To kick off my new emphasis on women who write speculative fiction, help me welcome acclaimed fantasy author Andi O’Connor.
RLM: Share with me a little about your upbringing, specifically what led you to make writing your career.
AO: My mom was a great reader and instilled in me her love of reading. I grew up surrounded by books and weekly treks to the library. In my early teens, my mom bought me the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, and I immediately fell in love with his writing and the fantasy genre. I still have those books and my special ‘Terry Brooks Shelf’ has grown significantly.
Writing just sort of happened for me. I didn’t take any writing classes and was actually a cello performance major in college. I’ve always been extremely creative and imaginative, again encouraged by my mom. One day I got the idea for a story and just started writing. I did it casually, frequently shelving it for months or years at a time. Then, after my mom died in 2011, I decided to sit my butt in the chair and finish it in her memory. It became a last tribute to her and to the wonderful, powerful influences she had over my life. Once I finished I decided it couldn’t hurt to look to get it published, and things just grew from there.
Since then I’ve written two more novels and three short stories. Silevethiel was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013 and Redemption is a Kindle Book Review, 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semifinalist. Awakening was released on February 5th and is the second book in The Dragonath Chronicles. It’s already received quite a lot of praise from the public as well as professional review sites including Kirkus Reviews, Red City Review, and Foreword Clarion Review.
AO: When I started looking to get The Lost Heir published, I did research on how to prepare the manuscript and where to find agents and publishers looking to take on fantasy novels. Like any author, I got a ton of rejection letters but did eventually get offered a contract by Black Rose Writing. My decision to sign on was done as a fledging writer who still had a great deal to learn. It wasn’t until after I signed on that I realized everything the owner had said was cleverly worded fluff. I realized too late that Black Rose Writing is essentially a vanity press without ‘being’ a vanity press. I didn’t pay to have my book published, but they certainly made a lot of money from me when I purchased my author copies, and they didn’t spend their own money or resources in editing, designing the cover, or promoting the book.
It was then I decided that since I was essentially doing everything myself I would self publish my next book and actually be happy with the end result. So for Silevethiel and my short stories Redemption and Reclamation I started my own publishing imprint Purple Sun Press and released everything myself. I hired a professional editor, cover designer, and interior formatter. The short stories are only available in eBook, but I released Silevethiel in hardback as well as eBook. It’s amusing to me when I go to festivals and signings because most people assume The Lost Heir was self published and Silevethiel was released by the publisher when in fact it is the other way around.
Self-publishing is rewarding, but it entails an exceptional amount of work. I was recently contacted by another publisher, Margaret Media, and have just signed on with them. They are going to release the second edition of all my works, and I am looking forward to working with them in publishing future works.
AO: While the story line in The Dragonath Chronicles and all of my writing deals with the main character’s goal to achieve an objective, I don’t think of it as a classic quest set-up. And indeed, I don’t think it should be classified as such. I find it to be a rather simplistic and limiting categorization.
My books, though fantasy, deal with so much more than a simple quest. They’re about the physical as well as the emotional journey the characters take. They’re about real issues. Real situations. Real emotions. I don’t write stories merely for entertainment. I create them to be exceptionally relatable and to make my readers think and perhaps look at a situation or event in a different light.
I get deep into the characters’ thoughts and emotions. As a result, my characters are sometimes difficult to flat-out love or hate. They’re complex and often times transform before the readers’ eyes. They learn from their mistakes, from events, and from the actions of others. They’re ever-changing and grow beyond the people they start out as when we first meet them. My stories aren’t just about a quest. They’re about people. They’re about life.
RLM: What does a typical work day look like for you?
AO: Writing is my full time job (I know…I’m crazy) Usually once I have coffee in hand, I’ll spend my mornings working on promotional and administrative tasks. This is when I’ll answer interviews, work on blog posts, updated Twitter and Facebook, etc. I’ll also use this time to go through sales and update my accounting and inventory, which is definitely NOT one of my favorite things. I also use this time to get any books packaged and shipped.
The afternoons I spend writing or editing. I have three series going on simultaneously, so I switch between them quite frequently. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy for me to jump from one world to another. There are times when I’m not in the mood for a particular world and I’ll switch to another. Up until now I’ve been rather free with what I’m writing and when. However, now that I’ve signed on with a publisher I imagine my schedule won’t be able to be quite as forgiving! I usually write until early evening, though I frequently work again later at night and on the weekends.
RLM: When you’re writing, what do you read to help keep your brain spinning? Who are some of your favorite authors?
AO: I read fantasy and lots of it. Unfortunately, I don’t get as much time to read now as I used to, but I still do it whenever I have the chance. I do have favorite big name authors: Terry Brooks, Ursula LeGuin, Juliet Marillier, Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Jonathan Stroud, and the list goes on.
Lately I’ve been finding that I read less of the big authors and more of the self published or small press authors. I joined an online book club called Rave Reviews Book Club and it’s introduced me to a lot of new fantasy/sci-fi authors. I enjoy reading these authors because it does really keep my brain spinning. The more I write and evolve as an author, the more I’m able to pick out things that do and don’t work. I love the freshness of these authors and the worlds/characters they create. I don’t feel bogged down reading these books like I sometimes do with the better-known authors who are known for a particular world or series. The lesser-known authors aren’t pressured by publishers and fans and have the freedom to let their imagination run wild, and I find it to be truly inspiring.
