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Author Spotlight: Troy Osgood

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Troy Osgood! If you missed our last spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Troy: I played a little D&D as a kid, played with LEGO and G.I. Joe. Lots of stuff that involved having to create. I found that I enjoyed the creating more than the actual playing. I’ve always read; primarily fantasy and a little sci-fi; novels and comic books, branching out to other genres as I got older. I really enjoyed the serial and ongoing nature of comic books.

This love of creating led to trying to put it all down on paper. I was never satisfied with anything that I did. The impulse to just keep creating crept into those early attempts and the story would get lost.

Fast forward to 2016, after a period where didn’t write but still read nonstop and played games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, I discovered Amazon’s Kindle Worlds. This platform, which is now sadly gone, allowed author’s to write in other people’s “worlds”. One of those was G.I. joe. Now I could take those stories I had created as a kid and get them published for other people to enjoy.

I published a bunch of stuff through that and by being able to actually complete a story, that others enjoyed reading, it helped me get over the hump. I had a bunch of stuff created because that is something I never stopped doing. Notebooks and word documents filled with ideas and some half-started stories.

In March of 2016, I published my first book and been going non-stop since.

I write primarily fantasy and sci-fi with some pulp work coming. A variety of genres and subgenres. I read a bit of everything so I have ideas in a wide range. More ideas than time. Ideas never stop coming.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Troy: Two things. The first, and the thing that kept me from actually writing for the longest time, was that I don’t end up liking what I write. I don’t think it’s bad or anything like that, it’s just a “that could be better” kind of thing. The scenes write themselves in my head and when I put them to paper, it’s not as good. But I have stories that I want to tell and so I force myself to tell them.

The other thing goes back to the ideas never stop coming. I get hit with a new idea and have to develop it, flesh it out and see where it goes. Sometimes that new idea takes over and pushes the other stuff aside.

I set myself a goal of 1500 words a day, which has really been helping with my production and allowing me to keep the series I have going well adding/developing new stuff.

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M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Troy: I don’t think the author ends up deciding what makes their work special or unique, that’s on the readers. An author can try for something but if they succeed, that’s for the readers to decide.

For my work, I try to just tell fun adventures about compelling and interesting characters. I don’t do epics or end-of-the-world type stuff. There’s plenty of it out there that is excellent. But I’ve always found myself liking the secondary characters, the side quests/adventures more than the main stuff.

I love Star Wars, but I don’t like the Skywalkers. I want to see the stories about Wedge Antilles and the other rebels. I’m really looking forward to the Disney + Cassian Andor series.

The tagline I use for my Taleweaver’s Song series is “in a world of magic, adventure lies behind every hill.” Which is true. If there is this world filled with magic, why does everything focus on just a few individuals or chosen ones? There are others out there in the vast world that are having their own adventures where the world itself isn’t at risk. Those can be interesting and compelling stories. Those are the tales I want to tell.

Everything I create is designed for the long term. I don’t tell one and done stories or trilogies. Everything has threads of more stories to tell, to expand on. It goes back to my love of the comic book and the ongoing serial. I want to tell stories about the characters and how their lives evolve and change through the course of their adventures. There are no endings planned for any of my series. Even things I’m doing for a publisher, one shot short stories, there are threads that I can expand upon.

M.N.: I really enjoy stories about the smaller characters in bigger worlds. Do you have a particular favorite character that you’ve invented, or a favorite set of characters?

Troy: I do and they haven’t appeared yet. It’s kind of cheating because they’re somewhat modeled after my wife and I. Osten Niklas and Kathwen DunHowe are the main characters in The Ork Plains, the 2nd Taleweaver’s Song book. My wife is a music teacher so she became a bard. Her weapon, a staff, is based on an actual staff we have in the house. Osten has a pet that has evolved from a fox to a hound and back and forth. I think the reason I’m having some trouble with the pet is that the characters are my wife and I, but the pet is not our dog. So I think I need to redo it and replace the current version of the pet with our dog.

The other favorite has to be Kaylia in the Arek Lancer sci-fi series. A mute alien cat girl teenager. Arek was meant to be Jack Reacher in space with a touch of Malcolm Reynolds thrown in. Reacher travels the United States, just wandering, and everywhere he stops trouble seems to find him. And that’s what I envisioned for Arek. Flying across the stars and just gets into random trouble. The first book revolved around him rescueing a kidnapped alien and that alien girl ended up staying with him. So now it’s Jack Reacher plus kid in space.

M.N.: Do your stories have the equivalent of a Luke Skywalker in them who just exists in the background? Chosen one heroes who exist and shape the world, but who you don’t focus on because we’re having more fun with the side characters?

Troy: No chosen ones or larger than life heroes. Regular sized heroes are good enough. In The Skeleton Stone, Culann Hawkfall saves the village. He’s a large sized hero to those people. Their world is their village and he’s the epic hero that saved them from destruction. For Culann, he was there and couldn’t leave those people to die, he had to do something. Does that put him on par with Luke Skywalker? Yeah, probably. They’re both heroes, just the scale of what they are saving is different.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Troy: Not really. I read so much, books and comics, that it’s all a kind of influence. I loved the idea of Dungeons & Dragons, this kind of open world where thousands of different stories could happen. In Marvel Comics, Spider-Man is in one corner of New York having all these adventures and a couple blocks over the Avengers are fighting the Masters of Evil.

