“We move through this world on paths laid down long before we are born.”
― Robert Moor
Photo taken by Scott Moore with WSM Photography
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I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Megan Haskell today to talk with me about her award winning book, Sanyare: The Last Descendant.
Hello, Megan! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! That is wonderful news! How did you discover indiebrag?
To be honest, I don’t remember! I know that’s kind of terrible to say, but I think I saw the name pop up a few different places back in January, and I looked into nominating SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT for the medallion. Unfortunately, at the time, indieBRAG wasn’t accepting new submissions, so I signed up for the email list to be notified when they reopened. As soon as they did, I submitted, and here we are!
Please tell me about your story, Sanyare: The Last Descendant.
SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT is a dark fantasy coming-of-age adventure about a woman raised by elves in a realm where humans are treated like slaves. After decades of hard work and intense training, Rie has finally earned a post in the High Court messenger service. Still scorned by the high elves who rely on her loyalty, Rie’s closest allies are the fierce carnivorous pixies who travel with her on every mission.
When she’s attacked on a routine delivery by assassins from the enemy Shadow Realm, Rie’s combat training keeps her alive…and frames her as a traitor. Knowing her king will execute her for even the appearance of treason, Rie is forced to forsake her oaths and flee into enemy lands to prove her innocence. With surprising help from a bastard prince and an ambitious blood sidhe, Rie searches for the truth behind the attack. The secrets she uncovers may threaten more than her honor or even her life…for war is looming in the nine faerie realms.
Who are you three top antagonists and please tell me a little about them.
First, there’s Othin, King of the High Court in the upper realm of the fae. He’s a high elf, the leader of what’s known as the glittering throng. It’s his edict that would have Rie executed for having contact with an individual from the enemy shadow realm. Her only choice is to flee her home and everything she knows to travel across enemy lines and find out who was behind the attack. If she can prove her innocence, she just might be able to convince the king to let her live.
The other antagonists…well, they’re a bit of a surprise. I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll just say that there is more at stake than just Rie’s life, and the players involved come from all walks of life.
How are your characters influenced by their setting?
In the universe of The Sanyare Chronicles, there are nine realms, each with a unique culture and climate. As Rie travels, she has to adapt to each region and try to blend with the people that live there.
The story begins on modern day earth, and Rie is wearing human clothing. She starts out walking down a beach in jeans and a tank, actually. She’s fairly comfortable in the human realm, because she’s traveled there several times and was trained to move unnoticed through the city.
But when she travels to the shadow realm, she is completely out of place. She doesn’t understand the culture, and doesn’t know how to interact with the people. In fact, throughout her training, the high court promoted an idea that the shadow realm was essentially evil. A huge part of her character development comes through learning about the city and its customs, and realigning her misperceptions to reality.
Describe the High Court.
The high court is all glittering gold, white marble, and reflective mirrors. The light in the realm is soft and shimmery, everything seems to glisten and shine. But it’s also cold and hard, with very little to comfort or cushion — no rugs on the floors, no tapestries on the walls, just stone and intricate gilded wood. King Othin doesn’t like anything to obscure the perfection of his court.
Will you please share an excerpt?
Absolutely! This scene comes from Chapter 1, so no spoilers here…
Two men stood on the beach, directly in her path. Still at least fifty yards away, they seemed out of place without the surfboards or exercise attire of the usual early morning crowd. Rie paused, assessing. The blond one crouched, taking something out of a bag in the sand. He flipped it once, a shard of light glinting into Rie’s eyes. The throbbing in her brain burst in white-hot light, leaving her blind to the real world as she entered a vision.
The blond man stands, facing her. He pulls his arm back, a knife whistles toward her. Blood streams from her belly, her shirt soaked in seconds, the sand absorbing the overflow. The sky is all she sees, expansive gray-blue dotted with thin wispy clouds. A small hand taps her face. Niinka’s wide black eyes float into view. Then darkness.
Rie gasped, coming out of the premonition. The blond man rose from his crouch, facing her. His arm pulled back.
