Reviewed: August 20th, 2022 Released: June 30th, 2020 Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
Sworn to a goddess. One with her blade. A heart yet unbroken.
It would have been only one more year of training. One year in the dust and wind of the Calma Desert. But Gandrett Brayton’s fate storms in disguised as a beautiful stranger with a damning secret.
As he forces her into the service of the lord who tore her from her mother’s arms ten years ago to commit her to the Order of Vala, Gandrett is left with a choice: run, or work for the man she despises and earn the chance to see her family again.
Trained with all the weapons she can wield with her hands, Gandrett must learn that at the courts of the shattered kingdom of Sives, her sword won’t help her– especially when it is her own heart on the line. Read my thoughts…
Today I am talking with author Jonathan Taylor about his new release. Welcome Jonathan, Congratulations on your new release! Please tell us about your new uban fantasy novel which released on September 15th, 2021.
Jonathan: My current book is called Heir To The Empire: The Next Generation. There are two potential lawsuits I am risking with this title, which I hope I can counter with countersuits and then an out-of-court settlement that allows me to still use that name. I introduce it as an urban fantasy coming-of-age action-adventure story. The protagonists are officer cadets enrolled in the best military university on the continent. They have to learn to work together and with others while dealing with their curriculum, as well as facing against a terrorist threat.
Helen: Lets’s hope artistic license is approved! Is there a specific meaning behind your cover design?
Jonathan: My cover is meant to seem dangerous and inviting at the same time. It depicts a mountain range in the background with dark building outlines in the foreground. It alludes to where two of the most consequential and meaningful scenes of the book take place, where main and supporting characters come up against and deal with the ultimate obstacle, the threat of death.
Helen: The colours are beautiful, so rich and vibrant. What made you begin writing, and then to write this specific story?
Jonathan: I wanted to be a writer for a long time, but it took me a long while to come up with a concept I could trust and believe in that would make for an interesting story. I had a few in mind ever since I finished high school, and I’ve been refining and expanding upon them for years until I found the one for my current book. I loved just how versatile it could be, all the stories that it allowed me to tell. I’ve been turning it in my mind for a while, and then, two years ago, I was satisfied enough with how it was shaping up that I wanted to have it written down.
Helen: Congratulations on completing your book, and then publishing it as well. Did you find you had to do a lot of research to write your book?
Jonathan: My approach to research is a bit more abstract than that of most authors. I actually do a lot of research or learning in private, not connected to any other activity, depending on whether or not I find out about anything that arouses my interest, and my interest can be aroused by a whole slew of sometimes bizarre curiosities and happenings. Consequently, I have a wide array of interests and a substantial database in my brain. When it comes to using information for my book, the question often isn’t “What do I need to find out?”, it’s “What can I already say about this?”, or “What part of what I already know can I use to flesh this particular aspect of the story out?” When I do in fact research specifically for my book, it’s usually very brief, and on something very specific, like the symbolism behind names.
Helen: A head full of ecletic information and trivia is a must for authors! Who knows where the next idea will come from. When you wrote your book did you have the story all planned out, or did you find the plot going places you never expected?
Jonathan: I’m definitely a planner, I need to find a framework for my ideas before I let them flourish. Within that framework, however, there is plenty of room for improvisation. My process starts from a short description of what I want the book to be about. That description could be a sentence or a paragraph long. From that point forward I go into cycles of expanding and dividing. From the initial paragraph, I get a phrase that describes each act, then expand upon each act, then divide it into story beats, then expand each beat before dividing them into chapters. I’ll usually have three main points or sentences per chapter, and that is where I allow myself to go free form, expanding those points until they reach a chapter in length.
Helen: Heir to the Empire is an urban Fantasy coming of age novel, if you didn’t write fantasy, what genre would you like to write?
Jonathan: I’ve been single for (much) longer than I’m willing to admit, and in the mean time I’ve turned to erotic roleplay to spice up my private life. When you think about it, erotic roleplay is collaborative erotic fiction, a field where you get instant feedback on almost anything you try. Through experimentation, trial and error, I’ve become quite good at captivating my audience, and received my fair share of compliments, and I think writing erotica would suit me. If I find another author and we were to write collaboratively, say a chapter at a time or a page at a time, I think that would make for some fun books.