The Harpers series from Forgotten Realms (written in the 80s and 90s) helped set up how I wanted to structure things like the Taleweaver’s Song. Each book in the Harpers was about a different character, a different adventure, but were connected by the organization. I loved that series. It really played into the idea of adventures happening all the time all over the world.

M.N.: It sounds like you put a lot of effort into your world building. Do you ever find that this trips you up, where you want to tell a story about one conflict or another but your setting makes it difficult?

Troy: That’s the problem I ran into with The Ork Plains. I had the world of Merelein created. It was set up like a pen & paper D&D game setting. A world with some history and pretty open sandbox to just jump into and create. As I started writing Ork Plains, I started fleshing out some of that history and it changed pretty much everything. That created the roadblock and I had to go and figure out the new history before I could continue. Which led me down some tangents hadn’t intended to go down.

It’s all good as it makes the overall world that much stronger and unique.

The foundation is important to any world. Creating a world is the same process as in creating a building. You have to start with a solid foundation otherwise the walls will fall down. Once that foundation is in place, then you build your walls and cap it with the roof, which is the story.

M.N.: Or, on the flipside, have you ever had conflicts present themselves to you on a platter because of how you’ve set up your world? Moments where you’re writing along and discover that you have a perfect story already set up for you that just needs the words put down?

Troy: The Arek Lancer stuff does that all the time. I had a rough idea of the various stories I wanted to tell. Started writing and the first book created two points that became full stories that worked their way into the rotation. I did a short story reader magnet and that ended up tying into a story point from the first book which led to the 4th book that I’m currently working on. A character in the reader magnet popped up in the 3rd book, a history between Arek and him that I had never intended. Arek’s adventures just keep building themselves and going in a direction that I never thought I would take it which is all because of Kaylia running into Arek.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Troy: Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist is an all time favorite. Riyria Revelations (and the follow-up books) by Michael J. Sullivan. Memory, Sorrow & Thorn by Tad Williams.

The Harpers series, as mentioned above, is up there as well. No individual book in the series but just the idea of it.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Troy: Which ones? I have a lot of balls in the air and lots of stuff at various levels. My main stuff is the fantasy series Taleweaver’s Song and the Arek Lancer sci-fi series. Book two in Taleweaver’s is being worked on (and has been the hardest thing to write, this book is a constant fight). I have the next three books basically thought out and some parts of them started. Got two or three short stories in that series to finish up. The Arek Lancer sci-fi series, I’ve started book four and have a short story finishing up. Got two short stories for a pulp publisher. Finished book one in my litRPG series and editing it, cruising along on book two. Working on a developmental project where I’m fleshing out the story, developing it and creating characters.

I also have a Patreon site that will have exclusive serialized stories. Each month is a new chapter. These will be set in my established universes, in new ones and just random stories. The first story is set in The Taleweaver’s Song, unconnected to any of the books. There’s three finished works to follow that one up.

I think that’s it, but there’s a couple of other ideas moving around inside my head that want to come out and play.

I recently set myself a goal of 1500 words a day and that has been helping with the production. Before that, all my goals seemed pretty hard to reach. Now they’re all doable.

M.N.: What does your release schedule look like? Do you find that, with so many projects, you have a hard time keeping them all up to date on a timely basis, or do your word count goals keep books coming out consistently enough for your liking?

Troy: I bounce from project to project on a nightly basis. Sometimes I get in a groove and a project takes over but there are always other things to go back to when that one needs a break. I keep a spreadsheet for my word count goal and I break each day down by project. Some days there is one, some there are four.

I don’t write until my wife and kids are asleep. I give myself 30 mins to an hour to read and then it’s write for a couple hours before I go to bed. When I sit down at the computer, I think I know which project I want to work on but sometimes the stories have other ideas.

Things are always churning in my head, ideas on where to take them, new ideas, etc…

I want to have a consistent release schedule and am working hard to get there. Not at that point yet. The word count goal helps a lot as it forces me to focus on something and advance something for that day.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Troy: From the middle to inventing as I go. Depends on the project. Lots of it revolves around scenes that pop into my head. I see the scene and create around it. I don’t outline, just let it freeflow as I write. Which sometimes creates blocks as I know where I want to go but can’t figure out how to get there yet.

I’ve tried outlining but it just doesn’t work for me.

M.N.: Do you have an end goal in mind when you start a story, either for the characters or for the plot?

Troy: Yes and no. Depends on project. Some projects I’ve written the ending well before it’s done. Sometimes I know the middle first. I try to let the stories take me where they will. As they develop I know where I want to end up.

Taleweavers is written where the first chapter is a point in the future, the middle of the story. So I know what point L is, which kind of points to Z so I just need to start with A and figure out how A leads to L. Which leaves a lot of ground in the middle.

Arek’s adventures, I know the start and don’t know where it’ll end up. But even with those, as I’m writing I’ll get to a scene and put that down but then the implications or path that scene leads to pops into my head and I need to write it down. It could be five chapters later but it gets written and I need to fill in the gaps to get there.

That kind of writing has its own issues. If you know point A and point G, then how do you get from E to G in a logical way that reads natural and not forced?