Sending her thanks to the gods for the warning, Rie spun left as a knife passed through the air where she had stood. Dropping into a crouch, she scuttled behind a large rocky outcropping, just as another knife hit the sand at her feet. She picked it up, testing the weight as adrenaline surged and her heart rate sped. Fear twisted a knot of dread in her gut.
Curuthannor’s training kicked in. This might be her first life or death fight, but he had prepared her well. She took a cleansing breath, washed away the fear and replaced it with determination. The pixies let go of their hiding spots, chattering in the clicks and whistles of their native tongue. Rie ignored them, focusing instead on her surroundings, and her options. Stairs wound up the cliff to her left, heading toward the street above, but a hundred feet of open space stretched between her rock and the first step. No matter how fast she moved, she’d be an easy target. If she ran back toward the arch, she’d be similarly open to attack.
Rie grabbed a handful of sand with her left hand, while her right hand reached behind and traded the unfamiliar throwing knife for one of two eight-inch khukuri blades in the horizontal sheath at her lower back.
“What are they doing?” she asked Hiinto.
The little pixie crawled atop the rock, his translucent wings pulled back and naked skin camouflaged to match the color and texture of the sandstone. “They’ve split up, one on each side. They’re creeping along now, not sure what you’re doing, I think. What are you doing?”
“Which one is closer?”
“The one near the cliffs.”
“Fifty feet, coming closer.”
“Are you two hungry?”
Hiinto grinned, revealing a mouth full of sharp, serrated teeth, while Niinka rubbed her hands together. “Humans taste almost as good as the elves and greater fae,” she whispered.
“Wait until they are close. I will deal with the cliff-side man. You two take a bite out of the one on the ocean-side.”
“Yum.” Hiinto licked his lips.
What inspired you to write a dark fantasy adventure?
Honestly, it’s what I like to read. I’ve been reading fantasy fiction for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been attracted to stories with high stakes, lots of action, and yes, quite a bit of blood and gore. So I wrote the story I wanted to read!
How did you come up with your title?
Sanyare is a job title, like queen or president or CEO. It means truthseeker in elvish, and the truthseeker is the mediator of the nine realms, a position of great power and respect. I loved the word, and I really wanted to use it in the book title, but I also knew that since most people (including me) don’t speak elvish, it wouldn’t mean anything out of context of the book.
So I started coming up with alternative book titles. I made this huge long list, and then I started asking people what they thought. At some point, someone suggested combining Sanyare with one of the other titles. It was an “ah-ha” moment. So now I have SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT, and the sequel will be titled SANYARE: THE HEIR APPARENT!
Who designed your book cover? I LOVE it!
Thank you!! Nicole at Cover Shot Creations designed my cover. I did a lot of research into the covers I liked and why, and then I found about five different designers that I thought could produce the kind of cover I wanted. Of them all, I felt like Nicole was the best fit, both for design aesthetic, and price.
How long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?
Including world-building, research, outlining, drafting, editing, and ultimately publishing, it took me two and a half years to produce SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT. The sequel is moving a little faster, and by the time I’m ready to publish, it should be about a year and a half. I’m hoping the third book moves even faster!
I’m a stay-at-home-mom, so writing time fits in during naps, after bedtime, or whenever the girls are otherwise occupied and contained, like snack time. So I have to be flexible in where and how I work. Right now I’m sitting at the kitchen island, typing into a portable Bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPad. But mostly, I work on a laptop wherever I can find space and be comfortable. The couch is often a good choice. Kitchen table is another.
Where can readers buy your book?
I actually just signed up for KDP Select, which means SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT is only available in eBook on Amazon, but it’s a part of the Kindle Unlimited program, so you can read for free if you’re a subscriber! The print book is also available on Createspace and Barnes & Noble.
Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. When I was a kid, my mom would ground me from reading in order to get me to do my chores. To this day, I can readily ignore the real world in favor of the imaginary one lurking between the pages of my current addiction. My dad — also an avid reader — introduced me to Tolkien in my late elementary years, and I never looked back. I love escaping to worlds where magic and monsters are real, especially stories with kick-butt heroines and dangerously attractive heroes.
