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.

The First of Shadows (Riven Realm #1)- The Write Reads on Tour

How do you kill a shadow?

As a raging storm descends on the Blasted Coast, the crippled young rigger, Caleb Rusk, meets a wounded stranger on the open road. Little does he know that the encounter will pull him into a conflict that threatens everything he holds dear—and change the course of his life forever. With help from a hammer-wielding mercenary, a drifter girl with a heritage of magic, and an eccentric sky pirate, Caleb must find a way to escape the clutches of a shape-stealing demon that refuses to die.

Meanwhile, in the capital of Taralius, a string of inexplicable deaths have captured the attention of the Ember Throne. Second Corporal Avendor Tarcoth is tasked with uncovering the truth behind a danger that could threaten the very fabric of the Realm. To assist him, the Queen enlists the aid of the sage, Tiberius Alaran. But the blind old man has secrets of his own—and allegiances that extend beyond the Ember Throne. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads on Tour for allowing me to be a part of this book blog tour. The First of Shadows is available now.

I love that the timing of this book tour just happens to coincide with a month-long celebration of self-published fantasy. The First of Shadows is sitting happily on my list of the best fantasy I’ve read in quite a while and I’ve been on a fantasy kick for the last…always.

Deck Matthews created an excellent fantasy adventure. His characters were all fantastic, each unique and interesting. Caleb was a perfect main character: he wasn’t incredibly fast or strong. He was just in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time).

I loved the magic in this world! There were multiple sorts, but I was particularly impressed by the totems, which are kind of like brands or tattoos that can form into an animal companion. I am probably explaining that horribly, so I’ll just say: it’s very, very cool.

There were so many things that were well done in this novella! There is an air of tension that runs throughout, making each scene a little more heightened. The characters are fully developed and each one contributes something to the story-line. Matthews does everything with purpose and confidence. I was immediately sucked in and happily engrossed.

Since this is a novella, it takes very little time to read. That means everyone should ignore life for a little bit and go read this book. Do it now! I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with T.K.P. Sternberg

I’m excited to talk to T.K.P. Sternberg, author of The Singing Gold, today. Thanks for taking time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Singing Gold?

“The Singing Gold is the first in a series of maybe four or five novels following the reluctant adventures and tribulations of a poor family living on the very borders of a deep, wild forest. As a fantasy novel, I am sure it is not very typical. My heroes get pulled into something complicated and dangerous not from some urge to save the world or because they are fated to. They are much more already in a precarious situation, which makes it hard for them to say no or to back off when trouble comes knocking. It was important to me that my characters felt like real human beings living in a very real world, fantastic as it is. I love both fantasy and history with a passion, and with a highly critical mind.

            When I started writing, the one thing I wanted to avoid was tropes and stereotypes. As a matter of fact, I am quiet the stereotypical hater of stereotypes. This goes for the motivations and emotional life of my characters, for the world they inhabit, and for the events and accidents turning their everyday existence fraught enough to validate writing a book about them. If I would guess, I would say that The Singing Gold will be best enjoyed by people who have read a lot of speculative fiction and who wish for something a bit refreshing. For readers new to the genre, I admit that I might not be the best start, as I do my best to withhold at least the cheap and easy rewards that the genre promises.”

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

“I’m a Swede who grew up in the 80’s loving table top RPGs and whatever Fantasy was available at that time. Back then, there was a lot of negative pressure from the mainstream, labelling SFF as just for kids or as trash, and sometimes even as dangerous. But I loved my roleplaying games. I usually ended up being the DM, and after a few years I realized that one of the greatest joys was in the actual writing of the adventures and worlds I prepared for our sessions. I guess that is when I started writing. Whatever the format, be it trying your hand at fiction, bantering and gossiping with friends, or making up a scenario for a game, the urge for telling stories is age old and probably in our genes. I was lucky enough to discover it early on, but unfortunate enough to allow myself to be swayed from what I had started with so much playfulness and joy.

