A Letter to Self-published Authors

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Dear Self-published Authors,

As Self-published Authors Appreciation Week wraps up, I want to pause for a minute to say thanks. One of the astounding things about self-published books is the time, creativity, stress, and hard work that go into them. Self-published authors do it all, and it’s amazing.

There are so many self-published books that I have been blown away by and this week has barely scratched the surface. There are other books I’ve loved that I haven’t had the chance to write about yet and still more waiting for me to discover them. Contests like SPFBO, SPFSC, and BBNYA constantly add to my “to be read” list with the sheer number of gems in them. Book reviewers add even more.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you for sharing your visions, for creating fantastical new worlds or showing us this one with new eyes. Thank you for the words that cause chills, for the raw honesty in your writing, for the hours of entertainment and excitement. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put your words onto paper and inviting us to enter your world for a while.

What you do is something special.

Sincerely,
Jodie

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

I was fortunate to read The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary as a member of team Before We Go Blog during SPFBO8.

Dangerous magic. A realm under siege. Can a mother and son defeat a rising evil?
Danalar Halyas isn’t ready to grow up. Torn between boyhood desire and adult responsibility, the sixteen-year-old heir is devastated after his father goes missing in battle. And when a powerful ally suspected of treachery closes in on their lands, the untried youth worries he won’t be able to protect his territory from war.
Charymylle Halyas stands strong within a storm of chaos and grief. As the fate of her beloved husband remains unknown, she directs the clan while shaping her teenage sons into men mighty enough to lead. But with demonic forces disrupting crucial spells and an emissary arriving with an unwelcome invitation, the troubled regent is terrified she’ll lose all that she loves.
Defying his mother’s commands, Danalar sneaks out with friends to warn a nearby village… only to run into sinister threats. And with the consequences of her decisions raining fire on her people, Charymylle fears she may have led her nation to its doom.
Will the Halyas family fall to darkness, or can they beat back a formidable foe?
The Hand of Fire is the gripping first book in The Essence of Tyranny epic fantasy series. If you like complex characters, vivid imagery, and visionary world-building, then you’ll adore Roland J O’Leary’s soulful adventure.

The Hand of Fire is an ambitious book, with a complex storyline and a vast world. The very beginning of the book started with a lone rider escaping a doomed battle. Based on that, I expected a fast-moving story. Such is not the case. The Hand of Fire is a book that takes its time, getting each detail correct and crafting a well-executed story. While it does pick up toward the end, I struggled to concentrate at the beginning. I think that stemmed in part from the memories that were described. They were there to explain Lady Charymylle’s relationship with her husband, and to highlight her involvement with how things were run. However, they did interrupt the pacing a bit. The last half of the book definitely moved faster, setting up the rest of the series wonderfully.

Danalar’s father, lord of the Halyas, is either dead or taken captive, a casualty of battle. His storyline is a bit of a coming-of-age tale, as he learns to cope with this loss and become a leader. He was very a very believable character and managed to never bore or annoy me. I really enjoyed watching his character grow. My very favorite character, though, was Lady Charymylle. While dealing with her own emotions regarding the disappearance of her husband, she was also the competent and clever leader the people needed. She was never on the sidelines and was a strong character, something I very much appreciated.

The Hand of Fire reminded me a bit of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Willliams’ first book, The Dragonbone Chair, also has a slower pace. In fact, I would argue that the entire book is just setup for the rest of the series. Because the series is so amazing, The Dragonbone Chair is great. But it has to be taken with the rest of the series. On its own, it doesn’t feel like a full story. The Hand of Fire seemed like that to me. If the rest of the series is as well written as the first book is (and I have no reason to think it won’t be), the payoff will be huge, and the series will be a must-read for fans of sweeping fantasy.

I truly hope that I made sense with my wandering explanation there. Roland O’Leary is crafting something with massive potential that I think is going to pay off in a big way. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Self-Published Author Appreciation Week- The Swordsman’s Lament by G.M. White

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Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book. The Swordsman’s Lament is available for purchase now.

A dead prince. A grieving king. A legendary swordsman accused of murder.
Loyalty counts for nothing when the king demands blood.
Royal champion, and confidant to the king, Belasko thought he was beyond intrigues and machinations. But when the grief-stricken King demands vengeance for his murdered son, Belasko discovers he is expendable. His options are clear: find the killer or die for a crime he didn’t commit.
This breakneck fantasy thriller is perfect for fans of David Gemmell, Sebastien de Castell and Miles Cameron. Pick up your copy today! (Taken from Amazon)

The Swordsmans Lament is an excellent fantasy filled with swordfights, intrigue, and a warrior whose most dangerous enemy is old age. Despite his aches and pains, the warrior’s mind and sword are both still sharp, making for a book with never a dull moment.

