Writer’s Ink: Emily June Street

ejsheadnew1If you follow me–at all–you’ll know Emily June Street and I have not only an intense and amazing working relationship, but a close friendship as well. You may or may not be aware, but we’ve never met in person. She lives on the West Coast, I live on the East Coast, and 2,800+ miles separate us. However, we will fix this little detail when we attend the Writer’s Digest Conference together in New York City in August 2017. Can you imagine how excited I am?!

Emily June Street is the author of six novels: The Gantean, The Cedna, Sterling, Mage and Source, Secret Room, and The Velocipede Races. She has degrees in psychology and library science, but she divides her time between teaching Pilates and exploring alternate worlds in writing. She founded Luminous Creatures Press with Beth Deitchman in 2013.

Look for the next installment in the Tales of Blood & Light series, Light and Shadow, in 2018!
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Thanks for stopping by my website, Emily! Now let’s dive into some questions:

TS: Mage and Source is book four in your Tales of Blood & Light series, but for those who may not have read the foregoing books, could you give us a three sentence summary of the novel?

EJS: Magic is dead. The only hope for restoring it lies in the hands of a talented ex-mage and an enemy spy thrown together by fate and unexpected love. But an eastern foe seeks to destroy them both before they can uncover the true path back to magic..

old-books-1534109TS: I’ve only written, at the longest, trilogy arcs–three books that had to make sense from page one of the first book to the last page of the third book. Tales of Blood & Light is projected to be a whopping seven-book series. For lack of better wording, how in the world did you do it–keep everything organized, not drop plot threads, and maintain a solid story structure (one George R.R. Martin could certainly learn from you!)?
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EJS: Well, Tales of Blood and Light began as one book, The Gantean, no plans for any others in a series. Then I decided I needed a Book Two to tell the “villain’s” point of view from The Gantean, so I wrote The Cedna. Then I realized I needed to resolve the cataclysmic disaster that ends The Cedna’s story, and so I planned a book three, which was going to be Tianiq, Leila’s missing daughter’s story. Then I wrote a “companion book” called Night Queen, which was sort of a prequel to the planned trilogy set in the Lethemia world. Then I decided I didn’t like book three, Tianiq’s book, and wanted to revise entirely. Fortunately this was early on, well before I ever put out The Gantean, so I was able to revise all three books to adjust for this.
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But then I decided to write Sterling’s story, which came out very easily, and felt like a natural next step after the Cedna’s book. Only after writing Sterling did I decide to sit down and formally examine what I was trying to do with this series. That was when I finally realized I was telling a story about the fall and return of magic in this world, an apocalypse and a restoration. I was able to tease out from the exiting stories that I’d set up these seven stones (the Ophirae) that were vital to the return of magic, and thus, I could have seven books, each essentially describing a romantic relationship and the re-awakening of one of the seven stones needed to restore magic to this world. So, that’s when I finally realized I needed seven books. I tore apart everything and rewrote parts of all the books, dismantled the book Night Queen and turned it into Mage and Source, and now here I am with a completely pantsed seven-book series in the works!

So the answer lurking within all those words is…there was no planning, and what someone should learn from my experience is: this is not the best approach to writing a seven-book series!

Fortunately, I have a pretty good memory, which helps me keep track of the logistics of the story arc—that and a whole bunch of slips of paper and several maps. I also try to 1) trust in my subconscious to unearth the threads of the story that need to be unearthed; 2) keep track of essential facts with lots of folders and post-its (I like to have important information and details on paper rather than on the computer, as I like spreading out my papers on the floor and getting a big overall picture every now and again); and 3) endless reworking and rewriting.

In retrospect, this is a very labor-intensive way to write books, definitely not for people who don’t like the slog of rewrites and massive amounts of editing. Be a planner if you want a streamlined process! I’ve gone the planned route for other books, and it is much easier and it involves a lot less rewriting. That said, I do enjoy the endless managed chaos of my Tales of Blood & Light process. There’s something deeply satisfying about pantsing a story. It feels organic and sometimes you surprise yourself with connections and storylines you’d never have planned.

