Now on Kindle: Volume 1 of Daley Downing’s Fantasy Series

Just popping in for a quick update! About a month ago I profiled author Daley Downing in my Indie Author Spotlight. If you’ll remember, she mentioned that her fantasy/speculative fiction series was only available in paperback. Well, she has released a Kindle version of Order of the Twelve Tribes, Volume 1: Masters and Beginners for only $0.99! I picked up my copy today (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the Mother’s Day gift card for Amazon…I’ve bought a bunch of books, surprise surprise!). What are you waiting for???

Indie Author Spotlight: Fiona West ~ Sweet Romance

Indie Author SpotlightWelcome to week five, and our second month!, of Indie Author Spotlight by The Edifying Word. Today I’m talking to Fiona West, author of sweet fantasy romance and sweet contemporary romance. I wasn’t familiar with term “sweet romance” before reading Fiona’s work, and I took it basically to mean “feel-good love story.” I guess that gets at the base of the genre, but with so much more depth. If Fiona’s books are representative of the genre, then I need to read more of it!  

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“With every book I write, I endeavor to help you think harder, laugh louder and love better. If I can do those three things, then that’s success for me.” – Fiona West

After reading just one of Fiona West’s books (I devoured The Ex-Princess last week!), I’d say she’s succeeded according to her own definition. The book is SO great. I expected a light-hearted, feel-good read. I definitely got the feel-good, happily-ever-after (HEA) promised in the romance genre, but wasn’t as light of a read as I thought it would be. The characters are REAL. Their royalty doesn’t exempt them from real life, real issues, and real emotions. The book covers living with unseen illness and society’s condemnation of such, gender equality, and even human trafficking, all while showing real, healthy love. Swoon. I’m in love, and I’ll be reading the rest of the series. I was so excited, then, to talk to Fiona more about her writing. 

Thanks for being willing to answer my questions, even in the midst of moving (!!!). Today I’m going to switch things up and ask my usually-last question first: what do you want readers to know about you?

With every book I write, I endeavor to help you think harder, laugh louder and love better. If I can do those three things, then that’s success for me. That means you’ll see some things in my books that are unusual: neurodiverse characters who’ve got dyslexia or autism, characters with Down Syndrome, characters with a chronic illness. Since I have a chronic illness that’s largely invisible, it’s near and dear to my heart that we consider what life is like for people who aren’t like us. And how we can make life better for the people around us, how we can better understand what they’re going through. That’s what it means to be a community, and books have the power to show us that first-hand. I take that responsibility very seriously.

I think that answer just about sums up why I loved The Ex-Princess so much; really, it sums up why I read in general, and why certain books resonate with me while others don’t. I’m looking for that human connection, that reflection of reality in a positive and constructive way. So, since I’ve gushed about The Ex-Princess and promised to read the rest of your books, can you tell everyone what those are, and maybe something about your upcoming projects?

The Ex-Princess is the first book in the Borderline Chronicles Series, which also includes The Un-Queen, The Almost-Widow (free as an ebook on my website!), The Jinxed Journalist, and The Semi-Royal. I’m working on a second series, the Timber Falls Series; the first of those is called Could Be Something Good and will be out at the end of May. For now you can pre-order it or find a copy on NetGalley.

I always have a few projects going at once, because that’s one way I stay productive: if one manuscript just isn’t coming together, sometimes I’ll leave it for a bit and work on something else. Some people are mood readers? I’m a mood writer. Lately, when I sit down to write angsty, I write Magicology, which started out as a short story and has now morphed into a novella. It’s two villains falling in love in the Borderline Chronicles universe, and it’ll be included in the box set that’s coming out later this year. When I sit down to write sweet, I’m working on book three in the Timber Falls series, which is a second-chance romance about a geriatric care nurse and her employer, whose mother has Alzheimer’s. It’s been a real challenge to keep that book funny, but I really want to show that there’s still joy and love and humor, even at the end of life. But it’s definitely going to make me cry. And I keep coming up with new short stories in both universes, which my newsletter subscribers get to enjoy. Not too many of those lately, but more to come!

