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Chelsea McKenna

Interview

I am an aspiring author with a release date in late August. It will be my debut book called, The Blood of the Lion, the first of The Vorelian Saga. It is an epic fantasy about a dark prophecy about a rising Demon King who is determined to build an empire. War, betrayal, friendship, love, and the twisted hand of fate all play a role in this epic world of demons, Energy Harvesters, kings, queens, dragons, and strange happenings.

I live in Colorado in the beautiful mountains where I get to watch the four seasons and drink my coffee. My mascot is Balto, my Alaskan Malamute, who is either shoving his paw in my face while he sleeps or trying to steal my coffee, all while I write. I will be publishing through my own publishing company – the name of that to come soon. The Colorado mountains have definitely helped inspire scenes for my writing, and in the summer and late spring, I find myself usually writing away during a good thunderstorm.

Q: Did you write for fun as a child? If so, do you remember what kinds of things you wrote about?

A: I remember always writing. Before I was 10, I was writing stories that were fantasy-based. One of the earliest two stories I remember writing about was about four unicorns and a dragon. One of these unicorns was taken – kidnapped, you could say – and the other three unicorns had to go rescue their friend. In the story, the dragon is depicted as an outcast, mean, and grumpy, and these unicorns are a cliquey group of friends that are unable to look beyond their own pride. When the unicorns finally find the cave and go to rescue their friend, they realize that their friend is sharing food with the dragon (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – Don’t judge me). Their friend explains how nice the dragon is and at the end of the day, he just wanted a friend, but no one would give him the chance to just be who he is. Perhaps I related heavily to that kind of story. I was always an outcast to friends in school – not in a bad way. I just couldn’t connect on certain things, even at a young age, and I didn’t like the judgment that these friends would inflict on others.

The second story was a bit different and I can’t be too sure how the story was inspired but it was about a girl who was part of a loving family (with a dog, of course). She goes out one day with this dog and is struck by lightning. She wakes up in the hospital and finds out that she suddenly has these powers – she can hear other people’s thoughts, feel their emotions, and move things with her mind. This character is driven by the overwhelming need to help others but she is inexperienced and doesn’t know how to control her new abilities. Did I mention she had a cool marking from the lightning that stretched over half her body? I never finished the story but you bet I still have that notebook – it was dated at age 12 for me. I have all the notebooks I wrote in as a kid. They are beyond precious to me.

Q: Do you like to read? If so, what kind of books? 

A: I love reading. I half-joke that I have a hoarding problem with books but I’m beginning to think others are catching on that it’s not a joke. I have five bookcases nearly filled and the only thing keeping me from getting more is the mere fact that I have absolutely nowhere else to put another bookcase! When I was a kid, I found myself really into the fantasy genre – I lived and breathed it. The Harry Potter series and Eragon series were my two earliest series that I read. As I got older, the suspense and horror aspects started to draw me in, but I still wanted that fiction element, so I began reading Stephen King pretty early on. Now, I read mainly horror books and I think it’s because I am writing fantasy, so while I will buy every fantasy book I find, I have been on a horror binge for over a year.

Q: What caused you to “pick up the pen”? 

A: This one always gets me because I never know how to explain the urge that made me pick up a pen. I was, even at such a young age, overwhelmed with this need to tell a story. It was both a physical and emotional urge. I needed to tell this story, whatever it might be so that I could create a sense of relatability with the readers. Somehow, I thought, these readers could connect, relate, and maybe even learn something powerful about themselves through my reading. Obviously, that thought matured as I got older. Even today, over a decade later, I can’t find the right words to explain exactly what drives my need to write, except to say that is a satisfaction that goes beyond my understanding and that nothing can replace it. I often use the phrase “soulful satisfaction” when I describe my writing.

Q: What was your greatest writing accomplishment?

