Author Interview: C B Lee

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hello there! I’m C.B., a bisexual woman who grew up on the California coast. I work with inner-city youth at a environmental education nonprofit, and teach by day and write by night (although the hours aren’t very specific at that.)  I’m a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese American and value my mixed cultural heritage, especially the little immigrant neighborhood I grew up in. I love writing and reading stories of all kinds and hope to contribute many to come, especially about characters whose backgrounds are like my own, characters who I never got to read about when I was a teenager.

Now tell us a bit about Seven Tears at High Tide.

Seven Tears at High Tide front coverSeven Tears at High Tide is my first novel, set in a sleepy seaside town in central California, all about falling in love and having to overcome difficult choices foisted upon you by others. There’s a lot of inspiration for the setting from my travels and places I’ve lived, and I hoped to really transport the reader into a magical, dreamy setting. And I also love and adore all pinnipeds, especially seals, so it was so much fun getting to write about them.

It’s also my take on selkie lore, particularly on subverting the trope that follows a lot of the mythology, where a selkie comes ashore and their pelt— and subsequently their freedom— is taken away from them when a human steals it or discovers it. I wanted to write a story where the selkie— and the human both are presented with difficult choices in their relationship, and how they deal with these questions of agency.

What’s your favourite part of the book?

Oh, I have many favorites, but I am an absolute sucker for Magical Reveals, there’s just so much bundled into this trope that involves trust and building relationships and a character’s whole worldview changes. One of my favorite scenes is this twilight scene where Morgan takes Kevin to the beach and I’m rather partial to this bit:

The sky, caught in that nebulous time after sunset, still glows with the energy of the day, and the heavy velvet of night has yet to fall upon them. A few stars gleam through the purple twilight, as if they were too impatient to wait until dark to shine.

There’s a really pivotal moment that I’m laying out the scene for here, and I’m quite happy with the imagery and the transitioning themes and the anticipation for what is a huge turning point in the novel.

How did you get into writing?

I write because I love stories. It’s when I feel most alive, crafting something out of just emotion and idle thoughts and turning it into something another person can experience— it’s a kind of magic, I think.  The whole process of telling stories is a such vital part of the human experience, just part of our culture that makes us who we are. How we perceive our lives, what happens to us, our emotions— it’s all tied up in stories. The stories we tell each other, about our hopes and dreams, allowing people from all walks of life to see different perspective and to experience so many things. I love writing for many of the same reasons I love reading— not just for the escape factor.

I started very young— I remember writing stories was always my favorite part of school, and definitely remember crayon-scratching too many pages of the adventures of the people in the drawing when it was supposed to be a “brief” description of who they were. In middle school I carried around a notebook that had two ongoing high-fantasy-esque stories, one that started in the front of the book, and one in the back. If I got stuck on one I’d flip to the back and start writing for the other one. I never made it to the middle because I kept adding things and crossing things out; the whole thing was written in pencil. I still have that book, it’s all smudged with graphite and nearly illegible but I like to flip through it every now and then and try to make my twelve-year-old self proud. 

What’s your writing process?

I’m kind of all over the place. I both love outlining and hate it; I’ll start with a basic plot structure and idea and then pretty much fly by the seat of my pants for the rest of it, filling out the details as I go. I tend to write scene by scene, occasionally bouncing ahead if I have a particular scene I want to get to, but mostly I write in chronological order and let the story unfold as I write. 

A huge challenge for me is keeping in task when I’m motivated; it varies so much, I’ve gone from utterly wrapped in a scene and writing eight thousand words in a day, to struggling with eight words on an entirely different day. I try my best to stay focused by taking short breaks, timing myself for short bouts of productivity, and moving around to get perspective.

Something I enjoy is writing by hand in places that inspire me. For Seven Tears, I took a journal to the beach and jotted down ideas when I was in San Simeon, where the novel is placed. I live on the California coast, so a lot of beaches and coastside trails factored into my wandering-and-writing habit. 

Are there any authors who have particularly inspired you?

Diane Duane, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman most definitely, for their intricate worlds of magic and worldbuilding and just storytelling in general. Lawrence Yep and Amy Tan were also a huge influence on me for being one of the few voices in literature when I was a child to create amazing characters and stories I could identify with.

