Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

The Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring A.J. Vrana!

Welcome to the special Halloween edition of the Sunday Brunch Series!! I was so excited to see Halloween falling on a Sunday this year.  After an absolutely incredible month of GrimDarkTober interviews, it is coming to an end with an amazing feature… Presenting my first traditionally published author – dark fantasy & horror writer A.J. Vrana!!

I “met” A.J. on bookstagram after participating in a tour for her first book, The Hollow Gods, and at this point am honored to say I consider her a booksta friend!

Happy Halloween everyone, here she is!


🎃Welcome and thank you so much for coming onto the Halloween edition of the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I feel like my online bio is more eloquent than I am, but here it goes: My name is A. J. Vrana, and I’m the author of The Chaos Cycle Duology, which is comprised of The Hollow Gods and The Echoed Realm. They’re folklore-infused, contemporary dark fantasy with horror undertones and a romantic subplot. I also penned the short supernatural horror story, These Silent Walls, which is published in Three Crows Magazine. Outside of my literary life, I’m also a PhD candidate researching the supernatural in literature and its relationship to violence, and I have two magical rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. 

🎃That’s a fascinating topic for research! Especially in book one, the interest in violence, legends, and sociological/group aspects was evident. How did that research translate into or influence The Chaos Cycle?

🎤I actually think that it might be the other way around: my fiction influences my academic writing more than my academic writing influences my fiction. That said, they are mutually reinforcing, and I think that ultimately, they might just be part of the same project.

To be a little more specific, my research focuses on Japan and former-Yugoslavia, with my personal background being with the latter. I was always interested in the supernatural, and through my research, I’ve found that it functions as an excellent metaphor for trauma, violence, and all the horrible things that we maybe can’t do justice to through plain, clinical expression. Further to that, the relationship between truth and fact is something that I have always been intrigued by. I research a lot of folklore, and folklore has always been a way of approaching and understanding the world. It’s a system of knowledge, and it can be very useful! There is truth to it even when it is just a story, because often, those stories are produced from generations of lived experience.  

I also think a LOT of my own experiences are in the novels, but they’re all written in through metaphor and allegory. I really struggle with explicit #ownvoices stories because it feels like there is no barrier between the reader and the writer. It’s too vulnerable. However, using the supernatural to talk about communal violence is a productive way to explore themes in my own life. I’ve never been kidnapped by spirits or anything, but I do think there is a relationship between Miya’s existential ruminations, Kai’s alienation from society, and my diasporic experience. Also, having grown up being adjacent to civil war, there is something about the way Black Hollow functions that echoes that experience of mine as well. Violence against the outsider is such a common theme, but I wanted to give it the kind of intimacy that can really unsettle. And what could be more intimate and unsettling than having a folkloric creature invade your dreams and become the reason your whole community turns against you?

🎃I was sometimes a little confused during book one, and then book two was just incredible and I loved how you brought the legend to life via the history.  What do you think was the biggest growth factor for you as an author between the two books?

🎤There was about a five-year gap between the writing of the first draft of each book, so I definitely grew as a person and as an author, though I don’t think that’s what impacted the clarity of the story so much as it impacted the way I delivered my themes. When I wrote the first book, I was in a phase in my life where I was grappling with a lot of intellectual ambiguity, and so ambiguity became a huge theme that permeated the story. I actually intended the first book to be rather hazy, because one of the central points is that there are no simple truths and that we can’t always get clear cut answers to our bigger questions. Was the town’s violence the result of groupthink and repressed generational guilt, or was it due to the influence of a malevolent entity? The story doesn’t give you an answer; both possibilities are true and inseparable from one another. Likewise, the way we weave social narratives is diffuse and confusing; you can’t always locate the logical progression that led to a belief system or social truth. The fabric of real-world narratives is often incoherent and full of contradictions, and I wanted to capture some of that incoherence in the structure and narrative style of the book. That said, I was also far less confident when I wrote The Hollow Gods; I shied away from being direct about my themes, and when you are a new writer trying to get traditionally published, it can be difficult to feel assured in your approach. I also had no idea how to outline! To a large extent, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting as a result. 

