Author Interview: Val Neil

book beside a cup of coffee and camera, text says 'author interview'

Check out the first Fall of Magic book, Dark Apprentice, on Goodreads!

1.      Paperback, hardback, audiobook?

If you’re asking what I prefer as a reader, ebook! Dark Apprentice is currently available in paperback and hardback. The audiobook will release next year. I sprang for duet narration (M/F narrators within the same scene) and I’m super excited about it. You rarely see duet outside of romance. 

2.      Pick a genre, any genre!

Fantasy is my fave.

3.      What is the first book you remember reading?

The Fox on the Box was the first book I read on my own. I remember immediately taking it to show my parents, but then of course my words failed me. Reading in my head was easier than out loud in front of an audience.

4.      What book shaped your childhood most?

None of them, really, though that seems odd to say. I did love books but my imagination was sparked by movies and TV shows. I’m a very visual person.

5.      When did you first start writing?

I was writing and illustrating my own picture books in second grade. I reread them a few years ago and they all have complete arcs. It’s amazing how we internalize story structure even that young. I’ve tried to encourage my kids in their own writing efforts.

6.      What made you want to write? Does it still hold true?

It was a need, not a want. I’ve always had stories in my head. When we did pretend play as kids, my siblings and cousins always looked to me for direction because I had the best stories. I had wanted to become a writer but as early as third grade I didn’t see how it was a viable career. Even then I had an idea of the starving artist. It’s insidious how there’s such a demand for creativity and yet society devalues it.

7.      What book/poem are you most proud of creating?

Dark Apprentice

8.      Did you publish your first book or is it for your eyes only?

I started writing Fall of Magic (current series) back in college. It had been running around in my head forever and I just had to get it on paper. At the time I shared chapters with one friend but life events caused me to quit. I wouldn’t touch the story again until recently, and the current iteration is very different.

9.      How many books/collections have you published so far?

Just one novel and one short story.

10.   What genres do you write in (or hope to)?

I hope to do children’s fiction at some point. 

11.   Do you do research for your writing or is it all in your head?

My current series takes place in our world so I have to research historical events. 

12.   To plan, or not to plan your plot?

I don’t plot, but I usually know where I’m going and where the characters will end up. I have the skeleton of Fall of Magic in my head, with all the characters and major plot points, but I have to flesh out the details along the way. I love writing this way because you can throw characters in situations and see how they’ll react.

13.   What route of publishing have you chosen? Do you plan to stick with it?

Indie all the way! I could see maybe licensing print to trad since they have an easier time getting into stores though.

14.   If you could live inside another author’s universe, which one would you pick? (Ex: Middle Earth, Narnia, etc.)

My own, honestly, because I would love to have magic and in a lot of other author’s universes you’re either born with abilities or you aren’t. In my world anyone can become a mage if they train long enough.

15.   Do you currently have a WIP?

Dark Mind and Dark Whispers, the sequels to Dark Apprentice. I’ve also started writing one of the later books, which centers around a different character.

16.   Tell me about the character you’ve created who is dearest to your heart.

Nikolai ❤ I have a soft spot for dastardly, manipulative characters. He has antisocial personality disorder, colloquially known as a psychopath. He’s just interesting and fun to write. His reactions are so different compared to neurotypicals and his first impulses aren’t yet tempered by age so they’re over the top. He lowkey poisons a whole neighborhood just to avoid suspicion poisoning one person. There have been a few times when something happened and I’m just like, “Oh. Oh shit, Nikolai’s not gonna like that.” And then I laugh or cringe while I type his reaction.

17.   What surprised you the most after publishing?

That the frog licking scene would be what stuck with people, and the kiss with Harper. I almost cut the kissing scene! It’s right near the end of the book when things are supposed to be ramping up, but instead Nikolai takes this detour to see his friend. I worried it would throw off the pacing, but people love it.

18.   Do you have a favourite romance in your books? Or, if yours features no romance, tell us about your favourite character friendship!

Ew, romance. I’m aroace and while I do enjoy love stories, so many feel contrived. There has to be a genuine connection between the characters. Society seems so focused on heteronormative styles of love when there is SO much more than that. You can love people without wanting to sleep with them! You can love multiple people!

My favorite relationship in Dark Apprentice is between Nikolai and Harper. Harper is very much the opposite of Nikolai – kind and empathetic, offering help with no strings attached. Nikolai doesn’t quite understand this and views it as weakness. He can’t really form emotional attachments to people, but sees value in Harper and respects his loyalty. He lies and manipulates his friend because that’s just what he does, but he’s careful not to take things too far and is fiercely protective of him.

19.   Do you listen to music as you write? Recommend a favourite writing song.

I wear noise canceling headphones, with or without music. If I have music on it has to be mostly instrumental or something with repetitive lyrics. Lindsey Stirling is a favorite, Kaskade, deadmau5, Daft Punk.

20.   Do you have any character art for your books, whether by you or another artist? (Be sure to credit/link if you can!)

I have fanart! It amazes me that people connected enough with my characters to draw them. As a debut author this is something you dream about but don’t expect to happen with your first book.

https://twitter.com/manjimagatsu/status/1435044175175725056
https://twitter.com/vxctorvale/status/1435258975327592450

21.   If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Finish the damn book. Perfect is the enemy of done. Also, consider Indie publishing. It is not a fallback.

22.   Have you entered any writer contests? Tell us about your experience!

I entered the seventh Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and Dark Apprentice made it into the cover contest! Pretty cool considering I made it myself. Unfortunately the book itself didn’t get very far. I didn’t expect it to, given it has a villainous protagonist that people tend to love or hate (or love to hate). SPFBO finalists tend to have broader appeal. 

23.   Who are your top 5-10 favourite writers?

Robin Hobb. Aside from that it’s hard to say because books are really hit or miss for me. I love Mark Lawrence’s prose. I love GRRM’s characterization. For nonfiction I like Bill Bryson, Oliver Sacks, V. S. Ramachandran.

24.   Link us your book/twitter/goodreads or wherever we can best connect with you!

https://books2read.com/DarkApprentice
https://twitter.com/ValNeilAuthor
http://goodreads.com/author/show/21265288.Val_Neil

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