Has anything surprised you since getting published?

I think I was pleasantly surprised by how closely knit my publishing house was; it’s a small independent publisher, so all the authors and editors and artists and everyone involved was very open about how things worked and introducing authors to each other, and people were very open about helping others who were new to the experience. I’m still very happy about this, how amazing all the support has been from start to finish. I think this isn’t exclusive to my publishing house; I’ve met so many authors from indie houses and the vibe is just so friendly and welcoming. It’s been great getting to know other people and other authors and the community of just wanting your peers to succeed is wonderful.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write novels?

Don’t give up. I think it’s a very difficult endeavor, and so much of it is a cycle of working incredibly hard on a manuscript and hoping that someone out there will like it. You’ll face rejections, plenty of them, and it’s definitely hard on your confidence as a writer and a person, but I have such a high value on stories. Write them, write the stories you want to read, ones you want to share. 

There’s a quote from Erin Bow that is about writing, but I think it applies to life, so, so much.

“No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.”

I think this quote is so reassuring, about how no efforts are wasted, and in writing there’s often a lot of work that goes unseen, unrecognized, drafts that are torn apart and put back together, chapters thrown out, paragraphs rewritten. It’s so easy to get disheartened when you write, but everything you do, it’s part of the learning process and just adds to your overall skill and ability as a writer.

I love the quote and think on it a lot as not just for writing, but for life efforts, in the experiences that you have and it’s easy to look back and think that something might have been a waste of time, but it contributed to who you are and where you are now, and that’s important. 

For anyone who wants to write a novel— don’t give up. Write it in pieces between your work shifts and half-remembered dreams, write it when you can, between your commitments to that job that pays the bills and your family. It’s a hard road, but it’s worth it. 

If you could sit down for a chat with any author, living or dead, who would it be?

I very deeply admire the late Terry Pratchett, and would love to talk with him and really learn more about his amazing worldbuilding and extensive magic systems. I love his sense of humor and how well crafted all of his novels are; he was such a huge influence on me and I think it would be amazing to get the opportunity to get to know him.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a young adult scifi adventure series in a post-dystopia world. Not Your Sidekick is the first novel in that series and follows Jess, a high school girl who comes from a family of superheroes— except she’s nonpowered, and really just wants to prove herself. She ends up getting an internship, working with her crush, Abby at a mysterious corporation which turns out to be run by the town’s supervillain, and these two girls uncover this huge plot that’s more than just heroes versus villains. And they also fall in love. Not Your Sidekick will be out September 8 of this year, and I’m really excited about it. I’m working on the second and third of the series at the moment.

If you want to know more about C B Lee and her writing, check out her website, or take a look at her book on Amazon.


In fiction, whether film, TV show, book, or something else, there is a spectrum of predictability. At one end, you get complete predictability. At the other end, you get complete randomness. Neither is particularly good.

Sometimes you can read a story and see exactly how it’s going to unfold. While that occasionally can work out (if you’re reading a romance, you can be reasonably confident the couple will get a happy ever after at the end) often it can be boring for readers (or viewers, etc.). If you’re reading a book that’s thoroughly predictable, there’s no incentive to turn the page.

On the other hand, a work of fiction that makes a point to be completely unpredictable is frustrating. Every plot twist comes out of nowhere. Every act that saves the day is a deus ex machina. The shocking plot twist defies reason. The reader is left thinking, “but that made absolutely no sense,” about the plot which twists and turns so much that it’s tied itself in knots.

Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, where understanding falls right before or right after the reveal.

For right before, this is the sort of story where you’re picking up on clues and building up on ideas and your thought process goes along the lines of, “I wonder why that thing happened? Maybe it could be because of this. Oh look, there’s another clue that fits. I think this is the reason. Yes! I was right.” You start working things out and there’s a big sense of satisfaction when you’re proved right.

Alternatively, you get the just after approach. This is what most murder mystery stories are aiming for. Once the detective reveals the murderer and explains why, all of the pieces slot into place. Everything makes perfect sense in retrospect and you suddenly see the clues you missed earlier.

