Author Interview: Sydney Hawthorn

Last week I shared my review of the fantasy book Awakening Shadows (see it here), and this week I have the honor of interviewing the author Sydney Hawthorn! Residing in Cleveland, Ohio, Hawthorn works for Stitch Fix. In addition to being an awesomely talented writer, Hawthorn is an actress. She works for and helps manage a character entertainment company where she goes to children’s parties and events dressed as princesses and other characters. Hawthorn also enjoys hiking and exploring – unless it is humid (girl, same). Fun fact: Hawthorn can sing the alphabet backwards!

Read our full interview below!

Author Sydney Hawthorn

Q)  How long have you been writing? 

A) Oh gosh. This story, or in general? I started working on the very first drafts of Awakening Shadows when I was probably 8? (like story and concept wise) but I wrote the first draft when I was 12! I’ve always been a writer at heart 🙂

Q) Why do you write?

A) I write because I enjoy it. I’ve always been a creative soul, so it’s therapeutic for me! But I also write because I want to bring joy to those who might read my stories. Because I want to share my stories, which are all so near and dear to my heart with the world. I don’t expect everyone to love it as much as I do, but for those who do find value in my stories, I’m so grateful for their support and love! All in all, because I find it brings joy to others, and there is nothing more rewarding than being the reason someone else smiles. 🙂

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) Fantasy through and through!! I am forever a die-hard fantasy queen. I do also enjoy sci-fi, romance, and thrillers, but I will almost never turn away a fantasy book!

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) This might be one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce will forever be my favorite series, but The Chronicles of Narnia holds an eternally special place in my heart. I also adore all the messages in To Kill a Mockingbird, which was one of the only books I actually enjoyed reading in school! Then as far as fantasy goes, Throne of Glass has been my biggest inspiration for The Navarre Chronicles, and I also adore Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse world!!

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

A) As I mentioned above, Tamora Pierce is an icon to me. I even got to meet her in high school, and it was such a magical experience!! I also really love Sarah Maas and Leigh Bardugo. 🙂

Q) Who is someone that inspires you? Non author wise? My mom. She’s never stopped believing in me, and pushing me to be my best self, and I am so so grateful to have her in my life. 🙂

Q) What inspired Awakening Shadows, the first book of the Navarre Chronicles?

A) I’ve talked about this on Instagram before, but this story started as a way for my voice to be heard and to show others feeling what I was that they weren’t alone. I was bullied in school as a kid, and I created Navarre as an imaginary world I could escape to with my imaginary friend, Max (now Quinn) where we could go on adventures. Awakening Shadows was originally called The Shadow, and it told the story of Max being accused of murdering his bully, and how he coped with that and learned to be a better person (even though the murder was an accident). Clearly it has evolved since, but I still like to think Awakening Shadows is the story of those who might struggle to find their true strength, and those who will do no matter what to find courage and goodness in a cruel world.

Q) Were there any books or stories that influenced the Navarre Chronicles? 

A) Absolutely!! Throne of Glass and Alanna of Trebond’s journey to knighthood were both major influences to me!

Q) Evalyn was one of my favorite characters with her sass and determination – is she based on anyone you know in real life?

A) I try really hard not to base my characters off real people, save for a few. (Jenson is a literal incarnate of me, and it’s a bit terrifying even for me at times XD) but Evalyn is also a lot like me! Having gone through some extremely abusive relationships in my past, having a character who has been through so much trauma but still finds the strength to push on and live is something I cherish a lot, and so Evalyn is definitely a manifestation of that inner strength.

Q) Have you thought about writing a prequel featuring Dax?

A) *giggles* It is!! I actually have several prequel stories I’m planning to write. One, I’ve talked about on Instagram is currently titled #ProjectSunshineTears and is the backstory of Edan Stormwood (one of the witches introduced in Whispering Shadows) and the other three are prequel backstories for Dax, Fallon, and Aeron!! 🙂

Q) Can you give us any preview of what to expect in the sequel to Awakening Shadows?

A) Darkness, torture, and magic. Lots and lots of them. This series definitely gets progressively darker as it goes on, even though Awakening Shadows is only mildly dark for the YA genre. Book two, on the other hand, has a trigger warning for gore and violence, torture, and abuse as well as mild language. Readers can also expect to learn about some unanswered questions about certain character’s pasts and roles they play in the future (some expected, and others not so much) as well as an introduction to the witches mentioned in Awakening Shadows, whose allegiance nobody is certain of!! I’m so so excited to have Whispering Shadows in the hands of waiting readers!!

Q)  I saw on your website that you are a freelance editor. What do you enjoy most about editing?

A) I love helping other writers bring their story to life! Helping other aspiring authors have the best story they can is something that I’ve always really enjoyed.

Q) You are an indie published author – can you tell readers about your experience? Do you have any advice for fellow indie authors?

A) Oh yes!! First and foremost, it’s a major trial and error type deal. I cannot stress enough: do your RESEARCH!! Because there’s so much information out there to take in and so many different ways to do things. What works for one person might now work for you and vise versa. Make a list of everything and decide what’s most important to you. DO NOT skimp on an editor. Make an author platform (I made my Instagram 2 years before I published so I could work up a following and build excitement for my book release!!). Have a website. One of the things I would also suggest, is leaving yourself PLENTY of wiggle room! I did, and I still felt rushed in the end!! Don’t get sucked into the “I need book merch hole” and if you do, find ways you can do it at a discounted price or save up for it!! Because those are expenses that build up and deter you from focusing on things like editing costs, cover designer costs, and other more important expenses. Another thing which I personally decided to do is pay for my own LLC!! Meaning I am now officially a business owner of my own publishing company. (and on the flip side, make sure you keep track of every single expense, because they do add up and you will need to file taxes for your expenses and income as an author!!) So many things, not enough time. While I am by no means an expert, I’m always willing to answer any questions!!