.TS: Laith fascinates me in this book. His chemistry with Elena is undeniable. Tell me, did you use a blueprint for either character (Laith or Elena)–someone in “our world” who was your inspiration for creating either of them in Lethemia’s world? If so, who? What were the standout characteristics that you tried to translate over? If not, what famous person or character in this world might be most like Laith and/or Elena, and in what ways?
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talking-1430913EJS: I rarely model my characters after real people, honestly. I suppose my characters are creations “borged” from a multitude of people I’ve known, some I might not even remember, and also from parts of myself that don’t see the light of day. Laith does share some character features with my husband, Brady, namely being obsessed with his own interests and being fairly impervious to the negative opinions of others. Brady also tends to do what Brady wants, just like Laith. My husband, however, is a quiet man, and Laith is a huge talker. I have reams and reams of cut pages of Laith, just telling his stories. For a while he really wanted his own book all to himself, but he just rambled on and on.
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I had no particular model for Elena, although no doubt her perfectionistic tendencies and her favoring of reason over emotion come straight from me. I certainly haven’t used any famous person’s personality to shape either character; again, that’s just not my style.

I have done the Myers-Briggs Personality test for most of my characters. Laith is an ENTP and Elena is an ISTJ—very opposite types, but united by that thinking element. (Note: I am an INTJ, and I think my strongest domain is that T, that “thinking” quality. I find it very hard to write “F”s, or feeling types, because my brain just doesn’t work that way. I think so far only Sterling and Erich have been “feeling” types, and often I really had to pause and think to myself…what would someone entirely led by their feelings do in this situation? In some ways I think “F”s are easier for people to relate to, because that “T” quality can be very idiosyncratic, following a logic that isn’t always readily apparent, whereas everyone understands the basic human emotions and can relate to them immediately.

Appearance-wise Laith might look like a cross between Aiden Turner and Riz Ahmed, but taller than either of them, and Elena might look like Li Bingbing.

TS: You’ve told me that, according to many of your test readers, Costas Galatien, King of Lethemia, is not one of your more popular characters. Having read the books, though, I really dig the guy. He’s certainly a layered character with lots of depth. Where and how was he born in your mind? What went into his development? How did you pull off his tortured, wise, just, angsty, disciplined, and–dare I say it–dreamy layers? Asking for a friend. 😉
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king-1417290EJS: Costas (an ESTJ) is a favorite character of mine, too, but not for the reasons you may think. What I love about him is how we see him through the eyes of every one of my narrators, but never through his own eyes. As a king, he’s a man defined by his people and his mystique, and each character really does see him differently—most of them manage to see his complexities, too, but different complexities, with various beliefs about what is likable in him and what is not.
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I think some readers disliked how he treated Leila in The Gantean. They felt he wasn’t enough of a hero, that he was self-centered, a bit of a jerk. That is probably because they were sympathizing with Leila, the narrator, and at some points in the book, Leila and Costas were in direct conflict to one another in their actions (if not their in their emotions).
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Costas is complicated partly because his position is a complex one. He’s the King, but he is also a person with strong inner boundaries about privacy. He has his own desires that have nothing to do with his obligations as King, but he very strongly feels the duty of rule (even if he is sometimes unaware of its privilege). Sometimes he’s faced with difficult choices because of this—his personal desires (e.g., having Leila as his lover) are often in direct opposition to what is expected of him as King (e.g., marrying Stesichore Ricknagel and reuniting the Ten Houses). Costas picked duty over love at first, failing to understand the significance of the aetherlumo bind he shared with Leila. Unlike Laith, with his magical lore, Costas did not immediately comprehend that the aetherlumo is a BIND, meaning it not only joins him irrevocably with Leila, but it is forged by forces more powerful than human needs and desires. I think part of Costas’s character development is coming to understand that he cannot control everything, that there are forces to which even King Costas is subject. He is a controlling man, and he’s going to have to learn what he can and should control, and what he cannot and should not.

Costas is forever a work in progress, as you know. Each book shows a different side of him. In Mage and Source, we see a friend and subject’s view of him through Laith’s eyes. We also see an enemy’s view of him, as Elena has been sent to assassinate him at the behest of her Emperor. But Elena quickly complicates things, since her animosity isn’t based in her own emotions, only on her loyalty to her nation. Later in the series we’ll have a narrator who holds great personal animosity towards Costas. That’s been a tricky storyline to negotiate!

TS: I love the colors so prevalent in this series. Was there any order in your plans as you assigned a particular color of magestone with a particular mage? How did you plan who got what stone? Is the aetherlight–the colorful strands that appear INSIDE the stones–in any way connected to the owners, and if so, how did you decide on those colors? Are they representative at all of personality or background?
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EJS: I really love that you seem to think I planned anything about these books. Sadly, no, my strategy has been entirely “on the fly.” If I had planned, I would have planned better and followed some kind of recognizable color theory. But no, it’s all completely idiosyncratic. In this world, people have auras of aetherlight, and (in my mind, at least) the color of their aura does say something about their personality. But it’s one hundred percent based on my own personal feelings about colors and personality, not any existing color theory.
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So Leila’s colors are watery and cool, and her personality is cool and unemotional, but resilient and adaptable, like water.

