Happy Sunday everyone! Brunch is back, this time in conjunction with Escapist Book Tours as we tour Sordaneon by L.L. Stephens. I was lucky to be able to chat with the author about this epic fantasy book, the series, a few current hot takes, and so much more. I added extra emojis to my favorite question below 😉
That said, episode 29 of the Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series features indie author L.L. Stephens! There’s a ton of great content here and I’d also like to direct you to the tour home page, where you can find out all about Sordaneon and see the other tour stops !
Let me get out of the way now — here she is!
🥞Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting thing about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?
🎤 Well, I’m quite unexciting really and have put almost all mildly interesting parts in my various bios. However, I might not have mentioned that I have a superpower: Exceptional spatial memory. My brain identifies, catalogues and charts places, maps, landmarks, and objects. I can navigate anything from a video game (where was that ladder) to complex buildings (major medical centers a specialty), to road systems (just show me a map and you will never need Waze). If I visit you at home, you’re doomed; unless you move, I can always find your house. There are folks in Bolivia who will back me up about that.
🥞What’s your brunch order today?
🎤Fried eggs over easy; white toast; coffee with lots of sugar and cream—and a glazed ring donut (or two). I’m a breakfast person. With a sweet tooth.
🥞I don’t usually ask “hot takes” questions but I’ve seen a lot of debate recently about how to get one’s indie books “out there” and seen! Do you have any advice for those trying to have their books seen?
🎤 I’m looking for hot tips in that arena myself. Finding ways to get my books noticed has been challenging. Part of the reason for that is me—I’m terribly shy. Social anxiety. I have difficulty even calling people who want to hear from me (I’m afraid I’m imposing myself upon them), much less strangers. So I only approach reviewers or bloggers—or anyone—once I have established that they are approachable. Friendly is even better. Once I’ve established that, I ask “Would you be okay if I send you a book? Or a whole series?”
So if an author reading this thinks “That’s me!” my advice would be to have a friendly social media presence. Pick up on any friendly reviewers or bloggers who appear interested in your book. Those are the ones to ask “Would you like a copy?” They’re also the ones most likely to review the book once they have it.
This is my first blog tour, so it will be interesting to see what comes from it. Reviews, I hope! Reviews lead to new readers (at least I hope so).
For me, giveaways have yielded some of the most brilliant reviews and invested readers. I’ve always known my books would have to sell themselves. I have lovely covers, but my titles aren’t catchy. I’m not gifted enough at witty repartee to be a popular social media author. My books—my stories and characters—are my best advertisements. So I give away quite a few books, hoping people who read them will talk them up. That’s worked pretty well.
Shipping costs, though, make paperback giveaways a pricey option. I’ve recently limited signed paperback giveaways to U.S. only for that reason. I’m always good for an ebook.
🥞 I loved the artwork that came with Sordaneon! In the spirit of promoting organic art, how did you connect with your cover artist and what was that whole process like?
🎤 There’s some truth to when I say I write books solely to get cover art. I’m a visual writer, my stories have lots of imagery and symbolism. I also adore visual interpretations of written works, whether other authors’ or my own. Every time I go to a convention, I purchase art in one form or another.
When it comes to fantasy, I’m old-school. I want to see the world of the novel represented on the cover somehow. When Forest Path Books approached me about publishing my series, I expressed this wish and they said they’d work with me. I had a great deal more say than I would have with a traditional publisher. I had no say at all in the cover art with my first published novel (DAW).
I researched which artists were doing the covers of books I’d been reading and those which had caught my eye. When I saw Larry Rostant’s portfolio of covers, I knew he could capture the tone and essence of my books. I wanted the books to attract readers looking for an immersive world kind of vibe. Larry’s art has been beautiful, resonant, and majestic.
The postcards I send out with signed books—and also will mail to any reader willing to give me a valid mailing address—are pieces I commissioned. Margarita Bourkova is a brilliant artist and has brought to life many of the arcane artifacts of the Triempery series. The Rill Stone, the ring of the Sordaneon Hierarchs, is my favorite. Again, I found her by looking through artist portfolios. I first saw Margarita’s work on Twitter.
🥞 I’ve always wanted to ask an author this – how did you keep track of such a large cast and so many places while drafting? Your consistency through all those people and places was a huge high point for me while reading
🎤 The consistency in the Triempery Revelations series is high for a reason—I’ve written all six books.
Every arc, character, and place has been looked at, tweaked, and nailed into place, then sanded to be smooth. What I’m doing right now is editing each book as it goes to publication. For example, there is an extensive final version of the Appendix that includes ALL names, places, relationships, and artifacts found in the series. That version of the Appendix gets cut down for each book being published so as not to provide spoilers. But it exists; I and the editors are using it. I’ve found it really helpful for keeping names straight!