Photo by @nightcourt on Instagram.

Follow Hawthorn on social media to keep up with her and her writing!

 Instagram

The Navarre Chronicles Goodreads page

Hawthorn’s website (with all information about her shop, signed copies, and more!!)

You can order a copy of Awakening Shadows directly from Hawthorn or get it on Amazon here.

Book Review: Awakening Shadows

Nerdy Book Box is a book box subscription service that supports Indie authors. In the December box, I received a copy of Awakening Shadows, Book 1 of the Navarre Chronicles by Sydney Hawthorn. Awakening Shadows is a dark(ish) fantasy that captures the reader and makes one forget they are reading entirely. 

The chapters shift between two main storylines: 

  1. Princess Joseline, on her eighteenth birthday, is attacked by followers of Aeron, the demon king. Yet the princess is rescued by members of The Order of Kynire sworn to protect her. Thrust into a world she thought merely childish fairytales, Joseline must learn to fight as well as control the power of the Goddess within her so she might save herself and her people from Aeron and his Shadow Beasts. Will Joseline be able to fulfill the prophecy of the promised princess? 
  2. Evalyn, a fae, has been enslaved mining obsidian for eighteen years. The dreaded pirate lord, Dax, who sealed her fate by bringing her to the island is her enemy – she dreams of revenge. However, Dax tells her he wants to protect her. Will Evalyn be able to withstand Dax’s charm, and does she want to? Will she escape and get her revenge? 

Woven within these storylines are:

  • Strong female characters
  • An enemies to lovers trope
  • Excellent world building 
  • A budding romance
  • Action and combat
  • White Aonani foxes 
  • Secret identities 
  • Magic

The first chapter was a bit slow for me, but after that, I devoured the book and I really am excited for the next book in the series. Hawthorn has created a beautiful fantasy world, and, as a reader, I am so grateful to have discovered it. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. 

“I will not let the darkness consume me.”

To get your own copy of Awakening Shadows, click here

To get awesome indie books like Awakening Shadows, be sure to check out nerdybookbox.com – for the time being, you can use my code UNICORN10 to save on your order!

Pictured is Awakening Shadows by Sydney Hawthorn, the NBB December box, and various items from the NBB box. Pastel color roses surround the items on a white background.

*Awakening Shadows does contain some language and suggestive situations. Though it is a YA dark fantasy, it may not be suitable for all young adults.

Bookish Shop Feature: Under the Sea Crochet

In addition to featuring books and authors, I have decided to share some features on some of the bookish small businesses I love! Today’s feature is dedicated to Under the Sea Crochet, a shop that makes crocheted mermaid dolls!

I had the chance to interview the magnificent woman behind Under the Sea Crochet, Laura, who crochets the delightfully detailed mermaids! Laura lives in the sunny state of Florida. During her down time she enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games. Her favorite authors include Sarah J. Maas, Jay Kristoff, Mira Grant, and Laini Taylor. Laura’s favorite video game is the Mass Effect trilogy (she says she will never stop recommending it to fellow gamers).

Read our full interview below to learn more about Laura and Under the Sea Crochet!

Q) When did you first begin to crochet?

A) I started crocheting back when I was about 11 years old, though I made blankets and scarves and they never really came out so great. It wasn’t until the end of 2017 that I really began to work on dolls.

Q) What inspired you to create your first crocheted mermaid?

A) I had just had ligament reconstruction surgery on my ankle and was stuck in bed for weeks. So I was bored and had a lot of yarn from old, unfinished projects laying around.  I picked it up and started working on some patterns I had found online (little ghosties from pac man). I guess it was because of the fact I couldn’t really walk for a while that got me thinking about mermaids and I began to experiment with making one.

Q) Why did you decide to open your own shop Under the Sea Crochet?

A) To be honest, I didn’t want to at first. I thought no one would buy them, let alone like them.  Then I had gotten a copy of To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo in a book box and made a mermaid that looked like Lira — the main character. People started asking me where I had gotten it and eventually one of my close friends convinced me to open the shop.

Q) How long has Under the Sea Crochet been open? What are some of your business goals?

A) I opened Under the Sea Crochet on my birthday in 2018 and have loved every moment of running this business. I guess one of my main goals is to just make people happy.

Q) What is your favorite thing about running your own small business?

A) My favorite thing about running my own small business would have to be the fact that I get to be creative.  I love art and enjoy finding ways to continue to make each mer unique.

Q) How many different types of mermaids have you made?

A) Oh man, I think I’ve lost track at this point. But I think the number is close to 150 at this point.

Q) What are your top three mermaids you have made (if you can narrow it down!)?

A) I don’t know if I can narrow it down that much, but I loved working on the seasonal fairy collection,  the OOAK (one of a kind) mermaids I’ve been recently releasing, and the Alice in Wonderland collection.

Q) How do you think of all the designs/themes for your mermaids?

A) I get inspired by things I like and enjoy, and sometimes its someone’s custom idea that gets me thinking about a new design. Those are the ones I can’t take full credit for. But to be honest, it’s also a lot of trial and error. Sometimes they come out great and those are the ones you see. Other times they’re not so great and those never get seen again.

Q) What is most rewarding about running Under the Sea Crochet?
People’s reactions to mermaid reveals and when their packages arrive. I have watched every single unbxing people tag me in from beginning to end and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. (So don’t forget to tag me in them!)

