Thomas M. Kane - Author
The Witches of Crannock Dale—Book One of Mara of the League
When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.
This is a story of war and espionage, set in a low fantasy world. It is also about a child getting to know her mother and father in a new way.
Cover painting by Robin M. Birrell. Design by Tallulah van der Made.
The Rebels of Caer City—Book Two of Mara of the League
Now available in paperback and as e-book—The Rebels of Caer City!
Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny – to find her missing friend. Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.
Mara of the League revisits the Cold War in a medieval fantasy setting. Writing about that period in this way seemed like an appropriate thing to do, because the Cold War seemed a little fantastical all along.
I’m writing about it through the eyes of a child who is just becoming aware that the knights who claim to be protecting her village may not have her best interests at heart. In that process – in addition to telling a good story – I’m inviting readers to reconsider what actually happened in a time which may not be so far behind us as many people think.
For more detail, see my guest post on David Bridger's blog.
Book 3 of the Mara series is now available!
After surviving a fiery assassination attempt, the League’s honorable ruler tries to end a long war. Mara, now head of the League’s spy services, warns he is walking into a trap. As her advice becomes increasingly ruthless, she asks herself whether she likes the person she has become.
This is a tale of war and intrigue, featuring a campaign map to help strategists follow the military action.
Honored to introduce author Athena Matthews! I admire her work for its originality, its believable characters and its attention to its characters’ emotional lives. In this interview, she talks about her writing career, her books, and her plans for future work!
Please tell us about your books!
I currently have two stories published, one is called Rightful Place’s and the other Death Sails Among Shadows. I tend to write adult high fantasy, focusing on characters and their emotional and physical struggles throughout my books. Common themes in both stories are that you aren’t your circumstance, you don’t have to let your trauma, or your past define you. Another common trope is it’s alright to ask for help if you need it, requiring help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
Please tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, which will hopefully be ready for publication in July of 2021, is tentatively called In Fate’s Hands, it is about a group of strangers who come together to fight against their tyrant queen. They all have different motivations that drive them, that force them into this fight, but together they hope to make a difference, even as they fight against their internal urges to fight alone.
What inspired In Fate’s Hands?
I’m not entirely sure what inspired this story exactly, it was probably a weird dream of a magical plague destroying a town, I started with creating these characters and then the story fully came together after that.
Who are your favorite characters in In Fate’s Hands, and why?
Favorite characters would be Kegan and Tatianna, Kegan is the first protagonist you meet in the story, and he is just hopeful yet really dumb at times. His motivations in the story is this powerful urge to be a hero, to be able to make a difference for the people of his home town, but he doesn’t care if he dies completing that goal.
What topics will In Fate’s Hands get readers talking about?
Mainly I am hoping to get the readers focusing on everyone’s different motivations, what drives everyone to do what they feel is necessary. I hope they get the importance of trusting those around you, and relying on your allies when in need, but most of all I hope they talk about Tatianna.
We’ve been talking on Twitter about Tatianna, the villain of In Fate’s Hands. She does some pretty awful stuff. What was the pivotal event that turned her toward evil?
Tatianna has probably been the most enjoyable character I’ve ever written, and she not physically in many scenes throughout the story, you just see the destruction and terror she causes. Tatianna was born with magic abilities in a part of my world that had forsaken it, and her father let her know very early on that it made her a monster. Being the first born she was the crowned princess, until her abilities showed, having her title stripped and given to her younger sister, slowly caused Tatianna to go resentful. She tried to learn how to use her abilities for good, but her father pushed into darker forms of magic. The beginning of her downfall to evil was her attempted assassination of her sister, after that fail, she knew what she had to do.
What is your writing process like?
How I usually write a new idea is I write a few just rushed chapters, get a feeling for the characters and build the plot, but mostly it’s just me trying to get an idea on paper. If I still like it within the first few chapters I stop, plot it out, make notes how to correct and fix things, then I rewrite and continue on. I sometimes jump around a lot with chapters, for one story I’m almost finished the first draft I had the ending written before I even reached the half way mark. Sometimes I just get scenes in my head and I can’t focus on anything else until I get that scene on paper.
