Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, E.P. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
E.P. Clark starting writing fiction as soon as she deigned to learn to read, which was not particularly early–she spent a good deal of her childhood doing more important things, such as pretending to be a unicorn. Slightly later, she wanted to be a world-class equestrian. But, much to her surprise, the heavy finger of fate pointed her way and she ended up moving to Russia, which led, very circuitously, to her earning graduate degrees in Russian from Columbia University and UNC-Chapel Hill, and her current employment teaching Russian at Wake Forest University, along with some odd travel opportunities. The picture, for example, was taken in Finnish Lapland, shortly before she was almost trampled by stampeding reindeer. She continued writing fiction throughout all this, however, and has published multiple short stories and novels.
Love First Lessons or The Bear and the Nightingale? Try both books of this award-winning epic fantasy adventure in one omnibus edition!
“A bold beginning to a series that explores gender, empathy, and the frozen north”–Kirkus
“A riveting saga”—Midwest Book Review
Women rule in Zem’. Krasnoslava Tsarinovna is the second-most powerful woman in Zem’. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of power.
Krasnoslava (Slava to her friends, if she had any) is the younger sister to the Empress of Zem’. She lives in luxury in her sister’s kremlin, eats at her sister’s rich feasts, and sits on her sister’s council. She has everything any woman could want—except respect. Instead, she is the bearer of her family’s double-edged gifts of clairvoyance and empathy. Knowing what other people feel about you is difficult at the best of times. In the Imperial court, it’s torture.
When an adventurer comes asking for Imperial support to explore the Midnight Land, the far North where the sun never rises all winter, Slava is so desperate to leave the kremlin that she asks to come with her. To her surprise, her request is granted.
Slava’s journey is supposed to take her to the very edge of Zem’ and the Known World, and maybe help her learn more about her gifts. But as she travels North, she finds herself drawn into the center of a plot that could bring down her family. Slava would do anything to protect her family—except what the gods call upon her to do. Everyone has always considered Slava a coward. Will she learn to become a hero in order to save the people she loves?
And now to the interview:
1. What do you want to share with us about this story? What really stands out about it and made you want to write it?
I think it’s got two things that make it stand out: the Russian setting, and its matriarchal culture. When I was writing the first draft, back in 2009-2010, I didn’t see many fantasy books with a Russian/Slavic setting. In the past ten years that’s changed and there are a lot (comparatively speaking) of recent books with Russian-esque worldbuilding. The matriarchal culture and the explorations of gender and female heroism and empowerment are still, I think, pretty radical to be honest.
2. Why do you write in this genre? What makes this genre particularly appealing to you?
There are a lot of reasons why I like epic fantasy. There’s the immersive worldbuilding, which I think is why a lot of us go into it. The very thing that people like to make fun of—the incredibly long series full of backstory and maps with made-up names and so on—is the thing that draws fans to it!
It’s also a great vehicle to explore psychology and culture in a way you can’t with more realist genres. Something all the speculative fiction genres have in common is the ability to rewrite the rules of culture and society and examine alternative possibilities. And epic fantasy in particular, I think, is the most “psychological” and especially “subconscious” of the genres, meaning it’s probably the best suited for exploring deep psychological issues that can’t or aren’t brought to the surface in other genres. But with fantasy you can bring them to life as dragons or whatever. And epic fantasy is built around this incredibly satisfying quest/heroic journey narrative that fulfills a deep human need.
3. What made you decide to become an author? Can you tell us a little about that journey?
I knew I wanted to become an author ever since I realized at about the age of six that I could make my own stories. Took me about another 30 years to actually publish a full-length novel, though 🙂
4. Why did you choose to self-publish? Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
I started back in the early 2000s writing short stories and novellas and submitting them to ‘zines and contests. I won a few small contests and got accepted by a few small ‘zines and anthologies. That was sort of very gratifying and encouraging, but it was also a lot of rejection and criticism. I already had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do, and I realized pretty quickly that most editors didn’t share my vision—in fact, they didn’t seem to understand it at all. So I decided to go the indie route when I finally felt like I had a full-length novel that was more or less ready to publish. It was primarily for artistic freedom.
