Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with M.D. Presley

image credit: Amazon

Today I get to learn a little bit more about author M.D. Presely, and his fantasy series, Sol Harvest. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about the Sol’s Harvest series?

Well, Sol’s Harvest is the unholy amalgamation of Airbender mixed with True Detective and a heaping helping of an American Civil War documentary. It’s a flintlock fantasy that takes place in a secondary world that very much mirrors the Reconstruction Era in US history. So pretty far off the beaten path in terms of fantasy. In it a spy who was captured and forced to fight against her homeland is tasked with escorting a catatonic child into enemy territory to assassinate the girl’s father. Plus, you know, psychic exoskeletons, airships, and monsters made up of the breath of their dead god.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
I’ve always been attached to fantasy and always wanted to be a screenwriter, which were diametrically opposed for many years since fantasy is so expensive to shoot. So Sol’s Harvest is the story I always wanted to tell and knew damn well that no producer would ever invest in. So I invested my own time and money to write the story exactly as I wanted for a change.


When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Characters, plot, and world are all pretty simultaneous for me in that one always feeds into the other, which ends up influencing the first, which then works its way back around. In this case I cannibalized a lot of existing ideas of mine: I made the world as a thought experiment a few years before, the protagonist was an idea I had in college but couldn’t ever get to work in a story, while the non-linear plot was inspired by True Detective. And once I thought about those three together, they sort of clicked and began creating a feedback loop that tied them all together.


Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
Parts of me are reflected in all the characters, but I will say that Marta’s core component of clarity that descends upon her when she gets angry is one of my own traits. I swear I could rule the world if I were angry enough, which is unfortunate since I’m pretty laid back.


What was the hardest character or part to write?
Inhuman entities with lifespans that don’t match our own. So much of our own understanding is based upon how long we expect to live, so when you suddenly change that it reshapes the character’s entire worldview. It makes them alien to a certain extent, which you then have to explain to the audience in human terms.


Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
Villains are almost always more fun, although they aren’t really as satisfying since they aren’t as constrained as heroes are. Heroes (usually) have to abide by a moral code, which makes everything more difficult for them. This in turn (if done right) means the hero is more dramatically satisfying


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?
I am 100% grade-A plotter in that I write out reams of paper ahead of time detailing the characters, plot, and world. It’s a carryover from being a screenwriter where page space is limited and every detail counts. You can’t waste space figuring your story out on the page that way, so you have to get it all down before you start writing. At least I do.


You have also written books about fantasy worldbuilding. I love rpg’s and creating fantasy worlds and I think that is SO COOL! How did your knowledge of world building affect your novels?
I’ve not written a novel since I did that deep delve into worldbuilding, so it’s a little difficult to answer. But I did just get off a call with some producers where they signed off on all the character and plot points, but got completely stymied when it came to the rules of the worldbuilding. For fantasy and science fiction in particular, worldbuilding is part of what sells audience on the genre in the first place, and now that I have that in mind, I really want to make my worlds more vibrant, consistent, and inviting. Because, I realized, unlike plot and characters, great worldbuilding does not suffer from diminishing returns. In fact, it gets better the more times you consume it, which means great worldbuilding should ensure multiple consumptions. Which hopefully means more money…

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

This may sound trite, but I find it’s best not to ever get out of the zone. I always compare writing to cycling in that, once you get up to cruising speed, it’s not much effort to maintain that speed. But if you have to stop, you then have to expend a ton of energy to get back up to that speed you were so effortlessly maintaining just a few minutes ago. I’m in no way saying don’t take breaks, but it’s a lot easier to be consistently tuned in to writing if you never tune out.

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

Favorites are hard to decide on because you can judge them by a lot of criteria like most influential (Sandman), or the one that caused the most emotional reaction (The Brothers Karamazov), or the one that you could just devour the prose with a spoon (The Great Gatsby). So I’ll just say that the book I’ve read the most is Goodnight Moon.

About M.D. Presley:

Never passing up the opportunity to speak about himself in the third person, M.D. Presley is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. Born and raised in Texas, he spent several years on the East Coast and now waits for the West Coast to shake him loose. He has worked as a screenwriter and managed an amazing team of coverage readers. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an interview with Luke Tarzian

I’m fortunate to be able to hear from Luke Tarzian, author of dark fantasy. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Vultures? 

VULTURES is…dark. Some people have said it’s the darkest fantasy they’ve ever read (I’m especially chuffed to have been told by one reviewer that it was more brutal than Joe Abercrombie). VULTURES is very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes. It takes place in a very phantasmagoric landscape full of demons, in a land where dreams are sometimes more than dreams and everyone—I mean everyone—is broken. Think some amalgamation of Edgar Allan Poe, The Licanius Trilogy, and a David Lynch film.”


What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy? 

“Reading Harry Potter and wanting to create my own worlds. I’ve been in love with the fantastic since I was a child and Harry Potter was kind of the final push I need to say “Hey—I’m gonna write my own stuff.” I write fantasy for escapism and the ability to self-examine through a fictional lens. I deal with a lot of depression and anxiety, and being able to filter that into my characters and take them on a journey helps me figure out my own issues.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot? 

“Characters one-hundred percent.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way? 

“Oh god, only way too much. A lot of the grief and loss and depression and anxiety and anger issues yada yada yada that the characters in VULTURES are subjected to are very much manifestations of my own struggles. For me, writing those into my characters a) helps make my characters that much more relatable and b) is stupidly and completely cathartic.”

What was the hardest character or part to write? 

“There is a moment in a scene very late in the book, probably in the third to last chapter, that was, in a sense, very real to write as it was heavily, heavily influenced by my mother’s death and her state in the final days before she passed. It was extremely cathartic to write, but it also fucked me up for a few days.”

I see your book is described as featuring anxiety and depression. I am always appreciative of any author who includes mental health representation in their work. Was it difficult to write about those things? 

“Yes and no. Yes because it’s always scary examining yourself, especially to that degree. But no, for the exact same reason, if that makes sense. Once you take a hard look at yourself and realize you have some issues you need to deal with (at least in my case), it becomes that much easier to address your issues through a fictional lens. A lot of the stuff I write I do so because I have a story to tell, but the way it comes out is absolutely related to what’s going on in my head.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Honestly, it really depends on the character. I consider myself an exceptionally strong character writer so, at the very least, any character I write is going to be fun. I think the bigger question is what character is the hardest to write, and, for me, it’s any character who is on the precipice of absolute good or absolute evil—because most people are somewhere in between (I think).”

