by Vanessa MacLellan
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror
Vanessa MacLellan is a fantasy author born and raised in the farmlands of eastern Washington, works as an environmental engineer, and is an avid birder, naturalist and hiker living in Portland, Oregon. Her first novel, Three Great Lies, an Egyptian fantasy published by Hadley Rille Books. She loves mythology and tries to slip it into every book she writes. Her website is vanmaclellan.com.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Let me start by thanking you for this opportunity to answer your questions. I’m Vanessa MacLellan and I live in Portland, OR, USA. I write fantasy in a variety of flavors. My previous book, Three Great Lies, was a portal fantasy/women’s fiction set in ancient mythological Egypt. Awaken, my current book, is a dark fantasy/horror with a young protagonist set in a frontier fort settled by a Norse-descended people. I love mythology. And while not all of my writing includes mythology, it is a component you’ll see often.
When not writing, I’m often camping, birding, backpacking, studying medicinal properties of plants… you get it. I’m a greenie. I also just started water coloring. I’m finding as I’m getting older, I want to create more.
I don’t know when exactly I ‘became’ a writer, but at a very young age I would make up stories for my mother filled with atrocious adverbs. I wrote fan stories for role-playing game characters and fan fiction for published works. I’ve done NaNoWriMo 15 times. One thing I wrote in junior high was a fan fiction poem for Stephen King’s short story, The Mist. This story is just one needle of inspiration for Awaken. I am always inspired by the world around me.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in small town America. We had two junior highs, one high school, and a community pool I rarely went to. I lived in the country where most of my raising was done on my own. I had animals I had to care for, but often my time was mine and I made up worlds even then to keep myself occupied.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I read, watch TV, or play computer games (Civilization is still an addiction and I started rewatching One Piece, a Japanese anime over 1,000 episodes long). I have a hard time being still and I think that should be the newest ‘personal enrichment’ goal I have. Just learn to be still.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Middle-aged, vegetarian, creative, tree-hugger and animal-lover. (I hyphenated and the ‘and’ doesn’t count.)
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Very few intentionally. I have been to the House of Five Gables and to Platform 9 3/4. I drove through Forks and Beverly Cleary has a middle school named for her near me. I’ve been to the Carl Sandburg house twice, though I’ve never read his works.
What inspired you to write this book?
Great question! I love moody, thematic horror. I like seeing the cliff coming for you and wishing you could veer away and knowing you’re going over. I like sacrifice characters. I like heroes, who no matter the odds, will do the right thing.
Heroic fiction. My happy place.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a superhero series I’m working on. The first book is done and I’m planning on finishing all of them before I publish them. I also have an environmental fantasy that’s in rough draft phase I hope to polish up next year.
I have a day job as an environmental engineer, so writing is a slow process for me. I diligently plod along and get the work done.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book and do you have a system?
Years ago I would have answered this totally differently with plans and plots and diagrams. After having written so many rough drafts, I don’t really have a process anymore. I find it’s different based on the book, how busy I am, how excited I am, etc. But I’ll give you my ‘perfect’ process.
* Have the world built before I start. Ponder it, think on it, daydream on it. Get an idea of what everyday people do. Get an idea of how the magic/power affects day to day activities. Know my characters and their choices inside and out.
* Know my ending and work backwards. This way I won’t write myself into a horrible box canyon… which I have done. This also allows for heightened tension and Oh Damn moments, because I know how they get out of it already, so I can create crazy scenarios that hopefully will keep the readers on the edges of their seats.
* Outline it all, step sheet, focus on emotions and what I want the readers to get out of each scene.
* Sit down and write daily.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Awaken?
Balin is the main character. He’s 16, the orphan son of a traitor who was gunned down before his eyes when he was 5. A commoner, he’s given certain privileges because his guardian is the Mistress of the College of the frontier fort they live in. He’s in a relationship with the only single noble girl his age, Elaine, who is promised to be married to the Hauld’s son, William. William is like the prince of the keep and he and Balin survived incarceration at the hands of the enemy together, so have a bond through that. Tristan is Balin’s best friend, second only to Elaine, and also of noble birth. These four work together to help fix Fort Resonbirg, the sentient keep they live in.
Then there is the Sallaedi… The Plague Man. Enda. Sometimes called Dust. He wants Balin… but for what purpose? Read the book and find out!
A lot of this book is held in dreams or in in-between dreamscapes. Thus, the name Awaken. Balin just wants to Awaken from his living nightmare. Balin is given choices that at first he refuses, because they are not good options. But as other avenues are cut away, he soon realizes what he must do. Balin is a real kid, wishing for a future, hoping for happiness. And he does what he must do.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Have you read The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot? Please do.
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
This poem played a HUGE influence on this story. Moody, moody, moody.
Awaken has three major plotlines. There is Ursulard the Dreamspinner, who is the main external antagonist who lays siege to Fort Resonbirg. There is the surrounding mist wall and the dragon, Nidhogg, swimming within entrapping them further and feasting on dreams. And then the Sallaedi and his demands on Balin and his offer of power. I wanted to do one of those intricate, entwined books with a lot going on. I hope I didn’t bite off more than I could chew, but it was fun.
Fort Resonbirg is a sentient building and I love the idea of an intelligent, aware house. I see it rarely in fiction. I also loved the idea of an entity feeding on fear and causing nightmares.
And Balin, my battered bruised boy who still tries and wants to do whats right. I love that kind of character and I wanted to bring him to life in my story. I hope he walks strongly in your imagination like he does in mine.
Who designed your book covers?
I went to Crowdspring to get my cover. Essentially you submit a proposal and people create covers to vie for your contract. I felt bad for those I didn’t pick, honestly. Khalid_art20 came out on top with the amazing cover of Resonbirg all misty with the hint of Nidhogg swimming in the mist. Love the mood it creates!
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I hope you enjoy Awaken. If you like it, please consider giving my other works a read. Though different, I hope I deliver you quality. My goal is that you come away from the story with it in your memory, with you thinking about it a few days later, and with you feeling deeply for the characters.
Thank you for having me! It was great to talk to your followers.