The story follows Belasko, the king’s Champion, a peasant-turned-soldier whose deeds on the battlefield have won him notoriety. He’s grown close to the royal family over the years, going from valued for his skill with a sword to being a valued friend. Until, that is, he is arrested for the murder of the prince. He has to somehow prove his innocence, but the evidence against him is damning.

Belasko is the sort of character that I love reading about. He’s grizzled and experienced, sometimes gets lost in his memories, but is as smart as they come. The decisiveness (and desperation) that lead him to take risks that many people would avoid take the book in unexpected and exciting directions.

At less than 300 pages, The Swordsman’s Lament isn’t a chonker. It makes great use of its length, moving at a quick pace and keeping me entertained throughout. The use of flashbacks during pauses in the action (such as when a certain character is incarcerated) was a clever way to establish both the world, its history and its occupants without the dreaded info dump. The flashbacks were also short, made sense to the story and its development, and- wonderful for my poor eyes- were not italicized (seriously, I cannot overstate how much I appreciate that).

I loved everything about The Swordsman’s Lament, from the plot to the dialogue (there’s an observation on monologuing that had me in stitches), to the well-described fight scenes. This is a world I’m happy to get lost in and a character I’m excited to read more about. Highly recommended!

Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week 2022

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This week I’m celebrating the second year of Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. Basically, this week I’m focusing on the many, many amazing self-published authors whose books I’ve enjoyed. If you’d like to join in, it’s simple: read self-published books, then shout about them on your blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, etc.

Here is a list of self-published authors I recommend. It’s far from complete. Add to my monstrous TBR by giving me more suggestions!

Anca Antoci- Forget Me Not

Zack Argyle- Voice of War

Sue Bavey- Lucky Jack

Maria Blackrane- Blood, Fire, and Death

Jason and Rose Bishop- The Call

Satyros Phil Brucato- Red Shoes

Angela Boord- Fortune’s Fool

Jenni Buchanan- Coming soon

Lee C. Conley- A Ritual of Bone

Mark Cushen- Little White Hands

J.D. Evans- Reign and Ruin

Sean Gibson- The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True

Peter Hartog- Bloodlines: An Empire City Special Crimes Novel

Ryan Howse- Red in Tooth and Claw

Jamie Jackson- Fear and Fury

C.M. Kerley- The Hummingbird’s Tear

Bjørn Larssen- Why Odin Drinks

Marcus Lee- Kings and Daemons

K.R.R. Lockhaven- The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Universe

Krystle Matar- Legacy of the Brightwash

G.M. Nair- Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire

G.E. Newbegin- Pyramidion

Raina Nightingale- Kindred of the Sea

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

C.T. Phipps- The Supervillainy Saga

E.G. Radcliffe- The Hidden King

Whitney Reinhart- Saving Eva (currently out for BETA and Sensitivity reading)

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Kersten Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

Patrick Samphire- Shadow of a Dead God

Matthew Samuels- Parasites

Rachel Emma Shaw- Sacaran Nights

Brianna Sinder- Coming soon

P.J. Sky- A Girl Called Ari

Jeffrey Speight- Paladin Unbound

M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

P.L. Stuart- A Drowned Kingdom

Todd Sullivan- Hollow Men

Luke Tarzian- Vultures

Marian L. Thorpe- Empire’s Daughter

H.L. Tinsley- We Men of Ash and Shadow

Keith Tokash- Iliad: The Reboot

M.L. Wang- The Sword of Kaigen

L.A. Wasielewski- The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny

G.M. White- The Swordsman’s Lament

D.H. Willison- Harpyness is Only Skin Deep

A.R. Witham- The Legend of Black Jack

Lyra Wolf- Truth and Other Lies: A Loki Norse Fantasy

Simon Van Der Velde- Backstories: Stories About People You Think You Know

Let’s Talk: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can use the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #AwesomeIndies.

By the way, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest is a great place to go for self-published book suggestions. Follow along with this year’s contest here. Here are a few self-published books that I recommend. I stopped myself at twenty, but there are so many amazing sp books out there! What’s the best self-published book you’ve read this year?