            As I slowly emerged from my teenage years and started studying, among other things a very nice one-year creative writing course at a community college, I was steadily herded towards more ‘serious’ subjects by everyone around me. Since I couldn’t imagine giving up on being playful, I choose to go into Fine Arts instead. I had to find a study place abroad though (again, much too playful and childish for the severe Nordic taste) so I ended up at Goldsmith’s College in London, which turned out to be an amazing couple of years that taught me an endless amount of giving and receiving criticism, of thinking constructively about art, of writing and discussing. Goldsmith’s was above all a place where you learned to think as an artist, and I have found this skill highly transferable and useful.

            So now I make my living as a conceptual sculptor, crafting weird and beautiful objects for the wealthy, and sometimes as a tinkerer, craftsman or whatever needs be to get the money in. I live in Berlin since about a decade now, enjoying the closest thing you get to the Paris of la belle Epoque in this globalized hyper-economy of ours. I started clawing back writing and making it entirely mine a couple of years ago. Looking back on it now, I am grateful for having taken such a roundabout detour to it, past a lot of struggles and joys in another art form. It has helped me get straight to the core of what I want to do. And to enjoy it in a relaxed way.”

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

“I only start thinking seriously about a story when I get a good idea for a premiss. These come a bit as and when they want to. I am one of those people who could have vouched for the existence of the Muses had I not been such a thorough non-believer in anything. They do speak to me however, and when and what they want to.

            Next comes some of the characters, the main people this premiss revolves around, and a few basic plotlines. I then slowly digest the main ingredients for a while, working on something entirely different and preferably for quite some time. If they survive this ordeal and come out the other side, they are worth taking a closer look at. And surprisingly enough, they always seem to have gained in weight by then. By this stage I start taking notes, still while working on something different. I very seldom sit down and plot. Instead, I wait for the story to whisper to me while my frontal cortex is occupied with something ‘important’, and thus forgets to intervene and mess everything up. When I feel that I have a good first look at the main characters, and know roughly where they are standing and in what direction I want to send them off, I simply start writing. I never have more than at the tops a quarter of the story ready in my head before I start. But I also wouldn’t start with just a cool character and a setting.

            I am very much a believer in letting the characters and the world guide you along. My job is to throw things in the way of the characters and then observe how they deal with it. This all sounds a bit esoteric, but is in fact the opposite. If I would give a rational explanation to it, it would run something like so:

            Anything can happen in a story as long as it is consistent with the story itself. When the story starts out, few things are set down, so the freedom but also the insecurity is great. As you go along and write what happens and what your characters do, you get more and more materials to reference your new ideas against. When you think of a way for your protagonist to get past an obstacle, you can check this against what you already know. Would Stig punch the guy and push past? Hardly. As I have written him up to now, he is much to careful for that and would find another way. Merely what you have written down is not enough to make these judgement calls, of course. You have to temper it with your own experience of the world, with what you know and feel about how people act and think. If you lack empathy, you will never be able to write great character driven stories. Also, if you lack curiosity, you will find it hard to describe anyone outside of your own narrow life. But there is always research where experience fails.

            I follow my own rule about internal consistency and honesty to my characters and world with stubborn determination. There are many examples of where my story took a completely different turn than I had thought, simply because I learned some new facts that threw off my plans. This is a good thing. Accepting outer borders and limits helps creativity push further, not the other way around (as I would have thought as a younger man, before all my years in the Arts). I will mention just one instance, to give a feeling of what it can concretely mean while writing.

            At one point fairly early on in the story, a physically weak character sees the threat of a much stronger one approaching. She is holding something small and valuable in her hand which she fears might be taken from her. In the spur of the moment she feeds it to a cow she is herding. I thought this a rather nifty idea for protecting your valuables. The potential bully would now have to drag the whole cow along would he want to get her treasure. And she would only have to keep an eye on the cow’s droppings for a while to get it back. Then I quickly researched how the innards of cows function, to get a good guess of how long my heroine would had to wait, and… Well, anyone with farming expertise will be smiling now. Others will have to read the book to find out. Anyhow, this is an example of how I am more than happy to be forced to rewrite my entire story as long as this makes it more true. Forcing through an idea you just had, no matter how brilliant it is, against the will of your own writing is never a good thing. Listening to where your characters and world wants you to take them is the key to deep and believable writing.”