Despite my voracious book appetite, I didn’t start creative writing until I was working as a number cruncher in a big accounting firm. With an hour plus commute by train every day, and a demanding left-brain occupation, I needed a mobile creative outlet. A pen and paper are about as mobile as it gets! As the pages began to fill, I quickly moved onto a tiny laptop, and a writer was born. Now I get to create my own fantasies!
I currently live in Southern California with my wonderfully supportive husband, two daughters, and a ridiculously energetic dog.
Stephanie: Rebecca Lawton is an author and naturalist whose essays, poems, and stories have been published in Orion, Sierra, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Shenandoah, Standing Wave, THEMA, the acorn, More, and other journals. She has received the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, three Pushcart Prize nominations (in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry), and residencies at The Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers in Langley, Washington. Becca was among the first women whitewater guides on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and on other rivers in the West. Her essay collection on the guiding life, Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital Books), was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Her novel, Junction, Utah, set in the beautiful and resource-rich Green River valley, was released in early 2013 by van Haitsma Literary as an original e-book and later in 2013 as a softcover book (Wavegirl). With Geoff Fricker, Rebecca is co-author of the forthcoming Sacrament: Homage to a River (Heyday, 2014), and her first collection of short stories, Steelies and Other Endangered Species, is due out from Little Curlew Press in 2014.
Hello Becca! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion. Please tell me about your book, Junction, Utah.
Becca: Hi Stephanie! Thank you for hosting me. I’m thrilled to receive the BRAG Medallion, as it’s clear from the Indie BRAG website that the books you recognize are very high quality. I’m happy to be among the honorees!
Junction, Utah, is a romance and adventure story set in the river valleys of Utah and other parts of the West. It’s based on my years as a river guide and a geologist working in some of the settings in the book. It’s also a work of ecofiction. I became concerned as I worked out there that oil and gas exploration as it was being conducted was going to ruin the place—both the fabric of the community and the integrity of the wilderness. I wanted to tell a story that would draw readers into the lives of characters based on real people and wildlife living in these places time had otherwise forgotten—and where the way of life is as beautiful as the land.
Stephanie: Sounds wonderful and I do like stories that are based on real people and places. Please tell me about your character Madeline Kruse. What are her strengths and weaknesses?
Becca: Madeline is a twenty-nine year old river guide who, even at that relatively young age, is a long-time veteran of rivers. She’s never known her father, who has been missing since going to fight in the Vietnam War, and her concern for her mother’s fragile health sends Madeline on a bit of a quest. She finds her way to Junction to work a season as a guide and discovers that many of the issues she’s run from in her home state of Oregon are in full play in Utah as well. She’s a fairly voiceless character through much of the story, and she undergoes transformation, as any good protagonist should.
Stephanie: Is there a moral to the story? What would it be?
Becca: We’re more alike than we think, in this fractured, dangerous time for our planet. Working together is the only way to save our race and other creatures. Truly.
Stephanie: I would agree with you. What was your inspiration for your story?
Becca: I didn’t want to preach, but I did want to create awareness about the fragility of our wild world. One thing I’d learned through years of working as a river guide and scientist is how vulnerable natural systems are to change—much more vulnerable than I thought as a young person just getting to know them. A single road cut into a wilderness area causes a stream to start incising, or deeply eroding, its bed. Really, we humans have been changing the world for a long time. We’re only now understanding how unstable nature is in light of our impacts. The changes that come to community, too, are just as intriguing to me, and important. I wanted to write about both.
As a friend of mine has said, however, the novel is not “thinly veiled proselytizing.” It’s a story first and foremost, with three acts, a narrative arc, characters who become real to the reader, and settings you’ll never forget. It’s a page turner above all.
Stephanie: What do you find most challenging about writing?
Becca: Sitting still. Some writers have figured out how to write while walking on treadmills, riding stationary bikes, you name it. I write well while strolling in nature with a notebook in hand. But some of the hard work just has to be done indoors at my desk, and that’s been a tough transformation for me, an active person, to have to put myself in a chair and stay there for periods of time.
