Interview: Fairy tale retelling author Sky Sommers

What a beautiful bank holiday weekend we just had here in the UK! The sun was out, the BBQs were lit, the gin and tonics were flowing. I hope you had a good one, wherever you are.

Did you catch my cover reveal last week? If you missed it, pop over now to see the stunning new cover for my short story collection, Fair Tales, which will be free to my email subscribers!

This week, I’ve been chatting to the wonderfully whimsical Sky Sommers about her current projects and upcoming releases. Read on to see what we discussed…

Hi Sky, it’s such a pleasure to speak to you! Tell us a little about yourself.

Sky is a pen name since I’ve written other kinds of fiction (law books) under my real name, I couldn’t in all honesty confuse people. I’m from Tallinn, Estonia and while I’ve lived in Finland and the UK, I moved back in 2008 to be closer to the Nordic sea. If I hadn’t I’d never have met my husband, he would never have had kid number 5 with me (yup, we have 5 kids between us with 4:1 in his corner) and I’d probably still be working crazy hours. As it happens, I’m an entrepreneur who works part-time for a large client as a legal adviser and 4 days out of 7 I can do what I want – write, study, read (lots!) and play with legos. I help others publish their books (cookbooks or fiction) and I do love my garden, but otherwise I’m boring, no hobbies or pets.

Boring?! I wholeheartedly disagree, your life sounds lovely and full. I’ve written and published a couple of business books, but luckily it was ghost writing for my employer so I haven’t had to come up with a pen name! When did you start writing and what were your first stories like? 

I started writing a diary at age 12, like most people, I guess. In the noughties, I dabbled in short stories and when one of them got to page 80 and I realised, Toto, we’re not in Kansas no more, that’s when I ventured into novels. That sci-fi novel is still unpublished, by the way, but I have hopes that I can muster it this year.

That’s funny, I went the opposite way, I started out with novels and have recently gotten into short stories. What are your favourite books to read?

Fairytales, any kind. Favourite rom-com book is Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me. Fave book that always makes me think and turns tropes on their head with sarky humour is Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. That and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.

Fave tropes – happily ever after, coz what’s someone’s happy might be another’s nightmare, right?

So true! I haven’t read The Master and Margarita, but I did read Goethe’s Faust at Uni, I did European Studies and my lit class was always fascinating. I’ve always loved stories that rework and reimagine old myths and legends. That’s why so much of my writing is inspired by folklore.

Can you tell us a little about your first published book, and your most recent release?

First published book was about ancient Goddesses running amok in the present day, scrambling to get their lost powers back (Goddesses: Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble) and yes, the name is a twist on the line of the witches in the cursed play.

My most recent release is Embers: Beastly Curses, a retelling of Red Riding Hood, where Red is a 5yo boy and his parents are trying to rekindle their lost love despite the wolf-curse.

I love that nod to Shakespeare, I actually saw the Scottish play a few years ago at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and it was phenomenal. Well, until the alarm started going off on my phone and I was sitting there thinking “Who’s phone is that? So rude!” until I realised it was mine.

Embers sounds right up my alley, Red Riding Hood is one of my absolute favourite stories. Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings? 

Real life, coz that is stranger than fiction, trust me. Also, I wouldn’t trust me with stuff as frequently hilarious dialogues I overhear or participate in end up in my books.

So, trust you, but don’t trust you. Got it. Would you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser? 

Plantser. I used to start writing from some place in the book and just build things around, a bit from the end, a bit from the beginning, a dialogue there, a snippet here. With the Cinders-Embers-Ash trilogy I learnt to plan out the storyline for characters and then iterate storylines in a more organised way, which has shortened the writing time considerably. But I still dabble with dialogue here, description there. Descriptions sometimes even at ARC stage as I’m hopeless with those.

I don’t believe a book can ever be finished, we just get it as close as we can and then send it out into the world. There are things I’d still like to change in The Fair Queen and it’s been published for almost a year! What are you working on right now?

Ash: Crooked Fates, the 3rd book in the Magic Mirrors Saga comes out on 21 June. It’s a retelling of The Wizard of Oz where most of the book is the story of 17yo Ellie on her way to Emerald City to meet Oz and the rest is Oz and Ellie’s mom patching up their relationship in parallel. All this with a healthy dose of humour and I’ve even managed to work in some fight scenes. I will be rewriting it based on beta readers’ comments in May and getting ARC copies out to readers in the middle of June.

That sounds fantastic, I’ve never read a Wizard of Oz retelling, but I adored Wicked when I went to see it on the stage. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors? 

Write! Even if it’s 5 minutes, 35 minutes or shorthand dialogue notes on your phone while you’re stuck in a queue somewhere. And keep reading, your own genre and others – my writing has gotten better over time (I hope) because I read tons and pick up pointers of what to do better.

It sounds so simple, but you’re absolutely right, the shortest writing stint is better than no writing at all. I couldn’t live without the Notes app on my phone now, it’s full of snippets, ideas, titles and character names I’ve dreamed up over the years.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Sky! It’s been lovely getting to know you better and finding out about your writing process. Before you go, how can we find out more about you and your books? 

Website: https://www.amazon.com/author/skysommers

Newsletter signup:  https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/e1e0240a-3178-11eb-92dc-4330ce8a93ed 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sommers_sky/

Facebook page/group:   https://www.facebook.com/fairytalesgalore 

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/sky-sommers

Goodreads: Goodreads.com/skysommers and my personal Goodreads account: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/19939142-ilona-nurmela 


Sky’s story Kiss the Frog will also be featured in Enchanted Waters: a magical collection of short stories, which comes out 16 July. Want to get your hands on an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review? Join our street team!

