Reviewed: June 21st, 2022 Released: June 11th, 2021 Genre: Fairytale Retelling
When the Pied Piper came, only three children remained. One was deaf and one was blind. Being deaf meant life was hard for Adelaide in thirteenth century Germany. However, it also saved her from the Pied Piper’s music. When the children were stolen, she was left behind. Now she and her blind friend risk everything to free the children trapped in an eternal dance. But to rescue them she must face the Heartless Queen, who will do anything to keep them, and survive her twisted games. Adelaide finds she has no choice but to trust the man she should hate and hope he is not playing games of his own.
Enchanted Forests is a collection of ten short fantasy stories about magical forests and the creatures living in them. All proceeds of this book are being donated to Rainforest Foundationto support their work in rainforest conservation.
Why does the book exist?
Ten fantasy authors who are concerned about the state of the planet saw an opportunity to do good with their writing. Each on our own, we don’t have the following or the financial wherewithal to make a significant contribution towards this important cause. But when we joined forces, we found we actually have a chance to make a difference.
Enchanted Forests is the second charity anthology these authors have worked on together, and it has been a fantastic opportunity to collaborate and turn the writing process, which is usually very lonely work, into a group activity. The authors read and critique each other’s stories and Elena Shelest has contributed with illustrations for each story in addition to providing her short story for the anthology. The previous book in the Enchanted Anthologies series of fantasy story collections for charitable causes is Enchanted Waters.
Why Rainforest conservation?
Since this anthology is about magical forests, the authors wanted to make a contribution towards forest conservation. Rainforests, specifically, are the type of forest in greatest danger from human activities. Deforestation overshadows conservation attempts to the extent that eight million hectares of rainforest are lost every year! Add to that: virtually all rainforest deforestation is driven by human activity! At the same time, rainforests are the source of foods and other products (many used in medicines) that we humans need.
Rainforest Foundation supports indigenous and traditional peoples of the world’s rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their rights by assisting them in securing and controlling the natural resources necessary for their long-term well-being and managing these resources in ways which do not harm their environment, violate their culture or compromise their future. Additionally, Rainforest Foundation works to develop the means to protect their individual and collective rights, and to obtain, shape and control basic services from the state.
About the authors
Jennifer Kropf is a Canadian author obsessed with Christmas legends and folklore.
Xander Cross creates original stories with folkloric elements from all over the world.
Ben is a myth obsessive who writes stories with exotic settings and cool monsters.
Alice is a young adult fantasy and fairytale author who spends most of her time adventuring in mythical lands and the rest exploring non-mythical ones.
Lyndsey writes young adult fantasy filled with myths, magic and swoon-worthy romance.
N.D.T. Casale is an Italian-American fantasy author creating magical realms for others to escape into and enjoy.
Astrid V.J. is a South African fantasy author who writes transformation fiction: exploring our human capacity to transform our lives and achieve success in the face of adversity.
Sky Sommers is a fan of retold fairytales, valkyries and frozen cinnamon buns.
Donna White writes epic and paranormal fantasy stories with mysterious adventures, gracious characters, and a touch of humor.
Elena Shelest is a Ukranian-American artist and author of romantic fantasy inspired by Cossack culture.
About the stories:
Gems of Fae and Foolery by Alice Ivinya
These two female dwarves aren’t to be crossed, especially not by an arrogant fae lord.
One Fair Eve by Lyndsey Hall
One dream. One wish. One bargain Pip will come to regret.
To Snare a Prince by Sky Sommers
What do you do when a six-headed dragon complains of indigestion after it’s just gobbled up a dark elf? Easy, you tell it to wait in line like everyone else.
Willow Daughter by Astrid V.J.
When a woodcutter follows a song into the forbidden depths of the forest, he finds himself tangled in a deadly conflict between the Willow Daughter and the Forest Father.
Pingguo and the Dead Forest by Xander Cross
In a desolate post-apocalyptic world riven by famine, three children make a journey through the Dead Forest in search for seeds defended by a dragon.
The Fern Flower by Elena Shelest
On the night when the legendary fern flower appears in the forest, can Miray and Savko find their true path?
Blood of the Unicorn by N.D.T. Casale
A wicked queen’s desire for blood from the hearts of unicorns, sends a princess through a divided forest into the shadows of death.
Dimension of the Sasquatch by Donna White
A lot has happened to the curator of a supernatural treasure trove since she discovered that she can walk through different dimensions, now she’s traveling with Bigfoot.
Feather Green by Jennifer Kropf
When Estheryn overhears the royal family’s secrets, it’s her father who pays the price, resulting in a careless murder that propels her to do the unthinkable: disobey the direct order of the Prince of Persianna and enter the forest.
The Lucky Tortoise by Ben Lang
A prince’s duty is to bring his people luck and the slightest misstep means bringing ruin to the kingdom…or worse…
Join us in making the world a better place! We are currently looking for readers to join our review team to help out with a review on Amazon, Goodreads and/or Bookbub during the book’s release week. You’ll get a free e-book copy of Enchanted Forests as well as your name included in the book’s acknowledgements if you sign up before May 15, 2022. Sign up here.