M.N.: When I’m reading books like Harry Potter or watching Star Wars, I always know that the heroes are going to ultimately win because, if they lose, the world will end and there won’t be any more books. Do you find that your smaller-scale characters and stories frees you from that constraint and lets you tell stories where the characters have a real possibility of losing?

Troy: Yeah. I’m trying to tell the story of someone’s life. Living in this magical world, flying through space, is the world these people inhabit. It’s a dangerous world, so death exists. People in our world die every day doing something normal like drive a car. So in a world where magic exists, the possibility is there that someone can die doing the equivalent of normal in their world.

There needs to be a threat of death for the stories to really have meaning. The death of Ned Stark shocked everyone because that entire first book (first season), he was set up to be the hero of the story. He was set up to be Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. But then he was killed. That was awesome.

I think that’s the biggest reason The Last Jedi gets so much criticism. People expected Luke to be the hero, to step up and save the galaxy again. He didn’t. Rian Johnson pulled a Ned Stark.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Troy: Just do it. People will like it or they won’t. Don’t let your lack of confidence in your own work hold you back.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Troy: I’d start at the beginning. The Skeleton Stone (fantasy) and The Last Child (sci-fi).

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M.N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Troy: I set out to write the kind of stories that I wanted to see out there. I like reading everything. I like the epics, but I felt there was a space out there for serial work that wasn’t these big epic stories. Sometimes people just want to read about an adventure. That’s what I want to provide.

I don’t want to write the next book that moves people or teaches a lesson. I want to entertain and I hope my stories do that.

Author Spotlight: J. L. Park

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to J. L. Park! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

J.L.: I normally write in Speculative Fiction, mostly Dystopian. I’ve been thinking of story that would work in Urban Fantasy that I might work on after this series.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

J.L.: Finding the time to write – I work full time at my job, and have two children under 5 as well. I write mostly after they’ve gone to bed.

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M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

J.L.: They come from a view that is different – a New Zealand twist on things even in a fictional setting – my culture finds its way into my writing as easily as it does my spoken language. As a member of the LGBT community as well, it often features in my work but is never the biggest thread of the story.

M.N.: Can you give me an example of how your New Zealand background influenced your writing?

J.L.: I’ve noticed that I have to be careful not to include too many colloquialisms or words from our other spoken national language that I would use in normal conversation. I tend to view the world from a New Zealand perspective – we accept most people for who they are, as long as they’re a “good sort”, and I’ve always found it difficult to understand how people can hate someone they’ve never met because they’re different to them. We are also a people that you don’t want to cross – we tend to be protective, and stand up for ourselves and the underdog- the MC in my Alexis Chronicles series would fit in well in here.

M.N.: I’ve read that authors who include LGBT elements in their stories are often rejected by traditional publishers. Did this affect your decision to publish independently?

J.L.: I wasn’t acutely aware of that fact, though it doesn’t come as a surprise as it’s still unusual to see LGBT representation in a lot of mainstream places for TV or books. There is more out there than there has been, so it’s getting better. But it didn’t have any effect on my decision to publish independently – I wanted more control over what happened to my series, and one of the themes in the series is currently (over the last year or so) in the public consciousness – I felt that if I waited until a traditional publisher picked it up, and got it out there – it may have been too late for it to make its impact.

M.N.: Now that you’ve got the benefit of hindsight, are you happy with your decision to self publish?

J.L.: Yes, while the marketing and promotion of it is a steep learning curve that takes me away from writing the next two, I have the control over my series, and it’s out in a time where people are thinking on and talking about the underlying theme. I think that theme however will be in the public consciousness for a long time yet – it may have only just started.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

J.L.: Not that I can put my finger on. I’ve always wanted to write, and have written here and there. I’ve always enjoyed Stephen King, and a lot of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal and Dystopian authors. One of Bella Forrest’s series – the Girl Who Dared – kind of gave me the push I needed.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

J.L.: Hugh Howey’s Wool series

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

J.L.: My current WIP is Book 2 of The Alexis Chronicles – Black Phoenix Rising. It’s a continuation of She Wore Black – the first book of The Alexis Chronicles. It follows Reed Taylor on her journey to change the city of GreyBrook from an oppressive society, to something more balanced. However it’s intrinsic hatred of women, and those who buck the system makes this much harder and more dangerous than she realizes.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

J.L.: I’m a bit of a ‘plantser’ now – I used to be a ‘pantser’ inventing it as I went along – She Wore Black was mostly written this way. With the second and third books, I needed to know more about where it was going, so have semi-outlined them. It’s actually easier, so I might keep going that way.

M.N.: I’ve never heard the term ‘Plantser’ before, but I might steal it. When writing “She Wore Black” did the plot end up going about where you expected, or were you surprised by how it turned out?

J.L.: I can’t remember where I first heard “Plantser” but I remember thinking ‘Thats SO me!” – if it fits – steal it!
She Wore Black ended earlier than I had thought it would – I thought it was initially going to be a standalone – but as I got into it, I realised it was going to be a series – so you could say I was surprised that it ended where it did, but it was the perfect spot to move into the next book, and it felt right.

M.N.: When you made the decision to make it a series, was it because the story you wanted to tell was taking too long to get to the finish, or did you realize that you were writing towards something grander than you’d initially conceived that would go beyond your initial planned endpoint?

