Author Interview: Devin Madson

This week I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with the incredible author Devin Madson. Devin is the author of the Vengeance Trilogy, the award winning novella In Shadows We Fall, and her most recent, and SPFBO 2018 entered, novel We Ride The Storm. As you can see from my review, I am a huge fan of Devin’s most recent novel. Before we being, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Devin for being such an awesome person for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with me.

So, here it goes!

Hi Devin. Tell me a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

There’s not a lot of that sort of time because I’m a workaholic, but I do love playing both video games and board games, and I read as much as I can. I’ve tried more useful hobbies like cooking and gardening, but it appears I’m terrible at everything else.

How did We Ride The Storm come to be. When did you first get the idea to write it? How did everything come to together from there?

Since We Ride the Storm technically continues on from a story I began back in my first trilogy, I always knew I would write it. And the two dozen other books currently planned for the same world. As it’s still a world people are coming to I didn’t want to shift too far from the original roots, yet it needed to expand so I branched out by choosing POVs from neighbouring areas and the story just developed itself from there. I plan in a very… loose way, but mostly I have a very big picture understanding of the whole history and each individual book is written by the seat of my pants.

I loved your characters in your latest novel. The contrast between each and how this was expressed through the first person was something I found extremely interesting. Where did you get the inspiration to write three such different characters? Do you have a favorite?

I think in choosing to write three POVs in the first person each character has to be very different, because three similar characters would view the events in the same way and the readers would lose the nuance… the greyness to the situation and might not see the weight of any given character’s decisions. In the case of We Ride the Storm, I knew I was writing a clash of cultures, and so to properly do justice to the fact that none of them are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ I needed a POV from each. That Rah turned out honourable, Cassandra not honourable at all, and Miko in between was an incidental bonus rather than something I deliberately sat down and planned. Like I said, planning isn’t something I really do. As to a favourite, Cassandra was the easiest, Rah made me feel like a good person, and Miko makes me proud. That’s as close as I can come to an answer on that one.

The pacing in We Ride The Storm was fast and furious. Is this something we can expect to see throughout the trilogy?

Yes! It helps that there is a lot of story still to come. It’s actually planned (ha!) to be a four book series rather than a trilogy, with a new, fourth POV showing up in the next instalment. Things could change, but at this point I’m pretty confident that’s how it will go.

Why do you write and what keeps you motivated?

So many writers say they’ve written stories for as long as they can remember and it seems trite and overdone to say I write because I can’t cope with not writing, but authors say these things because they are true! It’s like being born with a disease I can’t get rid of and don’t actually want to try. I’m motivated in part by having an obsessive disposition and in part because I have SO MANY stories to tell that even a single day off seems like a waste of time.

The reviews for We Ride The Storm have been fantastic so far. Is there any advice you would give to aspiring self-published authors?

Make sure you’re ready. In most people’s minds you’re only going to get one chance to make a good impression. Just because self-publishing allows you to put out a book as soon as the first draft is done – don’t. Take your time. Get a good editor. Keeping working at it until you have the very best book you can write.

I admit that I have yet to read your other works, but I am making it a top priority to do so. For a reader who is new to your works, where would you recommend starting from?

Because people will always be entering my world at different parts of the history, it was important to ensure any Book One would be a good entry point. Depending on where you start you might have a slightly different experience of the entire story, but no spot is inherently better or worse. If you like chronology then In Shadows We Fall is the earliest, but Blood of Whisperers was the first. Generally I tell people to start at the book that calls to them the most. If We Ride the Storm sounds like your cup of tea then start there!

We Ride The Storm was left on such a cliff hanger that I am eagerly awaiting book number two. When can your fans expect book number two of The Reborn Empire series?

We Lie with Death is due March 2019! I am super excited. Depending on how a few other projects go, I will either keep up with the every 9 months release schedule for it, or stick with March each year.

 

Find We Ride The Storm on Amazon and Goodreads

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How To Actually Deal With Writer’s Block: A Mindfulness Approach

I have seen a lot of advice drifting around on the internet, suggesting ways an author can overcome writer’s block. These often include things like – going for a walk, making coffee, having a break from writing, and spend some time doing something you love. These are all well and good, but what happens if you return from your walk and still find yourself staring at a blank screen?