The Cedna’s color was black, since she was embodying the absence and darkness of the world. Her elemental themes were fire and ash, so her color was the char that was left after the fire.

Sterling’s color was sunshine yellow, since her basic temperament is optimistic and bright, despite her sufferings. Her elemental theme was air, and I see the air around her being shot through with sunlight.

Laith is opal, shiny and shimmering, full of hidden colors. His elemental theme was aether, the stuff of magic, so I wanted his aetherlight to reflect the power and complexity of magic. He is also cool, like Leila. He explained in The Gantean that cool aetherlight people are draw to warm aetherlight people, and vice versa. Elena’s elemental theme is earth, so her aetherlight is green and rich and warm, like healthy leaves.

color-1186259I have tried to reflect the aetherlight colors of my narrators on the covers of the books. The elemental themes of the narrators are indicated on the back covers, in the taglines: flow like water; fall like ash; rise on air; bright as aether, strong as earth.

As far as the colors of the Ophirae magestones and whether they match those of the couples who ignite them, unfortunately, not really. It’s been more about which stone was available given the storyline, and given the fact that these plotlines are completely pantsed, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for applying any logical color theory after the fact. I have to work with what I’ve already set up and written into “the canon.” For the Ophirae colors, I literally just picked colors I liked way back when and those are the colors, end of story. No planning at all.

TS: Stepping outside the series: do you have other books you’re working on, or is Tales of Blood and Light your sole focus for now? If so, can we get a peek at what we can expect to hit the shelves at some future point?
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EJS: Well, Tales of Blood and Light still has three books to go. All are at least partially drafted. I’m working hard on Book Five, Light and Shadow, right now, with a massive rewrite/revision inspired by a certain brilliant editor.
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TS: Who is this nefarious creature!?
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I have also co-written two all new fantasy books with a certain fellow author who greatly resembles my brilliant editor, as you might know.

TS: Apparently, there are doppelgangers.

charleston-mansion-1204334These books are: River Running (elemental magic and romance in quasi-American South Reconstruction Era) and The Eighth Octave (music, magic, and mystery in a fairytale 18th-century world). We’ll be pitching these books to agents at an upcoming conference in New York City. *gulp*

I’m working on a new fantasy series with a first book tentatively titled “Midnight Oil,” too. Similar to Tales of Blood & Light, it involves culture clashes, empire, and magic, but the world and the magic system are quite different.

TS: Time for some fun! Quick Answers (don’t think longer than a second for these):
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Song of Ice and Fire or Lord of the Rings? EJS: Apples and oranges. I pick fruit salad.
Piano or Cello? EJS: That’s just mean and wrong. Why, Tamara, why?
TS: Because… Westley
Phantom of the Opera or Les Mis? EJS: Finally, one I can answer! Phantom of the Opera.
Coffee or Hot Chocolate? EJS: Thank goodness for some easy ones. Coffee.
Yoga or Pilates? EJS: Pilates 4 evah
Editing or Writing? EJS: Both, always.
Spring or Fall? EJS: Spring.
Archery or Sword Play? EJS: Archery.
Dragons or Phoenixes? EJS: Phoenixes.
Legolas or Robin Hood? EJS: Legolas.
Co-Writing or Writing Alone? 😉 EJS: Piano or cello?
Facebook or Twitter? EJS: Facebook, mostly, but sometimes it annoys me.
London or Paris? EJS: Cello?
Travel choices: Europe or the Caribbean? EJS: Piano?
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And finally…
Heart of a Dragon or Guardian of the Vale? 😉 EJS: Heart of a Dragon!
HOAD Box Set
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Justification for any of the above? 😉 EJS: Emily does what Emily wants.
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Thanks, Emily! Check out Mage and Source, available now on Amazon!
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Mage and Source Cover

The next world arrives in a shattering fall.

The Cedna is dead, and magic is broken. Laith Amar, a famous mage, must learn to live without his skill as all of Lethemia reels from the Fall. Fighting despair and skeptical colleagues, Laith seeks any solution that can return his talents.

From hidden sources, hope emerges.

Angered by losing the war against Lethemia, the Eastern Emperor dispatches Elena Rith, a trained potion-mistress, to assassinate the Lethemian King Costas Galatien and to learn what she can of the West’s fallen magic. Alone in a foreign country, Elena battles new hazards and old fears as an Eastern hunter tracks her.