Helen: I’ve always thought collaboration on a book must be far more difficult than writing it on your own. You’ll have to let us know how you get on if you choose to collborate. What about when you are not writing. How do you fill your time?
Jonathan: Whenever I do have time for hobbies, it’s usually through external circumstances, i.e. something else is preventing me from spending as much time as I would need to take care of the writing process. Whenever that happens and I have anywhere between ten minutes and an hour and a half to burn, I’ll usually pull out my phone and indulge in a fighting game, or spend some time on YouTube. What I watch on YouTube varies quite dramatically, depending on what recommendations I get. It could be a review, could be a video essay, could be something educational (I grew up on documentaries and stuff that is even similar to that still hooks me), could be a gameplay video, could be humour, could be memes, could be some combination of the above, or something entirely different. I also try to schedule time to work out, whatever form that may take, but my success in that field is a bit more mixed.
Helen: There is access to so many different types of media nowadays, all at your fingertips. With so much choice, do you still find time to sit down and read?
Jonathan: I don’t think you define recently as “the last 12 months”, but that is how far back I want to go for my answer. The books that stood out for me in that time are A Sea Of Pearls and Leaves, by Rosalyn Briar, the as-of-yet-incomplete Outcrossed series, by River J Hopkins, and The Witcher saga, by Andrzej Sapkowski. I also did reviews of each of these books, and a few others, on my YouTube channel, and those contain my thoughts on these books in more detail. In short, Rosalyn has an amazingly fluid and immersive writing style, which, coupled with sympathetic and relatable characters, makes for a very engaging read, River is exquisitely adept at blending pop culture and mythology and various other interests she holds dear into creating a rich setting with layered plots and immersive storylines, and Sapkowski managed to create a varied and rich world that comes to life in almost every way such a world can come to life, while also reasoning how those who have to exist within that setting manage to do so. If you like your time and money, there are few ways to spend them better than reading these books.
Helen: Finding time to read can be challenging, but I think it is important for writers, and aspiring writers to read as much as they can. To understand and experience the craft and to see what works and what doesn’t work for them.
I appreciate you spending time with me today, congratulations again on your book launch. Just to end with, what piece of writing advice have you received that you would like to share with other aspiring writers?
Jonathan: Around the time I started writing, text-to-speech videos of various AskReddit questions and answers became very popular on YouTube, and they were a guilty pleasure of mine. One of those videos, about useful pieces of advice, gave new writers the advice that they should write 200 words a day, at least. You can and are welcome to write a lot more, but when you write, ideally every day, you should set your floor at 200 words. Doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to build a habit, and eventually 2000 words a week will just be a breeze to you. That is also the advice I give to new writers, set yourself a minimum, and then dare to raise it whenever you need to.
About the Author:
The boy who would become Jonathan Taylor was born in Bucharest, Romania, to white-collar parents from blue-collar backgrounds. Growing up, his up-bringing was mostly formal, he stuck to what his parents set out for him and generally at least tried to stay out of trouble. He did well enough in school to be able to attend a leading technical university in Germany, but his creative drive, stirred in his youth by the works of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Isaac Asimov, remained as active and eager as ever, and after graduating, he has become quite a bit more capable of indulging it. He now writes in order to allow his constantly stirring mind to settle.
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.
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..
Reviewed: April 30th, 2021 Release Date: January 7th, 2021 Genre: YA Fantasy
A lifetime ago, Lore Perseous left behind the brutal, opulent world of the Agon families – ancient Greek bloodlines that participate in a merciless game every seven years. A game that is about to begin again …
What an enjoyable read! A wonderful blend of modern-day New York and the gods of Olympia. Plenty of action, fighting, and plot twists to keep you entertained. Combine that with a strong heroine who is battling her own demons as she tries to live a normal life, and you have an exciting adventure. Read more…
Reviewed: April 19th, 2021 Release Date: March 1st, 2020 Genre: YA Fantasy
A talking cat! What more can I say? But seriously, Chow has created a complex world full of magical creatures and cultures, and an interesting magical system.
