A Talk With Melissa Douthit
Author of The Raie’Chaelia
1) What inspired you to start writing The Raie’Chaelia?
This is actually in the preface to my novel:
This is actually in the preface to my novel:
On the morning of 21st of September, 2007, I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee and clicked a familiar bookmark on my internet browser. The link took me to a website that I knew well. In doing so, I learned that one of my favorite authors had passed away. His name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr., also known as Robert Jordan. The website was www.dragonmount.com.
Ever since I was seventeen, I have been reading his epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. I remember buying the first book, The Eye of the World, from a local bookstore and rushing home to read it. I remember it like it was yesterday. To this day, after twenty-one years, I am still reading his series as it quickly draws to a conclusion in its final completion by Brandon Sanderson.
I never thought I could be a writer given that my talents lie in other areas, mostly in mathematics and science, but when I learned of Jordan’s passing, I decided to start writing a story that I had been tossing around in my head for a while. The ideas were there but the realization of those ideas into a book was a problem. I didn’t believe that I could do it. So, that morning, inspired by Jordan’s life story, I sat down and started typing. I soon found that by having read his books, as well as many others by other authors, the writing came naturally and the words flowed. The novel, The Raie’Chaelia, is the result of that day.
Now, three years later, my first novel has been published. It is a novel with both a storyline and a background theme. The ideas for the story were conceived out of a desire to write a fantasy that was different from any other I had read in the past. The entire story required a few years to fully develop, but I believe I have achieved my original intention – keeping it different. I am hoping that you, its reader, will feel that difference and love it.
2) The world in which Chalice lives in is filled with unique creatures, different races, and a new world rising out of the old. What was it like trying to put on paper everything that was so clear in your head?
It was hard at first because it wasn’t clear in my head. When I started writing the prologue and first chapter, ideas kept popping in my head and as I was writing, the story began growing with the telling. It was almost as if this world in the story already existed somewhere on it’s own and I was just peeking into it and writing down what I saw. For the most part, though, I knew I wanted to write a fantasy story about a heroine but I wanted it to be different. I also knew I wanted to write a trilogy. I wanted the story to have both a complex plot and a background theme and I wanted to tie those two things in together. It took a while to fully develop.
3) All of your characters in The Raie’Chaelia had very distinct personalities. Did you base any of your characters on people in your life, and what inspiration did you draw from while creating your characters?
Yes, many of the characters are inspired by people in my life and it wasn’t intentional. The characters just appeared there in the setting for me, just popping into my head. I didn’t realize who they were until I sat back and read what I had wrote. Jeremiah is based on someone I knew when I was young who was a really good-natured guy with a sweet temperament. His personality is really a combination of three people: that person, me and another person in my family. Chalice wasn’t hard to recognize at all. She is my sister - a petite, blond woman with a major attitude. That is totally my sister. Kirna and Tycho are roughly based on two of my own best friends and Papa is based on my grandfather, the only grandparent I really knew. Even Sunny, the horse, is based on the Palomino I had when I was young, whose name was also, you guessed it - Sunny. =o)
4) There was a separate form of language in The Raie’Chaelia, that characters like Chalice had learned from when they were younger. What was it like developing this aspect of the story and incorporating it throughout the novel?
I lived in Europe for a couple years when I was 18 and studied languages. The languages in the book, I worked on before I started writing. In my notes, I have a small dictionary of Angaulic and a small set of grammatical rules that it follows. I also have a Chinukan alphabet written out, although it didn’t go into the story. Chinukan is based on Arabic, a language I find fascinating. The grammar of Angaulic is based on Latin but the language itself is a combination of many different languages that exist today or existed in the past - Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Russian, etc. For example, the Strelzi is Russian for sharpshooter. Nipha is Greek for snow. One of my favorite parts of writing this story was developing the languages.
5) Your current career involves scientific and mathematic programming, and you write on the side. Is it difficult to balance the two?
Yes! Very! I don’t sleep much. I work at my job 40 hours a week and take care of a family, so the only time I have to write is at night and on the weekends when I cram in as much as I can.
6) Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to go the self-publishing route?
After I finished The Raie’Chaelia, I sat at my computer and thought: “Okay, what now?” So I did a bit of researching into publishing. I attended a writer’s seminar in January, which was hosted by five best-selling authors. In the seminar they taught attendees how to go about publishing the traditional way – querying an agent who then finds a publisher and so on. During the seminar, the more I learned, the more I thought: “I really don’t want to do this. There’s got to be a better way.”
Going with a traditional publisher meant that I would have to search for a good agent, which would take at least a year to find one willing to take me as a new author, if I was lucky. The other solution was to submit my work to publishers myself, but only to one publisher at a time because if you submit to several they will likely blacklist you. Then, once I submitted it, I would have to wait months before I received a rejection letter in the mail, which was a certainty because even the best were rejected at first. I was told I would have to go through rejection, after rejection, after rejection before I broke in. Then, once I broke in, which could be years later if it even happened at all, and because I am a new author, I would be offered a lousy contract which gave the publishers all the rights (even e-rights) and the lion’s share of the royalties and left me with little. At that point, with enough time and after writing many new books, I would have to work my way up in order to receive the whopping 15% royalty share of print books that good authors make. Not only that, I would have to give up my rights to the book or any control over what the covers would look like, how the book would be marketed, or when it would go live for readers to access online or in bookstores. I found I wasn’t too interested in doing any of this.