A new alchemy ignites an old power.

After fate throws them together, Laith and Elena discover an intriguing method to revive magic that depends on them both. But when Elena’s foe finds her, can Laith save her from a past of pain and violation?

Only love can resurrect Laith’s faith and Elena’s hope, but darkness surrounds them as their enemies close in.

Magic’s restoration hangs in the balance.

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Writer’s Ink: Mark A. King

mark-a-kingI “met” Mark A. King on the Flash! Friday weekly flash fiction contest, and quickly came to look forward to the pieces of writing he submitted each week. He had (has) a way with words that sort of wrapped around my imagination, and it was a treat to get to co-judge with him for the same contest for a few months.

Since those days, Mark has started the Flashdogs, a group of writers with some awe-inspiring skills, as well as published several anthologies of flash fiction. Just this month, he’s released his very first novel, Metropolitan Dreams, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you.

Mark is stopping by my website to say hello and intrigue you with his plans for post-apocalyptic world restructure. Just because a genie is involved doesn’t mean it’s easy…

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1.) Go ahead and sum up Metropolitan Dreams for us in three sentences (because that’s always fun).
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In the aftermath of a violent crime we follow the connected stories of an injured nightclub bouncer, an ageing crime-lord, a conflicted police hacker, a traumatised Tube-driver, and a vulnerable twelve-year-old girl as they fight for survival, purpose, and redemption in the fractured city of London. Along the journey we discover lost rivers, abandoned underground stations, mysterious forces, and angels (perhaps).
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2.) What first pulled the idea for Met Dreams into your head? Where did you find the seed of your idea, and what made it grow into what you now have on your pages? Ten years down the road, when you’ve made your millions and have topped every international best-seller list, what will you look back on as being the inspiration that began this adventure?

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I’ve always had a fascination with major cities–how they can be tourist friendly during the day and turn into completely different places at night. There are so many things hidden in places and within people. I wanted to set the tale in London, not just because it was where I was raised, but also because there have been so many fantastic SF/Fantasy stories based in the city that I felt like I owed it to myself to start there. Many of the ideas were formed or experimented with in flash fiction competitions, and a significant number of ideas can have their history traced back to Flash! Friday (which my fellow judge and kind host today knows only too well) or The Angry Hourglass. It is fair to say that these competitions were like fuel that fired the engine of story creation. I’m so very thankful to Rebekah Postupak who dedicated so much of her time and energy to the community. There were many fine writers there, too, who not only inspired with their writing, but also their spirit and encouragement, for example Tamara Shoemaker. 🙂
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*Editor’s Note: Aww, thanks!
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3.) Name your favorite character in the book, and tell us what made that character so special/difficult/fun/annoying/challenging to write.