What was it like to work with editors, designers and other members of your team?
Stressful to say the least, I’m still building my perfect team, I’ve struggled with both books to find adequate editors, and beta readers who can actually give me helpful feedback, but even so I’m very grateful for who do help me throughout my process.
What are your plans for future books?
I have so many books in the works right now its been difficult to keep track of them all. I have at least three more stories based around the same world as Rightful Place’s, Death Sails Among Shadows and In Fate’s Hands, and I am finishing up the first draft of the first book in a trilogy right now. Also, I have many side projects that are plotted out and waiting for me to actually have the time to focus on them, hopefully keeping me busy for a quite a few years.
Who are you? Please tell us a little about your background.
I’m Athena Matthews, born and raised on Vancouver Island Canada, the youngest of four siblings, I’ve always been an introvert, struggling to make friends, or speak my mind in general, I just liked to keep to myself and my small group. If you asked my parents, I was an angel growing up, my sister being loud and difficult made it very easy for me to get away with a lot of terrible habits that no kids my age should have been getting into. I met my now husband in carpentry school at sixteen, and we’ve been stuck together ever since. Now happily married with a sassy, ambitious three-year-old and just living the dream.
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled to? Do any of them appear in your novels?
I haven’t gotten to travel much in my life yet, but I did travel to England for a month when I was fourteen with girl guides, we traveled all over. It was an amazing experience, without my parents and with two of my best friends who we’ve literally been friends for twenty-two years now.
None of my few world adventures will show up in any of my work, I like building my own world and mapping out strange places.
Where can we get updates on your work?
Mostly your best bet to catch me will be Twitter, I’ve been neglecting all my other media trying to get back into it, but my links for my Twitter and Facebook are here.
Did your father have a favorite book? Do you have a favorite book which reminds you of your father? What books do you think about on Father’s Day?
Those who knew my father may expect my Father’s Day book to be the collected works of William Shakespeare. My father could recite a substantial portion of it from memory. Nevertheless, without taking anything away from the Bard, I would select Lionel Ruby and Robert E. Yarber’s The Art of Making Sense. Throughout my childhood, my father kept this book on his shelf, and when I got to be around thirteen or fourteen, he suggested I borrow it. I could tell he really wanted me to.
Ruby and Yarber’s book sets out the principles of logical argument. It is a humorous book, and not only does it teach one how to express oneself sensibly, it empowers one to demand sensible explanations from others. An early chapter presents Rene Descartes’ claim that all knowledge, even calculus, quantum physics and anime fandom, consists of compilations of simple propositions. If one accepts Descartes’ claim, and The Art of Making Sense explains it persuasively, it is reasonable to ask authorities of all kinds to explain themselves simply.
Later chapters explain common logical fallacies. I was gratified, in my early teens, to have someone verify that an analogy is not a substitute for an argument. It was also liberating to learn, once and for all, that shifting from one definition of a word to another in the course of a conversation proves nothing about the original topic. A rose by any other name, to return to Shakespeare for a moment, would smell as sweet. The expression non sequitur is a useful one. These are but a few of the things the book taught me.
One reason why I valued this knowledge was that I sensed my father himself had built much of his life around it. Another was that I sensed the book was important to my father for personal reasons, and that it came with a story. (I still do not know what the story was, although I have theories.) A third reason was that awkward as this may seem to recall on Father’s Day, my father had an argumentative side to his personality. The book which he had recommended taught me how to hold my own. And I discovered in years which came that my father would accept well-reasoned arguments from others, and that he would engage reasonably with them.
Approximately thirty years later, I was living in England and working as an academic. On a visit home, I asked my father if I could borrow The Art of Making Sense to use in my teaching. When my father agreed, I mentioned that I felt slightly guilty about taking it, since we both knew it might be a long time before I would be able to bring it back. My father responded that maybe it was time for the book to become mine. Although my father was always generous with me, I do not remember him ever using words quite like that about anything else that he gave me.
