#SPFBO6 Interview – Cully Mack

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

A Voice That Thunders is the first book in the Voice That Thunders series.  Here’s the blurb:

A BROTHER DESTINED * A SISTER CLAIMED
A GOD WHO CAME BETWEEN THEM

Mirah watched her brother Gabe place his inky hand on the rock shelter wall and transition into manhood. Needing no one outside their small clan, freedom and friendship promised a peaceful future. That was life until the god, Shemyaza, sent his sons to slaughter them all.

Of those who survived, Mirah is captured and Gabe is missing.

United with a host of Giants, and Chimera, Shemyaza has one enemy, the destined Voice of Thunder. In a bid to destroy him, Shemyaza is building an army of Wielders and insists Mirah joins them.

Through magic, Mirah gains secrets. As she attempts to hide her powers and the mystery behind her wielding, Shemyaza’s stepson offers to train her but can she trust him with her heart?

Her old and new world collide and Mirah is torn. War is coming. Whichever path she chooses Mirah knows the Shadow is near, and only she can hear it whisper.

A Voice That Thunders is the first in an epic fantasy series set in the ancient past when monsters crept into our world, myth was born, and magic first breathed.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, it’s my first entry.  I joined Twitter and saw a post about SPFBO6.  I had no idea what it was except for it being for self-published fantasy authors.  I read how the three hundred spaces fill up fast and rushed to enter A Voice That Thunders.

It was only afterwards that I digested the enormity of the contest and the opportunities.  I’ve had my head stuck in writing mode for the past four years writing the first three novels.  A Voice That Thunders is the first in my epic fantasy series set in the ancient past when monsters crept into our world, myth was born, and magic first breathed.

I’m looking forward to getting to know authors, bloggers and readers in the fantasy community.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Answering this question is like condensing a blurb.  There are so many layers and you can only focus on a few.  I’ve always read fantasy.  My earliest memories are climbing into alternate worlds at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree.  As an adult, I tend to prefer epic, some of my favourite authors are Jordan, Feist, Rothfuss, Weeks, Gwynne and Sanderson.  I’ve always had a soft spot for characters on the edge of society, the loners, and the misunderstood.

On one level writing fantasy has no limits, boundaries or restrictions other than your own capacity to create something unseen.  I love building new worlds and dynamic characters to live in them.  Being a discovery writer, my characters often surprise me and lead me into territory I wasn’t expecting to go.  I adore unpredictable plot twists!

This series is inspired by myths from ancient Mesopotamia (Sumerian, Semite, and Akkadian).  I see fantasy and myth as siblings leaning on each other, inseparable.  Fantasy is living and breathing with infinite possibilities.  Myth whispers buried secrets and as we read, something innate recognises its worth.  This genre awakens the imagination and its potential is endless.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
When I was writing my first novel, I didn’t think too much about publishing.  I had an airy fairy dream of how it might go, querying, agents, etc, but I didn’t look up from my keyboard until my first novel was complete.  At that point, I thought, ok, what do I do next?

I read a few scare stories about traditionally published authors signing for their entire series and being dropped after the first book.  One author spent enormous sums of money buying her rights back.

I realised as I read, I’m a control freak!  I refused to give up my rights… I refused to sell out my characters.  In my head, I had visions of them becoming trapped in a dank publishing dungeon and the creative voice which connects us being severed.  I imagined their shrieks and accusations… They’re a rowdy bunch!  I realised my life would be hell if I sold them.  At least for now anyway…

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Creative control without restriction is a major advantage.  You can take risks—twist tropes.  There are no deadlines except your own.  As I mentioned, maintaining your rights is important to me.

The downside, for sure, is marketing.  I was unprepared for the cost and time it takes and I’ve made several mistakes.  On the upside, you receive higher royalty rates.

However, you pay all the upfront costs, covers, editors, etc.  I don’t consider this so much a challenge as long as you research and make the right connections.  There are some horror stories out there, for example, breaches of image copyright or self-proclaimed editors quick to take your cash but lacking skill.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
Television and movies has had a tremendous impact on the fantasy genre in recent years.  What was once impossible to recreate on screen is now possible.  Come on, let’s be real if we relied on the special effects in older fantasy movies to market our books, we’d not sell many.  For so long readers of fantasy have watched, craved, laughed and crept back to the pages in books.  We were content to be the nerd in the corner, waiting for the next saga whilst holding on to the genre’s unimaginable secrets.

Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and the more recent Witcher series (to name a few) has exposed our beloved fantasy genres to new audiences with differing expectations.  People want to binge books in the same way they binge TV shows.  No one wants to wait a year for the next installment.

Rapid release is an area where indie authors are gaining an advantage over traditional published authors.  And where indie authors have the freedom to take risks, an expansion and blending of fantasy genres is emerging.  It’s liberating.  There are no rules except for crafting a well written narrative.

As an author, I love exploring, testing and creating new realities.  As a reader, I enjoy new experiences, but after dipping my mind into fresh ideas, I find I yearn for the familiar and for me it will always be epic/high fantasy.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I graduated in 2018 as a mature student with a Masters in Creative Writing, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to write in various genres.  I have written a short film script which messes around with quantum physics and reality.  It’s a bit of a mind bender and I hope to do something with it one day.  I still write speculative fiction short stories.

Aside from a biography/memoir which delves into the journey through PTSD, I don’t plan to write outside the genre of fantasy.

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
The first thing I’m drawn to is the text.  It has to be tight.  I can’t be doing with repetition or lengthy sentences taking several words when it can be said in a few.  It bugs me so much it spoils my potential bond with the characters and the world.  The next thing I look for is the character.  Are they realistic, unique, what’s their conflict?  Are they coming off the page, can they hold a conversation, would I want them to?  I favour risk takers and rogues and I’m a sucker if underneath they have an honourable code.  I don’t tolerate fools for the sake of plot devices—ever.

I love the fantastical, give me unique magic systems and races I’ve never heard of before.  A cause worth fighting for, dying for!

Some things, I will forgive.  If the pacing is slow, but the world building is intriguing and delivered with unique prose, it will keep my interest.  The language has to be concise though, creating a dynamic visual capable of transporting my mind into this unfamiliar world.  I’ll skip purple prose.  I already know trees are green.  What I don’t know is why they’re swishing and what this might mean?

If the world is dull but the plot is racing, thrilling, page turning, the conflict so awesome that I have to know or I’ll just explode with intensity… I’ll go with it.  I can make up my own world as I go, right?

So what can’t I read past?  Un-relatable, flat characters with no goals or ambitions.  Or characters where the plot and those around them dictate their directions and choices.  I have a female character, she’s young, naïve, but she’s not an idiot.  She’d know if there was a gag in her mouth the moment she rose from unconsciousness.  Don’t make me sigh and lose my patience.  Don’t shatter my suspension of disbelief.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m editing the final draft of book four in the Voice that Thunders series, entitled A Vow That Clashes.  For those who don’t know, my characters live in a world being conquered by Watchers and their Nephilim armies.  Think epic battles with immortals and hybrid beasts, throw in elemental magic, huge plot twists, portals, unique worlds, and an ever-growing list of characters trying to save their world.

Book four runs concurrent to the third book and everyone dies… well not everyone one, that’s a slight exaggeration (maybe).  It follows Gabe, one of the main protagonists, and two side characters as the narrative splits three ways.  No spoilers, but I put them through hell.

Currently I’m writing a novella which focuses on two main side characters (Ammo and Sojin) in the same series.  I wanted to capture how they met, so I set the novella a few years before A Voice That Thunders begins.

I’m also writing a collection of short retellings of women from fairytales and myth.  In each narrative, a female tells her story through her own voice and not via the lens of a narrator or another’s perspective.  For example, the witch motif has been vilified through narratology for centuries.  What if there was only ever one witch?  And her story, told over and over in its many versions, was all lies used to suppress women?  We get to hear her truth and her shocking revelations.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?

  • Have confidence, be honest with yourself, true to your voice and to your story.
  • Start marketing early! Before your book is published, build up your audience on social media and newsletter subscribers.  Write a short story or a novella and use it to market your longer project.
  • Don’t cut corners on covers and editors. People judge a book by the cover.  If you want to succeed, your cover must look professional and appeal to your target audience.  The grammar police are everywhere!  They’ll forgive a few typos, but not much else.
  • Most of all – Follow your dream and don’t give up.

You can find Cully Mack’s book on Amazon!  https://www.amazon.com/Voice-That-Thunders-Cully-Mack-ebook/dp/B07QCL3JKZ

voice that thunders