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 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.

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.

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.”

Self-Published Fantasy Authors: an interview with author Amanda Fleet

Aegyir Rises (Guardians of The Realm #1) by Amanda Fleet

I’m extremely excited to be interviewing some amazing self-published fantasy authors throughout the month of September. Today, I am fortunate to be talking to Amanda Fleet, author of the Guardians of the Realm series. Thank you for joining me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Guardians of the Realm series?

“It follows a young woman – Reagan Bennett – who has always felt like an outsider. She was abandoned at birth, then fostered and finally adopted, but has a difficult relationship with her extended adopted family. Throughout her life, she’s dreamed of living in another world – The Realm – where she’s a warrior called Aeron, but recently these dreams have taken a darker turn.

In Aegyir Rises (the first book of the series), lots of people start dying suddenly. Some appear to have died of flu; in others the death is sudden, but there are no marks on the body. All of the deaths are centred around the place where Reagan lives. Her dreams intensify, warning her and telling her to come home, but as far as she’s concerned, she is home. Then strange objects start appearing in her house, through locked doors, and she starts seeing things no one else can see.

An ancient creature – Aegyir – has been released, who has old scores to settle with Aeron. He is convinced that Reagan is Aeron. Can she defeat him before he destroys Earth? In order to do so, she may have to accept that she’s not who she’s always believed she is.

The second and third books of the series (“Aeron Returns” and “War”) follow Reagan’s journey after she arrives in The Realm. Is she really the warrior Aeron? Aeron was banished for treason, and if she ever returned to The Realm, she’d be hanged, so things get tricky for her!”

What first inspired you to write?

“I had stories in my head and they wouldn’t shut up and give me any peace unless I wrote them down.”

What drew you to writing fantasy?

“The stories in my head The first book I ever wrote (still unpublished) was a medical thriller. The second (also unpublished!) was a dark romance. The third (The Wrong Kind of Clouds) is a crime novel, as is Lies that Poison (my fourth book). While I was still writing Lies That Poison, I’d already had ideas for what has eventually become The Guardians of The Realm series. I could ‘see’ various scenes and characters and when I finally sat down and worked out what it was all about, it was urban fantasy, rather than crime! I think I also felt too boxed in with writing crime. There are a lot of ‘rules’ and conventions about how police solve crimes and it didn’t feel anything like as much fun as writing fantasy! I have another crime book ‘in the laptop’ which may never see the light of day because I can’t bring myself to finish the edits on it. All the other books I currently have planned are fantasy. Maybe I’ve found my writing home at last.”

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

“A bit of both. I often have a really small inkling of some part of the plot – a demon being able to reach inside your chest and rip out all your energy – and other bits and pieces, but then the characters really start to take shape. How the plot develops (to me at least) is often dictated by what the characters are like – how they react to what happens can move the plot in different directions. If the main character avoids confrontation, there will be different choices made by them in comparison with a character that thrives on conflict. The basic ideas of the plot come first, but the details only fall into place once I get to know my characters.”

Do you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
“All of my characters will have a bit of me in there somewhere, but none of them are 100% me. Some may have more of me in them than others, but since they’ve come out of my head, there must be at least a tiny bit of me in there somewhere. Even in the antagonists!”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Not all characters make it to the end of the books. I mean, after all, the premise of the book is that a lot of people are being killed and Reagan is trying to stop it. Writing death scenes and/or funeral scenes of characters I love leaves me sobbing! Every time!”

Do you have any writing quirks?

“Ooh, I don’t know… I like to have a pot of tea to hand when I’m writing and I possibly do a lot more writing by hand, certainly in the early stages of planning a book, than many others might. I also plan each scene in a notebook (by hand) and have huge scrapbooks for each novel – with pictures of buildings/scenery/characters, plus loads of character notes and planning notes. It’s always fun to look back through them and see how everything evolved from my initial ideas.”

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

“It’s probably easier to write a hero, but I enjoy writing villainous characters too. I do some ‘goal planning’ sheets for them – what is it they’re after and how are they intending to achieve that? Because the villain thinks he or she is a hero, right? They think they’re doing the right thing. Aegyir wants to live. Okay, others die for that to happen, which isn’t so great for them, but who’s to say who lives and who dies? What if he only killed bad people? Who determines if they’re bad or not? So, yeah, writing the ‘bad guys’ is quite often more fun than writing the heroes.”

What do you do to get in the zone?

“If I’m struggling because I’m procrastinating or just faffing about (Twtter, Facebook…), I turn off the internet and set a sand-timer. I have a 30- minute one and a 60-minute one. 30 minutes is usually enough to get me focusing. The 60-minute one is there to remind me to take a break!

