Guest Entry By Helidth Ravenholm
(Originally posted on Buzzfeed)
It’s a fact – a lot more people write than you’d think. Another fact – a lot more people write really, really well than you’d think. For some, writing is their life – from the moment they’ve realised what they wanted to be when they grew up, or from a moment it struck them that their love for books was not just about reading, it’s all been about writing. To others writing is a part of life – while they may love their other job or jobs, they will also as eagerly write, and will pour all their heart into it every time. Then there are those you meet in everyday life – your friends, even your family, your co-workers… a brilliant writer could literally be hiding anywhere, because a lot more people write stories or even poetry than you’d actually imagine. The point is – writing happens, and it’s unique for everyone, while, at the same time, far more prevalent than you’d think.Meaning that (and this will make any bookworm out there happy 🙂 ) there are soooo many stories out there that are just waiting to be told.
When I first read The Raven’s Wing, it was an instant WOW factor for me. The story is so amazing – from the evolving, uncertain, reluctant heroine, who is an outcast among her people for being born different, to the ending, which, for the fact that it’s a classical battle of good and evil, certainly manages not to be cliched (lol, no spoilers, so go and read it 😉 🙂 ). And every time I go back to it, it just gets me more… because like Harry Potter, for instance, to draw in a very well known literary work for comparison, Malaya is strongly disadvantaged in her own world by her appearance (but unlike Potter, who has the support of the wizarding world, Malaya can only get support of her friends). This is a situation that is so applicable to so much of our own world, and I think that that’s where the attraction lies (at least for me 🙂 ). So how does a story like that come into existence?
I went and I asked the author, Emily Shankle, to tell me just that (and so much more, because once you start, questions just never stop 🙂 ).
Emily Shankle is an incredibly warm person to talk to. The warmth of her personality is the warmth that pervades her story and her characters’ interactions… a wish to understand, to convey emotion. And so…
How long have you been writing?
“I’ve been using writing as a way to relax, and work through emotions since I was in middle school. However, I got much more serious about it in college, which is when I wrote The Raven’s Wing. So I’d say that I’ve been seriously writing for about 5 years.
Before college I wrote a little poetry and started a few stories that I never finished.”
Lol, that makes two of us. I used to use writing as a relaxation thing. How did Raven’s Wing happen? Where did the ideas come from?
“It transformed a lot over the years. I am always telling myself stories in my head. They are usually influenced by the books I read and movies I watch. Most of them don’t last longer than a week before they’re replaced by a new story. Back in Middle school I was reading a fantasy series by R. A. Salvatore and I saw the first Lord of the Rings film. This inspired my internal monologue to start an adventure story with a character that eventually morphed into Malaya. The one consistence that stuck from that original story to the book was the idea that the main character had to leave her people and discover her own future. Originally she was an elf, but it wasn’t long before I came up with the Frey. I love Edgar Allen Poe and was inspired by him to look at the Raven. Our culture paints the raven negatively and I wondered what would happen if the raven was a good thing. That inspired me to create the Frey’s religion and the tension between the Raven and the Dove.
The final story came to me my sophomore year at college. I’ll admit, I was bored in one of my classes and started writing the prologue to the story.
I also have to give some of the credit to the characters themselves. Because I’m always telling myself stories, it sometimes feels like these characters are living in my head and telling me their stories as I go along.”
I did something terrifyingly similar during one of my archaeology classes… Ended up sitting in the back row, doodling all sorts of things while the professor was going on about pollen and snail shells and what not. Ironically, I would normally have been interested, but the delivery failed.
“Haha. I can’t remember what the class was, But I was not interested.”
Let’s talk about the characters for a moment. You say you’d like to give them some credit… who’s been with you the longest? How do they form their personalities? I presume, namely, that they do, through time…
“Malaya’s been with me the longest.
She’s gone through a lot of changes over time. She was the first character I created back in Middle School. At first she was a rather stoic elf.
I eventually realized that it was a little difficult to have a main character that didn’t have emotions.
