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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Author Interview - MJ Carstarphen

Bio: MJ Carstarphen is a writer of classic style fantasy and contemporary fiction. She has an obsession with trees and prefers tea over coffee. She's not a very talented painter, but she can draw a pretty legit stick figure... She's prone to rambling and knows a little about a lot, so she's a great trivia partner. Her debut novel, The Wandering Tree, releases on June 1, 2022.

Genre: “Light” Dark Fantasy and contemporary fiction

Q&A

Q1: What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?

My latest book is called The Wandering Tree. It’s the first book in the Creatures of Dreams series. The inspiration for The Wandering Tree came from an image that my old eighth grade English teacher shared on her Facebook page over three years ago (because everyone is still friends with their eighth grade English teacher, right?) It had this dark and eerie looking tree, and while most people commented how terrifying it would be to stumble across or how creepy it was, my first thought was that there was absolutely a story there. The image no longer fully represents the story, but it was definitely the initial inspiration.

Q2: When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?

I don’t. I wish I could say I light candles or have wine… but honestly, I tend to ignore the scene for days… sometimes weeks. I didn’t write for almost a month when I came to a scene in The Wandering Tree. I felt like I had tried to avoid it and even let the character wander around a bit, but it always came back to this one thing and when I finally wrote it, I had no music or food or drinks…just silence. Then I didn’t write again for weeks because I cried every time I came back to the story.

Q3: What authors, or books have influenced you?

For my fantasy stories I would say Tolkien was my biggest influence. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series are some of my favorite books. I literally read them at least once a year, but usually more. I also think I was heavily influenced by old Jim Henson movies and other late 80s fantasy movies like Willow and The Princess Bride…something about the vibes they give off just really inspired me as a kid.

Q4: Which of your characters do you relate to the most and why?

Oh, gosh. If we are talking about The Wandering Tree, I think… probably my leprechaun. He really develops as the story goes on and even though we are quite different, I think a lot of what motivates us and lives within us, is similar. There are moments when he doesn’t see his own value and I know that is something I always struggled with–something most people struggle with, and I think seeing him transform and come into his own was something so relatable.

Q5: What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

I think, as cliche as it is, the best advice is to write the story you want. That first draft is supposed to be us as writers, telling ourselves the story. So if it’s messy or has holes and too many commas, it’s okay. If we focus on telling it to ourselves it feels easier than worrying about what pleases others. Every story has its audience; if you love it, someone else probably will too.

Q6: How much research did you need to do for your book

I actually did a lot, but don’t know how much really went into the actual story. I did a lot of research on trees. I wanted to know everything about them and it led me down this spiral of tree and nature books that really opened my eyes. The Hidden Life of Trees was probably my favorite source of research information for the story because it showed me that trees are more alive than we give them credit for, and that the world they exist in is so complex. Even though the story is “done” I am still constantly reading books and articles about trees.

Q7: What was your hardest scene to write, and why?

I don’t really want to give that away, but I think readers will know it when they come to it. All my beta readers had the same sort of reaction to this scene and as much as I didn’t want to put my characters through that… it became the catalyst for the story moving forward and turning into the bit of beauty that it is.

Q8: What is your writing process like? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?

Panster. 100% panster. At least for The Wandering Tree. Much like the title character… I just sort of wandered and let the story unfold. There were moments that shocked me and brought me to tears and made me jump. I laughed and smiled… I think pansting allowed for the story to really surprise me and forced me to listen to the characters because I didn’t force it to fit some outline, I just had to wait for the characters and story to show me where it wanted/needed to go. However, book 2 is a nice combination of planning and pantsing. I don’t have a hard outline, but made one that has some sort of stepping stones to help guide me to the big events that will take place.

Q9: What are you working on now?

I am currently working on Book 2 of the Creatures of Dreams series as well as polishing my debut contemporary fiction, The Three Loves of Liza Wellerby.

Q10: What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Extreme Expectations of the Exiled by Tuesday Simon and Songs of the Wicked by C.A Farran.

Find out more about MJ Carstarphen by checking out her Linktree

The Wandering Tree is available on the 1st of June. Preorder it here.

On top of a cliff at the edge of the world, in a land long forgotten by the fools who wander tall on two legs, lives an ancient tree who’s spent many mortal lifetimes silently observing the world around him. Until one day, a magical mistake turns the tree to gold… and brings him to life. Now free to wander a world he’s only dreamed of, the tree heads for the mountains, hoping to discover all the beauty and joy that exists beyond his home.

With new friends at his side, he soon learns the precious gift which gave him life is both a blessing and a burden, desired by those who hold treasure above innocent lives. The world is a much darker place than he expected, yet more wonderful in ways he never could’ve imagined.

But there is a price to pay for being a wandering tree and his journey will teach him that the true difference between being alive and living is worth its weight in gold. It’s a life he never knew he wanted, filled with moments that will root themselves deep in his soul and wander in his heart forever.


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