Leo McBride puts on his Inklings Press hat to have a chat with Lydia Sherrer, author of the Lily Singer Adventures, a modern fantasy series, due to be published in April, as well as tales of urban fantasy and dystopian futures. She talks to the blog about her work, her influences, her faith and her plans for the future.
Hi Lydia, and welcome to the blog! We bumped into each other out there in the wired world of Twitter – so we're new to your work too, tell us about the kind of fiction that you write.
Hi Leo! Thanks so much for having me. I’m honored and appreciate the time and effort you spend on featuring different authors! So far, I've written modern and urban fantasy as well as dystopian and post-apocalyptic scifi. My novella series coming out in April, Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus - The Lily Singer Adventures, is modern fantasy, full of snarky humor, magic and cats. However, the first series I started writing back in 2008 is urban fantasy and is much darker, full of pain and heartache, weighty topics, death, and hard choices. The story was too close to my heart to publish at the time, so I started the Lily Singer series in 2014 to publish first.
You have a website over at lydiasherrer.com – and readers arriving there can get the first chapter straight away of your story of modern day magic, Hell Hath No Fury. That stars Lily Singer – and don't think we don't notice she shares your initials! - and starts off with the best way to get out of a boring date. Tell us, that presumably is your favourite launch point for readers into your reading, so what is it about that story that you think represents your work best?
Haha! I swear the LS initials thing was NOT intentional. Maybe subconscious, but not intentional. I've always loved the name Lily, and I was enchanted with Singer sewing machines when I was little. So yeah, that’s where Lily Singer came from. The series name, Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus, focuses on the main themes of the whole series: relationships (both romantic and familial), secrets (both intentionally hidden and lost in time), and magic. It seemed natural to open the series with one of Lily’s failed dates. Though an introvert, she has a romantic side, just really awkward with strangers, particularly men. I think these themes reflect a lot of what we go through in life, whether searching for love, searching for the truth, or exploring our imagination.
We also couldn't help but notice that Lily very pointedly describes herself as “not a witch. A wizard”. What's the thinking behind that?
The creative melting pot for my magic system has influences from D&D, other RPG games, Harry Potter, Sabriel, The world of Tortall, and a bit of Harry Dresden, along with my own dollop of crazy originality. So in my world, wizards are born, witches are made. These designators are not gender-based, but refer to whether you were born with the genes that allow you to manipulate magical energy from the Source (thus being a wizard) or are a mundane (non-wizard) who has gained magical abilities through the trade of favors or alliances with magical creatures. It’s the difference between directly accessing the Source, or manipulating the results of its energy through a proxy (artifact, fae, demon, spirit, etc). Anybody can be a witch, but only certain people can be wizards. This has led to an elitist attitude by many wizard throughout the centuries, and is one of the challenges both Lily (a wizard) and her friend Sebastian (a witch) face.
We like that - that's a nice bit of world building to grow out of a simple designator! The Lily Singer series is being released in an episodic format, we notice. We chatted with Renee Scattergood recently, whose own dark fantasy series has been running in a similar format which brings both advantages and challenges. What made you decide on that format?
Deciding on this format was two-fold. First, I love me some good TV series (Dr. Who, Bones, Supernatural to name just a few). Short stories have been severely underrated for a long time and TV series are just a long string of short stories with an overarching plot. I really like that format. Second, I was getting burnt out on my urban fantasy series and wanted to try something different. I started writing a light-hearted and humorous story, but didn’t want to wait a year and a half before anyone got to read it. I needed to start putting myself out there, building a platform. By informally releasing a chapter a month (my own site, not amazon) it allowed me to build a platform while preparing to self-publish. So, episodic format was both my creative inclination as well as a business decision. Now that I'm publishing in print, I'm including two episodes in each book, along with never-before-read interludes from Sebastian Blackwell's point of view, Lily's friend and trouble-making accomplice. That brings each book up to about 60K, the same length as a short YA novel.
You have the first four episodes out now – with up to episode eight due by September next year. Does it cause any issues with your writing as you work on material and reflect on what you've written before, having to make sure continuity holds together? Or do you have it all mapped out in a grand plan?
Ha! Definitely the former. I have an overall plot arc, but this story has DEFINITELY changed and grown as I've written it. Each new episode gets my creative juices flowing, adding to the world-building and backstory. The trick is to: 1) be general where needed - this gives me wiggle room later to further extrapolate on generalities I mentioned before; and 2) have a solid backbone to the story that none-the-less allows for a lot of flexibility.
Lydia Sherrer's website includes a rundown of all her stories.
Away from Lily, I'm intrigued by one story of yours you mention as being out there in the submission process – Eye For An Eye, a dystopian sci-fi tale which you say was inspired by the September 2013 mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya. That must have been a very emotional tale to put on the page, I imagine – what process did you go through with the creation of that story?