Jason and Rose Bishop- The Call (Storm’s Rising #1)

Lee C. Conley- A Ritual of Bone

Susanne M. Dutton- Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable

Jami Fairleigh- Oil and Dust

Jonathan French-The Grey Bastards

Sean Gibson- The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

 Bjørn Larssen- Why Odin Drinks

Randall McNally- Shadowless

Marcus Lee- Kings and Daemons

G.M. Nair- Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Kirstin Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

Patrick Samphire- Shadow of a Dead God

Matthew Samuels- Small Places

Emma Shaw- Sacaran Nights

M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

Luke Tarzian- The World Breaker Requiem

Keith Tokash- Iliad: The Reboot

M.L. Wang- The Sword of Kaigen

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Dorian Hart

Wrapping up a month full of interviews with some incredible authors of self-published fantasy, I’m excited to be able to interview Dorian Hart, author of The Heroes of Spira. Before diving in, I want to encourage you, Reader, to check out some self-published authors (be they writers of fantasy or another genre). Okay, now on to the interview!

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

The Heroes of Spira is hopeful epic fantasy with an ensemble cast and loads of magic. By “hopeful” I mean whatever the opposite of Grimdark is; while bad things happen to my protagonists, and they don’t always get along, they are fundamentally good people I want readers to cheer for. The tone is (mostly) light-hearted, and though the series isn’t comedic fantasy, there’s plenty of humor in it.

Who are the Heroes of Spira? They are:

Dranko Blackhope, a priest-turned-pickpocket, kicked out of his church for excessive pranksterism and his irreverent mouth. Being part goblin does not help his reputation.

Ysabel Horn, an elderly farmer’s widow with a practical streak. She’s understandably confused about being chosen to help save the world.

Ernest Roundhill, a baker’s son sorely lacking in self-confidence. He’s wondering why there’s a hundreds-of-years-old statue of himself buried under his neighbor’s tavern.

Aravia Telmir, a brilliant but arrogant wizard’s apprentice who really misses her cat.

Grey Wolf, a hard-bitten mercenary who’s not very happy about his new role as Chosen Hero.

Morningstar of Ell, a priestess of the goddess of night. She’s not allowed to walk outdoors in daylight, which could complicate her inclusion in this motley group.

Tor Bladebearer, a young nobleman’s son and talented swordsman who thinks being picked to help save Spira is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

Kibilhathur Bimson, a shy craftsman who insists his ability to speak with stones isn’t real magic. It’s just something he does.

The five books (three published, the fourth currently in edits, and I’ve begun the first draft of the fifth and final) are in essence one single story. While I think each volume stands on its own just fine, the primary ongoing narrative arc spans all five books, and there are plenty of mysteries, plot threads, and character arcs that stretch across multiple volumes.

In the broadest sense, the stories are about a group of in-over-their-heads would-be heroes saving the world from an ever-escalating and ultimately interconnected series of threats. They explore strange magical locales and contest with all sorts of enemies, human and otherwise, while engaging in plenty of entertaining banter and generally making themselves into a Found Family That Quests Together. It’s classic fantasy, full of wizards, magical artifacts, strange creatures, exploration and quests, gods and prophecies, as well as a villain with a perfect moustache and an unflappable butler with an unexpected secret. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can start with The Ventifact Colossus.

Your description of your book as the opposite of Grimdark makes perfect sense to me. There is a pervading sense of optimism throughout. Was it difficult to keep that feel while also maintaining a sense of urgency in the characters’ quest? How did you go about doing that so well?

Well, first, it’s kind of you to imply that I’m succeeding in at least some of what I set out to do! 😊

My natural preference is for optimistic characters, and my writing style lends itself to lighter, humor-laced storytelling. In that sense, I’m sure I’d find it more difficult to write grim and fatalistic heroes in a dark setting. But also, I don’t think there’s a natural separation between optimism and urgency. Quite the opposite, at least for me; pessimistic characters might be inclined to give up or not care about the problems besetting themselves and the world they inhabit. In large part, the characters’ hopefulness lets me steadily raise the stakes without worrying about keeping them motivated!

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

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a wee lad. (The first story I recall writing I scribed when I was 8. It was about two men getting into a series of perilous situations, and who were constantly saved by lucky accidents precipitated by the one who was always drunk. My teacher wrote a note to my parents which (paraphrased) said: “This story is remarkably advanced for a child Dorian’s age, and also we need to have a parent-teacher conference RIGHT NOW about his home life.”)

