While most of my interviews over the last two years have focused on traditionally published authors, I’m still delighted whenever I come across a self-published author who is winning awards and garnering acclaim. This week’s guest, M. L. Spencer is one such and I’m pleased to introduce you to her and her work.
M.L. Spencer fell in love with fantasy fiction in the third grade when she read the entire Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever series by Stephen R. Donaldson. She went on from there to read every fantasy novel she could get her hands on. Her favorite authors are Robert Jordan, Stephen King, and Frank Herbert. Throw some David Eddings in there for flavor, and that mix pretty much describes up her series The Rhenwars Saga.
She describes her most recent work, Darkstorm, this way:
When Merris Bryar stumbles across a secret meeting in the forgotten passages beneath Aerysius, she has no idea the harrowing sequence of events her discovery will set into motion. Merris discovers that deep below the city of the mages, forces of chaos are hard at work boring the Well of Tears, a gateway to the Netherworld.
Faced with an imminent cataclysm that will destroy the magical heritage of their people, a conspiracy of darkmages have resorted to harnessing the powers of Hell to save their legacy. The only mages who can oppose them are Merris and her mentor, Sephana Clemley, along with their protectors, Braden and Quin Reis: two brothers with a turbulent past and a caustic relationship. But both Braden and Quin are compromised, harboring terrible and tragic secrets.
Will Braden and Quin be able to protect Sephana and Merris long enough to stop the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they fall victim to the darkmages’ sinister manipulations and join their conspiracy?
Tell us about your most recent release.
Darkstorm is the prequel to The Rhenwars Saga, Spencer’s darkly epic fantasy series that chronicles the turbulent battle between two conflicting ideologies of magic and the moral imperatives that drive them.
In Darkstorm, Merris Bryar stumbles across a secret meeting where she discovers that forces of chaos are hard at work boring the Well of Tears, a gateway to the Netherworld. Faced with an imminent cataclysm that will destroy the magical heritage of their people, a conspiracy of darkmages have resorted to harnessing the powers of Hell to save their legacy.
Darkstorm is an exploration into two conflicting moral philosophies: deontology and consequentialism. The main character, Braden, is inflexible in his morals, while his brother Quin is constantly compromising himself. Braden adheres to deontological moral ethics, or duty ethics. The darkmages they face obey consequentialist moral ethics, in which the end justifies the means. If taken too far, both of these moral philosophies can be used to justify actions that most would deem immoral. Because of this, it is often difficult to tell who is “good” and who is “evil.”
What was the inspiration behind it?
The poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
That’s a very interesting and unexpected response. Will you tell us what was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how you overcame it?
Being a prequel, Darkstorm was written after Book Two of The Rhenwars Saga, Darkmage. Trying to create an entire plot out of a backstory was both thrilling and challenging, as many elements were already fixed and could not be changed or adapted to fit the new story.
I’ve already hinted about the awards that you’ve won. Would you care to expand?
Darkmage, Book Two of The Rhenwars Saga, won the IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy in 2012. I was also awarded First Place Prose in the San Bernardino County Writing Celebration.
A bit about your time spent writing: What is your work schedule like when you’re exercising your craft?
I am a full-time biology teacher, so I write around my job. While working, I write nights and weekends. While on break, I write all day and night. I am quite obsessive with it.
Will you tell us about your path to publication?
After writing Darkmage in 2002, I tried to market it to agents and publishers but was met with only rejection. Not a surprise – the manuscript at the time was 230K words and I was not able to consider splitting it. So it sat in my closet for almost ten years. Then I dug it back out for a rewrite. Once again, I tried to market it without success and finally self-published Darkmage in 2011.
Do you create an outline before you write?
Definitely! I leave small details of individual scenes to chance, but I like to have a well-honed plot going in.
What is the single most powerful challenge you face when it comes to writing a novel?
The most powerful challenge I face is trying to balance writing with my other commitments. I write obsessively and find it hard to pull myself away. It is often hard for me to stop plotting in my head and sit back and enjoy life. I have such a busy mind that always wants to be problem solving!