Stephanie: I would have to agree with you. It is even hard for me to sit still while reading sometimes. Most of my reading is while I am on my stationary bike. When I write, I get up and pace while thinking about what I want to say next or how I want to structure my next paragraph or scene. How long have you been a writer? What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a writer?
Becca: I started writing the character sketches for Junction in 1979, for a creative writing class I was taking while living in the Rogue River Valley, Oregon. Scenes from both Utah and Oregon made their way into the book, and they stuck. Before then—really, as far back as grade school—I’d written articles and stories for school publications, and then for adventure/river journals once I became a river guide, but nothing book length.
Good advice: figure out how you’ll happily support your habit, in case your books don’t cover the rent. Achieving balance with other work is critical. Maybe you’ll be one of those writers who doesn’t have to keep her day job. If so, wonderful. But be prepared to be good at something else as well.
Stephanie: That is sound advice, Becca. What book are you currently working on?
Becca: I just contracted with Little Curlew Press in Florida to publish Steelies and Other Endangered Species, a collection of short stories about water and our relationship to it in a changing world. We’ll have a lot of work to bring that out together, and I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile I’m adapting a play from the title story from that collection, “Steelies.” I’ve written plays before, but this is the first one I’ve worked on that I feel certain will be produced. Meanwhile I have two nonfiction proposals in mind that I hope to have circulating among the markets in early 2014.
Stephanie: How wonderful! Looking forward to hearing more about your projects. I do love non-fiction! Tell me what you think of the self-publishing industry.
Becca: As varied and capricious as the traditional publishing world. There is incredibly good work in both industries, and there is incredibly bad stuff in both. One thing self publishing has done for authors is allow them creative expression despite the gatekeepers in New York, who have a fairly lock-step view of what’s good literature. Just as I don’t agree much with the views of those in Hollywood who dictate what constitutes good film, I’m not in alignment with the few traditional publishers who are left standing about what the public ought to be reading. But it’s up to those who self- publish to dot every, ”I” and cross every T in book writing and publishing, and to do a good job, and that’s a rare thing. The books recognized by Indie BRAG are excellent examples of how it can be done.
Stephanie: Will you self-publish again?
Becca: For me, releasing Junction first as an e-book issued by my agent and then as a print version published by my own small press has been the right journey for this particular book. Earlier versions of it were accepted by small presses, but it wasn’t really ready and those acceptances never resulted in a signed contract and a collaboration with a publisher that might have given it the editorial love it needed. After two or three false starts, I gave up on Junction more than once—and only picked it up after dreaming that an agent urged me to get back to work on it now. This was only after my agents at the time, Mike Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada (who I love and owe a huge debt of gratitude for championing my first book), decided to pass on representing it.
In getting the Junction manuscript ready for acceptance by another agent, I had to put it through arduous revision. That’s a story in itself, and I love to tell it when I teach at conferences and workshops. It took two years of revision after those first drafts that could have become a book—a different book—earlier on.
Stephanie: Please tell me some of the goals you have set for yourself as a writer? It can be anything.
Becca: I write every day, at least an hour but more commonly two. I rise on the early side, generally 6 a.m. or earlier, so I can write my wild, creative work before moving on to contract work that brings me more immediate cash. It’s a fairly tenuous existence at the moment, as I recently left a long-time job to work on my own in all arenas, so . . . it’s a grand experiment. Not sure how it will evolve. But, for me, the daily writing goal seems to work best.
Stephanie: I need to follow your writing habits. How did you discover indieBRAG?
Becca: I believe I conducted an internet search of “awards for independently published books” or something similar. I somehow found my way to Indie BRAG. I loved the look of the books that BRAG champions.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Becca: I always urge readers to go to their local independent bookstore first, to help keep their neighbors in business. If that doesn’t work, it’s easy to buy through my website, www.beccalawton.com, where you can purchase through me or be linked to the online bookstore of your choice.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Becca Lawton, who is the author of, Junction, Utah, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Junction, Utah, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.