Would you consider yourself more of a “pantser” or a plotter?

“I’d say I’m somewhere in between. I like to have a brief idea of where I’m going—the simplest of roadmaps. But, for the most part, my writing is very exploratory, very instinctive.”

How do you get “in the zone” when writing?

“Coffee and white noise, preferably rain. I don’t really write chronologically either, so I like to pick something I’m especially excited about to start with when I sit down to write as it helps build momentum.”


Luke Tarzian is…
Fantasy Author. Long Doggo Enthusiast. Snoot Booper. Shouter of Profanities. Drinker of Whiskey. These are all titles. I’m the Khaleesi nobody wanted and the one they certainly didn’t deserve, but here we are.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an Interview with Marcus Lee

I’m so excited to be joined by Marcus Lee, author of Kings and Daemons. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about Kings and Daemons?

“Well, Kings and Daemons is my first published book. It is also the first in a trilogy called ‘The gifted and the cursed.’

It seems that for different people it is many different things, for some, it is dark fantasy, for others high fantasy, or even fantasy romance.

I have tried to craft a story in a genre that is littered with magic and powers without limits, whereby those who are gifted by the gods are also cursed, and thus it adds balance. There are no omnipotent characters, and I’d like to think everyone is fallible, vulnerable and torn about many of the choices they have to make that are often forced upon them. We see guilt, love, jealousy, betrayal, greed, ambition, sacrifice, and so much more from many different characters.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil the plot for possible readers. Yet, if someone wants more flesh added to the bones, I can only point them to your own review, or that of many other amazing bloggers who wrote novellas singing praises of the plot. These can be found linked to my review page on the website http://www.marcusleebooks.com.”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I grew up reading fantasy from an early age. Anyone who knows me or followed the recent blog tour will likely be familiar with my tales of reading Homer the Illiad and Oddysey around the age of seven. Thereafter it was tales of greek heroes, mythology, then moving into mainstream fantasy was a mere step away. Being such an avid reader (I did branch into sci-fi here and there) it was only natural that if I were to write, it would be fantasy through and through. Saying that, I a half-finished sci-fi standalone book that I might go back to one day… so never say never.

I’ve written so many short stories and poetry throughout the years, but a beautiful woman who had a hugely positive impact on my life was the main inspiration for me picking up a quill and putting it to parchment. My son was also an important reason, for I wanted to leave him a legacy that lived on, and we have agreed to start a family tradition whereby every father writes a book or books for their children.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

“For me, the characters come first. I so wanted people to love every character I created or loved to hate them. If you can get readers to invest emotion in the characters, then the plot follows easily, and it matters less what the characters do, as long as it is them doing it. Of course, I wanted the plot to keep readers on the edge of the seat, constantly pulling them along, wanting to read ‘just one more chapter’ so don’t think I ignored that at all.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“All the handsome, witty ones! … if only. Seriously though, many of the characters and a lot of the emotions are from personal experience or from people I know. I would like to think I am a warrior without peer like Kalas, or a bit of a rogue like Taran, but I think I would be doing their characters a disservice if they were supposed to be like me… However, Taran is a bit of a romantic.. and I can’t help but admit to being one myself.. so perhaps him, if any.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“I think for me some of the most enjoyable, but difficult parts to write, were the backstories of the characters, both primary and secondary without it being an info dump or burdensome on the reader. For me, these were important parts of the worldbuilding, and gave readers an understanding into the motives behind actions, or to help the reader understand how they became, who they became. People in this world are not born evil, events shaped them, and I wanted the reader to not be treated as a fool with just glib portrayals. What I have liked about so many reviews is that readers had so many favourite characters based a lot on understanding their historic journeys.”

Your book took a darker tone, without crossing the line into completely hopeless. How were you able to write positivity into a negative world?

“If you think book one took a darker tone, sadly (spoiler alert) there is much more to come. Yet, life and writing is about finding balance. For me, Maya’s gift was the key, showing that spark of hope on the darkest of nights. Sometimes that is all it takes, one small spark to start a fire that burns with a brightness that can be seen from the heavens.”


Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“That’s a tough question, especially as in my books I try and have the propensity for both good and heinous deeds in every character, with the exception of perhaps Maya. I enjoyed writing the stories for all my characters equally, even crafting backstories for the secondary characters was a joy irrespective of their leaning toward light or darkness. So, I’ll sit on the fence on this one.”

Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

“I knew the plot in my head from start to finish, but never wrote it down, so I guess I am more a pantser (which by the way I had to google) .. I already have my next trilogy in my head, but as I’ll be working on this project for a while yet, who knows maybe I’ll jot some notes down … maybe.”

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

“I really do need ‘peace and quiet’ from others around me and also from other ‘things’ that need attention. So, if I have a must-do list, there would be no point trying to write. Once all those things are out of the way I can turn on some familiar music that suits the mood of what I am trying to write.”

What’s your next goal?

“I have two main goals.

  1. To continue with polishing ‘Tristan’s Folly’ the second book in the series. It was going to be ready for release in August, yet I had some new ideas which involved a ‘little’ rewrite. So it is delayed by about a month, maybe a touch more. ‘The end of dreams’ book three, is already written as well, so it’s just editing, editing, editing, proofreading, beta reading etc. to get them ready.
  2. I also really want to engage with readers who have enjoyed the book. It isn’t just because I want to grow my fanbase, although that would be lovely, it is because of the inspiration positive feedback gives me. Reading a good review, or receiving a message saying someone liked the book, is like a legal drug, I get so high and become enthused and creative. Even negative critique makes me strive to be better, as long as it is delivered nicely.

There’s a reason I am open to DM’s on Twitter and have my email up on my website, so if anyone wants to reach out, I would love them to do so.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favourite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“In which case, Kings and Daemons! In some ways, anything you put so much time, love and life into, will be so close to your heart that it is hard not to feel that way. Who knows, once more books are out I’ll have another favourite.