Two years after my father passed, I left England forever. I have – like my father – always tried to be careful about acquiring possessions and equally careful about looking after them. When I cleaned out my office, I determined that I still had every book I had ever brought into it – except for The Art of Making Sense, which was gone. Even when every shelf was bare and every drawer was empty, it did not turn up. It would be nice to imagine that it was time for the book to become someone else’s, and that that person is now making good use of it.
I have three chapters left to write in Book Three of my Mara series.
Book Three ends with a secret mission, and the stakes are high. In order to get ideas for writing techniques to use to bring out the tension in the final chapters, I revisited Nelson DeMille’s 1980s-era spy thriller The Charm School. The Charm School is a favorite of mine, and it came highly recommended by my mentor Dr. Harold W. Rood.
The first thing I noticed about DeMille’s technique was that he goes into a lot of detail about his setting (the USSR). It’s fun to read, because it’s interesting to take a virtual tour of Russia, and it builds tension — I posit — because as a reader you know the description is building up to something. You do not, however, know when the action is going to start or which of the details you are reading about are going to become life-threatening. So, you read each line carefully, with a sense of apprehension.
I’ve been to Russia, and I find DeMille describes it well.
DeMille inserts a lot of historical information and commentary through dialogue.The main character banters with random people he meets, explains things to other characters etc. DeMille writes this dialogue skillfully, and using it allows him to maintain a high level of “showing” as opposed to “telling.” However, this technique also takes up space, and I’m inclined to think I can tell my story more efficiently by presenting more of the details as Mara’s internal reflections.
In a continuing celebration of Mother’s Day, I offer two villanelles my own mother wrote in college. My mother was both an engineer and a poet. These verses hint at those two dimensions of her personality.
Our First Try at a Villanelle
I had to write a villanelle,
To try my hand at rhyme,
I could not do it very well.
I tried to make the poem jell,
I didn’t have much time,
I had to write a villanelle.
I went into the college dell
To form my work sublime.
I could not do it very well.
What I brought forth hate to tell.
To read it is a crime.
I had to write a villanelle.
To make it tinkle like a bell,
Melodious as a chime.
I could not do it very well.
I give you, then, my parting knell –
Oh how I hate this rhyme,
I had to write a villanelle
I could not do it very well.
Experiment # 8: Instructor Should Be Present
Pipette your acid into solution,
Not acid into base.
Titrate at infinite dilution.
Eliminate chloride pollution,
There must not be a trace.
Pipette your acid into solution,
Reacting direct substitution,
Explosion chance will be the case.
Titrate at infinite dilution.
Don’t heat your mixture up to fusion,
Or watch out for your face.
Pipette your acid into solution.
Allow the scales a revolution,
For this is not a race.
Titrate at infinite dilution.
If you preserve your constitution,
Then make your tongs a brace.
Pipette your acid into solution.
Titrate at infinite dilution.
Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny — to find her missing friend. Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.
I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with author Tallulah van der Made about her life, her writing process and her book Keyflame!
Please tell me about Keyflame.
It’s a love story with fantasy elements set in a small town in South Africa. The main character goes there to study but soon finds herself tangled up in an ancient magical conspiracy that threatens both her and the man she starts falling for.
Keyflame is available here now – and free to read on Kindle Unlimited!
What inspired Keyflame?
I attended university in that same town and started writing Keyflame in my final year as a sort of time capsule to capture the location and atmosphere. At the time Twilight was popular and I wanted to try my hand at writing a fantasy love story. I was not a fan of the first draft and it sat in a drawer for years before I decided to revise it and release it. I started working on it again in 2018 and did a complete rewrite and restructure.
Who are your favorite characters in your book, and why?
This is a difficult question because I like all of the characters, but none of them are perfect and most of the things that I like about them are spoilers. The one I find most interesting to write is the love interest, Kalin, who’s a mysterious academic hippy. He makes occult jewelry to pay the bills and sits in on university classes for fun. He was adopted by the neighbor’s fluffy ginger cat and the pair of them are very sweet together.
What topics will Keyflame get readers talking about?