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

“I drew on a lot of my own experiences to create the main character Stig. He is not necessarily like me in that he is much more shy and hesitant, but in other respects he is. Stig is under constant pressure to provide for his family. As an often struggling artist, this is something I know a lot about. I wanted to integrate the boring part of poverty, that incessant weight of never being able to relax, of never having a backup or a surplus, into how my characters navigate the world. It was important to me that the main motivation be not how to achieve some lofty goals of incredible powers or of fulfilling your destiny, but rather the mundane and very common of making ends meet in a hostile environment. Admittedly, I have turned up the stress level some notches to make for a more dramatic story, but the basic focus is not of achieving but of making do.

            In a way, Stig is the least colourful of the characters in the book. I feel that this is right since he is very much a pair of eyes we can experience the world through. Given his extraordinary abilities of observation, tagging along gives us access to much more than simply the medieval everyday. He is also very calm and balanced, even if he makes some rash decisions. These don’t stem from his personality, however, but much more from the dire circumstances he finds himself in.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

” It was tricky to flesh out the whole family as distinct and unique characters, as the trouble hitting them pushed in the same direction. The eldest daughter Klara was easy enough, since she embarks on her own escapades early on, but the mother and younger kids simply didn’t get enough specific resistance from the plot do emerge as fully drawn personalities yet. I plan for this to change in the second instalment, as much of the story focus will shift to Liv and how she will have to deal with the fallout of Stig’s failure. As I write almost no backstory, I need things to happen to my protagonists for them to emerge from the fog and become clear.”

I felt immediately drawn into the setting. What did it take to make it seem so complete and rich in historical detail?

“The Singing Gold is written against a very detailed background. The premise for my world is to take the real medieval Europe instead of inventing a quasi-Europe with vaguely disguised countries and regions. But to then populate it with all the beasts and beings from  my favourite mythologies, and the magic and mystery too. And to make it all work in a consistent and believable way.

            Writing within a historically realistic setting and being strict about it is a way for me to set up a framework against which I can bounce my creativity. If I know the world my characters inhabit, it is easier for me to figure out how they should act to solve their problems. Of course it means that I can’t often fall back on the first idea I get, but instead the result feels more solid. I hope. My protagonists didn’t move about on a blank piece of paper slowly filling it out to become a map as they trundled along, but rather started in the middle (not in the lower corner near the coast, as Diana Wynne-Jones so poignantly remark) of one that was there waiting for them.

            This goes for all the small details as well. Meaning, Stig never pulls something from his pockets, since they didn’t have pockets in the 13th century, and Klara ties her tunic together with a string, since neither did they have buttons. And none of the houses is made of huge blocks of stone, since even the king of Svitjod lived in a log house (or rather, in log houses) and only churches had started being built in stone. And no rich lord thunders past in his elaborately decorated coach with liveried servants hanging on to its back, since there were no roads around decent enough that one could drive such a carriage on, at least not in Svitjod. Which despite the perhaps initial doubt made it easier to write and not harder.

            To reach this kind of certainty in my story world, I had to do an inordinate amount of research. Or rather, I did, even if it might not have been all that necessary. Partly it was a way to delay the inevitability of having to start writing, I have to admit, but partly it was to give me a very secure base to stand on. As I continue writing, I am sure I will be more precise and economical with my research, but for The Singing Gold I went a bit overboard.