What motivates or inspires you?
Good people who go out of their way to help others for no better reason than because it’s the right thing to do.
I like that response. Before I conclude our discussion with an excerpt from Darkstorm, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m an… introvert
The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee
The one thing I would change about my life: I would have majored in creative writing
My biggest peeve is: poor grammar
I’m right there with you on that one. The person I’m most satisfied with is: my husband
I’d like to thank you, M. L. Spencer, for taking part in my interview series. Those of our visitors who would like to follow you online, or purchase your books can do so on the links that follow this excerpt from Darkstorm.
Glancing at Braden, Sephana quickly produced another glow of magelight at their feet. To this he added his own, a golden-amber shade that mingled with Sephana’s mist, became a churning fog of roiling colors. The magelight trailed ahead of them through the opening in the wall, illuminating a dark chamber just ahead.
Through the glowing fog they walked hand in hand, their shadows cast in tormented display upon the walls to either side.
As they stepped into the chamber, Braden pulled up short.
Sephana shivered, feeling as if a cold wash of water had been poured over her head, running down her neck and trickling down her back.
The room they entered was just as dark and wet as the rest of the warren of passageways they had traversed. On one side of the floor was a large slab of granite, waist-high. It had the look of a table or altar, hewn from a single slab of rock. A foul, dark liquid oozed down its sides, congealing on its surface.
To the other side of the chamber was a circular well made of staggered granite blocks.
It was toward the stone table that Braden moved first. He paused beside it, eyes contemplating the rough surface. Slowly, he extended his hand and dipped a finger into the dark liquid pooled on its surface. His finger came away coated with thick, coagulated blood.
Sephana recoiled with a gasp. The sheer amount of blood was appalling. It collected on the surface of the table, running in thick rivulets to the floor. She was standing in it. The blood had mixed with the water at her feet, rendering it impossible to tell how much there actually was.
She shook her head and whispered, “Animal sacrifice? To what purpose?”
Braden’s voice was empty and hollow, completely drained of all emotion. The sound of it chilled her heart. He lifted something from the floor next to the slab of rock. It took Sephana a moment to recognize the object in his hand: a thick iron shackle anchored by a heavy chain to the side of the granite block.
“Human,” she whispered.
She covered her mouth with her hand as Braden cast the chain away from him, repulsed. The iron shackle slapped hard against the slab with a sharp ring of metal.
Sephana flinched at the harsh sound. Braden hardly seemed to care if anyone heard. With a grimace of contempt, he wrenched himself back away from the altar, swinging around to face the well. He stalked across the floor toward it, kneeling down beside the granite ring. His hand rose, tracing over a series of vile-looking markings that were carved into the well’s rim. They looked more like claw marks raked into the stone by some ghastly creature than any language Sephana knew.
She crept up beside him and observed Braden’s study of the gruesome marks.
“I want to go,” she insisted, voice quavering.
But he didn’t act as though he even heard her. He was kneeling beside the well, inching his way slowly around its circumference, eyes and fingers exploring the hideous markings all around the rim.
At last, Braden finished his scrutiny of the well’s texture and pushed himself to his feet. His gaze remained fixed on the sinister markings, stare narrowed in thought. He brought his hand up to his face, absently stroking his thumb over the whiskers on his chin. He rested his other hand on the well’s cover, a thick slab of granite stone.
“This is a portal,” he said finally. His voice was cold and dispassionate. Utterly flat. He didn’t look up at her; his eyes remained captured by the cruel markings of the well’s rim. “They’re boring a gateway to the Netherworld. And they’re using human sacrifice to finish the job.”
Sephana could only stare vacantly ahead, mouth agape.
“They call it the Well of Tears,” Braden continued impassively, indicating an inscription set into the very base of the well itself. “If they succeed—if this gateway is ever opened—then more than just Aerysius will be in danger. They will unleash the powers of Chaos across the world.”
The sound of a loud, metallic crash rang out across the chamber. And then another noise: a distant thundering sound, low and throbbing, echoing up from the depths.
“They know we’re here,” Sephana gasped.
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