Author Interview - Elise Carlson
Elise Carlson (they/them) is an Aussie who graduated from playing imaginary games in their extensive backyard to writing epic YA Fantasy. In between educating energetic, enthusiastic minds as excited about life as they are —children— and adventures in Europe, North America, South-East Asia and locally, Elise enjoys writing adventures and epic conflicts for the young and young at heart.
Genre: YA Fantasy
Q1: What is the name of your latest book and what is it about?
In Secrets of the Sorcery War, nonbinary Regent Ruarnon's parents are held prisoner by monster-breeding, sorcerer-king Nartzeer. Ruarnon sets sail, seeking allies and tools to enable them to recover their parents. Meanwhile, lost Aussie Linh and her friends believe their only means of getting home —magic gateways and sorcerers with the power and knowledge to activate said gateways— lie in Nartzeer's homeland. Their homeward quest will take them beyond the protection of Ruarnon's rescue expedition, so they seek skills and advantages to equip them to survive their journey home. Meanwhile, Nartzeer's sorcerers tell a different tale. His ships sail east, loaded with monsters, pursuing unknown means in lands Ruarnon and company believe uninhabited. Both sides pursue secrets from the Sorcery War, and Nartzeer's quest threatens to destroy Ruarnon's allies, and sink the ship on which Ruarnon and Linh sail. Secrets of the Sorcery War is book 2 in the Ruarnon Trilogy, an epic YA Fantasy that was released April 16, 2023.
Q2: How long does it take you to write a book? How long does each stage of the process usually take?
The advantage of having majored in archaeology and ancient history, with a minor in politics, is that any details I need to research for world-building purposes are often minor and merely icing on the cake. So research and world-building tend to be only a matter of weeks. Drafting takes a few months, each round of revisions or redrafting also taking a few months. I normally redraft each book around 4-5 times, and mostly spend my year teaching full time with a little travel on the side. So to get a book from idea to fully edited and ready to publish... my debut, Manipulator's War and my second book, Secrets of the Sorcery War took around 7 years each. War in Sorcery's Shadow will likely be the same. (I hope to release book 3 in 2024, as I tend to draft book 1, then book 2, then book 3, then begin edits on book 1, then book 2 first round edits etc, on constant rotation.)
Q3: What is your favourite type of character to write?
The antagonist. Heroes always try to do what's right and tend to have less clouded judgement. Clouded judgement is what I find fascinating in antagonists. I love writing antagonists every bit as altruistic as the hero, but not so fortunate in their personal circumstances. That describes both King Kyura (Manipulator'sWar's antagonist) and King Nartzeer (the whole Ruarnon Trilogy's antagonist). Neither Kyura nor Nartzeer is as predisposed to be optimistic in their hopes for their people as my hero, Regent Ruarnon, and both are less fortunate in their personal circumstances. Nartzer has experienced a good deal of trauma, and his trauma predisposes him to tragic errors of judgement. I don't want my readers to hate my antagonists. I want readers to cheer them on, wince when they stumble and weep when they fail. This too is why I enjoy writing antagonists.
Q4: Do you mine your own life for ideas, settings and/or characters? If so, please give an example from your current book release where you have done this.
As a nonbinary, asexual, aromantic person, I have to consciously disassociate from myself to write characters who relate to each other along binary gender lines, and who experience sexual and romantic attraction to anyone. Whenever I focus on other aspects of the story, I forget to do this. So it's no coincidence that Ruarnon is nonbinary (I identified their gender shortly after identifying my own), or that they and lost Aussie Linh in the Ruarnon Trilogy are asexual and aromantic. Similarly, in envisioning how four Aussie teens may respond to the shock of literally stepping from Australia to another world, and their struggle to get home, of course one of them was going to channel my energetic, always wanting to make people smile self. And my restlessness, and ADHD self, enter Troy. And as a neurodiverse person who spends just as much time internalising and rehearsing conversations in my head as I do speaking out loud, naturally Ruarnon, Linh and Aboriginal Aussie Michael were going to be deep thinkers. So a good deal of my characters' traits are portioned out from my own character. My plots on the other hand begin with seeds of my emotions. I often experience emotion as instrumental music well suited to that emotion playing in my head. Then I envision an (often) dramatic scene unfolding, matching the crescendo of that music and emotion. And when I weave these scenes together into a novel, my plot grows out of scenes born of my emotions. The abduction of Ruarnon's parents began this way. I was restless about something that wasn't right. Antsy. And in my mind, there was Ruarnon, standing on a balcony, their posture slackening in shock as they witnessed their mother bound and being whisked away in a carriage late at night.
