An Interview with Fantasy Author Rachel O’Laughlin

When Bruce announced the next topic as an interview or guest post with a non-Guild fantasy author, I knew I was in trouble. I’m a quiet person and outside of work spend much of my time writing, hiking, and currently building a house. How was I supposed to find another fantasy writer? Hang out at the bookstore cafe and tackle the first person I find typing away on a laptop? Hmmmm .  .  .

But then I realized, I did have resources. I used the Maine Author’s Publishing to edit my novel Born of Water. So I checked out their website where the advertise authors who have used their publishing services. Lo and behold, there were two other New England fantasy writers! I couldn’t let Bruce or the Guild down (not to mention I always enjoy a challenge) so I contacted both authors. Amazingly, they both agreed to interviews!

First up, I’m happy to introduce Rachel O’Laughlin, the author of The Coldness of Marek. I interviewed her about writing her first novel and what her future plans are . . .

1. Introduce yourself and tell me how you started writing. What led you to write your first novel Coldness of Marek?
My name is Rachel O’Laughlin and I am 23. I am married and have two kids and I consider my writing second only to my mommy-ing. I love black and white movies, Tim Horton’s, and cozying up with my laptop.                                                                                                                                              I have always written because I felt a compelling need to get the stories out of my head and onto the page and I couldn’t ever write fast enough until I got my own laptop at age fourteen. Since then I have always had an active manuscript going, but I tended to edit the heck out of my stories to the point where they were just never finished.                                                                                                                         After I had my first baby and my life got twice as busy I sat down with myself and got serious. I really wanted to have some finished novels for my kids to read at some point and the only way to do that was with a deadline. Enter National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo). My little sister turned me on to the event and I used the idea to produce my first draft. It was crazy, writing 50,000 words in a month, but it was worth it! I am now a huge fan of the organization (The Office of Letters and Light), their Young Writer’s Program, and all the people who contribute to making it happen.
2. Tell me a little about your novel. How did you come up with the plot line and the characters?
The plot was not really there to begin with. I had a vague picture of a young mother on the run and a rude, gruff man of the cliffs, but the story took its own shape as I wrote it. I don’t think I had fully decided that Trzl and Marek had even met before until the moment Trzl got slapped by Tev’s glove. Then, for better or worse, the story had to be a bit of a bittersweet love tale. Or a lot bit of a bittersweet love tale, haha! It all kindof unfolded before me: Serengard, the eerie hill country, the harsh ways of living among the cliffs and the rigid tradition of the cities. Certain characters grew more important and more vivid to me as I wrote, especially Marek’s warriors. When it was finished I read the first draft all the way through and thought, okay, now I know what this is about!

3. I saw on your website (If I could Always go Barefoot) that you are working on a prequel. How is that going?

I actually haven’t started writing it yet– I’m waiting until the month of November to do NaNoWriMo again– but I have been sketching out the storyline. This time I have a lot more of an idea of where it is all going, somewhat out of necessity since there are seven years worth of blood and tears to be recounted, but also because my mind was going crazy with possibilities before I had even received the final proof of Coldness of Marek in the mail. I’m excited to see what kind of twists present themselves with this novel… especially which villians emerge where once there were harmless friendlies.

4. Why a fantasy novel? Do you have plans for other genres? What is your favorite genre?

Fantasy just seemed like the logical place to start. It seems everyone enjoys a good fantasy story, and it is easy to get lost in other worlds and allow yourself to create a whole history all your own. There are few constraints and many possibilities, and that is a fantasy writer’s bane as well as blessing. Somewhere, you have to cap off the imagination and say, all right, here’s the boundaries. It’s tough but thrilling.                                                                                                   My first fully developed plot was a murder mystery, but I lost control somewhere in the middle and it turned into a spy story with a global organization for a villian… meheh heh! Yeah, I had to shelve it. I’d like to dust it off and split it into two stories; a murder mystery and a spy thriller. I also have a Civil War saga in my head that will simply have to hit the page at some point.                                                                                                                                                   It’s a tough choice, but my favorite genre must be historical fiction. I prefer the gritty reality of it to any other. Growing up I liked to read war novels, but the authors I have always been captivated by include John Grisham, Rafael Sabatini and Agatha Christie. I can’t say I am as well-versed in fantasy as I should be, as I am only now becoming an avid fan of the genre, but I am thoroughly enjoying the awakening.

5. You have been published by Dublin Mist Press. How was that experience?

Dublin Mist Press is a self-publishing imprint, so I retain all the rights to my book and they did the design and formatting for the finished product. They had the book printed by Maine Authors Publishing, right in my home state, which is great, and although they might not be as cheap as some self-publishing options, I’m glad I went local. Not to mention that working with people you can see in person is priceless.

6. Have you thought of publishing an e-novel? How do you feel about the e-publishing industry and its host of indie authors?

At first I was a bit prejudiced against the idea of the e-novel because I just love the feel of a paper book in my hands and I like having the tangible, real thing on the shelf (no electricity required!). The rise of the e-book industry seems like it could eventually put traditional publishing in the can financially and that’s a bit scary. But I love the idea that books can be available to a much wider audience, especially those who don’t have the money to invest in a whole library and those who are on the go and can’t lug their books from place to place. I plan on releasing Coldness of Marek as an e-book later this year (follow me on twitter to stay updated!) and hope to do the same with the sequel. I think it’s wonderful that there is an inexpensive way for indie authors to get their work into the hands of readers.

