Interview with Lela Markham

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I told stories (some parents called it lying) when I was very little, but the first story I actually wrote down was for my 5th grade teacher. It featured a cave man who was tired of eating raw meat, so figured out how fire worked when lightning set a bush on fire. I absolutely hated writing it because the topic and major elements were dictated by the teacher, but I got an A. I later found out that she called my mother because she thought I might have had help in writing the story. Not long after, some school friends and I wrote a fan fiction for the Partridge family (oh, how that dates me!) and they just kept asking me for more and more "episodes". By the time the school year ended, it seemed I couldn't stop writing. It's been a passion of mine ever since. When I look back at what I wrote then, however, it was awful.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the extreme Interior of Alaska in a house built of books. Long dark winters favor reading and writing and warm summers filled with the midnight sun encourages adventures. Most writers start out as readers and so this was the perfect environment for me and then the adventures gave me events and images with which to populate my fictional worlds.
What do you read for pleasure?
Anything and, almost, everything. Non-fiction on politics and religion and research on Celtic religions. High fantasy is, of course, a favorite. I love a good mystery and science fiction is a first literary love. I've really gotten into political thrillers and dystopian in the last couple of years. I don't read erotica and I'd rather skip vampire tales and romances.
Who are your favorite authors?
I like the classics -- Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, no high fantasy writer can say no to Tolkien or Lewis. I absolutely loved Zena Henderson's People series. Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut for science fiction.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Perkins and Phyllis Whitney are favorite mystery writers. Katharine Kerr and Kate Elliott hold favorite positions in epic fantasy. Stephen Lawhead for speculative historical fiction. I started out loving Robert Jordan for the Wheel of Time, but ended up sticking it out because I discovered Brad Sanderson.

I'm sure there are others that I'm missing.
Describe your desk
I don't really write at a desk anymore, but I do still have one. It's a little bit cluttered. There are photographs on the shelf above the desk -- one of my husband fishing for salmon at Chitina on the Copper River, one of my daughter free climbing Grapefruit Rock, one of my son playing tug of war with his yellow Lab in the stream on our cabin site, and a collage of the various animals who have graced our lives. In the middle of the photos is an orange and red bowl with potpourri and a tiny ceramic bumble bee peeking over the edge. A stack of bills in one corner next to a radio/CD player. My coffee cup sits to the left behind the keyboard. Sometimes there's a plate for toast next to it. My continuity notebook -- a spiral bound student's book with a red cover hand-scrawled with "The WIllow Branch" -- sits to the right of the keyboard. There's a pen stuck in the spiral so I can find it when I need it. At the back of the desk is a 2" binder with the beta draft of The Willow Branch. There are yellow and blue sticky notes visible, where I have highlighted fixes. There's also a stack of these near that pile of bills representing the edits I've completed. There's five reference books next to the binder -- a book on Celtic myths, another of Irish folktales, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a Bible. My chair is an upholstered kitchen chair with a red-and-white handmade (by me) quilt over the back. And often my husband's work gloves or tool bag are also on the desk.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Working to pay our bills, hiking, quilting, reading, hanging out with my family, doing home improvement projects, sitting at a coffee shop or on the main concourse of a mall watching people be people. I also like to watch Netflix. I get a lot of half-formed good ideas on how to make the stories found there better, so it's a really useful exercise.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Freezing to death. We live in Alaska and we heat with wood. If someone doesn't get up and fill the wood stove, we all die.

