Author Interview: Raina Nightingale

a pile of open faced books, one being held open, text says 'author interview'

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Paperback, hardback, audiobook?

Paperback. I really struggle to listen to anything, and paperbacks are smaller and just all-in-all a more comfortable format.

Pick a genre, any genre!

Fantasy. To be a bit more specific, stories that are set in other worlds, i.e not on this earth, that probably don’t have a lot of sci-fi elements (though I tolerate that from time to time). I love awesome magic systems and fantastic creatures, but they’re not a must. Historically-inspired fiction that’s just not set on Earth is great, too.

What is the first book you remember reading?

I actually don’t know for sure? But probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I got my hands on a pretty cool edition with color illustrations.

What book shaped your childhood most?

I wouldn’t say a single book shaped my childhood. But possibly Dragonsinger. That was the first of the Pern novels I read (and one of the ones appropriate to the youngest audiences), and it was a first in a lot of ways for me. The first real character fiction/fantasy I read. The first book with good dragons in it (though I’d always loved dragons!). The first book where an active female character was presented and a good thing.

And a slice-of-life plot and storyline. I loved Menolly, her music, and her fire-lizards.

When did you first start writing?

As soon as I could read. That happened all at once when I was about eight years old. In the space of a couple months I went from being able to read a handful of memorized words to being able to comfortably read adult-level books.

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

I think stories, particulary writing them, is how I think about life and how I explore and work through what I think. Also, I love world-building, whether that’s cultures or magic or designing continents and solar systems! It’s just fun!

What book/poem are you most proud of creating?

‘Most proud’ is a transitory state for me. I’m almost always most proud of whatever I have been enjoying most recently! At the moment, since I just got the files for Kindred of the Sea ready and I’m working on the launch campaign for that, I am so proud of Kindred of the Sea I sometimes think it’s the best book that was ever written! And that these words, spoken by Aderan, are the best words that were ever written:

“Among other things, you fear blackmail. So be it. If someone holds my soul-friend to torture for a secret I keep, and he bids me do so, make no mistake: I will betray that secret. And if he bids me do so not, no power in the netherhells will force that secret from me.”

But I’ve felt this way about every other book I’ve ever written and published, and if I pick up one of my previously published books and re-read it for the hundredth time, I’m probably going to be in the same mood for it, whichever one it is.

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

I lost my first book. I’ve lost so many words. Most of it, I don’t care that much about. I wrote like fire, so … and, well, I don’t feel at all bad about it. I was eight years old at first. But most of it isn’t anything I feel a need to have or publish. But I wrote a short story I wish I hadn’t lost in the middle of all the other trash, and there’s another novel I wrote that I don’t think I’m finding again that I’d kind of like to have. That one would be MG.

How many books/collections have you published so far?

I’ve published Knights of the Promise (which needs a new name sometime) and The Three Scrolls. Those are both Kaarathlon Novels, but they count as separate books! Then there’s Kingdom of Light which exists all by itself! And in Areaer there’s the Return of the Dragonriders Trilogy and the Legend of the Singer Duology, and also a novella, The Gifts of Faeri, and coming on June 24th, Kindred of the Sea. I’m not sure how you want to count that, because there’s a number of different ways to do it.

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

Fantasy. Always. Almost always other-world fantasy, and almost always fantasy with a magical world or creatures. I think my favourite is very character-driven, often a bit “slice of life”, and with magic and the mundane inextricably intertwined, but it’s not always exactly the same. I’ve currently got two somewhat different universes going, and I’m starting another with one of my WIPs, and they are all a bit different.

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

Most of it is in my head. After all, it is a fantasy world with fantasy cultures that are made in large part by the discovery method, but also by thinking, “What if?” or further developed by asking, “What if? If this is so (which I already know), how might it interact with this?”

But some things I’ve researched! Notable examples are watching hours of videos of volcanic flows and eruptions before writing the scene with the Volcano of Ellen Island in DragonSword, or reading a bit about tectonic plates and looking at projections showing tectonic boundaries and motion. Not that the tectonics in Areaer and Alaer aren’t magical, but – the magical and the mundane inextricably intertwined.

And a lot has been inspired by stuff I know! I’m naturally curious and remember a lot, so that can play into things. Areaer was originally inspired by some stuff relating to tectonics and mountains that then got transformed in my magical imagination!

To plan, or not to plan your plot?

