This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.
I had the pleasure of talking to L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy, about her work, epic fantasy, and spiced potatoes.
Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!
Thank you for the opportunity! Every chance I get to scream how much I love high fantasy, you better believe I’m going to jump on it!
Will you introduce yourself?
I’m L.A.! I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—first fanfiction (before I even knew it was a thing. I just loved a video game and wrote stories about it), then original fiction. I still write fanfic from time to time when the mood strikes, but I don’t have a lot of free time for it anymore. When I’m not writing, I’m trying to keep my ravenous, swiftly growing teenager fed and this year, giving him a homeschool education because of the continuing situation with coronavirus. I play video games when I can spare a moment, mostly Fortnite, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls. And if Mama’s Family is on, you can bet your butt I’m sitting and watching.
Can you talk a little bit about The Alchemist Trilogy?
The Alchemist Trilogy is an adult high dark fantasy adventure. It follows Ryris Bren, talented alchemist who also harbors secret magical ability (forbidden/shunned in his world), as he embarks on a new life journey to the capital city to open his very own shop—away from his father. He’s trying to forge a life of his own, out from under his father’s shadow. A routine ingredient harvest turns into a life-altering event and, well…hehe. You’ll have to read to find out!
Since Ryris is an alchemist, there is a lot of his profession and knowledge in the story, and he finds ways to use alchemy any chance he can get, even if it’s on the battlefield. He never loses his roots—even when he’s been taken so very far away from them. Mixed in with all the violence, dark themes, action, magic, and adventure is a lot of humor, sass, and snark—and some romance, too! I always love stories that have a good mix of everything, and I think I’ve achieved that! At least I hope I did!
What were some obstacles to writing?
Personally? These last two years, with all three of us in the house pretty much all the time, presented challenges. I’m not able to get any time alone to write. Especially this last school year, when I’ve been doing homeschool, there’s pretty much no time at the end of the day, and I’m exhausted anyway, or don’t have the motivation to write. I’m hoping that once my child goes back to public school in September (fingers crossed!), that I’ll get some of that motivation and time back.
Writing-wise? Even though I’m writing fantasy, which gives me free reign to create any character/environment/situation I want and have it be as fantastical as I want it to be, there are certainly times where I get blocked. An idea that seems so incredible in my head, so vivid—can be an absolute bear to get on the page, and when I finally DO get it in words, it’s hot garbage. Writing the last book in my trilogy, The Alchemist: Awakening, was without a doubt that obstacle. Long story short: the original outline was 70% scrapped and had to be re-tooled, and I was plagued with a lot of self-doubt and frustration as I tried to finish the book. It took nearly a year to get that original draft out. I completed the first draft, and literally 4 days later, our schools closed due to coronavirus, and everything came to a screeching halt. That was a low time. Even though I had a finished draft, there was so much work to do, and I had no motivation or time to do it.
What are some victories?
My biggest victory was finishing The Alchemist: Awakening. After all the frustration of having to completely re-work the outline, the boundless time pulling my hair out trying to write the damn first draft, and then having coronavirus smash into our lives—it was my own little miracle when I finally held that proof in my hands. It was 18 months from start to finish. This was without a doubt, the hardest book to write, complete, and polish. I’m incredibly proud of it now, but holy cats did it take an extraordinary amount of effort on my part.
I know your series is described as high fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what high fantasy is? What separates it from other fantasy subgenres?
When I think about high fantasy, my mind immediately goes to big, epic stories with a lot of characters, filled with magic and monsters, high stakes, and sweeping environments just ripe for the picking on adventures. Almost like an open-world RPG or a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. And when I write my stories, that’s where I’m taking my inspiration from a lot of the time. Big worlds, intriguing characters, excellent adventures. Stories that can go on and on, spread into series after series, generation after generation. When I read high fantasy, and hopefully when people read mine, I like to be able to feel like I’ve just been dropped into a lived-in world. You feel welcome, like you’re walking into a warm, somewhat-smoky village inn, and the server drops some spiced potatoes and a mug of ale in front of you and you just watch the world go by—and happen to overhear a bunch of companions planning their next big adventure. That adventure is your story—their story. The world feels familiar, even when it isn’t. One of the things that I always loved about high fantasy, the works of Weis and Hickman in particular, was that the world seemed to still go on around the main characters. Life kept happening, from everyday commerce to going to school, to farming, smithing, and medicine. The main story was happening—but so was life. Everyday regular people continued their lives while the main characters went about their journey, helping them when they could, staying out of the way when they needed to. It always made the worlds seem so believable, even when they were set in a fantasy environment. That’s what I hope I’ve achieved in my books, and my readers seem to think I’ve done just that!