However, it would be horribly narcissistic to just say my own and not give credit to others, so, I think it would have to be ‘Lion of Macedon’ by David Gemmel. I love historical fantasy, and greek mythology is my favourite, so it fits perfectly.”

May Day by Josie Jaffrey- The Write Reads Blog Tour

If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective.
Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.
When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.
To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die.
Body bags on standby.

May Day is the first book in Josie Jaffrey’s Seekers series, an urban fantasy series set in Oxford, England. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the Write Reads for allowing me to be a part of this book blog tour. This book is available for purchase now.

I don’t read a ton of books in this particular sub-genre, but I had heard so many good things about this author that I was excited to grab this book and open it up.

Before getting into the thick of it, let me give a headsup: author Josie Jaffrey kindly provided a content warning at the back of her book. I didn’t think to look in the back of the book, so I didn’t know what exactly I was getting into, content-wise. Totally my fault. However, the content warning is there, and I think that is incredibly awesome of her to provide it.

May Day was full of vampiric fun. Start with a vampire detective (I’m thinking more “enforcer” than detective, since she was more concerned about keeping vampire existence secret) who takes on a search for a blood-sucking murderer, and add in a fair amount of relationship drama, and you’ve got the bare bones. I’m not personally a huge fan of the romance aspect of the book, but the rest of it was enjoyable enough that I was able to take my crotchety attitude toward literary romantic entanglements and set it aside.

The mystery itself was my favorite part. It was creative and had layers I didn’t expect. Also, there was a good amount of blood-sucking politics, which I really enjoyed. The plot moved a little slowly at times, which I loved. It gave the set-up and politics the time it needed to be explored and fully developed.

Jack is the main character. She’s a newer vampire and is the youngest member of the Oxford Seekers (the detective-ish agency) and she’s a bit prickly. I never could decide if I liked her or if she annoyed me. I’m thinking it was a mixture of both, which makes her a complicated character. I’m a fan of complicated characters as a general rule, so I guess I like that I wasn’t sure I liked her?

I really wasn’t a fan of the whole complicated love thing, but I never am. It wasn’t done poorly or anything, it just isn’t my trope. However, if you enjoy complicated relationships, you’ll like this one. It’s done well.

May Day is a great addition to the urban fantasy/mystery genre. If you like vampires or urban fantasy, you’ll love this book.

If you enjoy vampire fantasy, or urban fantasy in general, you’ll enjoy this book. I’d stake my life on it (I’m so punny)!

Self-Published Fantasy Authors: an interview with author Jesse Nolan Bailey

The Jealousy of Jalice (A Disaster of Dokojin Book 1) by [Jesse Nolan Bailey]

Today, I’m excited to hear from Jesse Nolan Bailey, author of The Jealousy of Jalice. Thank you so much for taking a bit of time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Jealousy of Jalice?

The book is an adult dark fantasy featuring female protagonists (anti-heroines), demons, and plenty of bleak moments. It begins with two women enacting a scheme to overthrow a tyrant chief by first kidnapping his wife. Annilasia whisks Jalice off into a forest infested with beasts and demonic entities, while Delilee remains behind to spy on the chief. Yet a dangerous event from Jalice’s past threatens to undo their schemes.

It’s a book that caters to readers who want that spooky, creepy vibe in their fantasy stories, almost horror at times, but still maintains a tale that explores what it means to be human and all the emotions that come with that.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction. If there’s aliens, ghosts, or dragons involved, count me in. Some of my favorite childhood series were The Magic Treehouse series, any Star Wars EU books, and The Bailey School Kids series. My obsession with fantastical tales only grew from there, and from a young age I knew I wanted to be a fantasy author.

Fantasy uses other-worldly settings and characters to draw in the reader, and provides a form of escape for a lot of people. Yet, I also found that, with a lot of fantasy, it speaks on real-life issues and emotions. I was a shy kid, and books helped me digest the real world around me while still hooking me with those fantastical elements. Books also taught me the power that words held, and how stories could be incredibly influential.

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

Both. Honestly, it’s usually a scene. I listen to instrumental movie scores to get inspired, and often times inspiration strikes when I envision a character in a specific setting or involved in some pivotal act. Almost like a movie trailer. I get bits and pieces that seem intriguing to me, and they slowly come together as I get to outlining the story further.

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

Most certainly, yes. Well-written characters evolve from a writer being able to tap into the character’s mindset and emotions. Doing so requires the writer to dig deep, and in my personal experience, it’s meant I’ve had to sit and mull over my own emotions and memories. Even villains are written this way. I think we view villains as ‘other’ or ‘inhuman’, but its usually their actions that fit those terms—their emotions, on the other hand, probably are more relatable than people would initially admit. Jealousy, anger, selfishness: we all experience these. It’s just our story-villains take those emotions and take extraordinary action on them that the average person wouldn’t. Or, at the very least, they take exaggerated actions.

Basically, yes, I think each of my main characters reflects different parts of me. Jalice is naïve and perpetuates a false innocence when really she is in denial of her past sins. Annilasia starts with a righteous anger over the state of her world, but this righteous anger quickly devolves into self-righteous pride and an uncontrollable temper. The villain, Hydrim, is stuck in a mindset of control and power with an unwillingness to examine his motivations and vulnerabilities that fuel that mindset.

I’ve been there—each of those mindsets. I think we all have in different moments of our lives.

What was the hardest character or part to write?

This is going to sound kind of silly, but honestly, for me its how a character looks. Finding unique and interesting ways to flesh out how a character looks and what they wear is difficult. My mindset if usually ‘get to the story, get to the magic, who cares what they look like?’ That, of course, isn’t going to fly with my readers, so I had to spend time learning how and when to describe a character’s looks.

I’ve heard this book being described as darker in tone? Would you agree?

Absolutely. That was my intention. This is certainly fantasy: there’s magic, there’s monsters, there’s swords and arrows. But this isn’t The Chronicles of Narnia by any means. My characters are incredibly flawed (i.e. not exactly noble for the most part), and the world they live in is harsh. Deformed monsters lurk in the bleak forest, and demon-like entities stalk the astral realms. Blood and screams infest the pages of this book.

Yet this wasn’t for the sake of shock value. I felt the darker setting was appropriate given the underlying themes I sought to explore. The personal betrayals and delusional mindsets are reflected in the world my characters inhabit.