Within this world there are three heirs, one has control of fire, another controls shadows and the ability to disappear and the third has control over Time and healing. They are stronger as a triad, each complementing the other. But one is missing. Read more…
Reviewed: April 16th, 2021 Release Date: November 10th, 2019 Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Sorceress of Truth is the debut novel for J.D Groom which is a lovely YA fantasy about seventeen-year-old Tory who has never fit in at school and struggles to make friends. A move to a new school as a result of her father changing jobs is a new opportunity to start again. She meets a group of girls she seems to click with, and meets their older brother Kylan, who welcomes her into the friendship group and introduces the first of her love interests! But all is not as it seems…Read more…
Author of The Last April and Haunting Miss Trentwood.
Joining me to talk about her Teen/YA historical fiction and fantasy novels is the author Belinda Kroll, author of TheLast April and Haunting Miss Trentwood. Welcome Belinda and thank you for joining me. Tell us a little about your novels.
Belinda:The Last April is about spontaneous, fifteen-year-old Gretchen, who vows to help heal the nation from the recently ended Civil War. On the morning of President Lincoln’s death, Gretchen finds an amnesiac Confederate in her garden and believes this is her chance for civic goodwill. But reconciliation is not as simple as Gretchen assumed. When her mother returns from the market with news that a Confederate murdered the president, Gretchen wonders if she caught the killer. Tensions between her aunt and mother rise as Gretchen nurses her Confederate prisoner, revealing secrets from their past that make Gretchen question everything she knows about loyalty, honor, and trust.
The Last April is an entertaining, thoughtful novella of Ohio after the Civil War, meant to encourage readers to reflect on themes of fear and hope in uncertain political times. Read this award-winning book if you enjoy sassy and resourceful young women, books about Civil War civilian life, or snippets from newspapers of the era.
Haunting Miss Trentwood is about witty, secluded Mary, who is adjusting to life with her aunt after her father, Trentwood, passes away and returns in ghostly form. Despite the urging of her spectral father, Mary continues to live in their aging home with only her aunt and their servants for company. But their quiet manor house carries secrets even from Mary and Trentwood. When Hartwell, a London lawyer, arrives at their doorstep claiming someone in the house is blackmailing his sister, Mary stumbles into a mystery that forces her to revisit memories and rethink her future. As Mary and Hartwell seek the blackmailer, each learns about the importance of opening one’s heart to trust and betrayal.
Haunting Miss Trentwood is a cozy gothic written from varied perspectives. Readers will be entertained by bright dialogue and encouraged to reflect on the universal themes of dealing with parents and disappointing relationships, and learning to love again. Read this if you enjoy ghosts with an attitude, sheltered young women finding their place in the world, charming Beta heroes, and characters who write letters to each other.
Helen: Your books sound really interesting. I love novels that teach us something about the time period it is set in, and then to add a little fantasy into the mix as well, magical! How did you come up with the titles of your books?
Belinda: The Last April was my first attempt at historical fiction with the tiniest splash of mystery for kids who haven’t gotten to their Civil War history units yet. I gave the book this title after asking a friend’s 5th grade classroom to vote on a couple different options. They chose this title because it felt mysterious and hinted at something disastrous. I like the title because it’s the “last” April for many reasons: the last month of President Lincoln’s life; the last April of the Civil War; the last April where Gretchen felt like a child. Haunting Miss Trentwood is pretty straightforward. Gideon Trentwood is haunting his daughter, Mary Trentwood. It’s set in 1873, so she would be referred to as Miss Trentwood, sometimes even by her own family.
Helen: I love them fact that the kids contributed to picking the title. The best way to make sure your book resonates with your target audience. It is obvious you love writing about history, so I suppose it’s not stretch that you chose to write historical fiction, but you added a fantasy twist as well. Tell us why?
Belinda: I write historical fiction and historical fantasy. When I say fantasy, right now that means paranormal, but I hope to release a magical fantasy novel in the next couple years. Historical fiction has always held my attention because so much of what we deal with today, people were dealing with back then, too. It allows me to make commentary on contemporary issues through the added benefit of teaching a little something about history, even if my story is made up. The ghosts and magic are just for fun, and boy are they fun.
Helen: I love writing fantasy as well. Let’s talk about your writing process. Do you plan your stories or do you let your characters lead the way?
