E. S. Furlán is an Australian author and artist who grew up in northern Italy and now lives in Denmark. She took the scenic route growing up and often thinks author bios sound a lot like obituaries. Her first medieval fantasy novel, The Tainted Shrine: Fool's Fief Book I, is being proudly self-published in 2018.
What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
Aside from working on my novels and publishing some short stories on my website, I'm also excited about another project I'm working on. Some of the best fantasy novels I've read in recent years have been self-published or published by small, independent publishers, but so have some of the worst. In this age of instant publishing, the role of reviewers is more crucial than ever for readers to discover high-quality books. And so, although I'll be the first to admit I'm not much good on film, I've started a review channel on Youtube called The Indie Dragon that accepts only self-published and independently published fantasy novels. I'm quite busy with so many different but boring things, so the schedule is patchy so far, but I've uploaded a few reviews so far and the response has been quite good. I also post the reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and on my blog, as well as doing interviews once a month with authors who fit the afore-mentioned criteria. I'm a very harsh critic for fantasy novels – I love them and so I demand the best of them – and I have an award organised for the end of the year for the best novel I've received. The winner will receive a small trophy and a certificate, and the runners-up will receive certificates. It's still early stages, but I'm very excited about it.
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
Currently I'm working on The Tainted Shrine, my first full-length novel. TTS focuses on three underdogs in a conquered secondary world city called Argorien on a continent named Caerphy. The main plot follows Seer freedwoman named Kanika is in a not-entirely-consensual relationship with Atham, the Crown Prince of the people who invaded her country, and her plot explores power dynamics in relationships that are not overtly abusive but still are incredibly damaging and unbalanced. The two secondary plots follow the Crown Prince's younger sister Elsephere and his younger half-brother Meto as they both try to undercut Atham's right to rule and pursue their own passions amid political intrigue and the obstacles thrown in their path by both their own actions and the actions of those around them. The two final and most minor plots centre around some disturbing creatures on the fringes of civilization and the rapidly mobilizing discontent of the Seers.
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
TTS's full title is The Tainted Shrine: Fool's Fief Book I which is, as the title suggests, part of a series – a trilogy, I hope. I tried to condense it down into just one book but that went rather badly. Without giving too much away, we can expect the two most minor plots in the first book to become larger in the next two books, alongside empowerment, contemplation of the gods of Caerphy and their place in the lives of those who worship them.
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
I do write under a pen name, yes. Aside from some personal reasons, the sad fact of the matter is that women writing in fantasy genres are generally not taken as seriously as men writing in the genre. Significant strides are being made online to rectify this, from what I can tell, but the stigma remains in some people's minds just like the stigma against self-publishing.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
None that I truly, utterly despise, no, but there have been a few close calls. I think it would be difficult to despise my own character unless I had written them badly and without fully understanding them as a character. And if the character is designed to illicit that response, then I still shouldn't truly despise them because I should understand them to the point where I can still see their humanity.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
The writing actually came rather late in life for me. I got sick of feeling like I had nothing to paint, and I'd see all these other artists painting their OCs and I thought it was a cool idea to always have an artistic subject. So I created a few characters, a world for them to live in, and realized I was having heaps of fun creating the evolutionary story of the planet and family trees and mythology. That was just after I'd had my daughter, so I guess at about 17 or 18. So not super late in the grand scheme of things, but I've only been writing for around 9-10 years.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
I was super into drugs as a teenager, and my dreams got very vivid once I quit. I didn't dream at all when I was partying a lot, but then I quit everything and calmed right down when I got pregnant and all of a sudden every night was like HD crazy stories playing out in my head from what felt like the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up each morning. I had the usual melting faces and things rushing at me from darkness stuff, but then occasionally I'd be just observing things play out in seemingly normal medieval scenarios, and TTS started from one of the more interesting of those. I grew up in an area that maintained a lot of its medieval architecture and was quite isolated and in touch with its folk roots, so my guess is the medieval stuff comes from there, and the events of the stories come from some sort of subconscious processing my brain is going through.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
I've come to despise tropes that reinforce the status quo in any way – especially in fantasy, there's a strong culture of conservativeness that I didn't expect. In the past few years the tide is definitely turning in favour of more progressive ideals, but there are still a lot of lazy stories relying on damsel in distress, boys' club and queer erasure tropes. I also don't especially like romantic subplots. I feel like those have been explored in a fair amount of depth, and I'd much prefer to see friendships and political intrigue explored, especially in scenarios and ways that are not so frequently delved into.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