What were some obstacles and joys of writing a bleaker world?

I worried that readers seeking fantasy would be put off by the horror elements. It felt like a risk. Fantasy typically features a noble and hopeful vibe, and although that still exists within this story, the bleaker world definitely swallows that up at times. From initial reactions though, readers seem to be enjoying this surprising genre-blend.

I enjoyed writing the horror elements. Horror evokes deep-rooted emotions that every human experiences: fear and dread. I think embedding those in with the fantasy setting helps accentuate the themes I was exploring. My characters get to interact with magic and swords while confronting their worst fears and the horrific effects of some of their decisions.

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

Easier? Probably the hero, though I use the term ‘hero’ very loosely whenever TJOJ is involved in the discussion. My protagonists aren’t heroes in the traditional definition. They’re just not evil enough to be considered villains. Villainous characters can be tough to write because they can easily become a caricature or cliché.

More fun? I think they both offer fun elements. Heroes get to save the day, but I honestly get the most enjoyment forcing my heroes to confront their flaws. Heroes are only as strong as their greatest vulnerabilities and their courage to face those alongside the monsters. Villains, on the other hand, are fun to write because (at least for me) it’s a sort of cathartic examination of the darker experiences of humanity. Perhaps that sounds troubling, but we all must at some point examine the seeds of darkness within ourselves. Writing villains allows an almost therapeutic outlet for that.

How do you “get in the writing zone”?

Music is a quick way to jump-start inspiration. So I listen to an instrumental song that fits the scene I’m attempting to dive into. Usually, sugar and caffeine are involved as well. I’m an author—the job description demands I be addicted to either coffee or tea. I’ve chosen coffee (easier to excuse the copious amounts of sugar I combine with it. Can’t get away with that as much with tea).

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

That’s a tough question. I think the book that has stuck with me the most is The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I haven’t even finished the series it belongs to (got half way through the series twice, but never have the momentum to get past that midway point). Yet, I really enjoy Jordan’s style of writing and the characters he created. Alongside Patrick Rothfuss, Jordan is who I hope to emulate someday with my writing style.

They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Dough Brod

Amazon.com: They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick,  Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll (9780306845192): Brod, Doug: Books

A veteran music journalist explores how four legendary rock bands-KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz-laid the foundation for two diametrically opposed subgenres: hair metal in the ’80s and grunge in the ’90s.

They Just Seem a Little Weird offers an original, eye- and ear-opening look at a crucial moment in hard-rock history, when the music became fun again and a concert became a show. It’s the story of four bands that started in the ’70s and drew from the same seminal sources but devised vastly different sounds. It’s the story of friends and frenemies who rose, fell, and soared again, often sharing stages, producers, engineers, managers, and fans-and who are still collaborating more than 40 years later.

In the tradition of books like David Browne’s bestselling Fire and Rain, They Just Seem a Little Weird seamlessly weaves the narratives of the mega-selling KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith with . . . Starz, a criminally neglected band whose fate may have been sealed by a shocking act of violence. It’s the story of how the four groups-three of them now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame-went on to influence multiple generations of musicians, laying the foundation for two diametrically opposed rock subgenres: the hair metal of Bon Jovi, Poison, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe in the ’80s, and the grunge of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Melvins in the ’90s. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on December first.

First off, let me just say: I’m not a huge fan of any of these bands, just because I only know them passingly well. They were just a teensy bit before my time. Of course, I don’t live under a rock, so I have at least heard their music. So, if I’m not an uber fan, why did I scurry to read this book? Because it sounded fascinating.

It is an interesting foray into the bizarre world of rock and roll. There were a lot of weird, random happenstances that let me know how small the world of professional music-making truly is. There’s a major “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” vibe that permeates the book. So many things that happened were connected in the oddest ways. About halfway through, I was ready to start singing, “It’s a small world after all…”

Despite this, I found myself getting confused at times because there were so many names to remember. Not only that, each person seemed to have several nicknames bestowed by several different people and the nicknames got a bit perplexing. Also, the way they were all connected to each other was very convoluted at times. Read this book with a pencil ready in case you get name confusion like I did.

That being said, this book is a very engrossing read. The beginning of these music giants was just so much fun to read about, and the little asides were flat-out strange. It made for an incredibly entertaining book. I now know more about these bands than I thought was humanly possible for someone who wasn’t already an obsessive fan.

My biggest gripe is that there was a lot of information but not a lot of emotion. There was a ton of “how” and “when” but not a lot of “why,” if that makes sense. I wanted a little more personality than I got. That’s just a small little complaint, though.

The writing is succinct and well-worded. It flowed well and there weren’t really any parts that dragged or felt superfluous. For those of you who love any of these bands, or are huge music buffs in general, you’ll want to add this to your collection. For me, I liked it but fell just short of loving it.

The Audacity 2: Time Warp by Laura Loup

May’s career as an interstellar rocket racer is just ramping up. She’s got a stunning ship, her best friend Xan for a co-pilot, and a rocket-full of winnings.

But obscenely good luck can’t last forever, and May has been racing in a stolen ship. When Xan’s arrested by a tea-sipping, goddess-possessed pink robot for a crime he can’t bring himself to explain without baking analogies, May’s career is over.

With the help of an adventure biologist and her freshly un-dead girlfriend, May and Xan must find a way to change the past before the goddess of Chaos squashes everything May loves.

Fun, fast-paced, and surprisingly emotional, The Audacity: Sphere of Time is a Douglas Adams-esque celebration of weirdness in space.

For fans of… Futurama, Guardians of the Galaxy, Good Omens, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

As suggested in the title (the number ‘2’ should give it away), this is a sequel. You can find my review for the first book in the series, The Audacity linked below the review.

This is the book we need this year. 2020 has been…well, let’s move on to talking about the book, shall we? Brilliant and hilarious from page one, this was a fabulous continuation of the first book.

I was a little worried about whether The Audacity 2: Time Warp (which I am going to call just “Time Warp” from here on out) could live up to the first book. I shouldn’t have been concerned at all. The antics are just as funny, May is still a disaster magnet, and Xan is still…Xan.

