Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Marc Secchia

Today I get to interview a fellow dragon-lover and flautist who just happens to write fantastic fantasy!
Q: You are obviously very fond of dragons, and the dragon characters I've met so far are so realistic. What inspired you to write about dragons, and more specifically shapeshifting dragons?

MARC: Dragons are Fantasy’s most majestic creatures. I like my dragons served up awesome, magical and as full of character as any person you’d wish to meet, the kind of person you’re almost compelled to spend time with or watch. I’m a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern as well as her other writings. It was her viewpoint of fully-formed dragon characters, the telepathic communication between Dragon and Rider, and the possibilities of Human-Dragon interaction which shaped my early fascination with dragons as creatures and characters. Oh yes, and it’s kind of fun to blow up hydrogen dirigibles with dragon fire.

As a brief aside, I find it intriguing that myths of dragons and giants pervade so many of Earth’s ancient cultures.

Shapeshifters? I fell into this as a necessity to Aranya’s plot. When the evil empire decides to execute your main character by chaining her to a rock and throwing her off a five mile tall cliff, well, something has to happen or your story ends rather abruptly and messily at the bottom.

I hadn’t read shapeshifter novels previously as many in the genre are too racy for my taste, but I was aware of the concept. Here I had a character who I imagined transforming between two different forms, and that opened up such a wealth of possibilities, I was a bit like a child discovering a Pandora’s box filled with Smarties. What if a person could have the power of a dragon, I wondered? What would he or she do with that power? What would the possibilities and limitations be?

In Aranya’s case, that answer is to team up with her best friend and go take on the bad guys. Two girls against the evil Sylakian empire? Bring it on!
Q: Your amazingly detailed world is so unique and well-drawn. Did you do your world-building before you began writing the stories, or did it gradually evolve while you wrote your stories?

MARC: I believe a diverse upbringing and cross-cultural experience, as well as meticulous research, is very essential to an author seeking to build believable worlds. We see many monocultural worlds in fiction–that’s OK, but not very interesting. I frame a world in broad brush-strokes before I begin writing, but I’m always shifted one way or another as I’m developing a world. I love the diversity, colour and clash of different cultures, unique settings, and different character-shaping experiences for my fictional characters to encounter. I also work hard on believable levels of technology and mythology / legends, but that often arises from what I feel a story requires.
Q: Your background of living in two entirely different African countries is fascinating, and from what you've written on your blog I see your desire to mine the rich storytelling traditions of that wonderfully diverse continent with its history and legends. Did anything specific within Africa inspire your cloudland world with its "islands" and dangerous beauty?

MARC: The mythos of European folklore has been so extensively mined that elves and dwarves have become a byword in fantasy. But Africa is in many senses, Joseph Conrad’s ‘dark continent’. So much is unexplored or misunderstood, and there’s a beautiful, diverse richness to Africa’s people and cultures and a long, long history that I believe is missed in a world inured to the ‘development needs’ of this continent. In my Shioni of Sheba series, African fantasy set in ancient Ethiopia, I sought to break free of that mould by drawing on Ethiopia’s culture, mythology and history (yes, they have legends of dragons). I have plans for more African fantasy, perhaps set in South Africa.

The Pygmy Dragon draws strongly on African ideas of community and social structures, as well as the obvious connection of Pip being a jungle-born Pygmy, standing less than four feet tall. But I wanted to make her far more than just a ‘little person’. She is huge in heart, and despite being the smallest of dragons, she manages to turn her world upside-down and triumph against the odds.

The cloudlands world of Dragonfriend, Aranya and The Pygmy Dragon is a world of islands raised by ancient dragons from the base of a gigantic impact crater which is half-filled with toxic clouds–the ‘cloudlands’. I love how you phrased the question, ‘dangerous beauty’. That’s exactly what I was aiming for when I created this world. The Simien Mountains of Ethiopia were one of its primary inspirations. The Simiens are a unique, jagged landscape of dark volcanic mountains, often partially covered in cloud. I travelled there when researching Shioni of Sheba. But for the purposes of creating a memorable world, I wanted to create something even more majestic, a huge and inspiring world where dragons would love to live. Here’s an idea of what the world looks like – MountRoraima (in Venezuela). So I have jagged islands rising up to a league (3.45 miles) out of the clouds, all sheer cliffs and diverse, isolated cultures.
Q: I have to know: Did you ride in a hot air balloon or dirigible before writing about the Dragon Ships? They were very realistic!

MARC: No such luck, but it’s on my bucket list. I recently found out that someone offers hot air balloon rides over Addis Ababa. I would love to do that!

