Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview~Aranya~Marc Secchia

Title: Aranya
Series: Shapshifter Dragons #1
Author: Marc Secchia
Publication Date: June 12, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

Long ago, Dragons ruled the Island-World above the Cloudlands. But their Human slaves cast off the chains of Dragonish tyranny. Humans spread across the Islands in their flying Dragonships, colonising, building and warring. Now, the all-conquering Sylakians have defeated the last bastion of freedom–the Island-Kingdom of Immadia.

Evil has a new enemy. Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Dragon Shapeshifter.


Oyda quelled him with a fierce scowl of her own. “Right, my fledgling. Memorise these flowers.”
“I–um, what’s this got to do with–”
“Now, or it’s none of my honey biscuits for you later, you churlish wretch.”
Aranya studied the wildflowers. Five meadow daisies, a sprinkling of tiny blue-tinkles and three each of peonies, red anemones and tall bursts of fireflowers, made up her posy.
“Now, you will make a pass above the dell,” Oyda instructed. “While you fly, you will tell your Human brain to paint these flowers in every detail. I will question you afterward. And–do shut your yawning trap, petal. You’re catching flies.”
Grumbling to herself about how direct Nak and Oyda could be at times, Aranya thumped four-pawed over to the edge of the cliff, to her favourite outcropping, and threw herself into the air. This bit at least she had grasped. As usual, the moment she was aloft, her Human and Dragon brains went to war in her head. She immediately wallowed in the air. Every wing beat was a struggle.
Fine. She would paint flowers.
Aranya shot through the morning air. The deep golden sunbeams of a partial eclipse, the twin suns almost completely hidden behind Iridith’s bulk, seemed thick enough to swim in. She wheeled a thousand feet out and spun back on her wingtip for the required pass over the dell, where the figures of two tiny old people watched her intently.
She shaped meadow daisies. She concentrated on the finely bearded leaves of the fireflowers.
And she flew like a Dragon.
She raced across the sword-grass of the dell, almost brushing the blade-tips with her wingtips, before corkscrewing up above the forest bordering the heights and doubling back for a graceful landing that barely disturbed the still morning air.
Nak and Oyda smiled mysteriously at Aranya.
“Well? How was that?”
Nak wiped his eye. “Got a gnat stuck …”

“You old charlatan.” Oyda clipped the back of his head fondly. “That was Dragon, Aranya. Pure Dragon.”

Marc is a South African-born author who lives and works in Ethiopia with his wife and 4 children, 2 dogs, a rabbit, and a variable number of marabou storks that roost on the acacia trees out back. On a good night there are also hyenas patrolling the back fence.

When he's not writing about Africa Marc can be found travelling to remote locations. He thinks there's nothing better than standing on a mountaintop wondering what lies over the next horizon.

Social Media Links
Website  | Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Dauntless Indies Sit Down with Mark

- What inspired you to write your first novel?
My first published book, #1 in the Shioni of Sheba series, was inspired by a trip to the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia – an amazing, deeply scarred, jagged volcanic wilderness. I thought, ‘this is the kind of place dragons would love to live in’, that triggered the story. In my later teens I wrote several fantasy novels, but I consider those training for what was to come (you would not want to read them, trust me). I love to escape to other worlds or exotic places and to create and weave prose that will transport readers to those places.

- What books/authors have inspired your life most?
For hard science fiction, Isaac Asimov’s Robots series has to take it, within a great story is a timeless dealing with the human condition and an examination of moral and ethical choices through the eyes of his robots. The Bible is always my moral and spiritual compass. And in terms of pure writing, Anne McCaffrey’s world of Pern has always inspired me with the courage of her characters, sometimes in the face of great odds.

- Whom would you consider a writing mentor(s)?
If I could have my pick, definitely Anne McCaffrey – an amazing writer who built memorable worlds populated with warm, living characters, both dragon and human. In my school years I had a fantastic teacher called Forbes A. Smith who encouraged me to write an epic haiku about the life of a salmon (oddly enough!) and I have never stopped writing since. Most recently I have feasted on Robert McKee’s Story, an excellent resource for screenwriters and novelists alike.