A: My greatest writing accomplishment would have to be when I was published in this poetry book. I was probably 14 or 15 and I was so excited when I found out that my poem would be published, along with probably a hundred or so other authors. I won’t tell you the book because I am honestly embarrassed to call it my work. You know when you work on a project or do something silly and it ends up being the most popular or gets the most attention and you simply can’t figure out why? That’s what this was. If I could burn the poem, I would, but I can’t. Though I tell you this because at the end of the day, while I don’t like the work, it really solidified this desire to hold a published work in my hand that I could call my own. It was the catalyst – the first real moment – that I thought, “I could do this.”

Q: Were there any books that resonated with you? Do they still resonate with you today? 

A: Eragon series by Christopher Paoloni. That was the first fantasy book I read with dragons and the entire setting of a world that was not here. To this day, I still say that was the series that inspired me and confirmed that I could one day maybe do that too. I have always loved this world-making concept and his series confirmed it was possible. I actually wrote him in 7th grade as part of an English class project. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I know that I probably told him that I wanted to be a writer and how much I liked his work. I ended up getting a response back with a letter that was about how what was supposed to be three books would be now four (The Inheritance Cycle) and he gave me the name to the third book before it was public. Cool, right? I also got an autographed picture and bookmark. Small stuff but to be acknowledged by an author that was the first real author I had read meant the entire world to me. I still have that letter.

Q: Do you write more or less now than you did as a child/young adult? 

A: I’m writing way more now. When I was a kid, I wrote sloppy, but I got a lot of pages down. When I was a teenager, I went over and over the fantasy series I had been working on. I got work done but I think I was so inexperienced as a writer that it simply became a series I practiced over and over with. Now, having immersed myself in my current world for the last year, I can truly say I’ve never written like this before. I have work being produced and it is quality work that pertains to the entire world I have created. I live and breathe some of these characters and embrace all their faults and strengths. I often say they tell me the story and I’m just along for the ride – both the good and bad.

Q: What have been your biggest struggles as an adult writer?

A: The biggest struggle I have faced as an adult writer is myself and I think many writers can relate to that. I am so aware now of the judgments of the world, the risks, and the fears. So, being able to acknowledge all that and then willingly put myself out there when I know that rejection could happen is an extremely vulnerable place to be. But at the end of the day, and this is what I’ve really come to understand in the last year, even if the book I publish today was to be rejected and a total flop, I would still pick up a pen tomorrow and write another story. Telling a story and the need to do so outweighs the fears and risks that reality places on me.

Q: Have you written any books? If so, tell us about them.

A: The first book I really wrote – well, actually series- was all throughout 8th grade and several years after high school. It was a modern twist on Norse Mythology. Demons, fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, and gods all existed. This world was so complex, especially when you added the Norse Mythology elements, but it was a matter of tying it all in without coming across as historical and amateurish. Every draft I wrote, I couldn’t stand. The world was great, but I wasn’t happy with the direction. So, I finally took a deep breath and put the entire world aside (countless drafts and research binders, too) and decided to try my hand on another story. I knew that because I was so hooked on this story, that likely the best option to do was walk away from it completely because I had associated it with such young years in my life and I couldn’t separate myself from those for some reason. It is absolutely a series I want to return to, though. I adore it so much and it is beyond precious to me. When I started writing the series I am working on now, I told myself that in order for this story to come to life, everything has to be possible – even the impossible. Sounds weird, but I had to break myself out of the box I had subconsciously put myself in. I can’t be a fantasy author if I can’t learn to stand outside the box.

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

A: Tough, tough, tough, and tough question. I love them all. I find the opportunity to relate, bond, and connect in so many different ways with these characters. They each symbolize so much and have their own journey they are on, just like real people. However, if the question is, “Do I have a soft spot for a character?”, the answer is yes. I adore Morei and his journey. He is a character with a dark and twisted journey ahead of him and has a lot of reflective traits that individuals could relate to. I’ve fictionalized the demons and certain traits, but I hope that readers can find a connection with his demons and understand that we all have these. We all struggle, suffer, and face major obstacles in our lives, but we must still get up every day and do it again. Morei was my first character that inspired this entire world. He was the son of a powerful king that people loved and now he must stand in the place of such a light while also being pulled in a different direction – one more sinister and bloodier. But at the end of the day, Morei is a man. Morei resembles the darkest places a person can go and the question then becomes, will he be able to pull himself out of it and be a better version of himself or embrace the fate the prophecy has given him? There are so many unanswered questions around Morei and his fate and his unpredictability makes him fascinating.

