Interview with Peter V. Brett, Author of The Warded Man (The Demon Cycle)

by A.M. Justice

51hu1K5f9LLAbout eight years ago, my husband came home from work and announced that his coworker Peter had given notice so he could become a full-time fantasy author. Curious and skeptical, I bought the coworker’s book, thinking, “Let’s see what this guy’s got.” I quickly learned he had the right stuff. From the opening lines about a community gathering together in the wake of a strange fire, New York Times Bestseller The Warded Man hooked me, and I’ve been a loyal follower of Arlen, Lessa, Roger, Renna, Ahmann, and Inevera since. My copy of The Skull Throne, Book Four of The Demon Cycle, published by Del Rey, will be delivered to my Kindle today, and I look forward to reading it on an upcoming family vacation.

I admire Peter’s tight prose, inventive storytelling, and nuanced characterizations. Arlen is one of my all-time favorite fantasy heroes, and Lessa, Renna, and Inevera hold their own among fantasy’s growing pantheon of strong women. I was thrilled when Peter agreed to do an interview for the Guild of Dreams—so without further ado, here’s our Q&A.

 The Interview

The-Skull-Throne-US-Cover1Let’s cut right to the chase. The Daylight War ended with not just a cliff-hanger, but a cliff-fall. At the risk of spoilers, can you tell us whether we’ll travel into the demons’ domain with Arlen? How about Jardir—does he survive that fall?

Both these answers have been on my website for years now, but I don’t like to answer them in questionnaires. Everyone is welcome to see for themselves right here: http://www.petervbrett.com/excisions/skull-throne-chapter-1-the-hunt/

One of my favorite things about your work is how you show us the hearts of all your major characters. You provide readers with sympathetic, complete portraits of everyone, including those initially presented as villains. Will you be introducing any new points of view in The Skull Throne?

Yes. There are two new POV characters in Skull Throne. The first is Ashia, the niece of Ahmann Jardir who was introduced to readers in Daylight War. There is one flashback chapter of her life to give readers insight into her character, but most of her action is forward moving in the series “now” as she bears witness to some of the massive power shifts in Krasia following Jardir’s disappearance.

The other new POV character is Briar Damaj, a half-Krasian orphan first introduced in the short Demon Cycle story Mudboy, which later became the novella Messenger’s Legacy, which went on sale earlier this year. Messenger’s Legacy gives Briar’s heartbreaking life story, that of a six-year old child forced to survive alone in the demon-infested wetlands near Lakton. The novella ties directly into Skull Throne, and Briar’s story picks back up in the second half of the book.

It isn’t necessary to read the Demon Cycle novellas in order to enjoy the novels, but I really believe the shorter tales add a great deal when read in conjunction with the longer works.

The Krasians and Thesans loosely resemble medieval Arab and European cultures, respectively. Can you tell us why you chose those models, and whether your work is meant to comment on some of the conflicts we see in the real world

Personally, I see Thesa much more as Little House on the Prairie American Midwest than medieval Europe, but I take your point. I deliberately draw on both. For the Krasians, “Arab” is a little to narrow. I drew in part from ancient Greece, medieval Japan, ancient/medieval Persia, and Old Testament Judeo-Christian.

But that said, while I used those initial building blocks, both cultures, Thesan and Krasian, have evolved past the sum of their parts and taken on a life of their own in the series. I try to give both cultures around the same air-time, illustrating how there are complicated characters on both sides who honestly want the best for the world, even if they disagree on how to get there. If I’m saying anything about the modern world, it’s an attempt to remind people to try and see both sides of a problem/person before you judge.

On this site we talk about world-building a lot, and whether as authors we set the stage for our work before we write, or we create as we go. How have you approached the construction of Arlen’s world? Did you encounter any surprises?

I am very much an architect when it comes to worldbuilding. Certainly there was some discovery/creation as I was telling the story, particularly in the early books, but I tend to work from a very detailed story skeleton when I write, stepping out all the actions and much of the dialogue in a book before I begin writing the prose. So by the time I am at that level, most of the story problems have been solved and the events predetermined.

Then comes the hard part. Showing how the POV characters feel about said events, and trying to make the reader feel it, too.

What is your favorite scene or event in the series, and why?

It’s so hard to say, because so many of them have deep personal meaning to me, almost like great triumphs that actually happened in my life. But there are two scenes that never fail to choke me up. The first is Arlen’s encounter with Mother Elissa in The Desert Spear, and the second is the wedding that occurs in Cutter’s Hollow during Daylight War. I expect anyone who’s read that book knows what I mean.

(AMJ’s note: I get choked up thinking about those scenes too.)

Who are your favorite authors, and also your greatest influences?

Too many to properly name them all. I love CS Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy, and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks is an amazing book, as is The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan.

The most recent books I have loved are Uprooted, forthcoming from Naomi Novik, Half a War by Joe Abercrombie, and The Martian by Andy Weir.

Is The Skull Throne the last volume in the Demon Cycle, or is there more to come?

The next book, The Core, should close out the Demon Cycle quintet. I have a broad story ARC for what happens and how it ends, but with my upcoming travel schedule promoting the imminent Skull Throne launch (www.petervbrett.com/appearances), I will likely not begin writing until May. If previous books are any indication, The Core should be done approximately 18 months after that.

Do you have any other irons in the fire you’d like to tell us about?

I am contracted for one more book after The Core. It doesn’t have to be a Demon Cycle book, but it almost certainly will be. Either a standalone set in Tibbet’s Brook taking place right after the events in The Desert Spear, or the start of a new series taking place a generation after the events in The Core. There will also be several more Demon Cycle novellas to come.

Many thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer my questions! For more information on Peter’s work, visit his website http://www.petervbrett.com.

Interview with Author Martin Bolton

by Autumn M. Birt

For my first post in 2015 for the Guild, I decided to let someone else do most of the talking! I know, it is a bit of a cop out, but I’ve known Martin through Twitter and noticed he had a book being released this week and well… I thought you should meet him too! So I’m happy to introduce Martin Bolton, author of The Best Weapon and more!


 

Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing and books.

 

I was born in Cornwall in 1979 and, after eleven years in London, now live in Bristol. I’ve always enjoyed writing but didn’t do anything seriously until I met David Pilling (co-writer of The Best Weapon) in 2007. I wrote one short story and then we immediately started working on The Best Weapon together. We’ve since written a sequel called The Path of Sorrow and we’re now working on a third epic fantasy, as yet untitled.

I love fantasy/speculative fiction, but I also write short stories in various genres for The 900 Club, a group of four writers who each post a short story on the 900 Club blog on a monthly basis.

You have a re-release that came out yesterday entitled the Best Weapon. I LOVE the Nietzsche quote you use on your website for it: “The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy” (I could so use that for my new series Friends of my Enemy! lol). Tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?

The Best Weapon_eb-pb

 

My own personal inspiration for The Best Weapon was how people learn to cope with conflicting emotions and personalities, vices and virtues, and how they grow and mature dealing with them.  I think everyone is multifaceted: a dark side, a funny side, a compassionate side, an angry side etc. I wanted to explore how we manage the negative ones and try to nurture the positive ones.

Fantasy is a good way to do this because you can embellish the negative and make it manifest itself in ways it doesn’t in reality (unless you believe it does), such as demonic parentage or supernatural powers. Equally, the positive can manifest as celestial beings or nature itself. Ultimately, we all have to “battle our demons”. For me, The Best Weapon is about that, and a lot more besides.

The Nietzsche quote seemed to fit so naturally with the story, and it is punchy, so it was an easy decision to use it. I love it when a story, especially an epic fantasy, uses a quote from a real-life historic figure, hopefully it helps with the suspension of disbelief.

 

It sounds like you are working on a sequel to it. How is that going and could you tell us a little about it?

 

The sequel was initially released by Musa Publishing as a serial called Sorrow. It was actually written as a single novel, and we have restored it to its original state ready for release later this year with the title The Path of Sorrow. It is the story of a child whose entire tribe is violently wiped out, leaving only him alive. The child is named Sorrow after a prophecy. He is reputed to possess great power, as his nomadic tribe were descended from the very first people, and those who wish to seize control in The World Apparent will stop at nothing to acquire him.

You co-wrote the Best Weapon with David Pilling. I can’t imagine working on a story with someone. It sounds great and a challenge. How did you make it work?

 

I get asked this a lot, and the answer is we worked together with surprising ease. Initially, we weren’t sure how it was going to work, and this influenced our thought process when we came up with the story for The Best Weapon. We decided to write a story with two main characters who don’t actually meet until very near the end of the book. I suppose this was our way of putting off having to deal with it!

Looking back, we needn’t have worried, because we each created so many different characters and cultures to go along with our main protagonists that the book is not just a story about two people. It is a story of many different beings, some human, some gods, some demons, and some from other dimensions altogether, each striving to survive in their own way.

David and I have very similar tastes in literature, music, humour and beer, we also have similar influences when it comes to writing. We found that our styles fit together pretty seamlessly, as more than one reviewer has pointed out. We’ve since written another fantasy novel and are half way through a third, with a fourth planned, and we don’t even think about how it works any more, it just does.

Why did you choose to write in the fantasy genre? Are there any others you’d like to write in?

