One of the ironies of childhood is that our first introduction to reading often comes in the form of fairy tales and myths in which magic, mysticism, fantastical creatures and mysterious realms appear with such frequency as to seem entirely plausible to impressionable young minds. Once we cross the threshold of adolescence, though, there’s no shortage of messaging from parentals and teachers that these make-believe worlds need to be summarily shelved in order to make room for the pursuit of fact-based realities.
Unless, of course, you were born with the imagination of a writer like Sandra Hurst and embrace the elements of YA fantasy—and infinite possibility—with full-fledged gusto. We’re delighted to welcome her to share insights on her new release, Y’Keta.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Given your childhood years in England and then Canada, would you say that you chose the genre of fantasy or that it, in fact, chose you?
A: What a good question, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’d have to say that the fantasy genre is something I was drawn to, rather than something I chose because of my surroundings, since my brothers, who grew up in the same environment, have extremely logical minds and aren’t at all prone to what they call ‘fantastical fiction.’
Q: What are some of the favorite titles and authors we might have found on the nightstand of a very young Sandra Hurst?
A: Before Junior High, if you caught me reading at night, which my parents often did, I think that you would have found me huddled under the blankets with The Wind in the Willows, The House on Pooh Corner, or The Sword in the Stone.
Q: How about as a young adult (coincidentally, one of your chosen age groups for the Sky Road fantasy series)?
A: As a young adult, I read anything and everything, I still do. Some of the favourites that I remember from back then are The Mahogany Trinrose (Jacqueline Lichtenberg), Lord of the Rings, (J.R.R. Tolkein), and the Darkover series (Marion Zimmer Bradley).
Q: Like a lot of middle school students, you began your classroom writing career with poetry. How would you define that early style and what were some of the topics you liked to write about?
A: My first poems had lots of ‘Moon and June’ type rhyming patterns. The oldest one that I can remember was about snow coming down like a blanket on the town. Birthdays were always a big poem opportunity for me, I wrote poems in every birthday card!
Q: Is your passion for poetry still as vibrant as ever?
A: Poetry will always be important to me, it’s part of finding my creative space as a writer. There is a chapbook of my poetry in the works, although for right now, the prose has centre stage.
Q: What does writing verse teach you about writing books?
A: I think that poetry teaches prose writers to understand the rhythm and flow of language. One thing that I’ve learned from poetry and applied to my writing is to always read through my draft out loud. If I’m reading through a paragraph and consistently trip at the same place, I know that the rhythm there is off and I need to see if more explanation is needed for that thought, or if I’m overcomplicating the sentence.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Y’Keta?
A: The central question in Y’keta is about identity. Is Y’keta willing to give up his identity to please his father? Is he willing to risk being honest about himself, even though he may lose everything he has grown to love.
The inspiration for this came out of two unconnected events about four years ago, the first was a casual comment made by a relative on the reactions she dealt with when she came out as LGBTQ in the early 80s, the other was a long night sitting beside a campfire in Grande Cache, Alberta watching the Northern Lights dance over the horizon.
Q: One of the things that always fascinates me about fantasy novels and stories set in alternative realms/universes is how their authors come up with the unusual names for their characters, objects and settings. Can you let us in on your own approach to the name game?
A: The language I used for the People borrows liberally from several modern native languages which I have ‘aged’ in different directions to suit the Sky Road. While I wanted to keep the feel of the original tongues, I tried to avoid having words that were too exact and would tie the story down to one tribe over another. So, for example, the Nehewak (Cree) word for Thunderbird (kitowak) becomes my race the Waki’tani and the Tlingit word for pig becomes a rude nickname that Siann calls her greedy little brother.
Q: What sort of myths are incorporated in the Y’Keta storyline?
A: Y’keta is based on several Indigenous myths from the Cree, Haida Gwaii, and Pacific Northwest areas. Each of these groups have legends about a people called by various names but all adding up to the Thunderbirds. It’s interesting to note that even now, the Nehewak don’t have a word for thunder. They say kâh-kitowak, “the Thunderbird’s call”. I’ve also incorporated parts of a several legends from the southern US to create my bad guys, the Utlaak, these legends feature scaly or serpentine bad guys who come from an underground world.
Q: Which scene was the easiest for you to write?
A: I think the easiest scene in Y’keta was the first one. The characters’ voices were so clear and I could visualize the ceremony where they all became a part of the village and started interacting with each other. The first draft, 15-20 pages, was written all in one shot in the course of an evening, while listening to Loon Echo Lake, on my headphones.
Q: And the hardest?
A: I hate killing people! The scene where one of my main characters is murdered in an Utlaak raid shattered me. I wrote it with tears pouring down my face, then re-wrote it, and re-wrote it, until I felt the hurt as much on the paper as it did inside me.
Q: On Amazon, the title is listed as Volume 1. How many volumes do you have in mind?
A: The Sky Road is planned as a trilogy.
In Book One, Y’keta, A young exile, searches for a place to belong, only to find his new home threatened by secrets from his past. If Y’keta reveals what he knows to the villagers, it will tear their history and traditions apart…but sharing his secrets may be their only hope for survival when the Village comes under attack.
Book two is at the necklace stage, that is the point in my writing process when I have ‘pearls’ written, but desperately need the thread of the story to tie them together. It will focus on the continuing war with the Utlaak and Y’keta’s unsettled relationship with his father.
