Retribution

Margotta Cover

What happens when a 1,000-year-old goddess, a supernatural wolf, and an untested youth lead a band of heroes to fight against unrestrained violence in medieval Europe? It’s all part of the fantasy adventure for young adults in Retribution. Author Jenny Margotta (writing as J Margotta-Ferrara) shares her insights on the craft, what it was like to collaborate on a book with her spouse, and whether she’d want to cross paths and match wits with a witch, a werewolf or a vampire.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: By the time I was ten, I was reading on an adult level, and one of the first adult-level books I read was The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. It was set in the late 1700s in a frontier town near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, which is close to where I grew up. There was a line in the novel about the sun shining through the overcast sky like a pewter plate and I knew, right then, that I wanted to write things like that, use words in unusual or memorable ways to capture the attention of readers and, hopefully, have my stories stay with them for decades, like those words of Ms. Turnbull’s have stayed with me.

Q: Who encouraged (or dissuaded) your dream of earning a living as a wordsmith?

A: Although I was encouraged by my mom and high school counselor to earn a degree in English —the thinking was that I would teach—no one really encouraged me to write until I met my late husband, John. He loved my writing style and pushed and prodded until I did something about it.

Q: What’s the first thing you remember writing? And have you gone back since then to read what you wrote?

A: I think I began writing as soon as I could hold a pencil in my chubby little hand. At least I know I began telling stories at a very early age. But the one I most remember—and that I have kept—is based on the Turnbull novel I’ve already mentioned. I was captivated by that story, and for a history project in fourth grade, I decided to write my own “diary” about a young girl captured by the Indians. Not only did I write the story, but I took some of my mom’s good stationery, soaked it in tea and dried it in the sun, bound the paper in a cloth covering, and wrote the story on the “parchment” using an old fountain pen. I still have that diary in my Things to Keep box.

Q: On the path to becoming a rich and famous author, a lot of writers pay the rent and put food on the table by having a day job. What was the first job you ever had and what did you learn from it that could be applied to what you really wanted to be doing?

A:  The very first job I ever had was picking strawberries for a nickel a quart. It certainly impressed upon me that manual labor was not how I wanted to earn a living. I didn’t know then what I wanted to do, but I sure knew what I didn’t want.

Q: Do you write full-time?

A:  No, and I’m not really sure I would want to. I spend most of my working hours editing other authors’ efforts—a process I absolutely love. But I also enjoy so many other facets of everyday life that I wouldn’t want to be tied down to any one thing. How boring would that be?

Q: How have your personal and professional experiences shaped who you are as a writer and influenced what you enjoy writing about?

A: I honed my writing skills while earning my degree in English/Language Arts and then spent many years writing industry-related HR documents, magazine articles, contracts, and software manuals. That required me to be very clear in my meanings without a lot of flowery speeches. But more importantly, I began reading at the age of three and have continued to read voraciously ever since in a wide range of fiction and non-fiction genres. I think that, more than anything, has helped me develop my writing skills. When I am spellbound by a story, I analyze why. When I’m having trouble with dialogue or a story issue, I go to my favorite authors and see how they’ve treated a similar issue. I can’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader.

Q: What was your inspiration for the plot and characters behind Retribution?

A: In all honesty, most of the plot and characters came from the very imaginative mind of my late husband, John, with whom I co-authored this book and two others. I did have some input into the main character, Luc, when I suggested we make him left-handed. I am left-handed, so I know how it can both hinder and be advantageous in a predominately right-handed world. I also added some of the softer, more feminine aspects of the female characters.

Q: From the time that storytelling first began, fantasy and adventure have had a hold on our imaginations. In your own view, what would you say accounts for our fascination with things that go bump in the night, return from the dead, and are not of this world?

A: Man is blessed with an imagination and an unquenchable desire to learn “what’s out there.” Also, we often feel our own lives are mundane and uninspiring, so stepping into a world of fantasy and excitement gives us that “kick” we need to make our lives more interesting. And the adrenaline rush of being scared or excited is quite addictive.

Q: A witch, a vampire or a werewolf—which would you feel the most comfortable dealing with in a winner-takes-all game of cunning, intellect and strength? And which one would scare you the most?

A: I think I’d deal best with the witch. Most of a witch’s arsenal is based on mental games—spells and tricks and such—and I live my life mostly in my head, as I have some mobility issues.  In a game of matching wits, I think I’d do pretty well. Vampires would scare me the most because they live in darkness and, if a lot of stories are to be believed, can be very persuasive in drawing you to them.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution?

A: For me, the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution was making sure there were no anachronisms in the story. The story takes place in early medieval times; we don’t give a specific year, but we imagined it to be around 1100. There are so many things we take for granted that just didn’t exist in that timeframe. For instance, they have few references to time, so we couldn’t say, “They rode for eight hours,” or “Wait a minute.” And food was an issue, too. We originally had our heroes eating dried beef along the trail, but only the very wealthy ate beef at that time. We did a tremendous amount of research on clothing, boats, weapons, all aspects of day-to-day life in those times.

Q: It’s often said that two heads are better than one. In co-authoring Retribution with your husband, what did you learn about each other’s writing, project development and time management skills?

A: John liked to sit down every day and write for four or five hours. And he liked to move quickly from one plot point to another. He would very quickly turn out ten or more pages, then go back and start to flesh out what was, in many cases, almost an outline. He would often say something like, “Let’s see where the story takes us today.” I prefer to think about what I’m going to write—sometimes for several days—before I actually sit down in front of my computer. John would have multiple rewrites, while I often only had one or two, since I’d done all the “rewrites” in my head.

Q: Please share with us the process of how your co-authoring worked.

A: You can probably guess, based on my previous answer, how our team process worked. John would write the key story points then I’d take his work and begin to round it out. He didn’t like to use a lot of description and I do, so that was my job, to add the color and flavor to his raw action.

Q: Would you co-author another book together?

A: Unfortunately, John passed away in 2012 when we were only about halfway through the book. We originally intended to have only one book, by the way, but I ended up making it two by the time I finished the project in 2015. If he were still alive, I would definitely continue to partner with him—we made a very strong writing team—but I’m not sure I’d like to co-author with someone else.

Q: Did any of your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, the main character, Luc de Lassier, surprised us. He was only supposed to be in the first twenty or thirty pages, but he just wouldn’t go away. I remember John sitting at his computer and almost yelling at Luc. “What are you still doing here? You’re only supposed to be a minor character!” Luc just took over the story to the point where we gave in, stopped fighting him, and made him the hero.

Q: Who will Retribution appeal to?

A: Although it’s described as a fantasy adventure for young adults, I think the story appeals to older adults as well.  It’s a coming-of-age tale that deals with many aspects of society, injustice, and human determination to overcome adversity. We just wrapped it all up in a rollicking adventure. Readers can certainly just enjoy the first layer—the adventures—but there are also some very serious issues to think about.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, is there a dream cast you’d love to see?

A: Ving Rhames would be my choice now for the character of Otieno, although both John and I pictured the late Michael Clark Duncan when we began writing the book in 2009. And John most definitely developed the character of Edeva with Nicole Kidman in mind. Peter Dinklage would be a great fit for Aldwyn, but surprisingly, neither John nor I had anyone specific in mind for the main character, Luc. And then there’s Aatto, the wolf. I don’t know any famous actor-wolves.

Q:  When and where do you feel you are at your most creative at the keyboard?

A: Creative writing is almost exclusively a morning task. I’m definitely the most productive early in the day. Most nights I mentally lay out my schedule for the next day, and I always put my most difficult projects first, whether its editing or my own writing. By mid-afternoon I want to be doing lighter things, like working on a cover in PhotoShop or researching on the Internet. And when I’m editing others’ works, I need to switch between two or three manuscripts. I stay sharper that way. When I focus too long on a single project, I lose my objectiveness.

Q: What famous author (living or dead) would you most want to have lunch with and why?

A: I’d love to have lunch with Tobias Smollett. Smollett was an 18th century author—he died in 1771—who wrote, among other things, the satirical, very funny novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The book is written in the form of letters between the characters and, as such, is basically all narrative. I love to write descriptions, so this really appeals to me. I only wish I could be as humorous as he was.

If Smollett isn’t available, I’d invite W.E.B. Griffith. I’m a World War II historian, and in my opinion, Griffith is one of the best fiction writers in that genre.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I certainly don’t look the part, but I rode a motorcycle for several years. I once made a trip of over 4,500 miles—through seven states and two countries—in just 18 days. I also dreamed of being a singer. I performed my first solo when I was three, sang in bars and nightclubs in college and later years, and still do karaoke when I get the chance.

Q: Tell us about the California Writers Club and how it offers support and resources for wordsmiths at any stage in their writing careers.

A: The California Writers Club has 21 branches and over 1,700 members statewide. I belong to the High Desert Branch. We host workshops by prominent professionals in the writing world, we have a variety of speakers at our monthly meetings—ranging from social media experts and marketing professionals to editors and authors—and our members can belong to one or more of many critique groups. Within our branch we have artists and illustrators, social media experts, website developers, professional editors, marketers, and writers from every level of skill. If one of our members expresses a need for a certain service or help with something, we strive to introduce them to another member who can provide that help or give them the tools to find their own answers. We also offer venues throughout the year for authors to showcase their work. (Visit www.hdcwc.com for more information.)

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your book?

A: I knew from what I’d learned in the writers club that self-publishing was the most viable option. I researched several online, on-demand printers and found that CreateSpace was the best choice for me.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?

A: Well, for one, don’t count on getting rich. Chances are you won’t. But if you want to write, then do it. Don’t worry about all the technical issues up front, just write your story. There are so many people out there who are afraid to write that first page because they don’t think they have anything to say. Everyone has something to say. Write your story. Then find the experts to make it publishable.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Most of my time is spent editing—that’s how I put food on the table. But when I can make the time, I’m currently working on two very different novels of my own. One, The Woman in Room 23, is very loosely based on my mother’s less-than-happy life and her 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, a battle she lost in 2011. The other is a murder mystery set in Orange County, California, called The Red Braces Murder.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Two of my books—Retribution and the sequel, Resolution—are available on Amazon.com. Both books, along with the cookbook John and I wrote called Some Like It Hot … the culinary adventures of one hot mama and one cool dude, are showcased on www.writerslairus.com. I can also be contacted directly at jennymargotta@gmail.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: J Margotta-Ferrara is a combination of my name and John’s. He was a prolific writer who often wrote under the name John Ferrara (Ferrara was his mother’s maiden name.) Listing both authors individually can sometimes be a hassle, so combining the names just seemed like the natural choice. Although I now write alone, I continue using the name in remembrance of John.

 

 

 

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The Fountain

The Fountain

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who wished for “a million bucks” and awakened the next morning to the sight of a squillion deer grazing on his front lawn. As someone who happily wished her own husband into existence at the magic pool in Bath in 1994, I’m a firm believer in the idea the granters of wishes are a pretty literal bunch; if you don’t frame your desire accurately and precisely, any smidge of ambiguity will be seized upon with gusto. It also goes without saying that teenagers—such as those who populate Suzy Vadori’s debut YA novel, The Fountain—aren’t likely to think through all the ramifications of a wish made hastily in the heat of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Once upon a long ago time, young adults (previously known as teenagers) could be found with their noses stuck in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit, Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart. Today they’re more likely to be immersed in the darker fare of vampires, zombies and dystopian societies. What’s your personal take on this shift in themes and will the pendulum ever swing back?

A: Well, there’s a huge gap in reading level between books like Nancy Drew and The Hobbit – and I read both as a youth. This gap leaves young readers in the lurch that are looking for reading that challenges their intellect, yet has age-appropriate content.

