Hey there, friends! Chances are if you’re here reading my website you are a fan of fantasy stories featuring magic and complex characters. If so, I have quite the treat for you today! The fantastically talented author, editor, formatter, and digital artist, Emily June Street was kind enough to stop by to discuss her newest release in the Tales of Blood and Light series, Mage and Source. Read on to explore self-annihilation in writing, learn a bit about the unique magic system this series has to offer, and a bit about Emily’s process in designing her eye-catching covers.
TNK: One of the pitfalls of writing (and reading) fantasy is the dreaded “Mary-Sue.” However, your three heroines featured in the Tales of Blood and Light so far, Leila, the Cedna, and Sterling, are anything but clichéd. What steps do you take to write such well-rounded characters?
EJS: The short answer is that I torture my characters so much no one would ever imagine that I want to be them. I steal their children, imprison them, betray them, and play upon their weaknesses.
TNK: Ha! That’s one way to do it. I think we might share that propensity…
EJS: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the dreaded Mary-Sue criticism in general. We all want to write sympathetic characters, and I guess the idea behind that criticism is that it is a delicate balance between empathy for a character and fantasy-wish-fulfillment? Or that a character doesn’t have enough weaknesses? (I admit I might consider the Mary-Sue criticism sometimes more indicative of the critic’s state of mind than the state of the writing. It seems to me that a critic who claims “Mary-Sue” is being rather presumptuous to claim he knows what an author’s wish-fulfillment fantasy might be…it’s kind of patronizing.
That said, I think the meat behind a Mary-Sue criticism boils down to a character not showing enough psychological depth, especially in terms of her weaknesses. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t have insecurities, so every character must have them. Insecurities emerge from a complicated brew of past experiences, temperament, thought process, and training. So for every character I write, I try to have a psychological profile organized for them—what are their fears, what are their foibles, what are their blindspots, their skills, their hidden strengths.
There’s another aspect to this that I find hard to put into words. I write and read to lose myself, in a sort of Buddhist sense, a kind of annihilation. The whole fun of writing isn’t to inject my own self, my own desires and fantasies, onto my characters, but rather to explore differences—what would a person who thinks in a completely different way from me do in this particular sticky situation, how can I try to inhabit another mind as fully as possible?
TNK: The magic system in ToBaL is very unique. Can you describe it briefly, and discuss how you came up with such a different system involving “aetherlights” and magical “sources?”
EJS: Uh…uh…uh. This is hard. There wasn’t as much planning as there should have been. The entire concept of the magic system started with the two different cultures, Gante and Lethemia. I wanted to have the magical world be something real to both cultures, the way God is real for various religious faiths, but explained and defined in different ways.
So, the one irrefutable tenet of magic in this world is that magic has a cost, no matter what, but how Ganteans and Lethemians pay that cost is completely different. Ganteans pay with blood, Lethemians pay with aetherlight the “life/light energy” of living things—the mage expends it and then has to replenish it. I had mages replenish by taking aetherlight from others, which gave rise to the idea of a Source—a person who provides her own aetherlight to a mage after he has used up his own performing magic.
I guess the seed kernel idea for the idea of aetherlight was the New Age concept of auras. I do a very loose kind of meditation in which I have often conceived of people and the connections between them having specific color tones. I also have a meditation for pain that I do during my severe migraine attacks that involves colors and shapes, and so these visualizations may have formed the initial ideas for this particular magic system.
TNK: Do you have a favorite out of your books so far? Or even a favorite protagonist whose perspective you most enjoyed inhabiting?
EJS: I like each one the best as I write, read, and develop it. And then I let it go and never want to see it again! Laith (one of the narrators of Mage and Source has been quite fun to write. And write. And write. He’s very long-winded; he’s the kind of character who still pops lines into my head at inopportune times.
TNK: He’s also quite fun to read!
TNK: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Did you have an idea for the series direction when you began The Gantean, or did it all come together as you went along?
EJS: When it comes to Tales of Blood & Light, I am a pantser who must then go back and plot retroactively. It is exhausting. I’m trying to be more of a plotter for other books I am writing—but it doesn’t always work. My true writing comfort zone is probably pantsing.
TNK: Tell us about one of the characters in Mage and Source.
EJS: Well, I feel like I’ve discussed Laith more often and more thoroughly (he so loves the limelight) so I’ll tell you about Elena, who does not want the attention. Elena is my other narrator in Mage and Source. She’s the Source to Laith’s mage. She’s from the Eastern Empire, where life is dangerous because the Emperor is a bit of tyrant whose power is unchecked. She is a potion-master’s daughter, and she is sent to Lethemia on a mission to learn about the west’s magical power and to assassinate Lethemia’s King.
Elena has had bad experiences in the Empire, which is not a friendly place to grow up female. She carries those bad experiences with her, and part of her character arc is about coming to some kind of terms with them. She is largely driven by her fears. Elena is a bit harder to get to know than some of my other characters (ahem, cough, Laith) because her basic nature is extremely reserved, and she isn’t one to loudly express emotions or desires. All my narrators have an elemental theme. Elena’s is earth. She gets her power from steadiness, regularity, and living things. She wants to cultivate, not destroy, but the circumstances of her life make that difficult. She is a fairly turbulent character; her actions and beliefs don’t always line up, she may say one thing and do another. She’s a fierce mix of fears and courage.
TNK: You designed the cover for Mage and Source, as well as the other books in ToBaL. What is your process for creating such eye-catching covers?