However, The Echoed Realm was a very different process. It took me much longer to write the first draft, but it was such a strong first draft that the editorial process only took several months (THG’s editorial process took years, hence the five year gap!). I went into The Echoed Realm with a much firmer idea of what I wanted to do, and so I think the book is much more confident and direct about some of its themes. I feel like it also reflects my personality better; there is, I think, an intensity to The Echoed Realm that wasn’t present in The Hollow Gods, and that has a lot to do with me feeling like I have laid the groundwork to really be myself as a writer. This also reflects the characters’ growth between books; they are not the same people they were in The Hollow Gods. They’re not experiencing their world for the first time! I also did lean into commercial fiction a lot more for the second book, whereas the first book veers a bit towards the obscure. All that said, I think the success of The Echoed Realm largely hinges on the work The Hollow Gods did to establish a strong foundation. The first book does a lot of heavy lifting with world building, lore, and characterization so that the second book can really showcase what the duology had been building up to all along.  

🎃What do you think is the most important part of capturing a consistent atmosphere?

🎤This might sound weird, but I think the most important thing is to actually decide on what kind of atmosphere you want and to pay very close attention to word choice and language. Atmosphere (for me anyway) is a matter of focus. It’s kind of like maintaining a character’s voice throughout the book; you need be consistent not just with imagery and descriptions, but with the specific word choices that make up each image, because word choice can help evoke a particular tone or emotion. Atmosphere suffers when writers reach for the easiest or most obvious word. Readers don’t consciously pick up on word choice, but it does impact them because we all make subconscious associations without even realizing it. So, if I say, “Thunder rolled through the grey sky,” it sounds quite plain compared to, “The sky churned with a menacing rumble.” Both sentences are almost the same length, but the second one uses a stronger verb (one that evokes sickness or unease) and transforms something commonplace (thunder) into something with character (a menacing rumble). Ultimately, these are the things that make up atmosphere. 

🎃What makes a good morally gray character?

🎤I think this is a really interesting question, because in reality, we are all morally grey. No one has a rigid or unchanging moral compass; we are all reacting to our circumstances and trying to navigate the world in all its complexity. The world is morally grey at best (or completely bankrupt at worst), and so we are all inevitably morally grey. But, to answer your question, I think that good morally grey characters are the ones that invite us to reflect on the moral ambiguity in ourselves. Their reactions, attitudes, and choices have to make sense for their character regardless of our moral expectations, and even if we recognize that their actions are morally questionable, we an approach those reactions with a degree of compassion. 

So, for example, it’s not that Kai lacks a conscience or acts out of wanton malice. He is simply responding to his circumstances in the only ways to know how to, and that is all informed by his personal history and his position as a socially marginalized person. But I think most people who read the books don’t judge him to be a bad person, so that particular confluence of indictable behaviour and compassion help us produce a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others. Morally grey characters may do something that is morally reprehensible, but in context, that behaviour might seem reasonable, and that forces us to reckon with the expectations we have for moral behaviour. I also think this is why Mason is the character I personally find the most frustrating. He’s someone who fancies himself to be morally upright, but he behaves in ways that are subtly quite selfish, and ultimately, it’s his confrontation with Kai and Miya that brings all that to the fore.

🎃Is it hard to write your characters into those tough, destructive, near deadly scenes that Grimdark requires?  Are you a true lady of chaos or does it take an emotional toll?

🎤Full disclosure: when I first wrote The Echoed Realm, Kai lost an arm. My editor made me change it, though, and in hindsight, I’m happy he got to keep it. I think when I’m writing it, I’m not really impacted by these tough scenes, but sometimes I’ll come away, like, “Wow, that was kind of intense.” I wouldn’t say it takes an emotional toll, though. On the contrary, I think it can be quite cathartic and invigorating to write out a very intense scene in which all the characters’ emotions are running at eleven and a half. In some instances, the whole book is culminating to that moment, so it’s exciting to finally let shit hit the fan, you know? I guess that makes me a true lady of chaos…

🎃Seeing as it’s halloween! If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

🎤Oh gosh, I don’t remember the last time I dressed up—I’m so lazy! As a kid, though, my two favourite costumes were a witch and a ninja. I don’t have any photos from that era, but I have this monstrosity

Screenshot_20211031-120717

🎃How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

🎤I adore brunch, and it’s one thing Canada sucks at. When my partner took me to his hometown in the US, I nearly died eating biscuits and gravy every day. That said, I do love just a basic brunch of fried eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. If I can get a single banana pancake on the side, then we’re golden.