After a stint in the Magic Kingdom, Marina returns to her glitzy Moscow life as the new goddess of Fate, with an angel in tow.
Gabriel a former guardian is atoning for his decisions as Fate’s bodyguard. First order of business: Keep Marina’s jealous ex away from her. Second: restore magic on earth. As Marina tries to explain botox and face control to Gabriel, the olden Goddess of Fate has schemes of her own.
Will Gabriel be able to let go of the past? Can Marina navigate the mayhem of her new job with charm alone or will she remain a goddess without magic? And how exactly do you tell your FSB-anointed father you’re now immortal?
Preorder Realm of Darkness Boxset
Only available as part of the Realm of Darkness Boxset available for preorder now on Amazon and other retailers for only 99c/99p!
You can read my Book Review of Sky’s fairytale retelling: To Thaw a Heart which proivdes more background to Marina.
About the Author:
Sky was born to Estonian-Russian parents and for most of her life has lived and worked as a lawyer in Tallinn, Estonia, with brief escapes to Finland and the United Kingdom for work/study and to all but the top and bottom continents in search of her muse. Her debut e-book in 2012 was about ancient goddesses running amock, trying to get their wilted powers back.
She then proceeded to indie publishing her own ebooks and paperbacks and found her way from myths and legend via the Angelic Agency to fairytales retold for young adult and adult audiences. So far, Thumbelina has been updated for suspicious adults, a more sinister version of Cinderella was released on 21.12.20 and an adult Red Riding Hood retelling is about to be released on 21.03.21. A Wizard of Oz retelling and several short stories are in the works.
All her books are linked by some character or another and she loves making you choose at the end – by letting you pick an ending to read – one for the optimist and a slightly different one for pessimists (well, except in the Cinders-Embers-Ash trilogy because only Douglas Adams could pull off a trilogy in 5 parts). She lives in a house with a small garden with her husband and mostly one, but on occasion plus four kids. No dog.
As a performer in the underwater Cirque du Mer, Muriel charms skeletons to dance using her voice and magic pearls. When the circus travels to the Crescent Reef, Muriel is eager to take part in the Sacrifice. She desires to sink the ships of humans, the vile creatures who had once enslaved her.
During the Sacrifice, though, Muriel comes upon a different type of human—a woman. Instead of feeding the woman to the Moon Priestess’ kraken, Muriel saves her. Soon, she learns that Yara is a princess and, despite being human and mer, they have much in common. A romance blossoms between the pair, until Yara’s rescue ship arrives.
When the depressed Muriel learns that Yara has died in another shipwreck, she rushes to the Moon Priestess for help. Muriel gives up her voice as payment, and the Moon Priestess turns Yara into an undead mermaid. Muriel has three days to make Yara fall in love and find her soul’s pearl—all the while performing in the circus.
Can love conquer death?
Only available as part of the Realm of Darkness Boxset.
Reviewed: December 18th, 2021 Released: November 18th, 2021 Genre: Fairytale Retelling
Sixteen-year old Kaj has to make a trade. A mysterious woman he has never seen before and will never see again offers to make it so that the Red Guard would ignore his friend Gerda while they drag her whole family away to exile. All Kaj has to do is surrender the warmth of his heart.
Will Gerda stick with Kaj after he changes overnight for the worse?
Can the Snow Queen’s curse ever be broken?
What would you give to keep someone you care about alive?
This Snow Queen retelling is a 90-minute prequel to Cinders and the Magic Mirrors Saga and can be read as a standalone. Read my thoughts …
Reviewed: December 16th, 2021 Released: July 8th, 2021 Genre: Fairytale Retelling
A princess in exile. Six enchanted cranes. An unspeakable curse.
A beautiful and immersive YA fantasy retelling of the Grimm brothers’ The Six Swans fairytale, set in an East-Asian inspired world, by the author of Spin the Dawn.
Shiori’anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs in her veins. And on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.
A sorceress in her own right, Raikama banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.
Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and uncovers a dark conspiracy to seize the throne. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in a paper bird, a mercurial dragon, and the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain – no matter what it costs. Read my thoughts …
Join me as chat to USA Today Bestselling author Astrid VJ about her fantasy novels The StoryTeller’s Apprentice and the associated Wordmage Tales set in the same world. The Companion’s Tale was released on July 9th, 2021. I am fortunate to have read both The Companion’s Tale and Astrid’s Apprentice Storyteller. I highly recommend both and you can find my book reviews here. Astrid welcome! Please tell us about your Wordmage’s tales series.
Astrid: I’ve just released The Companion’s Tale, which is the first book in The Wordmage’s Tales series. It happens to be the third one I’ve published in this series because things got a little too tight with my pre-order dates on the other books, while this one being a permafree offering didn’t have a pre-order and could wait. Thankfully, each of the tales in this series is a stand-alone, so I didn’t have to worry too much about publishing the books out of order.