A) Do you have any advice for others who want to start their own small business?
It isn’t easy. Nothing worth it is ever easy. There will be times when you want to walk away, times when you make something and it doesn’t work out, and times where you won’t want to create. But if you push through them and keep trying you’ll eventually see that your hard work pays off.  It’s also frustrating sometimes, because even if your job is doing something that you love it’s still a job. But you have to remember why you wanted to open your shop and just breathe. Don’t give up! And be sure to surround yourself with good people who support you!

Q) Can you give any hints at what people can expect from Under the Crochet this year?

A) Mermaids. Lots of them. And quite possibly some new friends that have yet to make an appearance!

Laura and her gorgeous mermaids!

Check out Under the Sea Crochet’s website here and be sure to follow Laura’s account on Instagram here! Fun fact – she also does custom mermaids! For a limited time you can use my code UNICORN15 for a discount on your order! Be sure to tag me @theunicornwriter93 in your Instagram photos of your mermaids! 🙂

Author Interview: Rosalyn Briar

My first author interview of 2021 is with the wonderful indie author Rosalyn Briar! Briar weaves a beautiful world featuring fairytales in both The Crown of Bones (see my review here) and A Sea of Pearls and Leaves, and I personally cannot wait for her future works!

A former Latin and social studies teacher, Briar is a full-time stay-at-home-mother in Illinois. She wakes up early to ensure she has time to read and write. A fun fact about Briar is that in college she studied abroad in Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. To learn more about Briar and her writing, please read the full interview below!

Author Rosalyn Briar

Q) How long have you been writing?

A) For about three years now. I started when my youngest child was an infant and fell in love with writing!

Q) Why do you write?

A) I’ve always had creative hobbies, but I began writing because I needed a quiet hobby to pursue while my little ones were napping. I soon realized just how amazing writing was as a creative outlet.

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) I love reading dark fantasy, mystery, and thriller novels. I tend to write dark fantasy, but might branch out in the future.

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) (Ohhh I am so bad at choosing these haha) I would say Pride & Prejudice. It’s one of the few books I’ve read multiple times.

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

A) Again, I’m terrible at choosing favorites, but I would go with Gillian Flynn. I love reading her books.

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) My husband really inspires me. He is such a hard worker and is so amazing with our children. He encourages my writing and I am so thankful.

Q) What is your favorite fairytale?

A) From the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I would have to say either “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” or “The Three Snake-Leaves.” From Hans Christian Anderson, I love “The Little Match Girl” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Q) What inspired The Crown of Bones?  What was your purpose for writing the story?

A) The Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the novel The Hazel Wood, and the tv show Once Upon a Time helped to inspire the book. I wanted to create a story where all of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales came together and had the same villain.

Q) Can you give us any preview of what to expect in the sequel to The Crown of Bones

A) Yes! The Bone Needle is a dual POV novel, split between Brahm and Gisela. They have been separated from one another in different realms and must fight to get back to one another all the while saving everyone from Hexegot. There are new characters and some unexpected cameos from TCoB favorites.

Q) What inspired A Sea of Pearls and Leaves? What was your purpose for writing the story?

A) It is a retelling of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale “The Three Snake-Leaves,” which is one of my favorite fairy tales. I also wanted to reverse tropes that I dislike (love triangles, damsels in distress, etc.) and put a new spin on them.

Q) Can you tell us any details about your current WIP and what readers can expect from you in the future?

A) I am currently working on two projects. The first is The Bone Needle, the sequel to The Crown of Bones. The second I’m only calling “Maleficent Origin Project,” which I am super excited about. It will feature a hero-to-villain arc and lots of brutal magic.

Q) Were there any books or stories that influenced either The Crown of Bones or ASOPAL

A) Yes! Aside from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I would say I was inspired by other fairy tale retellings and fairy tale-esque books, especially The Hazel Wood and House of Salt and Sorrows.

Q) You are an indie published author – can you tell readers about your experience? Do you have any advice for fellow indie authors?

A) It has been a great experience so far! I would say to research every aspect of the process and give yourself plenty of cushion time for setbacks when you schedule your release date. My biggest piece of advice is that good cover art and professional editing are extremely important!

Be sure to order ASOPAL and TCOB and support Briar by following her social media accounts!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RosalynBriar

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rosalynbriar/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rosalynbriar

Books Wanted!

Happy New Year, friends! ❤

This year I plan to continue to share book reviews and author interviews. At this time, I would like to invite authors to submit an application to be featured on my blog and social media this year! If selected, I will purchase and read your book. If I rate your book 3+ stars, then I will share and promote it across my social media platforms!

To submit your book for consideration, please visit the application here. Please note that submission of the application does not guarantee selection. Also note that if your book is selected, but I cannot give it at least 3 stars, I will not share/promote.

I will be giving preference to indie authors this year, but all with a published or soon to be published book are welcome to submit an application.

My favorite genre is Fantasy: Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Fairytale Retellings, Paranormal Fantasy, Steampunk Fantasy, Christian Fantasy – AND romance elements are a bonus! I also like science fiction and the occasional thriller/horror. I am open to reading and reviewing books outside of these genres. I am open to the following age categories: MG, YA, New Adult, and Adult.

*Following my blog on WordPress is a requirement to be considered: https://theunicornwriter.com.*

Please share with your writer friends – let’s support each other! ❤

Author Interview: Erin Kelly

Last week I reviewed the audiobook version of Tainted Moonlight. This week, I have the honor of interviewing the talented author Erin Kelly. In addition to being an author, Kelly is a graphic designer and elementary school art teacher. Living in Syracuse, New York, the setting of her current novel, she spends a lot of time working, planning lessons, drawing, and writing. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to audio books, playing video games, like Animal Crossing and Mass Effect 3, and watching Supernatural. A fun fact about Kelly is that she had a long running comic book in high school. Some of the art work was accepted to be used on set of a movie called Plan B that will be released on Hulu next year! To learn more about Kelly, read our full interview below!