🎃Ama – I am just dying for any tidbit that hints at Ama’s story. I think I missed who she was in the original story.  Can you tell us anything extra about her??

🎤I actually have a whole book planned for Ama! Her backstory is still definitely a mystery. All you really know is that she’s been with Gavran for a long time and that he more or less raised her. She’s obviously very dedicated to anything Gavran cares about, and she is strongly attached to Miya both because of Gavran but also because she genuinely cares for her. Regarding the first book, **spoiler here** Ama is the wolf that Miya originally sees as a child, and this encounter becomes the thing Miya latches on to and hopes for throughout her youth and into had adulthood. Of course, the next time she encounters a wolf, it’s not Ama, but Kai. 

What I can tell you is that Ama’s becoming a wolf is not quite the same as Kai’s, though there are similarities too. Neither of them are werewolves in the contemporary sense; their condition follows the wonky rules of folklore rather than what we get in genres like urban fantasy. In Kai’s case, it’s “spiritually inherited” from Sendoa, though his parents were also like him. Kai’s history is also a bit of a shadowy thing, so there is a lot about his past left unexplored by the end of the duology. Ama, however, was not actually born a wolf as Kai was, and if you go to my website, click on Vignettes, and then on “The Weaver,” you’ll find some short stories exploring bits of Ama’s past ;). 

{{Done!! Can’t wait for that book!!}}

Now that The Chaos Cycle duology is completed, can you give us any hints as to what’s coming next? A WIP?

🎤I am currently working on a supernatural horror novel! I can’t say much about the project right now, but it does feature a small Appalachian town in rural Pennsylvania, an unreliable narrator, creepy, supernatural melodies, and murder. It’s been slow going, but I’m just about 40-50% through the first draft. I also have been fleshing out the world of The Chaos Cycle on my Patreon and plan on writing a standalone that takes place after the duology. It will focus on Miya, Kai, Ama, and Crowbar, and it will not be related to the major plot of the duology, though I do plan on exploring Kai’s history quite extensively in that book!

🎃Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

🎤Uhh, here goes:

  • The Winternight Trilogy by Catherine Arden!
  • I am blanking so hard on this. Let’s say Dorian Grey. 
  • I’m pretty boring, but I need to read in complete silence, or I get very crabby. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!! A.J. wanted to tell you guys that the special hardcover editions of The Chaos Cycle duology just released, so definitely check those out!!

Here is an Instagram post with all the info, plus you can find her website at

https://thechaoscycle.com/

There are additional links here!

https://direct.me/ajvrana

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Nicolas Samuel Lietzau

Welcome back to GrimDarkTober month on the Sunday Brunch Series! Episode 11 is a super special feature featuring German author Nicolas Samuel Lietzau! 

Most people recognize him as the writer of Enderal: The Forgotten stories – a Skyrim mod that has a huge following.  I fell off the gaming planet years ago and therefore am so glad and grateful that he reached out about his debut novel: Dreams of the Dying.  Obviously I am equally, if not more grateful that he agreed to join for an SBS interview!

While DotD is a book set in the Enderal world, I can promise that you don’t need the game to love the book, and certainly not to enjoy reading this amazing interview!  Read on to learn a bit about the book and the author, as well as a great discussion on world building, mental health, comically short relationships,  and much much more!

Enough from me – here he is!


🖤Welcome to the SBaiS! Tell us a random interesting fact about yourself!
 
🎤I’m a bit of a health nut. Also, I recently started a band, Neochrome. If I hadn’t become a writer, I would have tried my luck as a musician.
 
🖤 Can you tell me something off the beaten path that has intrigued you recently? That’s my favorite line from the author bio
 
🎤 There were several rather tragic things, but I’ll stick to something positive: I recently moved to a mountain village near Barcelona and went for a run in the nearby national park, where I got lost and suddenly found a broken-down car in the middle of the woods. No idea how it got there, but it certainly intrigued me.
 