The Companion’s Tale combines my love of fairytales, and my desire to have tales that reflect our modern sensibilities, with my passion for transformation. This tale grew out of a dream and I realised during my certification training that this, and the other tales in the series, was connected to a specific principle of transformation. The principle in question happens to be the potential we all have for finding our purpose and achieving what might appear to be impossible, if only we give possibility and opportunity a chance.
This tale is connected to my novel The Apprentice Storyteller, as The Companion’s Tale is one of the stories the apprentice learns from master storyteller, Viola Alerion. What I loved about writing this story is how it can simply be read and enjoyed on it’s own, while at the same time it also expands on the worldbuilding in The Apprentice Storyteller, and forms as part of the history of that novel. It’s been fun to expand on the greater universe I’ve created, while still keeping everything bite-sized for my readers.
Helen: I love the way you are gradually building up your world by telling a tale within a tale. You also have a theme behind your covers, don’t you?
Astrid: The Wordmage’s Tales emblem, a “W” with an Asian dragon and a lyre is the symbol I’ve created for my character Jo from The Apprentice Storyteller. In essence, he IS the wordmage, for there is only one. The dragon symbolises his ability to tap into the greater cosmic forces and wield powers far beyond what is common for magicians in this universe. The lyre represents the wordmage’s talents as a bard, for he is not simply a storyteller, but weaves magic and tale together, creating something entirely new and utterly powerful.
The first four stories of The Wordmage’s Tales have a green cover because they symbolize growth. They are the tales connected to the first four principles of transformation that have also been labelled “the blueprinting stage”. Essentially, these are the tales that represent the seed for success and simply engage with our potential for achieving anything we set our minds to.
The subsequent three stories of The Wordmage’s Tales have a blue cover because they symbolize the power and potential all of us have to bridge the gap between where we find ourselves and where we long to be, most simply represented in the transition from earth to sky (hence the blue). When placed beside one another, the green of the first four stories (representing earth) become the blue of the second set of stories (representing the sky).
Which brings us to the final set of stories, as yet unwritten, but certainly envisioned. These three tales will have red covers. The red symbolizing the inner fire of every individual who tempers their nature and transforms themselves into the best possible version they can become. Red is also representative of the heart, lifesblood; but at the same time is the colour of the grounding chakra at the base of the spine. The stories with the red cover are the tales dealing with the principles that allow transformation to flourish.
Helen: Thank you for sharing the story behind your covers. It adds to the reading experience to understand how the cover enhances or compliments the story. I am sure you have put as much thought behind your titles.
Astrid: My titles come to me in different ways. The Companion’s Tale came to me quite easily, since this is a story about the companion to a princess. Each of The Wordmage’s Tales originated in a dream and the titles are closely linked to the experience of waking up and remembering every detail of the dream as if I’d personally lived it.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the titles in the accompanying series, the Wishmaster series. The first book in this trilogy is The Apprentice Storyteller, and this one took me quite some time to come up with. The original spark for a story about a wandering fabler and her apprentice came to me through one of my favourite songs by the Finnish band, Nightwish. One of the lines in the song is as follows: The apprentice becoming… master!
I wanted to honour that seed of my original idea by referring back to the song through the titles of the books in this series, which are as follows:
Book 1: The Apprentice Storyteller
Book 2: Becoming Spellwright
Book 3: Master Wordmage
I’ve even gotten my cover designer to use different fonts in the first and second parts of the titles so that this continuity and the reference to the song remain clear, even if I’m the only one who notices.
Helen: What made you write these books as a series of tales?
Astrid: The Wordmage’s Tales were originally envisioned as forming a part of The Apprentice Storyteller as nested short stories, much like 1001 Arabian Nights. However, when I realised that each of the shorter tales was actually connected to a principle of human transformation, I understood that I would have to take a different approach to the one originally envisioned. The Apprentice Storyteller would have become a Lord of the Rings-style megalith and that wasn’t what I was going for. This is why I decided to separate the two series, having the novels dedicated to the journey of the apprentice as the Wishmaster series, while expanding each of the tales into a novella that could be a stand-alone within The Wordmage’s Tales series.
Helen: You typically write fantasy novels. Is Fantasy the only genre you write?
Astrid: I’ve always written fantasy because that simply has been the most natural for me. My fascination with magic has a long history and I started writing in this genre and never really stopped. That said, I do write in a wide variety of subgenres. I have fairytale retellings that have a whimsical feel to them and are heavily influenced by the styles of Austen and Guy Gavriel Kay. I have young adult fantasy, particularly portal and academy fantasy stories that are more heavily influenced by Nordic lore of the “little folk”. And then there’s the Wishmaster series, which is a combination of fantasy and space opera, blending my love of magic and technology into something wholly different. Finally, The Wordmage’s Tales have a strongly historical feel to them and are not strictly speaking fantasy. Many of these tales don’t actually feature any magic, but as they are set in my universe for The Apprentice Storyteller, where magic does exist, and since all my other works are classified as fantasy, it seemed easiest to consider these tales “historical fantasy”.
