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Interview with Sarah White

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Photo from Amazon

My latest new voice is another debut author, Sarah White of Uncommon Universes Press. Her debut novel is Halayda, the first in her Star Fae trilogy. I read Halayda, and all I have to say is I’m so glad there will be two more! I loved this book.

Nickname: Well, my elvish name is Aranel Rudhaldawen, or Rudha for short. I’m also known as Switzerland (I’ll leave you to guess why. Hint: it has nothing to do with ethnic heritage.).

Genre: fantasy mashups of all types! Mythology, steampunk, epic, romance—you name it!

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve enjoyed making up stories for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t start writing seriously until about five years ago. I had just come back from a challenging internship in the Middle East, and I tried to process it by recounting the trip in the form of a memoir. I was bored with it after ten pages, so I tried framing my experiences into the form of a fantasy narrative instead. That particular story didn’t go anywhere (it served its purpose, but it was also a plotless mess). I enjoyed writing it so much, though, that I was hooked for good!

Do you have certain themes that you gravitate to in your writing?

I love writing about people who have failed or made terrible choices and have to fight their way back. I enjoy making characters face their dark sides and exploring what makes someone a hero or a monster. I also like shiny, trippy world-building elements (not exactly a theme, but definitely one of my driving forces!).

Tell us about your protagonist

Sylvie Imanthiya is a half-fae alchemist with a soft spot for tea, blankets, and anyone who is downtrodden. She lives in the slums of the mortal city of Sabellyn, caring for half-fae orphans and trading her alchemical potions on the black market in order to provide for them. She regrets a certain past failure, and she hides in the worst part of the city to avoid the dangerous former mentor who tried to exploit her rare alchemical power. For the past eight years, she has helped King Taylan keep order on solstice and equinox nights, when the fae visit the mortal world. It’s an unlikely alliance, and she knows it can never be more than friendship—no matter how much she wishes otherwise.

Taylan Ashkalabek has been king of Faerie for the past 1200 years. He’s a warrior and a survivor who has had to make a lot hard decisions that have left him scarred, in all senses of the word. He has sworn never to put others in danger by loving them, but he can’t help caring for Sylvie. She is the only person he can trust, and when he’s around her he almost dares he could be more than a jaded killer.

Tell us about your antagonist

Casimir is a star-fae, an ancient enemy of Taylan and Faerie. He and Sylvie also have history, though Sylvie doesn’t realize it at the start of the story. Casimir has committed unspeakable atrocities—war, torture, human experimentation, you name it—but all in the name of creating a better future. No matter how low he stoops, he believes his evil actions will be justified in the end.

Tell us about your story world

Kyure is a multi-dimensional world, consisting of the mortal realm (ruled by humans with steampunk tech), Faerie (a wild land inhabited by fae and strange creatures), and the Deathrealm (the fae underworld). The mortal realm is driven by progress, technology, and alchemy, while Faerie is a place of magic and semi-sentient nature.

What is some bad writing advice you’ve received?

I don’t think I’ve gotten any bad writing advice, but I’ve gotten plenty of advice that didn’t work for me. My writing process breaks a lot of “rules” (such as carefully crafting each scene in my rough draft and then sharing it with critique partners right away). I’ve learned to seek a broad range of advice and take all of it with a grain of salt, determining whether it actually works for me.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Don’t be boring.This sounds simple, but it was actually the most helpful thing anyone ever said to me (thanks, Janeen!). Before starting Halayda, I abandoned over half a dozen unfinished manuscripts because I lost interest in the stories. I tended to get bogged down by mundane details and lagging action, thinking I had to plow through that stuff to get to the interesting parts of the story. While writing Halayda, I learned to make every scene “the interesting part” and to only write scenes that held my attention and moved the story along. I also kicked up my world-building about ten notches and discovered how much a shiny setting can improve a story if you use it right.

Have you been to a writer’s conference? If so which one(s)? What was the best part about attending?

So far the only one I’ve been to is Realm Makers. I’ve gone the past two years, and it was awesome! There are few things as cool as hanging out with like-minded geeks with so much awesome creativity. Can’t wait for Reno!

What are your favorite writing books/resources?

Janeen Ippolito’s World-Building from the Inside Out is an excellent world-building resource that approaches the subject from a fresh angle. K. M. Weiland’s blog posts on story structure proved very helpful as I was drafting Halayda, and I reread them frequently.

Do you pants, plot, or something in between?

Definitely in between. I use a “points on the map” approach, making bullet points of the major plot points and making note of pivotal scenes I want to include. I’m deliberate about creating a solid story structure in the first draft, but if I try to make a detailed outline, my creativity tends to dry up. When it comes to individual scenes, I usually get my best ideas while writing.

Who is your favorite character from fantasy?

Oh man—so hard to choose! I don’t think I have a set favorite, actually; it tends to shift depending on which series/author I’m into at a given time. Right now one of my favorites is Jasnah Kholin from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series—brilliant, tough, and countercultural, with a super-secret squishy side. Love those things in a character!

What is your favorite science fiction book?

I haven’t read a whole lot of sci-fi (yet), but I love Ender’s Game.

What is your favorite fantasy book?

This probably shifts as often as my favorite fantasy character, haha! I’ll go with Lilith by George MacDonald, though, as it was one of the reasons I started writing fantasy seriously. That book made me realize that good fantasy can reflect reality and carry potent truth rather than just being escapism.

What is your favorite fairytale?

I was a dancer for many years, and a lot of my favorite fairy tales come for classic ballets. I particularly love The Firebird (both the ballet and the older Slavic folktales), as well as Swan Lake and Giselle. I’d love to write a series of ballet retellings someday!

What is your favorite science fiction movie?

Probably have to go with original Star Wars trilogy—my introduction to the genre and an enduring influence. May latest favorite is Arrival, which is absolutely brilliant!

What is your favorite fantasy movie?

I don’t watch a lot of fantasy movies, oddly enough. I think I prefer to read my fantasy and watch my sci-fi! I do enjoy the LOTR movies, though. I marathon the extended editions a few times a year.

What is your favorite other speculative fiction movie? Paranormal, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, fairytale, dystopian, supernatural

The Avengers! I’m a Marvel fan in general and have loved most of the movies so far, but it’s still hard to top the first Avengers film (my second favorites are Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange).
You can purchase Halayda here:
Thank you, Sarah for the interview. You can find her at the following Locations:
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She even has her own line of jewelry! Royal Vagabond
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About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

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