The vast majority of authors get very little feedback from readers once their books are published. They've essentially shot their work out into the dark of the ether, on the word of a small handful of people (editor, proof reader, beta readers, etc) and they have no way of knowing if anyone enjoyed it or not, which parts they liked and which they didn't, anything like that. So first and foremost your review has value in that you're providing feedback to the creator, and unless you're a dick about it, they will appreciate it and it may even brighten a day that was otherwise grim and desperate for them. Your review will also help them gain visibility on sites that readers frequent and that increase how many people their book reaches. It also adds credibility so that well-known reviewers will review them. And every review counts, both good and bad. Basically the only reason you should not review a book is if you don't want the author to succeed, and honestly at that point you should probably email them, because very few books are truly irredeemable.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
I'm not particularly fussy when it comes to writing. I can write as soon as I get up and I can write until late at night. I don't usually wait for inspiration to strike, I just put words on the page and know I can delete them if they don't work later on. Since I quit smoking, I vape a lot. Turns out the cravings never really go away even years later, so I'd be way less productive without the e-cigarette and a lot of water each day.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
I wouldn't say they have control over me, no. If ever I feel like they're controlling me when I'm writing them, it's often just another aspect of their personality revealing itself to me, but not as though they're entities of their own, more like there's a logical progression of characteristics based on what I've made them that my brain is connecting the dots on. If ever there's anything too out of character, or anything that would derail the plot without good cause or without being a better thread to follow in the book, I just write it out in a separate document and save it in a folder labelled “NOT TO BE PUBLISHED.” Then it just sits with all the character sheets and plot ideas in dot-point format. I just keep them as a reference for if they ever seem to be inclined that way again, so I know it's not coming out of nowhere.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I dropped out of high school at 16. I had a lot going on mentally, with very little support, and I never felt like I learned very much at school anyway so I just stopped going. I went back and did an equivalent certificate when I was about 20, but I never pursued formal education beyond that. Education is such a privilege, and I feel like a lot of people don't understand how challenging even just simple attendance can be for people in some situations. I always loved learning, but in between mental health issues, being a 17-year-old single mother and the immense pressure to get every aspect of my life in order so as not to screw up my kid, finishing it was probably the greatest achievement of my life until that point. And my situation was not even the most challenging out there, at least I only had to support myself and my daughter.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Firstly, everyone should do their darnedest to buy and eat locally grown produce and meat. I know there's a push for everyone to be vegan in some circles, but let's be real, that only shifts the pressure we put on the planet, it doesn't actually diminish it. Farmer's markets are very wanky but they are also the best place to buy stuff if you want good quality food at (usually) cheaper prices than supermarkets. Secondly, stop judging others and assuming that they had all the same opportunities and education as you did. Some people have the deck stacked against them and it's not right to compare their results to the results of those who've been born into luckier circumstances without doing anything to level the playing field – it's the difference between beating up a child and having a proper boxing match with someone in your weight class, it's just pathetic. And thirdly... I don't know, I guess just use the damn cloth bags at the shops and start caring about how your choices affect the world and its future. I feel like my 90s upbringing is showing heaps in this answer.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Well, I have to say dragons, don't I, because I write medieval fantasy. But even aside from that, I would still choose dragons because they can be good or evil or anything in between, plus they can breathe fire. I think they have a more unique and complex relationship with destruction than the other two, and I think perhaps they would be able to see the beauty in chaos in a way that the zombies just flat out couldn't and that the aliens, depending on the strength of their intellectual and philosophical culture, wouldn't.
Margaret Fortune: Author of the Spectre War Series
Today we’ll be having an interview with one of my favorite sci-fi authors: Margaret Fortune. I have reviewed both of her books Nova and Archangel. Margaret, thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
I’m the author of two books, Nova and Archangel, which are both part of a series called The Spectre War. Set in the distant future, in a time when humans have spread out and settled throughout the universe on myriad planets, colonies, and space stations, the series tells the ongoing story of an interstellar war from five different perspectives. At first the war seems fairly straightforward, but we soon learn that it’s anything but what it seems.
The series will be comprised of five books, each featuring a different protagonist—Lia, a genetically engineered human bomb (Nova); Michael, a soldier testing weapons prototypes (Archangel); Teal, a student turned resistance leader; Storm, a medical test subject; and Shar, a powerful psychic on the run. Though each protagonist has their own story to tell, every character also carries a piece of a much larger puzzle—the truth behind the war itself. Only when they finally combine their individual pieces will the characters understand the true nature of the enemy and their purpose behind the war. However, once they learn the truth, will it be enough to defeat the enemy and win this war once and for all . . . or will the truth only doom them—along with the rest of humanity—for all time?
