HH1: The Witch Queens – Author QA
How did you get your start writing?
I knew at twelve years old that I wanted to write books. I loved the Forgotten Realms fantasy novels. It was a big world full of possibility. I crafted my own stories to take place in that world. As time went on, my ideas shifted, and I wanted to make movies, comic books, and write screenplays. Adult life brought responsibilities, but I kept dreaming, and I kept writing in my free time.
Then I got a job as a technical writer. That is when things really changed for me. Writing for a living wasn’t just a dream anymore. The process of technical writing requires taking information created by others and putting it into a format that is understandable and clear to the target audience.
The discipline and understanding required for successful technical writing helped me to distill the stories I had created and craft a story out of them. Once I had a good story, I wrote the book. I enjoy the process of writing, designing, and formatting, which makes all-in-one solutions like CreateSpace a good fit for me.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I grew up reading Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, Alan Dean Foster, Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, and so many more. All of those authors were quite prolific, so there were plenty of books to read. As I got older, I got into the Star Wars Expanded Universe books. Those showed me that there were many more stories that could be built into a story universe. All of these stories helped me to get to the point where I could expand Oz into a greater world.
Where are you from?
I was born in Washington state. My parents moved the family to New Mexico when I was 15. I bounced around as an adult to several states, including California, Utah, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Minnesota, before settling in Texas.
I have had plenty of experiences in life to work into my stories. Not the least of which is being displaced and trying to find a place to fit in and call home.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing short stories when I was twelve years old. My best friend and I created characters in a world and then built a history for them. My first stories were set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy universe. I wanted to be a part of that world and tell stories. I continued to write short stories through high school. I had planned out a comic series or two, and I planned on doing the writing and art for those. As a young adult, I wrote some screenplays, teleplays, and a stage play that was produced by a local youth group.
I write because I have stories to tell. Even if no one but me sees the stories, the act of putting them on paper makes them real. Once a story becomes real, it leaves me alone, and I can go find the next idea to put down on paper.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The first time I really considered myself a writer was when I finished my first screenplay. Even though I had written a lot of things before this time, the format of a screenplay required a start and an end to the story. Adhering to those constraints made me a writer, at least in my own mind.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I started several stories before I began The Witch Queens. All of them contributed to the world-building, but I didn’t feel that the story was quite there for a novel. I came to the realization that only I could tell the story that I wanted to tell. Much of my hesitation was being unfamiliar with the available tools. Once I learned about CreateSpace and self-publishing and print-on-demand services, I knew that I could write a book and publish it. Until that time, I thought that legacy publishing was the only way.
Do you have a specific writing style?
For The Hidden History of Oz stories, I have specifically chosen to write in the third-person voice. The first-person narration creates more of a sense of urgency for the reader, but I wanted to show the effect that one person could have on another. That cannot be explained from inside one person very well. As a writer for these stories, I chose to step back and create the situations and describe the physical reactions of the characters, rather than telling how they feel. This allows the reader to discover meaning for themselves. This style of “show, don’t tell” comes from my experience writing screenplays. It also affects the interplay of dialogue between the characters.
How did you come up with the title?
Most of the Oz books include “of Oz” or “in Oz” in the title. The original title for my first novel was The Witch Queens of Oz. However, there was already a published novel entitled The Witch Queen of Oz. Simply adding an “s” was not going to make my book stand out at all. I had to come up with something different.
I was researching American history at that time, and I was learning so much history that had been hidden through the years. History today is different than history taught 100 years ago, even when reading about the same events. Why was the history hidden? And I had my title. If nobody knows about the history, then it is hidden, whether intentionally or not.
The title of the series became The Hidden History of Oz. Once I had that to differentiate my books from the other Oz books already out there, I could name my books as the story demanded.
In many fairy tales, witches stay in the forests and make spells, but in Baum’s version of Oz, two Wicked Witches ruled the East and the West. How did they get there, and how did they gain their power? And so that title was born, The Witch Queens.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The Witch Queens tells the story of Glinda, a teenage girl who happens to be the daughter of a sorceress. She wants freedom. But the freedom that she wants from her life isn’t what she expected. She learns through the course of the story—through success and through plenty of failure—that every freedom comes with a price.
There are other messages in the story. Each character has their own lessons to learn, but it is up to the reader to decide how much of that is applicable in real life.
How much of the book is realistic?
The book is written for the age group from 10-15 years old. It is adventure fantasy with magical elements. The setting is realistic for a fantasy world. There are shadows and there is light. The emotions and life lessons are realistic. All actions have consequences, for good or for bad.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Glinda grew up without the attention of her parents, even though they were within shouting distance at any given time. I grew up the oldest of nine children. That is a lot of people demanding the attention of Mom and Dad. I found my escape in books. That is what Glinda does. Then she finds herself uprooted and on her own. My family moved from Washington state to New Mexico when I was fifteen—the same age as Glinda. I didn’t have any friends and I had to use what I knew to try to make a home. So, yes, the experiences that Glinda has are based on experiences from my own life.