{{In the spirit of GrimDarkTober, I wonder if something tragic happened to the vehicle’s owner! How curious}}
 
🖤 So your Enderal books are a prequel to the video game – is it challenging to write within a world with predefined boundaries?  Would it be easier or harder to create your own brand new world (and is that a plan in the future)?
 
🎤It’s definitely challenging, but I already took an important step by separating the novel canon from the game canon (while remaining faithful to the game best as I can). There are a lot of undefined areas in the Vyn universe – such as the dystopian dark age between the end of the Pyrayans and the advent of the Lightborn – which I plan to flesh out in the next two books. Even so, I’m looking forward to creating a brand-new story world in the future – in fact, I already have some ideas floating around in my mind.
 
🖤The world building in DotD was pretty intense, and equally so was the character build. Did you try to lean more towards a world or character driven story, or was the mix always there?
 
🎤I’d say characters – or rather, tragedies – always come first. A recent review criticized that the “world is the protagonist in Dreams of the Dying,” which frankly surprised me. I do enjoy world building, but to me, a well-realized and coherent world is simply due diligence. Just like I do my research when writing about experiences that weren’t my own by reading autobiographies and collaborating with people, I do my research on mythology, geography, linguistics, et cetera.
 
🖤Because you travel quite a bit – do you see a relationship between people who like to travel and are passionate about culture, and their level of world-building interest?  I would love to poll people who travel vs people who don’t, about their reading interests
 
🎤That’s an interesting question. Honestly, I haven’t noticed a trend here, but most of my author friends are German, so I’m not sure how representative they are. I do, however, feel that there tends to be a type of writer who is thirsty for experience and would certainly count myself as one of them. There are many approaches to writing great fiction, but for me, exploring life in all its facets is essential. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious
 
{{I don’t think it does! As a travel nurse, it would sound even more pretentious if I disagreed 😂 and I love using work as an excuse to immerse myself somewhere new for a few weeks or months!}}
 
🖤Speaking of culture – you mentioned the gratuitous swearing, is that a German thing? Were there any other cultural easter eggs that you put into your story?
 
🎤I love this question. Yes, I’d say that Bavarians (Southern Germans), in particular, love to swear. It has even become an art form of sorts called Granteln. In essence, zu granteln means to humorously rant about something using imaginative insults. It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with popular rant videos on the internet, which are often mean-spirited. The hallmark of good a good grantler is that he or she is not really insulting a person offensive per se and rather lets off steam at “god and the world.” Besides grantling, Bavarian service providers have a reputation for being rude. That’s not the case, in my opinion – they’re simply allowed to talk back when a customer goes off at them. Which, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing.
 
I don’t think I put any more easter eggs into the story, at least not consciously, but you can certainly tell my cultural signature, so to speak. The focus on philosophy and politics, which some readers and others loathed or perceived as contrived, is simply a part of German fiction. As are the deeply personal conversations characters have. It’s something many Germans just do
 
{{Darn – I’ve been trying to decide where to travel to this spring if the world is open, maybe I should go to Germany and see if anyone wants to tour the area and debate life for a while! A friend said there are some lovely castles and stuff too}
 
🖤There are some correlations in your Enderal storyline and in DotD with harder and rough sounding events that have happened in your life, can we talk about using storytelling as a coping mechanism?
 
🎤Yes, my creative work definitely helped and continues to help me cope with and process some of the things that happened to me. Even these days, my first response to when something bad happens is to somehow translate it into my books or music. I think this is something any artist can relate to. For me, there’s also a phoenix element to this mechanism: yes, I lived through some traumatic events, but that also gave me access to a pool of experiences that I can now weave into my stories. Before this gets taken out of context, I’m not saying that trauma is a good thing, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. But for me, using it this way is empowering. I hate to see myself as a victim.
 
🖤DotD had a significant running theme of mental health and digging oneself out of their own personal hell. For anyone that hasn’t read the last few chapters and afterword, are you willing to share any advice for people who might be struggling?
 