Helen: What made you first start writing?
Astrid: I had an idea and it wouldn’t let me go. From there, a ripple effect happened and hundreds of ideas have found expression in my head and want to break free into the realm of my writings.
Helen: How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Astrid: They tend to come to me spontaneously or through dreams. Sometimes I’ll read a book and it will get me thinking on a “what if” questions, which will evolve into a book idea.
Helen: What are you curently working on?
Astrid: I’m currently working on two books. I’m writing Warring Lions, the next tale in The Wordmage’s Tales series. This story is all dedicated to the transformational principle of overcoming fear and reaching for a better future even if that is terrifying. It’s also my first LGBTQ+ romance.
I’m also working through self-editing Naiya’s Wish, my next novel. I’m due to submit it to my editor in a few weeks, which is really exciting. This is my third retelling of a lesser-known fairytale. This story has been so much fun to work with. The fairytale, The Nixie of the Mill-pond is so very beautiful and empowering, but as I’ve been writing, we’ve met some characters who will have their own fairytales too. I’m so inspired to keep writing! Absolutely loving where the fairytales are taking me.
Additionally, Naiya’s Wish has turned into my exploration of the condition of women over time. I’ve drawn on anecdotes from women in my and my husband’s families and woven them into this story. In recent times I’ve noticed how ahistorical our perspectives often are. We seem to struggle to put into perspective what life was like in times past. I’ve explored some of the questions I often ask myself about the lives of women in the past, particularly over time. For this reason, my three main characters for this story are at different points in their lives. Amina is an adolescent and has a beautiful and powerful story. Balancing her are Naiya and Hilda who are older characters and together illustrate other aspects of the female experience, aspects which are so often ignored in stories for younger readers. This is something I, for one, want to rectify.
Helen: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. It has been great finding out more about your books, and the meaning behind your covers and titles. Just to close us out, tell us something random about yourself.
Astrid: I love to cross-stitch. My particular specialisation is creating patterns of my favourite anime characters. A few years ago, I made one of my husband’s favourite anime character from when he was a child, and his friends all thought it was so cool they commissioned me to make them each one with their own favourite character. It was a fun project. Recently I haven’t gotten to do as much cross stitching, firstly because it’s a little hazardous trying to do that with young children who can’t sit still and constantly need to poke at what mom is doing. Another reason is I’ve been putting a lot more time into my writing, which has affected the time I have for cross-stitching.
About the Author:
I am a USA Today Bestselling and Literary Classics award-winning author, social anthropologist, and transformational life coach. I grew up in South Africa and currently live in Gothenburg, Sweden (after having lived in many exciting and interesting places). I live with my husband and our two children.
My South African-German heritage and the experiences of living and integrating into other societies have given me a great deal to think about and process. The training in anthropology has given me the tools to think beyond simple stereotypes and ideological explanations of social interaction while the understanding I have of human potential underlying my certification as a transformational life coach allows me to see what is possible and to appreciate the human capacity to achieve success in the face of adversity.
My parents instilled in me a love for books, and the natural world that we inhabit. This love has led to a deep appreciation of the written word and the desire to contribute as much as I can towards improving the state of the world. I would like to use my expertise and passion for cultures to help us move forward.
Reviewed: June 25th, 2021 Released: June 20th, 2021 Genre: Fairytale Retelling
Ash is the third book in the Magic Mirrors Saga; a retelling of the Wizard of Oz and can be read as a standalone. Thie book is quite unique in that you can choose your ending. You’ll see what I mean when you get there!
When Cinderella’s estranged mother Mellie goes to Oz in search of her baby-daddy, she needs a crew to deliver the proof of their liaison – her youngest daughter, Ellie – to the Emerald City. Hijacking someone else’s search & rescue crew? Not a problem. So what if it’s the feared Fairy Queen Morgana’s rescue mission to find her only son.
A cowardly lion and a brainless scarecrow as per the manual are already lined up for the save. The tin-man is already in Oz…somewhere. Darn those iron mirror portals and fae men. Read More…
With the launch of her novel retelling the Wizard of Oz story, I am joined today by author Sky Sommers who released Ash Crooked Fate on June 20th! Welcome Sky. Congratulations on the release of your book. I thoroughly enjoyed your retelling of Cinderella from the viewpoint of the evil stepmother, it was brilliant, laugh out loud at times, and really made you think about how stories and history can be twisted by the person telling the story. You can find my review of Cindershere. But on with the intervew! Sky, please tell us a little about your new novel.