Author Erin Kelly

Q) How long have you been writing?

A) I have been writing stories since I was really young. I remember a few stories I wrote way back in elementary school, around first and second grade, that were picture books. I can’t remember all the details of those first stories, but I do remember the characters pretty well. One of the first stories was about a unicorn and a pegasus that became friends despite their differences, and another was a self-insert story about me marrying my crush. When my parents divorced when I was seven, my father joined the Air Force and moved out to California. My brother, sister and I spent summers and alternating Christmases with him, so we spent a lot of time traveling and I filled that time with writing and drawing in my composition notebooks. I remember around fifth grade that I wanted to try and write my own chapter book, and that’s when I unknowingly began to write crossover fanfiction based on original characters and stories combining things that my brother, sister and I made up during those long trips. As much as I have always loved to read, writing gave me an outlet to create stories of my own, which I loved to work on any chance I got.

Q) Why do you write?

A) Writing has always been a wonderful escape for me. I enjoy creating characters and coming up with their stories, as well as the worlds they exist in. It’s an endless source of entertainment for me, and has been since I was young. It’s just plain fun, and now that I feel comfortable enough to share my stories, it’s an amazing feeling to hear from readers who love my characters as much as I do.

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) I really enjoy reading urban fantasy and horror, though I like the occasional mystery and law thrillers too. Right now I love writing urban fantasy, but I hope to branch out into fantasy and I have some ideas for some short horror stories as well.

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) It’s so difficult to pick a top favorite book when I love so many different stories. It’s like asking to pick my favorite child. If I had to pick one of my favorite books, I’d have to say the Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn. I’m kinda cheating here by naming a series, but the story isn’t complete until you have read all fifteen books and I love the journey of Kitty the werewolf (and the fun of having a werewolf named Kitty!). It’s a fantastic series and I highly recommend it if you have never read it before. If I did have to list a single book that I have reread to the point of the book falling apart, however, it’s The Firm, by John Grisham. Whenever I’m in a reading and writing funk, something about that law thriller helps get me back on track. I probably should buy a new copy of it though, as the first chapter and cover of it have basically disintegrated at this point.   

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

 A) My favorite author is Carrie Vaughn, because her series helped inspire me while I was working on my own. She writes the Kitty Norville series, which starts at Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and is about a female, DJ werewolf who accidentally outs herself and the supernatural on her late night radio show, and ends up running a helpline for the creatures of the night. It’s so good, I highly recommend it. It’s also one of the first werewolf series that features a female protagonist in it, and I really love the characters and her lore behind the supernatural. I hope one day it gets adapted on screen.   

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) I find inspiration in a lot of the people around me. My writing and critique groups help with bouncing ideas together and seeing what works and doesn’t work in a story. Outside of my writing groups, I also have a lot of artist friends who are also a source of encouragement and inspiration. I was fortunate growing up to have a lot of support for my art and writing from my parents and friends. My biggest inspiration these days comes from my students and my niece and nephews. I see them growing up in this time of adversity and they give me renewed strength when dealing with life. My kids, though not mine biologically, are the reason I have hope for our future.

Q) What is your favorite supernatural being?

A) Werewolves are definitely my favorite (I know, probably obvious!), though vampires are a close second. I really like the possibilities that other animal shapeshifters bring to the table as well, such as werejaguars, werebears, and even wererats. Werewolves, or other variations of shape-shifting people, can be found in every culture across the globe, which is really neat because there are many different tales and lore out there to discover. Some cultures see werewolves as monsters, while other cultures revere and celebrate them. I find it all fascinating.     

Q) What inspired Tainted Moonlight? What was your purpose for writing the story?

A) A one shot fanfic that my friend wrote, which we continued together, started this idea and then the idea took over. The theme that emerged from it, of monsters helping monsters, instead of fighting one another, became the cornerstone of my series. Korban’s story is one that a lot of different people can relate to. He’s the underdog (perhaps, underwolf?) of this tale. He has the odds stacked against him everywhere he turns, and yet he still manages to get by thanks to the help of his friends. A lot of that serves as a parallel to my own experience. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help of some amazing friends along the way. Korban’s story resonated with me, and I had to tell it. I hope that people can find positive meanings from his story as well.

Q) Stories with werewolves have been around for a long time. What drew you to write an urban fantasy involving lycanthropes and how did you go about putting your own twist on it?

A) I did a lot of research on the lore of werewolves during the years of development for my series. I wanted to see what was out there, so that I could put my own unique spin on the supernatural. I watched a ton of movies and read piles of books. There’s a lot of good, bad, and really awful books and movies out there about werewolves, but I learned a lot through my research. I always have enjoyed reading horror and urban fantasy stories, so writing my own take on the genre was inevitable. By knowing most of what has been put out there on werewolves (but not all, that would take a lifetime!), I bent the rules just enough to make my own lore. In my story, there is a supernatural virus outbreak that occurs, which mutates some survivors into vampires and werewolves. There’s a lot that isn’t known about the origins of the virus to my characters, and as the series goes on more will be revealed. That’s all I will say without spoiling too much. In the third book Korban learns more about the origin, but even that is only the tip of the iceberg for what I have planned to come. I will say, surviving through a pandemic has given me new perspective on my research on viral outbreaks. On top of the supernatural lore that I looked into, I was asking medical questions to my sister who is a doctor and read up on the CDC’s response to a pandemic, including a preparation plan for a zombie outbreak (It’s true! Though there was a lot more on the site a couple years ago, check out here: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/zombie/index.htm ). I may have done more research than was necessary, but I wanted to have a grounded base so that I could twist a bit of reality with my supernatural story.