EJS: I always start with a color—the aetherlight color of the narrator (or narrators). That has to be the basic background color for the cover, so I search through all kinds of images looking for the color I want, expressed in the way I want. I look for luminous backgrounds with strong light and glowy qualities. I look for interesting light textures. Then I go to stock sites and try to find a good portrait for the narrator. I went with portraits on my covers, even though I don’t always like to see a character’s face on a book cover, because ultimately, I feel like my books are portraits: they are character-driven stories. Once I have background and portrait images, I try to identify at least one “story element” to represent on the cover, and search for a good image of that. On Mage and Source’s cover, Laith and Elena got a flower that is supposed to represent the night queen bloom that plays a role in the story. Finally, I make a big composite image collage out of all those elements and add the text.
I really enjoy making the covers although I have no formal schooling in digital art, and I probably take the long way around on things that a pro could do in a heartbeat. Even so, I have fun, and that is what makes it all worthwhile to me. I’m always learning.
TNK: Check out all of Emily’s gorgeous covers on Amazon. She may not have formal schooling, but you wouldn’t know it looking at these.
TNK: What is next for you as an author?
EJS: I’ll keep plugging way at Tales of Blood & Light—three more books, all mostly drafted. I have two co-written books with Tamara Shoemaker that we’ll be pitching at a conference in New York in a couple of weeks. And I have a few other fantasy series bubbling and simmering. Now I just need more time to get all this done!
TNK: You can say that again! I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.
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.
TNK: The Heart of a Dragon trilogy is your second completed YA fantasy series. Does finishing this saga feel different than finishing your Guardian of the Vale trilogy? Are you happy to be done, or do you wish you could still dive back into this world?
TS: When I finished my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, I had that heady sense of success that came with completing an actual trilogy. I didn’t really care what the books were about (well, I did—I love those books); I was just overwhelmed with the fact that I’d managed to do such a thing in the first place. Completing the Heart of a Dragon trilogy gave me some of the same thrill, but it wasn’t based around the idea of completion (’cause ya know, what’s another trilogy give or take one?) as it was thrill over taking what had been utter and complete drivel on paper during the outline phase into something that was truly a work of art. I’m so proud of those books, I could bust—particularly book three, Unleash the Inferno.
My editor’s note when she sent me back her developmental edits on my Unleash the Inferno manuscript said, in effect: “This is the rockiest writing I’ve seen from you yet.” It was true; I’d dashed out the manuscript in a mad rush during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, and it was awful when I passed it on to her. But the satisfaction I get now from the book is such a one-eighty. Because I knew it was a disaster, I worked even harder to make this into a masterpiece, and I truly believe I’ve succeeded. I wanted to create some incredibly detailed nuance in the characters, and based on reviews and feedback, I feel that I managed to do that and do it well. I’m super happy to be done with the trilogy, and I’m happy to set aside the world for now.
But there’s nothing that says I can’t come back with some companion novels set in the same world. 🙂
TNK: Without giving anything away, let’s just say you really develop King Sebastian’s character in this book. He’s still very much a villain, but it’s clear that he is far more complex than that. How did you go about creating such a conflicted character, and how did you walk the line between explaining Sebastian’s behaviors and justifying them?
TS: Wow! You don’t believe in asking easy questions, do you? 😉 It’s always driven me a little crazy when I read characters that are evil without some sort of understanding how they became that way. It doesn’t make sense to me: a child who is treated lovingly on all fronts will generally (unless there’s a mental issue) turn into a relatively well-adjusted adult. So tracing Sebastian’s roots back to his beginnings, the people who had shaped and influenced his early life, it was interesting to see what kind of actions of those close to him had motivated him to turn into who he was.
I’ve got to say, my favorite, favorite scene in Unleash the Inferno is in Sebastian’s final chapter in the book. It just—wrapped up everything so completely, and the scene that happened was poignant and heartfelt and actually made me cry. I cried over a bad guy, my own bad guy, even.
It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂
TNK: One of my favorite arcs in the series has to do with Kinna coming to terms with her own previous complicity in a corrupt system. To me, she had to learn that thinking something was wrong wasn’t enough, but rather actions–even when they scared you–were what most mattered. Did you set out with this path for her in mind, or was that a lesson that grew organically along the way?
TS: I think Kinna’s character was fairly organic overall. When I began Kindle the Flame (book one), I had no idea it would go where it did. Well, I take that back. I had an end game in mind, and she eventually reached that end game, but my ideas for Kinna’s character were not nearly as nuanced in my original outline. As her character faced challenges, I found that I connected better with her when she struggled with them. Kinna was not perfect. She was even, as you said, complicit in a corrupt system, however unintentionally, but it was through that struggle, that realization that she wasn’t perfect and was taking part in the subjugation of a race of creatures that she found her strength. She could be a leader, because she knew what it was to be a follower, and I loved the fact that I could connect with her over that.
Heroes or heroines who have it all figured out make me want to pound my head against a wall. I want to know where this Fountain of Wisdom is that they’ve found, and why is it so easy for them to just… be cool? I love it when I find characters who are just a bit nerdy like me, who struggle a bit like me, and who overcome those struggles and find ways to be the hero or heroine in all their geeky glory. TNK: Now that you’re a lean, not-at-all-mean, world-building machine, do you have any advice for wannabe fantasy writers?
