#SPFBO6 Finalist Interview – Rachel Emma Shaw

Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, Rachel. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!

Last Memoria is the first book in the Memoria Duology series. Here’s the blurb:

Sarilla has learnt one thing from stealing memories. Everybody lies.

SPFBO 2020 Finalist.

“An enthralling new take on fantasy’.” – The Nerd Daily

“Sucked in from the start.” – The Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

“The Last Memoria, is a heartbreaking black tragedy that keeps you at the edge of your seat.” – The New England Book Critic

“This was a dynamic read that I’d certainly recommend!” – The Reading Corner for All

There’s nothing Sarilla hates more than stealing memories, but the king forces her to, just so he can keep his subjects in line. She wants to escape to where nobody knows what she is or what she can do, but her plans go awry when she runs into someone she would much rather forget.

Falon has a six-month void in his memories that he’s desperate to restore. He doesn’t know why they were taken or what they contained, nor why the man he loves is acting so cagily about what happened during that time. He hopes to use Sarilla to get back what was stolen from him and isn’t interested in why she’s so desperate to escape. She will help him get back what he’s lost, whether she wants to or not.

Join Sarilla and Falon in this twisted tale about how sometimes good intentions aren’t enough to keep the darkness at bay.

‘It’s a dark fantasy thriller about love, lies and memory thieves, perfect for readers searching for a new type of fantasy, one filled with real characters on heart-breaking journeys. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but with memory thieves and fantasy monsters!’

And now to the interview:

1.  Is this your first time making the final round in the #SPFBO?  Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, it’s my first time entering, but that’s probably only because Last Memoria is the first book I’ve published. If I had others, then I would have thrown them under the judges’ axes too.

As to why I chose to enter Last Memoria into SPFBO, well that involves a whole host of reasons, all to do with the incredible things I knew the competition could do for the book. People often assume that authors self-publish if they fail to find a traditional publisher, but this isn’t true. Increasingly, authors choose to self-publish because they’re doing something new with their book. Something different. Something publishers and agents don’t necessarily know how to reach audience wise.

This is where SPFBO comes in. It pulls together the weird and wonderful books out there, acting like a megaphone and sharing them with the world. Mark and his incredible team of blogs get the message of these books’ existence out to the readers, and each year, they curate a list of out-of-the-mold books. Books that aren’t a safe financial bet for trad publishers, but that make fantastic reads for those looking for something different. That’s what first drew me to SPFBO.

The competition is building an audience of people interested in books that push the boundaries of fantasy, and in doing so, it’s actually changing the boundaries of fantasy – which is pretty awesome when you think about it. By entering Last Memoria, with all its insanity when it comes to memory thieves and wacky exploration of point of view, I got to be a part of all that, which is amazing!

But that’s not the only reason I entered. The competition also provides a much-needed legitimacy in a world where people all too quickly dismiss self-published stories. On top of that, it connected me with a network of incredible authors, helping me feel a part of the existing writing community, which I was sadly lacking in before.

I’m incredibly grateful to all involved for making SPFBO possible. It really has changed my life. I’ve never harbored any delusions over Last Memoria actually winning this year, but by reaching the finals, in all the ways I’ve already mentioned, I’ve already won, and that was only possible because of the community SPFBO has already created.

2.  Why do you write in the fantasy genre?  What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
I always say, if I’m going to make something up, then I may as well make the world up too while I’m at it. For me, it’s all about possibilities, and fantasy opens up the most possibilities. I don’t like having restrictions while writing, but fantasy equals creative freedom. You can push the boundaries in so many unexpected ways. Help people live the impossible, which is what I got to do with Last Memoria. It’s about how memories affect identity. If I had written it based in reality, then I would have had to explore dementia or amnesia, but in fantasyland, I got to use memory thieves and delve into the concept far further than reality would allow, taking it to the extreme – something that only gets more insane in the concluding part of the duology.

When fantasy makes all that and more possible, I really don’t get why people would ever want to write anything else.

3.  Why did you decide to self-publish this book? 
Because I’m apparently not one for the simple life… Last Memoria received a traditional offer of publication by an independent publisher, but I decided not to take it. I felt too much of a pull towards learning about the publishing process for myself, and I wanted to be involved throughout. On top of that, it meant that I could design my own covers for the books, which was an awesome experience, and that I could publish at my own pace, which doesn’t get to happen when you hand over control to a publisher. I’m not saying that I will never try to go down the traditional route, but for this book, my first, I’m really glad I didn’t. So much so that I have a couple more coming out soon that I haven’t even considered trying to get trad published.

4.  Are there advantages to self-publishing?  What about the challenges?
There are hundreds of advantages to self-publishing, from better understanding your audience (since you are the one who has to reach out to them), to retaining creative control over your book and your career. If you have the will to keep trying no matter what, then you can really make self-publishing work for you.

But there are obviously lots of downsides too. From the self-publishing stigma that is just nonsense, but that you have to battle through, to the fact that self-publishing can take up a lot of your time since it’s all on you.

The main challenge for me has been doing all this alone. I didn’t just have to write the book. I had to edit it myself, figure out the target audience, create the marketing material, design the front cover, organize the book launch, contact reviewers, format the book, make it available online, record the audiobook, hire a male narrator when I killed my voice trying to narrate Falon’s part of the story, edit the audiobook, publish the audiobook online, figure out how ads work… The list really goes on. But on top of all that, I had to act as my own cheerleader, battling against the negative thoughts that agents and editors usually bat away to help preserve their author’s sanity and ability to write. When you traditionally publish, you have people around you to keep you going; even when it gets rough. I don’t have that, and for me that’s what makes publishing alone so hard. You don’t have their support or their second pair of eyes to ensure nothing slips through. I suppose that’s why the self-publishing community are so supportive of each other. They get what it’s like and act as the support network each other needs.

