Name – Arie Farnam
Age – 39
Where are you from
Arie: I’m from Pumpkin Ridge in north-eastern Oregon, USA but I’ve been living in the Czech Republic for 17 years.
A little about your self ie your education Family life etc
Arie: I studied Slavic Linguistics in college and went off to be a newspaper stringer in the Balkans and Eastern Europe in my twenties. I covered interethnic conflict in Kosovo and the mafia in the eastern Ukraine among other interesting things. I am married to a man whose family has farmed the same bit of land in South Bohemia for six hundred years. I have two children in preschool. I’m also legally blind. Now I teach English as a second language in a small town in Bohemia, do the mama-thing and weave stories.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Arie: The fifth book in my fantasy thriller series will be published on October 30. This is a story where the terrible struggle against a present-day dystopia meets the wonder of high fantasy. It’s eerily similar to our contemporary reality, except that a mind-control cult runs political and social elites and a magical non-human race called the Kyrennei have returned out of myth and legend. The fifth book is called Path of the Betrayer and it is about the intertwined fates of three men–one an outlaw who is imprisoned by the cult, one the weak son of one of the cult leaders and one a rebel on the run from the law who is trying to protect an orphaned boy. They will each have to make heartbreaking choices that will determine the future of their world. The first book in the series is The Soul and the Seed and the books are best read in order.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Arie: The first writing I have saved is a travelogue I wrote while traveling through Mexico on a shoestring with my family at the age of seven. I really never stopped writing after that. I started writing fiction in high school, primarily short stories. Why is an interesting conundrum. From my experience writers write because they can’t help themselves.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Arie: I knew writing was my calling even in my teens, but I wasn’t sure that fiction was for me. I called myself a writer when I was a journalist traveling alone in Kazakhstan at the age of twenty two and I wrote things that were more emotive than most journalists. I was known for the sensory detail and emotional impact of my work in a field that is usually pretty dry. I didn’t start to think of myself as primarily a fiction writer until about two years ago.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Arie: My first published book is The Soul and the Seed, the first book in my fantasy thriller series. I’d been daydreaming about the plot and characters of this series since I was about fifteen, probably earlier. The greatest inspirations for those daydreams were the social isolation I saw all around me, international and interracial conflicts and authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and David Eddings.
I experienced a lot of social exclusion myself because of my disability and strange-looking eyes, but I also saw that social exclusion is rampant in all walks of life and that I was far from alone in my struggles. I was very aware of political and social issues even as a young teen. I angered clear-cut loggers with a critical letter to the editor of my town newspaper when I was thirteen (to the extent that the Forest Service took me out in the woods and how I shouldn’t be so mouthy), I had rocks thrown at me by adults while attending an antiwar vigil when I was fourteen and I ended up on the same NRA hit list as Michael Moore within a year of becoming a national journalist.
I also lived on every continent except Australia in my twenties and experienced daily existence among Zimbabwean professors, Afghani refugees, Bangladeshi brick breakers and the new Russian elite, among many other communities. So, I have a very good idea of just how gripping, desperate and fantastic today’s world can be. And I also loved high fantasy. I wanted to bring the two together. I had a cast of very diverse characters that kept popping into my head for twenty years, and even though I actually tried not to daydream for most of that time, the story took shape and became so powerful that it was finally impossible to resist.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Arie: My style is very conversational, immediate and sensory. Readers feel the emotions of characters in their bodies. My current series is all in first person from the perspectives of various characters. I am currently working on two other projects that are in third person, but still the style is very close and personal. Readers say they consider my characters to be close friends and I’m glad because my characters have strong presence in my mind as well. I can picture them exactly and hear exactly what they would say in a given situation. I love a good action scene and there is a lot of suspense in my work but the core of it is character and emotion.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Arie: For The Soul and the Seed, I wanted something that echoed high fantasy. All of the series titles are “The Something and the Something” or “The Something of Something,” much like classic fantasy. It’s a bit of playing with genre because this isn’t high fantasy, although it is influenced by it.