TS: Advice: it’s the same every time. Don’t give up. I know the fantasy market is flooded right now. It’s just really hard to sell anything on such an overwhelmed market. But that’s no reason why anyone should be laying down their pen (or closing their laptop, in my case). Don’t worry about what agents are looking for or what audiences seem to like. Want to write about dragons? Write about dragons. Want to write about medieval warfare or elemental magic or kingdoms on the bottom of the sea? Do it. The story that’s in you can’t be told by anyone else, and publishing is just a side-concern anyway. Be a story-teller. If it’s inside you, let it out. TNK: Do you think you will ever return to the realms of Lismaria, West Ashwynd, and/or Ongalia in a future book or series? I’m, uh, asking for a friend…
TS: Hahaha! Is your friend named… uh… Taryn, by any chance? 😉 You know, I’d love to write companion novels to the books I’ve already got out, so I’d say that it is a definite possibility that these worlds, creatures, and characters will make reappearances sometime in the next few years. I have a couple of books that have been burning holes in my brain that I think I need to get out first, but I do think it would be so fun to come back to some of these familiar worlds. TNK: What’s next for Tamara Shoemaker, author and editor extraordinaire? Any hints to upcoming projects you’d like to share?
TS: If you love historical fiction, romance, and fantasy, keep an eye out for a couple of co-writes I’ve done with fellow fantasy-writer and friend, Emily June Street. River Running was our first work together: a book based on elemental magic, set in a parallel world to our Civil War era, taking place on a deep south plantation. The aromas and colors in this book! It’s just beautiful. We also finished up The Eighth Octave as well: a book based on musical magic and set in a parallel world to our 17th-century. It’s a European-style setting with steampunk touches where we feature music boxes and masques and court intrigue among composers and dukes.
And as I stated, I have another YA novel sizzling its signature into my brain, so I’d like to get that written this summer and released in the fall, hopefully. I’m also finishing up some freelance editing contracts I had taken on this spring.
After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead.
At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.
Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?
Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.
Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.
Who will survive the inferno?
More about Tamara:
Tamara Shoemaker authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame, Embrace the Fire, and Unleash the Inferno, as well her Guardian of the Vale trilogy: Mark of Four, Shadows of Uprising, and Guardian of the Vale. In her spare time, she freelances as an editor for other works of fiction, chases three children hither and yon, and tries hard to ignore the brownie mixes that inevitably show up in her cabinets.
You love the fantasy classics, but are looking for a fresh take on familiar elements
Quests, visions, demigods, shape-shifting, a marriage proposal…many of the key plot points in Hex Breaker you’ve seen before. But I can promise you that you’ve never seen them quite like this. According to one amazon reviewer, “Hex Breaker is a vivid new take on a wolf-shifter story with a quest fantasy plot that twists and turns.” With a brand new magic system, wolf-shifters who are nothing like traditional werewolves, and twists you won’t see coming, it’s clear why people are calling Hex Breaker “new and different.”
You like complex characters and nuanced villains
Too many fantasy books fall short of their potential when they spend too much time on plot and world-building at the expense of crafting lifelike characters. This is not the case for Hex Breaker. Our heroes make mistakes and do not escape the consequences. Our villains are not simply evil for the sake of evil. They have human and understandable—if still reprehensible—motivations. Even non-fantasy readers can find themselves immersed in this world, thanks to the focus on relationships and character arcs to which we can all relate. As one reviewer wrote, “The author has created …a plethora of characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, or loathe for that matter.”
You’re tired of stories dumbing down nonhuman animal characters
This could be the anthrozoologist in me speaking, but I love it when fantasy stories include nonhuman animal characters. However, nothing is more frustrating than authors depicting those characters as stupid simply because they do not understand the world in the same way that humans do. In Hex Breaker, the wolf and dog characters are shown to be just as complex and thoughtful as their human counterparts, but still maintain their canine worldview. For more on writing nonhumans, subscribe to my newsletter and receive a helpful guide to writing realistic nonhuman characters.
You like romance, but don’t want it to dominate the plot
If you like a little romantic sizzle, but are tired of YA fantasy stories that focus on that element at the expense of the plot or the characters’ other motivations, this might be the book for you. Love is a key motivator in this story, but it comes in many forms, not limited to romantic love. As one reviewer said, there is a “hint of young-adult romance,” but it does not overshadow the other aspects.
You want a heroine who isn’t a damsel in distress, but also isn’t a flawless warrior princess caricature
Rayna, Hex Breaker’s heroine, is far from a damsel. As a six foot tall, muscular, mud-splattered huntress, she also breaks the annoying super-strong-yet-somehow-still-waifish-and-slender cliché found in so many young adult novels. She is strong enough to fight monsters and climb mountains, and she looks it, too. However, she also does not fall into the cliched warrior princess trap. Rayna makes mistakes. Sometimes major ones. She cries, learns when to fight and when to show restraint, she gets hurt and scarred. Rayna has her strengths and her vulnerabilities. In short, she’s human, and it’s that realism that makes her someone with a story worth following.
All right, everyone, truth time. For the first time since this insane journey to publication began, I had a bit of a “moment” the night before release. Until then, even throughout the cover design, editing, formatting, and promoting processes, everything had felt sort of…far away. I knew March 21st was coming closer and closer, but it wasn’t until that night as I lay in bed, holding my final copy of Hex Breaker, thinking about all the pictures friends had sent me of them holding their own copies, that it hit me.
