Welcome to the questioning, Raina Nightingale… Very pleased to welcome you here at Cover to Cover… Let’s get down to it and reveal who you are… *dun-dun-duuunnnn

You’re at a party. There are scifi and fantasy authors, past and present… There is a room there, closed door. You are taken to a room that has VIP written on it. Who is in the VIP area living it up? And how would you introduce yourselves to those authors?

Possibly Mercedes Lackey and Christopher Paolini? I honestly have not read a lot of modern, umm, famous authors – mostly it’s small-time indie authors – so I’d have to guess those two, as the closet it might be. Okay. Maybe Samantha Shannon also? Otherwise, I don’t know.

Frankly, I’m a bit of an awkward introvert at times, so it wouldn’t be anything fancy. “Umm, I’m Raina Nightingale. I’ve read some of your books, but not all of them, but I definitely liked some of them! It is nice to meet you. Oh yeah. I write what I call “slice of life” X Epic Dawndark Fantasy, and I’ve always loved dragons! But, umm, I have no idea how to do this?”

Probably, that’s actually wordier than I’d really be if this happened. Introductions are not my strong point. I’d probably just give my name and say Hi…. That’s assuming I remember to give my name. I sometimes forget names exist at all! So it may be, “I really liked Nayimathun and your female characters feel like real people, Samantha, Christopher, I liked “The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm” a lot and how Eragon defeated Galbatorix is great, Misty, I really love The Last Herald-Mage trilogy so much and Vanyel is one of my favourite characters! Also, the Mage Storms was great, and Karal’s vision and Vkandis are awesome!

Aye, now that you mention it, I think what we think we would do and how we actually act are two very different things on any given day! But stop the presses! Dawndark? I have to admit this is a new one for me, can you explain Dawndark for those in the dark like myself? 🙂

For once, I notice a pun when I see one … ‘Dawndark’ was a term I invented when I saw some people talking about grimdark and noblebright. Dawndark basically means I’m not afraid to show the kind of dark stuff grimdark deals in, from time to time, but there’s always hope and redemption.

That hope and redemption might not be what we would see as ‘success’ though. Characters can fail, can lose those they loved, can die in the midst of their “success” or without ever seeing it, & sometimes the “success” isn’t very epic or world-changing, at least not in the short time. Sometimes, my characters don’t seem to have any power… But there’s always the belief that, whatever it looks like, fundamental reality is good. This is what hope is about to me. Sometimes you lose.

On a large scale, things like Soviet Russia, the Communist takeover in China, North Korea, etc … they happen. And on an individual scale, things a lot like that can happen in a life; it really isn’t always fair and people do horrible things to each other, or other disasters happen. So hope and courage means having something you trust in, that isn’t shaken by those kinds of things. And ‘Dawndark’ is about idealism and realism: one of the things it means is looking at people trying to do the right thing and not compromise, and does that mean you always win? No. What happens when horrible things happen because you did what you believed in, and there’s no easy win? What does that mean for our values?

That’s another big thing about ‘Dawndark’: holding onto our ideals when circumstances seem to plead for us to deny them. A lot of times, fiction that’s idealist paints the idealist as always winning in a material sense … but that’s not representative of reality, and I don’t think it helps us with living when reality throws those dark things our way. Now – Heart of Fire, and the Dragon-mage series: this one is about characters who do have a lot of personal power, but it still deals with some of these issues.

Tell me a out Heart of Fire… Is it all about big difficult decisions?

Not really about big decisions, per se. Specifically, I was thinking about that sense of, what if you can’t win in everything? What about when horrible things happen, that you can’t do anything about? Camilla is quite powerful, yes, and she has the chance to do something about problems that no one else does, but there are still things that happen, or have happened, that she can’t prevent. Very, very horrible things. Some of them she has to live with in a very intimate way, such as the way in which the Wood Elves have magically altered and created a subspecies of the dragons – one of whom she is bonded to. And it’s hard for her because she really struggles with, what does that mean about reality, when that can happen to someone? What does it mean about freedom or love?

Free will is one of Camilla’s greatest values … so what does it mean, when that can be violated – or at least, appears to be violated? In some ways, the fact that she is powerful in a lot of ways make some of these issues harder for her. Her power even brings her into connections with people who’ve had some very horrific things happen to them, that she wouldn’t *be able to deal with* if she did not have that power. Like Ben, a dragon who’s basically been half-killed and kept as an undead slave for a long time … it’s a situation, the fact that can happen at all, is really disturbing to Camilla, and she has to figure out what it means about what she believes, but she wouldn’t be able to know Ben if she did not have the power she does.