Q) Were there any books or stories that influenced Tainted Moonlight?  

 A) Yes! There are many books that I have read through the years that influenced my writing style, from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga to Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, but probably the most influential story of all was the source material for the fanfic that inspired my series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Mild spoilers for that book ahead). I was so upset by how others treated a werewolf in that story, and the idea of those inflicted with lycanthropy being prejudiced against because of their condition really upset me. My friend wrote a one shot story not too long after we read that book, it was a quick story that featured Remus Lupin/Sirius Black aka Wolfstar and it ended with a cliffhanger, something that my friend really liked to do to torment her readers. I got to thinking, and the injustice of what Lupin endured of losing his job because of who he was resounded with me. So, out of that outrage, my American werewolf rights’ activist, Lobo, was born. He came in, along with Sophie, and the two of them helped Lupin deal with the aftermath of that one shot story, and they ended up forming a pack. We had plans for them to change the laws of the Ministry of Magic and help start change for werewolves and other supernatural beings. The funny thing was, this idea sprang before reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Hermione’s own SPEW campaign, etc. For many reasons, we sadly were not able to finish that fanfiction series, but that idea of “monsters helping monsters” really stuck with me, even through the age of werewolves versus vampires. I kept thinking of how much they’d have in common, and that I wished the author had gone deeper into helping these werewolves who wanted to live as normal a life as possible, while treating the symptoms of their disease and dealing with their personal struggles to remain in control. That began my writing, and about a dozen rewrites before I finally published Tainted Moonlight in October 2016.

Q) For those that have read book 1, what can readers expect in books 2 and 3?

 A) Mild spoilers ahead! Book two, Captured Moonlight, continues where we left off at the end of the first book. I won’t spoil too much, but Sophie and Korban find themselves lost in the Adirondack Mountains, and face new challenges when they encounter two very different types of werewolves in the wilderness. That book leads right into the third book, which deals with the aftermath of the first two books, and brings to light new complications and a lot of drama. Both Korban and Sophie grow and develop through the first three books. This is a bit of a mild spoiler, but in the first book, Korban is a lone wolf until Sophie is attacked, and suddenly he is torn- he can either continue to follow the rules, or bend them in order to help her out. As we go into the second book, the consequences of their actions lead them both to grow. Korban learns that he isn’t the only werewolf whose eyes remain like a wolf’s, and what comes with that ability, and Sophie comes into her own and regains her confidence that she lost as a result of the first book. The third book wraps up their first growth arc as characters, as Korban straddles the line between following unjust laws, and helping others, while Sophie learns to stand up for herself and faces a difficult choice between trying to reclaim her past, or moving forward into the future.  

Q) I personally listened to the audiobook — and loved it! Can you tell us about the process of creating an audiobook?

A) I have known since before I published that I wanted to have an audiobook version of my story, though I wasn’t sure how to put it together at first. I wanted to be able to put my story in as many formats for my readers as possible.  I ended up using the service ACX, which I an Amazon company, and the process was great. I plan on making a tutorial video to help other authors with the more detailed process, but the short version is that once you have a book published, you can use the ACX service to find a narrator through auditions or browsing their demos on the site, or upload your own recordings and sell them across Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. A bit of a heads up though for those who are looking into this, ACX doesn’t allow you to control when your audiobook is released, and their quality control process can take up to 30 days for review. They also control the price of your audiobook, at least the way I had released them, so there is that to know as well. Either way, it opens up your readers to a new way to check out your story, and it’s really neat to hear your story come to life in a new way. I definitely recommend it, even with the pitfalls. 

Q) Torian Brackett is an amazing narrator. How did you come to work with him, and what is it like to have him narrate your story?

 A) Torian is an amazing, talented, and wonderful person to work with, and I am so lucky that I was able to hire him when I could. The timing was totally serendipitous. I had been thinking about making an audiobook for Tainted Moonlight for a couple years now, ever since I published it and started promoting my series. I just never got the chance to do it because I was spending my time preparing for conventions and library events, and it always got pushed aside. With the pandemic happening, some unfortunate changes led me to looking more seriously into making this happen. All my plans for events were suddenly off the table, which I know many people can relate to, unfortunately. On top of that, I had been hired as a full time art teacher the day before schools closed in Oneida County, New York, and I had been so elated, and then utterly devastated when that happened. I ended up getting the dreaded call that my position had been deleted due to budget cuts in May, and a few days before I got that call I had started looking into ACX to produce my audiobook. I was heartbroken to lose my job before I could even start it and get to know my students, so I threw myself into getting this project started. I set up my account, and let it sit, waiting for auditions to come in for about twenty or thirty minutes. I began to explore the site and saw that there were demo reels available, and Torian’s demo was on that first page. I listened to a few others before I listened to his, but the moment I heard his voice I knew he was the narrator for my story. It just clicked and I went to his website, checked out more of his work, and the first thing I saw on his site- and you really can’t make something like this up – was a review about him playing Wolf from Into the Woods. It was like a sign, and it made me smile. So I reached out to him, and made him an offer to produce Tainted Moonlight. He accepted, and the rest is now history. Torian is such a wonderful talent and I’m so glad that we were able to connect when we did. Right now we are recording the third book, Infected Moonlight, and I am blown away by his range and the genuine emotion that he is able to convey in my characters. It sounds so vain, but he really brings the story to life in such a way that even I, as the author, can enjoy listening to my own story over and over again.   