This book would be funny with the oddity of the plot alone. Add in Laura Loup’s quippy, snarktastic writing, though, and this becomes a laugh a minute. There was never a dull moment, either in plot or prose.

May and Xan have the most wonderful friendship! I loved reading about them. There was something utterly genuine about their relationship which balanced out the utterly bizarre happenings in the book quite well. The entire cast of characters was fun, of course, but May and Xan’s relationship really shone.

Time Warp had a lot of heart and even more comedy. If you need a giggle-slash-aww, this series is for you.



Review for The Audacity: https://wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog/2019/11/30/the-audacity-by-laura-loup/

Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with Nicole Mainardi

A Curse of Thorns by Nicole Mainardi

Continuing on with Self-published Fantasy Month, today I get to chat with Nicole Mainardi, author of A Curse of Thorns. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about A Curse of Thorns?

“I’m so bad at summarizing my own book, so I’ll just pull from the summary on Goodreads that I worked super hard on!

In order to repay her father’s debt to the Regime and save her sisters from a terrible fate, Belle Fairfax—an eighteen-year-old girl with a love for forbidden books and the thrill of the hunt—must risk everything to find the reclusive Beast and steal the ring that cursed him. But the Beast is not what she expects. A young king cursed by a witch and forgotten by his village, all Bastian wants is to win the heart of the forest girl with the silver scars. But he’s a hideous Beast that abandoned his people for the sake of vanity, and he knows it won’t be easy to earn her affection. But there’s more to the girl than he thought. Belle only has one purpose once she makes it to the Beast’s castle: find the ring, take it, and leave the Beast to rot. But as she comes to know about the Beast, she realizes that she has more to fight for than just her family. Bastian knows he’s left his people in the hands of the corrupt Regime, and the guilt of their suffering gnaws at him. The more time he spends with Belle, though, the less he hates what he’s become. With Briar on the brink of falling completely under the control of the Regime, Belle and Bastian find that, together, they may be the key to freeing their home from the reaching grasp of the tyrannical Emperor. In short, it’s a Young Adult Beauty and the Beast retelling with some faerie magic, a cursed ring, sisterly love, a badass heroine and cinnamon roll boi beast, and a love story that’s as old as time!”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I’ve always had story ideas floating around in my head, for as long as I can remember anyway. I used to write terrible, angsty teen poetry, and even finished a book when I was twelve that will NEVER see the light of day (seriously, never). I worked on A Curse of Thorns when I needed a break from my still-current WIP, so that I could take a breath in a story I loved with my whole heart. What drew me to write fantasy specifically is getting to make my own rules. It’s literally the best! I have another idea right now that will involve A LOT of historical research and adhering to actual rules and timelines and real people, and I think that’s the part I’m least looking forward to.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you-the characters or the plot?

“Definitely plot. That’s where I get most of my character development, and if I feel like a scene needs someone else involved, then I create another character who might just take control of the narrative for a bit, or pop up somewhere else. Most main characters are plotted out though with certain tipping points, but those could change depending on where the story takes me!”

Do you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“I think it would be naïve to say that authors don’t put a little of themselves into every character, especially if you’re writing from their POV. Sometimes, it’s a character we wish we were more like, or a character with our biggest flaw. Everything comes from something else; it’s almost impossible to pluck a character out of thin air without having at least experienced similar traits before.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For A Curse of Thorns, the quiet moments were hard for me to write. I’m very much about action, and even though I think I’m pretty great at dialogue, I can’t have too many quiet moments, otherwise I get bored. Which definitely means my readers are getting bored. But I knew I needed the quiet moments between Belle and Bastian, and I also know that there could’ve been more of them.”

A Curse of Thorns draws inspiration from Beauty and the Beast. What drew you to that story? What are some challenges and advantages to writing fairy tale re-imaginings?

“I’ve always loved fairytale retellings, and that undoubtedly stems from my love for Disney movies really early on in life. The animated Beauty and the Beast is still one of my favorite movies to this day, and is one of the bigger inspirations for this book. But I also wanted to pull things from the original story too, because even though it’s not the worst of the fairytales, it certainly has its moments. I wanted to keep the whimsy and romance of the Disney version, but inject some of the grit and hopelessness of the original story.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Oh, hero, FOR SURE. And these days, I feel like this is an unpopular answer. I grew up loving the unexpected heroes forced into the job: Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Geralt of Rivia, etc. I actually don’t like writing villains, though I know I have to give them substance and purpose, otherwise it’s not as satisfying when the hero defeats them. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the complicated hero journey far more than the fall from or rise to villainy.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“I go into another room, put on headphones, and listen to appropriate music, which is usually movie scores. For A Curse of Thorns, I listened a little to the soundtrack from Pride & Prejudice (2003), the song where the Beast transforms into Prince Adam on repeat, and some of the orchestral songs from the live-action BatB when it came out. For my current WIP, I listen to the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack on repeat. And for a shiny new idea I have, I’ve been listening to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy Returns.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“Okay, I AM going to be super lame and say my current WIP (tentatively titled The Darkling Sea), because I’ve worked on it really hard this year and I think it’s finally ready for querying agents! I started researching for it when I was 18/19 (for reference, I’ll be 30 this coming January), and I think this might be the first time it has true potential to be traditionally published! Also, I have too many favorites to just pick one! But if I had to pick a favorite author of all time, it’d be Ray Bradbury.”

Thank you so much, Nicole! You can find her book on Amazon.

Author Bio:

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, finding my passion for reading in the Harry Potter books, and then later my love for young adult in the Twilight saga and The Mortal Instruments series. My first novel, A Curse of Thorns, is a self-published YA Beauty and the Beast retelling that takes place in an alternate past of France. I have also had a couple of short stories published: the first, called “Of Scales and Sorrow”, was published as part of a showcase on an author’s website, and the second was selected by YA author Megan Shepherd to be published in a collection, the Beastie Tales (mine is called “Brother of the Monster”). I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in English, and live in Southern California with my husband and our dog Luna.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with L.A. Wasielewski

Amazon.com: The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny (The Alchemist Trilogy ...
Today, I have the pleasure to interview L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy. Thank you for taking some time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Alchemist trilogy?

