#IndieAuthor #Interview: @SJHigbee shares #bookjoy with #reading and #writing delightfully #adventurous #sciencefiction and #fantasy

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Welcome, Friends, to yet another splendid interview with a beautiful indie author soul! I am thrilled to pause all this chaos of teaching, parenting, and preparing my own novel for publication so I may introduce you to the cosmic dreamer and eternal adventurer, S.J. Higbee.

To call you an “avid reader” feels like a huuuuge understatement. Can you share a little of your reader’s journey with us? That is, can you tell us what inspired you to take on book reviewing with such gusto, and your process for choosing the books you do for reviewing?

Visit her at @sjhigbee & her website sjhigbee.wordpress.com.

I’ve always been an avid reader. Once I got to school and realised the power of words and how stories could take me away from where I was and to different worlds – that was it. I was away…

I originally started reviewing for SFReader.com, a forum for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers from 2006-09. However, I soon had a hefty backlog of reviews stacking up, as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing down my thoughts after reading a book. So once I started my own blog back in 2009, it made sense to mostly review books on it. I stumbled across other book reviewers, almost by accident.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

The late, great Terry Pratchett. There aren’t many authors whose complete output we own, but we have all his books, including Where’s My Cow? We also own all Lois McMaster Bujold’s books and I’ve read nearly all of Jo Walton’s output. I am the ultimate mood reader, however. While I do get a steady stream of books from Netgalley, I take care never to overdo it, so I’m forced to sit down and read something that I really, really don’t want to.

Hmmm, I bet those moods can put a damper on the book joy at times. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes. When I’ve forced myself to trudge through a book that isn’t speaking to me on any level. So I don’t do it, anymore. If I don’t like a book, I DNF it – and that includes Netgalley arcs. I generally don’t mention DNFs on my blog, because I have strong opinions and specific tastes and while I cut loose when discussing book covers and in my private notes about books I’ve disliked sufficiently to stop reading, I don’t think it’s fair to share those views with a wider audience.

I know you’ve recently moved out of the classroom, but as a fellow teacher, reader, writer, and parent (well, I know you’re also a grandparent, but I’m not there *yet*, thank Heaven!), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can spread literacy awareness among children today.

I’ve taught children with specific learning difficulties and the secret is always to find what motivates them – be it rulebooks for computer games, cookery recipes and in one case building suppliers’ lists, and use those to spark their interest in reading. Above all MAKE IT FUN! Words games… silly voices… reading a word each… And always stop before the child becomes fed up, so they are left wanting more. Little and often is far more effective than longer stints twice a week, which is why so many children don’t learn to read effectively at school.

Amen to that! When we turn reading into a treat, we know they will ALWAYS be ready for that treat. Rather like cookies, don’t you think? I wonder now if the publishing industry could be doing more to promote literacy.

Children’s writers do a fantastic job in promoting literacy by visiting schools and talking about their characters. But I would LOVE to see more serious imagination with regard to interactive programs to aid literacy. In fairness, I don’t think the publishing industry should be responsible for promoting literacy skills – but governments certainly should. What about a game like Fortnite actually using wordgames, punning, jokes and literacy games, in addition to all the cool graphics, driving music and action scenes, as part of a national reading scheme? It shouldn’t be the only way to reach children, of course. But certainly ought to be part of a range of resources to target children who spend a lot of time on their screens.

Now, let’s talk about your writing. You’ve written a number of slick Sci-Fi novels, including the YA Sunblinded trilogy, the Arcadian Chronicles, and the standalone Netted. What draws you to science fiction more than other genres?

I love the fact that when I open the cover, I never know exactly what I’m getting. To ensure that’s the case, I very rarely bother reading the blurb in advance, either. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle to make sense of what is going on – especially if I’ve crashed midway into a series, but as long as the worldbuilding and characterisation are sound, I’ll generally make sense of what is going on. It’s the genre I love reading the most – and when it goes well, the tingle factor is off the charts… Fantasy is right up there, too.