Then, blessedly, during the second day of the seminar, there was a talk on e-books and indie-publishing where I learned that authors can do it on their own. There were several names mentioned during that talk – names like Kris Rusch and Joe Konrath. They spoke about how e-books were catching on and that the digital book market was growing. They talked about how authors were deciding to do it on their own because of the direct-to-reader convenience of e-books and because of the 70/30 royalty share between the author and the online e-book distributers like Amazon and B&N. As I listened, I thought: “Now, this is more like it.”
After the seminar, I started reading Kris Rusch’s blogs called Changing Times, Royalty Statements, and Surviving the Transition. I also read Joe Konrath’s blog and Dave Wolverton’s Daily Kicks. What I learned from them only hardened my resolve to publish on my own. This is what I learned: print books are in decline, brick-and-mortar stores will either close or change drastically because of it, e-books will be the dominant form of reading in the future, traditional publishers will lose money, they won’t be able to keep up with the competitive prices of indie-authors, they will try to get money from the authors by offering really bad contracts, and finally – the big one, the kicker, the one that really got me – traditional publishers are under-reporting both print and e-book sales to authors. “Ack! No! I want to go indie!” I told myself.
For these reasons, in part, I made my decision, but there is still one more reason that I think is the most important. One really great thing that indies have that those who publish traditionally don’t have is the direct connection with the readers. When I indie publish, I can get my work out to the readers much faster than with a traditional publisher, letting my readers know ahead of time when it will be available. As an indie author, I can connect directly with the readers on my website, find out who they are, what they do, what they like and share my life with them. This is one thing I’ve seen Amanda Hocking do that I really like – she shares herself and her life with the people who read her books and her blog. It makes her unique. This is also what JK Rowling has finally decided to do as well – connect directly with the readers through her new website, Pottermore.
What I really enjoy the most is writing stories that I love, having others read those stories and feel the same way as I do about them, and then sharing that with those people directly. I am also learning how to be a better writer by getting valuable feedback from the readers. I’m not in it to win awards, though. I’m not in it to make a million bucks. I’m in it for the pure love of doing it and that, above all, is why I chose to go indie. Being an indie author allows me to do that. All I know is that for an author, indie-publishing has so many more advantages to it than traditional publishing.
7) Being a self-published author, what have been some challenges that you have encountered along the way?
The biggest challenge is building an author platform. Writing and publishing is the easy part. When you indie publish, the hardest part is getting the word out to a potential audience that the book is available. Those who go with a publishing house give up a lot to have that big marketing push behind their work. When you indie publish, you get full control but you also get the burden of getting your book out there on your own. All of it falls on your shoulders.
8) Can you give us a little bit of background info on your two prequels to The Raie’Chaelia, The Vanishing and The Journey Begins?
The two prequels to the novel tell the story of the heroine and the hero before the novel begins, before their meet-cute.
The Journey Begins is Chalice’ story and reveals her life in Canton a few weeks before she flees her village. In it, you get to know her, her family and her friends a little better.
The Vanishing is Jeremiah’s story. It reveals his life a few weeks up to the beginning of the novel when they meet. You get to see his village of Branbury, his family, and his friends. Some fun things happen and a not-so-fun thing happens - at the end. Out of all three books - the novel and the prequels - I enjoyed writing Jeremiah’s story the most. The reason why is because of who he is and maybe also because he is so much like me. In the story, you find out how he really feels about Chalice and why she is so important to him. Even though neither of them remember each other until they see each other again, his subconscious remembers her and this is what keeps him, unknowingly, from forming any other romantic relationships in his village. It’s a great little novella. I love it. I used to want to live in Harry Potter’s world, that is, until I wrote The Vanishing. Now I want to live in Branbury.
9) Are you currently working on any other novels in the The Legend of the Raie’Chaelia series?
Yes! I have set a personal deadline for myself to finish the second book of the trilogy in September/October. The title is The Firelight of Maalda. I know that readers who like the book will want the next installment as soon as possible so I am writing it as fast as I can. After the second, I will finish the third. It’s funny though, sometimes scenes from the third book pop into my head and I have to write them down before I forget. This is how I write though, a bit jumbled chronologically. It can be a little frustrating but there it is.
I also have ideas (that I’ve written down) for 4 other novels that I want to write after this trilogy is over. I’m looking forward to those!
10) Lastly, what advice would you give to any young readers who someday wish to become recognized authors?
Read what you love. Write what you love and keep writing. Read and write - a lot. Get feedback. Look for similar criticisms in that feedback - that helps you get better. Remember that reviewers are helping you, not hurting you. Research a lot before you decide to trad or indie pub. Then decide which is best for you.
-This is T.B. with Another Book Back on the Shelf...
Until Next Time, Keep Reading!