For a long time she was a representation of a person I wanted to be. As I grew more into myself I let her drift a little further into her own personality.”
She’s actually quite a fantastic character in the story… and it’s interesting to hear that she was sort of growing up as you went along. Do you feel she’s still, shall we say an aspect of you?
“All of my characters have a part of me in them, but Malaya probably has the most.”
Who do you feel is the second closest?
I’ve started working on his back story for a prequel to the Raven’s Wing, and we have a lot in common.
He’s the book nerd introvert. His peers thought he was weird. Instead of feeling rejected he grew to embrace it. It is a bit odd to raise horses when your people can fly and live underground.
I should also admit that I wrote my best friend into my story, I even stole her name. Kristna is my friend Krista with a few minor alterations.”
Lol, I was wondering… in many ways, to me at least, Roscus is a sort of… catalyst person. He is neither here nor there, like Malaya, but unlike her, he’d had a lot of time to learn to find himself, which is, so to speak, Malaya’s quest in the book… he, however, has already a benefit of hindsight. (He also makes a really good job of raising her… ) So I’m not surprised, in a way, that he’s the second closest… He is the reason Malaya can actually ask herself questions, I feel.
Are there other friends, or people you know in general, who have inspired characters?
“Oh this is going to get me in trouble, haha. My parents were both an inspiration. Part of Roscus comes from my Dad. The open support and acceptance that she has to make her own way comes from him. Both the Queen of the elves and the princess have parts of my Mom in them. My Mom likes to have fun, and is very good at having fun, but she has multiple sides. She is the one who inspired me to watch people and try to understand them.
I’ll also admit, part of Sanham and Malaya’s awkward courtship was inspired by the beginning of my boyfriend and mine’s relationship. We were slow at figuring things out. Haha.”
How does your family feel about writing? Any other writers?
“My family has been super supportive!”
That is brilliant to hear… I didn’t think they wouldn’t be, but there are a lot of people who don’t feel supportive (sadly, I know a LOT about that one… ).
“I have people that enjoy writing on both sides of my family, but none who work at it seriously. My Dad used to write a little bit of poetry and has helped me with my editing. We have fun joking about some of his earlier works, specifically his Piggy poem.”
🙂 Piggy poem?
Sounds actually quite cute…
“It is. He claims it was a warm up poem to get him into writing. I can’t remember it exactly, but it was about a little piggy.
My Mom doesn’t do as much writing, but she has been very supportive, and listened to quite a few stories about different plot ideas.”
Ok, that is really sweet… Coming back to the raven as a big black scary floppy thing… I really love the difference you make between the elves and the Frey. You could say that they are two opposite sides of the coin… the Frey with what, being an anthropologist, I can’t but call superstition, lol, and the elves who are much more nature orientated, much more accepting… how did that happen? Was that something the characters did, or did you do this on purpose?
“I did that on purpose. As much as I love the Frey, their superstition was one of the first things I knew about them. I’d say the first aspects of them that came to me were their wings, that they lived underground, and the Raven vs. Dove.
However, back to Poe, I wanted the Raven to be a good thing. Since she couldn’t be with the Frey, I needed a group that would support her and allow her to truly become herself. And that’s when I went back to the elves. I’m a big fan of fantasy and have read probably hundreds of stories with elves in them. I’ve loved them for a long time and decided they would be my more accepting people. They aren’t without flaws, but their flaws are different that the Frey’s.
So it was certainly my choice to make them as different as they are.”
It’s actually quite a dark superstition… you make a beautiful point there, or perhaps a few points… about perceptions of good and bad, and I’ve always felt there was a gorgeous hint there to how FAR things can go… an innocent newborn baby, and right away, she’s an outcast. Her parents won’t touch her… I do love how beautifully you point this out.
Do you look at mythology much? Because there are a lot of mythological creatures involved… you mention dwarves, centaurs…
“I love mythology!
I’ll admit I’m the most familiar with Greek mythology, but I love Asian and Native American mythologies as well.”
