Today we’ve got an interview with Megan Haskell, author of the epic fantasy Sanyare Chronicles and Publish: Take Charge of your Author Career. She and I share a lot of common fans, so if you like the interview, I encourage you to go check out her fantasy. If you’re a budding author, her non-fiction is worth it!
AC: Hi Megan, thanks for joining us today. My readers might know you from your Sanyare Chronicles, but you’ve also written some non-fiction. Can you tell us about your books?
MH: Of course! As you mentioned, I write The Sanyare Chronicles, which is a fast-paced adventure fantasy featuring a kick-ass heroine, snarky carnivorous pixies, and a quest across nine faerie realms. The story begins with our heroine, Rie, being attacked by assassins from the enemy realm and framed for treason. She’s forced to flee for her life and prove her innocence, before the executioner’s axe catches up with her.
I’ve also co-written a non-fiction book for writers called PUBLISH: Take Charge of Your Author Career. My co-author is Greta Boris and between the two of us, we have experience in both traditional and independent publishing: she has a seven-book deal with a small press, and I, of course, am the indie half of things. We work under the premise that neither path to publication is the “right” way, it all depends on the author’s goals and the project’s strengths. The book is designed to help amateur writers make the transition from hobbyist to professional, and guides them in assessing their skills and goals in order to make the best choice for their work. We then cover the basics of what to do and how to do it, from initial queries or contracts, to the book launch. It’s an overview that will help writers ask the right questions with further resources for deeper dives into the details.
AC: When I look at your Sanyare books, “fierce carnivorous pixies” jumps off the screen at me. What are these things, and what was the inspiration for such unusual creatures?
MH: Everybody loves the pixies! I think the best quick description I’ve heard is “piranhas with wings”. They’re about 2-3 inches tall, hairless, with dragonfly-style wings. They have razor sharp teeth and can change their skin to match their surroundings, like chameleons. They’ll eat pretty much any living meat they can find, but Niinka (their leader) has a personal goal of tasting every race of greater fae (elves).
I don’t remember exactly where the inspiration came from, but in general, I like to take mythological creatures and twist them up a little. For the pixies, I figured if there were really sentient creatures that small, they would have to be pretty badass. So rather than making them all sparkly and cute, I made them funny but vicious. A hungry swarm can devour a large mammal within minutes, but they like to collect trinkets and treasure, like buttons and string. They’re misunderstood by elvish society, so Rie earned their loyalty when she treated them with compassion.
AC: Anywhere we can find a sample of your work?
MH: Yes, absolutely! For the full story of how Rie came to be friends with the pixies, you can read the prequel, Pixie Tamer (free with newsletter subscription).
In addition, as a special treat for your fans, you can download Broken Honor: An Early Adventure of Garamaen Sanyaro (also free with newsletter subscription).
The first half of this story was originally published in the Ragged Heroes anthology, but the second half has only ever been seen by my existing newsletter subscribers. Which, as an aside, is why the cover is just a black screen with a title on it. I ultimately plan on writing more short stories of Garamaen’s early adventures, and will eventually publish a full unified anthology, but until then I haven’t wanted to pay for a cover. (And I have zero skills in photoshop to do anything better myself.)
AC: Aside from that one, all of your covers feature a badass looking woman holding a blade. Decades ago, the only women on the cover of a fantasy book would be half-naked and clinging to some muscled dude. Even just a few years ago, most of the women on fantasy covers were in the YA or Romance categories. What has it been like to crash the sausage party, and what do you think has been the primary driver behind more and more women writing “badass” fantasy?
MH: It's funny, I’ve never really looked at it that way. My literary heroes growing up were authors like Anne Rice (TheVampire Chronicles, 1967) and Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern, 1967), and characters like Lessa (from Dragonriders of Pern, who starts off a bedraggled servant on a mission of vengeance) and Anita Blake (a petite necromancer who gets herself into and out of trouble with each chicken she beheads, by Laurell K Hamilton 1993). So when I started writing, it wasn’t to make a statement, it was simply to tell a story I wanted to read.
But with that said, I think for a long time, science-fiction and fantasy were stereotypically male genres, and the stories were targeted at a male audience with a male eye, but just like comic books, that “old boys club” has begun to shift, with more women standing up and saying “Hey! I like this too!” Just because we have boobs doesn’t mean we don’t like a good action sequence, know what I mean? So now we’re seeing more strong female leads, the kind of women we wish we could be, written by women for women.
But I should probably also admit that, like Elaine from Seinfeld, I’m something of a “Man’s Woman”. I have no problem being in an industry dominated by men, and quite honestly would rather hang out and watch college football than have my nails done. (Also…Fight On!)
AC: Hmm, maybe it was just the fantasy books I read… I was waiting for you to say that you yourself are a badass woman, and you write what you know. What other women are writing great fantasy that you think we should know about?
