We’ve got a nice fire going in the reading room as I sit down to talk with the very talented M.L. Spencer, author of the Rhenwars Saga, including Darkstorm, Darkmage and, shortly, Darklands.
Drew: Shall we start?
M.L. cracks her knuckles in response.
Drew: Hopefully it won’t come to that….
Drew: So, we’re just a couple of days away from the release of your newest book, Darklands. Excited?
M.L.: More nervous than excited, actually! It’s a lot to organize!
Drew: But you have been through it before, with the two previous books in the series. Do you find it’s become easier or still equally nerve-wracking?
M.L.: I’d say a little of both. With my first novel, I had no idea what I was doing, so I just hit the button, stuck it up on Amazon, and hoped someone would see it Well, they really didn’t. So then, by the time I got to the second novel, I actually did my research and knew a bit of how to launch a novel. That was very hectic, and I found out I really could have known a lot more about what I was doing. This time I’m in a better place, but I find that I am still learning. There are some things I would do differently next time. Live and learn, I guess.
Drew: Is that one of the reasons you decided to re-launch book earlier this year?
M.L.: Well…I think I have confused you! Believe me, you are not alone! Book 1 was not written first… Book 2, Darkmage, was actually written in 2002. I tried to market it to agents and publishers, but it was too long (230K) and no one wanted it. I did have an agent offer to take it if I agreed to break it up, but I said no. So I threw it in my closet and kept it there until 2011 when I released it. It flopped.
Drew: Thank you for clearing that up. And I wouldn’t worry about confusing me, I frequently get attacked by the bewilderbeast.
M.L.: laughs I bewildered a lot of people doing that. I think I’ve learned more by failure than by success.
Drew: Now, you said Darkmage flopped, but it did get some good reviews and some prizes, did it not?
M.L.: It did. It won the IndieReader Discovery Award for fantasy. When I call it a “flop”, that’s what happened with Amazon sales. I had no idea how to market it. I didn’t even have social media in 2011 when I released it. So I didn’t have many sales at all. It’s doing much better now!
Drew: Deservedly so. You mentioned that one of the sticking points with your initial attempts to get the book out was the size. When you did come to release it yourself, did you find yourself cutting much or did you just trust to the story?
M.L.: I actually ended up cutting a lot and tightened up the story. It is now 170K, so it went through a substantial weight loss program. I hired a professional editor to help me make it cleaner and meaner.
Drew: Well, you are pretty mean to some of the characters in it.
M.L.: I don’t believe in treating characters kindly. That’s boring, frankly.
Drew: I seem to recall you being fond of having people burned at the stake, as it were.
M.L.: Among other things. I find that trial by fire is a good catalyst for character growth.
Drew: Now you mention that Darkstorm is closer to being a prequel since it is set thousands of years before Darkmage. Did going back in time like that help you understand the Rhen better?
M.L.: It did! I was having a really hard idea conceptualizing what the civilization of the Enemy would be like. I kept them vague in Darkmage on purpose, and I had some idea of where I wanted to go with them. But the world building north of Greystone Keep needed a lot of work. It also helped me conceptualize the larger conflict.
Drew: Which leads us nicely into Darklands, since the view of the Enemy does play a major part in various character’s paths. Which is related to one of your favourite themes, the exact term of which I don’t recall right now.
M.L. kindly reminds me it’s consequentialism.
M.L.: Yes, consequentialism has a lot to do with morals…it’s kind of an “ends justify the means” way of thinking. We see it a lot with the darkmages, but we see it occasionally with some of the “good guys”, too.
Drew: Without giving too much away, in case we get you some new readers out of this interview… Hey, it could happen. You have one of your main characters undergoing more or less a u-turn in their perspective in Darklands putting them at odds with former allies. Did that make for a juicer writing experience?
M.L.: It really did. It gave things a lot more depth and allowed me to explore more about human nature and our ability to become entrenched in one point of view. Things can look a lot different (better or worse) when viewed from a different angle.
Drew: Definitely true. Speaking of human nature, I found it interesting that one of the ostensible “bad guys” is actually one of the more sympathetic and relatable characters.
M.L.: I’ve tried to get a mix of personalities on both the “good” and “evil” sides of this conflict. Because, let’s face it, evil really is a matter of perspective. There are some characters on the “good” side that I’d really like to drop-kick. And there are some “evil” characters with pretty good motives and intentions for what they do. But that doesn’t necessarily make them good…just relate-able.
Drew: I’m tempted to guess which of your “good” characters you’d like to drop-kick but I won’t.
M.L.: laughs There’s a couple, actually.
Drew: I recall you telling me during the launch of Darkstorm, you were now envisioning this as a 5-book series, is that still the case?
M.L.: Yes. I’m getting close to halfway through book four. I’ve got the rest of the series already outlined, so I know exactly where this is going to go, how it’s going to end, who’s going to make it out alive, and who is not. Oh, wait. Most of my cast is not alive anymore already! Oh, dear.
Drew: Ah, that’s a technicality.
We both laugh at that.
Drew: And will you be maintaining the Dark—— naming scheme?
M.L.: I am! Book Four is going to be Darkrise. Book Five…I’m keeping that one in my back pocket for now.
Drew: Ah well, that’s your perogitive I suppose.
The dinner gong interrupts us.
Drew: Looks like it’s time to start wrapping things up with some quickfire random questions. What’s the first book you remember reading?
M.L.: James A. Mitchener’s Centennial
Drew: If you could have dinner or drinks with any author (alive or dead) who would you choose?
M.L.: Oh, that’s tough. I guess that would have to be Patrick Rothfuss. It probably would end up more with him tied to a bed with two broken legs writing the next book while I stand over him with a baseball bat.
Drew: Have you ever met any authors you read & admire?
M.L.: Yes. But I don’t want to drop any names. Let’s just say I was sadly disappointed.
Drew: Understood, say no more. Favourite Muppet?
M.L.: Fozzie Bear
Drew: Wocka Wocka Wocka! And finally, tell us two truths & a lie and leave us to guess which is which.
- I used to be a windsurfing instructor.
- I have a degree in molecular biology.
- I wrote a song that has 25 million views on YouTube.
Drew: Good ones. Well, I think that’s us. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me this evening and I hope you enjoy your dinner.
M.L. Spencer came be found here: Website – Facebook – Twitter
I love the whole concept of this interview and the end was the blast. Very clever way to end it.
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Glad you enjoyed it, Sol. Hoping to have more coming soon 🙂
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