Other than that “the soul” and “the seed” are two sides of the same person. The main character is the answer to an ancient prophecy that has been forgotten by all but a few obsessed academics. The prophecy calls her “the seed” and she represents the first flicker of hope in a thousand years of terror and oppression. Not because she is super strong or badass. She’s no wimp but it’s mostly due to courage and endurance rather than any superhero qualities. Instead, the reason she brings hope is because of a fluke of genetics. She has a telepathic ability that makes all the difference in the resistance to tyranny even though she didn’t choose to have it. Naturally that also makes her Target Number One and even the leader of her outlaw friends doesn’t believe she’ll live very long. But on another level she is called “soul” because that is the meaning of an Israeli term of endearment “neshama,” which is what a young doctor who falls in love with her calls her. Much of the tension of the story is between those two sides of her. Is she “the seed” of hope and the heroine everyone looks to who seems doomed to die young or is she “the soul” who is the beloved of one man who will do anything to protect her?
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Arie: That’s a tough one. There are many messages you could take from it or I have taken from it at various points, but there is no one overall thesis unless it is that real hope comes from putting one foot in front of the other when everything has been lost and there is nothing left but bare survival.
But interpreting the modern world as a dystopia implies a lot of politics and the series can be very political at times. Two of the main characters are adopted brothers, one who is Israeli and the other who is of mixed Arab background. And they know that the conflicts of the Middle East are caused by factional infighting within the mind-control cult and thus they have virtually no opinion on them. Both sides are their enemies and the people on both sides are victims. Similarly the two major parties in the US are controlled by nominally allied factions within the cult.
So, there are some possible messages in there, but it isn’t that I am trying to say something specific about politics. Rather that I want to make readers think about these things and really consider who’s interests they are supporting when they join in the euphoria of war or the crowd reaction to politics. Do you really believe in the party politics or the nationalist propaganda of this moment?
Beyond that, the books were also inspired by social exclusion, but I’m not writing them for the bullies or exploiters of the world. There’s no preaching against it in here. It is more written for those who have to deal with the consequences and the message for those who get hit is that you may be smaller, weaker and vastly outnumbered, but your strength lies in your ability to keep your own inner freedom. It is often precisely the inability to make you conform that enrages bullies so much. Being true to your authenticity is important and how you respond matters. Sticking up for others will help you, and making a place of safety for outcasts and outsiders is important. Surviving is winning, even if you may get a bit tattered and traumatized in the process.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Arie: Almost all of it. Most of the locations are real places. The social, political and economic realities of today are virtually the same on the surface. The technology is much as our technology is today. I do intensive research on things like the weapons used, the types of surveillance equipment or sailing in a small boat.
One of the fun parts was making it believable that this fantasy world could really be our world with things hidden under the surface. There is this magical non-human race… That sounds like classic fantasy, but think about it for a second. Why are there legends about people with pointy ears in cultures all over the world that originated on distant contents independently? The explanation in The Kyrennei Series is that a race of people who looked like that once lived, a parallel species to homo sapiens. If you’ve ever wondered why there are many subspecies of dogs or apes but only one species of humans, here’s your answer.
The existence of a power cult that controls everything from high school cliques to international politics is equally interesting to contemplate. I changed nothing in the publicly known events of the world in my alternative history, but simply changed hidden reasons for why they happened. And some things that are very hard to explain about our present world become clearer. Why don’t the leaders of multinational corporations have a sense of self-preservation when it comes to huge dangers like climate change? Why do politicians routinely hop from one party to another and then pretend that the parties are diametrically opposed? Why does pop culture, which is supposed to be based on what most people want, seem so out of touch with what you want and everyone you know really does wants?
The Addin. That’s why.
It isn’t mind control with people walking around like robots. It is an association of people whose wills have been usurped, so that their greatest desire is for the Addin Association to have unmitigated power and their secondary desire is to gain status and power within the Association personally.