 

Fantasy has always inspired me, ever since I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger play Conan the Barbarian when I was a snotty little oik. Something about being able to play out any story you like, without the constraints of reality, in a world of your own creation is irresistible. There is no better genre to write.

I do, however, write a lot of short stories. For the past two years, all of my short stories have been written for The 900 Club: a group of four writers who each post a nine hundred word short story on a blog every month. I do like to try out other genres, and a short story is a nice way to dabble without having to commit a lot of time to something. I tend to play about with genres though, so not a lot of my stuff fits well into one, it often ends up getting a bit surreal, and sometimes downright nonsensical and ridiculous.

At some point, I will write something longer in another genre, but it will be a twisted, harrowing, unholy mockery of it and I will probably be arrested soon after. And rightly so, I should never have been shaved down and taught the rudiments of reading and writing.

See? I can’t help it. I’m ill.

Who are some of authors who’ve inspired you?

 

At the moment I am influenced by Bernard Cornwell,  Robert E Howard, Rafael Sabatini, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Joe Abercrombie and Charles Bukowski. I think I have taken inspiration from every author I’ve read whether it is style and technique, or just how NOT to do something (the authors I’ve mentioned don’t fall into the latter category).

My inspirations change as I discover new literature. The aforementioned authors, however, remain in mind constantly when I write as I have been inspired so strongly by specific elements of their work. Cornwell for his characters. Howard for his vision and originality. Sabatini for his story telling and sense of adventure. Lovecraft and Poe for their imagination and ability to build atmosphere and describe a scene. Abercrombie for his slick, gritty style and dark sense of humour. Bukowski for… I just don’t know where to begin with Bukowski and, more importantly, I don’t know where it would end.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about writing?

 

My favourite thing is the freedom to express myself. Like all creative things, for me, it is therapy, it is anger management.

I often read things like “writing/reading takes you into new worlds” or “discover new worlds” etc. Well, I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I don’t really relate to that. I am already in another world, and it is chaos. It is violent and noisy and painful and it stinks. I’m not talking about reality (that’s a bit clichéd), I mean what goes on in my head is like that. I’m not discovering new worlds or escaping into them. I’m escaping FROM them, mastering them by trapping the bastards on a page. That’s my favourite thing.

My least favourite thing is that writing makes my arse, my back and my eyes hurt. And sometimes my brain.

Do you get writer’s block? How do you deal with it and find new inspiration?

 

I do half the time, but not serious writer’s block that lasts days or weeks. My main problem is my tiny attention span. I’ll write two hundred words and then spend an hour thinking about cake. I find wine or beer helps me concentrate, it gets me more emotionally charged and single minded, so I can plough on, heedless of anything else going on around me. The right music helps as well – something atmospheric that goes on for ages and ages is ideal.

I also find that if I sit down and find my mind blank, simply reading the last few thousands words I wrote will warm the brain up a bit and get me going. I haven’t found writer’s block a huge problem though, the main problem is finding the time to write since I still have a day job.

What is your favorite non-writing related thing to do? There is more to author’s than novels (supposedly!).

 

I do a bit of artwork, for the same reasons outlined under question 7. You can see that on my blog or at boltanart.blogspot.com. I like ink or pencil best, my favourite thing to do is dot drawings because it requires hours of painstaking concentration and I find it a bit like meditation.

I also play football, which hurts. I might have to stop at some point as my knees have been ground to a fine paste and my ankles are held in place mainly by prayer.

Anything else you’d like to share?

 

You haven’t seen me. Right?

 

You can find Martin on his WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebookThe 900 Club

 

Thanks so much for the interview, Martin. And best of luck with your re-release of the Best Weapon!

Featuring author Rayne Hall and her dark epic fantasy Storm Dancer

by Autumn M. Birt

There are novels that stand out as being something far from the ordinary. Storm Dancer immediately hit me as something different.

I swear that I actually first saw this book in a stack at my mother-in-laws. I loved the cover and read the back blurb, finding myself intrigued. The story line lingered in my mind long enough that when I ran into Rayne on Twitter, finding Storm Dancer tantalizing me once again, I knew I’d read it.

Storm DancerIf you haven’t already found and fallen in love with Storm Dancer, let me introduce you to the novel (conveniently copying the description):

Demon-possessed siege commander, Dahoud, atones for his atrocities by hiding his identity and protecting women from war’s violence – but can he shield the woman he loves from the evil inside him?

Principled weather magician, Merida, brings rain to a parched desert land. When her magical dance rouses more than storms, she needs to overcome her scruples to escape from danger. 

Thrust together, Dahoud and Merida must fight for freedom and survival. But with hatred and betrayal burning in their hearts, how can they rebuild their fragile trust?

‘Storm Dancer’ is a dark-heroic fantasy. Circa 150,000 words. British spellings. Caution: this book contains some violence and disturbing situations. Not recommended for under-16s.

What drew me to this novel was the setting: a fantasy story set in the desert. Plus, I was intrigued by the main character of Dahoud being both the hero and the villain, a man plagued by inner evil that he seeks to control. As a writer, I had to see how Ms. Hall pulled that off. She does it brilliantly.

The setting of a harsh desert country beset by drought, during a time equivalent to our bronze age, is rich and well written. Neighboring counties are a threat, even when it is assistance they send rather than war. Merida is such a beneficial ambassador, sent to help a land considered primitive by her refined homeland. The plotting of a corrupt government quickly entangles Merida far from home and without aid. She has only her wits and ability to call rain to keep her somewhat safe.

There are many great characters in the novel and each are unique in their failings and strengths. The interweaving stories along with what would seem to be inconsequential details thread together to impact the ending – a feature I admire in a story and author. The twists in the plot left me surprised. I never really knew where the story would go next, which was lovely.

If you read other reviews you will quickly see the mentions that the novel is graphic with both torture and rape. Oddly though, I agree with others in that I think one of the few failings in the novel is that it could have been darker yet. The one time that Dahoud’s djinn wins its battle of lust and conquest, the scene is quickly glossed over. Most of the time, Dahoud wins over his demon with only hints of the time in his life where it had ruled. I would have loved a larger moment or at least a longer after effect of guilt when Dahoud succumbs to his inner evil.

I would have also loved some insight to Merida’s thoughts at the end of the novel, especially when she makes the final choice she does in the story. The ending to me was very believable as she changes during the course of the story, but I would have liked to hear that final epiphany from her.

Lastly, I would have loved a map to visualize the world, though directions and landmarks were consistent enough that I felt familiar with the landscape and cities. But a map to look at while reading would have enhanced my experience.

I will read this novel again in the future. I am a very fast reader, so the story length was great for me (it took more than a day, yeah!). However, it pulled me in so tightly, I raced through it finding it hard to put down. I want to go back without that need to see what the next page or chapter holds and really enjoy the setting and story!

If you are looking for a unique, dark epic fantasy, I highly recommend Storm Dancer. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars . . . maybe even 4.75. I loved it enough that after posting reviews and recommendations everywhere, I pestered Rayne for an interview. I’m so thrilled that she agreed!

So pull up a chair and meet Rayne Hall! Not only is she an excellent author, she is an extremely nice person and a mentor to many authors. Like Storm Dancer she stands out from the crowd.

A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2 and 3 (mild horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).

She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.

Rayne has lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal and  has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England. You can find more about her and her many books at:  https://sites.google.com/site/raynehallsdarkfantasyfiction/

Rayne kindly answered my questions and true to her chosen country of residence, the spellings are in British English (so you can better imagine an accent).

1. What inspired you to write Storm Dancer? I noticed on your bio that you’ve travelled. Did the seeds for the story get planted long ago?

My mind is filled with story ideas… so many ideas, so little time! When two or three ideas click together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a story starts to form.  My experiences of travelling and working in foreign countries contributed many of those idea pieces.

The first idea came to me  when I was staying in a ger (yurt) at the edge of the Gobi desert in Mongolia. It was a vague idea at first – two people who hate each other must become allies to survive, and although they have previously betrayed and harmed each other they must now depend on each other and learn to trust.

Storm Dancer is set in a fantasy world loosely based on the cultures of the Bronze Age period and the climate and geography of the Middle East, so my travels in the Near and Middle East and in North Africa inspired many colourful details.  A few elements from Asia – including Mongolia – have also found their way into Storm Dancer.

I also used personal experiences of what it’s like to work in a distant Third World country, cut off from all support, at the mercy of an employer who doesn’t honour the terms of the contract.

My experience of performing and teaching bellydance has found its way into this novel, too, so when Merida learns to bellydance in the harem, and when she entertains in a tavern, those scenes have authenticity.

Further inspiration  came from ancient cultures, especially Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Persians and Hittites, and from quirky characters and bizarre situations I’ve observed.

Storm Dancer also explores a subject I’ve thought about a lot:  how we’re not responsible for what fate deals us, but we’re responsible for how we deal with it. Dahoud is a troubled hero with a dark past. As a siege commander, he once razed, raped and killed… and he enjoyed it. Now he needs to atone. He has sacrificed everything to build a new identity and a life of peace, and he devotes himself to protecting women from harm. But Dahoud is not alone. Inside him lives a devious demon, a djinn that demands he subdue women with force. It torments him with pains and tempts him with forbidden desires. How much of it is the demon, and how much is the dark psyche? How can he learn to control the evil inside him? How far must he go to redeem himself?