MH: LOL…I won’t say I’m a badass woman, but I will say that I wish I could kick ass and take names the way Rie does!
Okay, so here are my top five modern female fantasy authors I adore:
1. Lindsay Buroker is one of my favorites. She writes snarky quick-witted characters in action-packed science-fiction and fantasy (she writes on both sides of the aisle, so to speak).
2. If you’re more into the Norse mythology side of things, T.L Greylock just released the completed trilogy of The Song of the Ash Tree which is amazing. Subtle magic, at least in the first book, but if you want to read about Vikings and myth, this will be right up your alley.
3. Miranda Honfleur’s Blade and Rose series is great. It’s epic fantasy romance/sword & sorcery with a strong female lead who definitely kicks butt and takes names.
4. Faith Hunter writes the Jane Yellowrock series, featuring a six-foot shapeshifting Cherokee vampire hunter. Oh, and her alter ego who she often shifts into is a panther named Beast. I haven’t kept up with recent releases in this series, but the first seven or so books were amazing. I learned how to write action sequences from reading these books!
5. Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series is my instant pre-order, no questions asked purchase. I don’t even bother reading the book descriptions anymore. However, this is definitely romantic science fantasy. Each book in the series is the love story of a couple, written in traditional romance chapter-swapping format, so if that’s not your thing, you might not want to pick it up. BUT the series plotline is AMAZING and what really keeps me reading. I think there are about 14 books in the series, I’ve ready every one of them, most more than once, and I am constantly amazed at how she manages to carry the threads of the political story through each book. If you want to learn about world-building and long series writing, this is the one to read.
<AC’s note: I’ve met Megan, Lindsay, TL, and Miranda. All certified badass.>
AC: Writing a book, and getting that book seen by someone other than your mother, is a challenge no matter who you are. What sorts of advice do you have for aspiring authors out there?
MH: First: assess yourself and your goals. What are you trying to achieve with your book(s)? What sort of work-life balance fits with your lifestyle? What are your 3-month, 6-month, 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals?
Once you understand yourself, you can start to take steps toward your dreams.
Writing and publishing can seem overwhelming, so you need to break it down into smaller steps that you can tackle one at a time. Don’t worry about getting everything “right” the first time…you’re going to make mistakes, but they’re all fixable…unless you do something illegal, I guess. So, don’t do that.
Otherwise, slow and steady wins the race, this is a marathon not a sprint, and it’s not a get-rich-quick-scheme, no matter what those ten-year over-night successes might make you think. (Was that enough cliché? LOL.)
AC: I saw you’re heavily involved in a group called Orange County Writers. Tell us a little bit about that?
MH: OC Writers is a local group that I co-lead with my friend (and co-author of PUBLISH) Greta Boris. We have a few different ways that we support both published and aspiring authors, including a Monday morning coffee shop “write-in” and accountability meeting, a Facebook group with over 1,000 members, and a website/blog.
The “write-in” begins at about 9, but people arrive whenever they can for heads-down work. We try to avoid chatting and distractions (other than coffee and tea deliveries, of course). Then at 11 we break our concentration for about an hour of conversation. In that time, we go around the table stating wins from the previous week and goals for the upcoming week. We usually run off on tangents about one thing or another that’s writing or marketing related. It’s a great opportunity—especially for us introverts—to get out and see people with very little pressure, while also providing better accountability for our writing craft and career.
The Facebook group is open to all writers, no matter where they live. Obviously, a lot of the announcements and events are centered in Orange County, but the overall advice and community spans the country.
My largest responsibility is on the blog. We used to have twice-weekly posts in business and craft from a ton of different contributors, but it got too hard to keep begging people for posts. Now, we mostly post upcoming local writing events plus Greta and I each post at least once a month on various topics that are relevant for our current writing careers, or answers to questions from our community. That said, there’s a lot of great information for writers of all stages in the archives.
AC: For those who don’t have an awesome community of local writers (anyone living in Houston, just sayin’), how do you recommend writers get connected?
MH: Why don’t you start one? Hmm? 😉
But seriously, if you don’t have an existing writing community in your area, go on Meetup or Facebook and start one. You’ll probably be surprised at the number of writers hiding in the shadows—we’re a bit like cockroaches that way.
Alternatively, if you’re not an in-person kind of person, search Facebook for writing groups that fit your genre and your personality. There’s a million of them online! Then lurk for a little while until you’re comfortable and post or comment when you’re ready.
I know you know this, but in this gig, it’s really critical to set up a support network to celebrate the wins and commiserate the rejections/fails (‘cause they’re inevitable.)
AC: What’s next for Megan Haskell? More Sanyare, something else?