I think that high fantasy is a broader genre title, and that a lot of fantasy books can fall into that category without being exclusively “high fantasy.” Like mine, I’d classify as Dark High Fantasy, with definitely epic vibes. But there’s cozy fantasy elements (I love that term, Dan Fitz!), horror elements, etc. I think the term “high fantasy” allows people to write sweeping stories and include all sorts of sub-genres within their books. If that makes sense?
What drew you to writing high fantasy?
As a kid, I picked up Forging the Darksword, by Weis and Hickman, when it was first released (whooo, I might be old 😉), and I was HOOKED. The same with Fred Saberhagen’s Swords books. So, when I decided to write my own original fiction, I took a lot of inspiration from those stories, and all the other sprawling high fantasy I’d read since childhood and ran with it. It was always a genre I was familiar with, and knew I could do well. Fantasy has always been very comforting to me, a place to escape to when life kind of sucked. I wanted to create my own stories, and hopefully, give readers that same feeling I had when I read high fantasy.
I know you tend to outline your books in advance. I’m curious: how far out do you plan?
Especially because I write high fantasy, sometimes with a lot of characters and places that I need to keep track of, it’s essential for me to plan to the very end. That doesn’t mean I don’t leave wiggle room and allow myself to completely change and add things as I go, but I’ve got to have the outline down so I know where the story is going, otherwise I’m terrified I’ll write myself into a corner. But, even with outlines, you can still encounter those types of problems—like I did with The Alchemist: Awakening. Since I had planned the trilogy so far ahead of time, the story had some significant changes by the time I got to book three, and I had to do some reconstructing. But I was SO THANKFUL that I had that outline, and the bones of the story was there, otherwise I would have been in a heap of trouble, I’m sure!
With my next high fantasy project, The Secret Bad-Assed Ladies Fantasy Project* (*not actual title!) I’m getting out of my comfort zone and trying to write without a proper outline. These books are planned as shorter, adventure-type stories with the same cast of women, and not necessarily meant to be read in order like my last series. That’s not to say I don’t have a world and characters/lore fleshed out in a whole bunch of documents and in my head, but there are no traditional outlines for the books. Just a list of “adventure ideas” that I’ll pull from as I write. It’s been a challenge—but a fun one! I’m only a few chapters into the first book, and right now it’s more of a “dink around when I get a smidge of time between homeschool lessons and life stuff,” but it’ll see the light of day sometime in the next few years, I’m sure. These ladies are pretty damn cool, lemme tell ya!
You’ve mentioned in previous conversations that the DeathGate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman is what originally drew you to fantasy. Did those books (which are so great!) affect your writing at all?
I could gush all day about how much I admire and respect Weis and Hickman, and how much they have influenced me as a reader and a writer! Their worlds are so unique and beautiful, and filled with so many enthralling places and people, that when I started to create my own fantasy stories, I drew from what I learned reading them to help myself generate my own environments. I think readers come to expect sweeping, awe-inspiring, visually-stunning (in your imagination, at least) worlds from fantasy—especially high fantasy—so I was grateful that I had read so many of their stories as a kid/teen. It gave me a leg up, I think, in being able to create my own vistas and characters.
Do you have any other inspirations when it comes to your writing?
I play a lot of Elder Scrolls games, and just seeing those incredible landscapes as I adventure has always been sort of an inspiration. The world for The Alchemist Trilogy has (in my mind) a very Skyrim/Cyrodiil feel to it. The Bad-Assed Fantasy Ladies project feels totally like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion to me as I imagine the world. Both book series are a medieval-type fantasy world, so having that visual representation already in my mind has been immensely helpful when imagining what my environments look like.
For many people, high fantasy is what first comes to mind when they think of the fantasy genre. Yet it seems that it’s much more difficult to find nowadays. Would you agree with that?
Yes and no? I think a lot of the time, people tend to go to the traditionally-published high fantasy first, because it has had (especially the older stuff like Weis/Hickman, Saberhagen, etc.) decades of attention and hype. But what people don’t realize, or maybe don’t want to even try, is that there is such a vast catalog of indie and self-published authors out there creating some absolutely incredible, mind-boggling high fantasy. It’s just a matter of getting out of that “trad publishing comfort zone” and trying indie and self-pubbed books. As indies, we have complete control over what does or does not go into our books, and I think it makes for some pretty incredible, unique, and boundary-pushing stories.
As far as high fantasy goes, who are some authors I need to be reading?
Indies: Dan Fitzgerald, Deck Matthews, Thomas Howard Riley, Sean R. Frazier, Lilith Hope Milam, Mason Thomas…just to name a few. Oh, and…me? 😉
Traditionally published: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Without a doubt. They might be older books (although there’s NEW DRAGONLANCE IN AUGUST OMG!!!), but they’re GREAT books. Darksword, Death Gate, and Dragonlance shaped who I am today as a reader and writer. And yes, Jodie, I know YOU have read Weis/Hickman, lol. But everyone else should, too!
About the author:
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: