Friday, March 20, 2015

Interview With Fantasy Author Harriet Goodchild

I'm pleased to get to interview one of the finest fantasy authors that I have ever met online, Harriet Goodchild. If you love gorgeous prose and fantasy then her writing is for you!

Harriet, I’ve known you for some time through the writing site Authonomy, so I'm happy to see your books finally being published. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?

Thank you, Ted. The same is true of you: it’s good to see your books out in the world.
Okay about me: I was born in Glasgow and live now in Edinburgh. They’re about forty miles apart.  Lest that sound a narrow life, I’ll say I’ve lived in a few other places as well, including the United States and Australia, and spent twelve years in Oxford. Life in Oxford is rather like living in a fantasy novel: you’ll find seneschals in each, for instance, and quaffing from an aurochs horn. 

Will you only write fantasy or do you plan to write in other genres as well?

I think, for fiction, I’ll stick with fantasy. I write stories to relax. In another life I write and edit non-fiction and that requires such a huge amount of careful fact-checking that I don’t want to have to do it for fiction too. With my kind of fantasy internal consistency is all that matters. If you get the small details plausible and consistent, readers will swallow any amount of impossibility.

You have a very poetic literary style. What were your major influences?

More I think than I can tell. The two I’m most aware of are both writers of historical fiction I read first as a teenager: Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault. Both write in marvelously realised worlds and their research never overwhelms the story. Both write of places with a sense of the numinous about them: the supernatural is always just offstage, so close you can – almost – reach and touch it. More recently, there’s Hilary Mantel, not because I can aim to emulate her, but because, when I read the beginning of Wolf Hall for the first time, I felt a visceral shock at just how good it was. I’d read her earlier books but Wolf Hall showed me a new perspective, a different way of writing. Straying from historical fiction to fantasy: Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe. I read them for their stories, but also for their genius at world building without tedious amounts of exposition.
All these people write beautiful prose. I’m a rereader as much as I’m a reader and, when rereading, it’s not the story that matters so much as the writing. With these authors, this is something to savour.
You mentioned a poetic style…  Poetry and song are the most immediate influences upon After the Ruin; in particular, it’s the Child Ballads, traditional songs from Scotland and northern England collected by Francis Child in the late nineteenth century. I listen to huge amounts of folk music and these songs have imparted their mood and tone to the book. They tell of a world filled by melancholy and longing, and blur the lines between the real and the supernatural.

How has your publishing experience been so far?

Hadley Rille Books have been brilliant. They are a small press but they take the books they publish very seriously and have carved out a particular niche for themselves within SFF and historical fiction. They’ve a reach I’d not have managed for myself and I’m very glad to have thrown in my lot with them.
I was very fortunate how I found my way to Hadley Rille. I’d done the query-go-round, got requests, got some compliments, got I’m interested, got I need to think, got rejected, got dejected...
Then a good friend of mine – Jane Dougherty – approached an editor on my behalf, because by that point I was very dejected and no longer sending it anywhere. That editor, Terri-Lynne Defino, said, Sure, get her to send it to me. So I did, and she liked it and passed it up to Eric Reynolds, the publisher at Hadley Rille Books, and, soon after that, After the Ruin was on its way into the world. It’s been a long journey, for reasons none of us could have predicted. Eric has been inspiring throughout and Terri understood from the beginning what the book was about.
But, really, it’s all due to Jane. Thank you, Jane.

Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?

I’ve always been a voracious reader who wrote a bit of fiction. For a long time, reading a lot and writing a bit was enough. I didn’t have any intention of writing stories for anyone else to read. Eventually, however, I started to react against academic prose and, about five years ago, I stepped my escapism up a gear and started taking my fiction more seriously.

Do you have a goal with publishing?

I did: it was Get a novel published. I need a new goal.

Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?

I think readers who read at the intersection of fantasy and historical fiction. If you like Rosemary Sutcliff and Guy Gavriel Kay, maybe you’ll like my stories too. Beyond that, people who like folk songs, myths and fairy tales, as there’s quite a bit of these mixed into After the Ruin. If you want a taster, you can try starting with my short story collections Tales from the Later Lands and An End and a Beginning.

Tell us about After the Ruin

It’s a meditation on how the present is shaped by the past. All the characters have experienced events that, in one way or another, ended the life they thought they’d live.
It’s a love story – or rather several love stories.
It’s a high fantasy of intrigue and manipulation set against landscapes reminiscent of the west of Scotland in a time of my own choosing: vaguely Viking Bronze Age mediaeval with touches of the Renaissance.

Here’s the blurb:
What is the price of a man's life? An apple? A sword? A kingdom?

There are many ways to leave a life in ruins. But ruined lives go on, and so, after the ruin, there is love, sweet as roses on a summer's evening. But love is such a little thing, no stronger than a candleflame at noontime. For, after the ruin, Averla, fire made flesh, is hiding in the light. She will use lover against lover, sister against brother, father against son, to build again her kingdom of everlasting flame. Love is not enough to set against her fierce desire. As well seek to turn back the tide with a wall of sand.

Is it part of a series?

It could be. By that I mean it stands alone, being complete in and of itself, but I have other stories set in the same world that are linked with it. Some are published – Hadley Rille Books have published two sets of my short stories as e-books – and some are not. I hope the ones that aren’t published yet will be. Maybe I should make that my next goal in publishing.

Thank you very much for having me here, Ted. It’s been great talking with you.

UK author page:
US author page:

Here’s the link to Barnes & Noble:

Here’s the link to Fishpond:

Here’s the link to Heroines of Fantasy, where I have a regular book review slot:


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reader Perceptions

I had an interesting review recently on Goodreads that made me ponder just how differently readers can perceive what's happening in a story compared to what the author meant to portray. Let me state up front that I am in no way arguing with the review--I believe the review accurately stated what that reader actually felt while reading, and that was useful to me.

The reader gave a generally positive review, but the one negative was that he believed the love story between the two main characters in The Immortality Game was not believable under the circumstances. And I completely agree with him! While writing the book, my thoughts were all along the line of, This is all happening in one day and Zoya is having the worst possible day of her life, so love will be the last thing on their minds. So I put a couple sentences here and there to indicate normal human behavior between people who might otherwise have found each other attractive and perhaps developed a romance at some point, but I never made anything explicit about a romance actually developing during the story. At least, that was my belief while writing. I wanted to merely hint at the possibilities, while not actually having any romance.
Zoya, by Stephan Martiniere
I think it comes down to something I once wrote a blog post about long ago--subtlety. In that long ago blog post I wrote that it is very difficult for a writer to understand the amount of subtlety that will work in a story. I have learned from readers that there are times I felt I was being way too obvious yet the readers never 'got' it, and conversely there were times I worried I was being too subtle but readers seemed to get it easily. So my guess here is that my attempted subtlety to merely hint at potential future romance was enough for some readers to see real romance happening.

On a different note, my original intention regarding romantic angles in the story blew up in my face midway through writing and I had to adjust it. I had intended to show something that I think happens to many young people when one or both of them are shy and/or have low self-esteem. I wanted Zoya to have some attraction to Marcus but believe that it is the man's job to make the approach, while Marcus on the other hand has low self-esteem, so he assumes Zoya can't be interested in him, thus leaving the oft-seen situation where both parties potentially like each other but neither will make the first move. I so wanted to do this, because it was my own experience through my younger years, and it was something I found to be incredibly frustrating.

It blew up on me simply due to the timeframe of everything happening in one day, along with the fact Zoya was going through sheer horror, so my intended romantic angle made less and less sense to me as I went along and I ended up amending it so that only Marcus showed any real interest, but he understood his feelings were inappropriate under the circumstances (not to mention his low self-esteem issues).

Anyhow, I'm glad for the review, as it helps me in my future writings to put deeper thought into what level of subtlety I need to use in situations like this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview With Author Ivan Amberlake

I'm very proud to introduce my readers to a writer I've known for many years, Ivan Amberlake. He was even so kind as to supply the quote on the cover of my first novel. Ivan writes urban fantasy stories, and he's holding a giveaway on Tome Tender, plus you can get Ivan's three books for only .99 each for Kindle!

Ivan, you are the only writer I know from the former Soviet Union. I've passed through Byelorussia but never really got a chance to visit there. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?

Byelorussia, or Belarus, is a very beautiful country. It’s often called a land of blue lakes and green forests. Nature is gorgeous here, believe me. I live in Vitebsk, the cultural capital of our country where lots of music festivals are held every year. It’s rather a gloomy place as we have here only around 3 months of sunshine, which probably influences me and my writing, but I still love this place.

You speak and write English so well. I'm envious! How did you learn such great English? Do you find it difficult at all to write in a language other than your native Russian?

Well, I had great teachers at school and university who inspired me to study English. This language sounds very beautiful to my ear. I studied French at school, German and a bit of Polish at university, but none of them can compare to English. Writing in English is challenging at times, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s really hard work, but it’s an amazing feeling when I have a finished manuscript on my hands that I’m happy with.

You seem to enjoy writing about conflicts that are very black and white, dark and light. Do you do that on purpose?

I love the contrast between light and darkness. Even if we take ourselves, all of us have light and darkness within us, and it’s we who choose where we belong. The sharp contrast of Light and Dark was used in the first book of The Beholder series to introduce the world of the Lightsighted and Darksighted, and I didn't want the readers to get confused. In Book 2, Path of the Heretic, I added some shades of gray to this world, which I hope made the book more enjoyable. No spoilers here, sorry!

What made you choose Americans for your main characters?

I've always had doubts about whether my characters should be American or let’s say Russian. One of the reviewers of The Beholder mentioned that the story could take place anywhere in the world, which probably happened because I couldn't decide on the setting and the characters up until the end. I decided against Russian characters because it might lead to people comparing it with The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko.

Do you foresee continuing to write in this same 'world', or are you writing new things?

The Beholder and Path of the Heretic are the first two books in THE BEHOLDER series. There will be another one about Jason, called Creatures of Lumen, and hopefully one more written from Emily Ethan’s point of view where the readers will get to know about Emily’s life before she meets Jason.

Apart from that, I do have a great idea for a YA futuristic novel not connected with The Beholder series, which I’m excited about, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get to it and finish a first draft.

You are one of the first of my writer friends to indie publish. How has your experience been so far?

Self-publishing is tough. Writing a book is only the beginning of the hard work. After that you have to realize that there are thousands of writers out there (both indie and traditionally published), so you just can’t expect to sit and hope that once you've published your book people are going to buy hundreds and thousands of copies of it. I spend hours promoting my books everywhere I can. One of the best places to promote books is Goodreads, where I’m always happy to meet new friends and offer them copies of my novels, hoping that they will enjoy my writing and post reviews. I also contact a lot of bloggers, and I have to say most of them are really nice people. They are really busy promoting our work, which is really cool. I don’t know what I’d do without all their help and support. Self-publishing is tough, but it’s also a lot of fun and chatting with really nice people, so I don’t regret I went indie.

What were your writing influences? Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?

Some ten years ago I had no idea I would start writing, let alone writing in English. I loved and still love reading books in English (I never read books in my mother tongue). So I thought it would be a great idea to write a book and devote it to my girlfriend (girlfriend at that time, now wife).  

Do you have a goal with publishing? Are you going to become the Byelorussian J.K. Rowling?

The Byelorussian J.K. Rowling? Haha, it’d be nice! Not sure where all of this is going, but I’m happy to know that people enjoy my latest release, Path of the Heretic. It means I need to keep writing more and let as many people know about my books.

Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?

The Beholder series may appeal to young adult and adult readers whereas Diary of the Gone, a paranormal suspense novella, is aimed at 13- to 15-year-olds, although adult readers seem to enjoy it as well. I always try to create an exciting story that won’t let the readers get bored, but will keep their attention until the very end.


Thank you for the interview, Ted! It’s a real honor for me to be featured on Cross Words!


Friday, March 13, 2015

Interview with YA Fantasy Author Samuel Ferguson

I was surprised recently to learn that a colleague of mine from work (when I was in Budapest) also writes fantasy. He's been quite prolific, in fact, with seven novels out. His books are aimed at Young Adult Fantasy lovers, and his most recent will be especially interesting for anyone who loves dragons!
Author Samuel Ferguson with one of his sons
Sam, I’ve only known you as a colleague at work. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?
 Sure thing Ted. First, allow me to say thanks for doing this interview, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule. I was born in Houston, lived in multiple cities in seven different states growing up. Outside of the U.S. I have lived in Latvia and Hungary previously. At the moment I live in Yerevan, Armenia. I am married, have six sons, and when I am not writing or spending time with my family, I am usually in the gym throwing some iron around.

We are practically neighbors, with me in Azerbaijan and you in Armenia! Will you only write fantasy or do you plan to write in other genres as well?
I am a fantasy lover first. Most of the books I read for pleasure are fantasy, and so are almost all of my stories. I do have a couple of ideas that fall outside of fantasy, but those are far down on my to-write list.