I think the problem with writer’s block is our lack of understanding of the condition and what it is exactly that causes such a frustrating condition. Scientific research of the area is lacking, however, it is suggested that the main cause of writer’s block is anxiety. Anxiety leads to a certain evolutionary response within the body that reduce the mind’s ability to think creatively. You may have heard it known as the “fight or flight” response. In my personal experience of writer’s block, anxious and stressed is certainly how I felt. I would sit staring at my screen worrying about the “what if’s” of not completing my manuscript and worrying that I may not possess the actual ability to complete it. And while a nice walk may clear your head and reduce the symptoms of anxiety, it may not be enough to reduce your anxiety to a level where your creative thoughts can run free.

A popular, and what is becoming a well researched approach to reducing anxiety is mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as the non-judgmental acceptance and focusing on the experiences that are occurring in the present moment. This is a great psychological skill and one i have consistently used to reduce my anxieties in all parts of my life, including public speaking. Below are 4 ways which mindfulness may improve your writing.

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1) Reduce anxiety.

It is thought that our anxieties are primarily linked to thoughts of either the past or future. For example, you may have experienced feeling anxious during an exam. But it is not the actually process of taking the exam that is making you anxious, but the thoughts about what would happen if you do poorly in the exam that are causing the anxiety. Thoughts such as this are useless, as after all, the only thing we can do is effect what we do in the present. Learning to bring your thoughts back into the present moment reduces the source of the anxiety and increases your focus on the task at hand, helping to get your creativity flowing again.

2) Achieve flow state.

Have you ever become so engrossed in your writing that your mind becomes fully emerged in the world you are creating, you feel an unstoppable energized sense of focus, and feeling an enjoyment similar to when you first started to write? It is likely that you were in a state of flow. Research has shown that those who practice mindfulness find it easier to achieve this state. Mainly, due to the ability to ignore distracting thoughts and fully emerge oneself in the present moment.

3) Enjoy the writing process.

When we do not focus our attention on the present, we numb ourselves to all the feelings we could be experiencing. For example, imagine eating an ice-cream. If you eat the ice-cream while thinking about what you are going to have for dinner, chances are you will not fully taste all the flavor that the ice-cream has to offer. Now, imagine you are eating the ice-cream while focusing all of your attention on the present experience of eating ice cream. Its smell, texture, and flavor. Much nicer, eh? This can apply too with writing. If you give the process of writing your full mindful attention, you may find that you start to enjoy the process much more.

4) Concentration while editing.

After long last, you have finally completed that first draft. Now it’s time for the edit. Yet when you come to read over what you have wrote, you find that your mind is drifting elsewhere. This is in part a natural occurrence, but one that can be extremely frustrating. Training yourself to be mindful can help to increase your concentration and stop your mind from drifting off into thoughts of the past or future. A great skill to have.

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So how do we become mindful?

Mindfulness is primarily achieved through meditation, and like all psychological skills, it is not something that can be achieved overnight. However, after following a daily mindfulness program of just 10 minutes for 2 weeks, people have reported a noticeable difference in their thoughts and feel themselves becoming more mindful. Mindfulness is something that can be done for free with the internet offering great guides and videos, or even paid services if you are more serious about becoming mindful. In these you will find all you need to know about how to become mindful.

I hope you have found this a useful post on how writer’s could benefit from mindfulness. This is part of a writer’s psychological skills guide that I am in the process of putting together. My other posts include Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals, with more to come in the future.

Please like and share and let me know what you think and if there is anything you would like to see in the future.

Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals

As a psychology PhD student, my studies have taken me into the midst of many psychological theories. My particular area of study involves encouraging people to adopt certain behaviors, or do certain things. When trying maintain or increase motivation towards a specific behavior, a lot of research has suggested that goal setting can help you achieve this.

Goal setting may sound simple, and it really is once you understand its basic principles, but it can be easy to create goals that may actually become detrimental to the goals you want to achieve. Here, I will show you how to use one of the most well-established and simple methods of goal setting that you can use to set your own goals. Those of which can be applied to all aspects of life, such as staying motivated to complete your novel, adopting a new exercise routine, and learning a language (These areas are just some of those I have personally used goal setting for).

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The SMART method of goal setting has proved to be very useful to me and is extremely easy to pick up.