The puzzle pieces fit together so neatly that I am routinely asked if this is a real conspiracy theory, i.e. do I think I’m writing non-fiction. My answer is that I made up the word “Addin,” but I didn’t make up the weird facts of our world. I am not sure exactly how the elites of today maintain the gross power that they do, but I doubt it is the way it is presented in the media. I would be shocked if it were something as simple as what I came up with for my books, but I wouldn’t be shocked to know that there is more under the surface of our power structures than most of us grasp. And the psychology of social cliques is seriously creepy.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Arie: Action scenes go much better if you have some real experience to base them on, in my experience, and with all the sketchy places I went I had plenty of fodder to draw on. As such there are some moments where a character experiences an event that is very similar to something I experienced. There’s a scene where a young Arab journalist is searching for the answer to a dangerous riddle in Prague and he stumbles across a safe house for Eastern European refugees called “The Artists’ Embassy.” That is one of the few times when I am explicit about copying a real event. Anyone who knew that safe house back in the 1990s would recognize it and the artist named Igor who helped so many people. I was the one who stumbled upon that safe house as a rookie reporter, but I am not male nor an Arab nor a very good photographer, so that character isn’t supposed to be me. I wrote that scene so explicitly to honor the memory of one of the people who sheltered refugees fleeing political repression and who gave me a warm place at the table when I was young and lonely.
There are other scenes which are simply helped along by my own personal experiences. There is one spot where the company is on the run on foot through the Montana wilderness. I have done a lot of wilderness hiking, so it wasn’t really all that hard to write. And then there is one scene where they are almost caught by some of their pursuers in a jeep. The specific way that they escape is based on an experience I had as a journalist making my way into a military zone to document a Greenpeace camp that was illegally blocking construction of a missile radar site. I was almost caught by the military police controlling the area but not quite. The way I miraculously avoided getting caught got nabbed for the benefit of my characters.
Still none of the characters in the series is “supposed to be me.” Many readers ask if Aranka, the main character in the initial trilogy, is supposed to be me, because she is at least an American and sixteen when the story starts and I was about sixteen when I started coming up with the story. Aranka is an easy character for many young women to identify with and I have a close connection to a lot of her struggles. But she is not me. She is an outsider but not a true outcast as I was in high school. Her physical appearance and some of her attitudes are different from mine.
There are things about many of the characters that I identify closely with. My journalist side is tied to the twenty-something journalist in the story, even though he obviously isn’t me. Aranka falls in love with a man ten years older than her as a teenager, which I did. Her brother is an herbalist, which I am. The older Russian woman named Dasha is a somewhat obsessed linguist, who I share a lot with. And my philosophy of life is often best expressed by deep-feeling and hard-fighting Thanh, the Vietnamese orphan-come-weapons-expert (who is very obviously not supposed to be me). And yet I made them live, so they are part of me nonetheless.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Arie: I have read so many and had so many influences from memoirs, to classics, to fantasy to literary fiction that it is hard to pin down. Certainly, as I’ve said The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarilian were great influences on me. David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon series were a great comfort to me during a difficult adolescence and I learned a lot from his particular humor. Beyond fantasy, all the Little House books by Laura Ingles Wilder and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn were crucial to me as a kid. Later I loved and learned from Barbara Kingsolver and read everything she wrote down to the cookbooks, but I must have read The Bean Trees ten times. J.K. Rowling taught me some rough lessons about over-quick judgment with the Harry Potter series. I have devoured The Wheel of Time and Outlander series and learned in the process. Then just ten years ago I ran across a very obscure book called Walking to Greenham, which is a memoir by Anne Pettitt, but written in a style that is so wonderful and personal that it had a great impact on my writing and I think if I had to choose one book to keep and give up all the others, that is the one I would choose. It may seem strange for a fantasy lover, but it matters to me much more how a story is told than what the story is exactly and that story was as gripping as any fantasy tale to a person with my international background.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Arie: I just started reading The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod and it looks really fantastic. I am a very picky reader generally and I put down 70 percent of books within two chapters but this one is looking good so far.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Arie: I particularly like the Between the Worlds series by Morgan Daimler. I enjoyed Susan Kaye Quinn’s Mindjack series although I might be getting a little old for YA because it didn’t do it for me in every way, but for YA I think it’s excellent. I’m very picky as I said. I really enjoy the initial books of a lot of new authors, but I am often later disappointed by the second half or the second book. I like series and it is very hard to keep a series going, especially today when the trends are toward episodic series where each book is supposed to pretend to wrap up the story.