            It’s also amazing just how much you are able to research when you use the real world for your story. Not only Google Maps is available for you to zoom in on every topographic detail you want, but other resources are even more astonishing. I have to mention here ‘Fornsök’ on the website of Riksantikvarieämbetet (raa.se), the Swedish Archiver General. It has a clickable and zoomable map of Sweden with every single archaeological find marked out. You can search and filter for a number of different categories, or simply get very, very close to the area your protagonists are about to enter to see if there is something interesting there to include in the story. Clicking on the small icons on the map gives you access to photographs and notations done by the field archaeologist responsible for investigating that particular find. That’s how I got the beginning of the anecdote on Vendela and her mound. Vendela’s mound is really there by the way. As is Ottar’s mound, and all the old boat graves around the church. I never visited Vendel in person, but the majestic seven mounds next to the church of Old Upsala, I managed to see.

            Standing on top of the largest mound, the one where Illugi performs his improvised spell to alleviate Stig, while looking down on the old stone church was a truly magical moment. The 11th century church is small. It’s what you would expect from a large village perhaps, not from an entire bishopric. And the huge mounds dwarf it in volume if not in height. A moment like this where I could feel history under the soles of my feet helped me get a perspective on all the history I had read. It helped me decide what interpretations of the finds I would go with. For interpret one must. In history there are precious few facts, but an abundance of traces and relics. How one chooses to read the signs is very much up to you, and says a lot about you. This vagueness is fantastical too. It allows for imagination to happen. The traces of our real lived history provides at best a skeleton which I as an author can dress with my own views, ideas and speculation.”

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


“I find side characters more fun and easy to write than main characters. Since they don’t have to carry the weight of the story forwards, but most often try to get in its way, it allows for freer creation. As for villain and heroes, I think and hope that I have complicated things a bit more than that. I don’t believe in the simple good vs evil dichotomy in real life, so neither do I want it in my fiction. Sure, there are a lot of people out there with truly vicious and caustic behaviours, opinions and beliefs, but none of them are beyond empathy. If someone is a human being, a good author should be able to imagine how it feels to be that person, to live that life and make those decisions.

            The two parts that were most fun to write in The Singing Gold both were kind of rascals: Illugi and Valgeir. One very sophisticated and arrogant, the other charmingly natural and unabashedly selfish. Giving voice to someone not hampered by social norms and morals can, of course, be such a relief and is probably why so many writers love their ‘villains’. I hope it will be even more fun when we get to the non-human opposition in the next book. When we get to know the dwarves better, and start getting real cosy with the creatures of the forest. Because even beasts can’t be merely one dimensional killing machines. That would be boring.”

Do you have any writing quirks, or a routine that you stick to?

“Writing comes easiest in the morning. For the promise of an undisturbed writing session, I have no trouble getting up at 5. My biggest problem, with a toddler at home and a wife with a busy work-schedule, is finding time to write at all. I am sure this is the boring reality for many writers and other artists. I usually solve this by working frantically at all my other duties until I have a clear slate of a few weeks ahead with at least a couple of free hours each day. That way I can get into writing properly and let it flow, until I have to wrap up for a while and abide the next possible bout.”

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

“I don’t have any books as my all time favourites. I like or don’t like what I read at the moment. This even goes for the heroes of my youth, maybe because I found Fantasy through roleplaying games and not through, for example, Tolkien. When I read Tolkien the first time, I had already gamed with halflings and dwarves and elves.

            What I really enjoy as an adult are authors who manage to surprise me, and at the same time be in total control of their craft. I am very sensitive to inconsistencies and to when the illusion is broken, for example by a vampire behaving like some insecure high-school kid, or by the squire arguing class-identity with his knight. Some writers I have enjoyed very much recently are Angela Boord, Joe Abercrombie, Octavia Butler, Rob J. Hayes, Naomi Novik… All very different but with a distinct and confident style.”

Author Bio:

I’m a Swedish guy who grew up in the 80’s, loving table top RPGs and whatever Fantasy was available at the time. Back then, there was a lot of negative pressure from the mainstream labelling SFF as trash or as just for kids. Sometimes even as dangerous. As I started studying, among other things a very nice one-year creative writing course at a community college, I was steadily herded towards more ‘serious’ subjects by everyone around me. As I couldn’t imagine giving up on being playful, I choose to go into Fine Arts instead of continuing to fight orcs and write sagas. I had to find a study place abroad though (again, much too playful and childish for the severe Nordic taste) so I ended up at Goldsmith’s College in London, which turned out to be an amazing couple of years that taught me endless amounts about giving and receiving criticism, thinking constructively about art, writing and discussing… but not much craft. That was never what Goldsmith’s was about. It is not place where you learn to paint or sculpt as an artist, but a place where you learn to think as one, and I have found this skill highly transferable and useful.