Belinda: I’m a plantser, ha. I write to discover the plot and characters as I go along. I usually handwrite draft zero, and when I type it into the computer, I’m doing light editing and keeping track of the scenes in a separate document. These scenes become my outline and allow me to look at the big picture to determine where the gaps and inconsistency exists.
Helen: How does writing fit into your daily life? How often are you able to write? Do you write everyday?
Belinda: I bite off tiny chunks, as close to daily as possible. I work full-time and have two small children, so the only way I’m able to get any writing done is by focusing on small, frequent writing sessions. I recently gave myself a goal to write three sentences a day. I stole this idea from Mary Robinette Kowal, and so far, it’s worked for me. I almost always go beyond the three sentences when I do put pen to paper, and even if I don’t physically write that day, the point is that I’m keeping the story top of mind so when I do get back to it, I don’t have to invest so much time with reacquainting myself with where I left it.
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 your are currently reading?
Belinda: I’ve been rereading a lot of favorites because of the pandemic, I think. with so much out of my control, I wanted to go back to fiction that I knew I liked and would satisfy my reading craves. Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr is one of the first fantasy books I read as a teen and I loved (and still love) it for a couple reasons. The book follows a Heroine’s Journey arc where the main character is ripped from everything familiar, builds a new support network and develops a sense of strength and power through teamwork and delegation, and returns to reclaim her place in her family through masterful compromise and seeking a resolution for the greater good. The heroine and hero have a purely platonic relationship with no expectation of romance because they have their own relationships. The magic system is unique and a great commentary on the benefits of seeking out people who think and feel differently from you. It ends with a promise of a changed future, but doesn’t spell it out for the reader, so you’re left to imagine it for yourself, which I also love. This author is unique as well; she wrote this super tight narrative which won awards and got great blurbs from some big name authors at the time, and then stopped writing to focus on her family. I noticed she’s begun blogging again, so I hope she’ll release another book someday, having benefited from living what seems like a full and rewarding life out of the public eye.
About the Author:
Belinda Kroll writes YA historicals about secrets and the strong females who unearth them. In addition to being an author, she is a user experience design professional, hobbyist photographer, and lindy hopper. She is obsessed with eyeglasses, Korean dramas, home renovation and cooking shows, and petting every dog that allows her to do so. She lives with her family in Ohio. Visit her website at https://worderella.com.
Kroll is also the author of non-fiction and children’s storybooks under the name Binaebi Akah. She releases journals and planners for creatives and caregivers at her Etsy shop, Bright Bird Press, which is also the name of her publishing company under Embark Enterprises, LLC.
Joining me today is Clemy Warner Thompson, author of young adult fantasy book From Within the Light.
Welcome Clemy. You are about to do your cover reveal of your next book, Even in the Darkest Times and I am so excited you gave me a sneak peek to share with your readers. (If you can’t wait – scroll down!!!! I love it!) But in the meantime, please tell us a little about your current book.
Clemy: My current book is From Within the Light. It is a contemporary fantasy story, that follows Cassie and her brother Dillen. Their lives are thrown upside down when they discover that their friends and their family are not who they thought they were. The stale lives that the two of them have lived are left behind them, as they go on the run from the Darkness that is hunting for Cassie’s energy. Only she has the power their enemies need to eradicate the curse that has consumed them since their fall to earth. Cassie is pulled into the world of angels and demons and their painful, yet unknown, Fall to earth. All angels that have survived since the Fall need Cassie’s hidden power to unveil their locked memories.
Helen: That sounds amazing, how did you come up with the title?
Clemy: I have never struggled in creating my titles. I always have a rough idea of what I want it to be, and then it changes ever so slightly with the finishing of the story. Originally I had planned to do another trilogy (that would be my third in total) and they were to be named:- From Within the Light, There is Hope, Even in the Darkest of Times.
Since drawing to the end of this book, I have decided that two books are enough to round off the story I am trying to create. I may in the future branch into other books and other stories, with some of the lesser known but interesting characters, but for now I am happy with the title of From Within the Light and Even in the Darkest of Times for my WIP.
Helen: The names sound perfect, and work well together as part of a duology. And then there is the cover. How did you come up with the design?