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Arie: I’m finishing up the sixth book in The Kyrennei Series. There will probably be prequels eventually, but I’m going to let that world rest for a bit otherwise. I’m working on a series of eight mid-grade children’s books specifically for families with an earth-based or Pagan spirituality. While children’s books can be very hard to start out in, I see a specific need in this particular area that I aim to fill. I have also started a dystopian novel, a bit more genre conforming this time. It will be near future and based on what would happen if your ability to make a living and even get scarce healthcare resources was dependent on how many “likes” you got on social networks.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Arie: I am legally blind and my family had very little in the way of financial resources when I was a kid. I received a lot of scholarships from many different places that made all the difference in being able to work in a competitive field like international journalism. But there was one organization, The Oregon Commission for the Blind, that specifically played fairy godmother at times. When I finished my university studies I was told that I could ask for a professional equipment grant because I had graduated at the top of my class at a prestigious school. I couldn’t imagine I would get it, but I asked for professional filmmaking gear. And they gave it to me – a documentary camera with accessories and an editing system. I took my equipment and went first to Kazakhstan and then to the Czech Republic and made two documentary films. I can actually see better through the lens of a huge professional camera than with glasses, so I could do the work although on the second film I got a better cameraman and became the producer. The second film is Walls, one of the first big foreign exposés on the system of racially segregated schools in the Czech Republic. These grants from the Commission for the Blind played a large role in launching my journalistic career and that eventually gave me the skills and writing experience to write great fiction as well.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Arie: Yes. Writing is a profession. If one does it for decades it becomes a career. To me journalism is part of writing. It is a different kind of writing but many of the professional skills are similar. Learning to write something different like fiction is like switching to another branch in another field. It takes study and some catch up, but it can be done and in the long run experience writing other types of things will give a writer depth and originality.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Arie: Well, not my latest book, because the assumptions of the latter books in the series come naturally from the first book. I have wondered as I have learned more about genre expectations and marketing if I wouldn’t have been better off to try harder to tailor my series to one genre, rather than crossing over so many and inventing contemporary dystopia out of whole cloth. However, the story itself works perfectly the way it is and I’m not sure it would have mattered all that much to marketing to change it. One thing I could have done without much damage to the story is that I could have made the main character older. It is helpful to have her at a younger age because of the voice it lends but it isn’t essential. She could have been eighteen or even twenty and the books may have had more appeal to older readers. The story isn’t particularly good for younger teens and it isn’t YA. That gets confused when people see a sixteen-year-old main character on page one. Coming from journalism, short story writing and a ton of reading, I had the writing skills to write fiction but targeting fiction to an audience is a whole other ball game.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Arie: Not precisely. I was always eager to write, even as a small child. Many kids found writing a journal burdensome and I liked it. I don’t think it occurred to me that it was a possible profession until I met a writer and specifically a writer who was somewhat like me. John Dashney, a blind author, came to my school when I was in fifth grade. He was an important role model. He kept in contact with me and gave me moral support for years. (He was the one who ordered—yes, ordered—me to sit down and read Harry Potter when I was too cynical to bend to a pop-culture phenomenon.) He isn’t famous but he made a living writing and that was all I really needed to know was possible. I was one of those kids who actually valued being a kid. I felt sorry for grownups because they had to do boring jobs and the only way I could see that growing up would be bearable was if I could do something I would be passionate about–like writing.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Arie: Here is a scene from the fifth book in The Kyrennei Series that I’m publishing now. I generally recommend that readers start at the beginning because the world and characters are quite complex, but knowing that the Addin is a power cult that can forcibly take someone’s will helps to understand this scene. The narrator is Kai, a twenty-two-year-old Meikan student who has lived all his life in fear of the Addin. He was captured by them when a farm where he was hiding was attacked. He expects that they will take him and force him to become one of them. There is no hope of psychic resistance. He is in love with Maya, a girl who is a member of the magical non-human Kyrennei race that the Addin are systematically annihilating because they disrupt Addin power. She was captured as well and he has every reason to believe she is already dead or soon will be.
