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Hi Everyone!

I was recently interviewed for author Jess Watkins’s blog, A Book Addict’s Bookshelves, and am very excited to share this with you today! The questions were in-depth and a joy to answer. And so, without further ado, here it is:

When did you start writing?

My love for writing grew out of an early love for reading.  I think what led me to this point was that my mother started reading to me when I was in the womb, and my father told me wild, not-exactly-verifiable tall tales while I was still in the cradle. I can remember writing little stories and vignettes when I was a very young child and even staging my first play when I was eight years old. The budget for this theatrical extravaganza was nonexistent, which was why my family got coerced into playing about six parts each. I also remember being a bit of a tyrannical director, and shouting CUT quite a lot, but that was definitely the moment the writing bug first bit me.

When I was around eleven or twelve, I wrote an incredibly short story inspired by Jurassic Park. The plot consisted of a brother and sister being chased to the edge of a cliff by a T-Rex. The kids gave the Rex the old “one-two-JUMP!” fake out, and the poor dinosaur fell for this ruse and went tumbling over the cliff. End of story—happily ever after for everyone except the Rex. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this story was fun! I’d actually finished something I’d set out to write! I thought it was epic, even though it was only six pages long! You have to start somewhere, right?

At the age of fourteen, I started writing my first novel, but abandoned it for school and other projects. I did revisit this book a few years ago and wrote a prologue and two further chapters, plus a bit of an outline, but I’m still not ready to dip back into it yet. One day, I most definitely shall, but, to quote Aragorn, “It is not this day!”

Even though I loved writing, and had dabbled in it for practically my entire life by this point, I’d never considered turning it into a career until I read Crime and Punishment as a senior in high school. There was something masterful about that book and the way Dostoevsky was able to paint deep psychological portraits of his characters with just a few well-chosen and brilliant words that inspired me and made me seriously think about becoming a storyweaver.

But I lay the blame for my decision to become a writer squarely on the shoulders of Gandalf the Grey (as portrayed by Ian McKellen in The Fellowship of the Ring), who got to me as an impressionable sixteen year old in the winter of 2001 as I sat, awestruck and enraptured, in a darkened theater and heard him speak this iconic line to Frodo:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Well, I decided, right at that moment, and I’ve never looked back.
What makes you want to write?

The desire to weave stories and lose myself in other worlds. J. R. R. Tolkien, who has been a defining force and inspiration not only on my writing, but also in my life, once said that fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. I never took this to mean that writing fantasy was a way of denying reality, or hiding yourself in invented worlds because you couldn’t face daily life in our fallen one. Quite the reverse. The concept of crafting myths and legends around very human characters who inhabited worlds that reflected the glories and evils of our own, that mirrored them in some unique yet hauntingly familiar way, fired my imagination like nothing else ever had. This is the reason I don’t write contemporary fiction. Not because I can’t, but because swathing a story in the trappings of fantasy makes the experience so much richer for me as a writer, and also, hopefully, for the reader, than it would a tale stripped of its glory set in modern times. And just because something is classified as “fantasy,” doesn’t mean it can’t be realistic. If anything, it should be more so. I have always endeavored to create characters that are human, with all our foibles and weaknesses, hopes and dreams—and longings for “home.” By home, I don’t mean a building, but a deep ache within the heart to find the place where we belong.  And home, for me, at least when it comes to writing, has always been in these other worlds, where I can best use the time that has been given to me to shine a blinding light onto the darkness.

Do you ever get writer’s block and what do you do to get over it?

It’s strange, but my worst case of writer’s block didn’t stop me from writing. It honestly felt more like writer’s “monumental confusion,” because before I began writing Deadmarsh Fey back in 2014, I had spent a year working on what would become the fourth book in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light. The problem was, I was forcing that book to come first, which was why it felt so out of place and so wrong. I do have to say that even though this experience was very frustrating, writing that book laid a lot of groundwork for the backstory of the Bear, the Wolf, and the Curse that Walks the Earth—three beings featured in Deadmarsh Fey—and also for the world of Everl’aria, the land in which that fourth book is set. Incidentally, I included a teaser for this fourth book toward the end of Deadmarsh Fey and had an absolute blast doing so. It made this long and trying process feel as though it had finally come full circle.

Do you have a special way of going about writing?

Until Deadmarsh Fey, I used to write my novels out of sequence. If I thought up a plot twist for chapter 10, I’d write that whole chapter, then piece the book together. This process probably made writing harder, yet that was how I’d always done it. But with Deadmarsh Fey…that book seized me and never let go, to the point where I had no choice but to begin at the beginning (what a novel concept!) and write straight through till the end.

In regards to how I craft my stories or come up with plots, I usually start off with ideas for characters, then build a tale around them. I’m fascinated by the meanings of names, and sometimes have a bit too much fun instilling character traits that fulfill them. I don’t always do this, but there are usually aspects of a character’s personality that hearken back to what he or she has been christened. This is especially true of Trahaearn Coffyn. And that’s all I’ll say about him!

