#SPFBO6 Interview – Suzannah Rowntree

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

A Wind from the Wilderness is the first book in the Watchers of Outremer series.  Here’s the blurb:

Hunted by demons. Lost in time.

Welcome to the First Crusade.

Syria, 636: As heretic invaders circle Jerusalem, young Lukas Bessarion vows to defend his people. Instead, disaster strikes.
His family is ripped apart. His allies are slaughtered. And Lukas is hurled across the centuries to a future where his worst nightmares have come true…

Constantinople, 1097: Ayla may be a heretic beggar, but she knows one thing for sure: six months from now, she will die. Before then, she must avenge her father’s murder—or risk losing her soul.

Desperate to find their way home, Lukas and Ayla join the seven armies marching east to liberate Jerusalem. If Lukas succeeds in his quest, he’ll undo the invasion and change the course of history.

But only if he survives the war.

Only if his enemies from the past don’t catch him.

And only as long as Ayla never finds out who he really is.

A Wind from the Wilderness is Book 1 in the new Watchers of Outremer series. If you love stories full of dark magic, bloody warfare, and star-crossed love, then you’ll be spellbound by this sweeping historical fantasy!

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, this is my first SPFBO! I entered A Wind from the Wilderness because, well, it’s a bit of an odd duck in the indie book market. In addition to being fantasy, it also doubles as a thoroughly-researched historical fiction, one that has some real moments of darkness and sorrow in it. It’s epic in scope and was very much a passion project done for the art, rather than a commercial project done for the money. As I was following SPFBO last year, I noticed that the books doing well—such as The Sword of Kaigen and Fortune’s Fool—were similarly artistic projects, written more for passion than for the market. I know it’s pretty presumptuous of me to mention my book on the same level, but I did think that if my book appeals to readers and judges, it might be for some of the same reasons those books did. I feel A Wind from the Wilderness hasn’t quite found its niche yet, and I’m hoping SPFBO might help it do so.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Well, specifically, I write historical fantasy—that is, historical fiction with more or less fantastical trappings. I have always had a deep love of history, and the older I get the more my love of history and my love of fantasy fiction look like the same thing. Palace intrigue, high-stakes battles, heroic or villainous deeds, deeply flawed characters, mind-boggling plot twists—all are things I love when they crop up in fantasy but get really excited about when they turn up in history, because how cool is it that this sort of thing really happened?

On the other hand, I can never resist adding fantasy elements into whatever historical period I’m writing. It feels like a very natural thing to do, because throughout history people have imagined myths and legends happening in their own world. As a very theme-driven writer, I think I’m particularly drawn to the way speculative fiction lends itself to deep thematic richness. In historical fantasy, I can use symbol and metaphor to talk about historical events in ways that straight historical fiction can’t. And finally, as a person of faith, I have always believed that there’s a deep supernatural reality lurking beneath the quantifiable elements of this world. I find I always end up asking my readers: imagine, just for a moment, that all the stories are true. Imagine there’s something so much wilder and stranger and more wonderful lurking behind what we can see. I can’t help seeing the world that way, and writing historical fantasy allows me to reflect that in what I write.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Deciding to self-publish was a pretty long process, which I won’t bore you with. In the end, I figured I’d rather own my own work and not hand it over for caretaking to anyone else. Traditional publishing can be a cutthroat business, with a lot of editing and marketing attention being given to bestsellers, and underperforming series being ruthlessly jettisoned. I decided that if my books were going to sink or swim, I wanted to be the one responsible for that. They feel too precious to me to entrust to anyone else, you know?