I do a lot of research for the technology of my worlds as you’ll see in condensed form in the appendices of Aranya and Dragonfriend. I’m not enamoured of using magic as the panacea of all problems, and you’ll see that my characters don’t just slip into a magical cloak and achieve insta-mastery of their abilities. True character growth requires pain, struggle and mistakes. In the same way, ‘pain’ (OK, I enjoy research, I’ll admit to a case of closet nerdiness) for an author I believe is the necessary research to build a realistic world – be that the origins of the universe, a satisfying creation mythos, technology or the history of ancient civilizations in Africa for my Shioni of Sheba series.
Q: What are you currently writing?  Do you envision many more books set within your dragon world?

MARC: I am currently finishing Dragonlove, the sequel to Dragonfriend, which I hope to have ready within the next six weeks or so. I’ve also started drafting Dragon Thief and the sequel to The Pygmy Dragon.

In all, I have the following novels set or planned for this dragon world:
Aranya and Shadow Dragon, part #3 planned for late 2015
The Pygmy Dragon, part #2 planned for autumn 2015
The Girl whoSang with Whales, and part #2 planned for 2016
Dragonfriend (the sequel will be Dragonlove, planned for end of July 2015)
Dragon Thief (work in progress) – planned for August 2015

Thanks, Marc, for the great interview! I am looking forward to reading the rest of your books.

To learn more about Marc and his amazing worlds, check out his website and Amazon author page and follow him on twitter @marcauthor

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Dianne Astle

Today I'm interviewing Dianne Astle, author of the delightful middle-grade fantasy Ben the Dragonborn.

Q: Your title character in Ben the Dragonborn is so well crafted I keep wondering if he is based on a real boy. Did you discover him gradually through writing the book, or was he fully formed before you wrote the book?

DIANNE: When I started writing I just had a basic idea: Six Worlds under the care of one known as the Guardian, with schools on each world to train those chosen to do the Guardian’s work.  I did not have a clear idea of Ben when I started to write other than I knew he had to be unlikely hero.  I love stories of unlikely heroes. Perhaps it is because it is my own story.  I hope Ben’s story will encourage readers to look for the hidden treasure within themselves. We are all more than we realize. 

Q: Which Scriptures or concepts from Scripture influenced your creation of the Six Worlds, the Guardians, and the Watchers?

DIANNE: Many of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures are about unlikely heroes that God transforms into people who can accomplish God’s purpose in the world. In the New Testament we hear the story of how a group of unlikely disciples continued Jesus ministry after his death, many of whom suffered and died as martyrs.  Being a hero and following a quest sometimes has a cost, but the world is changed for the better when the cause is right. The words of Mary give us a clue as to the right causes; the poor are lifted from the dust and placed among the powerful. At the heart of Ben the Dragonborn is a scripture from Micah 6:8 which says: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I did not write Ben the Dragonborn to be explicitly Christian fiction and so there is no one Savior, but there are people who are Christ-like in their willingness to sacrifice themselves to help change the world for others.   Like the Narnia series people can read Ben the Dragonborn without seeing the deeper magic in it, but for those with faith it is easy to see the Guardian as God and the Watchers and Chosen as servants of God.

Q: You seem to be an avid fisherwoman. What is your favorite place to fish and your favorite fish to catch?

DIANNE: I love fishing. I have fished for barracuda in Belize. I have fished on the top of mountains that required a land cruiser to reach. I have fished in wilderness lakes where we were miles away from another living person. I have fished the ocean off the west side of Vancouver Island where the  imaginary school Ben attends is located. I love that area. It is not uncommon to see whales breach and Orca swim by. It is not uncommon to have a sea lion come and eat the fish you just caught right off your line.  It is not uncommon for a bald eagle to fly overhead and wonder if you have anything to feed it.

My most amazing memory is of going out in a boat with over twenty other people to jig for fish. It is a twenty-three mile trip out and I was grateful for the opportunity. I went to the front of the boat by myself and sat in the spray so that I could offer God my thanks and praise in solitude. I praised God for the sea and the sky, for the fish below the sea, for my family and friends and for many other things in the hour that it took to get out to the fishing grounds.  As an afterthought I said, “God, please bless my fishing rod and this day of fishing.”

Now I need to tell you that I like fishing, but I’m not normally very good at it. I had taken this trip several times because it was affordable and I was lucky to come home with one or two fish.  I caught one fish after another that day. I kept the guides busy responding to my call of ‘fish on.’ I went home with a thousand dollars of worth of salmon, cod and halibut. I was the only person on the boat to catch halibut and I caught two. One was seventy-eight pounds.

I’ve tried to repeat that experience and it hasn’t worked. God knows that all I want to do is catch fish and I’m willing to do whatever it takes, even pray. My heart was in the right place that day and there was something about the way I handled the fishing rod that was difference from every other day before or after.  Since then I have been reminded that God is not willing to be manipulated by my prayers for something I don’t really need.

Q: Are you planning to write a book about each of the worlds in your Six Worlds series?