Hex Breaker, my first book, was done.
There was no more editing to be done, changes to be made. It was here, in the world, living inside other people’s minds as it had once lived only inside my own. And although there is plenty of marketing to do, it is time in many ways for me to let go.
It exists beyond me now, to be enjoyed or rejected as readers see fit. As a pre-published writer, I always imagined looking at my completed works on the shelf would give me similar feelings as when I looked at my well-loved and well-read stories by other authors. But my relationship to Hex Breaker is nothing like my relationship to Harry Potter or the Dark Tower series. I’ve known this story from its infancy, throughout its development, and now that it’s here in its final form, I realize that I will never experience it as a reader would, for the first time. I’m in many ways blinded by my history with the story, and can only hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
So, I’d just like to take a moment to say goodbye to Hex Breaker, the secret project shared only with my closest friends, and hello to Hex Breaker,the book. My part in your life-cycle has passed. Who knows what the future holds, but for better or for worse, I’m glad that I created you.
It’s time now to turn my creative attention to your sequel, Twice Blessed, and the other projects I have waiting in the wings. But it’s comforting to know that while my time writing you is in the past, you’ll always be there on my shelf.
Is it hot in here? Or is that just the dragonfire? That’s right, Tamara Shoemaker is back folks! This time to discuss her latest offering, Embrace the Fire. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy, element-bending, dragon-riding schedule to talk to us about love triangles, cliffhangers, and writing tips!
TNK: ETF is your fourth YA fantasy to hit the market. What was your biggest challenge in crafting this tale? Compared to those that came before, do you think it was easier or harder to pull together?
TS: I’ll let you in on a little secret. This book was like driving nails through my fingers. I don’t think I knew where I wanted to take the story until I had already drafted it and sent it to my editor. When she came back with a bajillion pages of developmental notes, I started to get a feel for the great story that was hiding inside three hundred plus pages of mess.
Note to self: always, always know where you want your book to start and end before beginning your draft. It’s immensely helpful in crafting a manuscript.
TNK:Those that read the first book know you left us in a rather precarious state of cliff-hanging at the end of KTF. Will readers finally get the answers they crave? And are you going to throw us right back over that cliff at the end of this one?
TS: Haha! I guess I’ve built up a bit of a cliff-hanging reputation, haven’t I? Mark of Four, Kindle the Flame, and now possibly Embrace the Fire. I do like to leave a good hook to bring the readers back into the trilogy again. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to throw someone off the proverbial cliff… but sometimes I just can’t help it. 😉
To answer your question with maddening obscurity, some questions will be answered in this one, but some will remain shrouded in mystery, and you’ll have to read the third book to answer all the questions.
TNK: You’ve included a number of nonhuman characters (or “creatures”) in this series. From pixies to dryads, griffons to valkyries (and of course, dragons!). How did you go about crafting these characters? The dragons in particular seem to have a fascinating life history and social structure all their own.
TS: I’ve had loads of fun constructing the creature groups and their habits and habitats as I’ve written these books. Dragons are, of course, the best developed, because a.) I have a dragon fetish, and b.) how can you not look past the dragon itself and think about its mating habits and nesting locations and how it fights and how it communicates and about dragon dominance—who has the biggest male-scale?
The creatures were a part of the story from the very start. On the first page of my storyboard notebook, the first day I sat down to start brain-storming, I wrote down every fantasy creature I could come up with, using Google and Facebook to help me come up with ideas. After I had made a comprehensive list, I drew a map of a made-up country and plugged the creature groups into various parts of the land mass. As the story and the map morphed, the history and personalities and character traits of the creature groups expanded as well. It was loads of fun. 🙂
TNK: Those familiar with your work know that you are a master of love triangles. Any hints on what will become of the Kinna/Ayden/Julian situation?
TS: Haha! I’ll throw a hint in free of charge: It will become clear in this book who I have intended to eventually “get the girl.”
Further than that, my lips are sealed. 😉
(TNK:Well guys, you can’t say I didn’t try to get her to reveal something!)
TNK: As I work on writing my own fantasy trilogy, I’ve found that writing the second installment seems to bring its own particular set of difficulties. How many of the secrets/revelations need to come out here, what needs to wait for the third book? How can I develop my characters based on what happened in the first, while still leaving room for growth in the third? Did you experience similar quandaries, or a whole different set of challenges? How did you solve them?
TS: Yes, the second installment is really difficult to plow through and still make it tight, effective, and riveting for your readers. I don’t know if I have any formula that works every time, but one thing I do is to always have my overarching story divided into three places that make good book endings. For my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, I closed the books with the end of a school year at Clayborne, because that was a natural ending point, but I kept a hook in the final few pages to keep readers interested. For Heart of a Dragon, I closed off the main thrust of action at the end of the first two books—following Sebastian’s Tournament in Kindle the Flame, and tailing a major battle at the end of Embrace the Fire, respectively. And of course, I still kept some hooks in there as well.
TNK: As a fantasy writer, I know from my own experiences that the inside of your brain is probably a hectic place with whole worlds bursting to be unleashed. Any advice for those who may have a head full of ideas, but aren’t sure how to begin the process of translating them to the page?
TS: Something that has worked for me when the story is so big and overwhelming in my head is to create character sketches. I’ll take a character that has cropped up in my head and I’ll put them into a random made-up situation. I’ll pull out my notebook and write a couple of pages based on that. As I do, the character blossoms even over a few lines. So when the character comes to the actual manuscript, it’s like I’m introducing an old friend. And then the book begins.
