(Photos courtesy of Azaria M.J. Durant.)
Murder and treachery abound in the glorious city of Twylaun.
Two years have passed since the death of King Leonel. Whispers of dissension are stirring as the dark lord Zeldek gathers his forces in the north to wage war on Theara. Only the young king Hamish of Valamette stands in his way of controlling all four kingdoms.
When Bellator is captured and tragedy strikes Valamette, Ealdred must come out of exile to their aid. But he’s hardly prepared for the dangers lurking in the world he enters. And when a prediction by a witch sets his only friends against him, Ealdred finds himself completely alone in a game of power as the King of Zandelba’s puppet.
Yet even within the walls of Twylaun, deceit roams freely, and Ealdred is forced to play a role he is hard put to win. Can he fool the King of Zandelba for long enough to ascend the throne and stop a war between the kingdoms? Or is there a deeper threat laying in wait that neither side expects?
Recently I got the opportunity to interview Azaria Durant about her upcoming book, Shattered Sword. She had some great insights into her writing process, and I’m really excited to share her wisdom.
Q: What got you started writing in the first place, and how old were you when you did start?
A: I had always loved the idea of being an author, but I kinda looked at it as this unachievable thing that you had to be really old and have a lot of experience to do. When I was seven or eight, I started writing these little booklets that I illustrated myself with lots of colours, but I never even thought to consider myself a writer. It was when I was nine years old that I went downstairs to say goodnight to my parents and heard them talking to my older brother about something called NaNoWriMo. My older brother was taking the challenge, and being my competitive self, I loudly proclaimed I’d be doing it too. I completed one historical fiction novella that November, and then started on another historical fiction trilogy. I participated in NaNoWriMo two years later, and it was around that time that I decided I wanted to be a serious writer.
Q: What inspired you to start writing the Darkened Destiny Saga?
A: I was fourteen, I had finished the second draft of the third book in the historical fiction trilogy, and was regretting not writing something purely fiction because of all the research involved with making sure everything was accurate for the time period I was working on. And then I read “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. I was enthralled. I loved the story, the characters, and everything about it. At around that same time, my mom discovered a writing curriculum for teens called “One Year Adventure Novel”. I insisted that she get this, and was going to try to pattern my current project off of it. But when I started the curriculum, I decided that for something this big, I’d want to start from scratch. So I took the beginnings of a plot bunny that had been gathering in my mind since reading THG, and started to build it up following the OYAN course. It was only supposed to be one book at first, two at the most, but the story kept changing and growing.
Q: When did you realize the series would be as long as you’re planning for it now? How did you feel about that?
A: For the first two or three years of writing the story, there was only supposed to be two books – the then titled “Usurped” (which is now Broken Arrow) and Shattered Sword, with a sequel set years later called “Forsaken”. At around the three year mark, I realized that the way that I ended Shattered Sword probably wouldn’t make readers or myself happy, so I had the beginnings of a third book in my mind, which I named “Cracked Crowns” as a placeholder name, without any idea of why it would be called that.
It was supposed to be a trilogy, but that quickly changed as I realized that things couldn’t be resolved as quickly as I had planned. In the next three years that followed, the story just kept growing, first to four books, and then took the grand leap to six when I invented the five artifacts from which the books are now named after (plus one).
The idea of writing a six book series is still pretty daunting to me, especially as I begin to release the first books. The last thing I want is to disappoint my readers, or to write a few good first books, and then have everything go downhill from there. But honestly, most of the time it really excites me that I’ll be able to work with this cast of characters for another few years at least.
Q: Where do you look for inspiration when you need it?
A: It depends on how in need of inspiration I am. If it’s just a mild boost, I listen to movie soundtracks or inspirational instrumental music, but if I’m really down on my writing, I go to my friends for inspiration and reassurance. They’re really good at picking me up when I’m low, listening while I talk things out, and encouraging me to keep at it.
Q: Do you have any writing quirks?
A: Apparently, as my proofreader *cough* sister *cough* has been finding, I have this habit of writing my sentences in an odd order. For example: “Sheathing his sword, he walked away.” instead of “He walked away, sheathing his sword.” But like, for every sentence in a given paragraph. I’ve also been developing this irritating habit of having all the right letters in a word, but having tehm in totally the wrong order.
Q: Have you ever cried while writing anything?
A: Yes. Yes I have. There’s a scene in the black moment of Shattered Sword where I have cried almost every time I’ve gone through it while writing, rewriting, and editing. There’s also a lot of backstory that has made me cry just thinking about writing. Happy tears and sad tears.