As a writer, it’s extremely difficult to pull this off perfectly. You run the risk of having some plot twists too obvious and other ones that seem confusing. You also can’t be sure how well your readers (viewers, etc.) will pick up on the clues. One reader will pick up on every tiny clue and decide your book is predictable, while another will not spot a few major ones and be caught completely off-guard. It’s a delicate balance.

But my point is that it’s better to aim for that middle point. Don’t be unpredictable just for the sake of being unpredictable. But also pay attention to whether you’ve got enough mystery to keep enough of your readers guessing and wanting to turn the page and find out the answer.

Review: Descended from Dragons

Descended from Dragons coverDescended from Dragons by Tricia Owens is an urban fantasy adventure set in the mystical underworld of Las Vegas. Anne Moody runs a pawn shop that deals with both the magical and the mundane, buying items from desperate tourists who’ve run up gambling debts, and from those of a more mysterious persuasion. When Anne buys a gargoyle from the flirtatious Christian, she doesn’t expect it to set her on an adventure that could cost her life, or potentially destroy all of Las Vegas. The gargoyle, it turns out, is another magical being but one infected with a demon. Anne must find a way to get rid of the demon, and she must do it without losing control of her dragon heritage or bringing down the wrath of the mysterious Oddsmakers who rule the city.

I wasn’t sure about this book on the first few pages but it quickly won me over. It’s a light-hearted story, despite the sometimes dark subject matter, that’s told in a humorous style that should appeal to fans of The Dresden Files or Rivers of London.

Owens creates a world where the magic exists alongside normal life, with incubuses working in strip clubs and shape-shifters selling wares from food vans. I was left with a lot of questions about this magical world, particularly about the Oddsmakers who are mentioned several times as a vaguely threatening power who rule over Las Vegas. I was also left with questions about Anne’s heritage, her family, and her magic. I’m hoping, since Descended from Dragons in the first in a series, that Owens will return to these questions in later books.

The characters are interesting and fun, though I did feel the romance bloomed a little too quickly and on nothing more than physical appearance, but that’s hardly and uncommon occurrence in fantasy novels.

On the whole, Descended from Dragons is an entertaining read if you want something fun and easy, and enjoy slightly humorous fantasy adventures. Four stars.

I received a copy of Descended from Dragons by Tricia Owens in exchange for a review.

Author Interview: Paul Stephenson

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

Hi Jess, thanks for having me over. I’m Paul, I’m a writer of horror, sci-fi and music related books and internet things. I’m in my thirties, and I live in Yorkshire with my wife, two children and slightly batty puppy. Oh, and my Spotify account, which I kind of feel as strongly about as I do my children.

Now please share a little bit about your new book.

Blood on the Motorway front coverBlood on the Motorway is an apocalyptic horror set in the north of England. It’s set after a series of mysterious storms decimate the population, and its about how the survivors try to deal with things like running out of bread and serial killers. It’s a bit of a dark comedy, but there’s also a crime novel lurking in there somewhere, as well as some dollops of sci-fi. That probably makes it sound like a bit of a mess but it isn’t. I heard someone describe it as ‘a mystery wrapped in an apocalypse’ which I liked.

You’ve got another couple of books coming up later this year. Are they related to Blood on the Motorway?

Blood on the Motorway is a trilogy, and books two and three should be available this year, all going well. There’s also Welcome to Discovery Park, which is a non-fiction story about my attempts to listen to all 500 albums on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list, which is hopefully both a cutting look at music journalism in general, but also quite funny.

You describe yourself as a punk publisher. Where did this term come from?

Music and writing have always been twin passions. I’ve always been involved in the music world, either as a musician, an event organiser or as a writer, and when I found out about self-publishing it just really clicked with the punk ethos that I’ve always held dear. The idea of doing it yourself, building your own fanbase, and not letting other people compromise the art that you want to put out in the world was very appealing to me. As I got deeper into the ‘indie author’ community I found that there’s a weird identity crisis at the heart of it, which I think stems from a slight sense of inferiority that comes from the way it began, that this publishing revolution is entirely beholden to a corporate behemoth, and the fact that trad publishing can be very dismissive of it. I thought by reclaiming it as Punk Publishing we could get over that stigma a little.