I’ve been absorbing fantasy books since I was very young, and was inspired most by The Hobbit, Narnia, and the Chronicles of Prydain. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up any time before my 10th birthday, I would have said “A baseball player for the Philadelphia Phillies.” But around that time, when my lack of athletic prowess was becoming too obvious to ignore, my answer changed to “A fantasy novelist.” That answer hasn’t changed in 40 years.

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

Characters first. Always characters. If I can’t make my readers care about my heroes, how can I expect them to become invested in the story?


I’m not saying that plot isn’t important. Even the most vivid characters will have trouble carrying a boring plot. But it’s not enough to make readers think: “I want to know what happens next.” They have to think: “I want to know what happens next to these people.

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

As though I would be so cruel to my poor characters!

But, seriously, the answer is mostly no – I’m not that interesting a person! – but I do think my personal desire to solve problems diplomatically probably bleeds over into some of my characters and how they interact with one another.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but I have plans to have a character in a future book who makes puns and dad-jokes. I cannot deny that such behavior would have a solid grounding in the author’s psyche.

I’m going to use this as a non-sequitur-ish segue into a small vignette from my family life. I told my wife about my plans for the dad-joking character recently. I also went on to describe a foil character who would HATE the puns and corny jokes at the beginning, but slowly, slowly come around on them, until by the end of the book they’d be making dad-jokes of their own.

My wife’s reaction to that second character: “That’s why they call it ‘fantasy.’”

Several of your characters have unique traits. Poor Ernest has zero self-confidence. Morningstar has a physical trait that makes it difficult for her to be a part of the group at first. Dranko has goblin ancestry, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a main character. What are some of the challenges of writing characters that have interior obstacles, as well as those that they face together?

I’ve always imagined my band of heroes (who style themselves “Horn’s Company” part way through the first book) going on three parallel journeys.

The most obvious one is the surface plot; they travel, quest, suffer, and triumph as they peel back layers of the Plot Onion™ and fight to save everything they hold dear.

The second journey is the evolution of the group as a whole. They start out disorganized and a bit hapless, as well as mostly doing what they’re told. By the end they’re making decisions with little guidance or assistance, devising plans, and working as a much more cohesive team. It’s by no means a smooth progression—there are plenty of setbacks and bumps on the road—but Horn’s Company has come a long way by the final book.

Finally, each character is on journey of their own, as they’re shaped and pushed by forces external and internal. Morningstar has to deal with her history of ostracism and feelings of isolation in addition to the physical challenge of walking in daylight. Ernest needs to find his confidence and overcome what we think of today as Imposter Syndrome. Dranko has his goblinoid physical appearance to deal with, as well as the constant consequences of his irreverent attitude. Each of the other heroes has some similar arc of growth and change, though that change isn’t always clearly for the better.

When guiding my characters past (or in some cases smashing them into) their interior obstacles, the biggest challenge for me is pacing their arcs across five books and bringing out their nuances in a natural way. Ernest’s journey, for instance, isn’t a matter of him performing a single brave deed and WHAM! he’s Mr. Confident. Different people change in different ways, at different speeds, and in reaction to different pressures.

You have a background in video game designing. Does your background influence your writing? 

I get asked this a lot, and the disappointing answer is “No, not really.”  My career in video games had me working alongside some fantastic writers – Austin Grossman, and later Ken Levine — who were already doing the vast majority of the storytelling. I found my niche as the “numbers guy” who focused on game balance, resource economies, and progression curves. (I was almost a math major in college before I came to my senses and pursued creative writing.)

Far more relevant to my writing is my history with tabletop RPG’s. I learned the craft of GM-ing from Kevin Kulp, an extraordinarily talented writer and TTRPG designer. Inspired by his skill, I designed and ran a 15-year-long D&D campaign, the bones of which form the skeleton of The Heroes of Spira.

I’m sure some of your readers have just had blaring alarms go off in their heads. “Oh, this is just some dude retelling his D&D campaign! I hate that!” To those people, I can offer this balm: While I used my 15 years of world-building as a foundation, I’ve always centered the characters at the heart of these books. I’ve also put a lot of effort into thinking about why RPG campaigns are typically not well suited for novelization, and what it would take to make that transition work. Before I started the first chapter of the first book, I spent months pondering issues of pacing, characters and their motivations, foreshadowing, the artificial feeling of “leveling up” and “character classes,” and the fact that games and books, at a fundamental level, are aimed at different audiences.