I think what the Young Adult (YA) books of the past ten years have done is introduced a whole new set of adult-sized challenges to teens in a way that they can relate to more easily than stories of the past. Today’s YA is written from a teen’s point of view, and allows readers to experience a broad range of emotions that they may or may not have already experienced in their short lives.

The YA genre is definitely here to stay, though I don’t think the theme of the novels is important and will change with the tides of teen whims. Vampires, zombies, dystopian, mermaids and trolls… the characters and settings will change to keep it fresh.

Today’s teens expect more sophistication than the formulaic stories that Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys afford, but they might not be ready for the beauty of The Hobbit’s prose.

Whatever the subject of today’s YA books, there are certain things present that appeal to teens. And what’s really cool is that a YA novel done well appeals to all ages. These are elements that we all find intriguing.

  • Pace: The pace of today’s YA never lets up. While this may say something about today’s teens and their attention spans, I think it’s exciting that the written word has found a way to compete with, and even mimic the other media that teens have available to them now.
  • Challenge: This is something that both Nancy Drew and The Hobbit got right. Teens need to face adult challenges to capture the imagination of youths, and help them explore challenges beyond their years in a safe setting.
  • Emotion: Books are a safe place to explore new emotions and consequences. This is what drives much of my writing. If you come away feeling something, I’ve succeeded.

Q: What attracted you to writing for the YA market and how does it differ from writing for adults?

A: I’ve been starting novels since I was around 10, and I always wanted to finish one. But writing isn’t just about the process for me. I wanted to write something that would get read – something that would affect people.

I wrote many outlines over the years. But everything I came up with that I thought people would want to read was either drawing on something way too personal, or was a little too racy to fit with my persona as an executive (my day job) and more importantly, my role as a mom.

It wasn’t until YA emerged as a genre on its own that I became inspired to finally pursue writing in a serious way. Young Adult books explore raw emotion at the root of how it’s experienced – in ‘firsts’. First love, first loss, first time for taking major risks. These themes will never go out of fashion, regardless of the setting.

Q: When you were the age of your target readership, what did you want to pursue as a career?

A: My dad offered to buy me the car of my choice if I became a doctor. I found out that orthodontists didn’t need to do residency, so I negotiated the same deal for that, to which he agreed. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep – I knew that I wouldn’t survive working night shifts in a hospital residency.

Later, I found out I could enter the business world with only a 4 year university degree, and that’s what I did, hitting the ground running when I graduated at 21. Even when I could afford the fancy car, I never bought it.

I never looked back, but I continued to write as a hobby. When I took maternity leave with my third child, I finally realized I had the time to make my dream a reality. The Fountain Series was born.

Q: Who or what had the most influence on the choices you made as you segued into adulthood?

A: Am I an adult yet? I suppose I am. There have been many influences in my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. I think the fact that I moved a lot as a kid was the biggest influence. I was often the new kid, and had to make my way in new situations. I know that it shaped me into who I am, and made me ready to face any challenge. It was fun to channel some of that experience into Ava in The Fountain. Ava is the new kid at St. Augustus and has to make new friends and new ways… which makes her vulnerable in ways I think all teens can relate to.

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind The Fountain.

A: The setting for The Fountain was defined when I was a tween. I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love the parent-less setting, with dorms and kids being able to sneak around at night unsupervised (disclaimer: I never went to boarding school, but this is the magical setting I’ve always imagined)

The story for The Fountain invaded my imagination when I became a mom. I love my children more than I ever thought was possible, but parenting today is interesting, to say the least. We are raising a generation that has been given every privilege that we parents can afford.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything I could to my kids, but I started to wonder whether that was smart. We think we’re doing the right thing, but are we? What kind of lesson is it to get what we want without having to work for it? And The Fountain was born. A well-intentioned school founder leaves behind a legacy of a fountain that grants students the desire that they wish the most. The Fountain has unlimited power, and has the power to alter anything. What would a world that is designed to help the students actually look like, and what are the consequences?