Clemy: This is a difficult question to answer. In honesty, I explain the premise of my book to the person I choose to design the cover and then see what they come up with, though I always have some kind of idea of what I’m looking for.
I have had mixed reviews about my covers which has swayed me more recently. Most of my readers love the covers, but they feel they don’t match the genres or topics of the stories inside. I like my covers to show the battles between Light and Darkness but not in a traditional way. I use shadows and silhouettes and lights to highlight areas of energy that battle the Darkness throughout. I am new to using colour in my cover designs, and I am hoping that the bursts of blue and red I include in my cover for Even in the Darkest of Times is well met by my readers.
Helen: It is difficult to know the right way to go, I had to give up some of my ideas for covers because they just wouldn’t work on a thumbnail. Online previews use tiny images of your cover so you still need it to resonate and you need to make sure the reader can recognise the book or its genre. Not so easy as it sounds! Do you only write fantasy?
Clemy: Since I started writing, I have always chosen fantasy as my genre. I love everything about it. The books, the films, the TV series, and all of the wonderful characters and worlds that draw you in. I have struggled with certain times in my life and I feel that I used writing as a way to keep me centred, now it is a flourishing hobby (when I get time).
Helen: I must admit that I love fantasy as well; it is my favourite genre. Congratulations on your cover reveal, and thank you for sharing it with me. It looks fantastic! I can’t wait for it to be released. Your readers will be glad to hear this, the second book is already in the works.
Clemy: Yes! I am working on the sequel to From Within the Light, titled Even in the Darkest of Times. It follows on directly from the first book in this duology, and once again follows both Cassie and Kale in their individual challenges and struggles.
I have been working on this book for nearly 4 very slow progressing years. I seemed to lose connection to the characters at a certain time in my life and so I took a step back, and returned to it when I felt It was time. In doing so, Even in the Darkest of Times is turning into my best book so far.
It is a paranormal romance novel at its centre, but at the forefront it is a new adult fantasy novel, with elements of magic and contemporary scenarios.
Helen: Tell us what you like read. What are your favourite books?
Clemy: It has to be Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. I loved it. I also loved Fallen by Lauren Kate. As you see there is a similarity between the two. I love reading about angels and I love a good paranormal romance novel.
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 cover reveal and the launch of Even in the Darkest of Times. To close us out, being an Indie author, what advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Clemy: First of all, don’t give up. It is hard being a writer, physically and emotionally. Handwriting manuscripts can take its toll on your hands and wrists, always find the most comfortable position and writing style for you. Use a computer or laptop if that’s easier. Use your phone if you’re out and about and think of a great idea.
Don’t stress when things don’t work out how you planned. Stories can take turns anywhere, the characters can end up doing what they want to do and not necessarily what you, the writer, wants them to do. Most importantly, don’t stretch yourself too far. The dreams of being a famous writer and being well known in the world for your writing can be a daunting prospect. Some people can’t cope with the title of famous when it’s found, others feel inadequate when they don’t find that title. Own being a writer, at any stage.
I started writing on my thirteenth birthday and I have never looked back. I ‘ve had time off from writing, sometimes years, but I always end up back to it. Something about the worlds I think of and the characters I design, they call to me when it’s been too long since I added anything to their stories.
I work 5 days a week in a retail environment, and writing is mostly my hobby. I have had poems published by Young Writers and in the Cleanteen Anthology, Wonderstruck, but all my novels are self-published. In the future, I would like to be able to walk into a shop and pick up a copy of one of my books, but whether that is to happen I’m not sure. The first step towards that is to find an agent!
This Easter Monday, I am chatting with fantasy author, Darrah Stefffen, about her recent release Rise of the Dragon Queen.
Welcome Darrah. Congratulations on publishing your first novel which was released on March 13th of this year; you must be so excited! Please tell us a little about your book.
Darrah: Rise of the Dragon Queen is my first book. It is set in an alternative realm on a planet called Ethota. This world has developed life that we would consider fantastical. The main population called the Elvateth have enhanced senses, and some have the ability to control the elements. In the story, the creatures of old have vanished. The dragons are endangered and the country of Dragonia is being ruled by a tyrant, persecuting magic users. A Resistance has formed to fight against the King. When her sister is kidnapped, Jennica embarks on her own journey to save her. She must align with unlikely allies to bring her sister home, but as she does so an ancient threat arises to take over their weakened country.