MH: Well, I’m currently working on an epic trilogy that’s an ancient prequel to The Sanyare Chronicles. It’s the story of the Great War of the Nine Faerie Realms and features a few of the long-lived characters from Rie’s world. I’ve finished the second draft of the first book, but want to have the entire trilogy roughed out before I publish anything so that I can ensure continuity and add in any awesome ideas I come up with by the end of the trilogy.
So, what that all means is that I’ve been working on this already for over a year, and don’t plan to publish anything new until spring 2020, but once the first book is out the rest will follow pretty quickly, and when they do it will be a complete story. (No GRRM syndrome over here...)
So stay tuned for that…it’s gonna be awesome.
AC: I haven’t tried roughing out a series like that before finalizing the first one. It sounds like an incredible way to ensure continuity and build layers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and the rest of your process?
MH: Well, this is a first for me, too!! With the Sanyare Chronicles I took the more traditional path of writing one book at a time and sort of hoping that whatever I set up in the earlier books would play out well in the later ones.
But with The War of the Nine Faerie Realms trilogy I knew there was going to be an end, and I knew what that end was going to be, because it sets up some of the conflict in The Sanyare Chronicles. So knowing the end, and certain high points that had been referred to in the chronicles, I knew a lot of plot points for the overall trilogy story arc that had to be logically woven together. It also makes more sense to write it this way this time because it’s a single-story trilogy, sort of like Lord of the Rings, where the books really can’t be read out of order or they just won’t make much sense.
Which has been both good and bad. 😏
The good side:
· I’m not an outliner, but this has given me many key moments to work toward and has kept me on track as far as the plot.
· It’s added complexity in the storyline; I get to come up with new ideas in the second and third books and then weave them into or foreshadow them in the first.
· I can get all “craftsy” with this series, which is fun.
· Working on a longer timeline for the whole series has given me the opportunity to think more about the first book and ways to make it better.
· Once I do start to publish, I’ll be able to put them out much more quickly than I would have been able to do otherwise (I’m not a fast writer) which I think (I hope) will bring in more readers to the series.
The bad side:
· I’m not an outliner, so sometimes following a predetermined path is hard.
· This is really the first time I’ve worked with multiple point of view characters (Sanyare: The Winter Warrior (Book 4), technically has two, but the second POV is minor) and that’s hard too.
· I’m not the most patient person…waiting to release the first book is hard.
· Trying to keep the whole story in my head at once is hard.
· Weaving all the storylines together is hard.
· It’s hard.
Still, I’m glad I’m writing this series this way. It’s a challenge, for sure, but I think the end product is going to be my best so far.
So…what’s my process?
I started out with the characters I knew from The Sanyare Chronicles—namely Curuthannor and Lhéwen (Rie’s guardians), and Aradae (Shadow King in the chronicles, but still a prince during the war). I also plotted out the facts that I knew of the war that I had written into the chronicles. Then, for the most part, I just started at the beginning. I like to ask myself questions as I write, like “Where were they before the war started?” or “What specifically were they doing?” or “Who do they love/trust on day one?” and “Who betrays them and why?” (‘cause, conflict, ya know?
Sometimes it takes me a little while to really pin down the central story—what’s important to my characters and why. For example, with Curuthannor, I knew he was a smith’s son and had worked in his father’s smithy, but really prefers wielding the blades rather than crafting them. Still, he doesn’t want to disappoint his father so he does his best to live up to the family business. As I was writing, I realized that his story isn’t just about becoming a warrior, it’s about family and expectations, of finding his place and trusting his instincts. By the time I was done with the second draft, I’d finally realized that family is the key theme in the first book.
Because of the complexity of the story, I’ve had to go back several times to the beginning (which I hate doing in the rough draft stage because it slows me down even more) to reconsider how all the different chess-pieces are moving on the board and sometimes completely redraw the timeline. At one point, I killed a character that didn’t exist, and had to go back and write him into the story! Following the logical motivations of so many characters can be mind-boggling. But it’s fun.
AC: Tell us something no one knows about you!
MH: Something NO ONE knows? Umm...I married my college sweetheart, so I don’t think that’s possible....
But I guess something not many people know is that I take mugen bujutsu mixed martial arts and kickboxing classes three days a week (sometimes four), and am hoping to test for my blue belt next month!
AC: Where can we find out more about you and your books?
Hit up my website at meganhaskell.com where you can read the first chapter of each book and enter to win a signed paperback! I’m also active on Facebook. Every Wednesday morning at about 10:30 am Pacific time, I do a Facebook Live video on my page, and while I usually do have a rough idea of something to talk about (because mostly I feel like I’m talking into the void) it’s an open Ask Me Anything, so ya know, stop by and ask me anything. I’d enjoy the company!
And that’s all we’ve got for today! You can find Megan’s Sanyare Chronicles HERE. Happy reading!