DIANNE: I am almost finished editing the sequel to Ben the Dragonborn which should be out by mid-July.  I think the book will be titled Ben and the Watcher of Zargon.  I have a third book in the series which is crying out to be written.  The ideas are popping and I’m getting excited about starting book three, but I won’t let myself write that book until the second one is finished.  When I complete book three we will see if there is any inspiration for book four.  That will depend on one of two things happening: 1. I am so inspired that I don’t care if anyone reads my book because I must give birth to the characters that demand to meet the world, or 2. Books one to three are selling well. If the series is selling well I will not want to disappoint my readers by ending the series at book three. 

Me: I can't wait to read Ben and the Watcher of Zargon. And it would be really, really neat to visit you in Canada and go fishing! A girl can dream, can't she?

Ben the Dragonborn is available in paperback or kindle format at Amazon, and paperback at Barnes & Noble.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Lia London

Today I get to interview one of my favorite authors, Lia London, who also founded the group Clean Indie Reads, of which I am a member. Thanks for stopping by, Lia!

Caz is the heart of this series, and you've created a strong teenager with believable motivations and reactions. Even while she experiences strange events all around her (and sometimes TO her) the reader can relate to her struggles and determination. She is so realistically complex that sometimes I want to hug her and other times shout, "Caz! What are you doing?" What was the inspiration for Caz, and how easy is it to get inside her head?

LIA: It’s funny that you should ask the question in that way because, when I started the story well over a year ago, I wrote in third person. The Gypsy Pearl actually began as a collaborative fiction exercise on a website I had at the time, but we didn’t get very far. Frankly, I didn’t like Caz much. She seemed like a whiny little troublemaker, and I wished she’d shape up. After I’d already written about ten chapters, I decided to go back and put the story into first person. Suddenly, I understood why she acted the way she did. Once I realized that she was just too smart and adventurous to live in the highly regulated, closed-minded little world of a space station, I wanted to help her get out of there and have some fun. Although I am not the physical risk-taker that she is, I can empathize with her curiosity and her interest in learning about new places and cultures.

How did you come up with the idea for the faneps? They are fascinating sentient creatures and King is a particularly interesting character.

LIA: The whole arc of the story came from a dream, but in that vision, the creature made a one-time appearance. A writer friend, Jan Jacob Mekes, suggested that the creature become more integral to the plot and gave me ideas for the fanep species culture, etc. I can’t imagine the story without King, so I am greatly indebted to Mekes.

Your world building for this series is terrific. The three world concept, the unique qualities of each planet, the differences and prejudices between ICS dwellers (spaceys) and Surface dwellers, all of it combine to make a gritty, realistic setting that transports the reader into your universe. What is your process of creating an entirely new reality?

LIA: Many of my favorite books feature elaborate world-building, so this was my chance to explore that aspect of writing. Also, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel a lot in my life, particularly during formative years in my youth. Because I was allowed to look at foreign “worlds” through the unbiased eyes of a child, I think it changed the way I look at the world in general. I love my country and my culture, but I also can see why other countries developed different ways of doing things that worked for them. History, sociology, anthropology—these are interests of mine, and world-building allows me to work through some of my observations of things I see happening on good ol’ Earth. In terms of process, I ask a lot of “what ifs”. What if a colony only had this much land space? What if a colony were cut off from the archives of the past knowledge? What if the climate was brutal, but the money to be made was great? What if you never, ever left the walls of your space ship for your whole life?

I know you meant for this to be a trilogy, which makes sense since there are three worlds and three gifts, but do you have any plans for other stories set in this universe?

LIA: Actually, I thought it was going to be a novella! It grew, rather like Caz’s “rotation” on Caren, into something much bigger than expected. That was thanks to fellow author Ayd Instone, who suggested the whole Cycling Ceremony concept. In terms of moving on with this series… I won’t say never, but I have half a dozen other stories that are percolating in my brain more urgently, so I’ll need to get to them first.

You are such a wonderfully eclectic writer, and I love your sense of humor, yet you also write beautifully and memorably about more serious topics. What are your ideas for future books?

LIA: You are very kind! “Eclectic” is such a nice way of saying, “can’t make up her mind”! Most of the stories I’m sketching out now are for young adult and middle grade audiences. The two books that are most fully formulated in my mind are both in the fantasy genre. One, The Wedding Circle Wish, will see two tweens accidentally crash a fairy wedding, steal a wish, and have a startling transformation take place. It will be very silly and whimsical in nature. I’m hoping to have my own tween kids help me write it. The other, as yet without a working title, will be considerably longer and more complex. It’ll have a pre-industrial, magical feel with some intrigue and action wrapped around a coming-of-age story. I will definitely do some world-building with that one because I want to create some very different social paradigms to find out “what if…” The overall story arc is in my brain, but how I’ll get from point A to point Z will be an adventure for me as much as for my characters.

I've read all three Gypsy Pearl books, and I highly recommend them! Here are my reviews:

Book One: Caren
Book Two: Craggy
Book Three: Tye

Check out all of Lia's books and visit her at
and on Twitter: @lialondon1