🎤Oh boy, that’s a big question. The first step should naturally always be to get help. It’s common to avoid therapy out of pride or dread of a diagnosis (god knows I’ve done it), but it won’t get you anywhere. Besides that, I found a lot of solace in Agaam’s words: You won’t find out if you give up. This is actually from what a close friend of mine told me during a difficult time. If you’re currently in a bad place, for all you know, tomorrow might be the day things finally turn around. It’s important to make yourself aware of this, as the mind often tends to catastrophize and imagine the dreariest outcome possible. Again, I’m speaking from experience.
 
{{I love big questions! Seriously though this is great advice. Mental healthcare in America is a disaster and getting help can be extremely intimidating. I tell people that there’s no shame in seeking help and no one is here to judge.  I wish the stigma wasn’t there.  There are many things to try before medication as well and I 100% wholeheartedly endorse getting help from a trained professional before things get to the catastrophe point. Recognizing and diverting that worst case scenario cycle of thinking alone can go a long way}}
 
🖤Alright, enough heavy questions! Is brunch a thing in Germany? If so, do you have a favorite brunch food?
 
🎤Oh, yes, we love brunch. I do intermittent fasting, so I actually get to brunch every day. Personally, I love German dark bread and obatzda, a Bavarian cheese made from three different sorts of soft cheese, herbs, and spices. That said, I was recently diagnosed with lactose intolerance, so no obatzda for me in the near future.
 
🖤Do you have any terribly unpopular opinions?
 
🎤In light of the upcoming new movie: I actually loved Matrix: Reloaded and MatrixRevolutions. It wasn’t as accessible as the amazing first part, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s fascinating.
 
🖤Jespar and Lysia literally had the shortest exclusive relationship ever, has that ever actually happened to you?
 
🎤Oh, for sure – my teenage relationships were very much of the straw fire variety. Especially in the LGBT community, relationships can be absurdly short-lived. At least that’s my experience.
 
{{I promise the hetero community is doing this too, dating in your 30s is a disaster by itself }}
 
🖤I don’t see a ton of German authors in fantasy; can you recommend any that have been translated?  
 
I’d say that the English-speaking publishing houses hardly translate anything, which strikes me as odd considering the industry’s current focus on spotlighting diverse voices. It’s a shame because I think people are missing out. There are countless fantastic international writers – not only German – who never find the success they deserve. As far as German fantasy authors go, I loved Ralf Isau’s books as a kid, but it’s been so long. There is a Quebecois horror author whom I adore, Patrick Senecal. No one ever translated his works (only a couple) for some strange reason, even though he is absurdly popular in Quebec.
 
🖤Who’s your favorite book character of all time?
 
🎤Tyrion Lannister. The run-of-the-mill answer, I  know, but his moral ambiguity is incredibly intriguing

I made this a separate section, which I am naming “Nicolas’ Amusing and Insightful Rant About Modern Language in Fantasy”.  I think he should expand and turn it into an essay of his own!

My only real criticism of DotD was how jarring the modern day slang came across in an otherwise immersive story … … so, what led you down that path vs creating slang in the language native to the characters?
 
This has come up a few times, so I’m glad you asked. I’ll do my best to explain my choice, but forgive me for going on a bit of a tangent first. I’ve often read fantasy readers describe colloquialism, slang, and vulgarity as unrealistic. While I get the sentiment, I believe that this is a misconception.
 
First, unless you’re writing historical fiction set in an English-speaking country, the narrator’s English is always only a translation of what people really speak in those fictional worlds; in the Enderal novels, for example, this lingua franca is Inâl, which is also what Jespar or The Man in the novel speak. However, since nobody in the real world speaks Inâl, the narration translates it into English. The bottom line: barring the usage of modern words that simply couldn’t exist given the technology level of a culture (such as “rocket science” or internet jargon), there is no such thing as “realistic” English in high fantasy. It’s always a stylistic decision of the author.
 