What was the most challenging thing about publishing Blood on the Motorway?

Going back to the DIY ethos, if you’re doing everything yourself then you have to make sure it’s the best representation of what you can do. When it’s your first book, doubly so, because it has to be a statement you can be proud to stand by to all the people who have inevitably doubted you can do it over the years. So I think that process of revision, beta reading, editing, revision, it’s a hard thing to do, but ultimately I hope it was worth it.

Do you have a favourite moment in your books?

I’m a terrible one for getting really invested in my characters and then doing terrible things to them. In Blood on the Motorway there are a couple of moments that I really hope will make the reader put the book down and have to walk around the room a few times before they pick it back up again. Those are my favourite moments.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you?

I wouldn’t be the writer I am if I hadn’t read five authors: Stephen King, Hunter S Thomson, Douglas Coupland, Nick Hornby and J.K Rowling. All completely different writers, but those are the five whose books I go back to again and again.

If you could sit down for a chat with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Probably Hunter, because he was just so out there in everything he did. Stylistically he was so influential to me, as a person he seemed kind of terrible, but if the worst came to it we could talk about music.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

I would say that whatever you do, go write a first draft. All the way through. Don’t get caught in the trap I did for a long time of endlessly rewriting three or four chapters to make them perfect. They can’t be, because you don’t really know what the book is until you’ve written the story from start to finish. And try to read a wide range of authors, genres and styles, then steal from the people you like, with impunity.

What are you working on at the moment?

The main task at the moment is to finish the second draft of the third Blood on the Motorway novel, then work on Welcome to Discovery Park. After that I’ve got a sci-fi that’s been bouncing around my head for nearly three years, begging to get out, which I can’t wait to get to. I’m teaming up with a nuclear astrophysicist and a biologist to research it, so that’s going to be a lot of fun. And I’ll be continuing my Musical Waffle on my blog.

To find out more about Paul Stephenson, check out his website at

Thinking up Titles

child of the hive coverFor me, coming up with the right title for a book can be one of the most frustrating parts of writing but that’s OK because it’s something you don’t have to do right away. When you first start writing a book, the ideas are still forming and the novel is still taking shape. Things may change later that mean your first idea for a title no longer fits. All my books start off with a working title, but that first attempt might no longer suit by the time I finish the book. For example, my first novel, Child of the Hive, started with the working title Run and Never Look Back, which I realised no longer suited the book as one of the protagonists (the one who was running) not only looked back but went back. I knew from about the fifth or six chapter of the first draft that the title would need to change, but I didn’t settle on the title it was published under until after I’d finished the third draft.

Shadows of Tomorrow had the working title of between yesterdays front coverReflected Memories until I did an exercise with a group of other writers where we were told nothing but the titles of everyone’s books and had to guess the genre and a few other details. Everyone in that group assumed my book was a memoir so I figured it was time to come up with a new title. This is actually a really good exercise to do when planning titles – find someone who knows nothing about your book and get them to try and guess the genre of a possible title. If they’re way off, it may be best to keep thinking.

Between Yesterdays started life as Path to Abomination, a title that was a mouthful to say and might be off-putting to some readers. I knew it had to change. Besides, the new title brings it into line with Shadows of Tomorrow and makes it easier to tell they’re part of a series.

Traitor in the Tower front coverThe only book that was published under the same title it started with is Traitor in the Tower. I loved the alliteration of that one and it stayed relevant to the plot of the book from first draft to published version, so that got to stay.

I think a lot of people fret about finding the perfect title. I don’t want to deny the importance of a good title, but I want to reassure you that you don’t have to get it right instantly. It doesn’t matter if it takes you ages to find the right title or if it happens right away. It doesn’t matter if you change the title a hundred times. The title can be the last thing you settle on for your book. You can even send a book out on submission under one title and, if it keeps getting rejected, consider then that maybe a change of title would help.

Diverse book giveaway

Over on Tumblr, I’m running a series of giveaways through 2016. Every month, I’m picking a different book that showcases some form of diversity (or preferably multiple forms of diversity) and giving it away to a lucky winner.

