores. I created my own playlist with pieces from Pride and Prejudice, How To Train Your Dragon, Maleficent, Chronicles of Narnia, and a few others. I, also, have a Dark Academia Classical playlist I found on Spotify.
Helen: This is the first book in the Banshee’s Curse series, how do you get the ideas to write a whole series?
Kristen: Everywhere. I get them while sitting in a Marine Science class, letting my mind wander while traveling, sitting at the end of a boat dock looking over the ocean, what I dream about at night, or word vomiting what I love to read. Inspiration is everywhere and I have endless notes and Google docs filled with ideas.
Helen: Thank goodness we are surrounded in inspiration! Tell us a little about your work in progress. Book two of the series I hope?
Kristen: Currently, I am working on Book 2 and 3 of my Banshee’s Curse series. Also, I’m in the editing stage for a YA mermaid series. With my marine science background, I thought “what realistic ocean phenomena could be used for a mer-society?” and it went from there. I actually wrote this novel before Whisper of Darkness, and plan to release it soon.
Helen: It sounds like you are juggling multiple books as well as daily life. But selfishly I want the next books in the banshee series! How do you fit it all in?
Kristen: Not well **awkward laughter**. I have yet to reach a point where being an author is lucrative enough to be my main job, so I am a full time High School science teacher. Anyone who knows a teacher understands it is a very demanding job, and I have yet to learn to balance the two well. I often go to work an hour and a half early to try to write before school starts, and finish it up that night when I get home. This means I have very long days between my two jobs. For a while, I used weekends to catch up on my writing too. This meant I never took a day off. I’m still bad at taking days off completely due to marketing, but I try to have one weekend day where I don’t do anything with writing or teaching, and step away from all professions. Thankfully, I have a very supportive and amazing husband. I think I’m pushing myself harder now because we don’t have kids yet, but I know we hope to soon and once kids come into the mix, I will not be able to invest as much time in my professions. So, I’m trying to accomplish as much as I can now.
Helen: Great plan! Hopefully you will get your series completed before further distractions divert you. Tell us, if you didn’t write fantasy what genre would tempt you?
Kristen: If I didn’t write fantasy, I would consider writing a memoir. I considered writing one in regards to generational trauma starting with my grandmother, but I think it’d be too raw and I can’t bring myself to write about my family in that way. The other one I would consider is when I lived abroad after college. I didn’t know what I wanted for my future, so I sold everything I owned and left the U.S. I even have a working title of “Behind The Lens” because during the time of living in England, Bali, and Belize, what I posted on social media was so picturesque, as it usually is, but what I went through was not as ideal as it seemed to everyone. Through this journey, I found myself and what I wanted to do with my life, and my future no longer seemed like a black hole. There are still plenty of raw moments, but I’m okay with painting myself/my life in a less than ideal way rather than my family members.
Helen: I am glad that travelling helped you find your calling in life. It is really adventurous, and can be life changing. My daughter is currently experiencing the travel bug. She studied in the US, and is now living in Canada. It is an amazing experience if you get the chance. I imagine that gave you the chance to read a lot. What are you currently reading?
Kristen: Anything by Audrey Grey or Annette Marie. They are both indie fantasy authors that I found through the Kindle Unlimited program. Annette Marie is the reason I dived into the world of indie authors. Her world building is absolutely unbelievable, and a reason I fell in love with Urban Fantasy. Audrey Grey has one of my all time favorite character arcs. All I’ll say is you watch a beloved character become the ‘villain’ instead of starting as the ‘villain’ and it’s so brilliantly done. Her characters in general jump off the page, even minor characters, and they are so morally grey and beautifully written.
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today, I’ve loved chatting with you, and I thoroughly enjoyed your book. (look out for the review!) Congratulations again on the release of Whispers of Darkness, and I wish you all the best with the next in the series. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Kristen: You can’t edit a blank page” has gotten me through countless days where the words didn’t come as easily and I had writer’s block. I stopped viewing the first draft as needing to be perfect, and a way to simply get the initial story out, to help it exist outside of my own mind. This quote has helped three novels come to fruition.
