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Archive for the 'Fantasy' Category

Gender bias in fantasy characters

A couple of months ago, I highlighted a list of “the best fantasy series”. As always, such lists are personal opinions. However, a writer friend from the SFF Online Writers Workshop, Kathryn Jankowski, wrote a comment on how ” very male-protagonist oriented” the list was and offered another list to balance this.

I have to be honest here that I had not noticed how skewed the original list was when I wrote the post (but then I am an elderly while male which does not excuse me but perhaps explains the omission!). However, it set me thinking and I have kept my eye open for more on this topic.

I have just come across a blog post that explores this bias by Freda Warrington, an excellent British fantasy writer I have admired since I read her first novel, “A Blackbird in Silver” in the mid-’80s.

If you are interested in this topic, check out the rest of Sarah Ash’s blog on Women Who Write Excellent SFF under the heading of Nobody Knew She Was There.

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Which are the best fantasy series?

My daughter, Holly, who is a fellow fantasy fan, has just pointed me at Paste Magazine‘s list of “The 30 Best Fantasy Book Series of All Time”.

I am currently reading Holly’s Christmas present to me: Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” trilogy. I am on the final book and thoroughly enjoying the characterisation and each PoV’s distinctive “voice” so am pleased to see this is deservedly on the list. If you have not read it yet – it is strongly recommended.

Looking at the rest of the list, it is good to see Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea cycle” on there, as well as Anne McCaffery’s “Dragonriders of Pern” (long a personal favourite) and Robin Hobb’s “Realm of the Elderlings” (which I discovered and enjoyed last year) alongside the expected entries such as LOTR, Harry Potter and Discworld.

I am more ambiguous about George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” now. I really enjoyed the first three books but by the fifth never found the energy to finish it as it seemed too sprawling and, by leaving out half the parallel story lines, I missed some of the more interesting characters.

There were some series I would not have included (such as “Narnia” and “Thomas Covenant” in particular) but these lists are always about personal choices and not everyone’s taste is the same.

The really good thing about such a list is that it also showed a number of series I have thought about reading but have yet to delve into (Stephen King’s “Dark Tower”, Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn”, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”, Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files”) and it is difficult to decide where to start!

Then there are those I have no sense of yet… “The Gentleman Bastard Sequence” by Scott Lynch caught my eye, as did “The Kingkiller Chronicle” by Patrick Rothfuss, “Malazan Book of the Fallen” by Steven Erikson and “The Night Angel Trilogy” by Brent Weeks.

Then there’s a decision as to whether I try yet another Arthurian cycle with Stephen R. Lawhead’s “The Pendragon Cycle”. I really enjoyed Arthurian works when I was much younger but felt I had overdosed on them and have not sought them out for many a year yet this series gets a good recommendation.

Help! Any advice on priorities? Any opinions on what you think are best?

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Five tips to get more out of NaNoWriMo

The material to help writers prepare for NaNoWriMo is coming out fast and furious now. The Fantasy Faction blog provides an interesting challenge to get more out of it through using it to experiment:

    Change your default writing style
    Change genre
    Introduce more diversity
    Measure your productivity
    Aim for a proper first draft

I’m sure many writers do use NaNo to experiment, I know I am using it for the last two on the list. However, it is worth giving a bit of serious thought to what else one can do.

See their full post for more details: ‘Five Ways To Use NaNoWriMo As Your Writing R&D Department’

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The Guardian’s ‘Self-publishing showcase’

Anyone interested in the broader aspects of self-publishing should check out The Guardian newspaper’s website. It now has a section within “Books” called Self-publishing showcase. It is updated weekly with new articles. The most recent (11 September), is a piece on India Drummond, a fantasy writer.

Well worth keeping an eye on this.

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How Tolkien Leads the Digital Revolution

In the late ’60’s and ’70’s I devoured Tolkien’s stories and loved his world-building, My involvement in (and frustration with!) the Tolkien Society, led directly to my helping to found the British Fantasy Society in 1971. Since then, some of my children have grown up as Tolkien fans and we have enjoyed the world he created brought to the ‘big screen’ by Peter Jackson.