All in all, I would say that the advantages outweigh all that, especially on the good days. It’s just that it can be hard to remember that on the bad.

5.  As a reader and author, what changes (if any) would you like to see in the fantasy genre?
This is an interesting question, not in the least because fantasy is constantly changing. Just look at all the books in this year’s SPFBO. How many of them would have been written in anything like how they are now had they been penned twenty years ago?

I suppose for me, the obvious answer is better representation. We’re seeing it happen across the genre, but it’s still taking its time. My books have a whole host of LGBTQ+ characters and that should be the norm, but it isn’t. It bothers me that some of the praise I get for my stories is just for including gay characters, when their inclusion should be the standard, not something that’s praiseworthy.

6.  Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Nope. Fantasy all the way. Mainly because I can do anything in fantasy worlds.

I tried to write a regency romance once, but it was just too restrictive for me. I kept having to stop and check if things like spoons had been invented in the 17th C. It felt like I was writing with blinkers on. My worldbuilding demons kept trying to insert themselves. If I ever went back to it, then I’m sure it would end up being a fantasy regency romance just because that would be the only way to make it exciting enough to keep writing it!

7.  What do you look for in a story?  Especially in the fantasy genre?  (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Anyone who has read one or more of my books is going to laugh at this, but I am actually a sucker for a romance plot. To put this into context, I’m a hopeless romantic who also has serious issues believing in the existence of love. I mean, I know lots of people who apparently have experienced it, but I never have, so I struggle to accept its existence, but that doesn’t stop me from tearing it when I go to a wedding, or from cheering when my two favorite characters in the book I’m reading FINALLY get together. If a story has chemistry between two characters, then I am hooked. The problem comes when I try to replicate the happy ever after in my own writing. Ironically, in the worlds I create (worlds filled with monsters made from memories and all sorts of other insane things), happy ever afters just feel too unbelievable.*

*Sighs as she realizes what a therapist would think when reading that answer.

8.  Are you working on a new book?  Can you share any details?
I’m not sure I want to after bearing my soul in that previous answer. You probably have enough already to worry about me! But no, I will share. Mainly because I am terrible at keeping secrets. I swear, my fast pace of publication is mainly driven by the fact that it’s just not possible for me to go for long without caving and accidentally giving away all my secrets.

So I have two books hopefully coming out this year. The first is the concluding book in the Memoria duology. It’s called Scars of Cereba, and it’s coming out on May 10th. It picks up a couple of months down the line from where Last Memoria ended, and it’s basically everything cool and insane about Last Memoria, but amped up to a million. I mean, it starts with a character who has the memories of three people stuck in his head, which means that there are three different people fighting for control over his body. The term insanity really gets redefined at the start of this one, and it all escalates from there really!

As for the other book coming out this year, it’s similar and so different at the same time. It’s called Sacaran Nights, and it’s a dark-adult fantasy based in a city of rot and decay, where the Shades of the dead linger on and the citizens can’t leave, no matter how much they want to. Of all my books, it’s the one I have been the most excited for, but it’s also the one that has given me the most headaches. You’ll see why if you read it. I mean, I’ve created a world that’s kind of like a herbology class, but with fungi. Fungi that the citizens of Sacara use for all sorts of purposes, from poisons to telling the time, to sources of light. I have made what one character calls a catalogue of decay, with all these cool descriptions of the properties and name origins of the fungi, which are called things like ‘Fallen Stars’ and ‘Weeping Widow’. I think it’s a real insight into the biology nerd that I am, and it’s all finally started coming together! I’m onto the final edit before it goes out to my beta readers, so fingers crossed that it goes well, because then I will finally be able to share it with the world – spores, rot and all!

9.  Do you have any advice you would offer authors who plan to enter next year’s #SPFBO?
Oh, so much. How to answer this without going on for pages…

  1. Don’t expect to win, but enter anyway. Enter because of the other advantages to be gained and make the most of them while you can. By which I mean that you should use the competition to help you build your network. If you’re self-publishing (which you will have to be to enter the competition), then you will need it!
  2. Hire a proofreader, if you can afford it. If not (which most of us can’t when first starting out), then use Prowritingaid to proof edit your work (it’s incredible and you learn while using it!), and then do another proof in word, just in case. Trust me, you will be glad you took the time later! I didn’t and I regretted it. In fact, I used an editor who I shouldn’t have and trusted that they would find all the errors. Spoiler alert, but they didn’t and those mistakes really counted against me. I’ve since gone back and had the book re-edited, but it’s still galling.
  3. I personally love to do an edit listening to the book through word’s read-aloud function. It helps me make sure that my sentences flow. And if I have the time, I act it out as if I’m audionarrating it. Nothing catches dialogue your characters wouldn’t actually say like your very own table read.
  4. Don’t stress about it. Once you’ve hit enter on the competition, there is nothing you can do about it. Except maybe jeopardize your chances by pestering one of the judges or acting badly towards the other authors. Neither of which are things you want to be doing, so be kind and enjoy. SPFBO7 will only happen the once, and you’re a part of it, so have fun while it lasts! SPFBO6 isn’t even over yet, but already I’m starting to have withdrawal symptoms.

You can find Rachel Emma Shaw’s book at Amazon!