Second, most people know this, but the English we read in fantasy, and even historical fiction isn’t at all faithful to the English people actually spoke in the Middle Ages, Middle English. You could probably understand what’s being said, but it would be a chore. What’s more, all we know about language during these times is based on documents that were exclusively written by the small, educated minority that wasn’t dyslexic. Imagine aliens using formal business emails to deduce what 21st-century humans spoke like; even books or plays these days used a stylized English that didn’t necessarily reflect how people spoke on a day-to-day basis. In conclusion, it is very likely, if not certain, that the English spoken by the real people was full of colloquialisms and vulgarity. Why wouldn’t it? If anything, etymology suggests that they swore like sailors, including the dreaded c-word. “Fuck” arrived a little later, but it’s safe to assume something with a similar meaning was around to describe the same thing.
 
 
All this is a long way of me saying that the English we are used to in fantasy fiction is ultimately a convention established to create a certain feeling. It’s an entirely subjective and stylistic choice and doesn’t indicate bad worldbuilding or poor command of the English language.
 
Now, why did I decide to use modern language in dialogue? It’s not because I dislike the convention – I grew up reading German fantasy books, which use very formal and “olden-days” language much like what you see in English fantasy staples, and I still love them. For me, it’s mostly about relatability. I want my characters to feel as real and relatable as possible. I also have a background in video game writing, where I work with voice actors on a regular basis and came to realize that a lot of dialogue that reads well in a book translates poorly into a voiced script; consequently, I made a habit of rewriting any “bookish” dialogue I wrote for a script to make it as “organic” as possible.
 
All that said, looking back, I believe that I sometimes overshot and accidentally crossed the line between relatability and anachronism. It’s something I will improve in the next novel.


Once again, thank you endlessly to Nicolas Samuel Lietzau for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give such an amazing interview! Here are the links to find him online and social media: 

I’m not good at link lists but you can find Nicolas online at:

WEBSITE: WWW.NICOLASLIETZAU.COM

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/niseam_stories/

https://mobile.twitter.com/Niseamtao

And many others, go find the links through his site!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Spotlight & Interview with Crisanta Knight Author Geanna Culbertson!

Hi everyone! As promised this week, I have a special interview to bring to you guys! Have you read the Crisanta Knight books?? If not, I guarantee you will want to after reading this amazing interview!

I want to take a quick second to thank Geanna Culbertson for taking the time to answer a few questions about her writing, content, content in general, and plans going forward!  I originally became a fan of her clean content and writing style after winning a giveaway that introduced me to the books, and even more so once we incidentally got to chatting about inappropriate content! (See Question 3)!

Alright I’m done talking, here she is!


Meet the author!

Image: Author Geanna Culbertson

Geanna Culbertson is the award-winning author of The Crisanta Knight Series. The series follows the kids and siblings of fairytale characters, all of whom live in a magical world called “Book,” where citizens train to be the next generation of main characters in stories. The majority of this coming-of-age series is told from the empowering, sassy perspective of Cinderella’s daughter—Crisanta Knight. 

Image: the Crisanta Knight book covers

Her full biography can be found on her website, here:

https://crisantaknight.com/bio-by-me/book-bio/


1) How did the Crisanta Knight books take shape for you? Did you know from the start it would be a fairytale re-imagining?

When I was a sophomore in school I took a course devoted to classic and contemporary fairytale analysis. It was a fabulous experience that I loved. Having all that exposure to the classic tales filled me with so much wonder and inspiration, and one day on my way to class the name for the school in my book series: Lady Agnue’s School for Princesses & Other Female Protagonists popped into my head. Later that week I drew out a map of the world, aka the realm of Book and I wrote the prologue and first chapter to go along with it. So that’s how it all started!

In terms of the “reimagining” aspect—I am a girl who is a big believer in the power of change and moving forward. People remake stories all the time; I want to know what happens next. Furthermore, I am someone who is extremely passionate about heroic female characters and living a life where you are always challenging yourself to be better, stronger, wiser, etc. Those qualities helped my main character of Crisanta Knight take shape. 

As the plot formed, fairytales were the main backdrop, but my love of superheroes, princesses, action-packed comedy, and elaborate world-building fused with that and started to grow. The idea for the story simmered in my mind for a little while and then eventually I came to a point where I had to explore it. And so the adventure began . . .  