Camilla watching Radiance

But there’s also Nelexi, who has been powerful for a very long time – but also has limits to her power that most people might not understand. She is practically a god, with wisdom and experience that others don’t have, and worshiped by the Sha’adhri – the main group of the Dragonriders. But what does it mean to do the right thing in that situation? Her relationship with them is complicated, because she’s been trying not to let that worship turn into them doing or believing whatever they think she does, and not growing into their own persons. And she’s really trying to do the same thing with her new rider – to encourage Kario Flameheart to be herself, but that can be really hard, when one has that kind of experience and respect/reverence. But in the end, it will lead to Flameheart being able to show Nelexi a horrible mistake she made.

I really like the sound of Dawndark, because truly, life is a lot about the small successes and wins that sometimes flow under the surface and don’t really get celebrated. I think you’re onto something here! How have other writers or readers welcomed the new subgenre?

As far as I know, other authors & readers have, for the most part, not welcomed it one way or the other! I don’t think I am the *only* person doing anything like this – but I am very – what do you call it, ‘small fry’? So I do not think many people have had the opportunity to respond to it one way or the other! But I have had some very positive reactions to my label and description.

Dawndark has not been welcomed? I mean, by those who have had the pleasure to find out about it? Why? Was there a specific reason given to you, or has it been a case of – ‘because reasons, blabla…’ 🙂

I’m afraid I was sloppy about my earlier response. It is not that it has not been welcomed! It is that very few have … heard about it! All the interactions I’ve had about it so far have been very positive! But it hasn’t generated a lot of interest. Yet.

The mix of Dawndark being about ‘idealism and realism’ is giving me very strong philosophical vibes. Your description of Heart of Fire is dishing up some pretty serious issues and it’s making me think a lot of thought has had to go into maintaining the balance in between the epic journey of a story from A to B, and the internal struggles of characters – how did you tackle something so big? Is it something that comes naturally to you, or was it something you intended to explore and in the process discover for yourself, too?

It is … something I do kind of naturally. Or at any rate that I have been trying for a long time, so I have forgotten ever not thinking in that way. If you’re expecting really consistent pacing though … my books are possibly not the right ones? However, I personally like them that way, & in my experience life has pretty inconsistent pacing to it 😀

‘Sorceress of the Dryads’ is the one that’s most slow & very focused on internal thoughts & struggles, so if you like good pacing, maybe not that one? lol

‘Heart of Fire’ (and I am pretty sure the rest of the ‘Dragon-mage’ books) are … well, they don’t move at the rate of some books, but that balance you’re talking of is there! And, fundamentally, for me maintaining it comes down to this: the epic journey of a story and the internal struggles of characters are mated. The one drives the other – and vice versa.

So it’s a dance, the phases of a binary star, not necessarily following as strict a pattern as a binary star does, but with that essential balance to it, always circling that common center. Though what that center *is* depends a bit on the genre. Heart of Fire is very much an epic fantasy, with the tropes and pattern that an epic fantasy needs, but with a focus on these internal struggles and character relationships rather than descriptions of fight scenes, battles, and fencing techniques. So it naturally has a very different “center” than, say, Vision’s Light, which both pretty dark and pretty cozy, and might be historical fiction except that it belongs to an original world that’s not built from historical inspirations. Yeah, so the short of it: I experiment with different balances to this in different novels.

Interesting! I can actually feel your passion for your writing and for the genre shining through your written word. You really like what you’re doing and writing. When and how did the writing journey start for you?

😀 Well, it’s hard to remember very well. It was just one of those things that happened. I was eight years old. I’d just gone from being able to read a few choice words like ‘love’ to being able to read … anything, really. I don’t actually *remember* that transition or change – I only remember a parent being amazed that I could read something that was not expected.

And … well, I started writing stories. At first, mostly stuff that was fan fiction or nearly fan fiction for books I’d liked and did not want to end, or liked but wanted to be different, or both. A case in point was the Narnia: I didn’t want the children to have to go back to the real world, and I wanted the girls to have as active roles as the boys.

I honestly can’t remember every step in the process from here to where I am now, but it’s always been something I did out of love, something I did because I wanted the stories I was writing.

“I have no destiny or fate other than the one I choose for myself. You can’t have been created to help me.”