Not to plan. Some people say that’s a way to get plot holes, but I find for me that’s the way potential plot holes resolve themselves in all sorts of cool and exciting ways (or ways so obvious you wonder why the idea didn’t occur to you until the scene you write in). You just have to keep the pattern or break the pattern in a way that’s still part of the larger pattern.

I’m not exactly a typical “pantser” either. I describe my process as “seer.” I see bits and pieces of my stories, often all out of order, and sometimes I can’t tell ahead of time if they will have obvious significance or if it’s an apparently little thing. Sometimes, two visions seem contradictory, but then I find they both occur in the same scene and fit together perfectly! And sometimes a vision never ends up in the finished story, but it informs my understanding of things and maybe contributes one line.

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

Self-publishing. Yes, probably. It keeps everything under my control and it means I never have to worry about other people’s deadlines. I hate marketing, and I don’t particularly enjoy formatting, but even there I like the control over the final product and being able to make it exactly what I envision if I want, and editing – fortunately, I have some people who help me with that. It’s not my preferred activity, and my dyslexia means copy-editing is sometimes virtually impossible, so it’s good to have help.

But I really like the control. Feedback and suggestions are just that – feedback and suggestions. I may listen. But if something feels wrong for my story, I don’t feel any pressure.

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

These questions are a little immaterial to me, but I always say Pern or Valdemar. I discovered Pern first, and I am in love with the dragons of Pern. Of course, I couldn’t ride a gold, I don’t think, but then again I wouldn’t want to be a goldrider. I couldn’t ride a bronze or a brown either, but that wouldn’t be a problem. Ideally, I think I’d want one like Ruth. It always struck me as ironic that Ruth is like the one asexual dragon and Jaxom is, “Ruth, look at that green? Do you like her?” and Ruth doesn’t even get it. Having a fair of fire-lizards would be really neat, too. I think I could like that. I wouldn’t even need a full fair like Menolly has. One might be enough. But I would like to ride a dragon against Thread!

Valdemar I discovered a lot more recently. There are a number of possibilities in Valdemar. Interestingly, though, being a Herald doesn’t particularly appeal to me, and it isn’t the danger  element (skies, I want to fly Thread!). But the Shin’a’in sound pretty awesome (except that I was truly disappointed by the battle steeds; I expected something fully as personable and bonding as the Hawkbrother birds). But I love the Shin’a’in Star-Eyed Lady, Kal’enel, and the Song of the Seasons:

The North wind, the cold wind, the wind of the snow,
Tells us it is time, winter pastures to go.
The Guide knows the path and the Crone shows us how –
The Old Moon, and time for returning is now.
And if, with the winter, should come the last breath,
And riding, we ride out of life into death,
The Wise One, the Old Moon, will ease our last load,
The Guide will be waiting to show the new road.

Do you currently have a WIP?

I definitely have a WIP, and I’m not exactly sure how many I have. I know I’ve got one set in that third universe I mentioned, which is just hatching now so I can’t tell you too much about it yet. I’ve got one which is the story of Lirulin and Eldor, the elf and human parents of Tara-lin, protagonist of the Legend of the Singer duology. It’s my first time ever writing a romance story, so it’s pretty interesting. Another two are concurrent and cross each other a couple of times, and are set about 50-60k years later. One of them is about a half-elf amateur linquist. The other is about a slave who becomes a Dragonrider and determines to free her people. I hope to publish that one come Winter 2022 or maybe Spring 2023, and the first book will be called Heart of Fire. I’m currently writing book two.

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

I am writing this backwards (or more like haphazardly), so by the time you get to the question two down I will have already said that ‘favourites’ and ‘dearests’ are not something I am very good at! So I’ll just pick one. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo method you know? Whoever is on the top of my head. And since I was just writing about Kindred of the Sea, not that Corostomir (and Aderan) aren’t as dear to me as anyone, I will mention Clindan!

Clindan is really dear to me and super important to the story, though a lot of that importance is something a spoiler. It was really fascinating writing him, since he was one of those characters I barely knew, yet I could feel his personality so tangibly in every line I wrote with him. He’s a Valor Knight who is realizing (or has realized) that the Valor Hall is corrupt and is biding his time to do what he can, and he’s a friend of Aderan, sort of: they met once before, years ago, and made an impact on each other, so they both remember the other. (Aderan is better at remembering people than Corostomir, by the way). I can’t say what it is about Clindan: it’s just there, one of those things so deep it’s indescribable but it bleeds through in everything. Some of my beta readers really felt it, too. Something about his smile, I think.