Hopefully? How people can be multifaceted. How people can do awful things but still be good at their core, or do wonderful things and still be terribly selfish underneath. Do peoples’ past deeds define them forever or is morality a constant choice that we each have to make every day regardless of what came before.
What was the writing process like? What was it like to work with editors, designers and other members of your team?
I think I found a really great process with this particular book. I wrote the first draft, as I said, years ago then got some distance (likely too much distance in this case!). I used the cue card method of revision where you break the story up into scenes and then make color-coded notes on what you want to change on each scene. I then recruited a large team of beta readers made up of people who generally read in the genre. I sent them chapters as I revised and kept to a strict schedule of one a week which really kept me motivated. Getting feedback as I wrote was wonderful because it could also help steer the story in a direction that responded to reader expectation. That was especially useful for a story like Keyflame that has a few big mysteries at its core that readers had to want to solve, and that I wanted them to solve just before the big reveals so they got a hit of satisfaction out of being right. After that I sent it to a friend who hadn’t read any of the chapters to beta for me. Since there wasn’t a week between chapters for her, she picked up a few things. Then I sent it to a professional editor. This was the longest part of the process as it took months to get it back into my hands. During that time, I worked on the cover, researched marketing and reached out to bloggers and reviewers. When I got it back, I applied the suggested changes then sent it for another round of editing. After I applied that editor’s changes, I sent it to a proofreader – I was able to do this because I’m part of an authors’ co-op called Skolion made up of a bunch of skilled people and we all trade skills. So, I could get all this editing for free, otherwise I don’t think all these rounds would have been affordable. After that round of proofreading, I did the layout and then sent it to another friend for another proof, especially because it was now formatted so a few of the hidden gremlins revealed themselves and a few new formatting ones had crept in. Finally, I sent the book to advance reviewers and asked them to let me know if they spotted any typos. I think there were still four or five after all that editing!
All in all, it was a long process, especially since I have a day job and a night job outside of writing. 🙂 But I loved every second of it and can’t wait to do it again.
What are your plans for future books?
First on the agenda is a Keyflame sequel to build on a few things that were established in the first book. The first book is a complete and satisfying story, but I think there are still a few questions that readers will want answered and I’d also like to expand on a few of the side characters.
Then I have a trilogy that’s complete in first draft about a dimension-crossing cult that wants to build utopia by plundering alternate realities. The main character, as a resident of one such reality that happens to have magic, has to rise up to stop them.
Then I have a more epic story that’s been in the wings since pre-Keyflame about telepathic pirates. I started trying to write it many times but just wasn’t skilled enough. I am looking forward to tackling it again someday soon!
Who are you? Please say a little about your background.
I got a degree in journalism because I love writing, but I actually hated working in a newsroom so I accidentally fell into a social media reporting, which led to a career as a social media manager as part of a marketing team. That’s the above-mentioned day job. The night job is my own business as a cover designer which I love because it combines my love of art with my love of books with my love of marketing. When I’m not working, I’m a huge geek. Star Trek was my first fandom, Janeway is my role model. I’m a Dragon Age (video game franchise) nut and have sunk far too many hours into No Man’s Sky, Stardew Valley and The Sims. I also live and breathe books. I maintain a “bookstagram” feed on instagram celebrating books, and get far too obsessed with the books I love. I enjoy learning new things, especially creative things, so I’m constantly trying new crafts and art techniques. I would love to learn a musical instrument one day. And how to sew with a sewing machine so I can make my own clothes.
Where can readers get updates on your series?
I send out a monthly newsletter that includes all the articles I write for my blog, my latest art projects and everything writing related. You can subscribe here.
When I decided to self-publish my series Mara of the League, I found lots of internet articles on how to create a book. Nevertheless, although there was a great deal of information available, I still found it challenging to figure out exactly what actions were required and what order to take them in. I would have appreciated a checklist which I could follow a step at a time. Therefore, as I worked my way through the self-publishing process, I kept notes on what I did and what order I did it in. For anyone else who is looking for a step-by-step guide to self-publishing, here is the process I used.