Q) Do you have any available books in addition to the Tainted Moonlight series? If so, can you tell us about them?

A) Right now as of this interview, I sadly do not have other books published. Tainted Moonlight is my debut series, but I do have some plans for other stories to come. I have another urban fantasy series in the works that is in development, and I’m hoping to maybe kick that off in 2021 or 2022, while continuing to write in the Tainted Moonlight series. My personal goal is to have two novels out each year, one for my first story and one for the upcoming and unnamed series, so I’m trying to form the habit of working on two books at the same time.

Q) Can you tell us about your current WIP and what readers can expect from you in the future?

A) Right now I’m working on the fourth book, Awakened Moonlight, as well as a prequel serial that I plan on releasing before Awakened’s release that will shine light on previously unrevealed events from when the initial outbreak occurred. I’m really excited because I have some big plans for the serial, including the addition of illustrations when the serial is completed and in its printed form. I’m really looking forward to continuing my current series, I have some really exciting plans for the fifth book, and it doesn’t end there. I currently have very loose outlines for the next six books in the Tainted Moonlight series, and even some spin off ideas that would explore the same universe with different characters. I’m always brainstorming new ideas for where my characters and their world can go. I don’t see an ending in sight yet for the series, but I’m tentatively planning a run of at least fifteen books.

Q) What are your hopes and vision for your writing? 

A) My hope is that my story connects with my readers, and makes them think about how they treat other people. Even though my story deals with the supernatural, the heart of the story is about treating others with kindness. I am a firm believer that you don’t have to fully understand what someone is going through in order to treat them kindly. We all have our own struggles that we deal with, and everyone fights their own battles, some that we can see, and others are more internal. It costs us nothing to be kind but it can be a huge difference for someone who is struggling. It’s important to not lose sight on the fact that we are all human beings doing our best to navigate this world together. Many supernatural stories are used as an allegory to represent the misunderstood and prejudice, and I’m definitely not the first nor the last person to approach this topic. I think the message of being kind to others is worth repeating especially this year when we have all gone through something horrific together. My hope is that one day we won’t dehumanize others and find common ground in the human experience.

Q) What advice do you have for other authors?

A) I’ve given this advice before, but it remains true and worth repeating. My advice is to write when you can, and when you can’t write read. I’m fortunate that when I hit the dreaded writer’s block that I usually can get into a drawing mode, so that I’m always creating something, but even when that fails, reading has never let me down. It tends to refresh my creativity to just enjoy other stories. I have recently gotten into audio book production as well, and so I have been listening to books and it really opens up a whole other world when you can multitask and read at the same time. I also enjoy stories in other formats, such as video games and Netflix, but it’s so important that when you are writing you take the time to read other works too.

My other bit of advice is if you want to be a successful author, you need to make sure you treat it with professional care. There are so many options for publication now, and I chose the route that works for me by independently publishing. However, if you go that route expect to put the work in so that you are selling the best version of your story. That means investing in a professional editor, and a book cover. You want to put your best foot out there, and you want to make sure that your readers have an enjoyable experience reading your story in its best form. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately, with the very first edition of Tainted Moonlight, where I had taken some bad writing advice when it comes to switching tenses, and the number one complaint I got from my first batch of readers was they had trouble with the different tenses. So I hired my editor, and she helped me improve my story, and ever since then I have had much better reviews coming in. I now make sure a professional editor goes over my manuscript prior to release, but please if you take nothing else away, learn from my mistake.

Ultimately, remember this – only you can write your story. Don’t be discouraged if your story gets compared to things that exist. When I started out and pitched my story to people as a story about werewolves and vampires, they immediately compared it to Twilight, because that’s what they know about. There are so many stories about the supernatural out there, but there’s only one series that belongs to me.

I have a section on my website that has more resources for authors, which includes a lot of links to information and videos, and I’m going to start a monthly vlog for advice based on my experiences in the publishing world. I hope to pay it forward to other new authors. I had great mentors who have helped me along my publication journey but not everyone has that, so I want to make sure to help any way I can. I also welcome any specific questions, I have contact information on my site as well, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime and I will get back to you.

Make sure no matter what you do, write your story. You can do it!

Remember to follow Erin Kelly on social media to stay up to date with her and her writing!

Website: taintedmoonlight.com

          Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taintedmoonlight/

          Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorErinKelly

          Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/taintedmoonlightofficial/

          YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpNePPD8BXjB14VhnjhZjgA

Book Review: Tainted Moonlight by Erin Kelly

I am very picky when it comes to audiobooks — I have to love both the story and the narrator in order to be hooked and invest my time. I recently listened to the audiobook version of Tainted Moonlight by Erin Kelly (ASIN: B08CDYNWFV), narrated by Torian Brackett, and I was greatly entertained. Kelly provides a fascinating urban fantasy centered around werewolves while Brackett allows the story to come alive.

Book 1 of the Tainted Moonlight series follows Korban Diego who was infected five years ago during an outbreak of a supernatural virus. Because of the virus, Diego transforms every full moon. Being unable to stop one’s self from transforming into a beast is bad enough, but the restrictions on and prejudices of werewolves make Diego’s life even more challenging.

As a lycanthrope, Diego struggles securing a job. When the book opens, we find him at a job interview. He is hopeful, but when the interviewer asks Diego to purposefully infect him, he realizes there was never a real job for him. He declines the request, even with an offer of a large sum of money. Disheartened, Diego returns home, still jobless. He later goes out with his two roommates/best friends where he meets the lovely Sophie Bane — and his life is never the same.