About the Author:
Characters and their worlds have inundated Kristen’s mind since she was a kid. Traveling to far off places and having words on a piece of paper transform into entire scenes pulling at her emotions is an obsession.
Today, I am talking to YA fantasy author, Cami Murdock Jensen, author of the Arch Mage series, which currently sits at three books with Cami currently working not the fourth. Welcome Cami. Please tell us a little about your series
Cami: I wrote the books to encourage my chronically ill daughter to fight against her depression. Agnes (my heroine) struggles with nerve pain in her legs, weakness, and scars on her face. As the only wizard born on our planet which banned magic thousands of years ago, Agnes has to use her creativity and determination to outsmart a variety of severely overpowered villains. Well, creativity, determination and magic.
Agnes isn’t in this fight alone, as she travels from planet to planet, she gathers a circle of friends who help her meet her destiny. A matter-shaping prince, a water elemental siren, a beautiful necromancer, a computer hacking genius, and incredible magical creatures including dragons, genies, and sciftans (magical talking cats from Fifth Earth that can take any feline form).The Arch Mage series is chock-full of adventure, action, mystery, and amazing magic. It’s a fast, clean read, and will engage even reluctant readers. And, I have to admit, each book teaches a lesson that helps teenagers navigate a difficult time of life.
Helen: I am so sorry to hear your daughter has been ill. I hope the books have helped her overcome her challenges as I am sure they help many other teenagers. What made you name the books, First Earth, Second Earth etc?
Cami: I named the book First Earth for simplicity. Kind of boring, but there it is.
Helen: Sometimes simplicity is best. The covers have such vibrant colours, they are really eye catching. The covers give off a science fiction vibe, but you write young adult fantasy, don’t you?
Cami: I love Young Adult Fantasy. I’m all about magic, creativity, and quality stories. As a child, I voraciously read every book I managed to lay hands on. While I read adult fiction, (mysteries hold a special place in my heart) I still love YA stories. It’s a stage where young people are figuring themselves out. My books are a way to convey lessons I wished I’d understood myself—lessons to make life easier. Who doesn’t want an easier life?
Helen: Very true. It’s great when books can provide multiple purposes, not only entertaining but also imparting wisdom and knowledge. What gave you the inspiration to become an author and write?
Cami: My daughter. As a teen she began displaying unique and troubling health problems. She would suddenly lose strength in her legs, go pale, and slump into a heap onto the floor. It took years to find a doctor who could give us an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. In the meantime, I wrote First Earth to keep her engaged and help her deal with depression. My main character is Agnes Ann Cavanaugh, the only wizard born on our planet since it was banned thousands of years ago. She survived an explosion as a baby and suffers from severe neuropathy in her legs and scars on her face. She accomplishes great things despite her handicaps, and never stops trying. My daughter was inspired by this character, who was based entirely on her, and pushed herself to get out of bed every day. She is now married, going to a local university, and writing her own stories.
Helen: How wonderful. I am so glad your daughter was able draw strength from your writing. I hope others are able to as well. Out of all your books, who is your favourite character?
Cami: I like the quirky side characters. I have a sciftan in my Arch Mage series named Grimmal. A sciftan is an intelligent, talking, magical creature that can take the form of any feline. I love writing Grimmal. He is such a picky thug, who is totally loyal, but would never admit it. I also love Dame Maudine, the eccentric former warrior queen whose crazy ideas are relentlessly right. As a script writer, actress, and director, my characters are always speaking in their own voices and running about my pages as though I lived in their world.
Helen: Writing is very immersive, I agree. I do similar things, playing the scene in my mind to get a feeling for how the characters should react. Let’s chat about your writing style. Do you plan out your novels, or do you let hem take you where they will?
Cami: Combination of both. I know where a book is going and what steps it needs to get there. I often nail down character traits on paper, so I don’t write something unbelievable. Other than that, I am a pantser all the way. It feels almost like reading, only much more slowly. I can’t tell you how many times stories have taken me somewhere I didn’t anticipate. I once wrote a mystery for my children’s theater group with no idea who the ultimate thief was until the detective revealed her for me. It was such an exciting moment–even for me.