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This is a really hard question. Metropolitan Dreams, like a city, is told from the points of view of many characters. While most books have one or two main characters, Met Dreams has many. Will they know if I’ve picked a favourite? What if they then won’t do what I want them to do in future?
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*Editor’s Note: My characters NEVER do what I want them to do. They are like willful children. If you discover the secret of making them obey, please let me know. 😉
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Okay, I’ll risk it. Cal McKinley. We find him suffering from trauma and self-doubt from the very early stages of the book. He is a Tube-driver who has witnessed a death and is struggling to cope with it. Cal starts to experience unusual events, and he is not sure if he is suffering from a mental illness/disorder such as PTSD. As the story progresses, it becomes clear to Cal that not everything is as it seems. As he progresses through his journey of discovery, he gets to meet many interesting characters and visit some unique locations.
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4.) What are some of the challenges you’ve faced–and overcome–to take your story from your computer and put it out into the big, wide world of readers? What were your fears/concerns, and what were you looking forward to? Is anything like you hoped or dreaded?
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There are too many to count. The English school system was not interested in teaching grammar to school children when I was younger. Despite the fact that I seem to have coped fairly well without it, it has always been something I have been very ware of, and I knew full well that I needed to seek a great deal of help to write a novel. This is where Emily June Street came in. However, it would be unjust to say she ‘just’ helped in this aspect. A great editor–and Emily is one–will tease out central plots, act as a voice of reason, and even help with last minute adjustments to story continuity. Emily has been a blessing. If you can find a wonder editor like Emily (or Tamara), then I would urge you to do so.
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*Editor’s Note: I bow to Emily’s far superior skills. Absolutely agree. She is truly the best there is.
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I was very nervous about sending the draft to Emily. When it left the walls of my e-mail server, it was like sending a child beyond the city gates and having no idea what might become of them.
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Few of my friends knew about my writing, and the entire thing has been one long journey of slowly letting go and facing the fears I have.
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5.) And, because you did it to me, here’s payback. Think fast, put your first impulse answer:
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London or Paris?
London (I couldn’t really say anything else, could I?  🙂 )
Book or Movie?
Book.
Peanut butter or Marmite?
PB – although I do have an allergy to peanuts, but I’d rather that than Marmite.
Disney World or Universal Studios?
This question should be disallowed. Can’t I pick one park from each?
Universal because of Islands of Adventure, or Harry Potter, if I had to choose.
A pic of Disney on our trip Dec 2010, to balance this out a bit.
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London Tube or double-decker bus?
Tube – have you been on a double-decker?
*Editor’s Note: Yes, in both London and Dublin. One thing was for sure: it wasn’t boring… 😉
Mountains or Beach?
This question is really not fair. I choose both. I’ve attached a picture where my family are from. The picture is on the Atlantic coast, a straight line all the way to the East coast US (apart from some rugged islands where they recently filmed Star Wars).
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Instrumental or W/ Lyrics?
Probably instrumental.
Cats or Dogs?
Dogs.
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter.
Early bird or Night owl?
Umm. Early bird.
Tolkien or Lewis?
Tolkien.
Dragons or Hippogriffs?
Dragons, of course.
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6.) Say the world has ended in a colossal explosion, and you and three others are the only survivors (who apparently now live on an alternate planet). You have the chance to rebuild it, but all you have among you is a train ticket, a ball of steel wire, a dusty old lamp that may or may not include a genie inhabitant, and a piece of Ever-Last gum. How would you proceed? (New world must be built. I look forward to seeing what you do with this). 😉
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This is possibly the hardest (and strangest) question I have ever been asked!
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I’m assuming the three others would be my wife and two children. 🙂
I’ve also assumed I can’t ask the genie for unlimited wishes. That would be cheating. You normally get three, right?
I’d ask for the world to be returned to the way it was.
I’d ask for more equality and justice in the world (I’m not asking for much, am I?).
I’d ask the genie where they would like to go, and I’d gift them the train ticket to that destination.
I’d craft a gift for the genie from the steel wire, lamp, and gum and wish him/her a wonderful life of freedom and happiness. And I’d remind them that they should remember my gift the next time they think about doing something mischievous (it might remind them that bad things happened before, and it might help to avoid them becoming captured again).
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This is a tale of two cities.

Darkness and light.

Sinners and angels.

In the daylight, London sparkles, beckoning tourists, optimists and dreamers from across the globe. The sunlit city weaves together the lives of repentant crime-lords, altruistic nightclub bouncers and resolute detectives.

In the darkness, London festers, drools, tempts and corrupts. It is a world where the desperate are lured, the weak are exploited, and good men wrap themselves in the blanket of criminal rewards. In the seething streets, the hissing underground stations and lost subterranean rivers, the metropolitan dreams of ethical hackers, desperate criminals and traumatized Tube-drivers unfold.

Maria, a vulnerable twelve-year-old from Kerala, India, has travelled half the world in search of her past and hopes for the future. Within hours, violent chaos engulfs her. Maria is tracked, hunted and pursued—she can rescue the city, but first she must save herself.

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Mark is one of the founders of FlashDogs, a global community of talented flash fiction writers. His flash fiction stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Mark was born and raised in London, works in Cambridge, and lives in Norfolk, England.

The Write Giveaway

TamaraShoemaker-300dpi-3125x4167(1)Alert to all Flashdogs, FlashMonkeys, FlashDragons, and anyone else who just likes Flashy things!

In honor of the upcoming releases of new installments in two of our fantasy series, Emily June Street and I are co-hosting a ONE-TIME FLASH FICTION CONTEST on the Luminous Creatures Press Blog.

The contest submission dates run from June 28 – June 30. The prompts will be posted on June 28th, and then you’ll have two full days to create a story of 100 words or fewer to enter. The theme will be fantasy, since the newly released books we are celebrating are both fantasy stories.

Please note: you do not have to be a writer to enter this contest; Emily and I are hoping for entries from anyone who is interested in winning a free copy of our new releases, whether you’ve written anthologies, novels, flash fiction, or only your name. Come one, come all! It’ll be fun!sterling

More specifics on theme and a photo prompt will be posted on June 28th on the Luminous Creatures Press Blog.

For advance information about our rules and story content, please visit the Luminous Creatures Blog here.