What will Diego do when someone he cares deeply about is attacked and faces the same fate as him? Will he be able to control his own internal beast in order to help them control theirs?

The world Kelly creates is intriguing, and I really enjoyed the backstory of the existence of werewolves and vampires. However, vampires were merely mentioned in passing. It would have been interesting to see the similarities and differences between the restrictions and rules of the two supernatural beings, as well as see them interact with one another. I’m hoping to see more vampires in books 2 and 3 of the series.

Even though I would have liked to have seen more vampires where they were mentioned, I did enjoy the focus on werewolves. I think Kelly does an excellent job creating layers for the character Diego, allowing the reader to relate to him on different levels.

I was disappointed that I correctly guessed the true antagonist early on in the book, so the intended twist was a bit lackluster. Yet, the book was well-paced with likable characters and a good premise, so I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In addition, Brackett’s narration is phenomenal. I will happily listen to any book he narrates!

Overall, Tainted Moonlight is an enjoyable urban fantasy, and I look forward to reading books 2 and 3 of the series. I give this book 4 stars. I highly recommend this audiobook to adult readers who enjoy werewolves, well-done romance tropes, and excellent story-telling.

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Purchase your copy of Tainted Moonlight here!

Book Review: Toothbreaker by M. H. Elrich

I recently won a giveaway on Instagram in which I got a free e-book copy of M. H. Elrich’s novella Toothbreaker and some BEAUTIFUL character cards by the talented Madeline Hanlon.IMG_20210207_075709_018

After reading Etania’s Worth (see my review here), I was so excited to read Toothbreaker. Upon reading the novella, I am even more in love with the world of Tamnarae, and I desperately await Elrich’s next addition to her fantasy world.

Toothbreaker follows the Eritam or people with the Neuma (divine gift) of taming wolves. The novella opens with an injured stranger awakening the pack healer Tamar Prevost for assistance with a grizzly wound. But upon closer examination, Tamar realizes that the silver-haired man is no stranger, but rather her ex-lover, Sage, who had left years ago to join the King’s Praytor. Tamar is wary of Sage and rightfully so – he is an escaped toothbreaker her brother is hunting. As a toothbreaker, Sage pledged his allegiance to Malstorm in exchange for greater power than his Neuma – and he committed heinous acts. However, Sage encountered a Vexli who stripped him of his Skazic abilities. Now that he has returned home, can Sage overcome his past and find new purpose in his life? Or will he return to Malstorm and evil ways?

Elrich’s message of God’s forgiveness and boundless grace is woven beautifully within this fantasy tale. Through Sage, we are reminded that no matter how far we stray from the herd, our shepherd will always be there to guide us home.

In addition to a clear Christian message, the novella is packed with intriguing conflict and tension, and the reader eagerly turns each page to see what will happen next. Elrich makes it easy to sympathize and connect with the characters and their struggles. And I love how the timeline lines up with the plot of Etania’s Worth. It provides a new depth to the world.

Overall, I give this novella 5/5 stars. It is fast-paced, and left me wanting more of Tamnarae. I cannot wait to read more of Etania Selali, the Changed, Sage, and Tamar. Be sure to add Toothbreaker and Etania’s Worth to your TBR today!

Sidenote: Originally, I believed I would be a Draconian, but now I know I would be an Eritam. Now, when do I get to tame my own wolf?

Order Toothbreaker here!

Order Etania’s Worth here!

Toothbreaker

Author Interview: Melissa Bashardoust

Last week, I shared my review of the fairy tale inspired YA fantasy Girl, Serpent, Thorn. This week, I have the privilege of sharing a short Q&A with the author Melissa Bashardoust!

Q) You are a lifelong lover of fairy tales and their retellings. Your first novel, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, was a feminist retelling of “Snow White,” and in Girl, Serpent, Thorn, you reference fairy tales such as “Sleeping Beauty” and the Persian epic The Shahnameh. What about fairy tales makes them so ripe for retellings, and how do you go about updating classic tales for 21st century readers?

A) In terms of retellings, what makes fairy tales so appealing to me is that they have such great bones but also a lot of room for exploration. The basic story structure is there for you to use or change as you wish, but the psychology of the characters is only hinted at, which allows you as the author to dig deep and try to ground fantastical events in relatable human instincts and emotions that are still relevant to modern readers. Fairy tales deal with a lot of universal themes and hopes and fears that translate well to almost
any setting, so I like to find those themes and bring them more to the forefront.

Q) Can you talk a bit about the stories and fairy tales that influenced Girl, Serpent, Thorn and why you wanted to draw inspiration from the myths and legends of your own cultural background?

A) In the beginning, I was very interested in doing something that combined “Sleeping Beauty” with “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” I had been thinking about both of these stories for a while and realized that part of what drew me to them was the juxtaposition between a seemingly powerless or harmless young woman and something dangerous surrounding her. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” initially presents the unassuming image of a girl in a garden until you find out that both the girl and the garden are poisonous. “Sleeping Beauty” has a sleeping princess whose castle is surrounded by deadly thorns and briars. In both cases, I love that contrast of a character who seems passive or docile but is actually deadly. At that point, I had already started to read a little about Persian mythology and folklore and explore some of the stories in the Shahnameh. Growing up Persian in the US, you’re bombarded with so much negative news and media coverage, and so I wanted to remind myself that there is actually much to be proud of in that heritage. Stories have always been how I connect and relate to anything, so when I knew I wanted to dig deeper into my cultural background, my first instinct was to look into myth and folklore, which led me to the Shahnameh. I think writing this book—combining my cultural background with the Western fairy tales I grew up with—was my way of bringing together these two influences that have played such important roles in my life.