I never get tired of that tingle! I must admit, though, I cannot crash into the middle of a series as you often do. 🙂 In an age where publishers are eager for stories that smack of potential franchise, what do you consider to be the strengths of a standalone novel?

Sometimes, there is a story I want to tell that is only the length of a single book. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to elongate it into something more drawn-out. I think most stories have a natural arc length – and part of the skill of the author is figuring out exactly what that length is. Some of my best reads, ever, have been standalone books.

You have certainly written your share of both series and standalones as well! Does writing energize or exhaust you?

It depends. If it’s going well, I find a high that I don’t get anywhere else. If it isn’t, then it’s both exhausting and depressing.

I love how you don’t peg yourself into writing a specific kind of character. Running out of Space’s Lizzy and Mantivore’s Kyrillia are both adventurous heroines, while Netted’s Kris is very reticent to take on the responsibilities the story quickly demands of her. Would you say each story helps you shape the characters, or the characters come to you and the story shapes around them?

Oh, it always starts with the character and an initial scene. Often I have dreamt that starting scene. However, the characters don’t leap onto the page fully formed and it is often a question of trial and error as to how they react to events around them that help me figure out exactly who they are. Up to now, I’ve been a pantser, but I’ve just started planning out my stories – and the main success has been in nailing the narrative arcs of all the main characters – it has made such a difference to the writing process.

World-building is HUGE for my writing process. If a story-world’s rules aren’t clear, then it’s a lot harder for readers to fully appreciate the plot’s stakes, let alone care about the characters. Science Fiction is no “easy” genre to write for—not only do you have to create a realistic place, but it also has to feel possible to reach in our future. Can you share a step or three in your world-building process?

I think anyone who writes SFF with any measure of success has to care about worldbuilding. The first rule has to be that it makes sense. I studied History at college, for which I’m constantly grateful. That perspective on how humans behaved in the past is really useful for extrapolating as to how they’d behave in the future. And if they doing something completely different from anything that has happened before, there has to be a solid reason for it.

However, all of that has also to be balanced against my personal loathing for pages of long-winded explanation in some nebulous authorial viewpoint. So readers often don’t get to know exactly what is going on all the time in all the corners of my worlds, because my characters don’t. I’m quite comfortable with that – though I’m aware it bothers some readers. It’s one reason why I use language as one of my main tools for worldbuilding – the slang and swearwords also denote issues like being overrun with pests, or melting icecaps without my even mentioning them.

Blech, I am not a fan of long-winded explanations, either. They exhaust me to read, let alone write…not that my kids give me oodles of time to write, anyway. Their moods are something of a writing Kryptonite for me. What would you consider to be your writing Kryptonite?

Becoming too tired. My instinct is to try and sprint, which is a problem as writing a novel is a marathon. I’m also one of those people who tends to hurl themselves, body and soul, into whatever they are doing. It has many rewards, but the cost is that I can get exhausted. And when that happens, I become ill. I have quite a lot of different calls on my time, which again, I really enjoy. I am lucky to have a lovely family and a range of wonderful friends, but there are times when it would be awesome to also have a writing clone I could shut up in an attic with a computer and never let out until she’s finished the book…

Let’s end on some help for aspiring writers. What’s a common trap you see them falling into time and again, and how can they avoid it?

Dialogue is often a surefire way of working out how experienced a writer is. Don’t use someone’s name if there are only two characters, unless one character is being hostile or arguing. When there are two people, they generally don’t call the other by name unless they are making a point. Don’t have your characters talking for too long – we generally bat a conversation back and forth between us if the power dynamic is equal. And rather than have a dominant character drone on for ages (as they often do in real life) have them, instead, constantly interrupt the subordinate character. Remember to include the thoughts and feelings of your viewpoint character, as they are on one end of a conversation.

YES! Thank you so much for sharing your reading and writing journey with us, Sarah, and for helping us find ways to better our own writing. This issue with dialogue is something I still struggle with, even as an editor when I was tidying up Fallen Princeborn: Chosen.

Arlen sets the bear cub running towards the thicket. “Come along, all of you. Dorjan and the others are waiting.”

But She-Bear does not move. “Why do you wear his weapon?”