I’d like to think that The Heroes of Spira will evoke the feel of spying on a table where a truly epic D&D campaign is playing out, but without the burden and awkwardness of all the surface trappings of TTRPGs.

One of my favorite review quotes thus far has been this: “While some D&D-inspired novels struggle to be anything but a D&D campaign transcript, The Ventifact Colossus rises above the inspiration and proves to be an entertaining, relatively lighthearted, and satisfying story with a whole lot of heart.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

I hope it’s not too spoilery to say that there’s a death scene in a later book that got me a bit choked up to write. One side-effect of writing lovable heroes is that I grow quite attached to them. On top of wanting to make sure I gave them a suitably emotional send-off, I was extremely sad to see them go.


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

I love writing villains! Maybe it’s because I’m such a harmless, dopey, middle-aged*, dad-joking fellow, but I adore the chapters when I get to write the bad guys, be they cackling moustache-twirlers or urbane banter-maesters. The main villain of the fourth book (“The Infinite Tower”) is a person named Axamand who pursues the heroes through a [SPOILER REDACTED]. He’s confident, talented, outwardly likable, enjoys nature, values his relationship with his partner, likes a good challenge, and can’t stop reminding the reader that he’s also a horrific sadist. He’s been the most fun character to write in the series to date. 

*
Can I still say I’m middle-aged at 51? Even though the AARP is flooding my house with mail like Hogwarts trying to make sure Harry gets his invitation?

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

I’m not sure this is a quirk per se, but I do a thing that most authors will say loudly NOT to do, which is edit as I go. I can’t help myself. Even knowing I may later delete whole section or chapters, I still smooth out my sentences. Yes, it results in some wasted effort, but it also means my first drafts are remarkably clean. (Not that I don’t still go back and hack them to pieces!)

As for routine, when I’m in drafting mode, I take great pains to write at least 500 words every day, no matter what else is happening or how late it is when I start. I keep a spreadsheet of progress and word counts, and when I miss a day due to emergency or wilderness vacations, I know exactly how much I need to write to maintain a 500 WPD average.


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

According to my meticulous calculations and overly complicated spreadsheets, I am 83% plotter and 17% pantser.

Before I wrote a single word of the Heroes of Spira, I had outlined all the major plot events and most of the connecting threads for all five books. That has given me a big advantage when it comes to foreshadowing and setting up big scenes in satisfying ways.

I also had character arcs broadly sketched, but I’ve often found my protagonists doing and saying things I hadn’t mapped out. That can lead to some surprising threads that I’ve then had to figure out how to weave into the larger tapestry of the series.

I will say that despite my preference for thorough outlining, sometimes my pants take over. For example (and please excuse the vagueness in the interest of non-spoilage) in one of the books, a character finds himself unexpectedly imprisoned by his enemies. My outline called for a series of conversations between the hero and his captor, along with some thwarted escape attempts, on the way to a pivotal final confrontation. But when I started to write the first scene in that arc, the very first person he encountered was a spy who’d infiltrated the enemy organization, and who promised to help him escape. That person was nowhere in my notes, and literally came into being as I was writing her. It felt perfectly right and proper at the time. I rejiggered that entire sub-arc to accommodate her. And since then, I’ve written that new character into the outline for the final book, where they’ll serve a small but vital role in the story.


I love that your book has that “classic fantasy feel” to it. Do you have any inspirations in the genre, or authors you look up to?

The full list of authors I admire and from whom I derive inspiration would be prohibitively long for this format, but I’m happy to share a few.

Michael J. Sullivan, author of the “Riyria Revelations” and its many prequels, is probably my closest “comp” among writers. Not that I can match his skill, of course, but he writes character-centered adventure stories with a similar “planned arc” feel to Heroes of Spira. (I’ve had two separate reviewers make that connection, so it’s not entirely my imagination!)

Mike Shel is a fellow self-published author who I think is absolutely brilliant. His Iconoclasts series is a great take on D&D-ish storytelling, though his books are much darker and more atmospheric than mine.

Josiah Bancroft inspires me not only with his amazing prose, but also because he’s such a genuine, kind, and helpful person on social media. (I assume he’s that way in real life, too!) I hope if I ever achieve half his success, I can comport myself with such humility and grace.

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

Oh, goodness. My answer to this question depends on my mood and changes often enough that I’ll give you a half-dozen of my favorites.

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov is a playful puzzle box of a novel that showcases Nabokov’s gorgeous prose without the subject-matter discomfort of Lolita.

Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R.Tolkien is beautiful and atmospheric, a seminal work in the genre, and my sentimental favorite. Who else can get away with starting so many sentences with “And lo!” and have it not seem corny?!

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft is a masterpiece, and its author a true maestro of the perfect simile. (Note that this is the third book in his Books of Babel series, and the author is currently working on the fourth and final volume.) I don’t think I’ve ever been more eager for a book release!

West with the Night is the memoir of Beryl Markham, the first aviator to cross the Atlantic east to west. Utterly gripping, with prose so crackling it’s probably dangerous to read in the bathtub. (The author is one of the few that the famously cantankerous Ernest Hemingway is on record as heaping praise upon.)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow. I’m a sucker for elegant prose, and this book delivers the wordsmithing goods in a lovely tale about magic doors and the power of stories.

The Scar, by China Mieville. If you’re ever in the mood for something mind-bendingly weird, often terrifying, and fantastically written, first read Perdido Street Station, and then read this.


Author Bio:

Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.

In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.

Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Joy of the Widow’s Tears?

Geoff: “Joy of the Widow’s Tears is the second book in our fantasy detective series, the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. In this book, Reva and her magic-user partner, Seeker Ansee Carya, are sent to investigate a potential double homicide, but when they get to the crime scene, both of the victim’s bodies have disappeared. The case is off to a bad start, and it gets worse when Reva is suspended for the way she handled the arrest of some adventurers. Reva figures that the time off will be good, since her boyfriend, Aavril, has just arrived back in town after spending months at sea. Unfortunately, Reva learns that Aavril has been promoted, and will be returning to sea instead of staying in Tenyl like he’d promised. Meanwhile, Seeker Carya investigates a missing persons case and soon discovers that his missing persons, and the missing murder victims, have all become seemingly invulnerable zombies with very strange powers. Reva must work outside the law to stop the mad cultist who is controlling these undead before they are unleashed upon the city.”

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

Geoff:” I would say that I just have an overactive imagination. I always made up stories when I played as a kid, and I realized I could tell these stories to other people. My interest in fantasy came from Dungeons & Dragons. Being able to play games in worlds filled with magic, monsters, and dragons, fueled my interest in reading fantasy, but also in writing it.”

Coy: “Reading. Once you read enough books, on varied subjects, by different authors and in different genres, you start to think “I can do that”. What drew me to fantasy – the short answer, Gary Gygax. I have vast roots in Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. Plus, I’ve always liked other legends from real life, like King Arthur and Robin Hood.”

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

Geoff: “Yes. They both seem to come about at the same time. Sometimes the plot comes first and a character is developed to suit that story. Other times, it is the character that comes first. For us, more often than not, it is the character that comes first. In the Reva Lunaria series, it was Reva who came first. Our basic premise for the series was, “In a world of magic and monsters, how do the cops solve crimes?” We couldn’t figure out what the stories would be, or what the plots were, until we knew who Reva was. What kind of person is she? How does she act and react?

For our other series, a vampire gangster series that starts with Unremarkable, the basic plot came first. Once we had that, then we found a character, in Saul, who fit into the story that we wanted to tell.”


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

“Not intentionally. One of the characters (Ansee) is the same height as Geoff and seems to be as timid and cautious as Geoff is, though that wasn’t intentional. We just wanted somebody who could contrast with Reva. On the other hand, Reva very much has Coy’s personality. That does make it pretty easy to write her, since Coy just needs to know how he’d act in a similar situation. But we didn’t start out planning her that way, it just works that her forthrightness and determination, and inability to suffer fools, really matches with Coy’s personality.” 

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For Coy, it is the exposition, writing the back story, information, and other details that give depth. For Geoff, the hardest parts to write are the dialogue, making sure that characters remain true to their own voice and don’t all start sounding the same.

Characters come and go, and if the dialogue isn’t right – if you can’t experience them and get the essence of that character – then you probably need a new character. Coy is very good at making sure that the character’s essence is there and remains consistent throughout the book. Geoff likes the exposition and background, writing the setting and description of people and places. He makes sure that the stage dressing is there for the characters to perform within. We think that our skill sets really complement each other and that really makes our writing click.”

You mesh fantasy with a detective character: what are some challenges with that? What is something you love about putting those two types of books together?