If I’m struggling and the sand-timers don’t work, I go for a walk or do some gardening or something unrelated to writing, in the hope that giving my brain a bit of a break will help it to get in the zone afterwards.”

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

“Ooh, that’s like asking a parent which is their favourite child! I’ve read many Bronte and Austen several times over, but I don’t know if that makes any of them my favourite. If I had to pick one of my own books as a favourite, I would probably pick “Aeron Returns” because of what Reagan/Aeron has to face and how she overcomes things. By someone else? It would be a close call between any of Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths books (crime) and almost anything by Patrick Ness, but of his books, probably the Knife of  Never Letting Go would be my top-rated one.”

Amanda Fleet  About the author:

Amanda Fleet is a physiologist by training and a writer at heart. She spent 18 years teaching science and medicine undergraduates at St Andrews University, but now uses her knowledge to work out how to kill people (in her books!). She completed her first degree at St Andrews University and her doctorate at University College, London.

She has been an inveterate stationery addict since a child, amassing a considerable stash of fountain pens, ink and notebooks during her lifetime. These have thankfully come in useful, as she tends to write rather than type, at least in the early stages of writing a book.

During her time at St Andrews, she worked with the College of Medicine in Blantyre, Malawi. While in Malawi, she learned about the plight of the many street children there and helped to set up a Community Based Organisation that works with homeless Malawian children to support them through education and training – Chimwemwe Children’s Centre. It was this experience that helped to inspire the Malawian aspects in her novel “The Wrong Kind of Clouds”.

She is also the author of the urban fantasy trilogy: “The Guardians of The Realm”, published in early 2020, and the psychological thriller “Lies That Poison”.

Amanda lives in Scotland with her husband, where she can be found writing, walking and running.

The Guardians of The Realm series:

Aegyir Rises: http://mybook.to/AegyirRises

Aeron Returns: http://mybook.to/AeronReturns

War: http://mybook.to/WarGoTR3

Other books:

The Wrong Kind of Clouds: http://mybook.to/TheWrongKindofClouds

Lies That Poison: http://mybook.to/LiesThatPoison

Where to find Amanda:

Website: https://www.amandafleet.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaFleetWriter/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amanda_fleet1

Book Bub: @AmandaFleet

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/amandafleet

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/amandafleet

 

 

 

Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Before We Go Blog

Today, Beth from Before We Go Blog is sharing a very personal experience. This is incredibly moving. Thank you for joining the conversation, Beth!

I am many things. I wear many hats. For a long time, and mainly before the birth of my daughter, I was someone who defined themselves by books and the stories they bring, being a good wife to my loving husband, being a landscape designer, and generally a good human being. Especially the last one, I wanted to bring good to the world and try, even if it was in my small way, to leave the world just slightly better. However, with the birth of my daughter, the joy of my life now, my perspective, and view of life shifted and not in a positive way.

No one wants to talk about postpartum depression.

It is the gigantic elephant in the room. It is a creeping fungus that covers one’s eyes during what should be one of the most joyous times of your life. PPD is something that happens to other people, but couldn’t possibly happen to me, right? It did, and It nearly killed me. But I am here and alive, and I want to talk to you about what I went through and how moms should not be silent.

First off, let me say it loud and proud, “You are not a bad mom. Nor are you a bad person. This isn’t your fault.” Repeat it, and again. Say it first thing in the morning, and right before bed. “You are a good person, a good mom, and this is not your fault.” It is not your fault as much as having asthma or astigmatism is.

To describe PPD and how I coped with it, I am going to describe my life as a series of beats, of moments. It can demonstrate how badly I wanted a child, and how much PPD crushed me flat to the floor.

Firstly, My husband and I wanted a baby for years. We tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive. Our daughter was very much wanted and fought for. With the help of modern science and 12,000 dollars, we managed to conceive. I had an eventful and hard pregnancy. But we managed with c-section to deliver a bouncing baby girl who weighed just shy of 12 pounds.

Here is where things took a turn for me.

I was fine in the hospital for about the first 8 hours or so. Happy even. On hour nine, I started to dive down into the dark. It was almost like a light had been shut off inside me. A light my doctor said was a hormone dump that my body did not react well to.

This was the moment that I stopped sleeping.

Dramatic, huh. But completely true. I was desperately worn out. Anyone who delivers a baby will know the tired I am talking about. But, I lost the ability to calm my mind enough to sleep. I remember sitting in the hospital bed watching the clock slip from one number to another, and thinking how much better the world and my daughter’s life would be if I were not in it. These were not rational thoughts. I had fought tooth and nail to birth this child.