J.L.: It was a bit of both. I had an idea of the endpoint, and it kept getting further away. The end point is the same, or similar to what I had planned, but will work so much better with the rest of the story in between. In one book it would have been paced too fast, and not given the reader enough time to get to know the main characters, and get invested in them before rushing off. I wanted to do my book, and any readers I had, justice.

M.N.: Do you know how many books it’s going to end up being?

J.L.: At this point, I’m pretty sure it will be a trilogy.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

J.L.: Don’t worry about other people reading it. Just write it for you, and the rest will come later. Don’t take the constructive criticism personally – use it, if it works for you, and it will actually make it better.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

J.L.: Given I only have the one piece out in the world – I’d suggest She Wore Black: The Alexis Chronicles Book One as a very good place to start.

Author Spotlight: Debra L Martin

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Debra L. Martin! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Debra: One day in 2006, I was in the bookstore and on the phone with my brother Dave. I was lamenting about the lack of good fantasy novels to read. Every suggestion he made, I’d already read. On a whim, he said “why don’t we write one of our own?” That’s was the beginning of our writing career. Together we write epic fantasy and urban fantasy. We’ve published four books in epic fantasy, one in urban fantasy and three novellas in our Dark Future series. We are currently working on the final book in our Witch Stone Prophecy series.
I also write romance under a pen name, Debra Elizabeth. I chose a pen name so as not to confuse our fantasy fans. So far, I have 11 titles and 4 collections published. I’m currently writing the fourth book in my regency series, Age of Innocence.  

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

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Debra: Writing with a co-author is challenging. You have to learn to leave your ego at the door to write the best possible book you can.

M.N.: What does that writing process look like? Do you both write the first draft together, or does one of you write the first round and the other does rewrites and edits?

Debra: We have pretty much perfected what works best for us over the years. It was difficult in the beginning to get into the flow of the story, but in the end we worked it out.

M.N.: Has there ever been a scene or story element you disagreed on?

Debra: There has been many scenes that have been left on the cutting room floor because either one of us didn’t like it or didn’t feel it moved the story forward. Our motto is “if you can’t justify why it needs to stay in the chapter, then it gets cut.” Depending on what the chapter is about depends on who writes the first draft. If there is any fighting in the chapter, Dave will write the first draft. Then I edit making sure to add in all the additional details that pull the reader into the story and keeping them turning the pages.

M.N.: Does one of you tend to handle the marketing and publishing efforts, or is that a shared project as well?

Debra: I handle all the marketing and the publishing of our books. Once my graphic artists (I used two for our Witch Stone Prophecy covers) finishes the cover and our editor sends back all her comments, I use Jutoh to turn the word doc into .mobi and .epub files. Then I upload the files to Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple and Google. Because I’m the one to follow marketing trends, I also submit the books for ads at the different sites.

M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Debra: My brother is a retired Marine so the fight scenes in our books are based on real-life experiences. It brings a real excitement to the story.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Debra: Not really. I love lots of fantasy authors including Stephen R Donaldson, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams and Robin Hobb.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Debra: There are so many favorites, but I guess if I had to pick one, I’d pick the “Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Debra: We are working on the final book in our Witch Stone Prophecy, “Witch Stone Assassin.” The story follows elite assassin Jeda Delongo and his life-changing assignment when he is confronted by a witch. Before she dies, she zaps Jeda with a binding spell forcing him to take care of her twin daughters. What Jeda doesn’t realize at the time, is these twins are the famed “children of prophecy.” Book 1 and 2 follow Jeda’s journey as he escapes the Assassin Guild, the Black Witches and a single-minded assassin bent on his destruction. Book 3 is the culmination of adventures for Jeda, his twin daughters, Kara and Kala, and a final battle the likes of which the Kingdom of Tavia has never seen and may not survive.

M.N.: Having to fight while caring for children is always an interesting challenge to watch, and a story about surrogate parenting sounds like a fresh experience.
How did you settle on this plot? Did you decide you wanted to tell a story about an assassin, and the kids came later, or was it the other way around?

Debra: We first wanted to write the story of an elite assassin, but not just about his kills. What would be the worst thing to happen to him? Being taken out of the comfort zone of his skills and into a parental role seemed like opposite ends of the spectrum for Jeda. He couldn’t just leave the twins because the binding spell wouldn’t allow him to do so. He had to learn to take care of the children while trying to avoid a ruthless assassin bent on bringing Jeda back to the Assassin Guild dead or alive. An additional twist is the twins have magical powers of their own and Jeda must try to teach them how to control their gifts as best he can. Along the way, he does get help, but in the early days, he was running for his life while caring for two infants.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Debra: We found out early on that it was best for us to have a detailed outline of the story. To save a lot of repetition when writing chapters, we now write one chapter at a time, send it to the other to edit and then back again for any final edits before the chapter is added to the main file.

M.N.: That sounds like a lot of time to get every chapter done. Do you find that this slows you down at all?

Debra: Even though this does take more time than just writing, writing, writing, this process works best for us. Dave has a demanding day job so sometimes it weeks between our writing sessions. This is one of the reasons why there has been so much time between books.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Debra: Be sure to write out a detailed outline BEFORE we start writing. When writing our first book, “Rule of Otharia,” we thought of a cool twist half way through the book, but that meant we had to go back to the beginning of the story and rewrite a number of chapters. After that, we have done a detailed outline for each book.

M.N.: Do you ever get to a point in the story and realize that something in your outline just doesn’t work the way you wanted it to?