RLM: Which of your characters is your favorite? Why that one?
AO: I feel like my answer to this question changes on a daily basis! There’s a strong connection to each of my characters even though they’re so different and it’s difficult to choose just one! Nevertheless, I think I’m going to go with Jae from my short stories Redemption, Reclamation, and soon to be Retribution.
The thing I love about Jae is we see so deeply into his mind. We experience his emotions and feel his turmoil. He grew up in a society where all children, especially girls, are treated as property and seen only as a way to make a profit. Jae was essentially sold into slavery by his parents. We meet him in the beginning of Redemption locked in his cell at the College of the Mé’Draak. We feel his utter despair and pain. Yet we also feel his hope and his incredible will to fight and overcome his situation. We see the strength of his convictions.
He has such great courage and doesn’t let the beliefs of others dictate his actions. He stands up for what he knows is right, regardless of the standards of society. This starts to become evident at the end of Redemption but is extremely apparent in Reclamation and Retribution. He sees women as people, not as property. Because of this, he’s faced with some difficult choices, and we feel his inner frustrations as he’s forced to make some of the most burdensome decisions anyone could ever make, such as whether to chose the life of an unborn child or the life of the mother. We can learn so much from Jae. And he continues to teach me something new every time I delve into the world of Ilvania.
RLM: Unlike many women fantasy writers, you chose to focus on a masculine hero for your Dragonath series as well as for your The Legacy of Ilvania stories. What led you to make that decision? What difficulties have you encountered writing from a male perspective?
AO: The first thing to say in response to this question is that I don’t write from the perspective of any of my characters, male or female. I don’t put myself in their position and think of what I would say or do. I’m not them. They’re their own people. They lead me and guide me through their journey. They speak to me and tell me what to write.
I’m going to be brutally honest and say that I cringe when I hear authors give advice and tell fledging writers to think of what they would do if they were in a character’s situation. To me, that is the worst piece of advice someone could give. The characters are their own people and should be treated as such. Unless an author is basing a character heavily on themselves and their personal experiences, they should never put themselves in the character’s shoes.
The sex of my characters honestly isn’t something that is a huge decision for me. The main character in The Dragonath Chronicles is male simply because I felt like having him be male. But my readers will notice that he’s not the typical male hero in fantasy. He’s weak, unsure, confused, yet he does have an inner strength that he’s struggling to find. Indeed, most of the people who are supporting him and helping him find that strength, and who are arguably stronger characters themselves, are female.
Jae was chosen as a male to fit in with the confines of the world I created. Ilvania is extremely patriarchal. Women are seen as property. There is no way a girl would be sold to the Mé’Draak. No female would ever be seen as fit enough to fight for the Kingdom as a Mé’Draak. The main character had to be male. But again, Jae isn’t the typical male protagonist. As I stated in the previous answer, he stands up for what he knows to be right, even though it goes against the standards of society. He doesn’t see women as property. And the way he treats them is a stark contrast to the other men he meets. Consequently, he makes an extremely powerful statement. More so than if I’d made his character female.
I don’t have difficulties writing from a male perspective, because my characters whether they are male or female don’t fall in stereotypes. I push boundaries when I write. I don’t think ‘what would a man do?’ I don’t let my characters become limited by the boundaries our society puts on them based on sex. If I did, none of my characters would be who they are. And none of my books would have the powerful meanings they do.
AO: I am most definitely a pantser! A lot of people ask me how I come up with things or what’s going to happen next. And I hate to say it, but the best answer I can give them is ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t outline. I don’t plan. I get the basic spark of an idea and I just start writing. The characters develop and lead me through the story. Events and actions come to me as I go.
I find outlines to be extremely limiting. I don’t know the true personalities of the characters until I begin writing, and I don’t know how they’re going to evolve or how the events of the story will play out. For me, I think writing an outline or planning out the plotline for a book would be a complete waste of time because I’d stick to it for about five seconds.
I do take notes as I go and look up certain things to make sure I’m being consistent throughout the series, but I stay clear of any form of planning. When I wrote Silevethiel I didn’t even know what I wanted to have happen by the end of the book. Now that I’m working on the sequel, it’s the same thing. I have no idea what will happen the end. Who will live, who will die. I simply write. And when I reach the end, I know.
RLM: What most supports your writing?
AO: Compared to all my other lengthy answers, it’s going to seem like someone else wrote this answer, though I assure you that wasn’t the case. What most supports my writing is life. It’s what makes my fantasy so real. And I can’t say it any better than that.
RML: So, what can we look forward to from you?
AO: Currently I’m working on the sequel to Silevethiel, though I may pause here and there to do another short story or two in The Legacy of Ilvania series. After Sil 2.0 is finished (title has yet to be determined…if you couldn’t guess) I’ll head back to Dragonath and finish up that series. I don’t plan on being one of those fantasy authors who has fifteen books in a series. I think in those situations many people get bored and simply keep reading because they’ve invested so much time they want to know how the series ends. I would much rather prefer to continue with a separate series in the same world, perhaps a generation or two after the end of the first series. Of course, I may just create a fourth world and start a whole new adventure! You never know!