The answers will come in books three, four, and five!
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’ve written a lot of characters, each with their own abilities, moral standards, and emotional baggage, but no, I’ve never written one I simply despise.
Part of writing authentic, three-dimensional characters is recognizing that people are never “all good” or “all bad.” As such, it’s important to be able to both empathize with and criticize your characters in turn. If you can criticize a character but never empathize with them, they’re probably not so much a person as a one-dimensional villain, a cardboard cutout there to serve the plot and the main character’s story arc.
On the flip side, if you can empathize with a character but never criticize them, they’re probably too perfect to be real. Even the best people fail at times. They make mistakes, they act selfishly, they do things they secretly know aren’t right. They do wrong things for the right reasons, and right things for the wrong reasons. It’s part of being human. At times, I’m writing and I want nothing more than to give my character a big hug and tell them it will all turn out okay in the end. And then other times I’m writing, and I just shake my head in despair at them, and say, “Oh, this is not a good moment for you.” It goes both ways.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
Things I like the best: Well-developed characters who are flawed but still relatable; clever plot arcs that go in unexpected directions; unique and interesting settings so vivid you feel like you’re there; strong female characters who don’t wait for rescue but use their brains, initiative, and leadership skills to solve their problems; strong male characters who know when to use their hearts instead of their fists, and are all the stronger for it; well-crafted prose that sets a mood or atmosphere; and stories that have me coming back and thinking about them long after I’ve finished the book.
Things I like the least: Wasted potential. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a great concept ruined by poor execution or lack of good direction. Stories mired in tropes, clichés, and stereotypes. One-dimensional characters who are nothing more than vehicles for the plot or concept rather than people. Heroes that are too perfect to be believed, and villains that are so evil they’re cartoonish. Bad or amateur writing, filled with lots of obvious redundancies or errors that could have been easily fixed…but weren’t.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music, or something else?
During the week, I write in the evenings after work. On the weekends, it varies, mainly depending on how many chores/errands I have to do and how much I procrastinate.
Must haves? Well, it helps if I have my laptop! I rarely write by hand. Otherwise, not really. All I need is my brain, my laptop, and a place to sit.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
The short answer is no, my characters don’t control me. All of my characters are figments of my imagination cooked up in my brain, and thus everything on the page is a direct result of what I, as an author, choose to do. That said, as I continue to write, I’ll often discover hidden dimensions in my characters that I wasn’t consciously aware of before, dimensions which may shape what direction the book takes. So while my characters don’t “control me,” the book will evolve and change during the writing process as my characters continue to become more fleshed out and realized in my mind.
What kind of impact do you want your books to have on readers?
I want my readers to laugh, to cry, to think, to be inspired, to turn the pages like there’s no tomorrow. I want them to cringe when they see a character they love about to make a terrible mistake, to grind their teeth when that character is mistreated, and to feel elated when they’re triumphant. I want people to stay up past their bedtimes, to miss their subway stops, and be late to their parties because they have to find out how it all ends. And when the end finally comes, I want them to sit on the edge of their seats and bite their knuckles and say, “OMG!” In short, I want people to enjoy my books, because that’s what reading is all about: having fun. So to all the readers out there, whether you’re reading my books or someone else’s—Happy Reading!
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
I think there’s a rather unfortunate misconception about mistakes, this idea that mistakes are terrible things that must be avoided at all costs. In reality, making mistakes is the way we learn, we grow, and we improve as writers—and people. So often I see writers so terrified of making “rookie mistakes” that they put blanket bans on stuff--Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t use this at all. The problem with banning anything and everything you might mess up is that instead of learning how to do something right, you end up learning to do nothing at all. Instead of adding to your options, you take them away. Mistakes can be painful, but by allowing ourselves to make them, we give ourselves a chance to learn something new and ultimately come out stronger on the other side.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Be honest with yourself. Whether you’re an amateur writer trying to get an agent, a newly agented writer trying to get your first book deal, or a published author whose books haven’t done so well, the fact is that the publishing industry is tough. It’s not easy, it’s not fair, and your relative success or failure in the industry is often largely influenced by factors beyond your control. And succeeding in the industry—or even getting into the industry at all—often requires you to make compromises between what the market wants and what you want.
So it’s important to be realistic about what the market demands and honest with yourself about what your writing/career goals are, which goals are most important to you, and what you’re willing to do—or not do—to achieve them.
If you could go to any fictional world, where would you go? Why?