What were your major influences?
That is a very good question. I have many authors that I enjoy, and each has taught me something about either the mechanics of writing, or the imagery one can achieve in story-telling. Among the authors I can readily name would be R.A. Salvatore, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Terry Goodkind. My first fantasy novel that I read was the Dragons of Autumn Twilight in the Dragonlance series. I believe I was in 3rd grade at the time. I was hooked on fantasy ever since. In my writing, I am not trying to be the next Tolkein or Martin. Instead, I write stories that I would like to see more of. As I write them, I try to incorporate the best of what other authors have shown me. For example, I find Goodkind to be a nearly perfect writer in terms of mechanics. His books are long, but there are no wasted pages. Every thing he introduces plays an actual role in the story, even if it is hundreds of pages later. I admire that. I also love the way Le Guin weaves her stories with excellent imagery that is not overly verbose. While I do not hold myself in their company in terms of talent, I do try to emulate what those great authors have done by improving my own style, voice, and mechanics.

I so love Le Guin's Earthsea novels. Some of the best fantasy ever written, and it's a shame that many young people these days are unaware of them. My youngest son loves Salvatore's work, and I enjoyed Goodkind and the Dragonlance books myself when I was younger.

How has your publishing experience been so far?
It was a long road. Long, and very bumpy. I submitted my first book to a publisher that shall not be named. They accepted it, despite the fact that it was a rough draft. That was my introduction to vanity presses, and I was in for a very sharp learning curve! Afterward, I got discouraged. It was my wife who pushed me to continue writing despite the setbacks we experienced. As the years drudged on, I wrote a few ideas down. I expanded some and discarded others. I took some writing courses, and joined the League of Utah Writers. I submitted a couple of short stories to Writer's Digest competitions. I never won, but I placed in the top ten. Then, I won a few awards for stories and full length manuscripts. Yet, it seemed no publisher wanted to look at my manuscripts. So, like many authors I turned to Kindle and Amazon. I published my own work and enjoyed good success. Reviews were almost all positive, and the few negative reviews helped me sharpen my skills. My first book, The Dragon's Champion, was a good hit in the YA fantasy genre. It, and the three sequels that have been published since, have all spent several weeks on Amazon's Sword and Sorcery top 100 list as well as Amazon's top 100 Epic fantasy list. Now, I am with Dragon Scale Publishing and I am optimistic about the future. One day I would love to write full time, but until then I count myself as successful as long as people enjoy my books and it helps my children break away from video games for a bit.

What were your writing influences? Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?
I had been interested in stories and poetry since I was young. I entered a couple of elementary school competitions. The big catalyst though was a friend I had in Colorado named Jeremy. Jeremy had the idea of writing a fantasy novel and showed me his draft. I would say that is the moment that I caught the bug. I have been writing books ever since.

Do you have a goal with publishing?
I am really enjoying the ride. It is always fun to watch people's faces contort into a bewildered and excited grin when they come over to my home and see a shelf of books only to discover that I wrote the series. Also, it gives me a very gratifying feeling when I see my own children pick up one of my books. I guess that's it really. If I can give readers an experience that they would choose when there are so many other things in this world clamoring for their attention, then I win.

Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?
I aim most of my books at the YA market. I would like to think that anyone who enjoys Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance books would thoroughly enjoy mine as well.

You just published a new book right?
It's called The Dragons of Kendualdern: Ascension. For this one I tried to break away from some of the more mundane fantasy tropes. I wanted to explore what a dragon society might look like, and how it might operate. I also included dwarves, but in this book they are not only allied with dragons, they serve them. I don't want to give away all the details, but I think this book has quite a few new and intriguing ideas in it for dragon fans.

You sure have some standout covers! What is the crux of the story?
The book centers on Gorliad, a dragon prince who is destined to one day carve out a kingdom for himself. Unfortunately, while the dragon is still young, there is a battle with a rival dragon challenger that leaves Gorliad crippled and rips his heritage away from him. Gorliad is left with a choice, lie down and accept his new life, or rise up and develop into his full potential. In the book, dragon society is very strict and class-based, so if he chooses the latter he will likely be shunned or expelled. Throughout the book Gorliad struggles against his physical handicap and the draconian traditions placed upon dragons. He literally risks all that he has in order to follow the yearnings of his heart. I think it is a great read... but then again I am a bit biased.

Thanks again for inviting me to have this interview with you, and may I take the opportunity to wish you great success in your own writing endeavors.

It was great having you here, Sam, and I'm looking forward to following your writing career!