Also, I think for nearly every book I’ve written, I start out writing where I think the story starts, but in the editing stage, I almost always end up writing a first chapter that precedes the original beginning chapter. The truth is, I never really know how to start a book, so I just… start. When I come back later, often the story begins before I ever thought it had, and I have to rework it a little bit.
TNK: Let’s talk heroines for a second. In a lot of traditional fantasy it seems that female characters are either omitted, relegated to damsel, or cast as an unrealistic “fighter chick” parody. Yet in both of your stories your heroines Kinna and Alayne (of Guardian of the Vale fame) seem to walk that tightrope between a relatable girl with vulnerabilities and a fearsome warrior whose bad side is best avoided with grace. How did you go about developing their characters in this way, and why did you choose to do so?
TS: I think that’s because both Kinna and Alayne are reflections of who I truly am and who I really wish to be. So I include opposing characteristics in those two girls, and then they come out a zany mixture of self-confidence and temerity, courage and fear, rationality and thoughtlessness, justice and forbearance. I like to think that every person who reads my books will identify with one side of the character, and perhaps be challenged by the other side.
Thanks so much for stopping by Tamara! Now here’s a little sneak peek of the just released Embrace the Fire!
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?
Happy spring everyone! If, like me, you’ve been sorely disappointed by the season’s poor (that is, cold) showing thus far, what better way to warm yourself up then by snuggling up with a good book? Luckily for you, I’ve got just the book. That talented and prolific Tamara Shoemaker has stopped by once again, this time to discuss her latest offering, Shadows of Uprising. Let’s see what she has to say this time around, shall we?
TNK: Tell us about one of your characters from Shadows of Uprising in fifteen words or less.
TS: Daymon—an introvert you hate to love who walks a narrow line between duty and desire.
TNK: Which world would you rather inhabit—the world of Guardian of the Vale or Heart of a Dragon? Why?
TS: That’s a hard one; I’ve spent a lot of time in both worlds, so I have to qualify the statement by saying I thoroughly love both. However, if it came right down to it, I lived with Guardian of the Vale first, and as my first love, it holds me the closest. Cool as Dragons are, particularly if I were able to, you know, ride them without getting eaten, I just can’t quite get over the idea of how awesome it would be to wield one of the four elements. (TNK- I have to agree!)
TNK:What can you tell us about the mysterious “Vale”? Will we learn more about it in the upcoming book?
TS: The entire trilogy centers around the Vale. Throughout Mark of Four, you have a vague mention of it here and there, and all you know is that it has something to do with Alayne and the fact that she can wield all four elements. In Shadows of Uprising, the Vale becomes the central focal point for a power-hungry Alliance that wants to restore the earth to elementals only, and Alayne finds herself caught in the middle of the maelstrom. Guardian of the Vale will focus on the final reckoning when the world has fallen apart and only Alayne can find a way toward peace. I don’t want to say too much, but I can tell you I’m super excited to release that third book. It’ll answer all the questions that have been raised throughout the trilogy and bring the action to a climactic and satisfying end. 🙂
TNK: The first book in this trilogy ended with a rather shocking twist. Can readers expect the same from Shadows of Uprising?
TS: Haha! I admit, I had fun dangling that first ending, but I’ve always been a bit of a pest. 😉 Shadows of Uprising will absolutely leave the reader wanting more, although it doesn’t end quite as abruptly. As it is, I feel like the book leaves the reader with a form of hope, but hope like the hope of an approaching tsunami and one must brace for impact. (TNK- so by hope, you mean terror-fueled adrenaline. That’s comforting :P)
TNK: I’ve been surprised by the choices some of your characters make and the paths they follow. Are you ever surprised by your characters?
TS: Yes! All the time. I usually plan the characters in some detail before I ever even put them on my laptop screen, but they constantly twist my plans. So by the time I’m halfway done with the book, my character notes are useless, because they’ve morphed so much from how they began. Take Daymon Houser for instance (see question #1): he was originally a blip on the screen. I had a short line in my character notes that said: “Daymon Houser – class bully, all around pain-in-the-rear.”
Somehow, he turns around and becomes one of the main heroes that lasts through the entire trilogy. I have no idea how, except that he just wasn’t having it. “I’m worth more than one line,” he shouted at me. “Give me more depth!”
What could I do? My hands were tied (sort of. My fingers could still type, though). 🙂
Well folks, I’d say “that’s all she wrote”, but fortunately for us, she actually wrote an awesome book too. Here’s a little teaser:
Alayne Worth possesses the Vale, an object of mysterious power coveted by other Elementals. Danger shadows her every step when this secret spreads. As she grieves the sudden death of her boyfriend at the hands of the notorious Shadow-Caster, Simeon Malachi, Alayne unravels the mysteries of the Vale and her past.
When she returns to Clayborne to pursue her Elemental training, Alayne is plagued by disturbing visions that predict a dark future. As an ominous Alliance of pure-blood Elementals spreads intolerance across the Continent, Alayne’s visions show evidence of the truth–and reveal a deadly danger to her loved ones. Alayne must conquer her fears and use her power to muster an uprising that will obliterate the only way of life she’s ever known.
Tamara Shoemaker lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, three children, a few jars of Nutella, and a never-ending carafe of coffee. She authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the beginning of the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame, as well as Mark of Four and Shadows of Uprising, the first two books in the Guardian of the Vale trilogy. In her spare time, she freelances as an editor for other works of fiction.