My own, of course! There’s nothing I’d love more than to see my worlds come to life around me. I want to stroll the halls of New Sol Space Station, watch the shifting pastel mists through the crystalline walls of R&D, and hike through the alien Rainforests of Iolanthe with purple blossoms in my hair and cloudvines around my ankles.
Of course, I’d prefer to do all that some time when the enemy isn’t around…
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
Teleportation. Think of all the amazing places you could go and things you could do. Feel like Italian for dinner? Why not go out to eat tonight—in Rome! Feel like hitting the beach but it’s 30 below and you’re buried with snow? Teleport to Hawaii for a Saturday afternoon! No plane fares, no long car trips—one snap of your fingers, and you’re there. (Plus, if I could teleport to work, I could get up a whole 25 minutes later in the morning!)
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens, definitely! (Not that, as a sci-fi writer, I’m biased, or anything!) Zombies are rather limited—they just moan and eat brains. Dragons are pretty to look at, but it’s impossible to get fire insurance when they’re around…and they have a tendency to eat your pets. But aliens… aliens have got everything! They’re good and they’re evil, they’re sentient and non-sentient, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors, from far-off planets and distant galaxies, each with their own amazing cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. When it comes to the sheer possibilities, you can’t beat a good alien!
Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since. She is the author of The Spectre War series, which includes the books Nova and Archangel. She lives in Wisconsin. (Even though all the cool kids live in Minnesota. It's okay. We love her, anyway.)
You can find her on...
Last week I reviewed Tiana Warner's killer mermaid book Ice Massacre. I then sent her an email asking for an interview, thinking that I either wouldn't get a response or would get a polite refusal. (This is still such a tiny, new blog, lurking in its dark little corner of the internet, I honestly didn't think she'd bother.)
Surprise! Ms. Warner agreed to be interviewed! Because she's just awesome that way. So without further ado, let's get this party started. But, uh, leave your crossbows at home.
I’m going to ask the question that every author hates: what inspired you to write Ice Massacre?
I like this question because my answer originates in Disneyland.
So I came up with the idea of flesh-eating sea demons while visiting the happiest place on earth. At the time, the “real” legend of mermaids hadn’t been explored much – the one where they use their supernatural beauty to lure sailors to their deaths. While running around wearing mouse ears, I thought, what would happen if the dangerous kind of mermaids existed? What if an island had to share its surrounding water with a population of these mermaids? And so Eriana Kwai was born. Then came the Massacres, and female warriors being the island’s only hope — and given that world I’d created, Meela and Lysi were inevitable.
What are your favorite books/authors that you like to read and why?
I’m the biggest, most hopeless Harry Potter fan. I love Rowling’s new series as Robert Galbraith, too, and am bouncing up and down waiting for the next one. Potter aside, I read a variety of genres and have a lot of favourite books. A couple of recent 5-star reads were The Rosie Project and The Help.
Who’s your favorite character in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai series and why?
Meela and Lysi have become my invisible BFFs. Getting inside their heads for five years will do that to a writer. Honestly, I’ve also got a soft spot for Dani. I love characters like her who are so insane and unstable you wonder what the heck happened to them to make them this way. And I have to give a shout-out to Spio (Ice Crypt).
Ice Massacre has some really dark and bloody moments. Have you received criticism for putting these scenes in a YA novel? How do you respond to them?
I haven’t actually received criticism for that. I think the success and relatively extreme violence of The Hunger Games was a turning point in YA. Reading about what these young warriors must face makes for a gripping story.
What I like about books is that the extent of the gore is left to the imagination. While the author can describe what’s happening, it’s not like a movie where you actually see pooling blood and gaping wounds. It makes it a little friendlier for readers who don’t want to envision such a level of violence.
Why write for teens? Why not adult literature?
Writing for a teen audience is so much fun. You don’t get quite the same enthusiasm (Tumblr posts, artwork, social media sharing, fanfic, etc) from an all-adult audience.
Related to the above question of violence, many adult books get extremely graphic about both violence and sex. I personally prefer to have most of that implied instead of outright described. With teen novels that level of detail is left out, so it’s up to readers to imagine as much or as little as they’d like.
You have a degree in computer science, but although Ice Massacre takes place in the 21st Century (at least, that’s what I got when I read it), the technology of Eriana Kwai is very limited. Why did you give the characters crossbows and knives instead of machine guns?
Two reasons. First, they aren’t a culture built around guns, so machine guns would need to be imported to Eriana Kwai from the mainland. The island is much too poor and isolated for that. Machine guns are expensive. Eriana Kwai has nothing to trade and virtually no recognition on an international scale that would allow them to purchase and import all these dangerous weapons.