Disclaimer – I cannot be sure I did everything right! But I can say I ended up with a book.
I allowed myself six months to complete the self-publishing process. For me, this turned out to be almost exactly right.
In this checklist, I will also be focusing on tasks directly related to producing the book itself. I will mention a few promotional activities which require advance planning – but a comprehensive guide to promotion will require another article!
- Commission Artwork
I commissioned an original painting for my cover and I feel it was well worth it. If your budget does not allow for this, a good designer can still create an attractive cover using stock images. You can do it yourself if you have the skills. I was fortunate to find a near-perfect artist through a recommendation from a friend. If I had not had such a friend, I would have looked on-line. As you will see below, I personally have had good experiences finding professionals on Fivrrr.
- Get on Social Media
If you are already active on social media, your main task will be to update your pages, profiles, etc. to emphasize your forthcoming book. You may also want to open accounts on book-related platforms such as Goodreads and Kboards, if you do not already have a presence there. If you are new to social media, this is the time to open accounts on at least 2-3 platforms. I personally get the most use out of Twitter and Facebook, but I know one author with an awesome Tumblr blog, and Instagram certainly has its fans.
- Create an Author’s Page on Amazon
To find reviewers, other author who are willing to collaborate with you on promotion, etc.
- WebsiteI was fortunate enough to have a friend with web design experience to help me set up thomasmkane.com. If I had need to do it myself, I would have probably used Wix.
- Hire an Editor
I found mine using Fiverr.
- Set Up Google Alerts
You can arrange to have Google e-mail you if certain keywords turn up on the internet. You can, for instance, ask to be alerted to references to your book’s title, or to your characters’ names. This increases your chances of detecting anyone who may be selling your book without permission. It doesn’t provide complete protection, but it’s free and easy to use. I found instructions for settng up Google Alerts simply by googling the term “Google Alerts.”
- Copyright Registration
Since I am not a lawyer, I hesitate to say too much about this process. Suffice it to say that I decided to register my work with the US Copyright Office, and I did so using the office’s on-line system abut three months into my publishing process.
- Text Formatting
By this time, all being well, you and your editor will have finished the editing process. You then need to format your manuscript for publication. If you plan to publish on Amazon, you can do this yourself using free on-line tools available on Amazon’s website. Other self-publishing platforms provide similar resources. I have author friends who tell me that they were able to format their manuscripts in a matter of hours, but the process is complicated and I found it worthwhile to hire a professional, again using Fiverr.
- Cover Formatting.
If you plan to have a print book, you can save yourself trouble by doing the text formatting first. This is because the text formatting influences the book’s page count, and the page count affects the size of the cover.
Just as it is possible to format your own text, it is also possible to design your own cover. Again, I found it worthwhile to hire a professional. I was fortunate enough to have met an excellent cover designer on Facebook, so hired her.
- Uploading (and ISBN)
As you work through the formatting process you will begin uploading your work to your on-line self-publishing platform. I used Amazon KDP, and I found its KDP Jumpstart page relatively simple to follow. This is also the stage in the process at which you acquire your ISBN. You can either get your own ISBN or let your platform do it for you. I took advantage of the latter option and found the process far simpler than I might have feared.
There are advantages to getting your own ISBN, so I would encourage others to research them before making a decision.
- Mandatory Deposit
If your book is distributed in the United States, you must deposit two copies with the US Library of Congress. Again, I am not qualified to give legal advice, so I urge all others to research this issue for themselves. I did my own research using resources available on the US Copyright Office’s website. I am happy to add that if I understood the issue correctly, the process really was straightforward – I simply sent two books to the address the Copyright Office provided.
I hope this is useful! Best wishes with your books!
I recently spoke to students in the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society at the University of Maine at Farmington on how to start a writing career. Here are the notes from my talk.
Delighted to be here.
Sigma Tau Delta invited me to talk about getting published and managing a writing career.
I graduated from UMF with a writing-related degree in 1990.
Over the course of my life, I have published 28 books and about 100 shorter pieces. I’ve done several different kinds of writing and I’ve published a number of different ways.
