Joining the small publisher Breakwater Harbor Books has allowed me to get to know some really awesome writers. I'm happy today to get to interview one of those writers, Lela Markham. I haven't yet finished reading the entire book, but her Celtic high fantasy novel The Willow Branch is truly fascinating so far. Since reading Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain as a child I have loved Celtic tales, and The Willow Branch is a story all lovers of Celtic myth will enjoy.
Lela, tell us a bit about yourself:
Thanks for having me, Ted. I grew up and still live in Alaska, where my family has lived off-and-on since the 1930s. I've traveled, but this is home and an adventure like none other. I live in a small city with all the modern conveniences, but I'm half-an-hour from real wilderness where the wildlife is in charge. And since my husband insists upon going out into that wilderness, I've had plenty of adventures and raised two fearless offspring.
I envy you, as I've always wanted to visit Alaska. Hopefully I can someday. When did you begin writing?
My mother claims I told stories as soon as I could talk, but a teacher in the 5th grade made me write one of them down. I hated the assignment – it was planned and felt really stilted – but I got the highest grade in the class and the teacher said I had talent. Talent will only get you so far, so I decided to rewrite the story for my own pleasure. I think it was still horrible, but the exercise ignited something in me – a passion for writing that has never gone out. I've kept working at it, trying to hone my skills (which is shaped talent) for four decades now. I trained as a journalist, worked as a small-town reporter and then decided I'd rather work for a living wage and write fiction for my own pleasure. I try to learn from others, but also recognize that my voice is unique and sometimes I have to with what it says.
What's your favorite thing about writing?
That I can choose or create where I want to go in my head and populate it with people and settings that I want to explore and that I can take other people with me.
What inspires you to write?
The world provides plenty of inspiration – news, movies, conversations you overhear in the grocery store, my pastor's sermons, the anarcho-capitalists of Fairbanks …. I used to work in the mental health field and a psychiatrist told me once that the only difference between writers and schizophrenics is that writers (usually) know there's a difference between what's going on in their head and actual reality and I think I represent that. Writing flows out of me and demands that I create. Wherever I go and whatever I'm doing, I get inspiration and that translates into stories and I jot them down in a stenographer's pad for later use in whatever story I end up developing.
What is your writing process?
When stories first start to develop, there's no plan or even a plot. Usually, a character will start to form in my head while I'm doing something mundane – washing dishes or filing at work. That character will start to tell me his/her story. If that character hangs around for a while (and they don't all do that), then I'll write something about them to see what follows. If a world starts to develop around that character, then I will start to outline and bring in other pieces of writing from the “notebook cache.” Eventually, I'll decide that this story needs a direction and an ending and I'll begin to fashion the story to flow that way and step up key milestones and determine which characters are willing to do what at any given point. Since my characters really write themselves, often my writing process is about figuring out what they will and will not do, because they have their own personalities and limitations and it is up to me as the writer to find out what those are.
Where do you like to write?
I don't have a favorite place to write. For many years, we lived in a tiny cabin where my computer was in the main living room, so I grew used to writing with people around and televisions blaring in the background. Now that I have a laptop, I write during my breaks at work, on planes, in the bedroom, by the wood stove, in the kitchen, in coffee shops, on the deck in the sun, sometimes during water breaks on hikes (I use a paper notebook for those last two). I'll jot down ideas that come to me when I'm watching movies with the family. Some places tend to lend themselves to certain stories and others don't, but I will literally write anywhere and anytime. Generally, I drink coffee or tea while I'm writing and I don't usually eat because I hate crumbs in the keyboard. When I'm getting down to the serious parts of writing, it's usually just me, my laptop, music in the background, a cup of coffee, and the continuity notebook for whatever book I'm working on.
I admire that tenacity. I'm so picky about writing that I have to have silence and I only work in my office at home! What is something you've written that will never see the light of day?