No, seriously -- life is inspiring enough. Mostly, I enjoy my job, I love my family and the community I live in is highly entertaining.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Letting a character live through my words in a world that is thoroughly believable.
What is your writing process?
A character usually presents himself (or herself) to me while I'm living my life or watching television or reading. If it hangs around for a while, I try to write something about it. If it's meant to be a story, the character will start showing it to me. Character-driven writing has a lot of dialogue, so that often gets written first and then I start to build the world around the characters. It's usually at this point that I start drafting the actual plot so that there's a beginning, middle and end. Depending on what I am writing, I will usually play appropriately inspiring music while I write. I will scan the internet for photos that seemly could come from the story. I write a section at a time, then go do something else (work on another story, sand a floor, design a quilt, hike the Alaska wilderness, something, anything different). Then I come back, reread what I wrote, sometimes make some edits and then write another section. Repeat as necessary. When I've reached the end of the book, I give the draft to my husband or friends as alpha readers and then I go do something else while they read and redlline it. I come back, incorporate the fixes, and then do a thorough re-read before giving it to a beta reader or two. I incorporate those changes and then -- well, since this is my first book I'm publishing, I guess I start formatting for publication and writing front and back matter.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Most of my book projects start with a character or two that asserts himself into my head. I was reading a lot of Morgan Llewellyn books one winter about 15 years ago when Padraig started to form a personality. I created Tamys for a scene in Annan's tavern -- just a short story. Then, one rainy afternoon we were sitting at home with Enya playing in the background and I wrote the opening scene for Padraig's homecoming. From there, it sort of developed. It started out as one real long story that I posted on Authonomy in 2011. Critique suggested that I break it up and that I add some sword play earlier. I couldn't get Padraig and Tamys to do that. It was against their characters at that point in the story. As a work around, I brought in the history and ended up with two stories running simultaneously. I think they work because one is the story of the destruction of the royal family and the other is the story of the restoration of the nation.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I am an evangelical Christian who lives her beliefs, but I don't write strictly for a Christian audience. In trying to find an agent for The Willow Branch, I found I didn't fit very well. Agents said either remove the Christian content or remove the (what they deemed) non-Christian content, in order to find a publisher. I wasn't comfortable with that and after receiving a few letters along those lines, I decided I should follow my heart and publish what I thought the story should be.
How do you approach cover design?
I can't afford a cover designer and my daughter, an artist, is traveling with a blue grass band, so I had to design the cover myself. High fantasy looks weird with photographs, so I knew I would be looking for a painting or print. I asked my daughter what she thought was the most visually striking image in The Willow Branch and she named the moon. I then went looking for public domain images that spoke to me and were clear and crisp at the right size. I gathered about five of them, then tried overlaying my text on them until I decided that one held up better than the others.

My overall philosophy is that you want something visually striking that isn't muddied by the text and that highlights something from the book.
What are you working on next?
The Shadow Forest is Book Two of the Daermad Cycle, introduced in The Willow Branch. It will continue the stories of both times lines and the growing threat to Celdyra and the Kin.

I'm also dusting off some other projects to consider publication in the near future. I'm a genre hopper, so there's quite a few tales I could tell.
Tell us about Daermad Cycle.
Daermad Cycle is a high fantasy series set in the fallen kingdom of Celdrya. A millenia ago, a group of Celts from Europe stumbled into an alternate universe that was already populated by elves, dwarves and dragons. They quickly set about pushing the first group off the best land and killing the dragons. Now, both the Celdryans and the neighboring Kin (what the elves call themselves) are threatened by mauraders, black mages, and vengeful Celtic goddesses, so they must somehow learn to forgiven their racial animosity to unite against these threats. There is an ensemble cast and I don't ignore the bad guys.

The Willow Branch has been out since October 2014. Mirklin Wood comes out March 2016. Fount of Dreams will be the third book in the series.
Tell us about Transformation Project
In the run up to the 2008 Presidential election, I half wrote a political thriller with Alaska's Governor Palin as the inspiration. I didn't like it, but I did like two of the characters in it, so I wrote another story for them to be in. I asked the question, what would happen if terrorists managed to disrupt the fabric of our country and from that LIfe As We Knew It emerged as book 1 of Transformation Project.

A Midwestern town must forge its own disaster plan when the government is unable to cope with an overwhelming disaster. LAWKI came out in March 2015. I hope to have Objects in View out in Fall of 2016. I very much focus on the town and the relationships between the townsfolk with some glimpses of what is happening out in the wider world. I think readers will be surprised in the end with who the real terrorists are and surprised with my answer for how to cope with such a situation.
Published 2016-01-20.
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