2. How long did it take you to write Storm Dancer or a novel in general? (Does it drive you crazy that something that took you months can be read, by fast readers at least, in 6 hours?)

Storm Dancer took me about ten years to write – longer than any other book – because I rewrote it several times.  When I started to write Storm Dancer, I created Dahoud as a standard swashbuckling hero. I had almost finished the novel when he confessed that he was possessed by a demon. Of course, this changed everything, and I had to rewrite the whole book. During the rewrite, his personality changed, so I had to start yet again. It took several rewrites before I realised just how dark his past was and what a terrible secret he carries inside him, what drove him and what he needed to do to atone.

If a reader chooses to spend time with my novel, whether that’s a few hours or several months, I’m honoured.

3. What has been your favorite moment of being an author?

I’ve loved almost every moment of it.  Highlights include: When the author copies for my first ever book arrived from the publisher – the pristine pages, the smell of printers’ ink, the glossy covers with my name on it. My stories and articles in prestigious magazines. Meeting someone in a non-writing context, and they say, “Are you THE Rayne Hall? You’re one of my favourite authors!” Every time ideas click together and form a story. Sitting in an outdoors coffee shop, listening to birdsong while jotting down notes for my next story. Getting invited to literature festivals and conferences as a speaker. Bookshop staff recognising me and asking me if I would please sign the copies they have in stock. Talking shop with other writers. Getting tweets and email from readers who’ve enjoyed one of my books. It’s all very exciting.

4. Has there ever been a time you nearly gave up writing?

There was a time when I gave up fiction writing for several years, a tough and painful decision. I continued to write features and non-fiction books, though, so it wasn’t a complete break from writing.  Some years later, my circumstances changed, and I started to write again. I chose a new genre and a new pen name, allowed myself to be a beginner once more and wrote with renewed passion.

5. What is your favorite story that you’ve written and favorite one in general?

I can’t choose just one – I have hundreds of favourites among the stories I’ve read. I like dark horror stories with and without fantasy elements, especially horror of the creepy and disturbing sort (not gory stuff). Favourites include The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Miss Hazeltine’s Miracle by Mort Castle, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Signalman by Charles Dickens, The Phantom Coach by Amelia Edwards, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, When the Clock Strikes by Tanith Lee… and many others. Among the novels I’ve read over and over is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

My favourite among the stories I’ve written?  I like different stories for different reasons. Burning (republished in Six Scary Tales Vol. 1) is perhaps one of my best; it’s subtly disturbing. The Bridge Chamber (republished in Six Scary Tales Vol. 4)  is probably my scariest – it frightens me when I re-read it. The Devil Eats Here pleases me because it almost wrote itself. Scylla and The Pepper Pirates is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy adventure yarn that was fun to write. Take Me To St Roch’s is perhaps typical for what my horror fiction, atmospheric and creepy.

Of my novels, Storm Dancer is my favourite. Definitely. It’s the kind of novel I enjoy reading: exciting, with scary moments and quirky elements, intense, thought-provoking and disturbing.

Okay, if you haven’t gone and found something by Rayne to read yet (I have several on my iPad, including one from her lessons to improve and hone writing techniques!) then I’ll just have to give you something. Rayne let me pick a scene from Storm Dancer to share with you! So here is a scene that got me hooked and I hope it does the same for you. If so, you’ll find Storm Dancer on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and probably wherever you purchase your favorite e-books. Enjoy – I did!

Excerpt from Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall

At twenty-five, he had a conscience heavier than a brick-carrier’s tray and more curses on his head than a camel had fleas. He had left the legion to cut himself off temptation, to deprive the djinn of fodder. After a siege, rape was legal, a soldier’s right, practically expected of him, part of the job. By returning to war, he would forfeit his victories over his craving. The djinn would again be his master.

Yet he ached to wear the general’s cloak again, to silence sneering bureaucrats, to make women take notice. He lusted for that power the way a heavy drinker, deprived of his solace, ached for a sip of wine. The yearning to wield a sword ached in his arms, his chest throbbed with the urge to command, and his loins flamed with the dark desire. He felt the panting breaths of women and their hot resisting bodies, smelled the scent of female fright and sweating fury.

“Why is the Consort writing to you?” Govan leant forward to grab the document. “You’re out of your depth with royal matters. I’ll read and explain.”

“Why should I want your counsel?” Dahoud tucked the rolled parchment into his belt.

“Don’t get pert, Samili!” Govan barked. “Give me that letter.”

“The Consort summons.” Dahoud rose. “Good afternoon, my Lord. Don’t expect me back soon.”

He strode to the exit, his mind reeling like a spindle. Could he deny that he was the Black Besieger? Refuse a royal order? Lead an army without stimulating the djinn?

On a low stone wall near the entrance gate, a row of whiteseers perched like hungry birds. Whiteseers had glimpses of futures others could not even imagine. One of them slid off the wall and sauntered in his direction. A coating of pale clay covered her sharp-boned triangular face and her long hair, and painted black and blue rings adorned her clay-whitened arms.

“Your hands,” she demanded.

“I need to know what will happen if -”

“Give your copper to a soothsayer,” she snapped. “We white ones only give advice. We can see the future; we can see several futures for everyone, but we won’t tell you all we see.”

“Advice is all I want.”

“That’s what they all say. Yet everyone asks for more. I give one piece of advice, the best I can give to help a client. They always demand that I tell them what I see. Well, I won’t.” Nevertheless, she grabbed the copper ring from Dahoud’s fingers and threaded it on her neck-thong. Her tunic smelled of old sweat and mouldy wool.

She grasped his hands to pinch their flesh, her long nails tickling. Her white paint contrasted with Dahoud’s bronze tan. When she felt the pulse and lifted his hand to her face to listen and sniff, he could have sworn he saw her blanch under the white clay as her closed eyes stared into his past. She sagged forward and stayed in a silent slouch.

At last she straightened, her eyes wide, her mouth open, but no words burst forth. So she had seen what he had done, and worse, what he might do once more.

“I assure you, I’ll never again…”

“I can’t read if you chatter.” She frowned at his hands. “My advice: Get stronger arms.”

He flexed his biceps, startled. “My arms are strong! I do trickriding, I wrestle, I lift weights.” Every night, Dahoud exercised until his muscles screamed, to block out his cravings and punish his body for its desires.

The seer’s mouth curled with contempt, making more clay crumble. “You’re not listening. I didn’t say strong. I said stronger.” She pinched his biceps. “Much stronger.”

“What difference can arm muscles make?”

“I told you to give your copper to a soothsayer.” She ambled off, leaving a cloud of unwashed stink and crumbles of clay.

Dahoud hurried to the stable to ready his horse. He had to persuade the Consort not to send the Black Besieger back to war.

*

At the entrance to the royal audience hall, green-uniformed guards confiscated Dahoud’s dagger-belt. The door thudded shut behind him.

Light seeped through slitted windows, painting stripes on the carpet. Rows of whitewood benches stood empty, as if waiting for spectators to stream in and take their seats. The Consort Kirral sat on an elevated divan, a jewel-encrusted white turban on his head, his moustache shaped into a pair of pointed blades. The steep platform bearing the divan forced visitors to gaze upwards, a technique Dahoud himself had often used to intimidate callers.

“Highness, you summoned me.”

Grape-green eyes peered from under dark bushy brows. Kirral cracked a saltnut between his teeth and spat the empty shell on the carpet at Dahoud’s feet. Dahoud permitted himself no response. Standing as straight as a soldier before his commanding officer, he inhaled deeply of the stale incense and old breath that lay in the air, and waited.

A mural of the Queen, a white full-moon face under an ornamental headdress, dominated the room, reminding audience-seekers that she was the true ruler of Quislak – even if she took little interest in politics. She left the day-to-day government to her Consort, who in turn delegated most work to his head-wife.

“Would you like some saltnuts, young man?” Kirral’s voice had the soft scraping tone of a sword grinding against a whetstone.

To take the nuts from the Consort’s outstretched hand, Dahoud had to walk up to the platform and look up, the way a lapdog accepted morsels. Kirral grinned, and his slippered feet wiggled in anticipation.

If the Consort gained pleasure from humiliating visitors, pride was a waste of time. “Thank you, Highness.”

“The Koskarans ransack our settlements, rob our caravans, slaughter our people.” Kirral twisted a saltnut between his fingers, as if assessing its value. “Are you the man who subdued those savages four years ago?”

“I am.” Dahoud glanced at the statues lining the cedar-panelled walls. He had looted many of those marble deities from temples in conquered lands, including Koskara. Now they queued at floor level, paying homage to Quislak’s nine Mighty Ones, who stood haughtily on a brocaded dais. “If my experience may be of use, I’ll gladly advise the general in charge.”

Kirral cracked another nut. “I want you to squash those rebels to pulp.”

“You need a different man, Highness.”

“I need the Black Besieger, and I will get him.” Kirral stroked the parchment scrolls at his side with a lover’s caress. “My favourite reading matter: personal dossiers. These are from your employers, past and present. You were the youngest general in the Queendom’s history, the first ethnic Samili to rise to that rank. Then you threw your career into the dust.” Kirral’s eyes focused like a hawk’s before the kill. “Why?”

“Personal reasons.”

