Today I have the pleasure of interviewing writing group buddy, professional editor, reviewer and fantasy author Satima Flavell, whose first novel The Dagger of Dresnia was released by Satalyte Publishing in 2014.
Welcome aboard, Satima. Would you like to tell us a bit about your writing background and what drew you to the fantasy genre in particular?
Thanks for having me, Jo! I’ve been writing since I was tiny, and had my first poem published in The Manchester Guardian (they’ve dropped the ‘Manchester’ these days) when I was seven. Since then I’ve written lots more poems (not many good ones, though) and also reviews, interviews and feature articles for a variety of journals. But fiction writing was a much later addition. I loved reading fantasy – it’s been my favourite genre since I was in primary school – and I wished I could write it, but stories did not make their nests in my head until I hit late middle-age!
I love fantasy because of its ability to show us the human condition in a different way. Thrown against a different backdrop, human frailties, joys and woes stand out more clearly. Good fantasy teaches us new ways of seeing what it means to be human.
How do you see your writing process, and what was the most satisfying aspect of writing The Dagger of Dresnia?
My writing process? SLOW! It took me five years to write The Dagger of Dresnia and another five years to find a publisher. I didn’t waste that time, though, because I did a lot of work on book two, The Cloak of Challiver, while waiting to sell the first volume. Obviously I shall have to speed up considerably if book three is ever to see light of day!
Funnily enough, book two already existed in draft form before I started The Dagger of Dresnia. Several crit buddies told me I needed to start the epic story earlier, since the precipitating incident had already happened well before the time of what is now book two. And my original inspiration was a situation that won’t be shown until book three! So it’s turned into a four-generational saga – one generation for each of books one and two, and two more in book three.
What has your publishing route been, and do you have a current work in progress planned for publication?
That route, Jo, was a long one, with a lot of road blocks in the form of readers and editors at publishing houses who weren’t looking for high fantasy. Publishing is a funny game. You have to have a book that is exactly what a particular house is looking for that very week, and it has to get onto the desk of the right person at the right time. And of course the book has to be good enough to publish – publishers won’t consider books that are ‘nearly there’. I kept on improving The Dagger of Dresnia with every rejection, and eventually I started to get personalised rejections instead of form letters. When one editor wrote and said ‘I’d love to buy this but we just can’t use it at the moment,’ I was over the moon! That alone was very encouraging. I think I’d tried every suitable publisher within Australia and was seriously thinking of trying overseas when Satalyte, a new company, set up shop and opened for submissions. Imagine how thrilled I was when I got not a rejection but an email to say they liked my book and wanted to publish it!
Yes, I have a new book on the way. The Cloak of Challiver is almost ready to go, and I hope to launch it at Conflux in October.
As a newly published author, what have you found to be the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of having a novel ‘out there’, and what are your aspirations for future publications?
It’s really rewarding to hear from readers about how much they enjoyed the book. They’ve given me some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and also on blogs and webzines. The Dagger of Dresnia got a lovely mention in The West Australian, too, saying it was ‘reminiscent of works by Guy Gavriel Kay and Marion Zimmer Bradley’. Wow!
The big challenge is getting the book known. Small publishers simply don’t have the resources to create the kind of publicity that books published by the Big Six can get – full page ads in magazines, huge mailing lists etc. I have a Facebook page for the series and it has a constantly growing following, but with all the white noise created by the internet it can be hard to get the word ‘out there’.
What would you particularly like to achieve in the next three years?
I can’t see any further than getting books two and three in print, and hopefully seeing the series gain more of a following. No false modesty here – I really think The Talismans trilogy is an enjoyable and worthwhile read that lots of people would like, if only they knew about it! And who knows? Maybe I have another book or two in me as well!
What advice would you give to new writers?
I can only point out my experience, which is a pretty typical path to publication, I was luckier than some – I started out with a sound knowledge of the genre and of literature generally, and I already knew how to string sentences together using correct grammar, spelling and syntax. Anyone who lacks these things is going to be up against it if they want to be conventionally published. Of course, you can put any old thing up on the internet as a self-published author, but readers are becoming more and more discerning and you’re not likely to sell many books if your basic skills are lacking. Go to workshops and classes if you live in a city, and scour the internet for writers’ advice if you don’t. Join critique groups – either live or online. And most of all, learn from reading other writers’ work – not just their fiction, but their blogs and interviews as well, since those often contain writerly tips and hints. Hang in there and don’t be discouraged! I am reminded of advice I had at a convention from American SF writer Tim Powers. He said ‘If you’ve written a good enough book and you keep sending it out, someone, somewhere will eventually publish it’. Remember that when you feel down-hearted, and above all, carry on writing!
Satima, thanks for the interview! Wishing you all the best with The Dagger of Dresnia, and for the upcoming second book of the Talismans trilogy, The Cloak of Challiver.
You can read more about Satima and her work at her site.