After the shower, I expected to be taken back to the cell. Instead they put the restraints back on and led me up a flight of stairs and into another hallway that looked less like a prison and more like an office building. After a few turns the guy in front opened a door into a windowless room where three older men sat at a table drinking coffee.
The smell was overwhelming. The food they’d given me hadn’t been much and I was starving.
My heart pounded and I clenched my fists inside the restraints. This would be where they would take me.
I tried to control my breath. I didn’t want them to see how scared I was. The big guy leered at me whenever my muscles resisted him, and I knew he’d take pleasure in any display of my fear.
The men at the table watched me and sipped their coffee. My head was lowered, my hair hanging low so that they couldn’t entirely see my face.
Then one of the men at the table said, “Take that thing off his wrists.”
I remembered him from the attack on the farm. He had a wide smile with perfect teeth that reminded me of someone running for election.
“He might get violent, Mr. Bloom,” the guy behind me said.
“We can handle it. Thank you, Balshaw,” the man named Bloom said.
I thought of trying to grab a weapon. The two guys with me had guns at their belts. But I knew I wasn’t that fast. It probably wasn’t worth the energy. I felt too weak and tired to try—even for the hope that I might die with my soul intact.
The guy behind me unhooked the restraint and I kept looking down, avoiding eye contact with them. Fear was turning to confusion. If they had wanted to take me they could have.
“You’re name’s Kai, isn’t it?” Bloom said. His voice was low, almost friendly. “I know you hate us. Your kind have always been prejudiced that way. But I thought maybe you’d take some coffee at least.”
He poured from a silver pot on the table into a mug and put it in front of a fourth chair, his movements slow and deliberate.
“Come on,” he said. “Sit down and drink some coffee. We’re reasonable people and we’re not going to hurt you.”
I didn’t move from where I stood or lift my head. Did he think I was a complete idiot?
I didn’t know what he could be playing at, but the idea that I would now think he was benevolent was laughable. This man had overseen the destruction of Kaitlin’s farm. They had killed and taken my friends. He had done something with Maya. Of course, I hated him.
There was more silence. They waited. I rubbed my wrists, but then I had no place to put my hands. The track suit had no pockets. Eventually I ended up holding onto my own elbows. I didn’t care anymore if it made me look frightened. They knew I was scared.
I imagined I could feel their power buzz in the room like a live current. They could let me have my hands free, because there was no question of the outcome of any fight.
One of the other men at the table cleared his throat. At last Bloom sighed.
“All right,” he said. “Don’t drink the coffee then. But it’s your loss.”
He took a sip from his own cup and then leaned back, looking at me with his broad smile in place.
“Let’s be blunt here. You know I can get your cooperation if I want it.” He snapped his fingers and his eyes mocked me. “But that isn’t what I want right now. The fact is that there are things I want to know and there are things you want to know. I think we could come to an understanding about that.”
“If you think you can scare me into telling you about the Meikan sign, you might as well go ahead and kill me. You’re wasting your time,” I said.
Bloom and one of the other men at the table snickered under their breath and then downed slurps of coffee to smother their laughter. The third one didn’t change expressions but sat watching me with a scowl of undisguised disdain.
“Oh, sure, I can see why you’d think that,” Bloom said. “But believe me a lot has been tried in that department, for many many years. I don’t think you can tell us about it. The Kyris put some sort of spell on you Meikans so that you can’t speak coherently about it. Certainly if your people could, someone would have. Back in the Middle Ages, you know. All the various methods of torture and all that. But you don’t make any sense when you do try to tell it.”
I pulled in air through my mouth. “Then why don’t you get it over with. Anything else… you can make me do what you want. I know that.“
“So, you want to join, the way that other kid did?” Bloom said. “We’ve got a veritable flood of converts, it looks like.”