- What book(s) are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, which mines many of the classic themes of good/evil, and the light/darkness of the spirit.

- Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I read a lot of Indie authors at the moment. There are two new authors I read and really enjoyed recently, Anna Herlihy’s The Watch – an excellent dystopian novel tucked inside a cover I disliked, and Eliza Wyatt’s Painted – this novel has a unique take on magic, combined with a courageous choice of heroine, a woman with Moebius Syndrome.

- What are your current writing projects?
I am currently working on 3 projects – the sequels to my bestselling fantasy books Aranya and The Pygmy Dragon, and on the 5th book in myShioni of Sheba series, The Fiuri Realms. After that I’d love to return to IsleSong and write the sequel to The Girl who Sang with Whales. Keep an eye out for an amazing map of Aranya’s world, coming very soon.

- What would we find you doing when you’re not at the keyboard?
I suppose there’s the day-job ☺ working in language development and training in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. One of the aspects I most enjoy about my work is meeting people from all around Ethiopia, the many different (90) languages and cultures. I speak, read and write Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia. Otherwise I might be found whistling up a tune on my flute or panflute, enjoying a good book, or fooling around with my 4 kids!

- What are your favorite setting(s) to read/write about?
I love culturally rich, unusual settings for novels. Right now, my favourite world is the setting of Aranya, a world of volcanic islands set above poisonous cloudlands. To fly between islands, people use hydrogen-powered dirigibles or dragons. Rather than being an ocean world like The Girl who Sang with Whales (think Maldives but ten thousand times larger), lapping against these islands is a spectacular ocean of toxic clouds inhabited by vast, crawling land-dragons and other ancient mysteries.

- If you could be any character in your book(s), which would you be and why?
That’s easy – Aranya. She’s complex and brave as a character, and lives in a breathtaking world, but best of all, she’s a dragon. I’d love to be a dragon because of all creatures in fantasy worlds, dragons are the most beautiful, awesome, and magical, and they have the freedom to fly.

Top five favorite titles (these do not have to be favorite books)
Anne McCaffrey – Dragonflight – the original and awesome introduction to her dragon books
J R R Tolkien – Lord of the Rings – a magnificent all round epic tale of good taking on the heart of evil. Peter Jackson did a great job with the movies, too.
Bryce Courtenay – The Power of One – a searing tale of apartheid South Africa, my homeland, whose racial issues colour (excuse the pun!) much of my writing
Terry Brooks – The Sword of Shanarra – for me, set the standard for epic fantasy for many to follow
Brian Jacques – Redwall – I love his colourful characters and over-the-top feasts!

Top ten books
Anne McCaffrey – Dragonflight – the original and awesome introduction to her dragon books
J R R Tolkien – Lord of the Rings – a magnificent all round epic tale of good taking on the heart of evil. Peter Jackson did a great job with the movies, too.
Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s List – powerful and harrowing tale
Terry Brooks – The Sword of Shanarra – for me, set the standard for epic fantasy for many to follow
Isaac Asimov – Robots – classic science fiction and an examination of the heart of the human condition from the perspective of his Robot Laws. Brilliant.
Bryce Courtenay – The Power of One – a searing tale of apartheid South Africa, my homeland, whose racial issues colour (excuse the pun!) much of my writing
Brian Jacques – Redwall – I love his colourful characters and over-the-top feasts!
Ted Dekker – Red, White, Black – thrillers on a totally different scale, I enjoyed his earlier works much more than the later ones
Ursula LeGuin – Earthsea Trilogy – a fantasy pioneer who built awesome worlds
Arthur Golden – Memoirs of a Geisha – an exception book that evokes a segment of society in almost perfect detail, it is utterly engrossing.

There could be so many more worthy choices! But these are the top 10 stories or series that moved me as a writer and as a human being.