About 12 hours later, I lost my ability to eat. You are probably asking, “She lost it? Like it was a pair of shoes?” I was unable to eat any food without throwing up. I was uninterested in eating. I wanted no sustenance.

Twenty-four hours after that, I could no longer hold my child without having a panic attack. I could not cuddle, hold, or even be in the same room with her. I would throw up or hide in a corner in our bedroom, rocking back and forth. This wasn’t baby blues, nor was this my fault. Something was very wrong in my mind.

I battled as long as I could. When I had finally went to the doctor for myself, not just checkups for my daughter, I hadn’t slept or eaten anything for weeks. I had lost 60 pounds, my hair was falling out, and I was continually rocking back and forth. My doctor, bless her, told me they were going to help me, this isn’t my fault, and I was going to be ok. They put me on powerful anti-depression medication and anxiety meds to help get me back to proper place. It took me four months before I could hold my child for anything longer than a few minutes. It took me six months before I was watching her overnight, and eight months before I had anything resembling a normal home life. At about the one year mark, I had come back to myself. But I still battle. Now I am a happy stay at home mom to a bouncy five-year-old. She loves me more than anything. We have a strong bond. I am ok, generally, although the management of anxiety and depression will never go away. I am candid about my quest to come back to myself because I feel no shame in what I went through, and neither should any mom.

I am now an active blogger, and I use reading and writing as a means of tackling my anxiety and occasionally as an outlet. It is important to me that I can get on my soapbox every once in a while and shout to the world my love of books and writing in general. It would not have been possible if I did not say to my husband, “something is very wrong; please help me.” I have learned through counseling and looking back on myself that real courage is not struggling with something like this. True courage is looking at yourself and say, “No, this cannot stand. I am a good person that something bad has happened to. I can get better.” You are true courage mommas out there; this dark tunnel is not the end. There is so much more. I am here if you need to talk to someone. I have walked these dark paths, and the rain has fallen on me. I almost lost myself, but I made it. You will too. Just remember you are loved, and you are courage personified.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation with Author Ricardo Victoria

Me: Thank you so much for joining the conversation! Please tell the reader a little bit about your book.

Well more than talk about a particular book , I would like to talk in general about the series. Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. The three main characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, this special source of power that enables them to do superhuman feats, but which process of obtaining it is more than traumatic (as in dying). Supported by a cast of friends, and able to wield the titular Tempest Blades –sentient weapons of great power- they are able to face menaces that border in the eldritch abomination territory. Fionn, -who is the eldest- is a former war hero that retreated from the world due the traumatic experiences that made him lose his family, and his best friend, and is only starting to return. And his return is accelerated by agreeing to help a friend to find a missing person. This is compounded by the fact that along the way he finds himself in the role of mentoring Gaby and Alex, which have the Gift, like him, but lack experience in its use. And Fionn realizes that life does give you second chances. The story progresses in the next book (the one I’m currently working on) along the mentoring process and the ramifications from the events of the previous one.

Me: How does mental health play a role in your book?

In the already published one, Tempest Blades The Withered King, it plays a role through Fionn, who suffers from a degree of PSTD and depression, as result of his past experiences, and that informs his actions on the book. In the current sequel I’m working on, -tentative subtitle: Cursed Titans- I’m trying to explore more about depression, through another of the main characters, Alex. This stems from both the events of the previous book and traumatic events from his past that have gone unresolved and come to head into the present in a self-destructive way, which is pushing him to unhealthy limits while being a hero. Depression and the way it affects a person can take different forms.

Me: I know you mentioned your character deals with depression: was that difficult to portray?

In a way. Since I’m drawing here from my own personal experience and struggles dealing with depression, so I know exactly how the character feels. But it is difficult in two particular aspects: write it in a way that put the reader in a place where they can observe how depression feels, without being triggering or impeding the narrative from telling the overall story. And given that I’m not a therapist, but a sufferer from depression, it makes me wonder how much I should share or how far I should go and still be of help for potential readers that might suffer from depression as well. It is also difficult because I need to be careful of not putting myself into a mindset that backfires on my own mental health. At the end of the day I’m trying to write a hopeful story. Basically, it’s like walking on a tight rope. So I hope I can pull it off in an adequate manner.

Me: What are your thoughts on therapy and if/ when it can be useful?