From this, it is little surprise to me that hundreds of thousands of people name ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as their favourite book. However, I did a double-take when, in the course of keeping up on technology news and developments, I read a (very straight, not tongue-in cheek) artidle by IDG about How Tolkien Leads the Digital Revolution.

While IDG is right that most smartphone and tablet apps don’t reach the level of depth, the layers possible, I suspect the issue is the time to develop and launch is so much shorter. Tolkien spent his life developing Middle Earth. He didn’t work to a deadline or the corporate need for continuing increases in quarterly profits or the need to launch something ‘new’ or ‘world-changing’ every year. The issue then is the expectation versus ability to produce something original within an ever-increasing the pace of change.

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Interview: Jilly Paddock

If you have followed “Nightspore” for a while you will be aware that I have been enthusing about SF & fantasy author Jilly Paddock’s work. (My earlier articles are Discovering new authors with Kindle: Jilly Paddock, which covers two of her novels, “The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone” and “No Earthly Shore”. SF review: “To Die A Stranger” by Jilly Paddock reviews the third of the four books she self-published via Amazon.)

Having first encountered Jilly’s work while she was an “indie writer” it is great to be able to announce that she has now signed with Pro Se Press, an American pulp-oriented publisher. It seemed good timing to ask Jilly about her writing career to date and what the future holds following signing to Pro Se.

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How long have you been writing science fiction?

Since my early teens. I had two friends at school and we all wrote SF; we’d talk about plots and characters in lunch breaks, pass silly notes in lessons and even act out fight scenes to see if they worked. We each wrote our own stuff and collaborated on some stories. We’re still friends now and we’re all published writers of SF and fantasy, so it was good training.

What drew you to the genre?

Why SF? There really wasn’t any other choice for me – it was a no-brainer. What other genre is there where anything is possible, where you can have any world, any person, any creature, any invention you can imagine? And I did love science. I’m still a biology, geology and astronomy geek. I had a whole career of peering down microscopes at pretty stained bacteria and waving, wriggling protozoans, and growing nasty bugs in Petri dishes. I like the sense-of-wonder, the “Wow! Look at that!” feeling of science, and SF and fantasy are the only genres that have that for me.

How would you describe the stories you write?

Character-driven, generally with strong female protagonists and a touch of humour. The science, which is usually biology or medicine, is plausible, although I do use all the classic SF tropes – FTL space travel, human colonies, AI and psi powers. My grandfather would have called them “damn good yarns” and a friend of mine refers to the Anna & Zenni books as “cyberfolk”, a bit gentler and more mellow than cyberpunk. I can’t claim to be a literary writer, I’m afraid. My stuff tends towards adventure, space opera and pulp.

When I first read “To Die A Stranger”, I was reminded of the work of Eric Frank Russell but I understand you are not familiar with his work. Which genre authors do you admire or have influenced the direction of your writing?

Don’t think I’ve ever read any Russell. I read a lot of SF in my teens, all the standards including Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. It won’t be a surprise that my AIs owe a lot to Mike in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but they also have a touch of Zen and Orac from Blake’s 7. I like a lot of British writers – Brian Aldiss, Colin Kapp, Dan Morgan, John Sladek and Bob Shaw, and John Wyndham. “The Chrysalids” was one of the books we did for my English Literature O level. I adore Cordwainer Smith and he’s a big influence, particularly his short stories “The Game of Rat and Dragon” and “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”. I collected “New Writings in SF”, a series of 30 anthologies edited by John Carnell, and later Kenneth Bulmer, mainly for James White’s Sector Twelve General Hospital stories, but the contents pages read like a Who’s Who of SF.

In fantasy I like Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, Roger Zelazny and Charles de Lint. If I was pressed for a favourite, I’d have to pick Peter S Beagle for his beautifully-crafted poetic prose and the way he can tell a complex story in such simple words.

These days I’m reading SF from Charles Stross and Peter Watts, fantasy by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and a wonderful police procedural/magic series by Ben Aaronovitch.

What is your approach to writing? Do you tend to start with an idea, such as the “agent-pairs”, or with the characters?