Liam remains still on the shore where Charlotte and Arlen placed him, his speckled curls limp, his bruises painting what must be an abridged story of the pain he felt in the nets. So Charlotte answers, “The dagger worked for me in Dissecto-Library-Horrorland .” Charlotte grips one of Liam’s arms and hoists him to his feet.

The She-Bear bares her teeth, but Arlen’s hand upon her head silences her. “You…you worked land magic underwater?” he asks.

“How do you think that one mer-dude’s face got melted?”

Liam’s hand, as mottled as the rest of him, opens and closes as Charlotte wills. Her fingers press his own tightly about his own weapon.

Leather, iron, blood. Then comes the touch of Charlotte—sparks rip through his frame. No more the beaten boy.

“Try it now, Liam. C’mon, get some heartburn goin’. Blood firin’. You know. Flame on. Ppppffffooow.”

Liam closes his eyes and feels his inner wings stretch to blot out the past, if only for a few moments. He wraps his other hand around the base of the blade. The dagger takes its blood, as always.

This time, it pays back.

The blade crackles as it lengthens, its feathers smoldering. The blood sword shines as it did in the forge so long ago, when Liam’s ambitions burned their brightest. He brings the blade close to his face to taste old victories in its heat. He sees the world in melting waves, as he did so often after striking the earth, commanding it to swallow armies and villages whole.

There are no armies now. No villages. Only Charlotte dripping like a botched painting. Arlen halved on one side of the dagger; the beast halved on the other.

The beast, whom he was meant to kill. A mother and her child so…cared for…by…

“Who is this, Arlen?” Liam’s question rumbles slowly out of his lips.

No more evasion.

~STAY TUNED!~

While Autumn creeps its way slowly through Wisconsin’s forests and farmlands, I will continue to share more and more of my coming sequel with you. I’ve also got some interviews waiting in the wings as well as music and analyses to share. Thank you all once more for traveling with me through these unknown lands of indie publishing. You are each and every one of you a blessing to be thankful for.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

A #writer’s thoughts on boundaries in #magic. Plus a #CoverReveal and #ARC access to my new #YA #Fantasy #Novel!

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Wisconsin’s upper half is filled with roads like this:

Narrow strips of asphalt and concrete wind their way through woods of towering pines, oaks, and birches. Turkey, deer, ravens, and squirrels keep a mindful watch of the roads we meager humans travel, feeding in the nearby grass and trees, unafraid to cross what little land we claim for our own. The North Woods may have its cabins and towns, but make no mistake–it is a wild place of bears and coyotes, wolves and cougars. It is not a place for wandering off the known paths.

Yet it is so very tempting, especially when someone has been there before…

I don’t know what it is about ropes, chains, and logs being used to mark a territory, but they always make me smile. I suppose it’s because they assume we Wisconsinites are polite folk adequately deterred by a rope. “Someone put up a rope? Well, I can’t go there, then.” It’s just a rope, not barbed wire. All it would take is a little slip under.

Not that my goody-goods of kiddos would allow it. “You can’t go in there, Mom!” Blondie says. “It says no trespassing!” Bash says. “Can I call the police now and tell them what your’e doing?” Biff asks. This then devolved into who would get to talk to the police officer, who would get to sit in the driver’s seat of the police car, who would get to use the radio, aaaaaaaand I didn’t get to cross over. Probably for the best–I don’t want them wandering off where wolves will happily greet children with toothy grins. But oh, my friends, that desire to explore was so very strong, for magic buzzed among the cicadas and dragonflies that day. And who doesn’t feel the magic when surrounded by trees so tall the sun only greets your face at midday? Who doesn’t follow the herons’ call as they soar overhead? Who doesn’t sit upon the lakeshore to watch the eagles swoop across the water to pluck thrashing fish with their talons? Who doesn’t feel their spirit glow green as the moss upon the rocks, eager for the North Woods to burn bright crimson, orange, and yellow in the coming autumn?

All it takes is a willfulness to cross into the forbidden.