2) I like the focus on character, identity, and friendship in the books so far! What are some of the topics and themes you think are important for girls and young women to see on-page?

At the beginning of my author journey, I set out to write a story that would inspire others the way my favorite tales have inspired me, featuring characters who balance heart, humor, and a genuine sense of honor. I always thought it was important that a great story not just be about an exciting external plot—magic, adventure, larger-than-life stakes—the true power of story has to be in the internal arc. Some themes I explore throughout my series that I think are very important for girls, young women, and all people are: self-acceptance, trust, taking fate into your own hands, making proactive choices, fighting for what matters to you, understanding, respect, perseverance, and more. However, the overarching theme of my series is CHANGE. To paraphrase a line in Book One, change is a beautiful thing because within it is the opportunity to do anything and become anyone. I hope that as my readers experience the series, they are inspired by all these themes to try and live as fiercely, wisely, kindly, and optimistically as possible. 

3) We talked a bit about “clean reads” and your philosophy on content, could you talk about that a bit?

There is a word I came up with in college: “scandalosity.” It’s a term that encompasses inappropriate, intimate things that take a movie from PG-13 to R, if you catch my drift. I tried to put that word into one of my college English papers lol, but the TA said she’d dock me a letter grade. Anyway, my books are scandalosity free. It’s not my thing, neither is extreme violence or gore—basically anything that would cause adults to want to cover the eyes of their under 18 children. 

I think that there is a lot of unnecessary violence and scandalosity in stories these days. You don’t need to rely on that to create something compelling or intrigue an audience. Strong storylines should always take the lead and if you are going to have romantic moments, action, death, etc. it needs to serve a greater purpose and push the story forward. If it’s just being used for shock and awe, it has no point there and it is lazy writing—storytellers trying to make an impact through cheap shots. 

Action and drama can be handled with style and class, and should genuinely matter to plot/character development. I once heard director David Leitch say something akin to: “You should learn as much about a character from a good action scene as from dialogue.” I agree with that. Death (the killing of characters) can also be a valid event in a story if it truly is integral to plot/character development. But again, there is no need to make it overly graphic. Like, maybe a death needs to happen, but there are many ways that it can be portrayed. No need to scar someone traumatically. 

Also, if utilized in a story that targets younger audiences, death should be eased into. Take Harry Potter for example. You don’t start in Book One with characters dramatically dying left and right. The story progressively explores the themes of loss and death—each book getting more intense so audiences of different ages are eased into some of the harder moments as they grow with the characters and the scope of the story.

Romantic encounters are also fine if they meet the same criteria of being integral to plot/character development (though it’s important to note that you can get the feel of intimacy across without random boobs or whatever flying in your face). I come back to the idea of handling things with style and class i.e. the choices of how intense moments are portrayed.

I’m often quite surprised by the types of content targeting the YA and middle grade markets. I feel like every other TV channel is showing something with murder or scandalosity. However, I firmly believe that audiences of all ages want more than that. People watch those darker things because that’s what’s on; that’s what the media is putting out there the most. But there is plenty of cleaner, goodhearted programming out there that is beloved, proving my point. There just needs to be more of it.

That is what I have brought, and intend to keep bringing to the world. My stories will have action, romance, drama, and deal with intense topics—morality, loss, anger, and so forth—but they will always be handled with care, finesse, and consideration of all the above factors. Any book I ever write can be equally and appropriately enjoyed by an eleven-year-old, a twenty-five-year-old, and a seventy-two-year-old.

4) I wish I had read all the books to know where this is going, but so far (The end of book 3) you have Crisa worrying about herself before she starts worrying too much about boys! Is there hidden advice in that? 

Growing up, most of my favorite stories have had male main characters. I think part of the reason for this is that while a male main character may have a love interest, that love interest/romantic relationship is never the point of his story; it is just another factor. Meanwhile, in most female-led fiction, the love interest/romantic relationship is of equal value and importance to that female protagonist’s individual journey. It shouldn’t be that way. She should come first. Most girls have more on their mind than boys. They just do. The complexities of growing up, taking ownership of your choices and goals, accepting yourself, and learning who you are and who you want to be is way more pivotal to a person than deciding which hot guy you want to end up with. So while there are romantic, shippable elements to my series, I do not belittle my female characters and their potential by limiting the scope of what they focus on to romantic entanglements.