Debra: Having a detailed outline doesn’t mean we always stick to it. There have been many instances where we think of something cool to add in to the storyline. Of course, that means we probably have some adjustments to be made, but I love our creative process. It works for us and we really enjoy writing together.

M.N.: It sounds like you have a great process that really works for the two of you. Have either of you tried writing on your own?

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Debra: Yes, I write romance under the pen name, Debra Elizabeth. I started writing romance stories while I waited for Dave to edit chapters. As I also mentioned this in a previous question, I won’t repeat everything again. Needless to say, I really enjoy writing in different romance genres–contemporary and regency.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Debra: I think that depends of reader interest–our Rule of Otharia series is about our take on the legend of Merlin and his origins from the planet of Otharia before he came to Earth. If the reader is looking for a sweeping story of assassins, witches and battles, then they should delve into the Witch Stone Prophecy series.

M.N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Debra: Thanks so much for hosting me today!

Author Spotlight: Marie Andreas

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Marie Andreas! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Marie: I am an indie (aka self-published) author. I currently have nine books out. I write humorous fantasy, space opera, steampunk, and epic fantasy.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

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Marie: Getting the words down. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, we work for months on a project, and it’s just us. No matter how much I love a project, it is still hard to sit the butt in the chair and do the time.

M.N.: Do you have any special techniques to help you get those words written? Is there a schedule you stick to, or do you write at whatever pace you can on a given day?

Marie: I try and make it a habit, everyday do something. I do set daily goals and use a spreadsheet to keep on track. If I see that I’m only a hundred words from my goal, it will make me dive in for more. It’s a balancing between keeping on task, and allowing yourself down time. I get up at 4:30 am so I can write from 5-6 before going to the day job.

M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Marie: I have a lot of humor, but not slapstick. My books are also fairly fast paced, especially the space opera series. My voice comes through in all of the sub-genres–or so readers tell me ;).

M.N.: Do you have any trouble maintaining an audience across different subgenres?

Marie: Honestly, I don’t think about it. I know some folks love one series, and dislike the other. But I’m writing what I want to write. And it’s very clear they are different series and sub-genres ;).

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Marie: Probably Mercedes Lackey.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Marie: Way too long! I’ll give you my comfort books, the ones I go back to re-read when I’m just tired or feel like a pick me up. Mercedes Lackey – The Mage Winds trilogy; David Eddings – The Belgariad; and Elizabeth Peters – The Amelia Peabody mysteries.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Marie: I am working on the sixth and final book in my Lost Ancients series. Drunken faeries, murder, mayhem, and world ending relics. It’s a bittersweet project as I love these characters and have had so much fun writing their adventures. But this was meant to be a six book arc, so it’s coming to an end. I will be having another series with a new adventure for most of these folks in 2020. But still hard to tie up this one.

M.N.: Does anything come between now and the new adventure?

Marie: I’m sure it does–being a pantser means I’m not sure yet! 😉

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Marie: I am a wild and untamed seat-of-the pants writer – aka a pantser. I have a few general ideas about the who, the where, and the what, but I pretty much run wild.

M.N.: Has there ever been a story twist in your own writing that caught you off guard?

Marie: Yes, all the time! I just had a fairly big one concerning a secondary character that I can’t tell you. But I was as surprised as anyone!

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Marie: Believe in the work. Keep moving forward.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Marie: Well, I have three series. LOL. So The Glass Gargoyle is the first book in the fantasy, Warrior Wench is the first in the space opera, and A Curious Invasion is the first (book two will be out early fall) in the steampunk. They are closed series, meaning you really need to start with book one.

M.N.: Thank you for joining us!

Just thank you for having me!

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Author Spotlight: R. Lennard

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to R. Lennard! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

R. Lennard: I’m an author, librarian and cosplayer who writes YA epic fantasy. I’m currently writing an eight book series, with book two due out later this year. I got into writing in a very different way to most authors – namely because I couldn’t read properly for the first ten years of my life. My eyesight isn’t great, and it took a new optometrist before I could make out what the squiggles on the pages meant. After that, I devoured the whole library (pretty much – anything fantasy or sci-fi, at least).

M. N.: Cosplaying is fun! What has been your favorite character to cosplay as?

The Girl in the Fireplace

Lennard: My favourite cosplay was Madame De Pompadour from the Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace. The dress was made in three days, with lots of blood, sweat, tears and swear words – mostly when I put a sleeve on upside down and had to re-do it. The dress is quite heavy – it’s known as a ‘backsack dress’ and there’s a great fall of material that hangs from the shoulders to the floor. The character was great – but the dress was constantly getting stepped on.

M. N.: Getting stepped on is no fun, but that dress looks great!

On the subject of Doctor Who, who’s your favorite Doctor and why is it David Tennant?

Lennard: Thank you. *laughing* David Tennant has a depth of character and energy that is very compelling, but my favorite Doctor is Matt Smith, actually. Although I have cosplayed as Tennant. Smith was my first doctor – I love how youthful and crazy he is.

The best Doctor

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Lennard: Time – both my own and keeping the characters timelines straight. In my latest book (that’s with betas at the moment) there’s a whole cast of new characters to keep in order.

M. N.: Do you have any tricks or methods you use to keep the timeline on track? Or to keep your timeline on track, for that matter?

