#SPFBO6 Interview – Meg Mac Donald

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

Oath Sworn is a stand-alone book in a planned trilogy.  Here’s the blurb:

One man’s oath.
One boy’s sacred duty.
One enemy bent on their destruction.

Soldier and statesman, Aralt “Wolf” syr Tremayne has finally laid to rest the ghosts of his past. He could no more have prevented the death of the Kavistra’s sons than the death of his own brother.

Now, however, the grave has given one of them up.

Aralt’s world is thrown into tumult when Lian Kynsei, last of a soul-touched clan and scion of a religious dynasty, returns, and Aralt is oath-sworn to protect the boy’s interests. But Lian is also a traumatized boy whose secrets rival Aralt’s own.

And neither of them is telling the truth.
Oath Sworn begins the Wolf’s Oath trilogy, a gothic gaslamp fantasy filled with unforgettable characters and a richly drawn world where skyships sail above tidal extremes and crystal swords are tuned to their owner’s souls. Follow this riveting adventure as one man is forced to choose between duty and his lust for revenge.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, it is my first SPFBO.  Oath Sworn is my debut novel and the first of a planned trilogy that nonetheless stands alone.  I had intended to enter in 2019 but lost track of time in the midst of moving house and bringing an elderly parent to live with us.  I was determined not to miss out this year.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Fantasy—speculative fiction in general—provides me with the opportunity to explore otherwise familiar plots and themes in new ways.  At the heart of most every story is something recognizable; something that the reader can grasp and say “I know this.  I understand this.”  Fantastic realms give those stories a broader vista.  The freedom to create new worlds, cultures, ideologies, etc. is exhilarating—and sometimes humbling.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Here, pull up a chair for a moment.  Earlier versions of Oath Sworn did the rounds with traditional publishers. Two imprints that expressed interest closed down.  I was crushed, but thank goodness I wasn’t caught in contract limbo.  Other publishers held it for the better part of a year several years in row before declining and wishing me well.  At least once it was #21 of 20 manuscripts from new authors.  This was “back in the day” when physical copies were mailed, literal slush piles were tall, and an author wouldn’t dream of simultaneous submissions.  I stepped away from writing for a number of years due to real life circumstances.  When I returned, publishing was a whole new world.  And I was a whole new writer.  I completely rewrote the book, started the “dance” with publishers again, but soon found myself in a quandary.  Secular publishers were lukewarm about elements of faith in the work.  Faith-based publishers found it entirely too edgy—and theologically problematic.  I was determined to stay true to the story I wanted to tell, so I hopped on the self-publishing bandwagon.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Advantages and challenges go hand in hand in the self-publishing endeavor.  Because you are publisher in addition to being the author, you have control over the details: the editor(s) you work with, the cover artist, whether or not to include additional material like maps, glossaries, and illustrations.  You govern the where, the when, the why or release dates. If you write rapidly, you can release more rapidly and aren’t slotted into a publisher’s queue that might have to waiting a year or more from one book to the next.  If you write slowly, you aren’t missing deadlines imposed by others—but there’s the rub.  Not everyone is cut out to manage themselves.  The freedom to do whatever you want, however you want it, is intoxicating—but the decisions seem endless and the path is often fraught with confusion.  A few key strokes brings the indie author a plethora of advice, but frequently from opposing views.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
How many is “several?”  One area of change that I’ve noted is the increase in MG, YA and (now) NA titles.  Not so long ago, speculative fiction—be it science fiction, horror, paranormal or fantasy—was pitched at a general audience that was primarily adult with more sophisticated teens and pre-teens partaking in the genre.  Children’s books (and books aimed at teens) always existed, but indie publishing has opened a floodgate, providing books to many more niche audiences.  By my reckoning, sub genres have gained in popularity—particularly in the YA market. It seems like more books (and shorter books) are being written to feed a hungry market—vampire romance, dystopian, reverse harem, fairytale retellings, etc.  As for how it has stayed the same, the heart of fantasy will always be that twist in reality that beckons the reader with a promise of a place that is both familiar and new—or a novel way to look at what the reader thought they already knew.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I’ve had science fiction short stories published and have more planned.  I like speculative fiction in general because of the freedoms I mentioned.  I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing historical fiction but I have an inkling it will turn into alternate history because I can’t quite escape that question of “what if…?”

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Characters and craft.  I love intricate worldbuilding as long as it doesn’t get in the way of telling a cracking good story, but what will draw me in faster than anything are intriguing characters and eloquent writing. I like action and adventure and good pacing like anyone else, but I’m not put off by a story that takes the time to, well, tell a good story.  That doesn’t mean it has to be 1,000 pages long.  Every word should count and while I like character-driven stories, I expect a plot, however lose that plot might be.  I like solid structure and well-crafted chapters that don’t mimic television sound bites.  I like characters with depth and believable back stories and foibles.  Give me flawed characters!  I want to see them change over the course of the story—even in small ways.  Some heroic fiction is built on the premise that the hero is always the hero, but they should learn something, be impacted by something. Or the world around them should be.  I like stories that connect dots I didn’t even know existed. I want to laugh and I want to cry—at least once.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
In addition to several other partial manuscripts waiting for my full attention, I am deep into the final revisions of Blood Sworn, the second book in the Wolf’s Oath trilogy, and have a messy draft of book three, Soul Sworn. Aralt and Lian’s story continues as they travel toward Askierran and Lian’s eventual appointment as the spiritual and temporal leader of the nation. Soulless assassins are still at large, cultures and ideologies continue to clash, and something evil festers beyond the Sea of Bones.

Against the backdrop of a world where jewelers Tune crystal swords and airships sail about tidal extremes, I continue to explore themes of duty, friendship, trauma, and loss. The last has become especially personal as I lost my husband very unexpectedly in March of this year.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Plan. Study. Take your time. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid. Be willing to make mistakes.  Be willing to try again.  Most importantly, get advice from someone that has a lot more experience in self-publishing than I do! haha

You can find Meg Mac Donald’s book on Amazon!  https://www.amazon.com/Oath-Sworn-Wolfs-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B07KSPPK2Q

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