Sky: Hi, Helen and thank you for having me! Ash: Crooked Fates is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz based on 2 books – Baum’s and Volkov’s. It’s a young adult fantasy with a few adult chapters mixed in (nothing too untoward, no overt sex scenes or anything). A villain from the first book (well, more like an antiheroine), Melisandra aka Mellie, who keeps shoving her kids to live with strangers goes to Oz because, after all, she does want a happily ever after. With the wizard. And their youngest daughter Ellie who is supposed to be 3. Except due to peculiarities of time in different dimensions she turns out to be 17. While Ellie traipses along the yellow-brick road with the Cowardly Lion (who is really Beast’s son) and the Brainless Scarecrow (who is her guardian angel), she doesn’t know her companions are really there to find Tinman who is a long lost fae prince. All sorts of adventures befall on the travellers, including the poppy field and the flying monkeys and as Ellie keeps pining after Tinman, her dark angel is pining after her. So, a love triangle with a slow burn romance. I swear I didn’t intend to write Cinders as a quick hook-up, Embers as a rekindling romance and Ash as a slow burn one, it just happened.
Helen: I love the way you look at these stories from a different perspective, and inject humour and an insight into why people behave the way they do. The cover is gorgeous, such beautiful colours, tell us your thoughts behind it.
Sky This is a custom-made cover. My cover artist Rusham is amazing and his work ethics are just out of this world! He researched the successful genre covers and we decided the 17yo girl needed to be up front and personal on the cover because the story is mostly about her voyage, finding herself and finding her family. The Emerald City had to be in the background at the end of the yellow brick road. The red dots were a last-minute addition to refer to the poppy field incident. I didn’t want to crowd the cover with men, as there is a love triangle developing in the story, but if I would have had 2 men and 1 girl on the cover, then it could have been misinterpreted as a reverse harem story, which it isn’t. I didn’t want to put the girl’s parents (the protagonists in the adult part of the story) there either, the cover would have been too crowded.
Helen: And the title Ash Crooked Fates, how did you decide on that name?
Sky: Ash is the 3rd and last book in a trilogy (although quite possibly not the last book in the Magic Kingdom series) and I had fun for a while figuring out the Cinders-Embers-Ash titles. The subheading had to be about Fate – not going to air spoilers, but there’s a Goddess – and lives of quite a few characters are not going according to the plan they had in their heads, hence Crooked Fates in the multiple.
Helen: This is your third retelling, is this the only genre you write in?
Sky: Fairy-tales, YA and adult fantasy (grown up themes, but no erotica, mostly fade-to-black, actually), but also branching out into speculative fiction.
Helen: How do you come up with the ideas for your books, and the twists that all make such great sense once you put them all together?
Sky: I usually start hypothesising what could have happened next, after the happily ever after or after ‘the end’. Or I read a fairy-tale and spot the HUUUUGE gaps (like in Thumbelina) and I just have to go and fill them. Or just yesterday, an author friend posted a quiz about fairy-tale names, I conjured Yumiko Blackwood out of my pen name Sky Sommers and on a dare, I wrote a flash fiction piece called Yumiko and the Battlefrog. Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to look and wonder.
Helen: Tough question now – Out of all your books, who is your favourite character?
Sky: My fave character – that’s such an unfair question, Helen!!! They are all my babies. If I have to choose a favourite child, it would have to be Marina, the Goddess of Luck and soon also Fate, who ended up in the Magic Kingdom as the local witch and lived to be 66 only to be returned the day after she left Earth into her 25yo body. Because I can make her say the most outrageous things and everyone would just think she’s sassy. She’s probably my bossy, insane, kooky alter ego.
Helen: Sorry, I had to ask! Us readers want to know these things! Easier question then (hopefully!) What are you currently writing? Tell us about your WIP.
Sky: Which one of them? I have at least three: a short story I’m writing as a thank you for my Ash ARC readers called To Cure a Curse (a Belle&Beast retelling) and let me tell you, Belle did try to fix Beast’s curse because the kiss didn’t work and it all backfired rather spectacularly on the entire bloodline. The 2nd is This Time Around, a speculative (scifi-ish) fiction, where I have to fix a few plot holes about cloning and timeline-lines. And the 3rd is a romance between a Goddess and a light angel seeking forgiveness that will be book 1 in the Goddesses Saga (of 10 books), which will first appear in the Dark Realms Anthology (we have 35 authors and books!!!) in October 2022.
Helen: That all sounds so amazing, and keeping you very busy! I am beyond excited about the Dark Realms Anthology as this will be the first book I’ve written outside my Sentinal series. Though I currently have two ideas and can’t decide which one to use! With so many projects how do you fit writing into your daily life?
Sky: I have Tuesday evening to write. And Monday and Thursday and Saturday and Sunday evenings – when I’m on a roll, I can’t help it and my hubby & kids have learnt to live with it. Mommy needs a hobby to keep her sane.
Helen: What about your writing environment do you listen to music or prefer silence?
Sky: I used to all the time. Now I only listen to music when I get stuck and then the lyrics and sometimes the beat of the rhythm suggest avenues I haven’t noticed before.
Helen: If you didn’t write fantasy books, would you write in a different genre and if so what would you like to write?
Sky: I will and I am, in fact, writing in speculative fiction next – This Time Around, a book about cloning in post-Brexit London in year 2101 is out in October 2021 (up for pre-order).
Helen: I know most authors also read a lot. Do you have a favourite author, or book?