I sort of really, really want character art of Clindan, but I’m afraid to try for it, since with a character like this, I’m sure I’ll only be disappointed (or else super frustrating to work with AND still disappointed).

What do you consider your *current* magnum opus?

In my opinion, the majority of great works are highly over-rated. Therefore, I aspire to write none.

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

‘Favourite,’ ‘favourite, ‘favourite,’ have I said already that ‘favourite’ is not a word I understand in any solid way? I love them all differently and none of them are comparable. I’ve already talked a whole lot about Corostomir and Aderan, so I’ll mention Tara-lin and Alis from the Legend of the Singer Duology (Children of the Dryads and Sorceress of the Dryads). That was a really, really fun dynamic to write. Tara-lin comes from a background where there isn’t a concept of gender as such (just an understanding of what you have to do if you want to have children). There isn’t such a thing as masculine or feminine to her. Alis is a daughter of nobility in a male chauvinist society, and she’s a ‘tomboy’ at heart. She doesn’t care about feminine things or gendered things at all (and she doesn’t enjoy social functions and nobility things anymore). She just wants to ride horses, see owls and foxes, stuff like that. She has a lot of heart, but she’s very scared and out of her depth, and afraid because of the religion that’s been indoctrinated in her, too, even though she’s defying it, and she’s tired and sore and hungry all the time, as she travels with Tara-lin, who’s helped her to run away.

Tara-lin doesn’t understand Alis’ fears, insecurity, and background, and so she doesn’t do a very good job of being sensitive or understanding what Alis needs, even though she really cares, and she’s under a lot of stress, too, since she’s worried about her father. Of course, Alis doesn’t understand that, because she’s running away from her family, and if she thinks about Tara-lin’s father, she gets worried about him, too, because how can another Valor Knight be nearly as good as Tara-lin thinks he is? Will he just send her back? So on that first journey, they snap at each other and occasionally quarrel quite a lot, but they always make up afterwards. And they become very good friends who mutually support each other.

And, of course, I love love love Corostomir and Aderan’s relationship in Kindred of the Sea. That’s what Kindred of the Sea is (mostly) about: a friendship as intimate, committed, and meaningful as any possible romance that gives them the courage and freedom to challenge their assumptions and prejudices.

Technically, I do have a romance, so I guess I should have shared that. Silmavalien and Noren from the Return of the Dragonriders (DragonBirth, DragonWing, DragonSword) are demisexual and childhood friends-turned-lovers who are engaged before the story starts. And one of my WIPs is about a romance which is super interesting, but I’m not that great at talking about WIPs!

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

I haven’t tried listening to writing music or songs.

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

Oh yeah. Most of it is by myself, often with a friend of mine who doesn’t currently have an online presence so I can’t link, but I’ve got a few pieces from other artists. The portrait of Corostomir was drawn by my friend in pencil, then scanned, and I colored it digitally.

drawing of a man with a thick brown beard and shoulder length hair, wearing a blue top. text says 'raina nightingale & midnight rose'

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

Write what you love. Write what you enjoy writing or what you want to read. And if I can dance around the ‘rule of one’; why do you write? That’s not necessarily a question you have to answer. Sometimes, writing is the only way to answer that question. Sometimes putting an answer into words doesn’t help you know yourself or what you’re doing. After all, if we’re writing fiction that might imply we connect better to fiction. But it matters all the same, and it matters for what advice you should and should not listen to.

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

I entered DragonBirth in SPFBO7 (I’m going to enter Children of the Dryads in SPFBO8, if I can; well, maybe I will have already done so or failed; I seem to have a knack of publishing books just too late to get into the SPFBO of the year; Children of the Dryads  came out days too late to make it into 7). DragonBirth was in the very first set of cuts.

Other than that, all I can say is for some reason I seem to be a lot more relaxed about these things that most authors. It will be what it will be, and yes, going far means a lot, but being cut doesn’t really mean that much. So, honestly, I’m really relaxed about it, and I participated in a couple of sales with the whole bunch of us. Met some new authors and discovered some new books, too. I don’t go into it seeing it as a competition. You get to know some people, get to discover some books, help each other out. And if a judge doesn’t like your book, well, someone didn’t like your book; you knew that was going to happen, and a judge isn’t even someone who saw your marketing, or your back cover, or your title, or your preview, and decided to buy! So it doesn’t mean that much, and I don’t believe in judging anyways.

Who are your top 5-10 favourite writers?

George MacDonald, Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, E.G Radcliff, S. Kaeth. Not necessarily in that order, and not all in the same way or comparably. In fact, some in rather different ways!

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