In high school, I wrote a lot of fan fictions for my friends based on TV shows we all liked, but were ultimately awful or maybe great because they got canceled. I think maybe I improved on them. My husband found a box of it and stuck it in a binder, but it will never be published because of copyright concerns. It was actually a great exercise, taking so-so episodic writing and making it better, giving minor characters fuller attention, finishing stories that were canceled mid-season. Call it weight-lifting for writers.
What's the hardest thing about writing for you?
Ending a story. Even when I've decided how it will end, I often do not want to say goodbye to the surviving characters. I think I write series for that reason. I know how the Daermad Cycle is going to end, but I have a nice long while before I get there.
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
I've written dozens over the decades, but I've officially finished only four and those are in various stages of revision or restructuring, except The Willow Branch. The door is shut on that. Onward to Mirklin Wood. My favorite is probably my dystopian A Well in Emmaus, which will be a series. I get to bring in a lot of threads from political philosophy, history, anarchism, faith, psychology, even economics and I really love that. I think the Daermad Cycle is my second, and again, because it is so intricate.
What are some of your favorite books?
Zenna Henderson's People collection were my first introduction to fantasy (they called it sci-fi back then, but it isn't really). I have a soft spot for it still. Madelein L'Engle's books remain favorites, especially The Young Unicorns. I have a library full of classics – Austen, Dickens, Hemingway. I love the letters of the American Founders. My favorite fantasy authors are Katharine Kerr and Kate Elliott. My favorite sci-fi authors are still Bradbury, Heinlein and Asimov. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 last year and was surprised at how prescient Bradbury was – he described ear buds and wide-screen media rooms 50 years before they existed and his take on the alienation of modern America is stunning.
Since we're both new to Breakwater Harbor Books imprint, tell me about your experience with them.
I've known Scott Toney and Cara Goldthorpe from Authonomy for a long time. I think Scott's Ark of Humanity might have been the first or second book I read on the site and I backed it to the ED for a year. Scott gave me lots of feedback on The Willow Branch right after I came out with a major rewrite. Then we sort of lost contact until he found me or I found him on Facebook a few months ago. I checked out the BHB website and complimented him and then he asked me if I was interested in joining the imprint. I had already done most of the work on The Willow Branch. Scott Butcher, who is not part of BHB, acted as my editor for it -- it was a read-swap that went above and beyond. I literally agreed to join BHB three days before the ebook launch. Since then, it's been a warm and welcoming atmosphere and I've picked up a few author interviews from the relationship (both interviewing me and then my interviewing others, which drives traffic to my blog). Scott was moving houses, so things were quiet for a while, but now I see how being a member of a group of writers will allow me access to alpha and beta readers, critique on cover art, and help with promotion. Ivan appears to be a Twitter warrior, which I am ambivalent about, but I enjoy blogging, so I could support him there. That sort of thing. It's tough being an indie author, but if we can find ways to work together, to play off of each other's strengths, then we become better publishers as a group.
Promo Blurb from my press kit --
Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artist pursuits.
Lela has been a journalist, worked in the mental health field and is currently works for the State of Alaska, but her avocation has always been storyteller.
Her first published book The Willow Branch begins an exploration of the world of Daermad where a fractured kingdom leaves two races vulnerable to destruction by a third and opens the opportunity to mend old wounds. Lela drew inspiration from Celtic mythology, Alaskan raven legends and the Bible to craft a tale of war, faith and reconciliation. And, don’t forget … Celtic goddesses, sentient animals and dragons.
Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband and two fearless offspring and a sentient husky who keeps a yellow Lab as a pet.
|Lela in the lovely Alaskan wilderness|
Back Cover Pitch:
A healer must mend a fractured kingdom and bring two enemy races together before a greater enemy destroys them both.
Fate took Prince Maryn by surprise, leaving Celdrya to tear itself apart. A century later an army amasses against the warring remains of the kingdom as prophesy sends a half-elven healer on a journey to find the nameless True King. Padraig lacks the power to put the True King on the throne, yet compelled by forces greater than himself, Padraig contends with dark mages, Celtic goddesses, human factions and the ancient animosities of two peoples while seeking a myth. With all that distraction, a man might meet the True King and not recognize him.