Preeminent Flashdog Mark A. King has agreed to serve as our judge. The winner will receive paperback or ebook editions of our two new books: Embrace the Fire, by Tamara Shoemaker, a YA novel set in a classic fantasy world with dragons, elves, and other creatures, and Sterling, by Emily June Street, a fantasy romance with an intricate magic system.

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The Dragons are Coming!

Nearly a year ago, I released my first fantasy ever, Kindle the Flame. I had intended to put the second one in the trilogy on the market within six months, but various things got in the way (namely this book and this book), and I’m only just getting the sequel ready now.

But it’s here, y’all! June 1, 2016, exactly one year from the date Kindle the Flame came out, Embrace the Fire will be available on Amazon!

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If you’d like to pre-order the book (which is great for kick-starting my book into the higher echelons of Amazon’s ranking systems), check out this link here!

Need a reminder what Kindle the Flame was about? Check out the book trailer! You all invested in this series when you voted for me to win the trailer contest, and Dalitopia Media came through with a fantastic one. Seriously, check it out!

Now I’ll stop rambling so you can head over to that link and buy the book. 🙂 Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon when you’re done. I can’t stress enough how crucial reviews are for indie authors to get anywhere in the publishing business, and even a one-liner is quite sufficient.

Enjoy!

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Wanted by King Sebastian, Kinna, the long-hidden daughter of the assassinated King Liam, flees for her life, determined to seek out her twin brother and free him from Sebastian’s dungeons. Meanwhile, the King holds Kinna’s adopted father as collateral to ensure she keeps her betrothal to a man she does not love.

Once cursed by King Sebastian to turn everything he touched to ash, Ayden suffers from new, searing pain that heats his flesh in a different way. Searching for answers, he digs into the histories of West Ashwynd’s Clans, and his discoveries lead him to the Amulet he’d thought had rid him of his curse. When he finds a rare Mirage Dragon, hope for vengeance upon Sebastian fills him again.

Captured and stripped of his power as Dragon-Master, Cedric resists using his Dragon-speak to advance Sebastian’s political aims. When he escapes the King’s clutches, he resolves to find his twin sister, Kinna. But the enemy has a long reach, and Cedric’s chains are unrelenting.

Ice and agony torment Sebastian, King of West Ashwynd. His fury rages unabated as he prepares for war. When treachery leeches into his ranks, he turns against everyone he trusts. Sebastian believes he cannot be outwitted, but…

Kingdoms rise and fall; wars transform nations—but who can survive the fires of Dragons?

The Cedna: Emily June Street

I have the pleasure of hosting fantasy author extraordinaire, Emily June Street, on my website today, where she discusses her latest novel, The Cedna, with me–its magic system, which of her characters she relates to most, and why she’s put out with me for making her answer the last question. 😉

Come read what she has to say, and then do yourself a favor and look up her books on Amazon. Besides The Cedna, she also has The Gantean for sale, and other works such as The Velocipede Races. I highly recommend all of them; Emily is one of the best there is. Follow her on her website or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

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1.) In three sentences, tell me what The Cedna is about.

The Cedna is the second book in an epic fantasy series that explores intersections of women, fantasy, and magic. In a world governed by the magical powers of blood and light, a rebellious woman selected to serve as a sacrifice desperately seeks a different solution to save her waning culture. When she travels south to save herself and her people, ethnic prejudices, old animosities, and a handsome stranger quickly overturn her plans, leading her on a world-shattering adventure of love, heartbreak, and war.

g-vs-e-2-16004072.) Every good story has a protagonist and an antagonist. Tell me about the character, the Cedna. What characteristics of each of these does she carry in her? How does she reconcile the two? 

A big part of the exploration I am doing in my series, Tales of Blood & Light, is about perspectives. Each book is told from the perspective of a different character, and my hope is that each book acts as a puzzle piece to fit into a larger whole that tells a broad and deep story. So each volume in the series lets the reader take another step back and get a wider view on the world and the story.

The Cedna was one of the antagonistic characters from the first book, The Gantean, though she was kept a bit in the background, in the wings, waiting for her entrance. We knew she had abandoned her people in a time of need, and we knew she had done some terrible deeds that affected the first book’s narrator, Leila.

Book Two is the Cedna’s bold entrance, where we finally see what her motivations have been for everything she has done. She becomes the protagonist of her own story, and it’s left for the reader to decide whether she is good, evil, or simply human.

I haven’t written typical protagonists and antagonists in these books, for a few reasons. First, so much of how people frame conflicts has to do with perspective, so this series, as an exercise in perspective, has a lot of “grey area,” rather than the clearer “black and white” of a standard story conflict. There is a lot of fluidity in my characters in terms of whether they are serving as protagonists or antagonists, depending on which character is the current narrator.