So far, I’ve given away:

  • January – Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
  • February – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  • March – Adaptation by Malinda Lo
  • April – Planetfall by Emma Newman

May’s giveaway book is The Way Out Is Through by E M Holloway.

Part fantasy adventure, part detective story, The Way Out Is Through follows Puck Schneider as he helps the mysterious Conner Henley figure out what happened to his murdered sister. Puck get caught in a world of werewolves, hunters and magic, and has to deal with the trauma of all he finds.

Diversity showcased: representation of PTSD, gay and lesbian characters, trans character, Hispanic characters.

If you have a Tumblr account, head over to the giveaway post for a chance to win this great book.

I have some great books lined up for future months, but I’m still taking suggestions for diverse books to include in this project.

Author Interview: Corinne Duyvis

Please share a little bit about your books.

On the Edge of Gone coverRight now, I have two books out. My first book, Otherbound, came out in 2014. It’s a young adult fantasy novel which is about a boy from our world who witnesses the life of a mute servant girl from another world every single time he blinks. She has no idea—until they learn to communicate, and they have to work together to discover what binds them together.

My second book, On the Edge of Gone, came out in March 2016. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about an apocalypse-in-progress: a guarded, autistic girl tries to keep her family together in the immediate aftermath of a devastating comet impact.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Ohh, choosing favorites! That’s always hard. I think I’d have to choose Cilla from Otherbound, as I found her an unusual and intriguing character to write—that balance between sweet and haughty, well-intentioned but clueless, made her very appealing to me.

From On the Edge of Gone, it’s Denise herself. I just related to her a lot—which probably isn’t surprising, since a large part of the reason I wrote her was because there were so few autistic characters for me to relate to!

Could you explain a little bit about the Disability in Kidlit program?

Disability in Kidlit is a website I co-founded alongside author Kody Keplinger in 2013; it was originally intended as a sort of temporary blog fest but turned into an actual resource. We post reviews of the portrayal of disability in MG/YA novels, write articles about tropes and stereotypes, and discuss representation from various angles. All of our contributors identify as disabled themselves. I’m so very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. A lot of people have expressed gratitude and stated how helpful the website is to them, which means the world to me.

Your books are great examples of diverse fiction. Could you tell us why you feel so strongly about diversity in fiction?

Once I started seeing (a) the extreme imbalances in both the real world and inOtherbound cover fiction and (b) the results in society, I found it impossible not to care strongly about this topic. After all, these imbalances didn’t appear out of nothing. They’re a result of an unjust system, which doesn’t go away by simply waiting, hoping, or asking. I don’t want to support that system.

My thinking is: If I’m a writer, I have to make a choice—whether conscious or unconscious—about who it is I write about, and how I do so. Will I perpetuate the problems and imbalances, or will I try to do my part in combating them?

That doesn’t mean I should arrogantly try to “fix” everything myself and tell stories that aren’t mine. It means is that I try to be aware of my choices, and make those choices conscious ones. Sometimes, the best choice is to step away from a certain character and story, as I’m not the right person to write it.

Instead, I should listen to those who are the right person to write these stories, and do what I can to help their voices be heard.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

I think the ups and downs and backs and forths. It’s not like you’re just taking a step forward. Instead, one part of your life shifts, and the rest doesn’t necessarily shift with it.

So on one hand, your life is completely different: you’re put into different situations, you worry about different issues, and you have different concerns to keep in mind. Being published is such an entirely new set of experiences.

At the same time, nothing much has really changed. You’re still thinking up stories, you still have to do groceries and scoop out the litterbox, you still geek out with friends and eagerly anticipate the next book in someone else’s series.

Sometimes, you’ll pause during the cool parts of being published and realize, wow, when did this start feeling so normal? Or you pause during the regular everyday things and think, wow, I’m actually balancing this average life with signings and book deals and interviews?

It’s a constant seesaw. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to incorporate and balance it all.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

As corny as it sounds: just keep going.

I must’ve written over ten books by now, and I still find myself constantly procrastinating, constantly doubting myself, constantly comparing myself, constantly getting distracted. Life throws so much your way that can distract you from writing, whether it’s obligations or brain chemistry or rejections from literary agents or more.