Helen: How wonderful! Characters can be sneaky like that. Always providing us with unexpected surprises! How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
Cami: Walks. I love walking my dogs through our neighborhood at night when it is quiet. My brain never shuts off. So far, I’ve never had crippling writer’s block. I always have ideas and use my very patient family as a sounding board to weed the good ideas from the bad ones. Thanks family! [Insider’s secret, I’ve also been known to talk to myself while doing dishes or laundry. Acting out a potential scene really brings it to life.]
Helen: Which element of the writing process you do you prefer? Writing or editing?
Cami: J. Scott Savage once said, “I’m a terrible writer, but a good re-writer.” I feel that. I have a piece of notebook paper propped up next to my computer that says, “Just slap words on the page.” Not very poetic or inspirational, but I can’t polish what isn’t there. And isn’t that the purpose of a rough draft? To be rough?
Helen: It is indeed. Thank you so much for joining me today; I’ve loved chatting with you. Just to close us out, can you tell us what you are currently reading?
Cami: I’ve got one book left in John Gaspard’s Eli Marks Mystery series. I love putting an element of mystery in my books. I try to have a big reveal accompany the big triumph at the end of my stories. Double the satisfaction!
About the Author:
Cami Murdock Jensen grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah, fostering two passions: science and the fine arts. As a senior in high school, she won the Sterling Scholar in science and cloned DNA to compete on the state level. One year later, she wrote the score for her first children’s musical, “Robin Hood: Tales of Ye Merry Wood”, which she later published. She has since dedicated years to teaching, writing, composing, and directing, as well as studying the genetic defect that runs in her family. Cami has six amazing children who have battled leagues of demons and a husband who is a much better hero than any prince..
I wonder why Imposter syndrome1 is more prevalent in women and minorities than in others? And I think more prevalent in writers as we put our heart on our sleeve and expose our creations to the world and all we expect is criticism.
What is it about us that drives us to think we are not good enough, that we shouldn’t try to achieve such high goals, that someone else is always better than us, prettier than us, more qualified than us. The list could go on and on.
I’m no expert on mental health, as my daughter will be the first to tell you, and here you go, I am going to say it! There are far more qualified folks out there who can advise better than me. But I was thinking about the fact that by the end of this year, I will have published five books in my Sentinal series. FIVE!!!
If that isn’t something to celebrate then what is? Yes the reviews are slow to come in. The sales are not exactly stellar, my Amazon rating is six digits and counting! but I loved every minute of writing them, of editing them, of polishing them as beta readers gave me wonderful feedback along with areas to improve. The covers are beautiful and just resonate with the epic fantasy genre. And I AM PROUD of them. I deserve to call myself an author. A published author at that.
So why do I feel awkward when I call myself an author? as if I am a fraud. I have the proof. The physical books to show I wrote them. How should you measure success? Do you have to hit a certain revenue number, number of books sold, amazon rating, to be a success? Why can’t we accept that writing a book, finishing it, and then publishing it, is a success? Because it really is.
I am about to send the third book of my Sentinal series, Sentinals Justice off to the copy editor and then start biting my nails as I wait for feedback. The cover designer will begin the cover art in a couple of weeks and I am on course to publish in September. I’ve even got some character art for my main characters, Jerrol and Birlerion. I wonder if they are even close to what my readers imagined? Jerrol is above. Isn’t it cool?
So yes, my books have a long way to go before I break even. Profit? Is that a word associated with self-publishing? I have hope. One day. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing. Why? Because I enjoy it. Because I am an author and I’m good at it.
As Megan Dalla Carmina says in her blog post for PsychologyToday.com, “At the end of the day, remember this: You are here for a reason. In this job, your business, your life, you are worthy. You are better than you think you are. You are smarter than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. Remember that. And remind yourself as often as you need to.”