Specific – Goals should be specific. “I want to write fantasy” would not be a specific goal and would be difficult to know when this has been achieved. “I want to complete my novel” would be much more specific.

Measurable – The goal should have some component you can measure. Adding onto the previous analogy “I want to complete my fantasy novel”, how many words per day would that take, or how many hours per day? Using methods such as this to track progress helps to keep you motivated.

Attainable – “I want to complete a whole 80,000 word novel in a weekend” is obviously not an attainable goal. This aspect of goal setting is also very personal, and will vary person to person. “I want to write 3000 words per day” may be attainable for some, but for others, such as myself, it is not.

Relevant – Keep your goals relevant to higher goals you want to achieve. For example, “I want to write 1000 words per day” should be relevant to the higher level goal of completing your novel.

Time-based – It is easy for goals that lack a time component to be put aside and lost in a busy life. Having a point in time that you want to complete your goal helps to keep it high in your priority list.

For me, my current SMART based goals look like this:

  1. Complete the first draft of my fantasy novel by 31/10/18 by writing 1000 words per day.
  2. Study Japanese for 40 minutes five times per week in order to take and pass the JLPT 3 exam.

If you look back at the SMART principles, you will find that this covers them all.

Adding onto the SMART goal system, there are a few other points that research says make your goal setting more effective. These are:

  • Write them down and put them where you can see them – This helps to keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Don’t be too strict with yourself – For example, if I was to write 1000 words per day until the end of October would be much more than the word count I have planned for my novel. But it is likely that something will come up during those three months which means I am unable to write, so to ensure I stick to my goal, I have given myself some wiggle room.

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you found it useful or not. Psychology is a very broad subject and if you would like to see more of it applied to writing let me know!

Review: We Ride The Storm

Rating: 9/10

Gripping from the start, We Ride The Storm is a face-paced grimdark adventure that plunges the reader into a complex world of diverse culture and politics. The opening chapters thrust the reader into the Madson’s world and it took me a few chapters to adjust to the three very different characters. Despite being thrown in at the deep end, the world building came across as effortless and never once felt like an info dump.

The novel is centered around three stories that quickly interweave into an immersive tale. The perspectives of these characters are wrote in the first person, and as a writer, I can fully appreciate how difficult this is to pull off well. Madson executes this flawlessly and the successful first person accounts give the reader a deeper understanding of the character’s thoughts that helps the reader sympathise with the character’s actions, even some of the more difficult and dark. Something I found particularly engaging was that each character has a different cultural background which effects their perceptions of the world.

Rah. A Levanti nomad and captain of a band of warriors who has been exiled from his herd for disobeying an order. Rah seeks to uphold his culture’s traditions while protecting those he leads. In the unfamiliar world he is thrust in to, upholding his own idea of honor becomes increasingly difficult. A stubborn character who I was constantly sympathizing with, as even in today’s world, it is difficult to do the right thing and often it can put the doer in undesirable circumstances.

Cassandra. A Chiltaen substance abusing whore and assassin has an unexplained second person living inside her head, whose thoughts are regularly expressed during Cassandra’s chapters. In contrast to Rah, Cassandra does not care for honour or pride and will do anything to relieve herself of the ever present voice in her head. This character quickly engaged my attention. As a psychology PhD student, I was unsure if this was a genuine second voice in her head, or if this character was suffering from a mental health condition as a product of her work as an assassin. It was soon revealed that the voice was actually a conscious being, but despite this, I think the second voice and issues with her mental health are cleverly written that kept me intrigued throughout.

Miko. A Kisian bastard princess forced into dealing with the intrigues and politics of the Imperial court. To me, Miko felt like a mixture of both Rah and Cassandra as her motivations lie in her want to lead and protect the people of her kingdom, and she will not shy away from dirtying her hands in order to achieve this. Despite this character’s sense of entitlement, I found Miko to be the more relatable of the three characters, as she was merciless towards those who deserve it, yet merciful to those who are innocent. Her story follows her struggle as she attempts to gain power and sit upon the crimson throne in order to protect her kingdom from tearing itself apart.

We Ride The Storm was one of the faster paced novels I have read this year. Towards the end of the story each chapter seems to throw more conflict and challenges at the three protagonists. Combined with the first person perspective, this often left me unsure how the character would deal with the difficulty that lay ahead. It was satisfying too when my guesses were often wrong.