Dragon Scale Publishing: Dragonscalepublishing.com
Learn more about Sam and his YA fantasy books on his Goodreads page!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Publication Lesson Learned

I had everything all set to go. My Kindle version of The Shard, my new epic fantasy novel, was ready for publication on May 1. I had the paperback version ready on CreateSpace. All I needed to do was receive the proof copy to see that it was good to go. I received that today and it looked great.

I had free ARCs out to various reviewers, hoping to have some reviews ready early on when the book gets published. I wanted to take full advantage of the one month that we get on Amazon to be on the Hot New Releases list.

But when I hit 'accept' on the proof copy today, the paperback went live on Amazon rather than into pre-purchase as I wanted. And that means the one month clock already started for Hot New Releases, and nothing is ready. The Kindle version isn't published, which is what gives the most sales numbers for Hot New Releases. The reviews aren't ready. I'm very discouraged by what happened.

But I'll have to make the best of it and just go with it. So, yay, my second book is published. Even if the copyright pages all have the wrong publication date listed!

For anyone interested in the book, there is a nice map that goes with it that you can print out to help you follow the journeys of the characters. Either click the link on the right bar or look at my last blog post where the map is reprinted. Thanks in advance for all support! And a big lesson learned for me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Publication of Epic Fantasy Novel

Today my epic fantasy novel The Shard first appeared on Amazon. It is only for pre-order, since the actual publication date is May 1, but it's still fun to see the book show up on Amazon for the first time.
Original artwork for The Shard by Shane Tyree
It's funny but The Shard was actually the first novel that I wrote, from 2006 to 2009. I had trouble being completely satisfied with it, so I put it aside and concentrated on my second book The Immortality Game, which felt stronger to me.
Cover art designed by Vic Caswell
For those who don't know, The Immortality Game is essentially the backstory of the wizard character Xax from The Shard. I create quite a vivid background story for everyone involved in each novel, and for me the story I developed to explain how a Russian scientist from Earth happened to become a wizard on another world was fascinating, so I kept thinking more and more about it until I simply had to write The Immortality Game.

I have several more story ideas within the fantasy world, so I decided to call the series the Chronicles of Xax, since the one character appearing in all of them is the wizard Xax. I don't intend for any of the books to be a traditional trilogy where each story flows directly from the last. I wanted them each to be able to stand alone but also fit within the longer arc of history. So, for example, the next one in this series that I am writing, called The Shattered Spire, is set 800 years prior to the events in The Shard. Long ago I even published the prologue for it.
Map of the Known Lands
I entered this novel into the Kindle Unlimited program for a specific reason--I expect the audience to be more narrow than for my first book, so I have lower expectations for sales. Thus I felt it worthwhile to experiment with KU at first.

Why do I expect a narrower audience? Because fantasy fans are quite divided between those who are sick and tired of anything even remotely related to Tolkienesque fantasy and those who love it and crave more. I understand the first set of people to some degree, but I am firmly in the latter camp. My book won't appeal to those who never care to read about an elf again!

Friday, February 20, 2015

False Tension in Books, Shows, and Films

I've been thinking a lot about dialogue recently, since I feel I am decent at it but not great. Looking at writers who seem to always have fantastic dialogue, like John Scalzi, I wonder how they manage it. Is it just a natural gift? Do they write dialogue in their first drafts that is just as pedestrian as ours but then go back and edit it into a masterpiece? I wish I knew. I've left comments on Scalzi's blog a couple of times asking if he would do a post about how he so consistently manages brilliant dialogue, but he has ignored my requests. Who knows, perhaps he doesn't consciously know how he does it because it comes so naturally to him?

I have noticed one thing with dialogue lately while watching shows and movies or reading books, and it as starting to upset me. Writers are constantly creating false tension in their stories by purposely making their characters either not say enough when they can or by simply having them not say anything at all when they should. All the time there will be scenes when someone asks a question, and the other person could very easily just give a straight answer, but instead they don't, and that causes the tension to rise in the story. I know, I know, the writer wants the tension to rise, but to me this is a false way to do it, and it's maddening. Rather than have an actual plot point be the cause of the tension, the writer builds the tension by having one character simply not bother to provide key info to others. The more I have this in mind, the more often I see it happening in all the stories I'm watching and reading (but far more often when watching!).

As much as this pisses me off, it makes me wonder if this is a weakness of mine as a writer. Am I simply too forthcoming with my dialogue? Do I always just tell what seems common sense to tell and thus allow the potential tension to melt away in my stories?