Sometimes a whole story will drop into my head fully formed – “No Earthly Shore” was like that. Usually it’s harder, and I get an idea for a scene, or maybe the beginning and end of a story arc for a novel, but the characters arrive very early in the creation process. They seem to practically invent themselves, then they start talking to me, telling me their back stories and arguing about the intended plot and their part in it. I do have trouble with minor characters who aren’t content with their bit and want to take over the book. When I’m writing a novel I’ll often stumble across things and concepts that beg to be included, scraps and fragments of found art or science – call it synchronicity or serendipity, but it does enrich the book.

All of my characters are real to me, as real as people in the outside world, which probably makes me sound like a madwoman! Is writing a kind of voluntary functional schizophrenia? It certainly feels that way sometimes.

Do you have a “target audience” in mind when you write?

Not at all. I write the sort of books I want to read.

Your SF series about both “Afton & Jerome” and “Anna-Marie Delany” are set in a universe where “agent-pairs” operate in the shadows. For me, this idea is a very strong element I enjoyed in your writing. Which came first, the story of the origin of agent-pairs in “To Die A Stranger” or the spook in the Jerome stories? What future plans do you have for related stories?

Anna & Zenni came first. There are a lot of books in their series – I scared my publisher by saying there were ten, but there may be more. The first four are finished but need a final edit and polish, and the rest need more work. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that Anna has to join Earth Intelligence and become a spook eventually, which is a bumpy ride on both sides. Agent-pairs are a horrible concept. They can go anywhere, penetrate any defences, overhear secret conversations, steal objects and thoughts, and kill without leaving any evidence. I’m glad they’re fictional – I wouldn’t trust any of our governments with such a powerful weapon. Being the human half of an agent-pair is tough, with a high risk of psychological damage. Anna has the ego to cope with it, but many others don’t.

What technology do you use to write and / or publish? (For example, are you a pen & paper person? Do you use Scrivener?)

I started off spending all my pocket-money on cheap exercise books from Woolworth’s – you could get three for one shilling and sixpence – and scribbling in them in biro, sometimes using green or purple. When I had more money the paper quality improved and I used a nicer pen. I bought an electric typewriter to turn the scrawl into manuscripts, then an Amstrad word processor and eventually a PC. I’ve had to keep switching software as technology moved on, from Locoscript on the Amstrad, through Appleworks/Corel to WordPerfect, which I use now. I don’t care for Word, so I use Open Office to take everything into doc format, but I still find WordPerfect more intuitive and prefer to write in that. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, although I’m not sure I need all of its complicated functions. I tend to plot in my head and sketch out the trickier twists and time lines on the back of an envelope.

Why have you gone for self-publishing in e-book format? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

Way back in the 90s I had an agent and we tried to sell the first Anna & Zenni book. It did the rounds of all the major publishers – lots of editors liked it, but it never found a home. When I took early retirement in 2011, my colleagues gave me a Kindle. I didn’t think I’d like reading on it, but I loved it. I realised that now I had the time and opportunity to put my work out as e-books, so I just went ahead and did it. I think the SF/fantasy audience is happy with e-books, although some people still want print.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

My other half did the final copy edit and I did all the formatting. We did the cover art for “No Earthly Shore” and I admit that it isn’t wonderful. The other three covers are by professional artists.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time?

It was fairly easy. I taught myself how to do it as I went along, and there are a lot of resources on-line to help. Whenever I got stuck, I’d Google for a solution. The thing about an e-book is that it’s very easy to change it and sort out any problems. I’ve re-loaded some of mine several times when people have pointed out mistakes.

What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

Go for it, but be sure that your book is well-edited and typo-free. The hard bit is promoting your book so that it sells, and I don’t have the solution to that problem yet.

I know your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in?

My Amazon author page are Jilly Paddock on Amazon UK and Jilly Paddock on Amazon USA. They will contain an up-to-date list of all my books.

I self-published four books on Kindle in 2012, using KDP Select, so they weren’t available anywhere else. Now that I’ve signed with Pro Se Press, “To Die A Stranger” and Spook/Spirit/Stone will be taken off Kindle and come out as new e-book and print versions, and apparently as audiobooks, but I don’t have any firm dates for that yet. “No Earthly Shore” and “The Dragon, Fly” will still be available on Kindle.