Lennard: Once the book is done, I go through and save a copy under each character’s name, and then delete all the scenes that they aren’t in to make sure that their timeline is working. That’s usually after the beta read-through, and in the second stage of editing.

My timeline – that, I’m still working on. I’m a casual librarian, so my writing is fit around my day job. In the drafting stages, I usually get up around 5am to write before the day starts, and again after 8pm if I’ve been working. I have a set amount of words to write by the end of the week, and so long as I meet that, I’m happy.

M. N.: That’s a really good idea! I might steal that when my own casts start to get too out of control.
You mention that your beta read-through happens before your second stage of editing – Does that mean you do this during your second draft, or your third draft?

Lennard: I may have adapted the idea from another author, so steal away! I draft then edit, creating the second draft. The second draft gets beta read, then I edit again. The third draft goes to an editor, and when it gets back to me, I edit again. The fourth draft goes to a proofreader, then I edit for the fifth draft and format the manuscript, then the final proofread before it goes out into the world.

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Lennard: When I started writing Ronah, there weren’t too many YA fantasy books around with strong female protagonists. That’s no longer the case. I would say that my main character’s lack of a love interest is the most unique part of the book. The series is special because of the world it’s based in – full of magic and possibilities, monsters and heroes, the likes of which hasn’t been seen before.

M. N.: Was the lack of a love interest a deliberate choice from the start? A lot of authors feel like they’ve got to include one whether or not it suits the story they’re telling, so it’s refreshing to see that not everyone has.

Lennard: Yes, and no. In the first cringe-worthy drafts of Ronah, Shari was paired up with different characters, but it felt so forced. She literally doesn’t have the time or energy to attempt to maintain a relationship, and she doesn’t want to either – so why force it? There are other characters who are intrigued by her, or who want to form a connection because of her power, but – spoilers – she’s never going to take them up on it.

M. N.: I’m sure there are plenty of shippers out there sad to hear that, but it’s refreshing to see a character that’s too busy for a relationship who then actually doesn’t get involved in one.

Lennard: Thank you. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so it’s nice to be in control of the story.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Lennard: I loved fantasy books growing up, but I ran out of things to read. Sometimes, the stories didn’t quite end the way I wanted them too, or the plot was too predictable, so I wanted to change it, but write my own story at the same time.

M. N.: Do you remember the first book where the ending didn’t sit right with you?

Lennard: Not really. I do remember the first book I was never able to finish – one by Dean Koontz. I love his writing, but one of his books messed with my head and I had to put it down and couldn’t pick it up again.
I was also used to reading a lot of different series, and there’s a book by the name of Aida’s Ghost by Patricia Bernard that’s a stand alone – and I desperately wanted more of the story – of all books, that’s probably the one that made me want to write my own the most.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Lennard: Anne McCaffery, Isobell Carmody, R.A. Salvatore and Sara Douglas were my favourite fantasy writers, but I also love Matthew Rielly and Andy McNab. I’ve got a few new favourites now – Jodie Lane, Lynette Noni and Casandra Clare to name a few.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Lennard: Rakemyst is book two of the Lissae series, and sees Shari dealing with the fallout of announcing she’s the saviour of their Realm, Lissae. There is, as I mentioned before, a host of new characters, as well as a new Shifting Island to explore and new enemies to defend Lissae from. The biggest lesson for Shari in the book is that people aren’t always what they seem.

Click to Buy

M. N.: A Shifting Island and shifty characters? That sounds like a good combination.

Lennard: I think it is 🙂 There are seven Shifting Islands on Lissae, and they’re all sentient. There are a few shifty characters, one of whom is my favourite. He’s getting his own novella – so stay tuned!

M. N.: I’m curious about your names – Ronah, Rakemyst, Lissae. Do they have a special meaning?

Lennard: Ah, names. My nemesis. Can I share a secret? I’m dyslexic, some of the names in my book are harder to pronounce because my brain jumbled the letters up. Ronah is meant to be the ideal place to live, and I was looking for a name that meant idealistic. The word Lissae is meant to slide off your tongue. Rakemyst is the home of the Ilutri – winged beings, who named their home because the towers rake the clouds. My main character also carries the title of Altoriae, which is a dyslexic version of Latin’s ‘deep sanctuary.’ Fun fact: I studied Ancient Latin for a semester at Uni.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Lennard: Oh, my writing process for Rakemyst looked quite different from Ronah. With Ronah, I was very much a ‘pantser’ – plotting by the seat of my pants. That book took 17 years to write, and went through almost as many drafts. With Rakemyst, each chapter was outlined, and there were plot points that carried over from Ronah. I’m about to outline book three as well, which I’m super excited to start on.

M. N.: That’s a long time! Did you decide to outline so that you would be able to write it faster, or for another reason?

Lennard: To be fair, there was a big chunk of time in there that I wasn’t writing. I started outlining because the story kind of poured out of me. I knew where I wanted it to go, and I knew who the main players who be and what they needed to do. It’s a little hard to get 120’000 words out in one go though.

M. N.: Do you have an good idea what’s going to happen in book three, or are you going to find that out when it comes time to outline?

Lennard: *Cue evil laughter* My biggest stumbling block for Rakemyst was figuring out the antagonist. I know exactly with the antagonist is for book three (and four), and the base outline is in my head – it’s just getting it down on paper and making sure the timelines are right.

