Happy November. How’s NaNoWriMo going for you? Are you aiming for 50k, or a different, personal goal? I’m working on a couple of shorter projects, getting the audio book of The Fair Queen ready to go live, and preparing to edit The Solitary King next month!
Best of luck with your goal if you’re taking part, I always find November is my best month for word count, even though I’ve never hit 50k. I just enjoy the community and the accountability Nano brings.
This week, I’ve been hanging out with Sarina Langer, fellow Brit, author of Rise of the Sparrows and host of the brilliant podcast The Writing Sparrow.
Thanks so much for chatting with me Sarina! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
You say ‘a little’, but this could be a lot! XD
I live in the cloudy south of England with my partner (calling him my boyfriend makes me feel around 14 years old, which isn’t an age I wish to revisit!) and our daughter/cat. I always wanted a cat but was never allowed one when I was younger, so of course I jumped at the chance when I could. I did have pets growing up, though – my sister and I always had at least two guinea pigs in the house. I’d read fairy tales to mine. My SO insists they didn’t care, but I think they loved it.
I don’t read to my cat, but I often read with her. I have a sofa in my study and she seems to know when I sit down with a book, because she usually comes running. Besides reading, I love playing video games, and just like reading, I’ve played pretty much every genre. My favourite games include Dragon Age (this may be unpopular, but Inquisition is my favourite of the three), Mass Effect (probably unpopular again, but I love love love the ending – yes, it hurts and breaks me every time; no, there isn’t a perfect, feel-good way to win—that’s why I think it’s brilliant!), the Witcher, Pokémon, Stardew Valley, the latest Assassins Creed games (possibly unpopular again, but I haven’t played the earliest ones, so I can’t compare it *shrugs*), The Outer Worlds – a bit of everything. My go-to genre when I’m reading is and always will be epic fantasy, but with games, I just want a strong story that’ll scar me emotionally or at least make me feel something (relaxed and nostalgic count, stressed does not).
Some other things I enjoy include walking in nature, knitting, colouring with an audiobook or a podcast, yoga, and meditation.
I love that your favourite books and games destroy you emotionally, but you counter it with mindfulness, yoga and meditation. That’s a great balance! We should all aspire to that. When did you start writing and who encouraged you?
The first things I remember writing were half-an-A4-page long stories for my Mum’s colleagues. She let me come to work with her during my primary school summer breaks, and I’d create little presents for everyone. I made complete annual calendars for everyone, too, but that got repetitive quickly. I had more fun with the stories, and her colleagues loved them in the middle of their workdays… or if they didn’t appreciate the interruptions, they never said as much.
Your mum sounds wonderful, and her colleagues sound very patient! I bet they really enjoyed your short stories during their coffee breaks. Do you have a favourite genre or author?
While I read almost every genre, epic fantasy will always have a special place in my heart. I love the endless possibilities of new worlds whether I’m reading them or creating them. My favourite authors of all time are N. K. Jemisin, Laini Taylor, and Leigh Bardugo, and it’s always because of the worldbuilding. Don’t get me wrong, I need great characters and a strong plot as much as the next bookworm, but both of those need a world to happen in, don’t they?
Leigh Bardugo and Laini Taylor are two of my absolute insta-buys. I don’t even care what the book is about, I will buy and I will love it. Can you tell us about your first published book?
I published my debut novel Rise of the Sparrows in 2016. Back then I was just getting into reading again – it was Empress by Karen Miller that made me realise I wanted to be an author; I recommend you check it out if you haven’t read it – so the idea to write about a world where magic was outlawed was new to me. I’d only read books where magic was a normal part of everyday life, so it was an intriguing new concept to me. I made life as tough as possible for my main character Rachael, a homeless orphan with the magical talent for prophecy, and took it from there!
Writing Rise of the Sparrows was a huge learning curve for me. I didn’t study writing, but I read every book on the craft I could get my hands on. It took years before I was really happy with it, and then I had to accept what every writer eventually needs to accept: perfection is an illusion and I need to let go already.