Do you have any works in progress?

Yes, I do! The book does have a title, but I’m keeping that secret and safe for now. What I can tell you is that it is the second novel in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light—and a sequel to Deadmarsh Fey, set seven years after the events in that story. Throughout Deadmarsh Fey, I made mention of a little girl named Isobel Vickers, and also her family, who are great friends of Roger’s. Toward the end of the novel, Isobel’s and her family’s connection to the Deadmarshes, and the creatures hunting them, is revealed in a rather dramatic way to Roger. And this turn of events leads directly into book two, which is set on a desolate rock called Cutwater Island. Here there be sharks. That I’ve included them in this story isn’t surprising, given that I once wanted to be a marine biologist, and would have done, if that darn wizard with the long grey beard and big pointy hat had just kept his wisdom to himself.

What are your hobbies?

When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my loved ones, reading, and watching films. I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist, although I do not perform as much as I used to when I was younger. Still, it’s nice to be able to lose myself in music whenever the need takes hold.
Who is your favourite character in Deadmarsh Fey? 

It’s a tie between Roger and Kip. This might sound a little odd, but I felt like I became Roger when I wrote Deadmarsh Fey, since the story is told through his eyes, and experienced everything along with him. It was a very surreal and rewarding and exhausting experience. But I still feel quite close to that little dynamo, especially because I put him through many terrible ordeals and nearly gave him (and myself) heart failure on several occasions.

And then there is Kip, who is not only one of my very favorite characters in Deadmarsh Fey, but most likely my favorite character of all time that I’ve ever written. I feel as if Kip just presented himself, with all his history and gravitas and personality, and dictated his role in the story to me, mind to mind. I was always excited to craft scenes in which he featured, because I knew he’d take over. It seems uncanny, I know, but with Kip, all I had to do was give him the floor, because he essentially wrote himself.

I also have a soft spot for Incendiu, but I can’t say much about him without spoiling his role in the story. His presence, however, hangs over the novel almost from the beginning, and getting inside his mind to discover what made him tick—and why he and a certain other character had been at loggerheads for more years than I care to mention—was one of my favorite story arcs to develop when crafting the book.

What was your favourite part of writing Deadmarsh Fey?

Discovering things along with Roger. And finally being able to put scenes down on the page that had been racketing around in my brain for years. This novel is a prequel to a fantasy trilogy (started out as a duology) I began writing in 2003. That set of books takes place 40 odd years later, and features several characters from Deadmarsh Fey, along with a heavy dose of intrigue and peril as a result of what happened in these prequel books…which I hadn’t even written yet! Wanting to know exactly why things had turned out the way they had, what had led the characters to this point and made them who they were, was too insistent of an idea to ignore, and Deadmarsh Fey is the result of this curiosity finally being satisfied.

There are also a few chapters in Deadmarsh Fey that I might have taken a bit too much (fiendish) glee in plotting and writing (Now Face-to-Fey and Warnings and Visitations spring to mind), but overall, the entire book was an experience for me. It made me grow as a writer, and also taught me to not get too attached to scenes or any other snatches of writing (dialogue in particular) to the detriment of the story. In other words, what didn’t work was scrapped, and the novel ended up being much better because I had gotten out of my own way and hadn’t tried to force things.

As with Kip, after a certain point, the book also began to write itself. Don’t take this to mean that I’d walk into my office to find Carver or Incendiu or Roger or any other character, sitting at my desk, cackling in delight as they pounded away at the keys of my laptop, churning out the story. But once all the elements and legends and backstory had been woven together, everything clicked, and the novel took off. That didn’t mean all was sunshine and roses from that point forward. I was juggling several story arcs that needed to be resolved to make the ending (and successive novels in the series) viable, but I was excited to get to work on it each day because I knew the direction the book had taken was the right one—the one that was meant to be.

Quick-fire questions:

Chocolate or ice cream?

CHOCOLATE! I think the all-caps enthusiasm of that answer speaks for itself!

Paperback or ebook?

I publish in both formats, and do own a Kindle, but I prefer the feel of a book in my hands when reading. So, paperback!

Dogs or cats?

I had a wonderful little dog named Puckie for 17 years, but I also love cats, which is the reason for Kip being in Deadmarsh Fey. I’m partial to both.

Go out or stay in?

Stay in. #HermitLife

Summer or winter?

Where I live, summers are unbearable! I definitely prefer winter, although my favorite season is Fall. I love the crispness in the air, the glorious burnt orange and golden hued leaves, the carte blanche I feel I have to read all the Classic horror books I want and pass them off as “seasonal reading” without making everyone wonder if I’ve been bitten by a vampire and developed rather bloodthirsty tastes in literature. Plus, Fall also means it’s time, once again, to bake these delicious chocolate chip pumpkin spice cookies that have become a tradition with me over the last eleven years.

Wishing you the best,