What about the future? Do you see the traditional publication route as viable?

I’ve signed with a small independent publisher, and I’m sure that type of publishing will increase. My work doesn’t seem to fit with the Big Six publishers best-seller and celebrity author plan, which is squeezing far too many mid-list authors out of the game. I see my future output being a combination of traditional and self-published books, and it’s very nice to get them out of the crypt on my hard-drive and let people read them.

What’s next? Do you have anything else “in the works” at the moment?

I have two short stories which will be in Pro Se Presents, although I don’t yet know which issues they’ll appear in. “The URLKing” is an Afton & Jerome short piece, and “The Third Worst Thing That Can Happen On Mars” is an odd little tale, my take on Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.”

I’m working on another Afton & Jerome novella at the moment, which will also be published by Pro Se, possibly with a couple of short stories. I’m also updating the second Anna & Zenni book, “With Amber Tears”, which will hopefully be taken by Pro Se if Stranger does well enough.

There’s also “Warbird”, an immense SF/space opera epic set two centuries before Anna & Zenni’s time, about the Vienna, a ship that travels through voidspace, the first contact with non-humanoid aliens and an interplanetary war. It’s almost finished and I may have to self-pub it, as it’s 160,000 words long.

There’s a work-in-progress fairytale, “Ladder to the Moon”, which is full of all the things you shouldn’t have in fantasy – angels, demons, a dragon and a talking horse – but isn’t like anything I’ve ever read. It’s full of folksong and folk tales, and the flora, fauna and landscape of the English countryside. I must finish it one day.

Thank you, Jilly!

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Review: “Darkspire Reaches” by C N Lesley

This novel is a delightful read – the sort one has to sneak back to read another chapter while knowing there are other things that one really should be doing!

I had the same feeling when I read this novel as I did when I first read “Dragonflight” by Anne McCaffrey many years ago. (A word of explanation: I see there are some parallels – the wyvern for the dragon; the fire-drake for the fire-lizard ; the strong, young, female protagonist is a girl treated initially as a drudge {Raven, Lessa} – BUT they are very different stories in very different milieu. Darkspire Reaches is a fantasy through and through, with magic and transformations, whereas Pern is an SF world.)

My point is that both are well-written and have excellent world-building and that is why I draw the link: within “Darkspire Reaches” I encountered a world I want to go back to, so I can find out more about the Angressi, their conflict with the First Born and the strange world of the Drakken. There is much hinted at, such as the rise of the Emperor Chactar or the Shangrove and Samara Maidens, that could be a story in itself and this adds to the richness of the story since one experiences this as part of a much larger environment not a flimsy theatre set constructed solely to carry this novel.

The story in Darkspire Reaches has a good plot and structure, starting out quiet and focused, in a country cottage with Margie, the local “witch”, and her fosterling, Raven. As Raven’s (and the reader’s) view of the world expands, we become aware of how different she is. The story moves swiftly from the local village and torments of its youngsters, on to the Emperor’s city and then for Raven to make contact with her own people. We see Raven propelled by fear, prejudice, manipulation and politics from a sheltered environment into what is a conflict between races where suspicion rules but help is found in unexpected places.

Raven learns to question friendship and the motivation of others as she starts to experience her world as it really is. This is an adult fantasy, which does not pull its punches.

Add to a strong plot and milieu a couple of very well-drawn ‘point of view’ characters whose misunderstandings of each other, and the mistrust this creates, lead to further confusion and conflict. With a number of other key characters – helping or hindering – met along the way we see good characterisation is another of the author’s strengths.

My one complaint with “Darkspire Reaches” is that I finished it too quickly and there is so much more I want to know about the world, the wyvern and the characters. This story is complete and stand-alone but I can see the potential for further stories filling in background, plus a sequel to Raven and Connor’s story. (After all, there is a good precedent: just look at how many Pern stories we ended up with!)

Highly recommended.