How many books have you written? This can include both published and unpublished works. Describe each of them in 1-2 sentences apiece (if published, feel free to include the links as well).

I’ve written 9 published works :-
Aranya (Shapeshifter Dragons Book 1) – Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

The Pygmy Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragon Legends Book 1) – One night, a dragon kidnaps Pip from her cage in a zoo, whisking her away across the Island-World to a place where she will confront a terrifying foe. Now, the courage of the smallest will be tested to the utmost, for Pip is the Pygmy Dragon, and this is her tale.

The Girl who Sang with Whales (IsleSong Book 1) – An extraordinary musical adventure set in a world where Sea-Dragons threaten all life. Zhialeiana must learn to become a Bard-Navigator and sing to the great whales of the ocean to protect those she loves.

Feynard – A quest to save the Forest. A mismatched set of companions. Feynard needs a hero, and his name is Kevin. Only, Kevin likes his comfortable old slippers, and while the Dryad Alliathiune has concluded he’s the Forest’s saviour, she also thinks he just needs a jolly good slap to get started.

The Legend of El Shashi – When a selfish man betrays the man who is father to him to an ambitious sorceress, a curse of limitless power is unleashed upon the world. This is the legend of El Shashi, the man cursed with the power to heal, and a life shaped by a shocking fate.

Shioni of Sheba Series – A unique, engaging African fantasy adventure series for middle grades readers set in the volcanic Simien Mountains of ancient Ethiopia, with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Book 1: The Enchanted Castle – A fantastic adventure awaits Shioni, slave to the Princess of Sheba, when the King travels to Castle Asmat to hunt down a murderous warrior tribe. Can a slave girl defy a powerful enemy and save the kingdom of Sheba from destruction?

Book 2: The King’s Horse – When Shioni travels into the Simien Mountains in search of the King’s errant horse, little does she imagine the danger and adventure that await her in those dark, volcanic peaks. Can a lowly slave of Sheba survive this test of her courage?

Book 3: The Mad Giant – As the giant’s madness flourishes, Sheba faces its deadliest peril yet. With the help of her friends Talaku, the Mad Giant, and the fiuri Azurelle, Shioni must outwit and defeat the forces of the deadly witch-leader of the Wasabi, Kalcha – Sheba’s nemesis.

Book 4: The Sacred Lake – A journey across the highlands of Ethiopia to the Sacred Lake in search of medicine for the stricken King of Sheba turns into high adventure for Shioni of Sheba. Can she brave the dangers of ancient Gondar, save her king, and win the ultimate prize: her freedom?

In my earlier years I wrote a number of works which remain unpublished. These include The Silent One, a fantasy exploring the fate of giants,Dwelfquest, a Tolkienesque epic fantasy, and Chaka, a story about an African warrior with a clubbed foot, who sets out to find healing in the fabled city of Riondarl.

And finally, I am working on 3 new volumes at once – part 2 of Aranya, tentatively called Western Isles, part 2 of The Pygmy Dragon, and book 5 of the Shioni of Sheba series, called The Fiuri Realms.

What does writing preparation look like for you? Do you do full outlines and character profiles, or do you just start with a general idea and write?
A number of my stories have started with a dream, such as ChakaAranya and The Legend of El Shashi. I write down a synopsis of the dream the following day. Similarly, for story ideas, I now write down a synopsis or jot down ideas in mindmap format, exploring related ideas or themes or characters I wish to use. I keep a file of all my ideas for stories and mine it periodically for inspiration.

Nowadays, I do a chapter and scene-by-scene outline for a book, even if it is just a few words per section, to work out the storyline and plot. It also serves to keep my crazier ideas in check ☺. I draw up character sketches and flesh them out using pictures, words, traits, descriptions of what a character might have in their pockets, dialect, physical attributes, etc. I write up a sketch of the world, perhaps draw a map, and think through any physical features or magical systems or anything else that might be needed. For example, for Aranya I researched hydrogen dirigibles and drew up detailed notes on the major three races – humans, dragons and Shapeshifters, which inhabit this world.