Camilla, Dragon-mage, Rider of Radiance

Honestly, it sounds like being a writer was the very thing you were always meant to do! Has it been smooth sailing, then? Or has it taken you a while as well as some trial and error to get the writing process to how you want it to be? Or, do you think the learning how to write never ends?

A bit of both, I suppose. I don’t hold with the belief many have that an author’s later writing and books are simply better than the earlier ones – I’ve been picking up the Return of the Dragonriders trilogy to read lately, which is one of my oldest ones, and loving it so much. But as great as those books are, the way I wrote them simply will not work for – say, the Storm WIP. That one is really slow right now, because I love the story and I can see it, but the perspective required – a very, very close almost-present 3rd person (past) – as well as other elements of my main character – Moon – and his circumstances present a lot of challenges that it takes me a long time to digest and see my way through.

That, frankly, gets to the point of one of my life beliefs, or whatever you call them: we’re always learning, and we’re made to be always learning, but that doesn’t mean that the earlier things are inferior.

In fact, this is a theme in the Dragon-mage series, that is really opened up in the relationship between Nelexi, Obsidian Guardian and ancient dragon-god, and her newest rider, Kario Flameheart, who is a child from an isolated people. For a while, Flameheart feels inadequate besides Nelexi, and Nelexi has to really try not to overwhelm and stifle Flameheart with her formidable knowledge and experience. But, ultimately, the two of them need each other, and together they will figure out and do something no one else could do. Because both that ancient experience and that youth, young enough not to know and to have a fresh outlook, are powerful, and where they meet, the world can be changed. So, yes, I certainly hope the learning never ends, and the day I stop learning is the day I might as well be dead!

You seem to be very closely acquainted with your characters – which, every reader hopes an author is – but how do you keep the characters distinct? Do you find you struggle writing the characters whose viewpoints don’t necessarily match with your own?

Names. This isn’t the answer one would expect, right, not from someone like me? Who regularly forgets to introduce my own name – or ask for someone else’s? But when you know the reason, it might actually make a lot of sense: I have a kind of synesthesia which goes sound – color/visuals, which are then closely related to my perception of – something hard to describe. Emotions, attitudes, I really don’t know what one word captures everything it is, and not things it’s not.

Well, this also ties into how I name my characters, if one hasn’t guessed that already. I find names to match them – names that describe essential elements of who they are, what their story is, where they come from. Or maybe the character grows out of the name. I don’t want to analyze it now, but that’s how I do it: I think the name, and I *know* the character I’m writing about.

So then writing that character, is kind of like exploring the world of colors and patterns described in the name, going deeper and deeper through the layers of it. And, it’s not a strict 1-to-1 correspondence. Most characters *could* have been named more than one thing; most names *could* have been meant for more than that one character. And the name isn’t everything: it’s who the character is, many of the defining aspects of their view-point and journey, but not *all* of it; there are choices, too. But it’s enough to get me into the mind of that one character.

Wow, one of my favorite book series (which interestingly isn’t fantasy at all) has a main character with synesthesia.  So, I’ve heard of it, but it’s one of those things that cannot really be properly envisaged or understood unless you experience it personally.

😀 Meanwhile, I’m actually not quite sure what life would be like if one did not experience this at all? I rarely think about it, but when I do, it’s obvious it’s a pretty big part of how I experience many things.

Would it be okay to talk a little bit more about synesthesia? Perhaps, there is a real life example that you can tell us about that would describe it?

Yes, of course, but I’m not fully sure how I would talk about it – I haven’t talked about it a lot, you know? I’m pretty sure it was behind my childhood obsession with words sounded like and my desire to create a language where the words sounded like what they described; where the words for light looked like light, the words for water looked like water, like how water feels, where the word for fire looked like fire, or something important about fire. I quickly had half a dozen words for light that described subtly but importantly different tones or moods of light! But I can’t really think of a good example of what it’s like. There might be one, but it’s not coming to mind.

Is there anything (a genre, a theme, a character) that you will never write about? Either because it’s a pet peeve or perhaps you would find it too challenging?

So … never historical fiction. Well, that’s a “mostly never.” I don’t feel I could ever enjoy doing the research and get enough the feel of historical eras and cultures strong enough for A WHOLE BOOK, and I hate it when people get this kind of thing wrong. Culture and mindset, more than little historical facts about who ruled when… but I just prefer to invent and explore my own original cultures.

Also – I would never write horror or erotica, and probably other things as well! Horror – I do not want to read it. Ever. Erotica? It’s boring, and too much is annoying… And never contemporary fiction, for various reasons. The research is a part of that, too, but not all of it.