When I read that news story, I was helpless with fury at the sick bastards who would slaughter innocent people. I empathize easily with others and have a vivid imagination. It makes me a good writer, but it also makes me cry a lot when I read the news. Reading that story got me thinking -wishing, really - that if people suffered the same pain they inflicted on others, maybe they'd stop hurting each. I started imagining how a future society could make that reality, and what the social consequences would be. The story doesn’t give an answer for what’s right or wrong, or what society should do about violence. Rather, it explores human nature, and some logical consequences of society’s efforts to fix its problems. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.
One of the things that is very soon clear to anyone visiting your site is the importance of your faith in your life. Do you think that reflects in your writing or are they distinct strands in your life? If so, how do you think it comes through – and what do you try to express in your writing in that regard?
My faith is my life, literally. It’s the hope that keeps me going day by day, and as the good book says, I should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me. I believe we are separated from God by our sin, and Jesus died on the cross to bridge the gap sin created. It’s ultimately not about right or wrong (though that is part of it), but about having a personal relationship with someone that loved you so much, he sent his own son to be executed on your behalf. Its about being loved by him, returning that love, and sharing that love with everyone else. That’s a powerful message, and I can’t NOT share it. So yes, it definitely shows up in my fiction, but in subtle ways. C.S. Lewis is my model. The Chronicles of Narnia are full of metaphor pointing to Christ, but never once is he mentioned. I want to tell stories, not preach. My stories are based on the basic moral foundation I believe in, but that doesn’t mean my characters are Christians or that they do the right thing. Far from it. I want my stories to be accessible and resonate with those who don’t necessarily believe what I believe. So I try to write realistically. Life is full of death, evil, uncertainty, mistakes, and struggle. I know what it’s like to doubt, to lose hope. But I also know what it’s like to have unshakable faith, and to see hope in the darkest night. That’s what I try to express in my writing - that ultimately, good always wins, love always conquers, and hope never dies.
There's a great deal of supportive material for other authors on your site – with advice on publishing, tips for writers... it feels very much these days – perhaps it was always thus – that writers are very much their own support network. Tell us a little about why you feel it best to reach out to help others.
Wow, what a great question. For a more in-depth answer, check out this blog post I did on friendship. The short answer is, I could never have gotten where I am now without the advice and support of my writer friends. At its core, it is better to give than receive, and the act of giving brings so much blessing to the giver. I have been exponentially blessed by reaching out and helping others, not to mention how happy it makes me personally.
We chatted briefly on Twitter about how hard it can be to be learning to do your own marketing as writers – how do you feel about that part of the process?
It is so, so important, and a part that I personally enjoy (though a lot of writers don’t). But there is a definite learning curve. You have to do your research. If you're trying to make a living, only about 50% of your success is based on what you actually write. The other half is how well you A) show you exist and B) convince people to buy your product. Nobody can buy what they don’t know about, so getting the word out is essential. It’s just a reality of successful publishing. Here’s a REALLY great vid you should watch from Simon Sinek who explains that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” It’s a good place to start when creating your marketing strategy.
So what are you working on now? I see the Lily Singer books are due for release in April next year, and a novel in the works too.
This month I’m polishing up Book 2 while Book 1 is with my editor. From Jan-May, I’ll be writing Books 3 and 4, and hopefully finishing Book 1 of my urban fantasy series which (fingers crossed) I’ll publish spring 2017. I do hope to get Eye for an Eye published either in an anthology, or self-publish it as a freebie, so definitely head over to lydiasherrer.com/subscribe and sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter list if you’d like to stay up to date on book releases, giveaways, behind-the-scenes juicy stuff and more fun things than I have time to mention here.
Anything you can tell us about the novel at this stage or is it under wraps?
Well, the working title is Orphan Cursed, and it definitely has vampires in it (along with vampire hunters, a telepath, clones, general ass-kicking, and a lot of hard questions with no easy answers). The series revolves around two orphan sisters and has been a way for me to write about and examine the plight of orphans and foster kids in our world (an issue very close to my heart).
OK, last question – and it's a two-part question – what are you reading at the moment and what has been the best book you've read this year?
Currently I’m reading “A Discovery of Witches” by Deb Harkness. I picked it up because a friend compared it to my series. It’s wonderful so far, but has a very different magic system. So far this year, I'd say World War Z (the BOOK not the movie). That book is a spectacular, realistic look at how world societies would react to a global zombie apocalypse. It is intensely riveting, fascinating, and delves deep into human nature and psychology.
We can't argue with World War Z, great book in a really different format - all those diary entries and individual stories from the face of the apocalypse! Lydia Sherrer, many thanks for stopping by the blog. It's been good to talk!
Thank YOU, Leo! It’s been a great pleasure. If anyone would like to know more about me, my books, or what I do, check out lydiasherrer.com. Just click on the subscribe tab and sign up to get updates on publishing and all the free goodies, plus head over to my Facebook page facebook.com/lydiasherrerauthor or my twitter feed @LydiaSherrer to get daily updates. Thanks for reading, guys! You are awesome and I can’t wait to hear from you.
Are you an author who would like to feature in a future Q&A? Drop us a line over at the Inklings Press Twitter here.