Q) All her life, Soraya has been told that her poisonous touch is a curse, something to be ashamed of and something to keep hidden away in the shadows. Throughout Girl, Serpent, Thorn, she wrestles with the question of whether she is, in fact, more monster than princess, and part of her journey involves discovering that what she’s always thought was her greatest weakness may, in fact, be a source of empowerment. Where did the idea of a princess who may be a monster come from, and why did you want to explore the tension between the way the world sees Soraya and her struggle to determine her own sense of self?

A) The initial idea of a princess with monstrous qualities came from that contrast in “Sleeping Beauty” and in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” between apparent passivity and actual danger—between a sleeping princess and the thorns that surround her. There’s an interplay there between power and vulnerability, isolation and protection, and autonomy and the loss of it, that fascinates me. I love playing with archetypes, and so was drawn to the idea of taking an archetype that we usually associate with being more docile or defenseless, like the fairy tale princess, and giving her something that makes her dangerous—in Soraya’s case, not only literally but also in the sense of giving her destructive emotions that she struggles with because they go against the idea of the kind of girl she feels she’s supposed to be. Soraya finds it isolating and painful to be outside the role made for her, but she also starts to question whether it can be liberating to exist and define herself outside of that structure altogether—and whether these needs for both belonging and self-determination can be reconciled without losing a piece of herself. Is it acceptable to have the qualities of both a princess and a monster—and what do you gain or lose by having to choose one over the other?

Q) Without giving too much away, there are two characters in the novel who seem to see and celebrate Soraya for who she truly is, and Soraya, for her part, is drawn to each of them for different reasons. Was it fun to play with those dynamics, and why did you want to have two very different characters potentially vying for Soraya’s heart?

A) I love some drama, so it was definitely fun to play with those different dynamics, especially as they change and shift over the course of the novel. Soraya sees herself in both of those characters, and so it becomes a choice of which parts of herself she wants to protect and cultivate. But at the same time, she still has to acknowledge and come to terms with the parts of herself she doesn’t like. Being confronted with both of those characters—the choices they’ve made and the resulting consequences—allows her to
ultimately get a more complete picture of herself.

Q) Within all the thrills and magical adventure of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, there is a very human story about a teenaged girl who is fighting with her mother and feels misunderstood by her family—a girl who wants nothing more than to spread her wings and leave the nest, so to speak. Can you talk about the role of family in Girl, Serpent, Thorn and why you wanted to ground such a sweeping narrative in something so real and relatable

A) This is something that became present more and more with each draft, exactly because it’s real and relatable and so allows the more fantastical elements of the story an emotional grounding. I think figuring out your role in your family—however you choose to define it—is a fairly universal journey. Soraya is often presented with an all-or-nothing choice—to be swallowed up by her family’s needs or to reject them completely—and part of her journey is trying to figure out if there’s a middle ground, a space for herself among her family and her people where she can exist freely. The book also contrasts the stories we are told by our families with the way those stories come undone—and what we learn about ourselves and our families in the process.

Q) We have to ask—what are you working on next? Are there any more fairy tale retellings that readers can look forward to, or will your next book take you in a new direction?

A) Coming out next year, I have a short story based on The Winter’s Tale in Dahlia Adler’s anthology of Shakespeare retellings, That Way Madness Lies. (And while Shakespeare’s play isn’t a fairy tale, it’s definitely in the same neighborhood!)

 

Order your own copy of Girl, Serpent, Thorn here!

Follow Melissa Bashardoust on Amazon here and check out her website here!

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*Special thanks to Claire McLaughlin of Flatiron Books for providing this Q&A.

 

Book Tour: Amethyst by Jesse Nolan Bailey

Thank you Storytellers on Tour for giving me the opportunity to read and highlight this phenomenal recently released adult new weird fantasy, Amethyst by Jesse Nolan Bailey! Readers, be sure to check out SOT and the rest of the book tour!

Amethyst opens with Rashell stopping the village leader Keer from potentially murdering an outsider through a process known as purging in an attempt to “cleanse” him of the outside. The outsider, though a stranger to Rashell, has arrived after receiving her request for help – her brother is missing and no one in the village will help her, including Keer.

The outsider, Derrick, soon reveals that he is there for more than to investigate Rashell’s brother’s disappearance. He was sent to learn more about the village itself and rumors of a cult. He is quickly thrown into the midst of the people’s worship of a great Amethyst and mummified entity known as the Oracle. While investigating, he discovers a strange grave robber and other oddities that Rashell can’t fathom fitting together – but everything does.

Bailey has created a fascinating novella that turns fantasy on its head – the scenes with the Oracle? The visions it gives? The glowing giant Amethyst? The creature? Y’ALL. This paired with themes of the dangers of ignorance, the dangers of isolation, and the power of nature create an enthralling read.

I also admire Bailey’s choice to create a transgendered character, but being transgendered does not drive the plot – it is simply part of the character’s identity.

I will admit to guessing a twist in the story early on, but it did not ruin the read as Bailey has strong, descriptive world building and character development. I highly recommend this book to lovers of weird and strange fantasy with elements of horror – it is a creepily captivating read. Overall, I give Amethyst 4 stars, and I hope to read more by Bailey in the future!

Get your copy of Amethyst today here, and remember to follow Jesse Nolan Bailey on social media!

https://www.jessenolanbailey.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/jessenbailey

https://www.instagram.com/jesse.nolan.bailey/

https://www.facebook.com/jesseNbailey/