How do you feel about tropes and cliches? Are they something authors should use and put their own spin on, or avoid?

I don’t really think about tropes and cliches much. So my personal advice would be: don’t worry about them, just let your stories develop organically, sometimes there will be tropes with unique spins that you won’t even know about, and the problem is that it might (or might not) help you market your book to know about them. Well, an instance I *do* know about is that Heart of Fire has some “unique spins” on the Chosen One trope. I never deliberately intended to write that. I just wanted to write a story about some things that, incidentally, are that, but the fact it’s a trope was irrelevant to my writing process. (Honestly, I’m probably aware of it at all because Camilla is obsessed about destiny and free will and making sure there is no destiny that could possibly interfere with anyone’s freedom, so that kind of affects my awareness of certain things.)

But some people write a lot more “deliberately” than I do. And, I think there are “tropes” that all (or at least most) of us like, the question is just whether the things we like are popular enough to be a trope and have a name (and we know the name). I like a fair amount of originality and variety in what I read, since I read to think and feel about things. But there are definitely some theme/trope-like things that just resonate with me over and over and over again. I’m not good at describing them though ….

Where would one start if they wanted to read your work? I see you have 4 novels to date?

😀 I’m not sure where you got the number four from?

The ‘four’ was a glitch in the matrix. How very dare I?!😂

I have three in one world; the Epoch of the Promise novels. If you interested in very dark & gritty, and in the development of my relationship to Christianity, Epoch of the Promise is for you.

Where you start depends on what you can handle. Dawn Unseen is the first one I wrote; it is also the one that challenges traditional Christianity the least in some ways, so it may need patience and a lot of a thick skin. Wings of Healing is the most recent, so if you’re okay jumping into a world where you miss some of the development, and a novel that’s a bit odd with a cozy and spread-out plot, that lets you start more of where I am now, & see what the questions I’ve asked are in a clearer form, before seeing the muddy form. Vision’s Light is sort of a prequel, and kind of in-between Wings of Healing and Dawn Unseen in other ways as well. One could start there, too, I suppose.

And I have a completely independent incredibly mystical novel Kingdom of Light:

In the Areaer universe, I have the Return of the Dragonriders trilogy, the Legend of the Singer duology (for which I have just updated the covers), and Kindred of the Sea, a related standalone, as well as two novellas, and the forth-coming Heart of Fire of course….

For the Areaer novels? Possibly don’t start IN THE MIDDLE of a series, but all the series are designed to be read independently, and in any order. The order in which I wrote and published – or am publishing – them is Return of the Dragonriders/DragonBirth, Legend of the Singer/Children of the Dryads, and now – Dragon-mage/Heart of Fire.

The Gifts of Faeri is a prequel to Return of the Dragonriders – & Dragon-mage.

Kindred of the Sea is a spin-off from Legend of the Singer, featuring very minor side characters, and can be read independantly.

And the novella Gryphon’s Escape is completely independent.

What does a day in your life as an author look like? Are you a ‘morning till night, all systems go, tapping at the keyboard’ or a ‘multitasker – writing, house chores, shopping, back to writing’ kind of writer?

Multi-tasker, I guess? There’s a part of my mind that works on my stories in some way or other all the time, as far as I can tell. I have no strict routine. I write when desire and opportunity coincide.

If you weren’t able to write, what would be your alternative creative outlet?

If I wasn’t able to write, I’m sure I’d still compose stories. I’d probably become an oral story-teller, which would be a massive shift, as currently I’m more of a written-word than a spoken-word kind of a person, but I think I could do it. It might even be kind of fun. Also, visual art. I actually do a fair amount of visual art currently, using both traditional (pencil, black and white and coloured? does that count as traditional?) and digital mediums.

An oral story-teller. You know, this conjures up an image of a bonfire, and folks sitting in a circle, blankets wrapped around them, holding cups of hot drinks. Very cozy!

Oh, and music, certainly! I do not have a good ear for actually singing in tune, but I love to sing, and I love to play the harp – not that I have one, but I’ve gotten to play with someone else’s a handful of times. And it is BEAUTIFUL!

A-ha! Now we’re peeling back the layers… Art and harp! One does not often hear the word harp in every day conversation. That is very interesting and different.