I quickly discovered that there was still a certain amount of stigma around self-publishing. Then, as I got more familiar with self-publishing, I understood why. I was rather taken aback when discovered a lot of the self-publishing ethos was around “writing to market” and maximizing profits. I think there are a lot of good things in the current indie movement—e.g., taking control of your own IP—but I’m also surprised when indie authors complain about not getting respect from readers and publishers the way that indie film or indie music get respect. As far as I can tell, the indie author movement is motivated by entirely different, and much more commercial, goals than other indie artistic movements, but a lot of indie authors don’t seem to understand that. I’d like to see more writers who are doing this for primarily artistic rather than commercial reasons go indie; then I think we might start to get some respect.
5. Where do you get ideas for your stories? Do they come to you over time, or do you suddenly think of an idea and realize it would make a great story?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Sometimes I can pin down exactly where the idea came from. For example, The Midnight Land was inspired when I came across the phrase “the midnight land” in a text I was reading for a medieval Russian literature course in grad school. I instantly knew I had to write something with that as the title. Other times ideas just sort of creep up on me and I can’t say exactly when they came to me. That’s how it’s been with The Singing Shore, the trilogy I’ve been working on for the past year. I had some very vague ideas about it, but it’s really developed more and more during the actual writing process, and now doesn’t much resemble the ideas I had swirling inchoately in my head at the beginning.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Yes, I also write mystery/thrillers under the pen name Sid Stark. I’ve occasionally thought about branching out more, but so far two pen names is more than enough for me to keep up with.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in your genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, research, etc.?)
For me the main thing is probably character development. I read this really interesting book, which I recommend to all authors, called On the Origin of Stories, by Brian Boyd. In it he argues that fiction serves a crucial evolutionary purpose for a hypersocial species like humans, by allowing us to create theories of mind and think about and model different types of behavior. So I think character and especially character development is probably the fundamental aspect of fiction, especially long-form fiction like the novel, and that’s what we need most from it.
For epic fantasy I’d say worldbuilding is probably the number two thing. Some might even argue that it’s the most important thing for epic fantasy. When I reread epic fantasy classics that I’ve enjoyed for years, something that really stands out for me now is the excellent worldbuilding. Oftentimes the plot itself is rather meandering—something my own books have in spades, I freely admit—but the world and the characters are so compelling that the meandering plot only adds to the overall charm.
8. What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
Plotting has always been a big struggle for me. I originally thought I needed to outline, because that’s what you do, right? I quickly discovered that outlining was a giant waste of time and effort for me, because all every outline I tried turned into was a description of a story I was definitely not going to write now. I am very definitely a writer of discovery, for better or for worse. But a narrative does need some kind of forward impetus—a “point” or goal, if you will—and balancing out the tension between discovery writing and goal-oriented writing is something I’ve been working on ever since.
I also wish I’d known more about marketing and what is or isn’t a good idea in that department, but I think that’s something we all wish!
9. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
Yes, as I mentioned above, I’m currently (fall 2021) revising an epic fantasy trilogy that’s part of the same overall series as The Midnight Land. It’s set in the same world, but a couple of decades later, with a different main character. The protagonist goes on a journey to a kind of Finnish-esque land. It was loosely inspired by own visits to Finland and by The Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, but since my stories normally go on a big journey of their own between the original inspiration and finished work, I don’t know how much of The Kalevala will be recognizable to readers. The main thing I took from it was the creation myth of music, and meditations on toxic masculinity, since in my reading of it, The Kalevala is partly a lament on the dangers of toxic masculinity, to translate the language of the original epic into modern social justice parlance.
10. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish?
Don’t be in a big hurry. Both making your book publication-worthy, and setting yourself up as a self-publisher, will take longer than you think it will. Take your time to get things right and learn about the ins and outs of self-publishing. Read books, listen to podcasts, and join author groups on social media *before* you actually release your book. This is something I really wish I’d done, since I wasted a lot of time and money on things that didn’t help me and in some cases may have actually hurt me.
You can find E.P. Clark’s book at Amazon and many other retailers! https://books2read.com/TMLOmnibus
Thank you so much for sharing all this with us today, E.P. You can find out more about E.P. and her books at the links below:
Website – https://epclarkauthor.net/
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/EPClarkAuthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/EPClarkauthor
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