I think therapy is useful and a good way to determine what kind of mental health issues a person might have, or as preventive health care. We need to learn that taking care of one’s mental health is not a sign or weakness nor that you necessarily have an issue that needs care, but as part of one’s overall well-being maintenance. Therapy is also a good way to help someone to get better when mental health issues are present or work to prevent them if possible. But for therapy to work, the person going to it has to want it to work. And it takes time, as it is a tough process. There is no easy solution so that has to be taken on consideration. Therapy is a process to teach you how to work out things with the help of a friendly, non-judgmental shoulder. At the end of the day, it is always good to have someone to listen to us and help us realize things that on our own might not be possible.

Me: As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

I’m not sure I can respond accurately, as I haven’t read all the books that dwell in the issue, so I don’t want to generalize. Something I have noticed though, is that often the mental health of main characters is not even mentioned. We expect our heroes to be strong and resilient and always overcome any kind of trauma derived from their escapades. But rarely it is explored the mental toll from the characters’ actions. We see a character killing another, maybe in self-defense, maybe to save the world, and that action takes a toll in a person’ psyche, in the real world. But in literature it tends to be glossed over (I myself am guilty of this, but I’m trying to improve). Same with a character surviving a war, or another traumatic experience. This, because writers tend to see the characters as objects to be used rather that ‘beings’ that can have feelings and thoughts. Curiously enough, one of the most interesting, if subdued, explorations of mental health and the toll adventure takes on a person that I’ve read, is The Lord of the Rings, in specific with Frodo near the end of the book, when the hobbits return to the Shire. Frodo is a bit despondent. I would dare to say that he suffers from PSTD. Carrying the ring or experiencing Mordor the way he did it wasn’t easy. So when he returns to the Shire you can see that and how it affects his actions to the end. I would dare to say that Tolkien draw a bit from his own experiences as soldier. Another pitfall in media seems to be that there are works were there is a generalization or poor job portraying mental health issues, even stigmatizing them, such as using them as an excuse for the antagonist to be the way they are, rather than understanding that anyone can have them and that they are not to be used as an excuse for trying to conquer over the world, sort to speak. Sadly they have become a crutch for many writers and the way the talk about the topic, really hurt those that suffer from mental health issues. Thus, it is necessary to reframe how, we as writers, use and understand mental health issues, how they can affect anyone and how is good to ask for help, or how a person suffering from them is not automatically a bad person. That heroes, like Frodo, can suffer mental health issues too. That going to therapy or asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather of strength as you are acknowledging that you are not fine, but want to be. That depression is not just ‘being sad’ or something to get over it. That it takes time to mourn, to work through PSTD.

Me: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You mentioning that Frodo might have been suffering from PTSD made me see that character in a new light. I loved your point about it taking time to work through mental health issues.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Withered King (Tempest Blades #1). You can find it on Amazon, among other places.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation

I’ve noticed a trend in fiction when mental health is portrayed: it’s either portrayed completely inaccurately or vilified. I can’t tell you the number of thrillers that I’ve read that describe the villain as “crazy,” “psychotic,” “schizophrenic,” or “bipolar,” as though having a mental illness automatically makes a person an amoral killer. Often, it’s quite obvious that the author has chosen a mental illness simply to avoid having to give a reason for a person’s actions. It made me think: do writers have a responsibility to portray mental illness compassionately and accurately?When it comes right down to it, I think the portrayal of mental illness in literature falls under creative license. How (or if) mental illness is included in a book is the author’s prerogative. However, an author that takes the time to do research and depict mental illness with compassion and understanding automatically becomes an author I’m infinitely more excited to read.Mental illness is much more prevalent in society than I think most people realize. It’s been stigmatized for so long that those who would see a doctor for any other health concern balk at even admitting they might be struggling on a mental or emotional level. I recently read a book in which a character was afraid of someone seeing them walk into a psychologists’ office and it broke my heart. It broke my heart because it’s a completely realistic reaction. I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed over twenty years ago, but it’s something I’ve been ashamed of until just a few years ago. It’s only recently that I’ve made an effort to be open and transparent about my struggles with mental illness.You can imagine how it feels to read a mystery or thriller, only to find that the villain’s sole “motivation” for committing a violent act is simply listed as “bipolar.” Or what about those books where someone dies by suicide, but it’s an act of revenge. Really? Shouldn’t we be past that by now?I’ve been fortunate that some authors and bookbloggers have been willing to write their own thoughts on mental illness in literature. I was going to integrate them all into a single post, but what they wrote was so insightful that I’ve decided to make a separate post for each of them. They’ll be published throughout the week. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on mental illness in literature: I want to hear all opinions!