            Since fifteen years, I make my living as a conceptual sculptor, crafting weird and beautiful objects for the wealthy, and sometimes as a tinkerer, craftsman or whatever needs be to get the money in. I have been living in Berlin for about a decade, enjoying the closest thing to the Paris of la belle Epoque that you get in this globalized hyper-economy of ours, I guess. I started clawing back writing and making it entirely mine a couple of years ago. Looking back at it now, I am grateful for having taken such a roundabout way back to it, past a lot of struggles and joys in another art form. It has helped me get straight to the core of what I want to do. And to enjoy it in a relaxed way.

            I am married and have a three year old daughter. I speak English to my wife, Swedish to my daughter and the family back in Stockholm, and German or English to friends and colleagues. English is very much the Lingua Franca of the art world, but it is often so badly mishandled that I sometimes wonder if it shouldn’t be re-named Globish instead, at least as a dialect.

I can be contacted through my website http://tkpsternberg.com/

and my book can be found on Amazon at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07T984K3B

or Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54670943-the-singing-gold

Self-Published Fantasy Authors: an interview with author Zack Argyle

Voice of War by Zack Argyle

Today I am fortunate to be talking with Zack Argyle, author of Voice of War. Thanks for chatting with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Voice of War?

“Voice of War is an epic fantasy that was born from a single question: how far will a man go to protect those he loves? It is filled with fantastical creatures, a “bangin’ magic system”, and complex characters that will tear your heart out. Check out Amazon or Goodreads for a full description!”


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

“I know it’s a little silly, but being a Dungeon Master was the first real moment of clarity when I knew I had the talent for crafting stories. I still remember one night in Gauntlgrym when the party had just had a massive battle in the middle of a bazaar. In the middle of the wreckage, a member of the Zhentarim faction approached one of the players, dropped to a knee and whispered, “First Lord.” The entire table gasped, and we ended for the night. I’ll never forget their reaction to the story I’d crafted, and how invested they were. That’s why I write. I want you to love and hate and fear for the characters as I drag you alongside their chaotic lives.”

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

“A little of both. Sometimes it’s a character like Chrys. Sometimes it’s a scene like the opening ritual or the necrolyte races. But the more I write, the more I see the characters above all else.”

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

“Absolutely! As a father of two young children myself, Chrys’ determination to keep his wife and newborn safe comes from knowing just how far I would go to do the same.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For me, it was Iriel Valerian, who is pregnant for the first part of the story and then the mother of a newborn. It took a lot of help from my patient wife to help me write Iriel properly, especially with how she would react in certain situations. In the end, she turned out awesome.”

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

“Well, I should first say that, while there are heroic deeds, Voice of War doesn’t have a “hero”. People are complicated, and even villains can be heroes when seen from another perspective. That said, I really enjoy writing both. There is a villainous torture scene that was incredibly fun to write, and there is a tender moment between a husband and wife that was equally fun to write for completely different reasons.”

Do you have any writing quirks, or a routine that you stick to?

“Nope! I have two kids and a day job. I used to write on my commute, and now I squeeze it in whenever I can at night. The one constant is that my writing group meets together each Sunday night.”

Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

“90% plotter, 10% pantser…which can get me into trouble. I plot out the main beats to happen in each chapter of the book, and then I let the characters take it from there. Occasionally, the characters go in a different direction than intended, which can lead to revising my plots. But it’s always for the better!”

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

“My favorite fantasy novel is Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. In the series, magic is only given to those who are “broken”, and power is gained by overcoming that which has broken you. The moments of internal reconciliation are beautiful and powerful and incredibly inspiring.”