The other aspect of the books that makes discussing protagonists versus antagonists tricky is that in both The Gantean and The Cedna (and in subsequent books) I’d say one of the central conflicts is an internal one: the characters versus themselves. That isn’t to say that there is no external plot conflict—there is, but each character has a war going on within herself where she’s playing both protagonist and antagonist, and I think this is true of the Cedna more than any of the other narrators I’ve written for this series.

The Cedna is the figurehead of a desperate culture whose leaders will kill her to protect their livelihood. She has been told for her whole life that this sacrifice is natural and that she should be accepting of—or even honored by—her role. In direct conflict to that we have her very natural feeling that she would prefer to live, and live on her own terms. This conflict within her gives rise to a whole bunch of choices that spiral out into other conflicts—setting her at odds sometimes with her own people and sometimes with the southern culture her Gantean people hate.

I don’t want to discuss how the Cedna reconciles these internal conflicts, because that’s really the crux of the book and the conclusion of her story. I guess you’ll have to read it to find out!

3.) Was this book harder to write than the Gantean, or easier? Why?

In terms of time, it was easier. The Gantean took me decades to write, partly because I started it when I was really young, and then I had to rewrite it over and over again as I became a more skillful writer. The Cedna only took me years, maybe five or six. With The Cedna, I had a better idea of where the story was headed, although there were a couple of big issues I had to figure out—one example is that for the timeline to work and to have the Cedna’s story dovetail with the story of The Gantean, I needed a large chunk of time to pass without having a lot of action occur, so I had to hide her out somewhere for a decade or so. That was a tricky decision and a tricky portion of the book to write.

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4.) Your magic system is so elaborate in this book so that I was gaping in awe at parts. How did you conceive of the system? What went into its development?

The magic system developed very organically out of my imagination. I knew I wanted it to be partly emotion-based—the “matter” of the magic was what I might call psychic energy or the energy of emotion. That energy is also connected to the earth—crystals, to be specific—and relies on those crystals to be focused and channeled.

I wanted to have magic be a predictable force that was the same across cultures, but I wanted the two cultures (Gantean and Lethemian) to approach its use and maintenance differently. The Ganteans use the life energy in blood to maintain magic, whereas the Lethemians use the life energy from reproduction (sex) to maintain it. So the Ganteans’ relationship to magic is one of pain and darkness; the Lethemians’ is one of pleasure and light. How they relate to this power tells us a lot about their cultures.

Conceiving of the system took years but had no particular plan. I talked about it a lot with my husband while we walked our dogs. We often talked about altered mind states and how reality is perceived differently when your senses are altered by ecstatic experiences or psychedelic drugs. I wanted the magic in these books to be like that, an altered state in which practitioners can perceive and affect parts of reality their regular senses can’t normally observe.

The magic system is really one of the centerpieces of the whole series, I think, and if you can stick with all seven books, you’ll probably see the magic system getting more and more involved in the plot. Everything in these books gets developed very slowly over the course of seven books; they are definitely written for patient readers. That was a conscious choice on my part, even though I recognize that most people these days prefer fast, straight-forward reads. I let myself write the books I wanted to write with the Lethemia series, and one of the things I like best about them is how they really are like a jigsaw puzzle, and no single book in the series can tell the whole story. I figure if a reader is too impatient to enjoy a slower process of discovery, so be it; there are plenty of other faster-paced books for them to read!

ship-log-book-15639515.) What’s your favorite name of a place or a character that you made up for the story? How did you arrive at these names? Did you just open a dictionary and close your eyes and point, or was there a method? (Hint: my favorite is The Hinge; what an awesome place/entity name!)

I loosely organized the naming conventions of the cultures involved in the story by existing nationalities and then made certain kinds of tweaks. The Gantean names are based on Inuit languages, though I added a few additional syllables that I liked so I could use certain names I came up with that I wanted to use (Mikien, Ikselian). Careful readers may notice that Gantean women’s names often end in –ian, and the men’s names often end in “-ien, –at, or –uq.”

The Lethemian names are split into three regions: the northern region of the country uses slightly Gaelic-tinged names (Malvyna, Culan); the central regions use Greek names (Costas, Mydon, Stesichore); and the southern regions use Arabic names (Laith, Jaasir) There is some overlap and crossover, since Lethemia is one country and one culture. I tried to make the naming conventions a bit organic all around, so the place names are a mix of names taken from ancient Greece (Amphicylix, Hemicylix) and names that are more conventional or descriptive (Queenstown or Orioneport).

