*Your dream from a young age has been to put your imagination into words. Is it as easy as you thought it would be?
Dreaming? Definitely! Putting them into words? Not so much, hahaha. I have stories enough (they are piling up like a TBR list on my laptop), and simply not enough time to write them (yet). I still have a full-time job, so I write, do marketing, editing, and everything else book related after hours and weekends. It is like having a second and third job… but I love every moment of it.
This year I will be branching out into dystopian fantasy, as well as starting a new dragon series. I will also release another one of my Elemental short stories, and partake in an Anthology. My word target for this year is just over half a million words. This is about 3-4 books, plus the short story and anthology. Once I can write full-time, and have someone that can handle more of the marketing for me, I will aim for a word target of one million words, just to catch up with the number of books that are already outlined and ready to write on my laptop.
Otherwise, I may still be writing by the time I turn 100!
*Describe the decision to follow your dream after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis.
The first thing the doctors do when someone is diagnosed with an incurable disease is, prescribe anti-depressants. I took them for a whole 3 days and then took them back to my doctor. I thought there must be something more to life than pills. My family saw me through that very tough first year and it was because of them that I had the courage to say, hey, let’s try something new. Being unable to function like a healthy person; and deteriorating steadily; makes you think about the future a lot. I do not want to be a burden to my husband and children by the time I am unable to go to work any more. So, what is it that I love almost as much as my family? BOOKS! One day I just picked up a pen and a notepad and I started writing. All those stories and dreams I had had from when I was young just poured out and Elemental Rising happened. It felt liberating.
*What makes a great fantasy book?
Benjamin, that is a terribly broad question, lol. In my eyes… DRAGONS! But, no, there are a number of things that can drive a good fantasy story. A fantasy book can be character driven, or plot driven, or even both. Either way, for me, what makes a good fantasy book is how involved you become when you read the story. Do the characters, or does the plot, draw you in? Are you invested in their actions? I do like the dragons and strange creatures of fantasy, but if the characters and the plot leave me cold, then the book soon ends up on DNF (did not finish) pile.
*How do you approach writing? Structure, pantsing, or both?
Hmm… that is a very difficult question to answer because I think I may be neither. I thought I was a plotter (structure) but then caught myself pantsing, until Sian B. Claven (we work together) pointed out that what I was doing wasn’t really pantsing either. I do A LOT of research before I start writing. Often even while I am writing. I make notes on all the research, character names, character description, setting, animals, and so forth. Then, I usually do a “word vomit”. This is where I write the entire story out in short sentences over a space of 2-6 A4 pages. By hand usually. This will then form the skeleton, or the backbone, of my story.
From this backbone, I devise a rough timeline. (This is especially important for me as I write on a large scale and I have seasonal changes that I need to take into account, as well as numerous plot lines that need to tie up at various points of the story.)
And then, I write. I write slowly and methodically. I put in paragraph breaks. Dot my i’s, cross my t’s. I pretty much edit as I write. As I write it, it usually goes straight to my editor without me having to do rewrites. It is a slower writing process but takes less editing time.
I have yet to meet someone else that write like I do, lol.
*Who is Maia,
Elf princess of Elveron, and why does she want to become a Prime Elemental?
When I first dreamed up Maia, I was still very young. I wanted to be just like her. Young, strong, beautiful, powerful, yet humble, protective, and innocent. It turned out to be quite difficult to write a character that is that strong and has that much power to be humble as well. And, Maia does not want to be a Prime. She was born a Prime. But, you know the saying: With great power comes great responsibility? So, a Prime isn’t given her power all at once. She has to learn to wield it first and as she grows stronger, the more magic grows within her. She meets another Prime during the telling of the trilogy. Primes are rare and it usually spells disaster when two meet. She is Life, he is Death. He is fully trained, she is not. The power struggle is real, so is the threat. Maia has to look deep within herself to unlock the magic to save them all.
*How do you craft and develop your characters?