“One challenge is that, when you have a prevalence of magic, you have to prevent the solving of the crime from being too easy. It’s not good if your magic user can just cast a spell and identify the murderer. We have to make sure that there is enough mystery, enough of a challenge, like you’d find in a traditional (non-fantasy) mystery novel, so that the mystery will unfold as the story progresses. To make sure that we don’t let this happen, we have created rules for our magic system, to give us a framework for the world and to make sure that our characters still must face challenges and overcome struggles to be able to solve a crime.

Why do we put them together? They’re fun! We both love detective stories and fantasy stories, so putting them together just made sense. Plus, it’s a shift in the paradigm. It’s not just another detective novel, and not just another fantasy novel. There are so many books in each of those genres already, so in a world of fantasy and mystery, how do you stand out? For us, it was to put them together. Might we have alienated some readers of each genre by doing that? Probably. But have we gained some readers who didn’t know that this was a thing and it was missing from their lives? Heck, yes. And we love meeting them.”

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

“The villain is easier, hands down. Their motivations are simpler, and generally they don’t have to be as complex as the heroes (though having complexity does give depth). Plus, with villains, we usually don’t have to have deep back stories, or try to interweave multiple sub-plots, character interactions, or other things that our main protagonists have to deal with from book to book.

As to fun, for us it is some of the minor characters that pop into the story, who are neither the hero nor the villain, that are the most fun to write. With them, we are not constrained by their motives or their actions, and we can play them however we want. We sometimes play these minor characters for humor, but we can also play them as over-the-top characters to help contrast with our main characters. In this series, we have several characters that are fun to write. Rhoanlan is a pawn broker, a known fence for stolen items, and a confidential informant that Reva uses. He is based on Sidney Greenstreet’s character of Signor Ferrari in Casablanca – a man who has his fingers in many places, has the pulse of the city, seems to know more information than everybody else, and will give it up for the right price. Rhoanlan has been in both books in the series so far. In Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduced several other minor characters that are a lot of fun to write. Pfastbinder is a cleric of Banok, the god of chaos, and this gives us immense freedom in how we play him, and in how he interacts with the other characters. Another new character is Amaryllis, who is a costume designer at Pfenestra’s Playhouse, and is another resource that Reva sometimes uses if she is in need of a disguise. Amaryllis is a blend of Nathan Lane’s character of Albert from The Birdcage and Edna Mode from The Incredibles. This makes Amaryllis very easy to write, and a lot of fun.”

I know you also work in publishing. Does that affect your writing process at all?

“Only in the sense that it means that Geoff has less time to write. It doesn’t really affect the actual writing process itself. We still plot our stories (we are both plotters) and then Geoff usually writes the first draft while Coy then fixes all of Geoff’s mistakes, corrects the dialogue, and makes sure that it is a coherent story.

Where being a publisher really helps is in what happens after the story is written. The publishing company (Shadow Dragon Press, which is an imprint of the main company, Artemesia Publishing, LLC) handles the expenses for editing, cover design, etc., as well as distribution and marketing. Geoff treats himself and Coy the same as he does all of the other writers he publishes, giving just as much focus to their stories so that there is no playing of favorites.”

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

Coy: “Currently, John Dies at the End by David Wong.”

Geoff: “Without Remorse by Tom Clancy because it is a great character study.”

Author Bios:

The writing duo of Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee have been life-long friends since high school in Manhattan, Kansas. (Affectionately known as the Little Apple, which was a much better place to grow up than the Big Apple, in our humble opinion.) We love reading, baseball, cats, role-playing games, comics, and board games (not necessarily in that order and sometimes the cats can be very trying). We’ve spent many hours together over the years (and it’s been many years) basically geeking out and talking about our favorite books, authors, and movies, often discussing what we would do differently to fix a story or make a better script. We eventually turned this passion into something more than just talk and now write the stories that we want to read. 

Coy lives with his wife in Lenexa, Kansas. Geoff lives with his wife and son in Tijeras, New Mexico.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Ryan Howse

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

“I’d love to. I have three books out. The first two are both in my A Concerto For the End of Days series, which takes place several centuries after a magical apocalypse so powerful it broke the world. Reality has been made much stranger, but human ingenuity has taken those setbacks, harnessed the magical currents of the world, and learned how to use it for their own gain. 

The Steel Discord is a magitech train heist that follows a young Arcanist who attempts to rescue his mentor from a military train.

The Alchemy Dirge is a noir that follows an alchemist and a black market arcana merchant. The alchemist is desperately trying to fund his newest invention, a printing press, and sells a batch of alchemy that turns volatile—and valuable. 