We Ride The Storm is a novel that combines fast paced writing, contrasting view points, and well written characters that lead to an immersive world and very enjoyable story. I would recommend it everyone who is a fan of fantasy and particularly those who enjoy a darker tone to their fantasy reading.

Find the book on amazon

Bes: The Dwarf God of Ancient Egypt

When we think of Ancient Egyptian gods, many images come to mind. For me, my impression of Ancient Egyptian Gods initially came from watching Yu-Gi-Oh growing up. The card “The Winged Dragon of Ra” being ingrained into my brain as I desperately sought after the card, but never managed to get my eleven year old hands on it. Ra, the sun god (seen below), is probably the most known Ancient Egyptian God. This hawk headed god almost seems like the cover star of Ancient Egypt. However, during my most recent research for my novel into Ancient Egypt, I came across a god that was much to my surprise.

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Bes, the god of dwarfs, protector of households, mothers and children, is possible the most bizarre looking Ancient Egyptian god I have come across, and that is saying something considering the Goddess Nut had skin made from the night sky and is often seen stretching over her husband like the night sky, which looks slightly awkward.

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The Ancient Egyptians believed that dwarfs held magical properties. Bes himself was a dwarf and considered to to bring good fortune, as he watched over the common man. Bes was also said to ward off evil and came to be symbolize all things good, such as music, dancing, and even sexual pleasure. I think he has become my new favorite Ancient Egyptian God.

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A Very Grim(dark) Start

This is an extract from my prologue for my current work in progress. Too grim?

“I drained the remaining foam from my tankard. A familiar dizzying euphoria rolled through my head. I had lost count of how many I had drank, it was more than yesterday I’m sure. I didn’t mind, however. This was the only way I could feel. I had become numb. I remember hearing stories as a boy of soldiers who would wake in the night screaming. I was prepared for that. I had personally experienced several night terrors of that kind. What I wasn’t prepared for was the stripping of all human emotion. Anger, happiness, sadness, love. All fled, leaving a hollow shell.

It is true what they say. That once a man enlists, he seals his own death. If he is not felled in battle, the demons of the mind will soon finish the job. I had seen many a man lose to such demons, demons that are willingly accepted by young soldiers. It is hard to explain the reality of it to the young. I remember myself, eager to fight. Had I known what I knew now, I would not have gone. I was a naïve fool.

The tavern keeper had long since given up on speaking with me. At first, he would try to tell what he thought were funny stories of his recent days working the bar. One was about a tavern boy who slipped on his way to deliver a tray of tankards to a table, the beer spilling all over the patrons. As far as small talk goes, I suppose this would have been one of the more amusing conversations. But after years of living with death only a wrong step away, stories like this just seem pointless.

‘To the emperor!’ I heard merrymakers cheer from opposite end of the bar.

To the emperor. What a joke. If only they knew the true nature of the war and Imperium. There was little point in me telling them, they wouldn’t believe me even if I did. I threw some coppers on the bar and unsteadily rose to my feet.

As I made my way towards the exit, a voice called over to me. ‘Aren’t you the Rabasan’s kid, the soldier?’

I turned to see a small crowd looking at me, patriotic appreciation in their eyes. I despised that look.

‘It is him!’ One voice said. ‘It’s great to see you back safe and sound from the front’

‘The hero’s return!’ Another voice. ‘It’s brave men like you who keep the Haram from ever reaching our shores.’

A small laugh burst from my lips. Hero? I had always strived to do good in the world. A good deed can go along way. But during those years at the front, I had never felt more like a villain in my life. A heavy burden that I will take with me to the grave.

Much has changed over the past years. I had gone from a young boy, eager to serve his kingdom and to prove his worth to the world. To now, a man who needs to drink himself into a stupor just to feel alive.

Outside, the air smelled crisp. It sent my head to spinning. I propped myself by the wall of the tavern and vomited into the dirt. Money wasted.

I will soon be posted again. I am told my next campaign will be less bloody. I imagine it no less cruel though. I had considered leaving, running far away. But the reach of Imperium is far and wide. I wouldn’t get far.

I staggered back up the track, to my unavoidable fate.

Let me know what you think in the comments!