Q: Do you ever make wishes yourself by tossing a coin into a well or a pool? If so, what’s your best tip for “smart” wishing?

A: Of course. General ones, anyway – ones for well-being of those I love. I’d rather work for the harder things in life than have them happen overnight.

Q: What governed your choice to develop this book as a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The series format is very popular in Young Adult. No sooner had I released The Fountain than readers were asking for the next installment. I can’t wait to give them more in this world with The West Woods.

Q: Congratulations on The Fountain being nominated for an Aurora Award in 2016. How did this come about and what was your reaction when you received the news?

A: I was actually travelling in China on business when it was announced that The Fountain had been short listed for Best Young Adult Novel with the Prix Auroras. I found out in the wee hours of the morning, and raced outside to the foggy streets to take a selfie with a copy of The Fountain to share with the world. I was amazed that The Fountain got such terrific support from the amazing readers and writers who form the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association – most of whom aren’t in my demographic, but loved it nonetheless. It was an honor to be shortlisted by such a prestigious group. I hope they love The West Woods just as much.

Q: You teach at schools about themes of friendship, rivalry and love. What is the intersection of these timeless topics with the plot of The Fountain?

A:  Oooo, it’s my favorite to talk about these things. Teens can sometimes experience all three in a short period of time with the same person, and that can be… well, confusing.  Part of what I love most about writing is making readers feel something. And I know I’ve done it right when I get feedback from readers.

I love going to classrooms and teaching kids how to apply the feelings that they experience every day to their stories. Teachers are always amazed at what the kids are able to share through their writing during a session.

Rivalry is the most misunderstood of the three themes, and I think the ones that youth struggle with the most. Some in the book industry will dismiss this as “mean girl” stories, but it’s so much more than that. The story is never about what happens to the characters – it’s about how the characters react to their situation and grow as a result. Resilience is an important theme in many young adult books, and mine are no exception. I love teaching about it because every single class I teach is completely different.

Q: Book 2—The West Woods—will be coming out in September (2017). How and where does it take the students of St. Augustus?

A: The number one question I got from readers of The Fountain was, what is with Courtney? (She’s the girl who makes life impossible for Ava and gets wished away.) And she’s truly awful. But… there’s a really good reason that she was the way she appeared – a magical reason – shaped by her own encounter with the fountain at St. Augustus.

So, I was compelled to write The West Woods – which takes place the year before The Fountain, and is Courtney’s story about how she went from being a regular girl to being, well… the terrible friend readers meet in The Fountain.

It was really fun to vindicate Courtney in The West Woods, presenting a side that readers didn’t get to see of her. With Courtney as the protagonist, it’s easy to see how she made the choices she made when she met Ava.

Of course, it’s also full of the mystery and romance that are the hallmarks of The Fountain Series.

Q: Is it imperative that readers read your books chronologically or is there enough in Book 2 for them to understand the characters and dynamics from Book 1?

A: Both books were written so that they could be read as stand-alone books, and because Book 2 is a prequel, they really could be read in either order. However, Book 3 will pick up where Ava and Ethan left off in Book 1, and bring the whole series together, so it will make more sense if it’s read last.

Q: There’s no question that the publishing industry—like any other industry—has changed to accommodate a fluctuating economy. What has it been like for you to work with a small press?

A: Working with Evil Alter Ego Press has been the best decision I’ve made. Because they are small, they’ve treated The Fountain Series as if it were their own. My editor (based in New York), has challenged me and made the series better than I could have ever done on my own. Because the press is small and growing, I get to be involved in adapting and shaping the press to the changing publishing environment. I also get the chance to use my business and marketing knowledge to full advantage. In a world where self-publish and traditional publishing are changing daily, working with a small press has been a really great experience and I am grateful that they believed in my vision for the series.

Q: What are you doing to market/promote your work, and which strategies have been the most effective for you?