Note: “C N Lesley” is the pen name of Elizabeth Hull.
The book is published by Kristell Ink and is also available from Amazon for the Kindle.

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The interactive future of e-books goes mainstream?

The Observer today (Sunday 10 March 2013) has an interesting article on the future of publishing – Top novelists look to ebooks to challenge the rules of fiction – looking at how ebooks can facilitate an interactive story.

It is unfortunate that the article starts with the usual “downer” on fantasy novelists, a set of comments worthy of the “How Others See Us” section in Dave Langford’s Ansible. Why wouldn’t a fantasy or SF author use such tools? We tend to be in the vanguard of new technology yet get sneered at whenever mainstream “literary” (read subtext = “good”) novelists finally catch up.

Rant over – the article is still worth a read.

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British Fantasy Society short story competition

Do you write fantasy, SF, horror or related genre short fiction?

The British Fantasy Society is again running its short story competition and this is now open for submissions through until 30 June 2013. As last year, entries will be judged by prize-winning anthologist and author Allen Ashley.

You do not have to be a member of the BFS to enter but members do have one free entry, all other entries cost £5. Non-UK submissions can be paid via PayPal. Stories must be original, not previously published and genre-related (though this is broadly defined), up to a limit of 5,000 words.
Click here for the full rules and submission criteria.

There are prizes for three winners:
1st prize: £100, a year’s membership of the BFS, and publication in the BFS Journal
2nd prize: £50, a year’s membership of the BFS, and publication in the BFS Journal
3rd prize: £20, and publication in the BFS Journal

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Interview: Heidi Garrett

In my previous post, I introduced indie author Heidi Garrett’s novel series, “The Queen of the Realm of Faerie”. The first book in the series, Nandana’s Mark, is currently available as a free download on Smashwords.

Here, Heidi answers my questions about her writing and her experience publishing e-books as an indie author.
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Your fantasy series is a re-telling of 15th century French faerie tale of Melusine, but told from the perspective of her sister, Melia. What drew you to this story and what is different about your “re-telling”?

When I conceived this story, I researched fairy tales. Sifting through stacks of books from my local library, I was thrilled to discover many that I had never heard of, the Melusine fairy tale being among them. My original idea was to include characters from several fairy tales, but it didn’t take long for that concept to become unwieldy. When I realized I needed to settle on one, it was Melusine’s story that clung to me. I started writing, but since this was my first novel and I had a lot to learn, I ended up writing several different versions before settling on the one that has been published. In the first version, Melusine was a minor character, and in the second version Melusine was the main character. Neither story felt right. After much brainstorming with my husband, I decided to experiment with making the middle sister the main character, and the younger sister an important character. This choice afforded me more freedom as writer, since Melusine’s sisters’ curses are never defined in the traditional version of the fairytale.

Who is your “target audience” for the Half-Faerie series?

Young adults and new adults, readers ages fourteen and older because I do believe that adults can enjoy the story as well.

Why self-publish as an e-book series? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

When I began researching Indie publishing in the beginning of 2012, starting with e-books seemed like a logical choice since the bulk of sales for indie authors and publishers come from e-books. Plus I have a few boxes of CDs in my basement from years ago, when I was a local singer/songwriter. I didn’t want to add any boxes of print books to that collection. And I do have some awareness of the limited resources of our planet. e-reading is pretty green, so that was another big positive for me. And finally, I am a very satisfied e-reader myself, to the point that I now avoid print books.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

I use the writing program Scrivener, which thank you, Phillip, you highly recommended to me. I now highly recommend it to everyone I know who is writing, especially if they are considering publishing. It makes the publication of an actual e-book very easy. You can publish mobis for Kindle, epubs for Nooks and iPads and iPhones, and pdfs for folks who don’t have e-readers yet.

I have had both of the books I’ve published edited by a professional editor and I do not do the covers.

You have changed the cover of Nandana’s Mark for the second edition. What prompted this?