Since then, I’ve turned it into an audiobook, published the entire trilogy, added a prequel novella, and put together a box set with all four, but it definitely wasn’t an easy journey. I’ve published some other stuff, too, and I’d like to think I’ve improved with every book.
A while back, I decided to make Rise of the Sparrows perma-free everywhere, so you can easily try my writing if I’m a new author to you. You can get it here: https://books2read.com/u/3yEEd6
You’ve had such an exciting publishing career so far! I’m currently in the process of making my debut novel into an audio book, and it’s been the most fun experience hearing my words read back to me by a professional narrator. Being an indie author can feel like your dreams are coming true every single day! (And other days it can feel like your worst nightmare, but let’s just brush over that!) Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings?
Ah yes, that question every creative dreads XD
Inspiration is everywhere. I’ve taken notes while playing a video game, after an especially weird dream, and just while going for a walk or doing the laundry. Our minds are constantly working, and sometimes, two ideas come together while we’re doing other things. I have a notebook app for when inspiration strikes on the go, and I have a physical notebook on my desk where I collect all ideas, even if it’s just one sentence of a conversation.
Most of my books are epic fantasy, but real locations can still be fantastic inspiration. I got the idea for the prison entrance in Brightened Shadows when I went to Winchester with a few friends and we found a sealed, gated entrance to an old tunnel. Every now and again I’ll take pictures when the place fits a fictional one just right, but I’ll admit that I rarely come back to them. Most of them exist in my head.
I can imagine video games are an absolutely brilliant source of inspiration, the story telling in some of the is A+++! I’ve taken inspiration from some really random places, you never know where the final piece of the puzzle to make a plot or character work will come from. Some of mine have been podcasts on history or short Gothic fiction. Having a notebook handy at all times is an absolute must! Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Plantser all the way! I love plotting and feel more secure when I have a plot—I don’t believe you can get stuck when you have a plot figured out, because you can always refer to your notes—but I give my characters free reign, too. I often compare it to going on a road trip: you want to know where you’re going so you know when to turn left or right, but if you see a prettier country road or your friend asks you to check out a location you didn’t know about, you can do that. You really can go as far off track as you want, because you can always come back to your planned route once you’re done exploring. If you realise as you’re travelling that your destination goal has changed, that’s fine too—sometimes, plans change.
(I should say here that I’ve never been on a road trip)
This is how I approach my writing: I have everything figured out, but when my characters have better ideas, I’ll at least try it. It doesn’t always work out, but it often does. That space where I as the author fade into the background and my characters take over is where magic happens.
That’s a perfect analogy, and exactly how I write too. I love that you say you can go as far off track as you like because you can always come back to your planned route. It’s so true, and makes writing feel safe and productive even when you’re experimenting and exploring. So, what are you working on right now?
I may be working on a short story for a certain anthology 😉 [Lyndsey’s note: Once Upon a Name, the anthology we’re both featured in, coming April 2022!]
Apart from that, I’m editing my next trilogy, and I’m hoping to have all three published before July 2022. A lot can happen between now and then, but the first book (Blood Wisp) is with my editor now for line edits, and I’m editing the first sequel. ARCs will be with my reader group and mailing list before I know it! I hope this doesn’t jinx it, but it’s looking good right now *crosses fingers*
I’ve also recently finished the first draft of my 10th book. I can’t reveal the title just yet (my Patreon Sparrows know what I’m considering and like it, but I haven’t decided), but there’ll be ten books in this series. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated by that. I’ve never written such a long series, but the first book flew so fast and easily! If that’s any indication, all ten will be out before I’m 50 XD My mailing list Sparrows voted for this idea, so I hope they’ll like what I’m doing with it!
That is so exciting! And I love how involved your Patrons and subscribers have been in the process, what a fantastic reward for supporting your art! I wish I had the courage to plan a ten book series, I’m currently thinking about a five book series for after my current series in finished in 2023, which will be a prequel series set in the same world as The Fair Chronicles. But that’s as long as I dare go at this point! I can’t wait to find out more about it. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors?