Mythology is great… I know that I used to look at myths of all kind and tried to really get what they meant… Would you say that what you know of mythology has influenced you?
“The influences come from a few things. First, I’m afraid of heights. I have a physical reaction and will actually start to get sick if I’m up too high. However, I hate being controlled by my fear. That’s part of why I wanted a main character that could fly. If I could fly I wouldn’t have to worry about heights. I also love trees and couldn’t imagine elves that didn’t connect to nature. It’s actually a little funny, when I first started telling myself stories that took place in forests, I lived in the desert. It wasn’t until college that I lived somewhere that really was surrounded by trees. So the tree houses were a way for me to conquer my fear of heights and connect the elves to the land around them.
I think my understanding of mythology, and different world religions, has inspired me a great deal. I didn’t grow up in a religious household and I’m not religious myself. However, most of my friends are religious and I grew up in a religious community. I’ve always wanted to understand religion and have done a bit of research on a few different religions. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I have a basic understanding and I think this helped me shape both the Frey and the Elves’ philosophies.”
I hate heights, and that’s why I started free climbing… 🙂 Didn’t want anything to get between me and well, life. Especially since I’ve always been a bit of a terrain scientist, lol, before I ever had a degree and a business of my own. So I totally get that…
And I can see what you mean with religion… I’m not religious, but I also grew up in quite a religious, I can actually honestly say extremist environment… possibly why Malaya’s situation touches me so greatly. It can be very difficult to grow up and always feel like an outcast, which was my experience, sadly.
I love your elves quite a lot, to be frank. My favourite is how they make their tree houses… your approach is quite unique. How did the idea happen, though, of the magic and trees forming into dwellings? It’s just wow…
“I love the houses too.
I imagined what would be the perfect place to live. Back when I lived surrounded by sage brush and tumble weeds the answer was clear, surrounded by trees. I didn’t want to just stick a house into the middle of a forest so I figured the elves would use their magic to make something more natural. I’ll also admit that I stole the idea from a different one of my internal stories. I had a different internal story where the main character is the leader of the elven knights and she lived in a house identical to Kristna’s. Since I knew I wasn’t going to write that story any time soon I stole her house.
I’m lucky that while my community was fairly religious, they were pretty accepting. I also learned who it was safe to discuss politics and religion with and who it was better to talk about other things with.”
Which, I feel, is what is a part of Malaya’s growing up, almost? Or is it just me?
I’ll admit I’ve gotten a lot better at those discussions since high school.”
I’m still going to pester you about the tree houses, lol… because I still can’t wrap my head around them… they’re sooooo pretty!!! I think your elves are unique in that…
While everyone puts elves into trees, nobody ever went and made them pretty much really ecological, too.
“They are basically, where I’d like to live. If I could afford to and if I could get over my fear of heights.
I wanted them as natural as I could, not a tree house with floor boards, but part of the tree.”
Do you ever do sketches? Of the tree houses especially, obviously, lol , but otherwise as well, or does it always just appear like a film in your head (which is how I read things or think things, lol… )
“I drew some maps and a long time ago I sketched out the Frey wings. However, I’ve never sketched the houses, sorry. Those appear as a movie in my mind.
I can’t picture words in my mind so everything kind of flows into a movie and I have to figure out the words that best describe what I see.”
I love those movies. I’ve tried for a long time to get good at sketching, drawing, painting, but I never feel I do stuff justice when I try… The pictures in the mind are just too good.
One of the elves is gay and in a happy relationship. Now, there are a lot of interpretations of elves out there, and I dare say most have touch of Tolkien to them… because everything we read, lol, is mostly Tolkien influenced. But apart from your story, I don’t think anyone’s gone there and had elves of different sexual orientations, apart from a LOT of Tolkien fanfics, lol, some of which are better than others (personally, I love Tehta ). Is it cheesy to say it was nice to see it?
“It isn’t cheesy.”
I really like him, he’s such a fresh breeze… most elves are these grave warriors, but Talec is, shall we say, a bit of a book nerd as well.