Next, I do any research that might be necessary (see the section on research below), before maybe writing a test scene or chapter. If I like the feel and the flow of the story, I get stuck into drafting right away, and unleash my characters on my unsuspecting world. I’m not afraid to chop and change the outline during drafting, as the creative process might take or force me in unexpected directions.

Editing is a challenge for many writers. Give us some of your tips for editing efficiently and well.
It’s a challenge for me as well, as I tend to miss the small details of typos and commas, etc. Here’s how I work, to be most efficient. During drafting, I read from a little ways back before picking up where I was writing before. Once I’ve finished drafting, I get on with the major business of editing, which takes at least as long as the initial draft, and sometimes much longer:

Fix the big problems first. I check each chapter and scene for overall fit and flow within the story, and the strength of the scene itself. If it’s weak, I rewrite or remove it. Same with plot – it has to work & be believable, or it’s OUT.
Check the characters speak and behave consistently throughout. Each character, even the minor ones, must have arc (growth) during the story. I might map or take notes of common expressions or grammatical structures they use.
Re-read several times, doing line editing – checking for lazy writing, poor word choice, tightening up dialogue and sentence structure, strength of description, overuse of ideas or words, overwritten paragraphs, misplaced punctuation, etc. I usually aim to remove ‘flab’ to make the story move faster.
Give the manuscript to a good copy-editor for proofreading. My wife is a fantastic editor, as well as several friends. I have often been complimented on how ‘clean’ my books are in terms of editing. Blame my editors ☺ for that!
Final checks. I might print the book and edit it with a pencil, read it on a Kindle, or listen to it by using the reading functionality in Adobe Reader. I often read a book aloud to myself. It’s amazing what you miss when reading on screen!

Research is another challenge writers face, but is an important part of the writing process. What are some of your research tips?
Do it until you’re tired of it, give it a break, and then do some more.
Consult the experts – don’t rely on Wikipedia
Do your historical groundwork
Be realistic about how your world will work. Research the science if needed, it makes for better writing
Always attribute your quotes and double, triple-check them

For example, my Shioni of Sheba series is set in 2nd-century Ethiopia. For this series I first travelled to the location, the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, in search of inspiration. I used Google Maps to find and check every photograph I could find of the location, on top of my on-the-ground research. I consulted different topographical maps. Then, I researched the history of the Kingdom of Sheba, consulting every source I could find, but most especially, the excellent African historian Basil Davidson – did you know, for example, that Africa had knights in medieval times, and that the Sahara wasn’t always desert? I didn’t!

After that, I turned to flora and fauna. I now own 4 books on the flora and fauna of Ethiopia. I read fables and legends, such as Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal, and the Kebre Nagast. I consulted the archives at Addis Ababa’s central Archive. Finally, that germ of the story was ready, but firmly grounded!

If you have been published (self or traditionally), what type of marketing did you find worked the best for you? What was the least helpful?
My experience of book marketing has been a learning curve. It is not enough merely to write a good book, with a great blurb, or an eye-catching cover, because the competition out there for readers has never been fiercer. The real secret to marketing and social media use is twofold – perseverance, and generosity.

Few books or writers succeed immediately. For me, it was my 8th published book, Aranya, which first climbed into the bestseller lists. Before then I had established a good track record of quality, engaging work, well-edited books, and stories which engaged readers in unique settings and cultures. I honed my writing craft. Alongside that, I worked on building a social media network of Facebook and Twitter friends, and it is those people really who through word of mouth contributed to the success of Aranya. Sure, I did marketing on newsletter sites and through Fiverr, but the results of those efforts tend to be short-lived.

There’s a balance to be kept between marketing and writing. Good marketing means an investment of time which you have to make, and it also means reading, reviewing and retweeting and reposting other peoples’ work – being generous with your time and efforts. These are my key ingredients to marketing success. Be social, be generous, and persevere!