Second, traditional weapons like crossbows are just way more badass!
I was surprised to learn that your books are self-published. Why did you go this route rather than with a traditional publishing house?
The landscape of publishing is changing, with the success of indies skyrocketing. Companies like Amazon make it easier than ever to get books in front of readers, and the number of agents taking on debut authors is declining. If an author is up for tackling the business side of her writing career, there’s no reason not to self-publish. I like that I keep control over my stories, from editing to cover design to price. I also like being able to follow my own schedule – no waiting on agent and publisher timelines. The only notable drawback I’ve seen so far is that it’s harder to get into physical bookstores. But with most book sales happening online these days, it’s a compromise I’m willing to make.
Would you survive the Massacre? Why or why not?
I like to think I would because I’m fit and strong and keep my cool in stressful situations. Then again, I’m a wimp about being cold, I get seasick, and I’m pretty sure I would get seduced by a mermaid. Also the amount of physical and mental strength those Massacre warriors need to have is insane. I think most of us would crack under the strain.
Any closing thoughts or final comments?
Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed and for your excellent questions!
For this week’s post I interviewed Kim Murphy, author of the paranormal Dreaming series, Whispers series, and the Promise trilogy. Her books have won a Next Generation Indie Book Award, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, an IPPY from the Independent Publisher Book awards, and a nomination for RT Reviewer’s Choice Award.
She’s also a fellow history geek with a degree in anthropology, and has published a few nonfiction works about the Civil War (We had a minor geek-fest during our email conversation. It was awesome.). She also has two adorable dogs and is unafraid to address women’s issues in her writing, so she wins all the things.
Thank you, Kim, for joining us on Dragons, Zombies and Aliens!
DZA: Tell us a little bit about what you're currently writing.
Kim: I'm currently researching a spinoff/continuation of The Dreaming series. I haven't gotten far enough to talk much about it yet, but it will basically be some of the same characters from the trilogy in a different "realm."
Where did the story of The Dreaming series come from?
With my anthropology background, I've always been intrigued by the shamans. Historians often like to argue that the European cultures didn't have shamans, then I stumbled on the cunning folk. The cunning folk were the healers of European societies (each culture had a different name), using herbs and magic. Many had spirit guardians as well.
All of my stories are based in Virginia because it's easier for me to research. Again, historians argued that the cunning folk never made it to Virginia's shores. I haven't uncovered any records to the contrary, but during the 17th century the cunning folk were much more common than doctors. The average person of the era couldn't afford a doctor. Those who could often didn't trust them. Because the cunning folk were so common, I believe they did arrive on Virginia's shores. In fact, some of the witch trials held during the era have definite signs that the accused women may have been cunning women.
The Dreaming series is a mix of the modern and the 17th century. The two time periods have a definite connection.
What's been the most difficult part of writing The Dreaming series?
The most difficult part was researching the Native people of the 17th century. Most of what's written are biased historical records. I dug deeper by reading the anthropological records and contacting the Native people themselves for their side of the story.
Give us an insight into your main character. What makes them special?
In modern times and under hypnosis, Phoebe Wynne tells the story of an ocean crossing to Colonial Jamestown. Soon after, her tale continues with mass starvation in the colony. With no recollection of the current century, she claims that she escaped death by running off to the Paspahegh, a nearby Indian tribe.
The other main character is Lee Crowley, a seasoned police detective. He's skeptical of Phoebe's story, but being a Native American himself, he's intrigued. Phoebe also seems to understand his pain and anger of being caught between two cultures.
She shows him "the dreaming," which is a cunning woman's shamanic journey. I think that makes her special because even though Lee has no idea if she's telling the truth, it helps him make a connection to his own past.
Why did you want to be a writer?
Writing chose me. I've written stories (mostly historical/paranormal) for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of my books, Whispers from the Grave, started out as a ghostly short story in a high school English class. The sequel, Whispers through Time, is dedicated to my seventh-grade English teacher because she encouraged me. What's even more fun is that we're friends as adults.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I often don't take my own advice, but the story doesn't need to be perfect in the first draft. Sometimes I'll waste time over a word or sentence that doesn't sound right, and I'm not satisfied. That's what edits are for. Finish the story first. Once it's written, then worry about the flow.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that I haven't included?
Walks Through Mist is the first book in The Dreaming trilogy, followed by Wind Talker, and finally Circle in Time.
Thank you for inviting me on your blog!
You can find Kim on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
You can find her books on Amazon and Books-A-Million (BAM).
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!