“Your personal reasons entertain me,” Kirral said. “During a fine game of Siege last night, I asked my good friend Paniour why the Black Besieger quit. I learnt that he had a sudden attack of conscience. Not about battlefield deaths, but the treatment of captives.”

Dahoud stayed silent.

“To fool the world that the Black Besieger no longer existed, you spread rumours about his death. His supposed demise occurred not on the battlefield, but at the hands of an enraged woman. How imaginative.” Kirral cackled like a spotted hyena. “Paniour tells me you imagined yourself possessed by a djinn. A mythical creature from nomad lore.”

Dahoud knew better than to insist on the gruesome truth of demonic possession. “It was a figure of speech.”

Kirral’s bushy brows rose to his turban rim and stayed there. “For two years, all traces of you vanished as if you had indeed died. What did you do before Govan took you on?”

“Labour.” The kind of work a Samili could get: digging latrines, dragging a builder’s brick-loads like a sweating donkey, stirring a dyer’s pots of boiling piss.

“Watching you would have been educational. A leopard may dress as a rabbit, but he will find the garments too small.”

Dahoud said nothing.

— Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water and its Novel Companion and, most recently, the compilation of adventure travel stories Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels. Her next novel, Rule of Fire, will be available late this spring. You can also find her stalking her favorite authors online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page.

An Author Interview With…Me

by Bruce Blake
cover2Before I get into today’s post, I just wanted to mention that the second Icarus Fell novel, All Who Wander Are Lost, is free on Kindle April 17-19. Grab a copy on me and enjoy!
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Anyone who regularly reads my posts will know that one of my favourite things about being an indie author is the opportunity to meet, get to know, and help other indie authors in their careers.
Another of the things I love about being a writer (other than writing) happened today when I received an email from a young man named Brandon who was writing a career research paper for his English class. Brandon dreams of being an author and enjoyed my book, Blood of the King, so asked if I would consider doing an interview for him. After I finished blushing, I agreed, and I reprint said interview here with Brandon’s permission in case any of you reading are also young writers with questions.
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1. What is the usual author schedule, how many hours do you put into making your books?I am a very habitual writer. For me, mornings are for writing. I typically get started by about 9 am and will write until around 1 pm. My goal is to write between 3000 and 4000 words/day, and I do that 6 days/week. I do my editing in the afternoons/evenings. When I’m keeping to that pace, it takes me 4-5 weeks to write the first draft of a novel, though it is tough schedule to maintain and will often take closer to 6-7 weeks. Editing is another 6-7 weeks, so it is usually 12-14 weeks to write a novel that is ready to publish.
2. Is there any time when you think that you shouldn’t publish a book because it doesn’t meet your standards?There is a time in every novel’s life–during the writing of the first draft, usually–that I wonder if it will ‘meet my standards’ and ‘be publishable’. I think most writers go through this phase of self-doubt with almost every book they write. What I’ve learned is to keep going. The first draft can be a long way from what ends up being published; editing is where a book really comes to life. Only once have I stopped writing something and put it on the back burner, and even then it wasn’t because there was anything wrong with the writing, per se, I just felt I wasn’t up to the task of doing the subject matter justice. One day I will be, then I’ll go back to it.
3. How do you come up with the ideas for your books?symbol-29050_640I wish I had some great story about some secret method for creating story ideas, but the truth of the matter is that it is something I work at, just like everything else. Most stories start as a very small thought or idea, then I start asking questions and imagining scenarios until it forms into something cohesive. Sometimes it starts as a character, sometimes it’s as simple as a title. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a fully developed story populated with great characters drop in my lap. I dream about it, though…
4. How did you know you wanted to become an author?I’ve always loved writing, right from having to do short stories for English class in grade school, and I always got positive feedback from it. When I got out of school and into the work-a-day world, my passion for writing got left behind. It wasn’t until about eight years ago, when I couldn’t get to sleep because of a story idea floating around in my head, that I realized I wanted to do it again. Since then, I’ve written and published five full novels and eight short stories, I am in the midst of two other novels that will be published this year, and have a list of other projects to get to. Now that I’ve started and really found my passion in life, I will never turn back.
5. Do you think it is better to be an independent author or work for a company?That’s a tough question, because it’s kind of like comparing an apple pie and a strawberry pie. They’re both the same on the outside, but they are very different on the inside. Being an independent author, I naturally think the road I’ve chosen is the best for me, but it is not for everyone. As an independent, self-published author, I am in charge of everything, which can be both good and bad. It means I have complete creative control, but it also means I have complete responsibility. I not only write, but I have to source covers, editors and proofreaders, and I’m responsible for all promo and advertising…all on my dime. Not everyone wants to do all that, or has the time or the money to. While being published with a publisher is far from a sure thing, it does take a lot of that non-writing stuff off an author’s plate.
6. How do you organize your thoughts for your books?pencil-17808_640I work from a sparse outline. What I mean when I say that is: I always know where I want to go, and I’ll always have some ideas how I want to get there, but I won’t necessarily know what all the scenes will look like along the way. I know some authors who fly completely by the seat of their pants – they just sit down and write – and I have heard of others whose outlines are as long as some novels.  For me, I start off with a note book where I’ll jot down ideas and questions I want to answer about the story. When that has started to develop, I map out very basic scenes, then I start writing. My outlines are always living things and subject to change if another idea occurs to me.
7. Do you have other people who will help you write or help you come up with ideas in your books?There is not usually anyone I use when it comes to the initial idea phase, the outlining or the first draft writing. I occasionally ask my wife’s opinion about where I should go with something, but that often is more a case of her being someone I can talk to to hear my ideas out loud more than her contributing to the direction of the story. It’s good to have someone to talk it out with. After the first draft and my own edits are done (I usually write it, then go through it three times before anyone else sees it), it goes off to my editor, then to a couple of proofreaders. At this point, there are rarely any major changes made, usually only spelling and grammar, sentence structure and clarity.
8. Are you ever inspired by real events that happen or people?While no one entire story has been inspired by an actual event or person, there are certainly elements of people I know and things that have happened to me in my books. There is usually also some of me in my main characters. It’s almost impossible not to be influenced by our own world when writing, the trick is to do these things in such a way that people who know you don’t recognize them. As William Thackery said, “the two most engaging powers of a good author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
9. If you could do something else other than be an author would you switch?The short answer? No. The long answer? Definitely not.
10. Did you go to any college and if so what courses did you take at that college?I have not done any post-secondary education to contribute to my writing. I have taken some workshops, both in person and on-line, through Gotham Writer’s Workshop, Writer’s Digest, Donald Maass, and a couple of different writers’ conferences. Places such as on-line critique groups, writers’ forums and Facebook groups have also been helpful.
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So there you have it. Anyone else have questions? Leave them in the comments, I’d happy to answer yours, too.
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Bruce Blake is the author of the Icarus Fell urban fantasy novels and the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy. He has often spent hours interviewing himself, so it was nice to have someone else ask.

Author interview: Nicole Camp and ST Bende

Today, I’m highlighting two fantasy authors and their books from Entranced Publishing: Nicole Camp and ST Bende. Read on for an author interview, a freebie download, and a chance to win prizes from ST! Welcome, Nicole and ST!

Elsker by ST Bende

Kristia Tostenson prefers Earl Grey to Grey Goose and book clubs to nightclubs, but when she transfers from her one-stoplight town to Cardiff University in Wales she falls in love with Ull Myhr. Her new boyfriend isn’t exactly what she was expecting. He’s an honest-to-goodness Norse God — an immortal assassin fated to die at Ragnarok, the battle destined to destroy Asgard and Earth. Kristia’s crazy visions are the only thing that can save their realms.

Her orderly life just got very messy.

Coming 4/22/13 from Entranced Publishing.

Shadow's Rising by Nicole Camp

For nearly two hundred years the city of Aria has been under siege. Salcon reigns supreme and rules all he touches with a heart of darkness, seeking to conquer the last Navean city free of his control. Enslaved to Salcon’s will and struggling to find hope in a life without any – one brother will give everything he has to save the other. His sacrifice will change our world forever.

Available now. A prequel to Shadow Born, coming 5/20/13 from Entranced Publishing.

Fill in the blanks: [My book] is like [TV Show/book/movie] meets [another TV show/book/movie].

ST: Elsker by ST Bende is like Romeo and Juliet meets Kenneth Branagh’s Thor.

Nicole: Shadow’s Rising is kind of an entity unto it’s own. I’ve tried to think of books it resembles, and nothing comes to mind. The closestI can think of in movies is that it’s a cross between [very very loosely plot wise] “Star Wars” and “The Last Starfighter”.

Can you tell us something about your book that isn’t in the blurb?

ST: At the end of Elsker, I include the recipe for the amazing Norwegian waffles my characters enjoy in the book.  Get ready to buy some bigger pants.

Nicole: This is the history, so to speak. This is what happens before Shadow Born, and why all the characters have the interactions and relationships they do in the books to follow.

Who would you cast as your main character and as your MC’s love interest?

ST: I could totally see Jennifer Lawrence as my small-town girl, Kristia (because who among us cannot totally see a gorgeous Oscar winner playing our MC?).  And if you meet a slightly younger Alexander Skarsgård type with disheveled hair and a propensity towards cashmere sweaters, you’ve found my 6’5” Norse God of Winter, Ull.