Sky: Jenny Crusie, hands down – she writes romcom with killer dialogue and unforgettable plots. I’ve been gifting her ‘Bet Me’ book and getting my friends hooked on her books for years. Years!
My favourite book is Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me – it’s got an unlikely romance between a gorgeous hunk and a homely actuary who have killer dialogues, super awkward family meets and exes who just don’t let up. It’s a fun romp that I keep re-reading every few years, makes me laugh every time, although I know what’s coming and it is also inspiration for writing dialogues in my own books.
Helen: What are you currently reading?
Sky: Currently, beta reading Unwish by Lynda Simmons, it’s a LOTR-reminiscent YA epic fantasy – us indie authors have to stick together and help each other out whenever we can. Also reading Jen Kropf’s A Soul As Cold as Frost – because I loved her short story in our Enchanted Water charity anthology and I want to know how the future Captain Hook fares. Also reading Wishes by Starlight because I want to know what happens to Jacque Stevens’ Elya from Letters by Cinderlight. And just a tad of regency romance by Bree Wolf called How to Live Happily Ever After – her books are entertaining period-true historic romance and that takes my mind off my plot holes.
Helen: Wow, not only writing multiple projects, also reading mutliple books, all at the same time! Out of the books you’ve recently read which would you recommend?
Sky: Oh, this is a great question, I always recommend the authors I love (see my Bookbub and Goodreads page, if you don’t believe me). Recent reads and loves: Alice Ivinya’s Enchanted Melody; Lyndsay Hall’s The Fair Queen; Esme Rome’s The Rose Kiss was one of the most original Belle&Beast stories I’ve read in ages (and I’ve read tons); Jacque Stevens’ Letters by Cinderlight was a lovely Russian royalty themed Cinderella crossed with Match Girl, and K.A.Last’s Dance of Wishes was a unique retelling of a rare fairy-tale of 12 dancing princesses. The closest book that reminded me of my favourite author was Anne Harper’s Fake It Till You Make It, it was absolutely hilarious. I can go on, do stop me.
Helen: It’s been a pleasure chatting with, thank you so much for for joining me. Congratulations again on your new release Ash Crooked Fates. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Sky: Write every chance you get, if it is 5 minutes, 55 minutes or just 1. A creative writing course instructor who works for The Guardian said something along these lines to me and it stuck.
About the Author:
Sky was born to Estonian-Russian parents and for most of her life has lived and worked as a lawyer in Tallinn, Estonia, with brief escapes to Finland and the United Kingdom for work/study and to all but the top and bottom continents in search of her muse.
Her debut e-book in 2012 was about ancient goddesses running amock, trying to get their wilted powers back. She then proceeded to indie publishing her own ebooks and paperbacks and found her way from myths and legend via the Angelic Agency to fairytales retold for young adult and adult audiences. So far, Thumbelina has been updated for suspicious adults, a more sinister version of Cinderella was released on 21.12.20 and an adult Red Riding Hood retelling is about to be released on 21.03.21. A Wizard of Oz retelling and several short stories are in the works.
All her books are linked by some character or another and she loves making you choose at the end – by letting you pick an ending to read – one for the optimist and a slightly different one for pessimists (well, except in the Cinders-Embers-Ash trilogy because only Douglas Adams could pull off a trilogy in 5 parts). She lives in a house with a small garden with her husband and mostly one, but on occasion plus four kids.
Joining me to talk about her novels is the multi-genre author A.R. Grosjean, author of the newly released The Great Dark Witch which is the sixth book in the Peterson Estate series. Welcome Amber. Congratulations on the launch of tyour latest novel, and thank you for joining me. Tell us a little about your novels.
Amber: The book I just finished writing/editing is called Peterson Estate 6: The Great Dark Witch. It was released on April 23, 2021. This book is different from the others in the series because the MC is evil. John will become the Great Dark Witch and his goal is to open up Hell and set the demons and bad spirits free. Basically, bring Hell on Earth, literally. The only person who is strong enough to stop him is trapped in Hell and she’s Emily Peterson. He was born and lived in England hundreds of years before Emily was even born. This is his story and how he became the Great Dark Witch, and how his battle with Emily was foreseen by angels who created him.
My current WIP is called Murder Through Time. It is a science fiction thriller with time travel and murder. Have you ever heard of a serial killer who only killed one person? The idea came to me about 20 years ago and it was on my to-be-written-list for a long time. I finally caught up to it and began writing it this year. The MC is Marcus from the year 2244. He was sent back in time to detain a suspect. He was given the case because of his history with the suspect—they grew up together and were old partners. The suspect was framed and now the real killer is loose and aims to kill the woman Marcus needs to protect. The murders have caused what’s called time quakes which threatens to rip time apart—past, present, and future. If Marcus fails to protect Billie, he may not have a home to come home to. I’m planning on releasing this book between July and August, 2021.
Helen: Your series sounds intriguing, and now I want to find out why Emily is trapped in hell! How did you come up with the titles of your books?