7. How do you promote your writing? Has Dublin Mist Press helped with promotion?

So far I have been promoting through online networking, but I don’t know if you can call it promotion because I mostly just tweet and facebook about my writing and let people click on links if they’re interested. Most fantasy readers are internet savvy and I love the fact that I can hit my readers up for a few paragraphs of feedback and all they have to do is click post. I am friends with most of my fans anyway and I would rather write for a small group of people who really enjoy my stories than for a huge audience that I have to go around trying to sell my work to.

8. What is up with the barefoot thing on your blog? 🙂

I needed a title and didn’t want something run of the mill or overly poetic, so I just defaulted to my early teens persona as the barefoot girl. I still hate having to wear socks and I will always go with flip-flops if I can! 🙂

9. What are your hopes as a writer?

I hope to finish the top ten stories in my head, and I hope my kids read them. That would be the definition of bliss.

10. Anything else you want to share?

I have a soft spot for cappuccinos! But I don’t drink them at night. No way. 🙂

The description to the Coldness of Marek, Rachel’s first novel, goes like this:

Trzl Sakar has made a habit of playing both ends against the middle. Having it all, fighting it all, making enemies of allies. But she can run no longer. An old acquaintance turned renegade may be the end of her bargaining days. Especially when he lives among the cold cliffs of Marek. Home to few living things; legends, ghosts, echoes the cliffs are as dark and frightful as the stories told about them. In the midst of political turmoil and the bloody battles of marauders, evil lords and kings with vendettas, Trzl must use her every bit of wit to match her old enemy s cunning prowess and save herself and her son before they are enveloped in a scheme of pawns too large for either of them to survive.

Enjoy an excerpt below and go and check out Rachel’s book!

Trzl must have slept, because she woke a few times, trying to stay awake, trying to listen to the horrible sounds of the night. Wherever they were going, it must not be for a public execution. Perhaps Hodran had finally tired of her and wanted to get rid of her quietly? He had always hated Malcom. He would not wish to use his own guard for such a thing. He would hire renegades, wouldn’t he. Try to make it look unrelated. But she did not think even Hodran would try to kill her. Surely she posed no threat to him.
Unless his other children were dead.
Wide awake now. The possibilities circled wildly. Escape plans that all failed in the first few steps of theory. Would the sun never rise? This wadi was far too long.
Then it ended and she wished it had not.
Above them were cliffs, imposing, impossible.
A shrill cry woke Malcom, startled Trzl into looking around her. It had been inhuman, shrieking. Then she saw it. A huge, dark bird. It swooped about in the air above them. What kind of bird soared at night as this one did?
Then they rode forward again, toward the cliff. They could not climb it, of that she was certain. There must be an opening, a cave.
Yes, an opening, but it was much like a hallway, much like stairs, a little of both. The horses climbed it, tired, soaked, but jumping with an energy only brought on by the best of feeds and the best of exercise. These were incredible animals. She pressed her legs against their mount and tried to feel his muscles through her frozen limbs, distracting herself from the pitch blackness of the cave.
Malcom had either fallen asleep again or he was silent with fear. She wanted to call back to him, to tell him not to be afraid. Mem was here, she would think of something.
Only she knew there was nothing she could think of that would get them out this time. Nothing.
The climb was not as long as anticipated, or perhaps Trzl lost track of time, because they broke out into a large room lit by torches. The horses stopped without being told, obviously used to this routine. Trzl’s head was swimming as the man who had taken her swung her down from the horse and tossed her towards two waiting men who caught her arms and pulled on her roughly. She whined Malcom’s name, then saw that he was right behind her, wide awake and staring.
“Malcom, it will be all right–”
Malcom was not even looking at her. He was looking around the room, at the tall walls, the torches, the women running in and gently taking the horses’ bridles, leading them around in circles, cooling them down.
Then they were pulled down on their knees, and Trzl stared at a hard floor made of some kind of marble. A strange, pigmented color she had seen once before but could not remember where.
Then came a voice she did remember. It was not husky and accented like the men who had taken her. It was clear, almost cultured, disguised behind a deepness that was not its own.
“You are certain these are the two requested by Anaqi?”
“The very ones, my Lord. The house was marked and they are the right age, are they not? Besides, they speak as if they were from Serengard.”
“They do, do they.”
And then he knelt down, using the handle of a knife to shove her face upward.
Trzl knew she should not do it, but her eyes shot up from the floor and into his.
A glove came down from one of the guards, slapping her across the face.
“How dare you look Lord Marek in the eyes.”She dropped her gaze. Lord Marek. The Lord of the Cliffs?
Lord Marek said nothing. He turned her face from side to side, examining her features.
“A sort of fair, tain’t she, Lord.” A voice said from the dark, somewhere behind him.
Still Lord Marek kept his peace. Trzl wanted him to speak again, wanted to hear his voice. But perhaps not. Perhaps hearing it so coldly appraise her could make her fear still worse.
Finally he said, “And are you from Serengard? Or from a northern country.”
Trzl did not know what to say.
Again the slap of the glove against her face. “Answer your Lord.”
“I… am from many places, my Lord. I have lived in Serengard, some.”
“That is not an answer.”
Oh now she wanted him to stop talking. To never speak again. You were supposed to be dead. I have not thought of you in years and I wanted it to stay that way.
If she had looked up she would have seen one cruel, terrible sneer. “Put them in separate dungeons. I will question the boy after you have fed him.”
Lord Marek turned to leave, heavy leather shoes with steel soles clacking on the marble. Then a turn, an afterthought.
“Feed the woman nothing.”