The eastern culture that emerges in this book, the Vhimsantese Empire, is sort of a mash-up of Ancient Rome and the Russian Empire. So they have Russian or Roman-sounding names, like Vilanov or Proseri.

I have to acknowledge that when I first conceived of this world, I was twelve years old and really unorganized and uninformed about stuff like naming conventions or geography. So some of the most flowery and extravagant names are holdovers from that era of the story’s existence (Vhimsantese, Lysandra, Ricknagel). Those came straight out of my imagination or from bizarre and random sources I was into when I was twelve. I could have changed them but I guess I wanted to honor my twelve-year-old self and keep a few of them in there to add a touch of random, childish spice.

The Hinge is a one-off name that I have to admit is an unkilled darling. I probably should have given it a more Gantean-sounding name, but I just couldn’t because I like the idea of a place that is the Hinge or the crux of all magic in the world. The world hinges on the Hinge.

6.) How many books do you plan to write in this series? Must we be content with only The Cedna and The Gantean, or do you have more of this world to unravel and feed to our grasping fingers?

There will be seven books. Book Three, Sterling, is drafted, and I hope to release it in 2016. The next four books are all also drafted but they are rather a mess. I expect to take a while to untangle those knots. So yes, there is a lot more of this world yet to be revealed. So far, we’ve only had Gantean narrators. The next three narrators are Lethemian, or at least they grew up in Lethemia. We’ve also thus far only heard from women. There will be some male points of view in later books.

TGCOVER7.) Of the two girls, Leila from The Gantean and the Cedna from The Cedna, which one do you connect with more? Why? Do you think one or the other appeals more to specific audiences? Why or why not?

That’s a really tough question. I think if you asked other people, they’d say I’m more like the Cedna—headstrong and apt to make my own independent choices, however deviant they may be. I like to go my own way, and I tend to do it without much remorse.

That said, Leila’s inspiring element was water; the Cedna’s is fire. I actually feel that if I had to pick an element for myself it would be air. (An air character is coming, and she is probably my true secret Mary Sue in this series.) So Leila’s approach to life is to “flow like water.” The Cedna’s approach is more destructive. Fire eats what it touches, and whatever choice she makes, it seems to end up being ruinous.

I hope both Leila and the Cedna are complex characters, nuanced enough that readers can relate to both of them, or at least understand why they make the choices they make, even if the readers themselves might make different choices in the given circumstances.

Leila is softer, more adaptable, and perhaps more typically feminine than the Cedna. The Cedna is angry, impulsive, and strident—characteristics that our culture has a hard time with in a woman. This was one reason I started out with Leila’s book, even though chronologically the Cedna’s story comes first. I think Leila is a more immediately likeable character to a wider range of people. But what do I know, really?

holding-on-15224858.) You obviously are an extremely skilled fantasy writer. Just for kicks, what would TC look like on the extreme opposite end of the scale… as a romantic comedy? Let’s have it–a five sentence synopsis of a romantic-comedied The Cedna. 😉 (I’m really excited to see your answer to this one.) 😉

Oh dear. Oh dear. This is just the worst. I can’t believe you are making me do this, Tamara. I’ve never been able to write comedy. And I struggle with romance, too. I have about six half-written romance manuscripts, and all of them “turn dark” at some point. I have to hide them deep in the bowels of my laptop.

But here goes:

The leader of a harsh, northern culture escapes a dire fate and stumbles—quite literally—into the arms of an unrepentant rake while she poses as a southern housemaid. Unused to southern customs, the Cedna cannot help but draw notice as she flagrantly fails at her housemaid duties. Some women just aren’t made for keeping house.

Lord Onatos Amar is not amused as his newest housemaid bungles her duties and his palatial Alcazar begins to crumble around him.

Soon the Cedna’s secrets are revealed, and Onatos must decide between saving his troublesome housemaid and sending her back to her fate in the cold north.

The Cedna available on Amazon:

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Every Cedna is born to die, paying the balance that keeps magic alive.

This Cedna desires a different path, free from the pain that comes with the sacred duty.

As Gante faces destruction at the hands of Lethemian raiders, she fights against her fate as a ritual sacrifice.

Though dangers loom on every side, the Cedna travels south in a desperate diplomatic bid to protect the island.

Ethnic prejudices, old animosities, and a handsome stranger who pulls on her with a magical bond quickly overturn her plans, leading the Cedna on a world-shattering adventure of love, heartbreak, and war.

Every choice is final.