Q: Who was the hardest to write? The easiest?

A: My protagonist was by far the hardest, which is so funny to me. Syra is interesting because she needs to represent the arch of a hero’s journey – the call to adventure, so to speak, but she has to get there first. As the reader, you know a little about her past but not enough to think, “well, why is she doing this?” All you know is that she’s on the run and she doesn’t truly understand her place in all this. So, there lies the struggle. Do I make an over-the-top heroin that is right off the bat, powerful, strong, and unstoppable? Or do I create a heroin who is tossed into this journey without a choice and must learn to stand for herself and, in the process, learn who she is and her abilities? I find the latter far more relatable, especially for readers of all types who may question their potential or feel like they can’t do something. Who can relate to a protagonist who just jumps right into the middle of everything without proper background and hero development? But there is also a fine line of making a hero tough but not unrelatable and a hero who is weak and annoying. I think this is even harder for a female protagonist because there are certain expectations around a female heroin in today’s world. Syra was surely a touch character to get into too because I constantly wanted to throw her into situations and make her this badass but I couldn’t because it wasn’t her- that was me and what I would do.

 

My favorite character that was the easiest to write was ironically Emerald, the other primary female in the story. I think she was easy because I didn’t have to build her into this tough woman. Emerald was already tough because she had far more experience and well, she’s a queen. I couldn’t make a weak queen, not one like Emerald and the story she tells. Emerald has lived on her own and ruled on her own for a handful of years, lost her parents to an illness, and has had to fight for everything. She also rules the largest territory in Diyrặ, the east country. All of this has happened before she’s introduced so I already had this powerful woman in my head who didn’t necessarily need a proper introduction because it wasn’t her. She’s the kind of woman that breaks tradition, doesn’t care what others think, and is cruel in her own sort of way.

Q: Plot is complicated. Tell us everything about how you came up with yours, from the challenges to the “ah ha!” moments, to the fresh starts. 

A: Plot is surely complicated. That’s what forced me back to the drafting time after time again because I would get to a certain point and think, “I should have done that because of blah blah blah.” And then I couldn’t get it out of my head, so boom, back to the drawing board. Many may be shocked but the initial idea of this story came to me while I was watching The Lion King. Yup, it’s the truth. Simba’s journey with his father really resonated with my blossoming idea of Morei. That was the night Morie really came to life for me and the idea of this son who is forced to take the throne after a tragedy occurs. But I wanted the twisted dark side of it all, which is where the horror and psychological aspect of the story comes along. The first moment I knew I had a story was when I realized I was building this world in my head, kingdom after kingdom, character after character, and I was beginning to lose track of where these kingdoms were. So, I bought two giant canvases and did an amateur drawing of each map, their colors, and crests, so that I could reference when I needed. After I had the initial locations down, I began to build up each kingdom – their cultures, traits, perspectives, what they are well-known for economically, and so forth.

 

Obviously, this would also play into my characters’ perspectives, so it was important to understand the culture of the kingdom before I could remotely begin to write a proper character. That didn’t stop me from getting the basic foundations of my first three characters – Morei, Syra, and Cyrus – though they were revised a handful of times while I matured the world. Building the plot and this world was a lot of push-pull, take and give, especially when it came to the Soul Realm (underworld) and the Guardians of Death. I want to throw it all in there, but I can’t. Adding the mystery, the questions, and the plot-building elements were the hardest aspects of this entire plot because I had to actually remove information from my draft. Moving, rearranging, and sometimes completely removing subplots left me where I am now, which I’m glad I did all that. It was a hard pill to swallow because, by the second draft, I thought I had it, but it was obvious I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Now, I can say I’ve got the first book of a saga that I can be proud of.