I’ve always missed real relationships in Tolkien, so this was… wow.
“That’s one I have to give to the characters. I was raised in a very accepting family. While none of my immediate family is gay, we have a few family friends who are and it’s never been anything but normal. When I first started writing Talec, I didn’t know he was gay. I knew he was friendly and the book nerd when I started, but his relationship came from him. I always like it when stories have some established relationships. I feel that if every relationship in a group started at the same time, it just isn’t realistic. I also wanted Talec and his husband to have a happy relationship. I’m sure they have their own private issues, but nothing they can’t work through.
I love Talec. He is one of my favorite characters. Life is fun for him.”
He’s such a warm guy, I love him… he’s almost a big brother to Malaya… Are we going to see more of him and his husband? Apart from Roscus, is anyone else tugging on your sleeve to have their own story?
“Princess Sheeba has asked for a story. Since it will largely take place in the Elven capital I think we will see most of the characters from The Raven’s Wing.”
Wise words from the publisher – do it. (Just passing on the message, lol… And looking forward to reading 🙂 …)
How often do you write? If I’m not mistaken, you have to balance it with a job and studies?
“My writing fluctuates. I work full time at a school and am in my second year of my Masters program, so I am fairly busy. It’s a little embarrassing, but I tend to do my most writing when I’m supposed to be doing something else. I didn’t have any classes this summer, but I only ended up writing one chapter. I’m sure that as soon as my classes start back up, and I have papers I’m supposed to write, I’ll have a lot more motivation. As I write there are parts that I tend to write faster, and others slower. I’m slow at writing fight scenes, or any scene leading up to something that will emotionally hurt my main character. I’m really fast at writing party scenes and describing new locations.
I will write Sheeba’s story, as soon as I finish with Roscus. He is rather demanding at the moment.
I’m going a little slow with his story because I know he is going to get hurt.”
That’s every character, lol…
Poor Roscus… I can imagine it’s difficult,knowing he’ll get hurt, but having to write it anyhow…
How did you decide to get the story out there?
Initially, I mean. Was it because the writing became serious, or was it because of wishing to get it out there that it became serious?
“I had previously self published with lulu.com, but, like most authors I think, I wanted to see if I could actually get it out there. Then, my senior year of college I worked for the English Department. Among other things I ran their twitter page. To get as much material as I could I followed as many different people as possible. There was one small publisher that was extremely persistant and asking for manuscripts. Finally, I figured I had a manuscript and it really seemed like they wanted some. I figured that the worst case scenario was that they would say no. Of course they best case scenario is what actually happened and Gold Orchid decided to publish my book.”
Gold Orchid is a publisher at its dawn, it’s very new. Do you ever feel you would have wished for a bigger publisher?
“No. Carole is wonderful. She has been extremely supportive and wonderful to talk to. I love working with her. And, when Gold Orchid gets bigger, I get to say I was its first fantasy novel.
I love working with her.”
Speaking of your novel, I hear that Falling on Red, which is technically not fantasy but sci-fi, is pretty much in. This is a very different thematic, but also, from what I hear, a very intriguing book. How did that happen? Space is a different place than fantasy… or is it?
“For me sci fi and fantasy have a lot in common. They are both limitless. Anything can happen.”
I think I’ve tortured you for two hours, so I think I’ll let you go back to your last day of holidays, unless you want to add anything you feel should still be addressed?
“I love reading both fantasy and sci fi. One of my favorite authors, Anne McCaffery, actually blended the two together wonderfully in her Pern series.
She was part of my inspiration to try writing fantasy.
Oops I mean sci fi.
It has been wonderful talking to you.”
With this, I take my leave of Emily Shankle. And a day that was, for me, a bit gloomy, seeing as I am currently in rainy Eastern Europe (plus I was nursing a bad cold 🙂 ) was suddenly a lot brighter and sunnier. It’s definitely true – Malaya’s kindness and optimism are shared by her creator. What can I say? Go read the book. It will touch you the way it has touched me.