Well, mental note to sign up for your newsletter! Since you describe yourself as a “mood writer,” which I totally get because I’m definitely a mood reader, does that mean you are a “pantser,” and write where the mood takes you?

I’m actually both a plotter and a pantser: I’m what’s known as a “plotster,” because I do plan out the story to some extent, but it’s very loose and my characters often just giggle and say, “I don’t think so.” There’s a scene in The Ex-Princess where Edward decides to go on without Abbie, and I did not see it coming whatsoever. That’s kind of fun, in a way, when your characters are fleshed out, but not so neatly drawn that they can’t still surprise you. When I start writing, it’s usually a scene in the middle that I just can’t get out of my head, then I go back and try to figure out how they got there. But it always starts with the characters more than the plot. What are their flaws? What makes them tick? What would they do for love? Compelling characters cover a multitude of plot sins.

What would they do for love? It’s an interesting question! Have you always written romance? 

No. I started writing at age nine. It was a poem about shooting stars. I think I still have it somewhere, actually. My parents both always encouraged me to be creative with stories, and I wrote a terrible dystopian romance called Rebellion Against the System when I was in eighth grade. Then in high school, I wrote a one-act play about a delivery man who longs to be a detective–that also had a romance in it, come to think of it. So I’ve tried a lot of different genres, and it sounds silly, but I didn’t realize I was writing romance until my husband pointed it out. I had to wrestle with that for a while, because I didn’t see myself as “that kind of writer.” I worried about what my friends and family would think…my stuff is very tame, comparatively to most of the rest of the genre, but still. There’s still a stigma about romance, I think. Finally, I did accept that love stories brought me joy and gave me hope, and that if being “that kind of writer” meant I could spread “happily ever after’s” around, I’m cool with that.

That’s so interesting, because I worry sometimes about being “that kind of reader.” I agree romance gets a bad rap and it’s hard sometimes to find good ones. I had a good friend and avid reader of quality literature ask me recently if I had any “good” romances to recommend and I was a little unsure of what to tell her, but I’m gonna tell her about you now! 

I love what you said about being worried about being “that kind of reader!” It’s SO TRUE! We don’t want to offend, right? What’s too steamy for you might be fine for me, so it does make recommendations tough. That’s why I think it’s cool that sweet romance as a genre is gaining traction, because it’s easier to say, “Yes! I loved this and I bet you won’t be offended by it!” Yet even though my books are pretty clean, some readers still objected to the made-up swear words and the kissing scenes between my characters as being too sensual. Like I always say, “You’re not tacos; you can’t please everyone.” But I hope my books appeal to people who want a feel-good book about love and relationships without sex scenes.

So – here’s the perennial question: how on earth do you manage to fit writing such excellent books into normal life?

I have two kids, a seven-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. I have an amazing, supportive partner as well, and we’ve been married for fifteen years. When they were really small, I’d write during naptime…which could be anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. So the incentive was there to really sit down and focus. Even now, I try to mostly write at night when the kids are in bed and Mr. West is off doing his own thing. But let’s face it, I’m never not interruptible. So I just take the time where I can get it. Sometimes I write with a kid on my lap. When I’m writing, my phone is on silent, my music is on repeat, and I turn on Forest so I can’t get on the internet or I would just cruise Twitter until my eyes bleed. I snatch little bits of time where I can, but it helps that my whole family thinks what I do is amazing. I’ve started using a program called 4thewords, which is this incredibly inventive game where you get points and fight monsters by writing a certain number of words or writing for a certain amount of time. And the kids think this is just fantastic, and they like to help me pick out a monster to fight. (100 words in 20 minutes? I can do that.) Then they scoot off to play so they don’t distract me and make me “lose.” It is hilarious and strangely motivating, and it gets them to leave me alone.

I love that creativity, and that your family can all be a part of supporting your work. You’ve shared with us a lot of what you’re trying to accomplish or convey through your writing, but why write at all given that it takes such an effort to make the time? 