But if you just keep going, you can’t go wrong. You’re always learning and developing as an author, and the more you write, the more material you have to work with. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t use preparation as a means of procrastinating. Don’t linger on the rejections. Don’t spend years on the same project if you aren’t making actual progress on that project.

Just keep going.

If you want to find out more about Corinne Duyvis and her books, check out her website at or you can connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find her books on Amazon and I have reviewed On the Edge of Gone here.

Review: On the Edge of Gone

On the Edge of Gone coverOn the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis is a brilliant book. The only downside to this book is that you will need to bring your tissues because it’s emotional and heart-breaking and poignantly written.

The story is set during a global catastrophe. A comet is about to crash into the Earth, devastating the world and doing massive damage that will last for years to come. Society has been preparing for the comet, with permanent shelters for some people, and generation ships to take others off-planet, but there aren’t nearly enough resources for everyone. Most of the population will just have to survive as best they can with temporary shelters and then hope they have homes to go back to after the impact. Thanks to a chance meeting, Denise and her mother end up on board a generation ship that hasn’t launched yet, but they won’t be allowed to stay. Denise is determined to find a way to earn a place on the ship, but those in charge look down on her drug-addict mother, and in the meantime her sister is missing. Outside the ship, people are fighting for survival and Denise doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

The emotional impact comes again and again, as Denise deals faces the difficult decisions and challenges of trying to save a few people she cares about when so many others are suffering. Survival for some is going to be at the cost of others, and the author makes you feel every minute of it.

This book also does amazingly well from a diversity standpoint. Denise is a mixed-race, autistic girl and, as the book is written by an autistic author, her portrayal feels genuine and not remotely stereotyped. The book also contains: characters of a range of races and religions; a trans character; other LGBT characters; disabled characters; a character with Downs syndrome; and so on. Some of these are major characters, others are in the background, a few are just mentioned in passing, but it all adds up to a world in the story that feels like it represents the true diversity of the world around us. This adds to the emotional impact of the story because it feels like this disaster really is affecting everyone.

Five stars. Highly recommended.

Breaking the Rules

jsamnI was thinking about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. This is an interesting book with two protagonists – the two title characters. In some ways, it might be possible to argue that Jonathan Strange is the protagonist and Mr Norrell is an antagonist (the fact that their names are given in this order and that Jonathan gets his first name included might be a point in favour of this). So it’s very strange (pun intended) that Jonathan Strange doesn’t show up until a good way through the book. He’s occasionally mentioned in the narrative in a way that almost feels like the author is reassuring the reader than he will show up eventually.

I was once given a piece of advice as a writer that the book should start with the protagonist. Authors need to introduce the main players of the narrative as soon as possible – certainly within the first chapter or two, preferably within the first page.

Yet Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell flies in the face of this rule. The book doesn’t even start with Mr Norrell but with another group of characters, a lot of whom vanish after the first chapters are over and aren’t seen again until the very end of the book. gg

Another rule I’ve been taught is that your main characters should be likable, or at the very least sympathetic. Yet the book Gone Girl has main characters who are utterly horrible people. The narrator character in A Clockwork Orange is a murdering rapist who is thoroughly detestable. Both books are interesting reads, have done extremely well for themselves, and had successful movie adaptations.

And I think this teaches a very interesting lesson on the subject of supposed rules for good writing: for every rule you can think of, there will be a very good book that breaks it.

gbThere are rules about style that say you should avoid adverbs as much as humanly possible and that in dialogue you should use the word ‘said’ instead of a replacement, and above all you shouldn’t use adverbs in conjunction with speech tags. Despite this, when I picked up the closest book to hand (The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi) I found on page 5 (the narrative only started on page 3) the following example: “Quake?” Sharan suggested, somewhat hopefully.

There are rules that say you should never start a book with a prologue – yet look at George R R Martin. You shouldn’t have more characters than your readers can easily keep track of – still looking at you, George. You certainly shouldn’t kill off your protagonist! I’m starting to think George is doing this on purpose.