“The Alchemist Trilogy is the story of Ryris Bren, a talented alchemist with a secret—he possesses the power of magic. It’s not something you can learn by studying, you need to be born with it. In his world, being able to use magic is viewed as a curse, and you’re taught from birth to hide it—or risk being hunted and killed. Maybe by magic hunters, maybe by vindictive citizens. He has a family heirloom, an amulet, that keeps the magic hunters away. At least, that’s what his Gran told him, and he’s been conditioned never to take it off. Ryris decides he wants to spread his wings, gain some independence, and expand the family businessand he convinces his father to allow him to open another shop in the capital city, Keld, far away. One day, after his move, he decides to go to a northern town to harvest a special ingredient from mountain caves, and his life changes forever. (This is where I’ll stop…because I’m obviously sassy and don’t want to ruin book secrets…hehe) Life changes, the world changes, and he realizes he’s been a part of whatever is happening since even before his birth. Alchemy! Forbidden Magic! Necromancy! Shape-shifting! Monsters! Giants! Ghosts! Swordfights! Violence! Sass! Snark! …and pie!

These books are adult dark fantasy, not recommended for readers under 16 or so, just because of dark adult themes, violence, blood, gore, drug use, and some implied hanky-panky. There are also several planned side-projects, one of which is with test readers right now and will be released after Book3 comes out in 2021. The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny (Book1) and The Alchemist: Dark Horizon (Book2) are available now in paperback and e-book, and free on Kindle Unlimited.”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?


“I started writing fanfiction in high school—but I didn’t know that fanfic was actually a thing. I loved the game Phantasy Star IV (just dated myself, I guess!), and decided to write a story about it while “paying attention” in my 12th grade economics class. It was posted (briefly) on a website, but it’s gone now and will never see the light of day again. EVER. That’s how bad it was. But…the passion to write never left me. College happened, marriage happened, kid happened. As a stay-at-home mom, I needed an outlet for some creativity, and I decided to give fanfiction a try again. This time it was Final Fantasy VIII. Some of my best and dearest writing friendships blossomed from that time. I wrote Final Fantasy VIII, Star Trek AOS (New Films), Final Fantasy XV, and Fallout fanfic. (I still do even now…it’s a great way to distract myself if I get blocked, plus it’s just fun!) Writing fanfic was a great way to hone my skill, learn to edit properly, and really challenge myself.

As far as writing original fantasy? I had always LOVED reading fantasy books. My gateway series was The Darksword Trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I then moved on to their DeathGate Cycle and Dragonlance. Margaret Weis is, by far, my absolute favorite author, and she’s definitely been an inspiration. Two girls from Wisconsin, writing about magic! I also enjoyed the Swords series by Fred Saberhagen. I was always drawn to traditional epic fantasy—medieval settings, dragons, magic, swords and sorcery, etc. So, when my (then) 7 y/o son wanted me to come up with a story for a game he wanted to make and write a strategy guide for—I tapped into my love of old-school fantasy to create an idea for him. He wanted it to be a fantasy-type game and I came up with a story about a magical princess in crystal armor in a cave. That small kernel would eventually become The Alchemist Trilogy. I wrote a small story for him and realized, hey, this is surprisingly good! I bet this could be a book! I was working part-time in retail, not really contributing to the family income or anything, and my husband (bless him!) said if I was really serious about writing a book, I could quit the job. You can just guess what I chose! That was Summer 2015, and the first book in The Alchemist Trilogy was released three years later.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

“Honestly? A little of both. With The Alchemist Trilogy, (as seen above) it was the story first (as tiny of a kernel as it was…that original idea blossomed into so much more) and then the characters. Poor Ryris didn’t even have a name in the outline for a very long time. When I’m working on outlining a project, dialogue tends to come to me in chunks, and I weave it into order within the story I’m working on in my mind. I craft the scene/chapter around the dialogue. Then I can fill in the missing pieces with more plot/story and link it all together into one cohesive arc. “

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“Ryris suffers from anxiety, which I definitely struggle with. I think it helped me flesh him out more, make him relatable. When he’s having a bad day, I know how to help him on the page. And vice-versa, I know how it feels to be anxious and/or panicky, and I think sharing those feelings with him allows me to better represent it in the books. It’s like, “I get it, dude. I feel ya.”

There’s also a secondary character that makes their first appearance in Dark Horizon (Book 2) that is absolutely a sassy, snarky mix of me and one of my dearest friends, Paige. I’ve told her many times that this particular character was written pretty much to entertain her.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Character? Definitely Lyrax. But for the life of me, I can’t pinpoint why. I LOVE writing horrible, terrible, malicious characters. But for some reason, this guy was just never living up to his potential in terms of just how awful he could be. My husband (who is the most brutally honest and incredible editor/CP I could ever ask for) was the one who really took to him. He just “felt” his voice, you know? Once we started working together on Lyrax, he came to life in a way I never imagined possible. And that, as they say, is that. He’s menacing, devious, manipulative, and a total creep…and he’s perfect.

As far as “part” of any books, I’d have to say the entire 3rd volume in the series. From the beginning, I KNEW this one was going to be tough. It was the least outlined of the three (I heavily outline everything), so I knew I was already going in at a disadvantage. Then, all these new ideas came to me and my husband, and, while they were fantastic, really threw a wrench in what I had planned. (It worked out in the end and this book is going to be fab, but at that moment, I felt really defeated and discouraged.) Then, to really smack me in the face, I was hit with massive writer’s block. It got to the point where I was so disillusioned with the whole project that I hated it. I never wanted to look at it again. And I knew that’s when something had to change. So, I took a break—a long one. Like, months. And, slowly, ideas started to come about how to work with what needed to be done. In January 2020, I had my a-ha moment, sat, and re-outlined the whole damn thing over the course of two days (from a certain point in the story—the beginning was totally fine and didn’t need to be tweaked, really) and was ready to go. I gave myself six weeks to finish the book. I had a deadline on myself, because I wanted to have it ready for January 2021 to debut at a local fantasy and gaming convention that I exhibit at every year and needed to make time for several drafts/editing/test readers/more editing/finalization. I buckled down and finished the draft with a few days to spare. That was March 3rd, 2020. And then—COVID-19 hit. Anxiety was skyrocketing, my child was no longer at school all day, and we were all cooped up in the house. My motivation—and energy—to write was utterly destroyed. As my publishing deadline of XMAS 2020 continued to encroach, my will to write was still nonexistent, and I was more and more certain I wouldn’t be attending the convention in January 2021 because of the virus. (That’s still up in the air at this point.) I knew something had to give. So, I removed my publishing deadline. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It didn’t help my motivation much, but just knowing that I didn’t HAVE TO get it done by a certain date was a relief. No matter how much I wanted to write, most of the time, I was too anxious, stressed, or depressed to do so. And when I did get a tiny spark of motivation, I was interrupted by the child, or he wanted me to entertain him. (Mom life, right?) It literally wasn’t until this last weekend (August 14th-15th) that I had a massive breakthrough. I had been planning on adding more content to the 1st draft and had been struggling with getting one of my new outlined ideas in chapter form. And—just like that—it hit me. I wrote two chapters in two days and made more progress in those days than I had in over eight weeks. I’m hopeful now that I can keep this motivation and “mojo” going and plug on! Book3 (as yet still untitled because titles are the bane of my existence) will hopefully be released mid-2021.”