M. N.: Can you give us any hints what it’s going to look like?

Click to Buy

Lennard: I can say that the antagonist for book three is not what you’d expect, but I can’t say anything else without spoilers, sweetie. Sorry!

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Lennard: Don’t be afraid to be different. Remember to listen to your gut – and if it feels right, you will remember it.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Lennard: I currently have a short story in an anthology, The Evil Inside Us, a novella, Guardian, and Ronah available. If you’re wanting to explore the Realm of Lissae and follow Shari on her adventures, I’d start with Guardian.

Click to Buy

M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lennard: I feel really honored to be able to write – to not only put words on the page, but to spin a story that people want to read. It’s corny, but true. Please, don’t ever underestimate how much your support means to a writer. There are so many people that have helped me with my journey. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing today.

M. N.: Thank you for joining us today!

Author Spotlight: Kelly Blanchard

As part of a new ongoing project, we at M. N. Jolley Writing are going to be conducting weekly interviews with authors from around the country to talk about their stories and their writing process. First up, we’ve got Kelly Blanchard, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author from Texas!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Kelly: My name is Kelly Blanchard. I live in Texas in the middle of nowhere with my husband (who’s also my co-writer), our Doberman, and our two cats. I write a blend of fantasy and science fiction. Currently I am publishing my series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, but I’ve already written it completely, so while I continue publishing the rest of that series, I am co-writing with my husband another series in my story universe called ‘The Ceralian Gambit’.

M. N.: What is co-writing like? Do you both write chapters, or does one of you do the writing while the other works on plotting and editing?

Kelly: Each of us have certain characters that we write although sometimes we share characters (depends on who all are in the scene). A lot of people have compared it to RolePlaying, which I suppose it may be. I’ve honestly never done any roleplaying, so I wouldn’t know the comparison. Sometimes there are chapters that involve only the characters that one of us write, so we’ll write it solo, but most of the time we co-write, writing our character’s response and then waiting for them to respond as well. It’s addictively fun!

Someday I'll Be Redeemed [Link]
Click to buy

M. N.: In my experience, roleplaying involves a lot more yelling at plastic cubes and begging the other players not to walk into obvious ambushes. That sounds like a wonderful process, but is it very time consuming to wait for your partner to respond like that?

Kelly: We don’t yell at each other about them walking into an obvious ambush or anything. It’s a bit more planned than that, and we agree on how things should unfold. What we don’t know is what exactly the character will say in response to what our own character says. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s hurtful, which can change the tone of the scene, but usually the scene progresses more or less how we imagined. As for waiting for my co-writer to reply, well, we only manage to write together on his days off (he works as an EMT in the ER of a Level 1 Trauma Center), and it’s a rather swift process when we do get to sit down and write. We tend to average 10k words a day. This is how we managed to finish our second book in less than two weeks!

M. N.: That’s an incredible average! And that’s a cool job for him, too. Do you handle the publishing business and marketing, or is that also a cooperative effort?

Kelly: I handle all the publishing and marketing. He’s far too busy!

M. N.: Do you ever disagree on where the story should go?

Kelly: How the story should go? No. How a scene should unfold, yes, but it’s rare. Once we had this one scene that we had to brainstorm for almost four hours until we came to an agreement because how it unfolded really affected major parts we wanted later on in the scene. We finally figured out a way to make it unfold with the results that we wanted, and it turned out great.

M. N.: Can you tell us what book that scene was in? I always enjoy getting a peek behind the curtain to see what was going on in the authors’ minds while they were working.

Kelly: I can’t say much without spoiling a major scene, but basically my husband’s character had to go in and slaughter a bunch of people. The character didn’t want to do it, but he had no choice because of different factors I can’t go into. We had to discuss how the scene would unfold. I had a specific idea, but my husband had another idea, and so we had to hammer away at both until we found a compromise that allowed the following scenes to unfold the way we needed them to. It worked out quite nicely.

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Kelly: Honestly, it’s not writing that gives me a challenge as it is marketing.

M. N.: On the subject of marketing, do you have any trouble selling a series that’s a fusion of multiple genres?

Kelly: Some people aren’t sure what to think when I say it’s a fusion of the two genres, but they tend to give them a chance without too much issue, and their concerns of the fusion of genres disappear. However, getting the books in front of people to discover it always a unique challenge!

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Kelly: I believe my books are unique in how they are told. They flow like movies. There are subtle but powerful descriptions, strong characters with immersive stories, witty one-liners, and confident pacing. I take the usual fantasy and science fiction tropes, turn them on their heads, and make them different in a way that they stand out.

M. N.: Playing with tropes can be a lot of fun. Is there an especially interesting twist you’ve done on a trope, that you can tell us about without spoiling your book?

