Today’s author grabbed my attention by mentioning something unique about her world: sacred prostitution, a concept which has existed at various times in history but is rarely explored in fantasy. I’m really excited about this novel and have actually requested a copy to review(the review should be sometime next month).
But I’m not the best at explaining other people’s books, so here’s the blurb:
The Defenders’ order is dying, but that’s no surprise. They’ve been in hiding for over a hundred years, and apprentices are getting harder to find – hardly anyone can see the dragons any more.
Eppie picked pockets on the streets of Anamat for years before one of the Defenders noticed her. She hid well, but one day she picked the wrong pocket, or was it the right one? She sets out to save the dragon Tiada, but if her mentor and the others fall in the battle, who will defend the dragons next time?
And now on to the questions:
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Defenders’ Apprentice?
The Defenders’ Apprentice is the story of a young woman who is recruited into a secret society that’s dedicated to defending the disappearing dragons of the land. It’s also the story of her mentor, Thorat, who is happy to have found Eppie but dismayed to realize that she’s also the girl he’s promised to deliver to his lover in the temple, a place Eppie does not want to be stuck, ever.
2. Which part of the story for The Defenders’ Apprentice came to you first?
It’s really hard to say, because the ideas built up and came together over a very long period of time. The first image I had when I started to write the series was of Iola arriving at the temple. That scene doesn’t even fit with the world I built up in the years after that, let alone with the story.
I think my original idea for the Defenders came to me when I was practicing aikido many years ago (I don’t practice any more, but would like to get back to it some day if my spine will allow it). There were all these people in the dojo who came from different and really very ordinary walks of life, but came together to practice this rather esoteric art. I began to think that this is what a secret society might look like – though of course aikido is not secret and we were always trying to get people to come by and try it out.
3. Your culture includes an order with sacred prostitution. How does this impact the culture’s attitudes towards sex overall?
In our culture, the ideal role of sex is within a monogamous relationship, to strengthen that relationship and/or to procreate. In the world of Theranis, the ideal is that sex is how you connect with the dragons, who are the gods of the land. It’s supposed to be a mystical experience first and foremost, and not necessarily to lead to romantic partnerships, especially if it’s with a priestess. Of course, people will pair up even when it’s not the accepted ideal, and they make those partnerships permanent when there’s a lineage to carry on, whether to pass on the family farm or command of an entire province.
4. How much planning do you usually do before starting a novel?
I try to plan, really I do, but what’s happened so far is that I get about a two-page outline done and then I feel that I’m ready to write. I also tend to stop and re-outline in between drafts, especially the first couple of times through.
5. You’re actually re-releasing the series but decided to publish The Defenders’ Apprentice first and release the other two as prequels. Why did you make that decision?
I published Scrapplings almost two years ago now. It’s the chronological beginning of the series, with Darna leaving Tiadun to come to Anamat as a youngster (about age 13, though she doesn’t know exactly). Ideally, I’d like people to read that book and Priestess before The Defenders’ Apprentice, or at least before the next book in the trilogy, but they’re not completely necessary. I actually wrote the original version of The Defenders’ Apprentice before those two books, ca. 2002/3.
6. How much editing did you do before releasing The Defenders’ Apprentice?
Defenders has had more editing than anything else I’ve ever written. I workshopped its opening chapters at Viable Paradise in 2003, reworked it, sent it for a professional manuscript evaluation, and I think that was when I decided to write the two prequel novels. I set the whole project aside in 2007, when I had my first child, and didn’t pick it up again until I shipped the younger one off to preschool six years later.
By the time I got to a new beta-reader-ready version of Defenders in 2015, I knew that the two prequels had failed to “take off” due in part to their quirkiness and slow pacing. I still think they’re good books, but Defenders is closer than the others to a traditional action-adventure fantasy, so I decided to re-launch the series with this one. I found another professional editor to give in a read-through and did another revision based on her feedback as a new reader. That was more useful to me than the earlier manuscript report had been, because this editor knows the genre very well. After sending it off to a couple of beta readers and doing a line edit, I sent it to a copy editor.
Was it worth it to do all that editing? Yes, probably, though I got better at knowing what I needed as I learned and wrote more, and I could probably have been more efficient about the process. Still, I never met a writer who felt that they’d done too much editing, and have come across many who wished they’d done more, so I try to do as much as I can before I run out of patience and/or come up against one of my self-imposed deadlines. Fortunately, I don’t have infinite patience, so I tend to push the work out sooner rather than later.
7. What have you learned so far about the self publishing process with The Defenders’ Apprentice?
I learn more with every book and every year of following the self-publishing scene. After releasing three novels and two shorter works, I feel like I came into this one with a solid command of the basics (formatting, sales channels, cover, book description, categories, mailing list, etc.), but there’s still a lot more I could have done which I skipped. One thing I’d like to do eventually is to put the book up on IngramSpark as well as on CreateSpace, so that I have a chance at bookstore distribution. I’d also like to do an audio book, but that’s an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Finally, I’d like to get back into doing some of the more “traditional” book marketing things, reaching out to independent bookstores and perhaps doing a reading at my local library.
8. What have you found to be the most successful marketing technique?
Author cross-promos are a big one, and of course there’s the mailing list. Jasmine Walt organized a big cross promo back in March which gave me literally thousands of mailing list sign-ups, and that mailing list really helped my pre-orders and early sales, along with two more cross-promos and some paid advertising in the week after release. I think it’s best to try a variety of things and not get too hung up on one channel or technique, because although the ebook market has stabilized, marketing seems to be a constantly moving target.
I released this book at 99 cents, and I think that helped, but now that it’s at full price it’s still selling some. I don’t think I’ll do a 99 cent launch on the next book, though.
One thing I didn’t do, which many recommend, was putting this book in KDP Select/KU. KU borrows can really help with visibility, but my fantasy books don’t seem to do well with that audience.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Keep writing, and try to orient yourself to intrinsic rewards and the process rather than sales, reviews, or awards. (I have not been able to do this myself, but I keep trying!)
10. What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
The next book! In The Turncoat Prince Darna rides off across the mountains and has an ill-fated affair but gains some self-knowledge along the way.
Thanks to her novel-writing grandmother, Amelia Smith began life with the delusion that writing books was a thing grown-ups did for a living. Through high school and into early adulthood, she wrote poetry and stumbled through occasional longer projects, mostly in the fantasy genre. She’s currently working on a multi-volume epic fantasy, with occasional side projects which have included magazine articles, a Regency romance, and a screenplay.
Purchase your copy of The Defender’s Apprentice today!