People have history. They are shaped, made into what they are today, by what has happened to them in the past. If you know their history, you know them as a person. So first, I try to set up their past. It usually goes hand in hand with world building. Let’s say I create a city. Within the city, there are 1000 households. I then make a list of all the professions that make an appearance in my novel… princess, servant, blacksmith, hunter, etc. … and then create a family for each of these, giving them a background and history. Then, when I write, the character has depth, and isn’t simply a name and placeholder. (In the Elemental Trilogy, there are close to 70 professions)
*What have you learned from creating settings for your books?
Don’t. Forget. To. Write. The. Book!
I absolutely LOVE world building. I could spend hours on just setting up the perfect mountainside hideaway, with a cabin, a lake, tall pine, a waterfall, … see, lost already. But, saying that, settings do set the tone. You can have wonderful characters and a great plot, but if they hover in this constant grey cloud of nothingness, the story will eventually get boring. I have learned that finding a happy medium between overwhelming the reader with information, and not telling him anything is pretty much where you want to be. I like to show the reader my world but leave just enough for the imagination for the reader to make the world his own.
*If we were to travel to Elveron what would it be like?
All 11 Life Planets of the Milky Way have similarities to Earth. Some more so than others but, they all have an atmosphere, water, landmasses, people, and animals. Elveron is slightly smaller than Earth. It has no oceans, only lakes. Three of these lakes are salt lakes. The climate is similar to Earth, but the vegetation, the people, and the animals are all slightly different. The people, for instance, differ from Humans by 1 chromosome or so, making them Elves. I started with the story about Maia and Elveron because it is the place where I would like to live. It is pure, untouched by pollution, industry, overpopulation, and all the things that we are making Earth endure.
*What bearing does the nation of Grildor have on the story?
Maia is still very young, only 122 years old. Due to some misunderstandings early in her life, she assumed that it was expected of her to become a Prime as soon as possible. (The average age for the initiation ceremony is 250 years old). So, when she returns from her final test, she takes her ceremony to become a Prime. But, young and inexperienced as she is, when they are suddenly threatened her angst is overwhelming. She believes she is not strong enough, not good enough, not powerful enough. Only the love for her people, the nation of Grildor, drives her forward. Through all her trials and tribulations, it is what keeps her going time and again.
*What’s are the hardest things about writing fantasy?
You got me there… I think it must be answering interview questions, hahaha.
I don’t know, Benjamin. I love writing fantasy. Love every aspect of it. With every book I write, I get better at it. I cannot see myself doing anything else.
*Name some good fantasy books you’ve read recently.
Bentwhistle the Dragon – by Paul Cude
Requiem: Song of Dragons – by Daniel Arenson
The Rain Wild Chronicles – by Robin Hobb
The Rhenwars Saga – by M.L. Spencer
*What’s next for you?
2019 – on paper, it looks to be an exciting year.
Up next: LUKE – book 4 of the Elemental short stories
Then: The submission to the anthology (cannot say much about it yet… shhh)
And: DRAGONLORE: MASTER OF LEGENDS – book 1
Followed by: RESILIENT – my first dystopian fantasy novel
After that, we will see how much there is left of the year. I will either release another of the Elemental short stories, another Dragonlore, or, if time lets me, the first book of my new Trilogy set in the Milky Way – this time on the planet Pud.
Born in Germany in 1976, Toni Cox moved to South Africa in 1991. Although she has spent much of her working career in the timber wholesale business, she is also an accomplished horse rider, has a diploma in project management, photography, and nutrition, and has a passion for books and all things fantasy.
From a young age, her dream had always been to put her imagination into words – give the stories life. When she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2013, she decided life is too short not to follow her dream. So, with the support of her husband and three children, she began writing book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy in January 2015.
Toni Cox writes: Epic Fantasy – The Milky Way Chronicles (including The Elemental Trilogy), Young Adult Fantasy – (including The Elemental Short Stories), Sci-Fi Fantasy – The Andromeda Saga, Fantasy – The Dragonlore Series, Dystopian Fantasy – these are set on Earth, the first one (Resilient) will be released in 2019.