Kelly: In fantasy, there are often the idea of elves. However, I’ve created a new race called the ‘kelliphs’ that are roughly based off elves, but they are unique in that, in addition to their longevity, they have multiple lives. So, even if you manage to kill one, they won’t stay dead for very long. They are very difficult to kill permanently (which is actually a major plot point for Book 5). They also have a unique magical ability to change one material into another (like water into fire or stone into bread or flesh into dust, etc). There are shapeshifting dragons that prefer the shape of a human, and they are not evil and don’t hoard things. They also have magical abilities that are unique to them such as mind magic and magicking (teleporting with magic) to other worlds, and so forth. They usually stay within their own kingdom rather than trying to destroy the surrounding lands, but they tend to aid the humans actually as they are the only other race that has longevity–almost to the point of immortality. And then there’s the whole mix of magic and science too–that’s a lot of fun.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Kelly: Not really. Stories have been a part of my life since before I could even write.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Kelly: As a rule, I don’t do favorites. I hold Lewis and Tolkien in high regard, and I am friends with a ton of fellow authors, but I have no absolute favorite.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Kelly: My husband and I literally just finished the second book of our series the other day, and we are now plotting the next book and will begin writing it soon. Even though this series is in the same story universe as my other series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, it does not have the science fiction elements but is mainly fantasy. It all began with the assassinations of the king and prince of Ceraleo. For too long, Princess Ensula has been a pawn in a political game–being sent away to a strange land for her own safety and betrothed to a foreign prince–but no longer. Now, she returns to introduce a new element to the game and show those in power that she is not a pawn in this long game but rather a queen.

M. N.: I really enjoy stories that blend sci-fi and fantasy elements together. How does that work in your setting?

Kelly: It’s hard to explain how it works. It just does. On this one continent, most of the kingdoms are more medieval and have magic whereas another kingdom has highly advanced technology. Later in the series, there is even space travel, but it all really works together in a way that I am pleased with.

M. N.: Is the technology magic-based, then?

Kelly: On the surface, no. There was only one land that had magic-based technology, but what happened to that land is a long story. But when you pull back the curtain, you realize mathematics, equations, and calculations are a form of magic–just viewed, understood, and applied differently.

M. N.: Since this new book doesn’t have the sci-fi elements, is that because of where it’s set, or because of when it takes place?

Kelly: It’s because it’s on a different continent than the Chronicles of Lorrek. They actually have a different system of magic, and the LORE of magic is so much fun to explore, and it is greatly explored in the series ‘The Ceralian Gambit’. It shows how all different systems of magic and even math and science and really any inspiration all stem from the same magic realm. It’s so interesting.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Kelly: Usually I plot out the most major parts of the story and then wing it from there.

M. N.: Have you ever been surprised by something that happened in your own story?

Kelly: Oh yes! Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an instance right now, but things have surprised me. It’s fantastic.

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Kelly: I would tell my younger self that I might never get a mentor, but that’s okay. I’ll find a lot of support online in the writing community.

They Must Be Stopped [Link]
Click to buy

M. N.: Are there any specific people or groups you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Kelly: Well, there are J. E. Mueller, A. R Harlow, Nan Sampson, Megan Hay, Allen Cheesman, Katie Davis, Annie Twitchell, Jessica Kirkpatrick, Jacquie Tuck, J. R. O’Bryant, Daryl J. Ball, Sarah Elisabeth, and so many more! All of these are writers (not all published yet), and most are superfans of mine. Some are even reading the rough draft of the books my husband and I are writing because they are so enthusiastic about the story universe we’ve created. It is so much fun! So much support and encouragement.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Kelly: I’d recommend the first book of my Chronicles of Lorrek series, ‘Someday I’ll Be Redeemed’, as a starting point. After my husband and I complete and publish The Ceralian Gambit, the first book of that series would be a good starting point since it takes place a few decades prior to the Chronicles of Lorrek.

M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Kelly: Not that I can think of. Thanks so much for interviewing me! It is a wonderful opportunity!

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Recommending: “The Fifth Season”

When you read enough books in the same genre, it can sometimes be hard to find a book in that group which feels fresh without also feeling like you’ve jumped the rails and started reading another genre entirely. The tropes become worn, the arcs become rote, and it can be hard to find that spark that got you interested in the genre in the first place.

Then a book like “The Fifth Season” comes along and reminds you.

If you run in fantasy circles, this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve heard someone recommending “The Fifth Season”, the first book in “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. And for good reason: Not only is it a Hugo award winner, but its two sequels are also Hugo winners, making Jemisin the first (and only) author to have won the award three years in a row.

So, all I’m really trying to do here is signal-boost a bit to let anyone who hasn’t already heard of this book know that it’s absolutely worth the read.

“The Fifth Season” doesn’t break the mold, it instead feels like it rebuilt the mold from scratch. To describe its synopsis, then, would do it little justice. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one: It’s set in a fantasy world with a unique twist to the environment, there’s a special group of feared magic users who all get trained at a wizard’s college to control their great and terrible powers, bureaucrats with a dagger behind every smile, and a race of mythic humanoids with strange motivations and stranger powers.)

No, where “The Fifth Season” succeeds is in taking all these well worn ideas, breaking them down to their component parts, and reminding readers why they’re such effective story tools to begin with. Jemisin displays almost complete mastery over the genre, knowing both how to set up the pins and how to knock them down.

In certain parts, the book lets you in on some secrets, rewarding readers for being familiar with certain tropes, but then it’ll let the penny drop and throw you completely off guard for having ever thought you knew where the story was going next. Even being very familiar with the genre and knowing where the story was going in general, this mix of surprise and familiarity kept me on my toes throughout the story, because even when I thought I knew what to expect, I could never be certain when Jemisin was going to pull the rug out from under me to reveal something I’d never have expected.

I haven’t gotten to read the two sequels, (“The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky”) yet, but you can bet they’re the next two things on my reading list.