Interview with Fantasy Author
I first met Shayla a year ago while attending the WRN Conference on the Gold Coast. Quickly after meeting, we discovered a shared interest in Fantasy fiction and self-publishing. Standing beside the catering table with glasses of orange juice in hand, Shayla told me about her Elm Stone Saga, her decision to self-publish and the research she is doing as a PhD candidate.
Shayla is generous, sweet and incredibly hard working. The latest novel in the Elm Stone Saga will be released this June. In celebration of the launch of Haunted (coming out on Saturday, 15 June 2019) I decided to bring Shayla onto the blog for a wee chat. If you’re fantasy fan, considering self-publishing or a PhD candidate wondering how to balance research and creative writing, this is the interview for you.
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Now, over to the interview.
- Can you tell us a little about your series The Elm Stone Saga?
Sure. It’s a six-part Young Adult contemporary fantasy series following a modern Irish witch called Aristea as she navigates life as an apprentice to a centuries-old magical council. She’s a bit offbeat and she quickly connects with one of the youngest councillors, Renatus, who’s kind of the black sheep of the council. They find out they share a really tragic past, and though their journeys are darkened by secrets, losses and failures that make each character really struggle, their growing loyalty to each other is very sweet. Romance isn’t a central feature of this series; I like to explore other forms of love, since those are just as intense, important and sometimes reckless, and are much more prevalent in our lives. I think Renatus and Aristea fulfil the quotas for devotion, trust, risk and interdependence that many of us are seeking in a compelling romance anyway.
The series is about to release its fourth part and started in 2014. It’s mostly in first person POV through Aristea, but she’s a young and naïve perspective, so every third chapter steps back into the third person view of one of the adult councillor characters. I think it rounds out the book and gives it a unique feel, while also giving me – and the reader – a regular break from Aristea.
- What is your favourite thing about writing Fantasy? Has it always been your preferred genre to read?
I think so. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia at my school library when I was a kid, but also loved horse books. All of the horse books. These days with both books and TV shows, I warn people trying to recommend me stuff that if it doesn’t have spaceships, magical powers, police work or at the very least, horses, not to bother me with it, because I won’t look at it.
My favourite thing about writing fantasy is the imagination. Getting lost in my own daydreams and weaving my way back through words. Plus, I would really like to have magical powers. I love magic! But I also really like rules. As in, whether it’s science fiction or police procedural or a really tight magic system, cause and effect should always be clear, and I enjoy creating tight stories within those genres because they’re what I most like to read and watch.
- Why did you decide to self-publish your novels?
It wasn’t my first choice, but five years later, it’s what I’m planning for my next series. I submitted to traditional publishing but didn’t know what I didn’t know, and found the rejections very frustrating. Through a twist of what I like to believe was Fate, my husband met a friend of a friend at a party who had recently started a small press and was seeking fantasy writers with manuscripts. Sabrina at Ouroborus Books gave me a start in the industry that, having now done my Masters in Editing & Publishing, I realise I wasn’t going to get otherwise. I was young, female, Australian, with no publishing history or formal qualifications in writing, no social media presence, and producing very large fantasy novels in only one long series. I understand now that I was not a good bet for a publishing house. Next time I approach them, I won’t be a little girl. I’ll have two postgraduate degrees in Publishing, two series to my name, established social media with a loyal organic following, and a whole lot of experience I didn’t have before. It’s not off the cards.
- What advice do you have to other writers considering this option?
My advice to others is to be prepared to play the long game. Overnight successes are either a farce or at the very least, outliers, and it’s foolish to throw your heart behind the belief that you’ll be ‘that one’. Most of the overnight success stories you hear about authors make those same authors laugh – they know that they’ve got four failed novels behind them that the media neglected to mention, or that they’ve been submitting and reworking and resubmitting versions of this debut novel for years. Persistent hard work is still the most solid and effective path to success.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your writing routine/process? For example, do you prefer to work in the morning or at night? Do you write every day? Are you an outliner or a discovery writer?
Ooh, I haven’t heard those terms before. I guess I’m a discovery writer? I plot out main checkpoints to work toward and then let it unfold organically. Sometimes characters I introduce to deliver one line, or one scene, grow to take centre stage (Renatus was meant to be a very very minor character, but with each draft he became more prominent until we’re essentially reading his story, told through Aristea) and sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen in a scene until I get to it. I like to write in the evenings but I write better when I’m on a roll from the previous night. I look forward to blocks of several days in a row where I know I can get some momentum – no appointments, no deadlines, no people coming to visit – and write all day and into the night without being made to stop. I do the same with my academic writing.
- You’re currently completing a PhD, can you tell us about your research project?
It’s in Publishing Studies, crossing over into Creative Writing Pedagogy and Fanfiction Studies. Essentially it’s exploring the ways that writing fanfiction helps develop the skills of young writers. The teaching of writing in fun and authentic contexts is something I’m very passionate about – I was a Year 2 teacher for seven years – and the fanfiction community is a place I learned a lot about writing through experimentation and peer feedback. I had never intended to go as far as a doctorate but after finishing my Masters, this amazing way of blending all my passions together struck me in that way only great flashes of inspiration do.
- How do you balance academic research with your personal creative projects?
As best I can! I don’t think I do a very good job of balancing but I suppose I still manage to get everything done to a level that satisfies me. I guess that counts? For me, balance is achieved through intensive bouts of creative time alternated with intense blocks of study. When I was in high school I used to only write on school holidays, and that habit carried through my undergraduate degree and into my career as a teacher. I struggle to switch between creative brain and analytical brain, so instead, I make whole weeks academic-only time and then set aside a block of fun writing time at the end of it like a carrot. Then between semesters, I just write every day for weeks on end.
Sometimes we escape the past.
Other times we are left haunted.
With the world watching after the tragic events in Prague, the White Elm is on damage control. A councillor lost. An apprentice scarred. Ancient alliances shaken. Power seems determined to find its level.
Amidst this escalating chaos, Aristea and Renatus struggle to reconcile their failures and the toxic secrets fostering new tensions between them. Aristea tests the boundaries of their friendship – and her position as a council apprentice – in her fixation with saving him and the others she loves. The mistakes of the past continue to unravel but for the Dark Keeper and his apprentice, who they were and who they want to be weighs heavily when each choice might be a step down the wrong path…
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