Nicole: Kurtax would be very similar to a Carter Oosterhouse is build and stature. Maybe a bit broader in the shoulders. Asheira would be something like a young Sela Ward.

What are some books and authors that have inspired you?

ST: Shakespeare and his charmingly snarky Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing.  JK Rowling and her brilliant world building in the Harry Potter series.  And Doreen Cronin and her insanely clever Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type.  That book is just awesome.

Nicole: Maggie Stefvater, Annette Curtis Clause, Lowis Lowry, Daphne du Maurier… I think the list is too numerous to mention.

What are you reading right now?

ST: I’m actually reading Shadow’s Rising, by Nicole Camp!  Next in the Kindle queue is The Dating Game, by Susan Buchanan.

Nicole: Stephanie Plum’s Finger Lickin Fifteen

What are you writing right now?

ST: I just finished co-writing a super fun YA story with my critique partner, Jacqueline Gardner.  Then on to content edits for Endre, Book 2 in The Elsker Saga.

Nicole: Shadow Bound (The Shadow Bled series, book3)

What do you want people to come away with after reading your book?

ST: I really hope my characters make people smile.  And I hope their journeys illustrate that you can do anything you put your mind to.

Nicole: I just want people to enjoy the read. I think everyone will take something different away. There are quite a few layers to this story, and the series for that matter.

 

Both of your books incorporate other fantasy worlds with our own. Do either of you have any tips for aspiring writers when it comes to world building?

ST: Read Harry Potter and do whatever it is JK Rowling does!  If my fictional universe could be even a tenth as detailed as hers, I’d consider myself a raging success.

I remember reading somewhere that JK Rowling knew the answer to every imaginable question about the Whomping Willow, from its origin to the shade of its leaves to why it moved the way it did.  And that was just one tree that played an arguably minor role in the series — her knowledge of her human characters was exponentially more vast.  The authors who build the worlds we want to crawl inside seem to have worked out every tiny detail, from the political climate, to the kinds of foods grown in the region, to the music their characters listen to.  If I learned anything from developing The Elsker Saga, it was to flesh out Ull’s world in excruciating detail, then flesh it out some more.  Half of what I wrote never made it into the books, but knowing Ull’s universe made it much easier to understand where he was coming from, and how Kristia was meant to fit into his world.

Thanks so much for letting me visit Emily!

Nicole: I generally develop my characters and their origins first, and then build the world from there. But that’s me.

 

More about ST Bende:

THE ELSKER SAGA is available from Entranced Publishing.

TUR, the prequel, can be downloaded for free HERE or HERE.

ELSKER, Book 1, is available April 22nd from Entranced, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Find ST Bende on Twitter (@stbende), Goodreads, or her website.

And be sure to stop by http://stbende.blogspot.com/p/elsker-tour.html between April 11th and May 20th to enter to win fabulous prizes in the ELSKER Release Month of Giveaways!

 

More about Nicole Camp:

THE SHADOW BLED SERIES is available from Entranced Publishing.

SHADOW’S RISING, the prequel, can be downloaded for free HERE.

SHADOW BORN, Book 1, is available May 20th from Entranced.

Find Nicole on Twitter (@NicolShadowbled), or her website.

 

Thank you both for stopping by!

Author Interview: Harry Vossen

So today, I’ve got my interview with Harry Vossen, creator of the step-by-step worldbuilding guide A Way With Worlds and author of the upcoming novel Under a Burning Sky. I met Harry through his website, which I started reading as I worked on the worldbuilding for my Griffins & Gunpowder universe.

So without further ado, here’s Harry:

What do you do when you are not writing?

Study, for most of the year at least. We have a pretty intense ‘beach culture’ here in New Zealand as well, so I spend a lot of the time swimming and lounging around in the sun. Other than that I mostly study. I do a bit of freelance transcription sometimes when I’m really bored, and I do a bit of sketching occasionally, mostly characters or settings from a story. Then I study some more.

Do you have a day job as well?

Sort of. I’m not officially employed – we all know how hard it is to get a job in this economic climate, particularly if you’re young – but I do a lot of informal work for people around my town; chopping down trees and painting houses and demolishing things and concreting, that kind of stuff. I also do transcription work when I really have nothing to do, because it’s quick and easy. I anticipated that doing a lot of work would get in the way of writing, but was pleased to discover that chopping down a tree doesn’t take a whole lot of concentration, and one’s mind wanders quite freely. If anything, physical labouring has helped my writing.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I started writing when I was five years old. One day I finished the set work before everyone else, and asked the teacher what to do next. I imagine she was feeling particularly harried that day, so she gave me an exercise book with each page divided in two: the top half was blank, the bottom half had lines on it. She told me to write a story on the lined part of the page, and draw a picture on the top part. If memory serves, the story wasn’t much good and focused on people who ride dinosaurs, but that exercise rapidly became a daily thing and by the end of that year, Under a Burning Sky was born.
I finished Under a Burning Sky twelve years later in the May of 2012.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

In some ways I think Under a Burning Sky, and the series which it is part of, defies genre. I’ve had numerous people tell me that I shouldn’t call it fantasy because it lacks what is so often the defining feature of ‘fantastical’ works: there are no elves, no dwarves, no magic, and no unicorns. In fact, there is very little in the story which isn’t scientifically ‘real’ in our own world. The few fantasy creatures or concepts that do appear within the story are never substantiated: for example, the Eotn, or giants. They are referenced several times by several characters, but each time they are scoffed at as being nothing more than a story to frighten children. I try not to reveal too much about my work so I don’t want to give a definitive statement in either direction, but the ‘fantasy’ in the story is extremely limited.

That being said, I chose to write the story in the low fantasy genre because it gives me the freedom to construct whatever situation I desire, and say what I want to say. I have always viewed writing as a way to make a statement, and I think – depending on what statement you wish to make – fantasy is an extremely powerful way of tackling big questions that people don’t want to think about in regards to the real world.

Where do you get your ideas?

If I knew the answer to that, I’d bottle it and make a fortune. 

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Ohh yes. I think it’s mostly the result of stress – as exams and assignments pile up I find I can write less and less, not because I don’t have time – I make time – but because I’m feeling the pressure. In fact, with exams just around the corner I haven’t written anything substantial in a couple of months.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I work with an outline. Normally I figure out what I want to happen in the book, the major plot points, and map them out on a line. Then I need to fill in the space between them, and put in minor plot points to move the story along. Then I break it all up into chapters, and every time I get to a new chapter, I outline it in great detail. I tried just writing, or ‘pantsing’ once… It didn’t go well.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. It has had a huge influence on both my writing and on the way I look at things. One of the major themes in Under a Burning Sky and, on a larger scale, Chronicles on the Nature of Angels is the idea of a ‘perfect world’ that Pullman explores with His Dark Materials.

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I’m still exploring this question, and any ideas are welcome!

Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?

Oh I have. When I was about eight years old I wrote a novel, or possible novella, it came to around 21,000 words, called The Adventures of Maurice the Mouse. It will never see the light of day.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

Under a Burning Sky fits neatly into the ‘low fantasy’ genre in that it is very gritty and real, avoiding the better known stand-bys of old ‘High Fantasy’: magic and dwarves and dragons. The story deals with themes of mental trauma and collapsed idealism and colonialism and the not-so-glorious realities of war. The central ideas revolve around the beliefs we hold – not individually, but as a people – the desire to create, or to discover, the perfect world… and to live happily ever after.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Most of the characters are based on people I have met in real life. Obviously I’ve never lived on a tropical island which was invaded by imperialistic cannon-armed legionnaires, but the underlying essence of the story is mostly based on my experiences. Some of the characters have very obvious aspects of myself in them, although they’re probably not the ones you’re thinking of.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

My favourite chapter was the entirety of chapter fourteen. So much comes together in that chapter, and all the emotions of the characters involved come to a head. There are epiphanies and a huge amount of ‘action’ which isn’t physical combat. Every time I write a scene which feels tense without anyone hitting anyone else, it feels like an accomplishment.

How did you come up with the title?

The titular ‘Burning Sky’ is a motif throughout the novel. The story is divided in two parts, between Caspra and the Imperial Army in the far north and Artos on his island near the equator. Neither side of the story interacts with the other (in this book), and the only thing that really ties them together, or at least the only aspect which obviously ties them together, is the ‘burning sky’ symbol.

What project are you working on now?

When I wrote Under a Burning Sky I took the view that it’s better to just plow forward and make changes as I go rather than to realise something needs to be changed, then go back and make changes throughout the whole story before I move forward again. For this reason, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the story – for example, when I started, all of the characters had been involved in the battle at Sarakhamon (an event which haunts the backstory of the novel) but by halfway through I decided that some of them hadn’t. A few people who read the first draft caught that, and were confused. So, what I’m working on now is rewriting the entire thing from page one so that all the plot fits together properly.

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

I will! Under a Burning Sky is projected for release in September next year.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

Although everyone hates him, I’d really like to go back to the Judge and expand on him. I think he gets really misunderstood, both by the characters in the story and by readers, and he deserves vindication. The idea I love to work with, and one of the major pillars on which the story is built, is that some people really do see the world in black and white, and the potential effects of that worldview. The Judge and the Old Man are very similar in that respect, and I think it makes them some of the most interesting and compelling characters in the story.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism I’ve ever received was also probably the best. It was a critique on scribophile.com I opened the critique and the opening comment said:
The bad news is, the writing itself sucks.”