In book three Siann struggles to accept the power that the Lightning Stones have given her. Power is not always a good thing, and she has some hard choices to make about using or abusing it.
Q: What governed your choice to develop a series versus a stand-alone title?
A: I don’t ever remember thinking ‘Hey! I’ll make a trilogy!’ The storyline just grew into one. I think it’s all D’vhan’s fault, he’s one of the lead male characters. He refused to stay in the background, and before I knew it I had an uprising of characters whose stories deserved to be told.
Q: More and more authors are seeking to control their intellectual property by going the self-publishing route. What have you learned about the challenges of this choice that you didn’t know before you started?
A: What didn’t I know? Is everything a fair answer? My decision to self publish was driven more by a need to put a physical copy of the book in my dad’s hands for his 90th birthday. I think that the learning curve for either type of publishing is terribly steep for someone like me, who knew nothing about the industry. Traditional publishing takes time, patience and a degree of luck to hit the right agent at the right time. Independent publishing takes all of that plus a substantial cash investment in editors, cover artists, printers etc. Social media is also crucial to an indie author, as word of mouth is often the only marketing tool we have access to.
Q: When and where do you feel you are at your most creative?
A: I’m most creative at night, when the whirlwind I call a mind has quieted down for the day. I put some music on and let my world go and step into Y’keta’s world. My family learned early that ‘I’ll be there soon’ really meant “I’ll see you in the morning.” At least 75 percent of the book was written between midnight and 5am. Other great creative places for me are restaurants like Denny’s, or Tim Horton’s. I often go to grab a coffee, plug in my tablet, hide behind my earphones and just blend into the crowds.
Q: Conversely, when does it feel the most challenging or frustrating to work at your craft?
A: Handling my own nature is the hardest part of writing for me. I tend to be very distractible and moderately obsessive. There is always that one more piece of research, a new book to read, and, Oh Look! I got a Facebook mention. My mind will bounce to anything new and shiny and sometimes when it lands on a topic I find it hard to let go and get back to the writing. There is a definite benefit to this type of mind though, once I start writing and the scenes are flying, I will keep going until someone pulls me out.
Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?
A: I like to shake things up when I’m in a slump or struggling for ideas. I will sometimes take a side character and re-write a scene from their point of view. It helps me see with new eyes and often gives me the next question that I need to ask or the next move I need to make. Another good trick is to pick the one thing that my character would really hate to have happen, and make it so. Are they afraid of water? Then maybe the boat sinks.
Q: Tell us a little about your family and whether they’re allowed sneak peeks at your work or have to wait like the rest of us until it’s all finished?
A: I live in Calgary, Alberta with my husband and son, both of whom I love dearly, and have put up for sale on e-bay when their behaviour demanded it. My day to day life is a balance between my outside life as a paralegal counsellor and my inner life as an author/poet. I do try out scenarios and words on my family now and again, especially on my son, who is around the target audience for my books.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing (i.e., day-job, hobbies, travel)?
A: When I’m not writing or doing double duty as a wife/mother, you can find me working as a paralegal in Calgary. On off days, or holidays we spend a lot of time out in the mountains camping, canoeing and just listening to the quiet. I also enjoy time with the other amazing writers in the Calgary and love going to the write-ins and open mic. events.
Q: What’s something quirky/unique/unusual about you that readers would be the most surprised to know?
A: Ooh, you really want to go there? I think that answer would depend on who you talk to. My son would cringe and point to ‘opera nights,’ evenings when I don’t speak and insist on singing my answers to any questions. My husband might point to my fits of insomnia and my late-night Facebook addiction. But really! You meet the best people online at 3am.
If there is one thing I would say was unique or quirky about me it would be my breadth of interests, I’m a bit of a Hermione, a collector of odd facts and knowledge about anything from the Kaiju culture of manga Japan, to Shakespeare, to Opera, or the band Nightwish. There isnt much that I won’t listen to, read, learn about and find value in.
Q: Who is your hero and why?
A:I think the common thread in all my heroes, whether real or literary, is that they had the opportunity to quit, every reason to say I’m too old, too tired, it’s just easier to let it be someone else’s problem. This kind of hero, unwilling, often flawed, yet willing to step up, gets me every time. These heroes all have one thing in common. They are people very much like I am, broken and damaged people just trying to do their best with the time they are given.
As far as literary heroes, I love the authors who can make words dance and sentences mean things. This has led me to authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, and Don Dellilo. I would give my left ovary (not so dramatic a thing since at 54 those parts are hardly crucial) to sit down with either of these gentlemen, or even better their writing notes, for an afternoon.
Q: Who’s your favorite character in a book (other than your own)?
A: There is no fair way to give one answer to that question, but one of my favourites is Richard Lamb, from M.K. Wrenn’s sci-fi series The Phoenix Legacy. He is a young intellectual working to prevent the oncoming dark age.
Q: Have your own characters ever surprised you?
A: Constantly! No matter how well I think I know the characters, when I put two or three of them together the dynamics always amaze me.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Next up for me is When Words Collide in Calgary in mid August, then finishing up a romance novella which will be coming out in 2018, then back to Book 2 of the Sky Road.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: You can find more about me, or follow me on social meda at all of the links here:
Facebook – @SandraHurst.Author
Twitter – @_SandraHurst Website:
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9V4M8C
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Christina, Thank you so much for letting me talk to your readers and introducing them to the Sky Road. I’m really enjoying Y’keta’s journey through this ancient land and look forward to meeting your readers as they walk the Road with me.