I love books featuring alchemists! What caused you to give your character that profession?

“Ryris was originally a scholar of history, to be honest! He was going to go off to the university to accept a teaching position and had this book from his childhood that was full of fantastical tales that sent him on a path of exploration. The story in the book contained what some viewed as possible history (Ryris) and what most viewed as fairytales (pretty much everyone else). He was determined to prove it—and the faculty advised him not to meddle. His classes were, in part, going to be about this history/fairytale. This was how he would have still ended up in the situation where he’d encounter [that life-changing event], but I realized he’d be having to lug this damn book around wherever he went! That idea went out the door super quick. I also felt like having him be a scholar kept him tethered too much and didn’t give him room to spread his wings. So, he needed a new profession. The decision to make him an alchemist was an a-ha moment. I play a lot of Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim, and always loved the alchemy aspect. When I envisioned what Ryris’ world looked like in my mind, it had an Elder Scrolls-type feel to it. So, making him an alchemist was a no-brainer. It allowed me to give him a lot of opportunities for adventure, and I could come up with all sorts of incredible potions, ingredients, and effects of said potions. I can’t imagine him as anything else now. Alchemy is in his blood—and I guess it always was. I just had to realize that! And, thinking back, this book series would have exploded on the launchpad had I kept him as a scholar. Alchemy has such an important role for so many reasons in this trilogy. There literally would be no story without it. Man, am I glad I made the decision to pluck him from his original profession! Best choice ever!”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“It’s easiest for me to write snarky, sassy characters. Sometimes that’s the hero, sometimes that’s the villain. I always want my books to have a good element of humor, especially since they tend to be pretty dark in a lot of places. Gotta liven it up sometimes! A well-placed smartass remark almost always does the trick!

I do tend to be quite mean to my characters—both physically and emotionally—so writing the villain is fun because I can come up with all kinds of ways to hurt people. Wow, that makes me sound like a horrible person! (…and I don’t care…hehe)”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“Before COVID-19, I had a routine. Drop my kid at school, pick up dinner ingredients at the store, come home and make coffee, and write. Mornings always seemed like my most productive time. For the longest time, I needed absolute quiet—no music, no tv, nothing. But, especially with the 3rd book, I started to use Pandora to help me find a mood. Book3 was written to a lot of E.S Posthumus, Moody Blues, ELO, Toto, and Jethro Tull!

Now, with everyone in the house and no real time to myself, it’s less about finding my zone, and more about stealing any moment I can get. Usually, it’s when the kid is engrossed in a video game, but even then, he’s constantly talking to me so it’s hard to work. And, after bedtime, I’m usually too tired to try and write! So, these last five months have been challenging.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Forging the Darksword. It was the first fantasy book I ever read and started my love of fantasy novels. The concept of magic was uniquely approached in this series, and I instantly loved it. My copy is an original (bought it at Waldenbooks back in the day!), and is so old and worn, that the cover is taped on and the pages are yellowed and brittle! It’s definitely well-loved. I tend to re-read it (and the other Darksword books) once every couple of years.”

LA pic   Author Bio:

L.A. Wasielewski is a gamer, nerd, baseball fan (even though the Brewers make it very difficult sometimes), and mom. When she’s not writing, she’s blasting feral ghouls and super mutants in the wastelands, baking and cooking, and generally being a smart-ass. She’s very proud of the fact that she has survived several years with two drum kits in the house—and still has most of her hearing intact.

You can find L.A. Wasielewski here:

 

 

 

 


Self-published Fantasy Authors: an Interview with Virginia McClain

Today I have the pleasure of picking author Virginia McClain’s brain (in a nonviolent way). Thanks for chatting with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your books?

“Because I’m terrible at telling people about my books! Ahem. But I’ll try. 🙂

I have two main series. My Victoria Marmot series, which is humorous urban fantasy with a dash of parody, and my Gensokai series, which is epic fantasy set in a fictional society (on a fictional planet) that draws a lot of inspiration from feudal Japan. Or at least the first two books are epic fantasy. The third book, which I’m working on currently, is more low fantasy adventure than epic fantasy (although it leads into an epic arc so…). I guess it’s complicated. 

The Victoria Marmot series is complete, with five short books in total, and The Chronicles of Gensokai series is ongoing, with two books out already, one coming in Spring of 2021 and many more to come after that. However, so far, each of the Gensokai books can be read as a standalone. There are no cliffhanger endings in the Gensokai series and you don’t have to read the books in the order they were published, although that’s probably the best way to enjoy them in terms of lack of spoilers. The Victoria Marmot series on the other hand is absolutely sequential, full of cliff hangers, and should be read in order or it will probably fail to make sense. (It’s available as a convenient omnibus for that very reason.)”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“There have always been stories in my head. I’ve been reading since I was very little.  My mom read to me a ton as a baby and toddler, and then as soon as I learned to read on my own I disappeared into books as often as I could. But a lot of the stories I read when I was little featured, well, dudes. And, while I enjoyed those stories, I always wanted the main characters to be… well me, at least when I was young. I later realized that I didn’t care if the books featured me or not, but that I wanted them to feature more women in general, but to start with, as a kid, I just wanted to be the main character in all my favorite books.