As I’m sure you can imagine, that felt pretty lame. However, I read through the entire critique and took everything the critiquer said into account, and it was completely true and my writing is significantly better for it. In the closing comments was the best compliment. “The good news is, the story is fucking awesome… And that’s what matters.”

An Interview with Fantasy Author Cady Elizabeth Arnold

As I mentioned in my last post, there were two fantasy authors who utilized Maine Author’s Publishing – the same place I chose to edit my enovel (and would probably be my first choice for printing too considering all the services they offer the fledgling author!). I introduced Rachel O’Laughlin last time, now it is my honor to introduce Cady Elizabeth Arnold, more commonly known as Betsy!

From chatting with Betsy, I found out her children are involved in her writing. Her oldest son,  WTArnold, created the amazing cover art to her novel. Her youngest son, Nick, helped with the title.  Her daughter, Meg, actually interviewed Betsy using my questions. Their interaction is charming as well as informative. I’d hoped to post the interview here, but technical difficulties (and lack of time!) held that up.

1. Introduce yourself and tell me how you started writing. What led you to write your first novel Tapestry, Book 1: Strands of Yellow and Blue?

I’m Cady Elizabeth Arnold but have always been called ‘Betsy’, except by telemarketers or my parents when I was in trouble. I love to write and can’t remember a time when I didn’t. In my basement are boxes of folders and journals with writings that date back to second grade…poetry mostly, but also stories and prose. I call myself a ‘closet scribbler’ because I haven’t shared much of my work with others. Publishing is a challenge and I waited until I had a novel I really believed in before I felt ready to jump that hurdle. Another reason I have been slow to publish is that I’m a recovering perfectionist. Part of me still wants to make edits and changes to Tapestry: Strands of Yellow and Blue even though I am well into the writing of the sequel.
I am a Social Worker and have counseled people in a variety of settings, including Universities and public schools. People have honored me with the stories of their lives, and many of them disclosed various types of abuse to me. Tapestry grew out of a desire to explore the healing process in a safe context. I figured if I set the scenario in a foreign land in the distant past, people could suspend ‘disbelief’ about abuse and enjoy a story. If the story happens to be about a healing journey and someone is helped by it, great! If it is just a good read, that is also wonderful. Like most books, Tapestry can be read on different levels. The hard part was avoiding all modern day language and clinical jargon while writing about the pitfalls and possibilities of the journey.

2. Tell me a little about your novel. How did you come up with the plot line and the characters?

The two main characters, Grace and Tristam simply appeared as I began writing. Grace’s voice came first and she captivated me. Tristam came along and found her and I found myself writing in two distinct voices. These characters seem very real to me with personalities, quirks, wounds and gifts. As the story unfolded, I realized just how much these two people needed each other. In the first chapters it seems Tristam is the one giving to Grace. However, when Tristam’s past unfolds it becomes clear he is also hurting and the story becomes much more intriguing.
At first I thought I would basically be writing about the two main characters, but then other characters appeared and they changed and directed the story. I will never forget the day I was writing and suddenly Lady Geneva started telling Tristam about a rebellion. I thought, ‘rebellion…what rebellion? I don’t know anything about a rebellion in Blinth.’ I remember pausing for a moment and looking around. ‘Just keep writing,’ I told myself and ‘let Geneva have her say.’ She definitely knew what she was talking about; I think she adds a great deal to the story.
The plot line came more slowly than the characters. For me, writing is like reading a good book, only slower… much s.l.o.w.e.r. I have some idea where the story is going, but the details unfold and surprise me. I find myself driven to write because I want to know what’s going to happen next.

3. You have Strands of Yellow and Blue listed as Book 1. How many novels do you think you’ll write as part of the series?

Right now, I’m writing Book II of the Tapestry Series. The working title is Tapestry: Threads of Green with Black. I can’t tell you too much about this second book without ruining the ending of Book I. I can tell you I enjoy these characters and want to learn more about them. Lady Geneva, Thomas, Becca, and Peter each have a story to tell. I’d like to delve into the past and understand how Tobias got so wise. I guess I can’t say how many Tapestry Books there will be… at least two and probably several more. I’ll just keep writing and learning as long as these characters have stories to tell.

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

I didn’t set out to write a fantasy book. In the beginning I did a great deal of research on twelfth century Europe, but decided I wanted to play with social mores and differing religions. I really didn’t think about my book’s genre until it was time for publication. In the sequel I am much clearer about the fact that I’m writing a fantasy and that allows me to be more inventive. Wait until you meet some of the animals prowling the forests in Lolgothe.
I love to write poetry and actually think I’m a better poet than prose writer. Some people are creative enough to write a novel using poetry. I would like to challenge myself to do that. I have at least one poem I would love to see as a children’s picture book. I have also written a memoir, but it needs a lot of work and I’m NOT ready to publish it. I’m surprised at how “out there” I feel after publishing a novel. When people I know say, “Oh, I see so much of you in the
book you wrote,” I feel exposed. I guess I kept my writing in the closet for so many years for a reason.

5. Some of your reviews and comments mention the journey of your main characters as a path to healing. How does this internal journey fit into your novel? Why did you include it?

For me the internal journey was THE story and the purpose for writing the book, not something I added. It’s gratifying that the reviewers have commented on it. I especially like this quote from my first Amazon review, “…this is a book that stays with you. It is not a typical fantasy nor is it a shallow teen novel. It really is a character study that seeks to understand what heals us.” The story was an outgrowth of the internal struggle of a young girl to learn to accept love and a brittle adult to once again open his heart. The story grew and they grew and I grew with them, learning from them along the way.

6. Could you share with us a favorite line or scene that you think really illustrates what the book is about or your writing?

One of my favorite scenes is the last one between Tobias the gardener and Grace. Grace is in agony from her past and from more recent horrors. She has locked herself away from everyone, but she decides to go see Tobias because he is ill and asking for her. Tobias doesn’t judge her or lecture her…he simply loves her. He also reminds her she has choices; she believes the past is dictating her future, but Tobias challenges her belief. The scene is very tender and I wept when I wrote it. Tobias is a man of few words but he says a great deal.

7. What are your hopes as a writer?

I hope my book makes a difference. I want it to help someone who is on a journey and feels alone, perhaps a young person who has never found anyone they can really talk to. Many people carry heavy burdens in this world and it’s nice when I can help ease someone’s load.
Honestly, I would also like to develop as a writer and produce more books. I made a conscious choice to publish through a small local publisher. So much of what gets published is controlled by a few large corporations for the purpose of profit. The Internet and computers are changing the publishing world. Ten years ago, Indie books were not taken seriously. That is changing, although it is still difficult for an Indie author to break through to the best seller list. We don’t have publicists and marketers working for us. We don’t have countless dollars to spend on advertising. In the end, however, I think we have something much more powerful; we have the grass roots ability to impact the world and be creative in our own unique ways. More and more people are blogging, tweeting and writing. It’s a creative explosion. So, what are my hopes as a writer? Dreaming big I want to be on the New York Times Best Sellers List. It’s going to be a tough hurdle, but I love a challenge.

8. Anything else you want to share?

I love chocolate…no really…honestly…it’s more like I’m addicted. I would be thoroughly embarrassed if you could see my pantry right now. You see, here in New Hampshire we have the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Factory and lots of Lindt outlet stores. Fortunately, I’m also addicted to exercise. I race kayaks competing in flat water marathon races; my longest race so far has been 70 miles. It sounds crazy, I know, but it was a blast. I love kids, especially my own, but all kinds of kids. I love sunshine. My husband claims I’m solar powered. I love him, too. I love animals, snow, wildflowers, the beach and falling leaves. I love rocks and collect them everywhere. When my family complains, I remind them rocks are free. I want to be a nature photographer in my next life and spend all my time outdoors. I love ice cream, cookies and laughing until it hurts. I do whip cream shots straight out of the can, but that’s a secret. I love my friends, especially the ones who read my early manuscripts. I have a friend who says, “Life is Good. Life is Hard. These two things are not related.” I couldn’t agree more.

Below is the description from Tapestry Book 1: Strands of Yellow and Blue. Check out Betsy’s website for more information!

Their journey begins when Tristam, a huntsman with the scars of a warrior, stumbles across a young girl in the forest. This mute child, whom he names Grace, is dressed in tattered white and cannot recall any memories from her past. As she and Tristam grow closer, both begin to heal in ways neither thought possible. Together, they try to put the fragments of Grace’s memory back in place, prompting Tristam to wonder if the barbaric rumors about the country to the north might possibly be true.
Grace starts her new life at the castle as a foreigner amidst gossip about her unknown past. Meanwhile, Tristam is secretly trying to both stop a rebellion against the king and avoid war with a neighboring country.   Tristam and Grace must each navigate the social nuances and intrigues of palace life.

Enter the kingdom of Blinth with an excerpt below, where Tristam’s and Grace’s stories are interwoven as together they explore a time of yellow and blue.