Helen: What a complex story; it sounds action packed. What sparked the idea to write this book?
Darrah: I originally started writing this book as a form of stress relief when I was in college. I went to school in a very science heavy field, but I always enjoyed being creative. So being in a science heavy field, it was stressful to not have that creative outlet. So I started writing. This book came out of that. It was based on an idea that I had been playing with over a long time. I created this world way back in elementary school with my two best friends during recess games.
Helen: Such a complete opposite to the day job! How did you first find that creative spark? To be able to write a book and finish it is an amazing accomplishments. So many books are begun but never finished. I have a couple languishing on my computer that I must get back to! What started you off writing?
Darrah: When I was a kid, I had a hard time reading and writing. I wasn’t testing dyslexic, but it was close. Because it was so hard, I hated it, but I loved telling stories. To try and get me interested in writing, my parents and teachers had me write stories. The caveat was I could only use words I knew how to spell. To tell the stories I wanted to tell, I had to learn new words, learn to spell things. I thought it was a fun adventure. That has followed me throughout my life. I still love learning new words and telling stories.
Helen: Congratulations on overcoming some challenging obstacles. It is so great that you were able to find a way to still express yourself and grow your creative side. Your creative side was obviously determined to be heard! You have built a fantastical world for your novel, how do you come up with ideas?
Darrah: I mentioned earlier I went to school for a science heavy field. I have a Master’s degree in the Geosciences and work in Paleontology. So, one of the big things that help me when coming up with ideas for stories is asking “What if” questions. I try to think about what if the world had two moons or how dragons would exist or what if magic existed in our world.
Another way that I get ideas for stories is through dreams. I have gotten migraines with auras since I was nine. The aura I get is called “Alice in Wonderland” Syndrome where I see lights and shifting sizes of objects. When I sleep with this migraine, I get very vivid dreams and nightmares. Some of these dreams have inspired story ideas.
Helen: I am so glad you have been able to adapt what could be a very dehabilitating experience into a positive one. I love the nod to your paleontology background with the cover! With a combination of science and creativity in your life, how do you write? Do you have to plan everything or do you let it flow?
Darrah: I tend to be a plantser. I have a loose framework to guide me. These would be more of the large plot points. I generally say the ending and mid points. Then I let the story flow between these points. I really like the organic way the story develops in those in between parts but found that having at least those concrete goals helps writing go smoother.
Helen: Which characters do you prefer to write, heroes or villains?
Darrah: I really enjoy writing the strange characters. I like writing the characters whose motives are unknown or a little fuzzy. I like writing the characters that are just a little out there. They are unpredictable and can surprise even me as I’m writing.
Helen: Tell us a little about your writing environment, do you prefer silence or do you surround your self with music?
Darrah: I love music. I play two instruments – the trumpet and the piano. So music has always been a large part of my life. Music helps inspire me while I write. For every story I am actively working on, I have a playlist that helps me get into the mindset of the characters or the themes of the book. For example, the “theme song” of the main villain of Rise of the Dragon Queen is Castle by Halsey.
Helen: Love it. I tend to have a specific album playing when I write. I am currently brainstorming ideas for a new novel that was sparked by an Olly Murs song. The lyrics just resonated and off I went! If you didn’t write fantasy are there any other genres that tempt you?
Darrah: I would like to try some hard science fiction next. I love writing fantasy. I love magic systems and fantasy creatures, but I also love space and technology. So eventually I would like to try out that hard science fiction.
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 new novel, Rise of the Dragon Queen. To close us out, tell us about what you are working on next.
Darrah: Now I am working on the sequels to Rise of the Dragon Queen. The second book, Keepers of Knowledge, is currently in edits. I am also working on the first draft of the third book in the series.
About the Author:
Darrah Steffen is a Kansas native, now living in North Dakota with her husband, her dog Willow, and her cat Jasper. Rise of the Dragon Queen is her first book. She loves to write worlds with weird and new creatures.
Darrah is trained as a geologist and paleontologist – which plays into her worldbuilding. When she is not writing, she works as a fossil preparator. She is also an avid board gamer, enjoys playing music with her husband, and cuddling with her pets.