A: Being out in my community has gained so much traction for The Fountain Series. It’s fun, too. I’ve had an amazing 18 months meeting new readers at conferences, young writer’s events, schools and signings. I am so thankful for all the readers who love The Fountain and are waiting for The West Woods to come out.

As The Fountain Series grows, we’re focusing more on growing online reach, in addition to continuing to be active in my community. The response from book bloggers to the series has been really positive, and they are excited to help spread the word about the upcoming launch of The West Woods. I am truly grateful for the work that bloggers and reviewers do. Thank you all so much.

Q: There’s suddenly a knock on the door from Hollywood. Would The Fountain lend itself to a movie or a television series?

A: The Fountain Series would make a terrific movie or TV series and I’m actively looking for a home for it.

The layers of St. Augustus’ magic and the generations of students who have used it to change the world around them provides endless material for an ongoing series. I look forward to see where this leads.

Q: Authors often “cast” their characters in their heads while they’re writing so they can picture them moving through the various scenes. Was this the case with you?

A: Each of my characters is such a blend of complex layers, they’d be impossible to cast to just one person. It definitely keeps me on my toes to keep track of everything that makes them up, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: As an executive, mother of three and a writer, how do you make the time for your craft?

A: I couldn’t do it without the support of my incredible husband and wonderful kids who have all made sacrifices to help me find the time I need to make this dream a reality. I mostly write evenings and early weekend mornings. I carry the stories around in my head while I go about my day to day, so that when I do get those moments to write, everything is fully formed and the words come quickly.

Q: Planner or pantser?

A: Quilter! I start with an outline, but then write in sections as they come to me, and depending on my mood – not necessarily together. Then I take the sections and quilt them back together, creating a wonderful mess that eventually sorts itself into a complex mystery. The operations professional in me knows that this isn’t efficient, but I’m always happy with the result.

Q: You also travel a lot for business and for leisure. How does travel impact your writing and your perspective?

A:  Writing fantasy is centered on building believable worlds. Exploring different countries gives me lots of ideas and inspiration that I draw on. I try to take note whenever I visit somewhere new about the kinds of things I notice first. Are the traffic lights different? Are there people around, or are the streets empty? What sounds are different from North America. Those are things I add to a character’s first experiences somewhere new.

Q: Any new trips on the horizon?

A: We’ve been talking about taking our kids to Europe. They all speak French as well as English, so they’ve been bugging us to take them to France.

Q: Dream destination on your “wish list?”

A: Africa.

Q: You’re on the board for When Words Collide—a festival for readers and writers. What do you think the role of conventions and festivals have for authors and aspiring authors?

A: Writing is largely a solitary profession, but the writing community plays a vital role in supporting and growing writers careers. The publishing industry is changing daily, and collectively, writers who share information and work together to stay ahead of the curve are the ones who are going to make it.

I am so grateful to all the writers I’ve met and everything they’ve shared with me about their own experiences and careers have helped me immeasurably with building my readership. Giving back to the author community in any way I can is an absolute pleasure for me. I particularly love helping new writers get started.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I think readers would be surprised to know that I love math. I’m an Operations professional in my day job, and while that is very different from writing, my love of math and puzzles helps build tricky, layered mystery within my books.

Q: Oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic thing in your closet?

A: Fuzzy onesie pajamas. Great for when it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius here in Canada, but otherwise way too hot.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m the only Suzy Vadori on the interweb, so Google away to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know.

Website: https://suzyvadori.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suzyvadori/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzyvadoriauthor/

Twitter: @vadoris

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27426598-the-fountain?from_search=true

Book Links:

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Fountain-Suzy-Vadori/dp/0994726643/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497887586&sr=8-1&keywords=vadori

B&N https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-fountain-suzy-vadori/1123014750?ean=9780994726643

iBooks https://itun.es/ca/UWor_.l

kobo https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-fountain-13

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/594225

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love hearing from readers, so feel free to drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Sandra Hurst

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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

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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:

Website:         www.delusionsofliteracy.com

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.