Book 1: Strands of Yellow & Blue

Chapter 1 GRACE
            These are the words I cannot speak. These are the words no one knows. These are the words I carry alone.
            I run through a black forest. Branches tear at my face, grabbing my hair like hands. I am breathing fierce and hard, making rasping sounds in the back of my throat, which burns with each inhalation. I focus upon one thing: speed. All other considerations are but tiny specks at the back of my mind. “Faster, faster,” I chant. “Faster, faster still!” I lose myself in the motion of legs and arms and lungs. Me disappears, pulling away from IMe is floating above, watching a child dressed in white running through the night.
            From above, she can see the obstacles I cannot. I dodge trees and leap ravines, using her vision. She sees the gap widening. My pursuers are slowly losing me. I am running until…suddenly, I am not.
            She is guiding me. How else could I stop in this ring of pines, with soft needles to cushion my falling and underbrush in which to hide? She is watching my body collapsing to the ground. Our eyes close. We see nothing.
            Awakening in the grey light of early morning, I am aware of a strange warmth along one side of my body. A harsh chill numbs my other side. I am afraid of moving as the terror of the night floods my mind. Yet, strangely, I feel at peace. A rough tongue licks my forehead. A voice fills my head without flowing through my ears.
            Awaken, my Child; the huntsmen come.
            My eyes fly open. I clutch at the body of the stag with whom I am lying in the pine bed, seeking comfort. I do not wonder all the things I will wonder later: Why is he protecting me? How can I hear him speaking? I cling to him in terror. I barely notice when he stands, pulling me upright as well.
            Suddenly, six bows are strung. Six arrows point at my stag. He does not move. I am splitting myself again. My body freezes while my mind spins upward, seating itself in the high bough of a pine.
            An order is given in a language I do not understand. The men lower their bows. I wince at the leader’s commanding voice, closing my eyes. When I open them, my mind and body are together on the ground with my stag. The man with the commanding voice hands me his cloak; my stag is still between us. The stag seems to be speaking to the captain of the huntsmen, but words are not filling my head or my ears. The stag turns to look full into my eyes.
            They mean you no harm, Small One. The leader wants to take you to their women. I cling still more closely to the stag.
            Look into his eyes, the stag commands me.
            I cannot disobey. Turning slightly, I face a man who is tall, at least eighteen hands high. His shoulders are broad; his hands are large. His nose is prominent and straight. His chin is firm beneath sensitive lips. His eyes are somewhere between blue and grey. Concern and a strange kind of pain live in the blueness. He is speaking words I cannot understand and indicating the cloak, which he is still holding out in front of him.
            Do you trust him, Small One? The stag’s question fills my head. I nod. Before I can thank him, the stag bounds away through the pines. Bows are raised. The captain barks an order. I flinch. No arrows fly after my stag. My heart is grateful.
            I find I cannot stand alone. My knees buckle and strong arms catch me before I hit the ground. I am swaddled in a huge cloak. I like the way it smells, of smoke and of something clean and deep that I cannot describe. Water is held to my lips. I gulp until his voice speaks and the flask is moved away. Some kind of bread is offered. I bite ravenously, and the man holding me smiles; he seems pleased by my fierce appetite. The flask returns and the water flows down my throat. I am lifted upon his horse; his arms encircle me. He smells comforting, like his cloak. I try to sit upright, but I cannot. I sag against him, drifting as we ride south. No part of me is floating above watching. Meand I have come back together in the arms of this stranger who feels like home. The rocking motion of the horse is comforting and I slip into sleep.
Chapter 2 GRACE
            Looming castle walls flood me with fear, and I can feel my eyes growing wide, my muscles tensing. He murmurs soothing words in my ear, his breath stirring my hair. I feel frozen, my hand unable to touch him, though I find myself longing for the feel of the curly, golden-brown hair covering the muscles of his forearm. Keeping my focus upon the markings on his arm keeps my fear at bay. A scar as wide as my hand runs crosswise, parallel to the crease of his elbow. A sword wound? I wonder.
Another scar looks angry. Purplish in color, it is raised and puffy. Though short in length, the wound must have been deep, caused perhaps by a dagger. Curiously, the man has no markings from animals’ hooves or teeth. Pondering the arms of this huntsman, who is scarred like a warrior, keeps me still as we approach the walls of the great structure. Never have I seen such uniformly grey stones built into such an enormous edifice. How can men lift such stones?
             After we pass through an archway in the outer walls, I notice solid hardwood gates. These gates are in position to be lowered, covering the opening completely. I have never seen gates so thick, with black metal latches and hinges.
Strangely, I find I cannot remember any buildings farther to the north, in the land from which I come. Too many unfamiliar sights are meeting my eyes for me to wonder about my lack of memories.
 I am lifted down when we enter a dirt courtyard. Orders are given, and the horses are led away by stable boys. Curious glances are cast my way and I fall again to studying the arms that hold me. He is carrying me down a long passage paved with stones. The heels of his boots make a ringing sound that bounces off the stone walls and beamed ceiling. He seems to be hurrying; I worry that I am a heavy burden.
Presently, a maidservant leads us. A door is flung open, and I am set gently upon a richly carved chair with a velvet cushion. The room seems large, with a fireplace and mullioned windows. A canopied bed is hung with purple curtains that match the seat cushion. I become aware that he is speaking with a woman of ample girth and merry eye. I study the few faint freckles visible under the tan upon his forearms. I wish those arms were still wrapping themselves around me. The woman seems kindly, but the Stag had entrusted me to him.
She calls him “Sir Tristam,” which seems to anger him. He repeats merely “Tristam,” but she repeats both words. He shakes his head at her before turning to me. Speaking foreign words, he indicates the large woman. “Addie,” he says repeatedly, “Addie.”
When he places his hand upon the door latch, I feel panic rising up in me. Glancing back, he sees my widened eyes. He stops, comes back and lifts me. Addie is hovering, making soothing noises. He sends her away and lays me upon the bed. My hand brushes against his as he moves to a chair by the bed. He clasps my hand. The pressure of his fingers is reassuring, though I cannot return it; instead my hand lies limp in his. Somehow that simple act is more intimate than anything we have yet shared and I can make no sense of it. I lie on the bed, eyes wide, not moving.
We are in the same positions when Addie returns with another woman who is carrying a large tapestry bag. She places the bag on the floor and I can see the intricate needlework and the rich colors of the pattern. I lose myself in the minute stitches of blue, green, amber, and yellow. Conversation floats above my head.
The newcomer, whom Tristam calls Geneva, is pointing at my feet. He leaves my side and begins unwinding the bandages covering them. The pain of the cloth tearing away from the scabs is sharp enough to take my breath away, but I will not cry out. Tristam comes to my head again, stroking my brow. I steal a glance at his face. His eyes hold a glowing light I cannot look upon. Returning my eyes to the tapestry bag, I lose myself again in the colors. A particular shade of blue, clear as the summer sky, draws my eye. I focus on the blue. I hold my tears at bay, tears caused by kindness in the eyes of the foreigner, Tristam.
Geneva mixes herbs while Addie boils water over the fire. Tristam urges me to eat, but I do so only to please him. Fear is knotting my stomach; swallowing is difficult. I sip the herbal tea Tristam holds to my lips, and I suddenly feel incredibly tired. Sleep yawns like a beast and swallows me whole. Tristam still holds my hand.
            I awake in utter darkness, my feet throbbing. A sharp intake of breath is the only concession I make to fear, though my limbs shake. I push the pain away. Tristam comes to me. He offers food and herbal tea. My arms and legs stop shaking. For a long time, I drift in sleep with brief periods of wakefulness. He is always there, keeping my fear at bay.
Chapter 3 TRISTAM
           