It’s the start of so many beloved stories, isn’t it? The Father in Beauty and the Beast is a classic example, or Alice crawling into the White Rabbit’s hole in Alice in Wonderland. Many of Diana Wynne Jones’ stories involve crossing into new lands and/or worlds, be it Deep Secret, House of Many Ways, Fire and Hemlock…heavens, there’s a lot. The first that came to mind, though, was Enchanted Glass. The entire story revolves around Aidan and Andrew defining the invisible boundaries of Andrew’s “field-of-care” bestowed upon him by his wizard grandfather so they can determine who’s siphoning magic away for their own purpose. In Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Agnieszka defies village law and enters The Wood, a place full of cursed, angry magic, to rescue her best friend. In Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, Faerie re-define their own borders by surrounding the Emerald Isle in a timeless fog. Nessa and other youth must face The Call, that moment when they are transported into the Faerie realm, or find that access point to the realm first. The mound Nessa finds that marks the entry point reminded me of the mound Camilla Bruce creates in You Let Me In (a wonderful review by fellow indie author S.J. Higbee put me on to this dark adventure). The protagonist Cassandra has been involved with Faerie all her life, and in this moment she describes that initial crossing from “her path” to the Faerie path to the mound.

The shift was subtle, like the beginning of a rainstorm with oncoming mist. My trees gave way to strange ones, taller and wider, older by far, thick roots curling at their trunks. Their branches brushed my head as we walked beneath them, felt like fingers with very long nails. The path beneath my feet shone dimly in the faint light, scattered with fist-sized leaves, it was like walking on glass or silver, or on a frozen stream…the ground turned soggy and moist; the trees were drooping shapes with clusters of leaves brushing the ground…Finally, we came to a halt by a circular shape in the landscape, a grass-covered mound studded with jutting stones…They parted for us when we approached. Smiling faces, glimmering eyes. Hands that patted and touched.
Inviting me into their nest.
Into the dark, dark earth.

And then there are portals through boundaries so very ordinary that no one bothers to notice them. The wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind. In Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, Will finds a typical looking knife that it is capable of literally cutting through the boundaries of time and space and into other earths. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, passages between the muggle and magical pieces of the world can be separated with very commonplace things, like a tavern or a train station’s wall. Recently I read the graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, where unlike the stop-motion film, the door to the Other Mother looks like any other door in the house. But we all know what looks can be, don’t we?

She walked into the drawing room and looked at the door. She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.

In another Neil Gaiman novel, a town next to a magical border is literally named Wall.

Immediately to the east of Wall is a grey rock wall, from which the town takes it name. This wall old, built of rough, square lumps of hewn granite, and it comes from the woods and goes back to the woods once more.

There is even a guard who watches over the wall. Sure, those who live in Wall think that guard is crazy for thinking anything interesting could be beyond the wall, but the guard knows what lies beyond is not ordinary at all…

Such a wall became an inspiration for my own fantasy series, Fallen Princeborn. Readers first experience the Wall’s power with protagonist Charlotte when she’s stranded on an old farm with her sister. The farmer’s daughter, Jenny, trusts Charlotte to tell her about what it’s like to live in this unnatural place:

Chattering. Outside.
Charlotte looks out to see the full moon blanketing the woods in pale light. The Wall glows but for its shadows, and one in particular: a tiny shadow moving swiftly along the stones. The squirrel.
It stops. Faces them.
Jenny’s body seizes.
“Shit—” Charlotte blinks.
“Where’s my Charlie? My badge could use a shine.”
Charlotte blinks. What the—? Dad? No—
The squirrel, chattering.
Charlotte pulls the window shut and hugs Jenny to her chest. “Breathe with me, kid, one, two. Breathe with me, okay? Come on, he’s gone,” she lies, afraid of the squirrel’s chatter because it shouldn’t be able to create ghosts out of wishes and dreams—
A howl, long and furious. A swift black shadow runs along the Wall’s edge.
It leaps into the air toward the Wall and—with a streak of violet and shadow—is gone.
Charlotte waits for the squirrel to return, or that wolf, but nothing comes.
Even the stars seem to move and search the Wall, their light transforming the
clouds into fleeing ghosts.