In college, on my first day of my first writing class, the professor stood up in front of the class. He was a stereotype right down to his argyle socks: the elbow patches, the thick glasses, the beard, and he’d been working on a nonfiction biography about Abraham Lincoln for a decade. But he said, “If you can do something else, you should. If you have to write, if you need it, then let’s go over the syllabus. But it’s too hard if you don’t have to do it.” And I felt that in my bones. That writing was as necessary as air to me. I tried not to; I was unhappy. So I guess I write because I’m made that way. Writing is one of my gifts.

I agree, you definitely have a gift for writing. But you also clearly put in an exceptional amount of effort. Do you read as a way to help you write? Do you have a favorite genre or favorite books?

Oh, man. That’s a tough one. I really do love romance of many different varieties. But lately, I’ve been reading more nonfiction for research: there were two medical memoirs that I used to make sure I was really nailing Daniel and Kyle in the Timber Falls series, since they’re both young doctors. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay and The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly by Matt McCarthy. Both were great reads. And I just finished a book called Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic by Michael McCreary, which was research for Kyle, but it was so heartwarming and funny and touching. I’m so inspired by real life, and I try to inject some “realness” into all of my books, no matter how embedded in fantasy they are. Watching documentaries almost always gives me plot fodder.

I’m impressed by that level of research, but then again that clearly contributes to making your characters so realistic and compelling. Last question for you today is what do you do for fun that’s not writing or reading? Assuming you have any time 🙂

I have been fairly obsessed with knitting ever since Mr. West’s grandma put knitting needles into my hands during the Oregon/Oregon State game back in 2002 and taught me how. I also like running 5K’s, because they’re just short enough that you know you won’t die before you get to the finish line and just long enough that you feel like you did something amazing. Which probably tells you a lot about how I train for 5K’s. But they’re often for a good cause, and since I have as many opinions as hairs on my head, there are a lot of great causes that I enjoy supporting however I can.

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Ok, now you’ve read this whole interview with Fiona West and you’re pumped to connect with her and buy her books! Excellent! So, I’ve conveniently provided links for you here. First is a list of her social media/internet presence, in order from most to least used, followed by direct links to purchase all of her books. Click away, my friends!

Social Media:

Books:

Interested in paperbacks 25% off regular price? Order through Fiona’s website here

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Would you like to be featured, too? Please contact me at kristin@theedifyingword.com!

Indie Author Spotlight: T. A. Hernandez

Indie Author SpotlightAnd we’re back for week four of Indie Author Spotlight by The Edifying Word, which is super exciting because when I hatched this idea I really had no idea whether anyone would take me up on it! I originally had ten, and the roster is growing so we’ll just keep on going. Today’s Spotlight is T. A. Hernandez, whose most recent release I reviewed here on the blog last year. She writes speculative fiction, which includes a whole host of things like fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, dystopian, and more. 

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TAHernandez.jpgI met T. A. Hernandez on Twitter (yup, you’re noticing a trend, aren’t you?) when I agreed to participate in her cover reveal for Calico Thunder Rides Again. I enjoy following her because her tweets are usually upbeat, I can identify with her as a mom, and I LOVE that she shares her writing-related artwork! Calico Thunder Rides Again is a fun read, and I’m looking forward to her next releases (more about that below). Check out her website for more info on all her books and some free stories! 

Please tell us about how you got started writing, and why you continue. 

I started writing when I was a kid, maybe ten or eleven years old. I was a voracious reader and just wanted to tell stories like the ones in the books I loved so much. I started to take it more seriously as a teenager and realized then that this writing thing was something I was really passionate about and wanted to pursue long-term. 

Still today, I write first and foremost because I love it. I love stories and it brings me a lot of joy to let my imagination run wild and record my stories for myself. But it’s also a lot of fun to share those stories with others, which is why I decided to go ahead and publish them. Writing is a big part of my self-care and mental/emotional well-being. I’ve always been a very creative person, and I have to be doing something with that creativity to feel like my life is fulfilling.

You make your own FABULOUS book covers – is art another of your creative outlets? 