What genre do you write in? What are some of the challenges to writing this particular genre well?
I write fantasy for middle grades, young adults and adults. One of the key challenges to writing fantasy is to meet readers’ expectations, while maintaining a unique voice. There’s a great deal of stock, Tolkienesque fantasy out there, and the market is competitive. Carving out a niche for yourself takes perseverance, craft, and the ability to know what criticism to listen to and what to take with a pinch of salt.

Length is a challenge. Robert Jordan or J.K. Rowling can hit 260,000 words in a novel without breaking a sweat or fans complaining (yes, they are also excellent authors). Some readers will not pick up a ‘new’ author’s novel at over 100,000 words. So there’s a challenge to packing in enough action, detail and world-building into a novel of that length to grab readers’ interest. The fantasy genre these days also seems to require an obligatory, cinematic final battle. For some readers, a novel without a huge battle is one in which ‘nothing happens’. Break this rule at your peril, authors!

Many readers are discerning and I think rightly demanding about fantasy – they want magic that ‘works’ and is realistic, fully fleshed-out characters and world-building while maintaining a healthy pace, and don’t take your characters on too much of a journey or ‘yawn’ nothing happens again. Could you imagine Lord of the Rings without a journey to Mordor? You get the picture.

However, fantasy is a fantastic, flexible genre with so many possibilities, I love it! My writing ranges from African historical fantasy (elephants and hyenas in a fantasy book, anyone?) to epic ‘traditional’ fantasy – Feynard, or The Legend of El Shashi – to the water world of The Girl who Sang with Whales, to the cloud-topping, volcanic world of Aranya and The Pygmy Dragon, populated by shapeshifter dragons and gigantic land dragons dwelling beneath the cloudlands. I love to stretch readers’ expectations on a huge canvas, while entertaining them mightily and examining the human condition. Too much to ask? You judge.

What advice would you give to a writer who is starting out?
Great! Put pen to paper and start writing, but bear these things in mind:
Read a great deal in your genre and understand how it works, the do’s and don’ts, before you start writing yourself.
Don’t be afraid to break some rules and to find your own unique voice.
Learn how and when to listen to your critics.
Make friends with people who will offer you truly honest, impartial advice. Your novel is not complete if only your family and friends think it’s complete
Work at honing your craft to the best it can be
Success takes perseverance

What are your writing, editing, marketing, and research goals for 2014-2015?
I would like to build on the success of my bestselling novels AranyaThe Pygmy Dragon, and The Girl who Sang with Whales, by writing the sequels for these. At the same time, I aim to improve myself as a writer, and spend more time connecting with fans and other authors.

Pretend I am from a publishing house and you are looking for me to take on one of your books. Pitch it to me in 1-2 paragraphs.
My book Aranya is an exciting combination of dragons, stunning aerial battles and romance, set in a unique world of volcanic islands above the cloudlands. It has received critical acclaim from well-known author Stephan Myers, who said, “He spins a mythical yarn, achieving a notable balance between luxurious detail and intense action”, and is rated 4.6* on Amazon from 41 reviews.

What you get from me as a writer is a commitment to quality work, unique settings, and stories which engage readers at many levels, from action to world-building, from memorable characters to rich, detailed cultures and interactions. I do not wave a magic wand at situations, but choose to put my characters through realistic situations and dangers so that readers will truly believe in them and root for them. Aranya is such a character. She’s a princess, a criminal, a true friend, and a woman on a mission to change her world. This is a powerful coming of age tale with enough depth and heft to become a classic. Take it on, you won’t be disappointed!

Finally, is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
I value my readers highly and do my best to entertain! Do feel free to get in touch through my website or Goodreads profile with any questions or comments you might have.

Giveaway: There is a giveaway for this tour. A $25 Amazon/B&N Giftcard or a Book Depository shopping spree of the same value.

One winner. Open Internationally. Ends 10/24. Void where prohibited.

No comments:

Post a Comment