It is common knowledge in the industry that if a book isn’t selling well, the first things to assess are its cover and blurb. These two elements introduce the book to the reader; so it is possible that if these elements aren’t right, you could be missing potential readers. Initial sales of Nandana’s Mark were slow. I fiddled with the blurb quite a bit. That helped, but still didn’t have a significant impact on sales. Finally, I had a book reviewer who stated outright she didn’t like the original cover.

I had always wanted my husband to do the covers for my books. However, initially, he had refused as he had no experience with cover design. After the above-mentioned review, we discussed the possibility of him designing the covers again–as an experiment. I am really happy with his results and it seems that everyone else is, too. He went on to design the cover for the second book and right now, it looks like he will do the covers for the entire series.

I first came across your story through reviewing it on the “Online Writers Workshop”. How did workshopping the story change your approach to writing and / or publication?

Workshopping is critical. Novels are long. It is–perhaps–impossible for a writer to catch any, every flaw, or weak point in their story. Whether there are technical issues with the writing, plot loopholes, flat characters, etc., other writers can help one see where the work can be improved. It is so invaluable to see your work through the eyes of another writer.

I am not sure that my OWW experience changed my approach to writing or publishing. I had been writing for three years before I joined OWW and had worked with critique partners, so my writing approaches were pretty much in place and haven’t changed. What I hoped has changed, is the quality of my writing. The feedback of OWW critiquers covered every aspect of the story and was simply invaluable to helping me grow as a writer. I will always be grateful for the OWW writers who took the time to read and critique my submissions. Critiquing other writers is also very eye-opening. I think it can really help you understand in a visceral way, why certain things/techniques work and others don’t.

It was signing up with Twitter that changed my approach to publishing. Even though I knew some writers who were self-publishing, I never considered going indie, until I got on Twitter in the beginning 2012. Amanda Hocking’s story was breaking and it was incredibly inspiring. After spending years being a rather slow and tedious writer, her writing ethic inflamed me. When she was picked up by an agent and major publisher, she had already self-published nine novels. I didn’t know anyone who was writing with that kind of commitment, dedication, or enthusiasm. I don’t know if I will ever be as prolific as she is, but her story changed the way I looked at writing forever. Also, there is a huge, cutting-edge community of authors and indie authors on Twitter that constantly inspire and motivate me. I continue to rely on Twitter it as my primary social media and go-to for publishing-related news and information.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time? What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

The e-publication process has been very positive for me. Scrivener made a huge difference in the physical publishing logistics, but connecting with other authors through Twitter, who walked me through every part of the process and prepared me for the challenges ahead (of which there are many) has been what has kept me going. Also, by the time I published my first book, several of my writing partners from OWW had already embarked on the indie author adventure. Their insight and support has been invaluable as well. I don’t think I would/could do anything different. It’s not that I didn’t make any mistakes, it’s just that there is an enormous learning curve, and I think it’s just impossible to do everything right or the best way from the very beginning.

Advice? Hmm…be committed to your story. Take it on as an adventure. Give yourself time to get up to speed. I’d also definitely recommend signing up to Twitter and learning how to use hashtags. Getting active on Twitter for the seven months before my first book was published was one of the things I did right. It can take a little while to understand Twitter and find your voice on the platform. I would say it probably has taken almost a year for me to start to feel really comfortable, but at least, by the time Nandana’s Mark came out, I’d already learned a lot and had already started building a community. If you don’t already have an e-reader, invest in one; and read as much as you can. But the most important thing would be to enjoy yourself and be as genuine as you can.

Your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in? Is Kindle the most significant in terms of proportion of sales?

The books are also available for Nook, iPhone, iPad, and pretty much any e-reader that exists. As I mentioned earlier, we also have a pdf version for folks who don’t have an ereader yet. At this point, Amazon is more than 90% of my sales.

What’s next? Will it be another “half-Faerie” story? How many do you plan for the series?

My commitment right now is to finish the Queen of the Realm of Faerie series. It’s a story that is inspired by my beloved grandmother, so I don’t think I will have any peace until it is complete. The final number of books will be however many it takes to tell the story. My best guess would be a total of five to seven books, but I am not driving for a number.

Are you writing anything else at the moment?

No. I’m a rather plodding, one story-at-a-time writer.

Thank you, Heidi!

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