Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Interview With Author, Allison Reker!

Where are you from?

Cincinnati, Ohio, though I have moved around a lot.  I spent all of my teen years in Germany, which was a huge influence on my life and my writing.  There is such a wealth of history there everywhere you go, with medieval buildings still being used and interspersed with modern ones.  Some of my most stirring memories are of climbing long, twisting hillside roads leading to either whole, or ruined, castles at the top. 


Are you a full-time writer or do you write part-time? 

At this point, I am only writing part-time.  I also run a home business and have started to offer affordable editing services.  I would like to help self-publishing authors get their manuscripts polished and ready for printing.


What other careers have you held, and how have they influenced your writing? How do you balance the two?

I have always done administrative type work, whether for large corporations, small businesses, or non-profits.  I would say that my passion for creativity, and writing in particular, has influenced my professional life more than the other way around.  Balancing the two is extremely difficult.  There are many days when I don't get to write at all, and others when I've sat in my car with a laptop during lunch just to get a quiet hour.  I've found that even when I don't have time to write, it is important to keep the story going in my mind.


When did you start writing? What inspired you?

I guess I've been writing longer than I can even remember--my grandmother once told me that I won my first poetry contest in 1st grade.  I do remember being inspired mostly by nature and by the endless possibilities of my own imagination.   In grade school we would get creative writing prompts from the teacher.  She would start us off with a sentence, and we had to develop it into a whole story.  I was always fascinated by how many completely different stories were born of that one simple sentence.  I began to understand that there was no limit to what I could create, and made a point to push my imaginative boundaries any time I was given the chance.


Do you have a family/children? How do you find the time to do both?

Yes, I am married with two young children.  I just take one day at a time and try to not get upset when things don’t go quite the way I planned!  My writing is a legacy that I leave my children with the hope they will one day be inspired by it.

Have you ever been to a writing conference, convention, or classes? How was that experience?

I have been to a few writing conferences and have taken many classes over the years.  The ones where I made personal connections with other writers left the most lasting impressions.  One class in particular resulted in the formation of a small writing group that, years later, I still meet with every month. They are a wonderful group of people with very diverse backgrounds and writing styles, but we all support each other and help to keep the creativity flowing.


What books have been the most influential in your life?  Who are your favorite authors?

My love of fantasy began with the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis.  I adored those books as a child and read them over and over again until the pages fell apart.  Eventually I realized that part of what captivated me was that I felt God calling to me through them.  The Narnia books were a huge inspiration to me as I began to create my own imaginary fantasy worlds.  As I grew older, I also came to love the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander and the way in which those stories were infused with Welsh mythology.  I have often followed Alexander's example and delved into ancient mythology for ideas and to add authenticity to my tales.  As an adult I discovered Tolkien.  Every fantasy writer has bowed to him as the true, and as of yet unsurpassed, master of the fantasy genre--I am certainly no exception. 


Favorite book of all time? 

I'm torn on this one...it truly is a tie.  The Lord of the Rings for its complexity and its sheer genius.  The Narnia Chronicles for their underlying message and heartwarming simplicity.  They are still comfort books for me in the midst of life's anxieties.


Who are you reading now? 

I only wish I had time to read!  If I do have the extra time, I'm either researching for my current book, or actually writing.  Honestly, even if I could, I would find it very difficult to read other authors' works when I'm in the midst of my own creative process.  The last thing I want is for someone else's ideas or style to influence mine, even accidentally.  While I do feel some guilt about this, I also know that my style and story has remained unique and true to my own voice, and hopefully in the end that is worth something. 


How did the idea for your book come to you?

Believe it or not, through a video game!  Many years ago, I played an online fantasy roleplaying game (MMORPG for all you gaming geeks out there).  I was a natural story builder, creating a whole mythology that could be tied to everyday activities in the game.  Over the years my characters and their stories became so involved and so real to me, I couldn't just give them up.  When I quit the game, I wanted to keep them alive in some way, and so I started writing a new tale...one that preserved the essence of my characters and their histories.  I also felt called to give the story a deeper spiritual meaning that would hopefully touch readers just as Lewis's writing had always touched me.  Writing this series has been a journey of faith for me that is still ongoing.


Do you have certain process when it comes to writing a story or a novel?

Definitely.  I am a firm believer in creating an outline before I start writing a book.  Without that it would be all too easy to lose track of important details and let tangents run my plot.   For my current series I also took the time to make a comprehensive historical timeline that goes back all the way to my world's creation story.  Every important historical event, figure, group, piece of writing, etc. has been documented.  My timeline is over 20 pages long.  Yeah, admittedly a little crazy...but necessary.  This really helped me to figure out what makes my world tick...where people's core beliefs come from, what fuels their hopes, fears, ambitions, conflicts, even their spiritual development.  I can see my world's progression unfold from ancient to "modern" and not lose sight of how much time passes between significant events.  The timeline has become a huge help to me and I refer back to it regularly.  Aside from that, my process for the actual writing is pretty simple...just get it done whenever I can, whether I have 20 minutes or 2 hours.


How did you come up with the title?

When I was thinking about titles, I wanted to come up with something that has layers of meaning.  Journey to Aviad speaks of the physical and emotional journey my characters go through.  It also refers to their spiritual journey as they come to better understand God (Aviad in my fantasy world) and His plan for their lives.


What research did you have to do when writing your novel?