The third book is Red in Tooth and Claw, which was a palette cleanser for me. Instead of the intricate world-building and plotting of the others, it’s just two people from opposite sides of a war caught in the wilderness. They hate each other, and they can’t survive without the other.”

You’ve written several different series. Is there one in particular, that you’re extra fond of? 

“I think The Alchemy Dirge has all the urban intricacies down pat. Aeon feels like a living city, infused with a sense of weird that I love. It also has protagonists who are pretty far from traditional fantasy heroes. Salai, the alchemist, profoundly hates how much everyone he knows has been held back by their lower-class stature. Ilher, the merchant, wants to gain power in the city to shift the laws, not just because they’re holding him back but because he sincerely believes they’re unjust. Neither is a wizard or a warrior or an assassin. 

But no book has ever come out faster than Red in Tooth and Claw. It had been sitting in the back of my mind for nearly a decade, so once I started it, it flowed out fast.”

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

“I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I have vivid memories of a ‘dinosaurs eat each other’ story I wrote quite young—possibly in kindergarten. As for genre, I love the potential of fantasy. Anything can happen. 

Yes, there are tropes that appear often—medieval European analogs, stabbing as an effective method of problem-solving—but none are required. You can bend the rules of reality. You can get the historical detail of a Miles Cameron if you want, or the wild abandon of China Mieville. I love the feeling one gets when the real and the unreal meet.”

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

“They feed off each other. The only reasonable answer is, ‘they come at the same time.’ If Salai didn’t create the volatile alchemy, The Alchemy Dirge wouldn’t have been a book. If I put Zarachius and Kyran into Red in Tooth and Claw, there’d be a lot less tension because they trust each other and would just banter. 

I work hard to make my protagonists make a choice early on which causes the plot. Zarachius could have realized his mentor was arrested and ran away instead of attempting a rescue. Salai could have refused to sell the alchemy that didn’t work right.”

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

“Most characters have some relation to me or I’d not write them. They need to make sense, even if I disagree with them. Zarachius and Kyran have a fun ‘give each other shit’ camaraderie reminiscent of my friends. I disagree with Ilher’s politics but I understand where he’s coming from.”

 What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Zarachius, definitely. Zarachius is obsessed with symbolism and believes fervently that reading these signs will lead to the best solution or at least give him warning of problems to come. Making that an integral part of the story, while not making him insufferable, was sometimes a tough act. His relationships with his brother, his friend, and his mentor were all key in making him human.”

I hear that you enjoy role playing games. As a fellow rpg player, I’m curious: how does storytelling differ from DM’ing?

“I love role-playing games! I’ve even created my own system, a sort of Star Trek meets Mass Effect space opera.

Challenging your players is always a wildly different beast than challenging your characters. For one, if you get the players into a difficult situation, it’s up to them to get out of it. Not so if you’re writing a book. If I get a character into a bind I need to figure out how to rescue them.

I also find running RPGs to be a lot more episodic than writing novels. It’s a bit more compartmentalized. A novel needs a sense of unity of theme and atmosphere throughout, while a good RPG campaign can have sessions feel wildly different. It’s closer to a TV show, if anything. One session about a character‘s backstory coming back to haunt them. One session as a tense horror on a derelict but not-quite-abandoned ship. One session that reminds everyone of the overarching plot.”

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

“Honestly, because I try to limit my POVs the books I have out currently only have protagonist POVs. Some of those protagonists are not great people—Agash from Red in Tooth and Claw is a timebomb of a man. But they are protagonists.

My villains all have reasons for what they do. I can only think of one who’s vile for the sake of it, and they’re fairly tertiary. But my antagonists have, so far, been given less page time to develop than the heroes.

The real key is to make the villains reflective of the protagonist in some way.

Unless the villain is a bear.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“Lately, I’ve been using tabletopaudio.com It’s ambience for rpgs, but some of the pieces help get a sense of place. I used a lot of ‘Sea of Moving Ice’ for Red in Tooth and Claw, for instance. I can’t do silence or more bombastic music anymore.”

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

“The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. The perfect historical mystery novel. Aw yeah.

Doestoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov has the best characters in all of literature. Frankenstein is just an absolute perfect book; watching those two characters destroy each other is fascinating.

For somewhat more modern books, I have a lot of love for Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine, China Mieville’s Bas-Lag novels, KJ Bishop’s The Etched City, Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence.”






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.