Most recently, I have published a fantasy novel The Witches of Crannock Dale, which I am excited about.
Available UMF store.
So, I like to think I know a little about the subject.
I’ll begin, however, with a question for you. Before I start talking, I’d like to know more about your writing and your experiences.
What do you write? What are your goals? If you’ve published, how did you go about it?
I’m going to move into the next part of this talk by offering an overarching observation that applies to almost everything else I’m going to say.
I’m borrowing this from Carl von Clausewitz, who was originally talking about war.
Everything about publishing is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.
The process of getting your novel published by Random House is straightforward. You write letters to agents until one agrees to represent you, your agent writes to an editor at Random House, and you get an advance for a hundred thousand dollars.
So, to a large extent, getting published is about putting in the work – learning who the agents are, learning how they like to be approached and writing one query letter after another.
At the same time, one could spend one’s life doing this and never get anywhere.
One of the main reasons is that so many people are trying to do this. An agent can get over 20,000 queries a year.
Therefore – and again, this is sort of like war – it is usually smart to consider your situation and look for an approach that gives you some sort of advantage.
To begin with, you can think about where you want to publish.
If you choose Random House, you probably have to have an agent, but if you choose a smaller company you may be able to skip agents and contact the editor at the publishing house directly.
If you write SFF, Tor is a large publisher which accepts queries directly from authors.
Also, you can think about what you might be writing that the other 19,999 people are not?
For instance, I got started writing supplements for role-playing games. That was in the 1980s, when far fewer people paid attention to them.
You can ask whether there are publishers who specialize in your niche.
Today you have another option – self-publishing.
This is new. It is different from vanity publishing. People do make money at it.
For discussions of how to earn grown-up sums of money from indie writing, consider applying for membership in the Facebook group 20Booksto50K.
Self-publishing doesn’t always seem quite as simple as traditional publishing – especially when you are getting started – but if you go step by step, you will end up with a book.
I will be posting a checklist after Thanksgiving.
If you can invest some money in professional help, it’s even simpler.
The difficult part about succeeding with self-publishing is that once you have published your book, you are solely responsible for convincing people to buy it.
HOWEVER, going traditional will not necessarily get you out of that.
Some publishers have built in markets – gaming again. Also, academics.
Publishers who sell to the general public increasingly expect authors to do their own marketing work.
So, if you write fiction, memoirs or popular non-fiction, it makes an increasing amount of sense to cut the publishers out of the loop and keep more of the royalties for yourself.
To wrap up, I will say one final thing about the subject. There is a lot of tribalism among authors who publish different ways. Self-publishing used to be sort of marginal, and you’ll find people who will say, well, if you don’t have a publisher, you’re not a real writer. Meanwhile, if you go on-line, you’ll find other people who say traditional publishing is obsolete etc. Personally, I have published both ways, and I would say that both ways are perfectly valid. It’s a matter of figuring out which one is going to be best for you.
Currently working on book three of Mara of the League. Since this book includes princesses, I decided it should also include a dragon. Princess-consort Cordelia Aurellius-Maxwell has a pet lizard named Horace. I have been researching what it is like to raise lizards in real life.
It turns out that there is a debate about how domesticated lizards feel about their people. Scientists have traditionally discouraged the idea that animals – and especially reptiles – have emotions. Nevertheless, many lizards and snakes behave in ways which show they recognize human companions. Certain species (e.g. bearded dragons) are visibly affectionate. This suggests reptiles have feelings after all.
Apparently, since there are opposing points of view, some experts have decided to look for middle ground. I have read a number of articles saying that bearded dragons do feel love, but that since they are reptiles, they do not feel it deeply.
This leads me to ask, if we agree reptiles have feelings, who are we to say how deep their feelings are? Feelings, more or less by definition, are meaningful. Reptile feelings feel important to reptiles. Compromises sound reasonable, but they are not always right.
And bearded dragons are really cute!
I have written eight scholarly books in the fields of international relations and strategic studies, nineteen books on role-playing games (including supplements for AD&D, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk and Ars Magica) and numerous shorter works. More details coming soon!
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