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Well, of course I feel there are a ton of advantages – it’s so much easier to make a full-time income indie publishing, you aren’t dependent on the somewhat nepotistic world of agents and publishers, you never have to try to win back the rights to an out of print work so that you can keep selling it under your own care. For me, specifically, there have been a lot of challenges as well. It can be hard to build up a decent following when you are writing in a niche like historical fantasy, where most of the bestselling authors and comp titles (Powers, Chakraborty, Novik, Moreno-Garcia, Miller, etc) are traditionally published authors. By and large, readers of indie books don’t care if every tiny historical detail is in place. They’ll love the book anyway, so you sometimes feel like you’re wasting your time reading all those academic texts. On the other hand, you might be writing gorgeously evocative tales that bring a lost era to life in vivid detail, and as an indie author, you won’t get much serious artistic recognition from established literary gatekeepers. That’s why I was so thrilled to discover SPFBO – it’s one of the very few ways that an indie author can win that kind of artistic recognition.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I have to admit that there’s a bit of a gap in my fantasy education – I’ve read a lot of the foundational classics (eg medieval epics, Narnia, LOTR) and a lot of more recent books in the last five to ten years, so if it was written anywhere between the 60s and about 2010, I probably missed it. At a guess, however, we see a lot more diversity in both authors and protagonists than there used to be. As just one example, there are a ton more fantasies that are inspired by cultures other than medieval Latin Europe, which is a thing I love – please give me all the Asian and African and Latin American-inspired fantasy worlds! These days female authors often still get pigeonholed in YA, especially if they’re writing stuff that’s not super explicit in terms of content, but they’re making a determined effort to break out. Classic quest narratives are still going strong, but I find there’s a lot more court intrigue and political machinations these days, as well as more character-driven tales.

As for ways that fantasy has remained the same, well, in a lot of ways we’re still definitely and recognisably the genre Tolkien founded, which is fine by me. Intricate worldbuilding, stirring adventure, and complex ethical dilemmas that speak in a veiled way to real-world issues were all things I fell in love with in LOTR, and I think the fantasy genre is still running on the same engine today.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Not at present. I’ve mostly been sticking to historical fantasy as I try to connect with my target audience there, but I have to admit that the genre I’m most drawn to apart from that would be space fantasy of the Star Wars and Red Rising type, which is medieval knightly romance in space, which obviously I love. I don’t have any plans to actually write space fantasy, but if I wrote anything else it might be that.

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
The stories I most gravitate towards tend to be character-driven, with worldbuilding obviously inspired by real-world history and with fairly rich themes that find their expression in agonising ethical dilemmas. Give me deep characters having to make terrible choices and then facing the devastating consequences of their choices, and I’ll love you forever.

Other things I gravitate towards: I generally stay away from explicit content – yes, it’s realistic, but personally I prefer to achieve realism without putting all the details on the page. I’ve also found that in recent years I gravitate towards female authors. I definitely want to expand my reading horizons on this front, it’s just that so far the people writing the kinds of stories I prefer right now tend to be women. Maybe I’m just jaded from reading a few too many fantasy novels where the female characters’ breast size is the most important thing about them!

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
Ha, I’m always working on new books! This year I’m finishing up Book 3 of the Watchers of Outremer series, A Day of Darkness, which will hopefully publish late this year. Meanwhile, I’ve been hard at work drafting an unrelated series, a shamelessly irresponsible gaslamp romp titled Miss Sharp’s Monsters, inspired by the glamorous yet bloody history of 1890s Europe in the lead-up to World War I. I just finished writing Book 2 which is titled Vampire on the Orient Express, to give you an idea of the flavour.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
There are dozens of things I could say here, but I think the most important thing of all is this: get online and get connected with the indie fantasy community. There are dozens if not hundreds of groups on Facebook dedicated to authors helping each other and promoting each others’ books. It’s a wonderful, generous, creative, friendly community, where you can get help on any aspect of the self-publishing process from writing tips to release strategies to newsletters to advertising. I couldn’t be doing any of this without them.

You can find Suzannah Rowntree’s book on Amazon!  https://www.amazon.com/Wind-Wilderness-Watchers-Outremer-Book-ebook/dp/B07HRL1RKM

wind from the wilderness cover