Happy reading folks!

Lyndsey

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Interview: Fantasy Author and Artist Elena Shelest

This week, I had the privilege of catching up with Elena Shelest, author of contemporary fantasy The Seven Lives of Grace and creator of beautiful artwork, which she shares on her Instagram account, @lena_fiveminutediscovery.

Read on to see what we chatted about…

Hi Elena! Thank you for chatting with me today. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in a port city of Odessa, Ukraine by the Black Sea (and still can’t swim well, go figure). When I was almost fifteen, I immigrated to the States and switched my major from art to nursing. Still do both. I currently reside in Oregon with my hubby, two busy and always hungry boys, a cutely annoying dog, a standoffish cat, and a nosy bunny. I wish we were closer to the beach and somewhere warmer but love the nature here. 

Wow, an artist and a nurse? That’s incredible! When did you start writing and who or what inspired you?

I’ve been writing poetry and journaling since I was a teen as a way to express myself. I think writing is in my blood as my mother is a poetess too. I’ve started a few stories but never had enough time to finish them until my husband sent me on a mission to test the waters in Texas (we’re always trying to move somewhere, by the way). It didn’t work out, but I had a few free weeks doing nothing at my friends’ house with no family to take care of (always hungry boys were at the mercy of my husband’s cooking abilities). So, I sat by the pool for hours and finally wrote a story that’s been on my heart for a while. New ones just kept coming afterwards. 

Gosh that sounds like the dream – weeks to spend writing while your husband takes care of the kids! I’m jealous. What’s your favourite genre to read and write?

Everything I read has to have a fantasy element in it. Otherwise I get bored. I love when authors explore the impossible, the magical, the realm of the unknown, stretching our imagination. Of course, some romance needs to be present as well. 

Romantic fantasy is my number one favourite too! On that note, tell us about your debut novel.

My book The Seven Lives of Grace is about dreams coming true. My heroine, Grace, is a twenty-something bookish Seattle dweller who’s struggling to make ends meet. She gave up her dream career to take care of her ill mother and younger sister but now wants to do something different with her life. Getting a magical inheritance was not what she had in mind! Mayhem begins when she decides to give mysterious gifts and tries to discover not only her destiny but also herself.

There is a caveat. She has only seven days to figure things out and make a decision that can alter her life forever. If you want to read a book that makes you go deep while having fun, check it out on Amazon.

That sounds wonderful and so uplifting! Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings?

I like it when magic meets everyday reality, so all the places in my books are real. Therefore, I do a lot of research. For The Seven Lives of Grace, the setting is Seattle. I loved visiting this port city that’s not too far from where we live. My character was inspired by my desire to see women realize their potential and reach for their dreams in life, so she’s very relatable to our everyday struggles.

With The Healer’s Choice that’s coming out this year, I wrote about places I’ve never visited but plan to. Istanbul and the culture behind it is fascinating. Southern Ukraine/Crimea is amazing too. The characters have some traits of different people I’ve met but it’s a completely new DNA. It’s like watching your kids grow up. I might do some initial molding, but then they take off on their own. 

Istanbul is incredible, and I’d love to visit Ukraine! Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser?

I am a total pantser. I love being surprised by the characters and the story. But that makes editing a longer process than I’d like it to be. So… I am transitioning to plantser. Does it make me a reformed pantser now? 

Haha, I think a lot of pantsers transition to plantser eventually. What are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on a historical fantasy set in the 17th century Ottoman Empire. It follows the journey of Adiela, the daughter of a Jewish merchant and the first carrier of the magical gifts. It was super fun doing the research for the story as well as looking a little deeper into my own cultural roots. The male character is a Slavic Cossack warrior from the territory that was the birthplace of modern day Ukraine.

If you’re interested in following my writing journey, being my beta-reader or getting some behind-the-scenes details about the story + a few other extras, you can sign up to be notified of the progress (you will also get my once-a-month newsletter. It’s fun and insightful, I promise!

17th Century Ottoman Empire? Sign me up! What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors? 

I wish someone would have told me how much time and effort it takes to birth a book. The only reason I didn’t quit was because I had a fully written manuscript on my hands before I realized how much further I needed to go. So my advice would be, if you’re serious about it, write the whole story first, then get into the nitty gritty of the writing and publishing jungle. 

Great advice, it definitely isn’t easy. How can we find out more about you and your books? 

If you want to look through my inspirational blog posts, check out my website:   www.fiveminutediscovery.com 

If you want to see my awesome updates about writing life and life in general, find me on Instagram: www.instagram.com/elenashelestwriter

If you just want to know when my next book is coming out, follow me on Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/elenashelest

Get a free novella, Sweets Make Everything Better (yes they do, especially if they are laced with some magic) when you sign up to my newsletter: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fw9l65v5od


I definitely recommend checking out Elena’s gorgeous artwork, some of her pieces are going to be included in Enchanted Waters alongside Helena Satterthwaite’s illustrations of the ten enchanting short stories we’ve written for this collection.

Elena’s story, The Wishing Well, is inspired by Slavic folklore. It’s a haunting and captivating tale, complimented by stunning paintings by Elena herself. You’re definitely going to want the paperback of this collection! I’ll show you some sneak peeks of the artwork when I’m allowed.

Lyndsey

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