It’s the most exciting of times again! Another interview with another talented writer. This time it’s returning champ Tamara Shoemaker who, as you will see, has been quite busy since the last time she stopped by the blog over the summer. She just released her newest YA fantasy, Mark of Four(to rave reviews, by the way) and has also started offering her editing services to a few lucky writers. And somehow she still managed to find time to chat with us 🙂
TNK: Thank you so much for stopping by ye olde blog once again! You sure have been busy since your last visit. Back when we were discussing your debut YA fantasy, Kindle the Flame, I asked you if you could trace the origins of your story back to a beginning idea, thought, or dream. Can you do the same for Mark of Four?
TS: Wow, that’s a hard one. Once you’ve plotted out not just an entire novel in all its depth and intricate twists and turns of plot and character development, must less plotted out an entire trilogy, it’s sooo difficult to return to the first thought that began the journey. I think I recently told someone that the idea came when I decided I wanted to write a fantasy. Ideas were tumbling through my brain, and the one thing that kept getting caught in my filter was the number four. There are so many things that are connected with the number four: four seasons, four winds, four horsemen of the apocalypse, four elements. As soon as I hit on that idea, the story started unfolding itself for me, and then it was just a matter of being able to write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.
TNK: Even though Kindle the Flame came out first, Mark of Four was the first fantasy story you wrote, correct? What were some of the challenges (or opportunities) you faced while switching gears from mystery to fantasy?
TS: As a reader, I enjoy any number of genres. I’m an avid fantasy reader who also enjoys mystery, romance, historical, and literary, and can switch between any of those without blinking an eye. I assumed that most of my fan base I’d worked hard to build while I wrote mysteries would be the same. While some of my mystery readers did follow me over to the fantasy world, the majority did not, so the challenge has been to find the pockets of fantasy readers, especially as an indie author with a small outreach, and try to gain their interest in my work.
Another challenge has been actual writing style. After writing four mysteries, I felt like I had found a rhythm. Story set-up, inciting incident in the first chapter, and then it’s a race to the end with a major twist just before the big reveal. It was all about heart-palpitations, the thrill and the adrenaline of the race. Fantasy is a completely different world (pun fully intended). 😉 Yes, there’s an inciting incident that needs to happen to ground your reader and let them know what the whole book is going to be about, but the set-up is completely different. It’s not a race to the end; it’s about building an entire universe around these characters, creating systems of language and social classes and intricate detail work of why things happen the way they do. It’s miles away from mysteries, and it was a challenge to learn the new style of writing. Overall, it’s been rewarding, though. While I enjoyed the fast pace of the mysteries, I think a lot longer and harder about my fantasies. I get more involved in them. I actually wish I were the characters in them. 🙂
TNK: I would call Mark Of Four a bit of a genre-blending story, since it includes traditionally magical elements (no pun intended) in a futuristic, almost dystopian setting. But despite these seemingly disparate parts, the story unfolds naturally and doesn’t leave the reader confused at all. Any advice for any wannabee genre-blender writers out there?
TS: Haha! I don’t know if I have loads of advice. What genre-blending there was was mostly by accident. I had a story that had to come out, and the story in my head didn’t ask permission from the genre rule-book before it completely took over. If you think about it, new genres are created all the time. Good friend and fellow author, Margaret Locke [check out her interview here], wrote a romance (A Man of Character), and some of the main feedback she received when she sent it to agents and publishers was that they wouldn’t know where to place it on the shelf, because it was a mix of romantic comedy with magical elements, a genre no-man’s-land. What did she do? She made her own genre: romantic comedy with magical elements. Voila. Problem solved. ;)I’m not sure on what shelf I’d slide Mark of Four. Maybe Young Adult futuristic urban dystopian apocalyptic fantasy with magical elements? Try to pitch that to an agent. 😉 People are enjoying it, and that’s the important thing. I realize that the big publishers will disagree with me on this one, but I don’t think a story should ever be trapped inside a genre. The genre should undergird the story, not vice versa.
TNK: Talk to us a little bit about Miss Alayne Worth, Mark of Four’s heroine. To me, part of what makes her such the perfect protagonist is how easy to relate to she is, even in a world so unlike our own. What makes her stand out to you as a character we will want to read about and root for?
TS: My favorite books are the ones where I can totally see myself in the main character. Not to say I will ever be a Katniss Everdeen and lead a revolution or a Percy Jackson and win a war against Tartarus. But if you think about Katniss and the journey she traveled from page one of The Hunger Games to the last page of Mockingjay, there’s an entire arc of emotions that she went through: the need for security—not just for herself, but for those she loves—the feelings of injustice, the hatred of oppression, the confusion of emotional entanglements, the adrenaline of panic. I’ve felt every one of those emotions, some more than others, but those are the things that bind me to the main character—not the storyline, but the emotions themselves. That’s what I tried hard to include for Alayne—her feelings of frustration at the miscommunications she has with her mom, her struggles with teen angst and romance, her insecurity in discovering herself in an unfamiliar situation fraught with potential danger, and how she handles all of it. Those emotions are what will connect with the reader, not the storyline itself.
TNK: And, you know I have to ask, let’s talk about the love interests. Where did you find inspiration for your level-headed and charming Jayme Cross, or confident and brash Kyle Pence?