Q: Do your novels carry a message?
A: Yes. At least, I planned for them to, though I don’t know if it actually comes across. Each book has its own basic theme, and then each character also carries a message as their arc progresses. I think the message of the series as a whole is that people are all equal, and your destiny is what you make it.
Q: How much of yourself do you put in your books?
A: I always like to put a piece of myself into each of the important characters, whether that’s a struggle I’m having, something about myself I don’t like, or that I do, and then watch it play out and affect the choices that the characters make.
Q: How did you come up with the names for your characters?
A: It was a while ago… let’s see. When I first started, I went onto all the medieval baby names websites I could find, and wrote down all the ones that jumped out at me, whether for the definition or the feel of the name compared to the ideas I had for the world. I had a notebook just full of a list of names. For the main characters, I remember being very specific to look for meanings of the type of character I was looking for. For example, Hamish is apparently an alternative of the name Jacob, which means, “He who supplants.” And because at that point, Hamish was the main villain of the story, I thought it was perfect. Other characters– Uri is a good example of this—were named names I’d always really loved, and so forged a character to fit my interpretation of the name.
Since then, I’ve been resorting to Google Translate to help me come up with more unique names. For example, Zeldek was name from a mixture of few words in the Basque language.
Q: Did you ever think you might not be able to finish BA, or even SS?
A: Definitely. It wasn’t a draft in particular that I got stuck on. It was more the big picture in general. I spent four-five years just combing over Broken Arrow ten, twenty, probably even thirty times. Rewriting. Adding more. Rewriting again. Changing plot points. Polishing, polishing, and polishing some more. And every time I went through it, there was always something I’d missed, or hated and needed to change. So there was a point at around the five year mark that I really started getting discouraged. I’d sent it to the first editor, and the editor said it was fantastic, but I still hated it and didn’t want anyone to read it. I’d started querying for it about a year or two before, and wasn’t having any luck, and I was getting extremely discouraged that I would ever look at it and say, “Yeah, it’s done. I want people to read this now.”
The only thing that really fixed that was doing the one thing I didn’t want: I had to let people read it. So, quite reluctantly, I put it out there, and a handful of people read it. The feedback they gave was a lot more positive than I was expecting, so that really led to being able to finish it and self-publish it following the next year and a half.
With Shattered Sword, there was a lot of stuff going on in my life, so there were constantly points where I just wanted to give up, even in my most recent edits. My close friends and my awesome sister have been very encouraging and have been a lot of my motivation for bringing it as far as I have.
Q: Did you hide any secrets in this book that only a few people will find?
A: I have a couple of hidden nuggets in honour of a writer friend and her characters who helped with some crucial character and story development. There are also a few nods to things that only my sister who helped me plot things out would understand; private jokes and puns, mostly.
Q: How much of this book came as a surprise to you as you were writing it?
A: About 47% of it, give or take. I’m the type of writer that leaves a lot of the plot and scenes to be figured out as I write them, and if it goes somewhere different than planned, I’m adaptable.
Q: Do you have any suggestions or tips for writing a series?
A: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. If your story should rightfully end, don’t try to expand it. It never ends well.
Q: What’s your biggest suggestion for becoming a better writer in general?
A: I have different suggestions depending on the day, but right now this is my best advice: Take as much time as you need on a story. Don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than someone else’s, and don’t let anyone else tell you when your story is done. It’s done when you, the author, feel that it’s done.
Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Why didn’t you?
A: I did consider it, yes. But I decided against it because I couldn’t think of a name more unique and memorable than the one I already had.
Q: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
A: Pretty much all of my friends are writers, but my three closest friends are all authors, and are pretty darn good at the craft, if I can brag on them for a moment. Their writing and prose always inspires me to do better with mine. It’s great, because I’m a plot/world driven writer in a group of three character driven writers, so they have really helped me to look deeper into my characters and to develop them way beyond what I thought was possible. I definitely wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them.
Q: If you could tell your younger self something about writing, what would it be?
A: Keep at it, and keep shooting as far as you can, but give yourself a break every once in a while. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to let that book sit for a little while without having to go back to the beginning immediately. You will end up burning yourself out, and then you’ll have to learn to give yourself a break anyways.
Shattered Sword releases on May 26th in e-book and paperback, and is a sequel to Broken Arrow, but can also be read as a fantastic standalone. Link to the preorder can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PVCTPQ8/ref=series_rw_dp_sw