An arrow whistled through the air, like the light of a tinkling star. Camilla did not at first recognize it as the sound of an arrow, but it freed her mind from the clogging fear and despair, and at the same time she noticed that the creature no longer gripped her chin in its bruising grasp. Blinking, startled, reaching out to Radiance in a kind of repentant grasp for re-union, she saw that the creature, which she now recognized as an orc, lay limp with the wound of an arrow in its back – but of the arrow there was no trace.

If you could choose whether to live in a world made by yourself (for one of your stories) or continue living in current real life, how would you choose?

“If you had this impossible choice that you absolutely do not have, what would you choose?” Arrggh, these “If, what” questions always get me.

On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to be a Dragonrider, so would I choose that? … but on the other hand, with most of my worlds at least, this question doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense, because as real as they feel to me, they are reflections of the real world as I see it, or explorations into what I think the real world might be like. Not in a “I think reality is exactly like this,” but more of, “this is what I think reality might be like, as far as I goes – I know I can’t get it ‘right’ and I know I’m not going to try, but I think there is something here.”

Still. I have no interest in romance, but I would really love to have a dragon … but I’ve no illusions it would be easy, without challenges of its own, as confusing and overwhelming at times as any in this world. So, Areaer maybe? But this feels so weird ….

Time for 2 questions which have broken the internet, so to speak 🙂

1. As an author, what do these ‘ebook versus paperback’, and ‘audiobooks are not reading’ arguments amongst readers make you feel? By the way, you’re the first author I ask this, but from now on, I will ask every author, because I have a feeling, authors are like: “eye roll, what a question!”, hehehe…

and 2. As a writer and an artist, do you feel threatened by the AI?

As an author I don’t give a care about the ebook versus paperback thing. As a reader, sure, I have a strong preference (paperback). But as an author, I don’t even see what the controversy is about. As for audiobooks, it’s a little more complicated. I have absolutely nothing against them, or against people who are more comfortable with them, and I wish them all the best. I sort of wish I could provide them and make my books available to that audience as well, but for various reasons, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. One of those reasons is there’s no way I can ever listen to that audiobook to make sure it came out right and doesn’t have glaring errors. And, personally … well, I think writing a story to be “told” kind of like an audiobook would be, versus “read” – I think, ideally, those are best combined with somewhat different approaches and styles to story-telling, and I would be so picky about narrators, and … yeah, so it’s not my favourite thing in the world, but more power to those for whom it is, and sorry, but I don’t think I’m doing it anytime soon.

Okay. The AI question. And this is the first time I’ve really spoken on it, too. Not threatened exactly, and not by AI either, but by the possibility that a lot of people don’t see the value in human art! Though I’m not sure if I should be concerned by the latter, as I don’t really think these people would be my audience, AI or no AI. I wonder, too, if this may be related to the amateur vs. professional question. A lot of people seem to think lots of money and professionals means better art … while “amateur quality” is inferior. I don’t agree with that perspective, either.

Have to say, I love your thoughts on AI. Flip the view to a different angle, and yeah, if people stop seeing the value in human art, then it is a sad day indeed. I was just talking to someone the other day about music… how now we have the opportunity to listen to our favorite song n times a day… whereas back, way back, in the day, you maybe sat at an opera and your ears were filled with moving notes and you didn’t have a chance to hear it again, perhaps for years? Which kind of leads me off on another string of – education used to be so much more… If well off, one could speak more than 3 languages and play instruments and … now, here we are, wanting to play with AI generated images. Bloody sad, that.

I also agree with your statement about professional vs amateur. My days are filled with reading a lot of indie authors… and frankly, I have DNF’d more traditionally published books than indie books. It’s just that these parameters are set by someone somewhere.. but the fact remains that nothing can be shoehorned into a box to fit all.

And finally, what are your aspirations as an author? Do you wish your books will be spoken of 200 years into the future?

I mean, I SUPPOSE?? First and foremost, I write for myself, both to discover and challenge my own thoughts, and for simple enjoyment. And I hope my writing has a positive influence, makes a difference for the good, in people’s lives. But I do not particularly wish to have people 200 years in the future hatch the kinds of theories and ideas about it and what I meant that many tend to do for books they’re still reading after that much time!


About the author:

I have been writing fantasy since I could write stories with the words I could read (the same time that I started devouring books, too). I now write “slice of life” and epic dawndark fantasy, for fiction lovers interested in rich world-building, characters who feel like real people, and spiritual experiences. I think giant balls floating in space can have the same magic that fairytales teach us to look for in oak trees and stars. I have a lot of universes and while not all of them have giant balls floating in space, most of them have dragons of one sort or another!

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