            I will never forget the day we found Grace. The feast of the spring equinox had depleted the palace stores of meat. Game near the castle is scarce at this season. During the harsh winter, we over-hunt near our home. We were traveling far to the north for wild stag, and although the creatures are lean after the long winter, they are large. Even a lean stag will fill the king’s board.
            Farther to the north, the forest is mostly pine, though here and there a broadleaf seedling struggles for light. On this day, our horses’ hooves crush the needles of the forest floor and send the fragrance of pine upwards, masking the scent of game. We leave our horses behind after picking up the scent of a stag. I lead a party of five men.
            Daniel-the-Younger is my best marksman. Torquil is my most seasoned hunter. Wee Thom does not require dogs to track a scent. The other two are new; I watch them closely to determine their level of skill.
            It is early morning, three days after the night of the equinox. Snow is still lying in patches on the moist ground, and mist rises from the snow and shows our breath as we track in utter silence. My men are ready for the kill that will allow them to return home to warm beds.
A dozen or more tall pines of equal height form a tight circle. In the clearing, a stag faces us and our bows. Though six arrows point at it, the stag stands motionless. One of the new men, Mark, draws back his arrow without waiting for my signal. Quickly and silently, I raise my right arm, giving the command to wait. Mark’s breath comes out in an angry hiss as he relaxes his grip.
            For a moment I hold my breath, not believing what I see. Two small white arms cling to the stag’s neck. One hand is slightly bluish in color; the other is extremely pale. The golden head of a young girl is just visible behind the creature, her eyes wide with terror. Dropping my bow, I remove my cloak in one motion and hold it out in front of me; I face the stag. The creature seems to be assessing me, trying to read my intentions.
            We mean her no harm. She will be taken to the women. The words form themselves in my head and the stag relaxes as if he hears and understands. The creature then looks deep into the eyes of the child. A silent conversation takes place between them, I know it. The small one looks deep into my eyes, as if she is reading my soul. She is older than I realized, almost a young lady, not a child. The stag suddenly bounds into the forest. I hear movement behind me and repeat my order, “Hold your arrow!”
            “That is meat you are letting get away,” Mark mutters as I step forward to catch the child. Her legs cannot support her without the stag to lean upon. I lift her gently; she weighs almost nothing. I wrap her in my cloak and cradle her.
            “Daniel and Torquil, fetch water, food, and blankets. We need herbs and bandages,” I call after them. I see lacerations upon the child’s arms, legs, and feet.
“I will get them, Sir,” Wee Thom says.
I nod at him. “You others, get the horses.”
Daniel returns quickly and hands me a flask. I support the girl with my left arm and I offer her the flask with my right. She drinks with relish.
            “Slowly, child. Your body needs time; too much at once will cause vomiting,” I caution. Daniel offers her flatbread. She snatches at it greedily when he pulls it away to prevent her from eating it too quickly. Her ferocity makes me smile. Though frail, she has some fight in her.
            “Captain, her feet are bad; those cuts are deep. The green poison’s setting in,” Torquil informs me. “It will hurt her greatly if we touch them.”
            “Can you bind them gently, with the herbs that will draw out the poison?” I ask.
            “Yes, Sir. I have bandaged my little sisters,” Wee Thom informs me.
            I look up into the face of this young man who, ironically, stands several hands taller than me. “You are poorly named. Thank you, Thomas.”
            His face flushes.
            “Aye, that might help until we can get her to Lady Geneva,” Torquil says. “She is the one to do the cleansing of the deeper wounds. If we try now, we will frighten her more—”
            “Captain, how did she get here? We are leagues from anywhere,” Daniel interrupts.
            “And why…why is she here alone, freezing, injured, and terrified?” Thomas’s voice joins in.
            The men have all come closer. The child’s eyes have widened so that white can be seen all around the amber irises. Her tension is palpable.
            “Back up, men; give the girl some room,” I order. “Torquil, I will need your help to hold her while I mount.”
            “Yes, Sir,” he replies.
“Sir, could it be that those rumors we have heard are true?” Mark asks.
            “Hold your tongue, Mark,” I command.
Torquil raises his eyelids and widens his eyes. “You can silence Mark, Sir, but people will wonder…and talk.”
            “That is not silence, Torquil. For now, let us simply get her to safety.”
            Torquil, wisely, responds with a nod. I heave a sigh as I lift the waif onto my horse. We have a long journey ahead of us.

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.
“Mal–”
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.”

Interview with a Demon

After running around like a demon with my hair on fire… wait: I am a demon and my hair has been on fire before…nothing new there, I finally managed to make my “maker” sit down and talk to me. You see, she’s interviewed writers in the past, she’s even interviewed me, but I wanted to turn the tables on her. Even though she’s been interviewed by other writers in the past, I wanted to talk to her from the viewpoint of the created. So here you go, sit back and relax for a bit while I grill her… um, I mean talk to her and let you in on the grimy little details that make her tick.

Alexander: Hey, first of all, I’d like to thank you for letting me realize my dreams and come to earth.

Tami: No problem, Alexander. I felt your pain.

Alexander: Did you really? I mean do you feel all your characters experiences?

Tami: Sure, to a degree. Of course, when your hair is on fire (or other things), or a character gets hurt, I don’t bleed, or get hurt, but if I can’t feel all the pain, excitement, sadness, fear, anxiety, joy and desire my characters do, how can I expect readers to?

Alexander: Interesting, what about what you feel when you read? Do you feel the same things in other books you read that aren’t your own? And do you read much?

Tami: I love to read. I am a quick reader so that helps, but I do have more trouble finding the time now. Yes, however, when I read I feel the same things—hopefully—that I feel when it’s my own writing. If I don’t, it’s not a book I would recommend to others.

Alexander: What are you most afraid of in your professional life?

Tami: Besides you?

Alexander: Oh, now, that’s not nice. I’ve always been good to you.

Tami: For a demon, but yeah, you’ve always been pretty cool to hang with. As for my professional fears, I don’t know if they’re fears persay, but as I get older, having passed the 50 mark, I worry that I won’t get all of the things I want to do done. I think that may be why I work so many hours even though it isn’t necessarily needed at the moment. There’s so much I want to get done.

Alexander: Do you think you’ll ever stop writing?

Tami:  Do you think you’ll ever shut up and let me? Not just you of course, all of you. There are times, like the other night when characters are so insistent I can’t even sleep and I have to get up and write what they say or lose it.

Alexander: How do you get all that out?

Tami: I see it like a movie in my head and I just write what I see.

Alexander: Any favorite characters?

Tami: Present company excluded, because you know you are my all time favorite, I like Gabe in “Dark Side of the Moon.”Not a perfect man, but full of every emotion and has a lot on his plate to deal with.

Alexander: I’ll have to pay him a visit.

Tami: Don’t you dare. Not because I think you’ll do anything to him, although that’s always a concern, but more because I don’t think I could handle the two of you together. That’s enough for now though, because I think I hear another of my characters calling. Have a great night, Alexander, and I hope to see you and all the rest of the wild bunch in my head when I dream. It would be a lonely life without you all.

Tami Parrington is a freelance writer and author of seven novels including Hell’s Own. Check out Hell’s Own on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Hells-Own-ebook/dp/B001B8QFF4

Character interview: Vorona, Shaman of Nastaciu from The Bones of the Earth

For the Guild of Dreams feature this week, I’m interviewing a popular fantasy character: Vorona, the shaman of the village of Nastaciu, the home of Javor, the main character from The Bones of the Earth.

The Bones of the Earth is set in the sixth century CE, the darkest of the Dark Age. The place is eastern Europe, on the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains.

Vorona is described as young and beautiful, incongruously voluptuous where everyone else is too thin following repeated famines and years of poor crops. She has some magical abilities, after all. What would be the first thing you would do with magical powers?

As the shaman, it’s Vorona’s role to communicate with the spirit world to bless the crops and animals, as well as to cure disease and bring luck to the villagers.

Vorona lives alone in a hut a little separate from the rest of the village. I visited her there for this interview.

Vorona: Welcome in. I’ve been expecting you. Tea?

Guild of Dreams: No, thank you. It’s too hot today for tea. Perhaps we could sit outside, where there’s a breeze?

V: All right. Make yourself comfortable.

GD: Isn’t it unusual for the shaman to be a woman in this era?

V: No. Traditionally, women have a closer connection to the other world than men do. As the sex that brings life into the world, we also have a closer affinity with Moist Mother Earth.

GD: As the village shaman, it’s your job to communicate with the spirit world to help ensure fertility of crops and your village’s livestock. But the whole region has suffered from repeated crop failures for years, if not decades. Does that mean you’ve failed in your job?

V: Not at all. I have communicated with the spirits, particularly the kupalo, who bless the fields. For the past two years, since I have been shaman, the crops have been returning, slowly. But the spirit world is unhappy with humankind overall, particularly with Rome and Persia and other so-called civilizations. They have turned away from Moist Mother Earth in favour of the sky gods.

The spirits and the gods are also troubled. There seems to be a great strife among them, and the troubles in our world are but a trembling caused by the great forces in conflict.

GD: A war among the gods?

V: Yes: between the celestial forces, the sky gods, and the chthonic, or earth gods. The main civilizations of the world largely worship the celestials now. However, a generation ago—in my time, that is—the earth belched forth a great cloud that hid the sun from view for over a year. It caused great hardship on humans and other animals, but it showed the power of Moist Mother Earth.

GD: In my time, we know that as the great volcanic eruption of 535 CE. Now, tell me, how well did you know the hero, Javor?

V: I knew him very well. He does not know me as well, and he does not appreciate how I watched over him as he grew up.

GD: Did you have a great role in his upbringing? Were you close to him?

V: I was close, yes, but he did not know that.

GD: That seems to be characteristic of Javor — that he doesn’t understand other people very well.

V: He does not understand other people’s masks and pretensions. But he perceives their hearts keenly.

GD: Would you describe Javor as unusual?

V: He is exceptional: very intelligent, very quick and very courageous.

GD: Yet, in his home village, he was thought of as an imbecile.

V: Yes. Mainly because he does not respond in the way that others expect. He does not understand the difference between what people say and what they really mean.

GD: That sounds like it could be a problem for him.

V: Javor had a great difficulty making friends as a child. Usually, the others shunned him and made fun of him. Fools have no capacity for appreciating his unusual gifts.

GD: Did he have any friends?

V: He had one or two. Hrech is a kind boy and rather low in social standing, himself. And some of the girls took pity on him. Javor, being Javor as well as hopeful and in many ways a typical teenage boy, mistook pity for love.

GD: It sounds like he had a difficult childhood.

V: Yes, and a sad one. All his siblings died, the last two in a pestilence — I believe you call it the pneumatic plague — during a particularly difficult winter. Then when his parents were killed, Javor was alone.

GD: Is there any hope for him?

V: Javor has a great destiny. I cannot see it, but I can tell that his life-stream extends far into the future and is filled with great deeds. He will face dangers that few men could comprehend. But he holds gifts from several … I suppose the closest word would be “gods.”

GD: So, you can see the future?

V: In a way. And for a short time.

GD: Can you tell me next week’s winning lottery numbers?

V: Turn off that recorder and get out of here!