Amber: With Peterson Estate 6, the title just made sense. The series title was already there, and that was had changed a lot over the years as I continued writing. Long story lol. Since the MC was going to become the Great Dark Witch, it made sense to give it that title.
Murder Through Time is the WIP’s title. I wanted something that said time travel without saying time travel but also wanted a ring to it. I went through a lot of different titles before I came up with this one, over the years. Sometimes the title is the hardest part and sometimes it’s the easiest. This one happened to be one of the hardest because each title was sounding corny to me. Then this one hit me and I liked it.
Helen: It’s nice when the titles just make sense. What was the inspiration behind these books?
Amber: Murder Through Time was one of those books that stuck with me over the years. I was taking a break while sitting under a bridge and I saw a skeleton hand sticking out of some rocks. Of course, that was my imagination, it was a twig, but it inspired a story that wouldn’t escape my mind, even with my bad memory. When a story stays with me like that, I HAVE to write it.
With Peterson Estate 6, I wanted to show how strong Emily Peterson is by showing how strong her counter part was. It really was the only way. And he did deserve his side of the story being told, I guess lol. I’m sorry but I’m on Emily’s side here lol.
Helen: When did you start writing? Was their a specific trigger that made you put pen to paper?
Amber: I was bullied growing up and still live with some mental abuse as an adult. It was hard going to school and living at home. When I was 11 years old (a year after trying suicide), writing came into my life and touched me in a way nothing ever did (before my husband), and it literally saved my life. It gave me a place where I finally belonged and explained why my imagination was the way it was. It explains other things too lol. But once I picked up that pen, I haven’t put it down. Not for long anyhow. I did take breaks along the ways to raise my kids but now they are grown and I’m not letting anything stop me from writing what comes to me.
Helen: Writing can be an amazing release and support, when life proves to be difficult. I am glad you found it in a time of need. You write fantasy and sci fi, would you put your hand to any other genres?
Amber: I write in most genres lol. The first time I attempted Horror, I was trying to write like Stephen King because he was my mother’s favorite author. I wanted to be her favorite author. I thought if I wrote something she would like, she’d have to like my writing. Didn’t work that way and I am glad. I had to learn that there’s nothing I can do to make someone that should like me, like me. I’m not going to keep wasting my time on that kind of stuff anymore. I’m going to be me—if no one likes it, their loss not mine. But as it did turn out, there was too much romance in the story to be under the horror genre. It ended up being rewritten although the horror elements in the story did remain. Just made for an interesting read. That was Cursed Blood which was renamed Cursed Blood: Bloodline Curse (and its sequel)
Helen: How did you come up with your cover designs? I must admit I like the cover for Murder Through Time; it is very atmospheric and seems apt for the story.
Amber: I’m learning all about cover design right now so I can make my own. I’ve been talking to other designers who really helped me. I was told this……Know your genre and the audience first. Go to Amazon’s top 100 for other Indie Authors in that genre and audience and look at those. Choose the image, colors, and font style based on what you see. Never use more than 2 different fonts because too much isn’t good. And remember, out of all the images that are out there, it is possible that other writers are using them too so play around with them. Subtle changes can make all the difference between your cover and someone elses using the same graphic. Or hire someone else to do it (either by trade or financial payment).
Helen: Covers are so important. You have such a short timeframe to grab a readers attention. It is the only way to make your book stand out. I am jealous of the fact you are going to design your own covers. I just don’t have the artistic ability or the time to do it myself! Staying with Murder Through Time, who is your favourite character?
Amber: Originally, Billie was going to be my MC in Murder Through Time, then it changed to Marcus. Of course, there are 4 POV characters in the story—Marcus, Billie, Ryan, and Charles. My favorite has to be Marcus right now. He had a bad childhood and became a detective to save lives and help people. Then he has to bring in Ryan because he’s a suspect in Billie’s deaths. He says he was framed. And then they are thrown into another time because of a time quake, so now Marcus has to save Billie before she becomes a victim again. It is a complex story but I’m truly enjoying this story! The twists keep running at me and I’m taking it in with so much awe. And Marcus is such a hunk.
Helen: It does sound like like a story which will keep the reader engrossed. Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Amber: The Peterson Estate series just hit; I was 12 years old so I don’t remember the exact inspiration other than the fact I love castles. Same with Mother of the Dragons although I was much older lol. Cursed Blood and its sequel, Spawn of the Curse were inspired by a nightmare which was triggered by my real life (I thought I was cursed). Murder Through Time was inspired by the moment under the bridge when my imagination got the best of me (it happens). Fairytale’s Truth was inspired by my granddaughter and youngest daughter. Stolen was inspired by a book on writing that had ideas in it. I just took the ideas a little further. It was also rewritten from Stolen Identity (some of it was changed and it was made clean). And I’m still being inspired.
Helen: Which characters do you prefer to write about ? Heroes or villains?
Amber: Heroes for sure but I could end up changing my mind later down the road. It would take a special villain to like him/her lol. I’m a happy ending type of woman so yeah. Heroes take chances, they fight for what they believe in, they are extraordinary even when they don’t have powers. I love a good hero.