TS: Haha! Of course you had to ask. 😉 I’m such a romance fan; I love watching and reading about the early stages of romantic attraction, seeing how its development affects characters in different ways. Jayme Cross, I modeled after every guy I was drawn to during my teen years. Easy-going, teasing and light-hearted, maybe not the epitome of handsomeness, but certainly attractive in his own way. I didn’t want Kyle Pence to be too close to the same personality, because heaven forbid the reader confuse the two, so I made him as opposite from Jayme as I could: exuding confidence in his ability to “get-the-girl,” competitive, even a little dark sometimes. I really enjoyed coming up with the character descriptions of these two guys. They have such different beginnings, and I’m super excited to explore both of their backgrounds a little more in the upcoming novels.
TNK: Let’s try something a bit different. Can you describe Mark of Four in a single word? (You can use more words to explain why you chose your word).
TS: Wow, you really like the hard questions, don’t you? Okay, hmm, a single word. Here’s one: Discovery
Alayne doesn’t know how her life is going to change on page one of Mark of Four. In short succession, her world is rocked by the discovery of some remarkable abilities, what those abilities do, what causes those abilities, who wants those abilities, and most of all, how in CommonEarth she’s supposed to survive the upheaval that results from greed of those abilities.
TNK: And now for the most important question of all, now that the first books in both the Heart of a Dragon and Guardian of the Vale trilogies have been released, how long can we expect to wait before the sequels hit the market?
TS: Sequels! I love talking about sequels! 🙂 Embrace the Fire, Kindle the Flame’s sequel will hit the market in March or April of 2016. The book is undergoing edits right now, but should be ready for an early spring release. Shadows of Uprising, Mark of Four’s sequel is slated for release in July or August of 2016. I’ve just begun a third round of edits on that one.
I’m so excited about these trilogies. They’re both a result of years of work, and I can’t wait to share them with you! 🙂
Now, the teaser for MOF:
Seventeen-year-old Alayne Worth is an Elemental Water-Wielder. All she wants is to master her talent and live a normal life, but the sudden escape of a feared criminal leaves her family reeling and threatens to keep her from achieving her dreams, especially when the criminal’s reach pushes too close to home.
Secret pasts, strange powers, and tense relationships weave a tangled net around her. As she leaves home to cultivate her skills at an Elemental training center, she clashes with a disturbing reality: both good and evil forces covet Alayne’s unusual gifts, and each side is willing to do almost anything to obtain them.
As Alayne confronts the battle for the power she possesses, she must discover the truth of who she is.
Hello readers and welcome to an exciting first on my blog- an interview with a fellow writer! I had the great pleasure of picking the one and only Tamara Shoemaker’s brain about her newest release, Kindle the Flame. For those of you who are not familiar with the Shenandoah Valley’s own Shoemaker and her work (you poor, unfortunate souls!) here’s a little background. She authored the best-selling Shadows in the Nursery (comprised of Ashes, Ashes, Pretty Little Maids, andBroken Crowns) Christian mystery series, as well as her latest Christian mystery Soul Survivor. But perhaps even more exciting for fantasy buffs like me, she just released her very first (but definitely not last, stay tuned for more about that later on) Young Adult fantasy book, Kindle the Flame. Here’s a little taste from the back cover:
A girl who never fit in, a young man forced into an outcast’s life, a boy raised without a community, and a ruler who holds the key to their destinies…
Kinna has a Pixie she can’t train and a head full of doubts. Her worst fears come true when she fails the Tournament entrance test. She flees her Clan in disgrace, inexplicably drawn to a Mirage, a rare Dragon she has no business training.
Ayden is cursed—anyone he touches turns to ash before his eyes. He hides amongst the Dragon Clan with the only creatures he cannot hurt. When Kinna frees his favorite Dragon, his world turns upside down.
Cedric grows up in isolation, fostered by an outcast Centaur. When tragedy strikes, he ventures into a strange new world of Dragons, political intrigue, and magic.
Sebastian’s country hovers on the brink of war. Chased from his rightful throne, he schemes to retake his kingdom by any means possible, even if it threatens an ancient agreement that underpins the foundation of his realm.
Only by examining their pasts will these four find their futures. But will they survive the fires of discovery?
So if that somehow doesn’t hook you, here’s hoping this will. Without further ado, let’s get to know the marvelous, talented, and down-to-earth Tamara Shoemaker a little better.
TNK: Let’s start at the beginning- can you trace Kindle the Flame back to a single idea, thought, or even a dream?
TS: Kindle the Flame began with my son. I had just finished up writing my first fantasy trilogy (the first of which will be published in November!), and I was feeling at loose ends. I needed to come up with another story idea, so I’d been tossing around story thoughts through my head all day. That night, after I finished brushing my son’s teeth (he was four at the time), he looked up at me and asked, “Mommy, where do I go when I sleep?”
I didn’t understand him at first, but after further conversation, I figured out that he thought he actually went somewhere (like, off his bed into his dreams) when he slept. That idea stuck in my head, and I started putting together a story about a boy who would travel to another world every night in his dreams. This world eventually took on a life of its own, Pixies and Dragons, Sirens and Ogres, Direwolves and Rockmonsters.
In the end, the dream travel didn’t make it in the final cut of Kindle the Flame. That’s sad, because it’s a brilliant idea, but I plan to use it for a future book. I just need to hone my ideas a bit more.