What books have most influenced your life most?
The Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, published in the 1990s, helped me see that stories could be found in existing universes. Basically, you can build something new and exciting in someone else’s backyard, as long as you followed their rules.
A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, is one of my favorite books, along with its sequels. I bought that at an elementary school book sale when I was in third grade. Money was very tight at that time, and it was a big deal for me. Unfortunately, there was a print error in the book, and twenty pages of it were reprinted in the middle. That really upset me, but it didn’t stop me from loving the book.
Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis, is one of the most profound books I have read. I loved the symbolism and the deep understanding that the character from another world, who already knows the story, brings into the new world. It is a Garden of Eden (unspoiled paradise) story set on Venus (or Perelandra), with the roles of the protector and the tempter played by two men from Earth. The conflict they create defines this unspoiled world. It was a fascinating exploration into Christian symbolism and science fiction.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Through my adult life, I have been drawn most to the works of C.S. Lewis. He blended storytelling with deep, lasting messages. His stories are as fresh today as they were fifty years ago. That timeless quality of storytelling and setting is what I aspire to in my stories.
What book are you reading now?
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.
What are your current projects?
Rolling out Phase One of The Hidden History of Oz. This includes four novels, a chronology, genealogy, and maps. There may be some other merchandising that goes with it. All of the marketing takes a lot of time. I am working on trailers for each of the books. I have an early reader’s series that I have started writing, but that requires both writing and illustration. It is on the back burner until I have the time to really sit down and draw again.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. As a technical writer by day, I get writing practice constantly. As an author by night, I put my dreams on the page. While my own stories are not paying the bills yet, I can honestly say that I am living my dream as a professional writer.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
There are two things that I find challenging. The first is writing about politics. I see politics as the means of influencing people to gain and keep power and control. In Oz, there are multiple styles of government demonstrated, from tyranny, to monarchy, to oligarchy, to constitutional republic. Writing the rationale for keeping people under control, and the subterfuge required to maintain this power, is difficult for me. I would rather write action scenes that move along quickly. The drawn-out strategies are more difficult for me to make interesting.
Secondly, letting the characters have their own voice and freedom to act is frustrating. Especially Glinda. She has her own mind, and she is going to do things her own way. I have argued with her a number of times, but it is next to impossible to convince a redhead once she has made up her mind. I have to write what the characters want, even if I know it is going to hurt them. Because the story needs to be told, I have to allow the characters to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
C.S. Lewis. He blends symbolism and the scientific method into all of his works. He was always an observer and a thinker. He puzzled out many mysteries that bothered him. He found truth and answers through the process of inquiry, testing, and analysis. His answers did not come from intuitive leaps, but rather from long study and experimentation. The attitude of learning and sharing the knowledge is present in all of his books—from Narnia, to the Space Trilogy, to his non-fiction works, such as Mere Christianity.
I hope to be a writer that can learn and share my journey with my readers. I hope that, like C.S. Lewis, my works have a timeless quality that transcends this current generation. I would like to be read one hundred years from now.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No. The Land of Oz is not currently accessible.
Who designed the covers?
I did all of the cover design. The original designs were made in Illustrator, which has a steep learning curve. Recently I redesigned the cover, which was done in Photoshop.
I had help from a member of the family who worked as a graphic designer. She offered very constructive criticisms and helped me to see little things that I missed in my layouts.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was letting the first draft go out for reader criticism. I worried that people would steal my work and I would lose everything. I also worried that nobody would like it. Some readers liked it. Some did not. But I found that the most critical review was also the most helpful. It made my subsequent drafts much stronger.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The confidence it takes to start and finish a manuscript is life-changing. Starting is easy. Finishing is hard. When I held my first book in my hand, just delivered from the printer, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before. What was once an idea became physical, and I could hold it in my hands. I had proof that I accomplished something. The boost of confidence changed my life.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
There are stories that only you can tell. Your voice is important to the world. However, the world does not owe you a living. Work to find the best way to make your voice heard. In working, you will experience and learn things that you could not learn any other way. Your story deepens and enriches your life, and the stories you tell become more powerful for your experiences. Live and write.
Follow your dreams. Let them guide you like stars in the unknown night. Be true to yourself. Also, recognize the point at which you can be satisfied. If you can follow your dreams and find satisfaction in the work, you will be happy.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
There is much more to come with The Hidden History of Oz. All of the stories contribute to the greater stories of Glinda’s life and the Land of Oz. All of them are good for more than one reading.