Learn, learn, learn. If you’ve never written a book before, this’ll be a steep learning curve, and it’ll likely be terrifying, but everything that’s worth doing is. Don’t dismiss any way of learning outright but try everything at least once, whether it’s listening to a podcast on writing, reading a ton of books on the craft, browsing blogs for the knowledge you want, asking on social media, etc. Try everything and see what works for you. Don’t forget that you learn best by doing. You can soak up all the theory you want, but you won’t really know what works for you unless you sit your butt down and start writing. Even then, your process will probably change with every book. This is normal too.
So, don’t be afraid of this process and its learning curve—embrace it.
(And one quick, additional note, if I’m allowed: read. Authors should be readers, if you ask me. You learn an awful lot simply by enjoying a good book (or reading one you don’t enjoy all that much), and it’ll all stick somewhere in your mind. I genuinely believe that you do yourself a disservice if you want to write a book but don’t want to read.)
OK, I think you just became my mentor (and probably everyone’s who’s reading this and wants to write a book one day). You’re such a font of wisdom and knowledge, Sarina! Thank you so much for sharing your incredible insight with us, I’m definitely subscribing to The Writing Sparrow podcast.
Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Sarina, it’s been lovely getting to know better. Before I let you go, how can we find out more about you and your books?
My website is a great starting point. It has links to all of my books and social media pages, as well as my maps, book trailers… all that good stuff. From there, you can easily go wherever you’re happiest, be it Instagram, my monthly mailing list, or directly to my sales pages. The links to all of these are included here, too, just below this bit 🙂
Sarina’s Website: https://sarinalanger.com
Sign up to Sarina’s email list: https://www.subscribepage.com/sarinasbooks
My latest release is Brightened Shadows, but since that’s the second book in a duology, I recommend you start with the first one, Darkened Light: http://mybook.to/darkenedlight1
It’s a dark epic fantasy, and it’s separate to the Relics of Ar’Zac trilogy in every way, so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read that. You can be a new reader to my books and start with Darkened Light.
I had the best time getting to know Sarina and her books better, so I really hope you enjoyed that too! How gorgeous are her covers? I’m really looking forward to reading Darkened Light and Brightened Shadows, and the upcoming Blood Wisp!
I’m asking, because reviews are one of the biggest ways you can support your favourite authors. Not only do they help other readers decide if they’ll pick up a particular book, but they also tell the almighty Amazon algorithm which books to promote and show to readers (and it works the same way on Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Apple Books, etc.).
For example, once a book hits 50 reviews, Amazon may choose to include it in its email newsletters. That’s a whole lot of subscribers seeing a book they may otherwise have never discovered.
And reviews can be as short as “Fantastic!” or “Loved it”, or even “Poorly written” if that’s how you feel.
Why negative reviews are still good
With negative reviews, we all know it’s subjective and 100% opinion based – somebody else might think the book you hated was phenomenal. So if you can include a reason as to why it wasn’t your cup of tea, that’s really helpful, to both readers and writers.
For the author, if several reviewers have an issue with one plot twist or character, or an element of the writing, then chances are they’re not (entirely) wrong, and the author can work on that in their future books. Or even rectify it in a later edition.
For other readers, the reason you didn’t like a book (too steamy, too much swearing, darker than you expected, etc. etc.) could be the thing they’re really looking for in their next read, and your review might even convince them to buy it!
Five places you can leave your book reviews
Where you bought it (Amazon, The Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Apple Books, Google Play etc.)
On your book blog
And always remember the GOLDEN RULE of sharing book reviews online. NEVER tag the author in a negative review. Even a mostly positive review but with some criticisms can be devastating for the writer. Authors are humans too, and many protect their mental health and wellbeing by avoiding reading reviews, unless someone trusted sends them the good ones.
So, just try to be kind. Reviews are for readers, once a book is out in the world the author has little control over it, and if it wasn’t your cup of tea that doesn’t mean it was the world’s worst book and everyone should avoid it.
(Obviously there are some exceptions, there are definitely problematic books out there that could damage some individuals, but it might be better to warn those communities rather than directing your comments at the author. Or you could possibly send a private message to let them know of their mistake, but be careful with this one, some people don’t appreciate unsolicited DMs.)
Happy reviewing! And don’t forget to review my books if you’ve read and enjoyed them!