So, for every book I read and enjoyed my brain would start rewriting the story with ME in it. Then I’d start rewriting the stories to change other things that I thought could be better and… well, the first fantasy stories I wrote featured hedgehogs and dragons and were scribbled in barely legible crayon (so they definitely didn’t feature me yet, but hedgehogs and dragons were my favorite animals at the time, so it was an extension of me, in a way). I still have those (thanks, Mom). 

As to why fantasy? I think I’ve always been drawn to fantasy because I have always wanted very strongly to believe in magic despite being a firm believer in science. I do subscribe to the idea that sufficiently advanced science is basically magic to those who don’t know how to explain it, and thus sci/fi and fantasy have always been where my imagination takes me. I also love how sci/fi and fantasy allow us to explore some of the hardest philosophical questions through digestible fiction and make us think far outside our own experiences. “

Do your books change a lot between their inception and the final draft?

“Yes and no. It really varies from project to project. Blade’s Edge, which was the first book I published, was the fourth draft of the third book I ever wrote. The original draft was about 120,000 words long and, while the final draft was 110,000 words or so, the percentage of words in the final draft that were also in the first draft was probably around 10%. That said, the overall arc was pretty much the same. There were just a number of characters who were added or removed or consolidated and a few subplots that got completely wiped out, and one or two that merged and… you get the idea. 

I often rewrite an entire scene from scratch when it comes to my final draft, even if I’m not changing anything major in the scene. For example, if I read over a scene from the first draft that feels clunky, instead of trying to rearrange it to make it flow, I often prefer to just start from scratch. The end result may be as much as 50% the same as the first draft, but I won’t have kept anything because I was feeling precious about it, but rather because it was good enough that I wrote it twice. 

In terms of projects that didn’t change as much, I didn’t have to make nearly as many changes through the five books of the Victoria Marmot series, and those books wound up being much closer to their first drafts. Probably around 75% of the first draft of each of those wound up in the final draft. I’ll be interested to see how this latest book I’m writing goes, because my process seems to be different for every book and I am not particularly good at predicting how much things will change until I’m actually in the revision stage. 

I will say, I generally consider first drafts as my opportunity to tell myself the bare bones of the story, figure out my characters and world, and get familiar with the voice and pacing. Once my first draft is done, I take some time to think about the story as a whole, in order to figure out what needs to be tightened up, and what needs to be cut to make sure that I don’t have any repeat scenes, redundant characters, or events that don’t really move the plot forward. From there I cut, add, and rearrange as necessary, and at the same time, I go through each scene and make sure that I actually describe the setting and characters at the start of every scene change. (I have a strong tendency to completely skip scene settings and character descriptions in first drafts–I know what everyone looks like and where everything is! Why take time to describe everything?–Um, maybe because it’s your damned job to make sure that people reading the book know what the heck is going on, Virginia?)”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

“Hate to sound like a broken record, but it depends on the project! Victoria Marmot absolutely the started with a character and specific scene and I developed the rest out from there. Blade’s Edge, on the other hand, started with a world and a magic system. Then I added an oppressive regime and finally, after that, the MCs. That’s a big part of why so much was cut from the first draft to the final draft in that book. I did a ton of world building and character development on the page instead of in my notes! That is not the right place for that kind of thing. No reader needs to know every detail of all the secondary characters’ backstories etc, even if I do. However, that draft was an exercise in detailed world building (it was only my third book!) and I wasn’t organized enough to make separate notes so it all just came out in the story. Which was fine, that’s what first drafts are for. To save myself time, I have learned to do detailed world building and character notes FIRST, and then start writing the story after that. I guess the one thing that is consistent is that I tend to discover the details of the plot by actually writing the book, even if I outline the broad strokes first (beginning, middle, end). So far, I’ve either started with a world or a set of characters, and so I want to say that’s my normal. But it’s absolutely possible that for some future story I will come up with a plot first and the world and characters after. Never say never.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“Mostly not. Usually, I give my main characters one trait/hobby/interest that I share with them, because it gives me a nice point of connection with them. However, that’s generally the limit. 

That said, the closest I’ve come to basing a character on myself is that I gave Victoria Marmot my voice, and my sexuality, both of which are pretty personal. She speaks a lot like I did in high school, and she’s bisexual, as I am. However, I also tried to modernize her a bit (it’s been a decade or two since I was 17 after all), and I also gave her a number of personality traits that we don’t share because, when all is said and done, she is NOT me. But, one of the tropes I play with in that whole series is the self-insert nature of a lot of urban fantasy. The series is written in first person and, as part of my voice, I gave Vic my sense of humor and tendency to joke when nervous. So, I’ve had a lot of people who know me personally tell me she reminds them of me. I also gave her my initials, just to be cheeky. But again, she’s not me, and she’s not even based on me, she just shares more of my traits than any of my other characters.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Any time my characters die. I hate writing deaths of characters I’ve spent so many months/years getting to know and love. Also, scene and character descriptions. I think I mentioned earlier how I forget them most of the time in the first draft and have to go back and add them later? I am terrible at them. Which is to say, I work very hard to make them ok in revisions, and then feel like a fraud when anyone compliments my writing for them.”

You have a large amount of the fantastical in your world. How do you come up with so many unique creatures?

“I borrow a lot from popular fantasy games and movies, as well as various mythologies, but I usually put my own twist on them. Mostly, I just let my characters describe what they’re seeing and write it down. Sounds a bit hands-off, but honestly, it’s rare that I design a fantasy creature in advance, it’s usually just “Oooh, look at that. WTF is that?” and then I write it down.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Both are fun, but villains are often more fun. That said, they are also often harder to write than heroes simply because every time I try to give a villain a complicated backstory, I wind up struggling to keep from making them a secret hero. Whoops!”

Lastly, I’m always curious: What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)?

“I absolutely cannot pick a single favorite book. However, I can give you a handful of favorites. Graceling by Kristen Cashore is one of my favorites of all time. Also, Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World series) by Rebecca Roanhorse, and the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab. Also, during the pandemic I have been reading a lot of T. Kingfisher’s fantasy romance books, because they are pretty lighthearted and fun, and they are a nice stress free distraction from a world of chaos.”

Short Bio:

Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.