TNK: In my own fantasy writing, I have noticed a tendency for my world (and even characters) to evolve over time. How did Kindle the Flame change from its inception to the final form, in terms of plot and characters?
TS: Well, you just read about how my hero was going to be a boy who dream-traveled. After a few nights of scribbling on my notebook, the boy eventually gained an older sister who was going to discover his dream travel, and eventually go with him. There was going to be an evil king who tried to trap the boy in the world, and then as plans flowed from the end of my pen, the boy disappeared, but his sister’s character had built such a strong connection with me, that I left her in, and she became Kinna. The king, of course, was Sebastian. Any book I write will always have an element of romance, and voila, Ayden appeared. I hated so badly to erase the boy from my plans, so I brought him back as Cedric (I hope this isn’t giving away too many spoilers). 🙂
The dream-travel was the last thing to go in the recycle bin. I clung tenaciously to that story line, but it didn’t work for the story I wanted to write. So, once again, I shelved it, and I plan to use it for another set of books I want to write.(Interviewer’s note- Ooh another series in the works! Can’t wait.)
TNK: I’ve read some of your Christian fiction (though I definitely need to read them all!) You are an adept writer in any genre it seems, but personally I think you really hit your stride with your YA Fantasy work. Did you always know you had an inner JK Rowling, or did you discover your taste for this genre over time?
TS: Well, first, I’m extremely flattered to be compared to Rowling; I have the highest regard for her wizard world and the world-building she so expertly wielded in those books, so any comparison with her is kind of a dream come true for me. 🙂
No, I don’t know that I knew I had an inner fantasy writer hiding inside me, although I probably should have. Many, many of my childhood scribbles delved into a fantastic world with magic and creatures and kingdoms, etc. Those were the stories I enjoyed writing the most, though I did try all sorts of different ones as I grew up: romance, mystery, literary fic, even poetry. Fantasy remains my favorite of them all.
TNK: a running joke amongst us writers familiar with your work that you seem to have a new book written every other week. As someone who has taken years to write a measly two manuscripts, I have to ask: Any tips or advice on how to be as prolific as you are?
TS: Lol! I wish I could write a new book every other week. I have enough stories zooming around in my head to accommodate such a schedule, just not enough time to sit and pound them all out on the keyboard.
I guess the key to my, um, prolific-ness (prolificosity?), is consistency. I rarely let a day go by without sitting down and making myself write. If I’ve had an awful day, the kids just aren’t behaving, the dishes are stacked up, the laundry is undone, I still write. I may not feel like it, and it may be the worst piece of horse-hockey ever to crop up on my laptop, but it’s out and done, and available for editing.
I also set goals for myself. If I’m in the first draft of a novel, I have a goal of a minimum of a thousand words each day. If I’m editing a novel, I have a minimum of a chapter per day edited. Either way, slow step by slow step, I’m approaching the end of a project, and there’s no high quite like the high that comes with the completion of something into which you’ve thrown yourself so thoroughly. (Interviewer’s note- solid advice, hope I can follow it…)
TNK: Back to Kindle the Flame (because honestly I can’t get enough of it!). Writing from four different perspectives must have been quite the challenge. What kind of factors did you consider when creating four unique characters, each strong enough to carry the story in their own right?
TS: Well, it took a lot more mapping of characters. In my previous thrillers, the characters were born and sort of grew over the pages of the manuscripts. I didn’t spend loads of time with their histories and their families and their struggles and their habits beforehand.
With Kindle the Flame, the characters had been well-developed and polished before I ever let them see the page. And then, they grew some more. I’m quite proud of those guys; they have depth that none of my other characters in my other books have seen yet, and they have enough depth to pull them through two more books, as well, I believe.
The advantage of writing from four perspectives is the expanse of area I can cover. When I write from only one perspective, I can only see what that one person sees, and barring major info dumps, the world has a tendency to stay small. Multiply that times four, though, and the world grows exponentially larger. Fantasy is all about world-building, so viewing that world from four different perspectives is a major bonus.
TNK: Any teasers you can give us for the next book in the Heart of a Dragon series? How about for your upcoming Guardian of the Vale trilogy?
TS: Book two in my Heart of the Dragon series will move off of West Ashwynd’s soil and into enemy territory and the neighboring country of Lismaria. The same four characters will be back, but with new struggles and continuing struggles, and new creatures will be introduced as well (which I’m super excited about)! There will be more power struggles, more drama, another love triangle (yippee, scream the YA readers, sarcastically or not), a new Dragon, and a cool twist, which I’m still hammering out in my notebook. (Editor’s note- Umm you can’t write this fast enough!)
And yes! The first book of the Guardian of the Vale trilogy, Mark of Four, will hit the market on Cyber Monday in November. It’s an urban fantasy set in post-apocalyptic earth, and the new source of power is the elements: Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Elementals can wield one of those four, depending on their bloodlines, but…
Alayne Worth can wield all four. No one knows why. But all the powers in CommonEarth, both good and evil, want her gift. How will she survive the earth-shattering struggle for the power she possesses?
Oh, the excitement! I hope you check it out.
And there you have it folks! If you have been searching for new reading material, Shoemaker certainly has something for everyone. From high-flying dragon adventure, to elemental epics, to heart-stopping, faith-affirming thrillers. I hope you will do yourself a favor and check out her work today. You can start by taking a look at her website, following her on twitter, liking her on facebook, and of course checking her out on Goodreads and Amazon.