Jenny’s face breaks from relief. “D can’t do much in the day, but at night he
chases the nightmares away.” She puts her head to the floor and listens.
Television voices keep talking. The hall floor doesn’t creak. Mrs. Blair never
heard them.
“But where do they go? Where do they come from?”


“The Wall.” Jenny crawls to one side of the sewing table while Charlotte positions herself on the other. Together, they can just see different pieces of the Wall exposed by moonlight. “My parents have never gone over it, and they’ve never talked about anyone living back there. It’s not marked as a nature preserve or conservancy or anything. It’s just… there. It’s been there as long as this farm. Longer.”
“Some wall, if it can’t keep them in.”
“I don’t think it’s about keeping them in so much as keeping us out.”
Autumn so often brings traces of smoke in the air from those who burn leaves or have final campfires. This evening there is a smell in the air, but it’s not leaves: it’s thick. Sticky. Persistent.
Hate.
Jenny pulls another sheet from her book, a page ripped out of a literature textbook. Jenny’s circled the four-line refrain over and over and over:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
“Yeats. ‘The Stolen Child.’ You think…” Charlotte has to pause, because to
say this is even possible… No, she couldn’t let this be possible. “You think those
animal things are fairies?”

Now, at long last, we can continue Charlotte’s story beyond the Wall, where another wall, this one underwater, awaits her crossing into the unknown…

It towers above them, surely taller than Rose House. Yet it stands incomplete: the wall runs about the width of Rose House, but the lake waters continue on either side. And directly in front of them there’s a large hole in the wall, as if it was built that way. Unlike the Wall above, this one allows life to grow upon it: seaweed, old and frayed as an ancient mariner’s hair, yes, but still, it is something growing upon the rock around that hole. The hole has a pull to it, a current that barely touches them with soft fingertips, but it is there, palpable, and Liam’s wings feel its pull. He has not known such a pull since traveling the Water Road so very long ago… “Where does that go?”
Blinkey sneers, steps backward. “Nowhere. Everywhere.”
“On pain of death, we’re bound by magic to remain within the Wall of River Vine—”
“Is that what you are afraid of?” Blinkey grins, displaying two solid rows of teeth shaped like little white Ws.
Charlotte feels the muscles in Liam’s arm tighten as he replies, “I am not afraid.”
“Think, Blinkey: your queeny can’t talk to us if these cursed tattoos kill us first.” Charlotte holds her right wrist up actually hoping the thorns will start moving. But they don’t.
Blinkey lazily twirls her spear as she steps out of the air bubble back into the water. The magic that reshapes her legs into a tail comes and goes, but the smile has not yet left her face.
Charlotte wishes it would.
Liam can’t take his eyes off the hole in the wall, or the seaweed that fails to sway with the current flowing through the wall. The seaweed is still. Resistant. It keeps all its fronds away from the hole. The water beyond the hole, it looks… dark, unfathomable.

Yup, this last bit is an excerpt from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, the second installment in the Fallen Princeborn series. Despite what happened with my publisher, you all encouraged me to fight the good fight and write on, so write on I did! Now at last Chosen is ready to be shared with you via ARC–Click here to access and get started. Come the week of Halloween, the ebook (and paperback, I hope!) will be ready for purchase.

The Blurb!

CHARLOTTE’S FAMILY MAY NO LONGER REMEMBER HER NAME,

BUT HER ENEMIES WILL NEVER FORGET.

Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.

Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.

The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart.

Fallen Princeborn: Chosen is a direct continuation of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury.

I am thrilled beyond measure to finally reach this milestone, and I cannot thank you again for encouraging me through all my doubts and fears. You, each and every one of you, are a blessing to cherish in this community.

Do you have a favorite story with a boundary into a magical realm, where a character willfully crosses into the unknown? Please share in the comments below!

~STAY TUNED!~

I’ve got some fantastic interviews underway as well as music both cozy and creepy to get our autumn adventures started. I’ll also be sharing more excerpts from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen and the sources of inspiration that helped create pivotal moments.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!