Helen: Let’s talk about your writing environment. How do you fit writing in your daily life?
Amber: Every day is different. Some days, I can’t write because the day is just too short. Other days, I’ll spend most of the day working on a book. I don’t have a day-to-day job so I’m lucky about that part because it does give me more freedom. But I also have “chores” to do at home so that takes the front burner. I am a mother and grandmother too. When the kids come over, I can’t write. Sometimes I babysit for one of them and sometimes one will stay over all night—can’t work on my writing on those days. So, each day does vary.
Helen: So, on those days you can write, do you prefer to work in silence or do you surround yourself in music?
Amber: I’m one of those types of people who will type what they hear so I cannot listen to music while I write. I can watch a little TV sometimes, so go figure. I don’t know why I can tune the TV out but not the music lol. Of course, I tend to dance in my chair while I listen to music too so maybe that’s it. When I am marketing, planning my posts for the week, I listen to music. I like some rock, pop, country, etc. I love variety, just like in my writing.
Helen: Do you find yourself spending a lot of time of research?
Amber: That’s hard to say because each book is so different. I have one book that I put the brakes on for a little while because there was so much research to do. Of course, that one is nonfiction so the research is vital. There’s another book that is fiction that has a lot of research to make it work and it’s on the list to be written as well. I know nothing about trains and wanted the story to be more believable so it’s on hold for the moment. Once I get ready to write that book, I’m giving myself extra time to work in all that research but it’ll be a couple years before I get to it.
Helen: Do you find yourself planning every stage of your book, or do you like to let the story take you where it will?
Amber: I like to allow my characters guide me while writing so I am a pantser 100%. I do stop to write things down in my notes though. And even though I am letting the characters guide me, I generally know the big picture. Of course, many times the characters will throw me a loop and everything that I thought I knew would be totally changed. They throw me a twist and my eyes bulge out of my head and I’m like, I did not see that coming, in a pleasant excited way lol. I love twists! And I think my characters know that.
Helen: Do you have a special place where you like to write?
Amber: At the moment, I have a room where I can write. I call it an office space; my roommate calls it the den lol. Either way, it’s my space to write. I have a desk and a little space on the wall for all my crazy note taking. I write on my laptop but I have notebooks everywhere, where I keep my notes and stuff. And I do prefer night time but my daily life is different so as I said before, I write when I can so that varies between mornings and early evening, and even sometimes in the afternoon lol. But I do prefer to write at my desk because everything is handy for me.
Helen: You are such a prolific writer, is that what you prefer over editing?
Amber: I prefer writing, for sure, but I’ve learned to respect editing over the years because through editing, my writing has become better. The first draft is the story you’re telling yourself so it’s going to be packed with errors, missing pieces, and a lot of over-used words. Through editing, I can make a good plain story into something wonderful. But I love the writing process, diving into the story with uncharted territories, and learning about the characters. I get so involved that I lose time lol. So, I really do prefer writing before editing.
Helen: I know it’s like asking you to choose between your children, but do you have a favourite book out of those you have written?
Amber: For the longest time, my favorite book I’ve written was Peterson Estate because it had been with me for so long. But now, Fairytale’s Truth is my favorite because I see my granddaughter in the MC, Maria. I wrote her based on my 4-year-old granddaughter. The story is so magical and it pulls you in like no other fairy tale that I’ve ever seen before. And it’s not a fairy tale, it has fairy tale characters in it.
Helen: Most writers are also great readers, can you share what you are currently reading?
Amber: I’ve been rereading a lot of favorites because of the pandemic, I think, with so much out of my control. I am reading Creating Characters from the editors of Writer’s Digest. I needed to make my characters better so I thought I would reread these books on writing to relearn what I already knew, improve my writing. And I can feel it’s working because Murder Through Time is so much better than I would have written it before reading that book. Creating Characters talks about names, the personalities good and bad, making your character larger than life with imperfections, etc. It talks about POV in different styles too which is why I have more than one POV character even though there is only one MC.
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today, it has been a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you all the best with the launch of your book. Final question, I promise! What advice would you give other writers?
Amber: Hang in there, don’t give up. No matter how bad it seems, it will always get better. Keep reading, keep writing. Don’t listen to those who tell you—you can’t make it as a writer. I’ve seen too many writers succeed so you CAN make it as a writer. It won’t happen overnight but it can happen. If you are writing your first book, begin getting to know the market before you’re finished writing that book. Start manufacturing word about that book now. Make business accounts on social sites and stir the pot so to speak now. You want to be friends with other writers. Don’t compete with each other, support each other.
About the Author:
My name is Amber aka A.R. Grosjean. I’ve been writing since I was 11 years old. I grew up on a small farm in Monroe, Indiana and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana my junior year in high school where I continue to live with my husband. We’ve been married since 1996. We have 3 children who are now grown and 4 grandchildren. For my full bio, please visit my website where you can also sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter. Thank you!