During the decades it took to imagine and write all the books, I kept notebooks; I still keep notebooks. In them I write story ideas. Draw maps to work out the geography. Sketches. Family trees. Create character sheets laying out relationships, powers, major plot involvement and that kind of thing. Almost anything I need to know or work out is in the notebooks.
🥞 Do you enjoy writing the younger characters like Dorilian and Stefan more, or the older ones like Marc Frederick? I think my favorite parts were anything with Dorilian and MF together
🎤 I like writing characters of all ages and, in fact, adore having characters of different ages interacting. That you enjoyed Marc Frederick and Dorilian’s interactions is wonderful to hear! Those interactions are based in part on my own interactions with my teenage sons (who are now adults). Teenagers are wonderful; they’re so full of themselves and have so much passionate belief. They’re still new to the power of their own lives. And I wanted to show that—in Dorilian—pitted against a man who is in his prime, seasoned, who has learned life lessons Dorilian has yet to encounter. Dorilian thinks he has all the answers. He doesn’t. I like to show the imbalances in how characters perceive each other. I like to show lessons being learned and then how those lessons become part of the person’s worldview or weaknesses, their armoror weapons.
🥞🍳 Did you have any part of the rest of the series mapped out when you started, or was it a play by play writing each book? What lessons did you take from Sordaneon to help improve The Kheld King and beyond?
🎤 🍳As I mentioned above, the series is fully written. What I didn’t mention is that I wrote the later books (3 – 6) first. My editor at DAW, Peter Stampfel, read them and told me he wanted to read more about Dorilian. He thought the series should start with Dorilian’s backstory with Marc Frederick and Stefan. I was a little bit crushed at my work being pronounced half-baked, but realized he was onto something.
So I wrote Sordaneon. I wrote the Dorilian and Marc Frederick backstory—and I wrote it knowing EXACTLY where it had to go. The entire rest of the series was mapped out. Who lived. Who died. Who was still around to continue the tale and how they got to be who they were.
It was quite fascinating. Nammuor got to be someone before he became what he becomes later. Dorilian’s brother got his backstory, too. So did Essera. I had to do even harder things, though. I had to create characters to fit existing story spaces, and then I had to kill them. I didn’t always want to! They were wonderful and alive and I wanted to save them. But they were already dead in later books. The best I could do was to create them to be vital and memorable, and let them live for a while for readers who might love them.
The lesson I took forward into The Kheld King was that Dorilian was, indeed, as Stampfel had noted, a card-carrying, Entity-bound, main character. He’d been rather secondary before, more of an antagonist. I knew now that he could carry another book and that between him and Stefan, they were going to tell one hell of a story. And they did. Sordaneon showed me I could trust my instincts; I could write the hard scenes. I could tell every part of the story. I’ve been making the later books stronger by using those lessons.
🥞Was/is it hard for you to put your characters though hell and back or even kill them off, (or do you gleefully laugh) when writing a darker fantasy like this series?
🎤I did kill a few characters gleefully. It’s true. I gave the occasional smile or fist pump. Some characters, though… they were rough. I didn’t want to kill them or hurt them. I’d come to love them. Really love them. Even in fiction, I never enjoy killing those I love. I cried at those parts.
🥞Do you have a favorite book, author, series of all time? (I know how hard that question is) Or if it’s easier, what’s the last 5 star book you read?
🎤Of all time, my favorite would be Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. No other series has made a greater impact on my life or writing. He wrote his heroes noble, his villains consumed by weakness, and his triumphs tinged with tragedy. The breadth of the story he wrote encouraged me to explore the breadth of my own, to make it big, to give it a full history. The author’s steadfast pursuit of telling his full story inspired me to continue with my own—even when my life got quite difficult and it would have been easy to give up.
🥞Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! This last is an open forum for you so feel free to talk about anything else you might want to say!
🎤 Authors and other creatives should follow their own minds; create for the joy of it. Don’t let others discourage you—and hold on tightly to those who support your dream. Though I never gave up writing (impossible!) I did give up on trying to publish my work for many years. I’m sorry I didn’t try again sooner. So believe in yourself. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world.
Author Info & Book Links:
L.L. Stephens has been writing science fiction and fantasy full time for several years. Published works include a debut novel in the deep dark past, short stories under various pen names, articles in medical journals, and pamphlets for everything from local politicians to a major international airport.
The Triempery series, which includes Sordaneon, The Kheld King and The Second Stone (April 2023) is a six-book series and life work. For excerpts from existing or upcoming books, lore, maps, and other related content, visit the L.L. Stephens website or L.L.’s giveaway-happy social media.
Thanks for joining Sunday Brunch, leave a comment or like to let us know you were here! I was also extremely lucky to win a copy of Sordaneon and The Kheld King in a giveaway a few weeks back, so I will be reviewing both of those books soon. As always, all thoughts and ideas expressed are mine alone ♥️