And that’s the point. For any rule you can think of that someone has stated about how to write a successful novel, you will be probably be able to think of a successful novel that breaks it. But they tend to be the exception. It’s easy to look at all these examples and think, “If they can break these supposed rules, then so can I,” but I would add a note of caution. If you’re going to fly in the face of standard advice, do so carefully. Do so with awareness that that’s what you’re doing. These rules usually exist for a good reason. While it’s possible to write an excellent book that breaks these or any other rules, you’re making your life more difficult. If breaking rule makes your book more interesting or different, that can be a great thing, but you will have to put in the effort to make it that way.

I once did a talk about the rules of fiction writing and I started with a screenshot from Pirates of the Caribbean and that line about how they’re more like guidelines than actual rules. So take any supposed rule of writing anyone tries to teach you with a pinch of salt (overuse of cliches is probably on a list of things to avoid too) but be careful that you don’t go trampling all over these rules without thinking about what this means for the story you intend to write. Breaking any rule about writing should be done as a deliberate act because it will lead to a better book, not something done out of ignorance of the standard advice and literary conventions.

Author Interview: Danielle L Jensen

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

I live with my family in Calgary, Canada, and I spend most of my time chasing after my toddler and writing about fantastical things.

Now please share a little bit about your books.

Stolen Songbird front coverThe trilogy is about a young soprano named Cécile who is about to depart her family farm to join her mother on the opera stage in the big city. But before she can leave, trolls kidnap her and bond her to their crown prince, Tristan, in order to break the curse that has bound them to their underground kingdom for five centuries.

Except it doesn’t work.

Cécile is initially focused on escape, but she finds herself embroiled in the burgeoning revolution of the oppressed lower class of half-bloods who desire to overthrow their tyrannical king. A revolution that is lead by Prince Tristan himself. As she becomes more sympathetic to the trolls, and falls in love with Tristan, she has to decide whether freeing her friends is worth the risk of unleashing the trolls’ magic on the world. And she must live with the consequences of whatever path she chooses.

You were a finalist for the Best Debut Author with Stolen Songbird on Goodreads Choice. What was that like?

Incredible! Unlike most other awards, the Goodreads Choice nominations are based on reader response and reviews, and to have so many people love STOLEN SONGBIRD enough to vote it into the finals was not something I’d dreamed possible.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

This surprises people, but my favourite character in the series is King Thibault. I’ve always known that he’s a troll with enormous depth, but much of that isn’t revealed until WARRIOR WITCH, which was one aspects of writing that novel that I enjoyed the most. He’s a hidden and guarded character, but his actions drive so much of the plot.

Music is obviously important for the character Cecile. Is music an important part of your life?

Not at all! I can’t sing, play an instrument, or even read music. I very rarely draw upon aspects of my own personality or life when I create my characters, and Cecile, in particular, is nothing like me.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

Probably the amount of time I’d spend on things that aren’t writing. Interviews, guest posts, read-alongs, events, social media, and giveaways take up a large portion of my workday, which wasn’t something I expected prior to publication.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you?

I am blown away by Maggie Stiefvater’s prose – her writing is beautiful, and I aspire to be half that good some day. I admire the way Sarah J Maas creates such exceptional worlds that absolutely captivate her readers. I am continually in awe of Susan Dennard’s ability to find creative ways to engage with her readers, as well as the incredible amount of effort she puts towards helping aspiring writers with all the information on her website. My close friend Elise Kova, besides being an amazing writer, is a master of the business side of publishing, and she has inspired me to take more active control of certain aspects of my career.

If you could sit down for a chat with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?

J.K. Rowling. Not so much because of Harry Potter, although I’m a huge fan, but because she’s created such an enormous and successful empire. I would love to pick her brain.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?Warrior Witch by Danielle L Jensen

Seek out criticism of your work and learn to embrace it. The big turning point in my writing career was when I stopped letting my pride get in the way of accepting and working with critiques. And check out Susan Dennard’s website – it has far better advice than I will ever give.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have other fantasy projects in the works, but they are not quite at the stage where I can talk about them, other than to say they exist 🙂

If you want to find out more about Danielle L Jensen and her books, check out her website at, or you can connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Her latest book, Warrior Witch, is now available on Amazon.