I love art and have been drawing for even longer than I’ve been writing. I got into digital art about nine years ago and have really enjoyed doing that, as well as branching out into graphic design and other related things. The graphic design skills I’ve picked up have come in super handy as an indie author when it comes to things like making my own social media and promotional graphics as well as designing my own book covers. I also enjoy playing video games and take a lot of my writing inspiration from games. Some of my favorites are the Mass Effect series, The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Portal.

Can you tell us a little about your books? 

Right now I have four novels out. The first three belong to a new adult dystopian thriller trilogy called Secrets of PEACE, which follows a skilled but inexperienced young assassin named Zira who works for the authoritarian government. The other book, Calico Thunder Rides Again, is a fantasy novel set on a magical travelling circus in an alternate Prohibition-era America. The circus owner, Jake, finds himself indebted to some dangerous mobsters and has to find a way to repay them on a tight deadline.

What about your current work? I’m enjoying the artwork teasers!

I’m currently in the process of drafting the first book of a YA fantasy duology, which is told from the perspective of three main characters: Amar, Kesari, and Aleida. Amar is a man who seems to be immortal, but he doesn’t remember anything about his past and wants to figure out exactly what’s happening to him. Then there’s Kesari, a girl who traded part of her life for magical powers she now refuses to use. And finally, we have Aleida, a young refugee woman desperately trying to save her younger brother from a debilitating illness before it takes his life. When their paths intersect, they encounter new conflicts and are forced to face the darkest parts of themselves in order to get what they want. It’s a story that’s been floating around in my head for more than a decade, so I’m really excited to finally share it with readers.

You’ve said you write because you are passionate about it, which makes sense because it certainly doesn’t seem like you have loads of spare time for pursuing it. How do you fit it in? 

I have two kids, ages 6 and 9. I also work part-time as a therapist, and a year ago, I was a full-time graduate student doing a part-time internship and just trying to keep my head above water with all the responsibilities I had to juggle. So I’ve definitely had to learn to balance my time and fit writing in whenever I can. It’s not always easy, but as I said, writing is such an important part of my own mental health and self-care that I just have to make it work. Maybe that means I give up some of the time I’d spend watching TV or playing video games, or maybe it means I do a lot of my writing late at night when the kids are asleep. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a great housekeeper and have often put off whatever chores I could to write instead, but it makes me a happier, healthier person overall, and that helps me be a better mom, so I don’t feel too bad about it. My husband is also a huge support. Because he works full-time, I’ve been able to work part-time, and that leaves me with some time to write that I might not have otherwise. He’ll also take the kids out on his own sometimes so that I can just be alone at home and focus on my writing.

It’s so interesting to me to hear what authors read in their downtime so I’ve been asking everyone I feature here to share some favorites (which, honestly, is something I’d have a hard time doing). Do you have any favorites?

I love reading speculative fiction just as much as I love writing it, and I like to read across a variety of genres under that umbrella. Some of my favorite books are The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, the Tales of the Wendy series by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown, the Ziva Payvan series by EJ Fisch, and the His Dark Materials books by Phillip Pullman.

What do you hope to achieve as an author?

I have a lot of different author dreams, some of which I’ve already achieved (selling a short story to a publisher, self-publishing a novel, receiving a positive review from an author whose work I greatly admire) and some of which I’m still working on. My overall goal is to reach as many readers as possible with my stories and to just keep getting better as a writer. And I’d love to eventually make enough money from my books to supplement my existing income in a more substantial way.

Thank you so much for participating here. Is there anything you’d like to leave with readers? 

I like to think I’m a pretty easy person to talk to, and I love hearing from readers and fellow writers, so if you ever have any questions about me or my writing process or my books or even just books I’ve read, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I especially love hearing about readers’ reactions to my stories and characters. I also love to connect with and support other indie authors, so if you’re an indie author or if you have a favorite indie book you want to recommend, definitely let me know.

All right, friends! Please visit T. A. Hernandez at her website, or on social media, and maybe buy her books!

Website: www.tahernandez.com
Book links: https://books2read.com/ap/n9bBBK/T-A-Hernandez
Twitter: @ta_hernandez5
Instagram: @ta_hernandez5

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Would you like to be featured, too? Please contact me at kristin@theedifyingword.com!