Even though my book is set in a fantasy world, I wanted to be as accurate as possible in my portrayal of daily medieval life.  I did a lot of research on things like food, clothing, technology, beliefs, occupations, education, etc.  My main characters in particular are weavers and seamstresses.  I had to research thoroughly how cloth and clothing were produced in that era.  This was an especially interesting task for me since I can't sew at all!  At one point I actually bought a drop spindle, which was a common tool in most medieval households, just so that I could feel, see, and know what it was like.  Amazingly, medieval women learned to make thread with their spindles while doing other household chores at the same time.  My thread?  Not so amazing.  It came out lumpy in places and pulled apart in others.  Still, it was good to get some hands-on research and the experience made me appreciate the skill it took to make fine thread without machinery.  The other aspect of my research was theological in nature.  Because Journey to Aviad has an underlying Christian message, I needed to be accurate in my presentation of core Christian beliefs.


What is the most challenging thing when it comes to writing?

Finding the time to write has been my biggest challenge.  The second most challenging thing is keeping all the details straight so that I'm not leaving important questions unanswered or creating situations or timelines that are impossible/contradictory.  I estimate that my series will be at least 5-6 books long, and the main plotline needs to be carried through all of them.


How do you handle the editing process?

I tend to edit as I go, I simply can't help myself.  I'm not someone who rushes through a first rough draft then goes back and does major edits.  I don't consider a chapter "finished" until I have gone over it carefully and refined it.  Periodically when I get to a good stopping point in my writing, I go back and read the whole thing from the beginning again, editing as I go, checking for the flow of the story as a whole, for inconsistencies, repetitiveness, places where I've forgotten to follow through on a plot thread, or anything else that needs to be tightened up.  The editing process for me is ongoing. 


How do you feel about e-publishing vs traditional publishing?

I honestly feel that traditional publishing has lost its way.   For the most part, it no longer focuses on promoting great writing, and discovering and showcasing new talent, but on producing what it considers to be easily "marketable."  Outdated methods, increased costs, and a changing economy have put publishers in the unfortunate position of having to be profit driven above all else.  As a result, a lot of wonderful works continue to be passed up.  Traditional publishers have also stopped offering the extensive  editing and marketing services that once made them an attractive option for authors with limited resources, yet they still keep a majority of the profit from sales and sole rights to the author's work.  E-publishing while not perfect, gives so many worthy writers who would otherwise face a lifetime of rejection letters, a voice and control over their own works.  Admittedly there are a lot of e-books out there that are not well written or edited, but the same can be said of some traditionally published works.  Personally, I think e-publishing is where the future of publishing is headed.  Right now e-publishing is on the rise, and unlike traditional publishing, it is by nature versatile and poised to adapt quickly to changes in the industry.


Do you have an agent or publisher? What was your experience with searching for one?

I do not have an agent, and I published my book through CreateSpace which was very inexpensive and easy.  I did a lot of research before deciding whether or not I wanted to go the traditional route or e-publish.  Because I am working on a series, retaining the copyright became an extremely important factor for me.  I knew the marketing would be difficult, but to be successful, I would have had to do my own marketing even with a traditional publisher.  Overall, the benefits of self-publishing for me far outweigh the drawbacks.  


Do you do any traveling to write your books?

No, though I still draw on memories of my past travels through Europe.  I do occasionally enjoy going to local SCA events (www.sca.org).  Unlike Renaissance Fairs which are largely for show and entertainment, SCA events are closer to medieval reenactment, which can offer some really great hands-on research.  They are also a lot of fun!   


What are your current projects?

I am currently working on the next book in my series.  There are only a few more chapters to write, and I can begin my final editing process to prepare for publishing.  I hope to have the book out on the market by the end of this year.     


What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

You may never be a best-selling author or make enough from your writing to quit your day job, but keep writing anyway and don't lose your passion.    Hone your writing skills and make connections with other writers and readers. Whatever you are writing, whatever your publishing dreams may be, never give up. 


Is there anything you want to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you!  Journey to Aviad will only be successful if readers believe in it.  Because my time and resources are so limited, word of mouth has been my best marketing tool.  If you haven’t read the book yet, take a chance on the inexpensive e-book version on Amazon.  Not sure if you would like it?  The Look Inside feature is available to help you decide.  If you read Journey to Aviad and like it, please leave a review on Amazon or post a comment on the Journey to Aviad facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JourneytoAviad ).  I would really love to hear from you.


How did you feel about the writing challenge? You story about Delevan was wonderful. Do you find world and character building to be easy?

The writing challenge was actually a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.  I decided to write something that could tie into the history of the world in which Journey to Aviad is set.  I'll probably end up adding Delevan to my timeline--maybe he'll even get a mention in one of the books of my series.  World building comes naturally to me and is one of the benefits of writing fantasy.  I am free to create absolutely anything I want!  In terms of character building, I learned more about creating characters from roleplaying than I did from any writing class.  Having to actually become my characters, and walk through their world in their shoes, responding to people and events just as they would, really taught me a lot.  Even before I started writing Journey to Aviad, I knew my two main characters inside and out just as if they were real people.  Roleplaying is an exercise I would definitely recommend for writers, especially those who struggle with character development. 


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

As a fantasy writer, I would of course love to live in a world of my own creation.  But if I have to choose a place in the real world *sigh* I would definitely choose the state of Maine.  Such a beautiful place, so quiet and untouched--very inspiring.  Moving there is on my "someday..." list. 


If you could have any super power, what would it be?

The power to go back and observe different places and times in history.  It would be amazing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps for a while, walk through a real medieval village, or see some of those ruined castles again…back when they were whole and full of life.