5) What is your favorite fairytale? Do you have a favorite fairytale twist that you’ve written so far? (Mine is definitely everything you did with Aladdin, from the sarcastic cave to the flying furniture!)

In terms of my favorite fairytales—Cinderella has been close to my heart since I was very little. That’s why I made my main character Cinderella’s daughter. If we’re talking strictly about Disney interpretations of fairytales, The Princes & the Frog is one of my favorites. Then in terms of the classic, old-timey tales I have a lot of respect for Snow White because that story created the roots of the fairytale-loving culture we have today.

In terms of the twists I’ve written, that’s such a hard question!!

I have highlighted so many fairytales and classic tales in my series now—diving really deep into quite a few. For example, the majority of Book Five takes place in Camelot, so there are a lot of characters, myths, and settings I work with there. In that space, developing Merlin as a character has been really interesting, specifically regarding his relationship to Crisanta. However, as Book Eight is freshest to me, I would have to say that diving into Mulan and Alice in Wonderland lore in that novel has definitely been one of my most challenging and rewarding fairytale exploration experiences thus far. All of Book Eight really was an intense adventure to write—Toyland, Swan Lake, Rumpelstiltskin, there’s just so much!

6) Many books in the series have been nominated for and received Feathered Quill book awards (yay -congrats)!!! Can you talk about that a bit?

I feel very grateful for the many awards that different books in my series have won. In terms of Feathered Quill, I have won six awards so far. Winning such an array of awards in the last two years has been awesome—two awards for Best in Teen Fiction (13-18 years), two awards for Science Fiction/Fantasy, Best of Backlist, and The Write Companion Award for Best Overall TOP PICK (Adult, Children’s and Young Adult categories included).

Winning these awards, combined with the wide array of other awards that my series has won, is quite flattering. I think what makes me the happiest about this range though, is that it shows the huge scope of audiences that my series appeals to. I have always believed that one of the strongest elements of my series is how many different kinds of people it can connect with. If in one week I can get fan mail from a nine-year-old girl, a twenty-year-old college student, a forty-year-old woman, and a fifty-year-old father, then it means I have done my job right. Because, at the end of the day, this isn’t a story about a princess, or even fairytales. This is a story about a good-hearted, honorable person trying to figure out how to best live her life, live up to her potential, and do right by the world, the people she cares for, and herself. That’s a story anyone should be able to relate to theoretically.

7) As an author looking for feedback from reviewers and readers, what do you hope to see from those people?

I love positive reviews; I mean who doesn’t? But I particularly love it when people go into specific details about their favorite parts or moments in a book. Getting five stars is awesome, but knowing how specific jokes landed, or how twists affected my readers, what they connected with most, etc.—it is great feedback for me.

Also, I like to use a “Mario Cart” comparison when it comes to how reviews affect me (you know, the video game). So in that videogame, as you’re driving your racecar along, players can throw exploding mushrooms or other brickabrack at you. When that hits you, your car spins or you crash temporarily or slow down. That’s what negative reviews are; they don’t take you out of the game, but they can still hit you hard. Positive reviews are like the magical stars or rainbows or bonus coins that you pick up as you’re driving along. You could still keep going on fine without them, but they give you extra power and supercharge you. ☺

8) Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed! Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or add?

The Crisanta Knight Series is my beginning. I have so many other wonderful series and standalone novels coming down the line. For example, in addition to working on the Crisanta Knight finale right now, I am working on the first novel in my new “guardian angels” series that releases next year. Also, my magical, heartwarming Christmas standalone novel releases November 3, 2021—official book announcement and book trailer launching in June. 

***Audiobook Two for The Crisanta Knight Series releases this summer as well.

For more information, you can visit: www.CrisantaKnight.com

To stay updated on my latest book news, sign up to be a part of my email list through the website.

And go ahead and follow me on social media too, if you like:

Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest: @gculbert14

Facebook: @CrisantaKnightSeries

#crisantaknight #crisantaknightseries #geannaculbertson