Q5: What is something you wish you had known earlier on it your writing career?
Just because you didn't outline the main sequence of events and growth points of your characters before writing, or during writing the novel doesn't mean you can't do it after the first draft. Or the second, or the third. Outlining my novel after the fourth draft made editing Manipulator's War a long and messy process, and gave my lovely critical readers and editors more work than they would otherwise have had. Both they and I were very happy with the end result, but when a shorter, smoother, easier road is an option —I'll take that road in future!
Q6: What do you do when you find yourself in a bit of a writing rut? Is there any strategy you find works for you to help the words start flowing again?
I work in an emotionally demanding full-time job, which mostly relegates headspace and time for writing epic fantasy novels to Sunday afternoons, or failing that, to school holidays. With time and the capacity to hold fully fleshed-out characters and complex plots in my head at a premium, it's usually all systems go for the day or writing session until I run out of energy to continue. Its returning to a novel after life keeps me so busy I have to put it down for weeks or months that I find challenging. Re-reading the book so far helps me get back into the zone.
Q7: What is your favourite writing resource?
The Emotion Thesaurus. My feelings tend to express themselves as instrumental music, with precious few or no physical reactions or cues in my body because I suppressed negative feelings a great deal as a child, and often still do as an adult. My characters' emotions as they fight wars they don't wish to fight, get lost in the world of Umarinaris, encounter monsters, magic reviving out of myth etc, and respond physically to dramatic events unfolding around them comes naturally in dialogue, but not physical cues. So to show disappointment in the slumping of shoulders, reserved mirth in a twitch of the lips etc, I flag those bits when drafting, then return to the flags with my Emotion Thesaurus for ideas on filling in the emotion-showing blanks.
Q8: How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?
My ideal reader likes fast-paced stories with lots of action. They value an unpredictable plot over a smooth and gentle ride and complex plots they can really sink their teeth into. They appreciate LGBTQ+ representation (especially gender diversity), diverse characters in general, rich world-building and may also share my appreciation of ancient civilisations. They may enjoy romantic subplots, but don't depend on romantic themes to really sink their teeth into a story. They appreciate platonic friendships and found family. They share my passion for adventure, and my insatiable appetite for knowing what lies beyond the horizon, or in this case, on the next page.
Q9: What authors or books inspire you the most?
For me, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time was a master class of character development, writing multiple points of view effectively and incredibly rich world-building. Wheel of Time is enough inspiration for me as a fantasy writer of secondary worlds for the rest of my career. But Brandon Sanderson's characters in the Stormlight Archives also encouraged me to slow down, and ensure I breathed life fully into my own cast. Meanwhile, the basic narrative structures of enemies my characters hear about, grow wary of and struggle to piece together clues to understand said enemies motives, and the story structure of a story unfolding across a fantasy world, are very much inspired by Final Fantasy games, especially my favourites, XIII and X.
Q10: What are you currently reading?
The Rarkyn's Familiar, a YA Fantasy by Nikky Lee and The Raven and the Dove, a viking historical novel by K.M. Butler.To find out more about Elise Carlson check out their Website, Facebook, or Goodreads pages. Give them a follow on Instagram @eliseswritings.
Heir Ruarnon seeks allies to free their parents from unpredictable sorcerer-king Nartzeer. The reclusive Urai are not who they had in mind but can offer far more than Ruarnon anticipates. However, negotiations are interrupted when Nartzeer's murderous grey-hided damars are sighted sailing towards Tarlah.
The damars' human handlers are lost Vietnamese-Aussie Linh's chance to confirm that her gateway home —and sorcerers able (and hopefully willing) to operate it— lie in the dangerous West.
When Linh sets sail to confront the handlers, she learns that magic is very much still wielded on Umarinaris. That some of the Sorcery War's deadliest weapons survived. And that Nartzeer somehow knows all of this and has his own plans for those weapons.
But is Nartzeer the villain everyone in the East believes? What do his fleets truly seek in the Eastern Seas? And why have the damars become so formidable that they threaten to sink Ruarnon's ship and overrun all of Ruarnon's potential allies?