I didn’t answer. Was he toying with me? A cat playing with a mouse?
“How about this,” Bloom said, his voice musing, curious. “I know there must be things you want to know about your friends and such. You ask a question and then you answer a question. You can even go first. One question for free but after that you have to give an answer in order to get another answer.”
“If you want information, why don’t you just take me?” I struggled to keep my voice under control. I was gripping my elbows now to keep from shaking.
What a bastard! He was having fun.
“Is that your one free question?” Bloom asked. His eyes were the color of gravel.
I didn’t think they’d answer anyway, but I couldn’t help it. There was a question that burned inside me, every second. If there was any chance that they would answer, I had to try.
“No,” I said, my voice steadier. “Where’s Maya? Maya Gardner, the girl you—”
Bloom smiled and the others at the table smiled too, even the meaner-looking guy a bit. “You mean the Kyri girl you seemed so fond of? She’s here. In this building,” Bloom said without hesitation.
“Is she all right? What did you do to her?” I was desperate. I had lifted my head, my hands releasing their grip on my elbows.
I didn’t care that they probably wouldn’t tell the truth. My heart was in my throat. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help Maya, but the thought that she might be nearby, that she might still be alive…
“One question,” Bloom said. “That was the deal. You want to ask another, you have to answer one of mine. And you could always sit down and have coffee while we do it.”
I clenched my fists again. My back felt like it would burst with tension. It made no sense. But if they would answer…
“What’s the question?” I asked.
“Were there other Kyris at that farm? Most of your friends there ended up dead, I’m sorry to say,” he said, clicking his tongue with obviously fake regret.
“You took Jamaal!” my words came out with hot fury. I couldn’t hold it back. “You have to know that already. You could test their blood even if they were dead anyway. Why ask me?”
“Because I want to ask you,” Bloom said, his voice still smooth, curious. “Why is my business. If you want to ask your question, you answer mine.”
It wasn’t like I was giving away any sensitive information then. I was being interrogated by the Addin and yet they weren’t getting anything out of me that they didn’t already know. I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever answer their questions voluntarily but… under the circumstances. Well, what did it matter?
“No, there weren’t,” I said. “Satisfied?”
Their smiles didn’t waver.
“Now, come and sit down and take a drink of the coffee and I’ll answer the other question,” he said.
I took a slow step toward the table. The smell of the coffee was intense and I felt cold where I stood. What did it matter really? Maybe if I tried to act like I wasn’t afraid…
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’ve never had writer’s block, but I do run into scenes that are just difficult to write. I have been working on one single scene for a week now, when I usually can get through a first draft novel in a month. The reason is that the scene is about sailing and I don’t know much about sailing. I insist on visceral, specific and sensory scenes and that can require an insane amount of research–far beyond anything we had to do in journalism actually. I love the research as I did in journalism and I gladly go into it. But I will admit that writing scenes about situations and characters I know little about is challenging. It takes a lot of time and elbow grease to get it so it sings.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Arie: Right at the moment, one of my favorite writers is Enes Smith, who wrote Cold River Rising. My favorite author changes a lot, but this was a fantastic, visceral and very real book with elements of the paranormal in a gritty thriller. And the writing is just so solid and good. Diana Gabaldon is another favorite of mine. Her characters are delightful and the way she works in historical and herbalist details into her books is so much fun.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Arie: Not at the moment. I traveled a lot as a journalist. Now I don’t have to, which is good since I have small children. We already live part time in Oregon and most of the time in the Czech Republic so we get our dose of travel. But I hope that someday I will be able to travel to specific locations in order to write powerfully evocative sensory details from any place in the world.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Arie: I did, except for the logo which was designed by Shauna Aura Knight. I have some experience in graphic design and layout. I took photographs for some of the covers with a model and then spent three months learning to run Gimp. Then I designed the covers and got professional graphic designers to approve them. I think there are better designers out there for a thousand dollars but nothing within my budget was even remotely inspiring to me, so I had to learn it myself. The first three covers are okay. The last two I’ve done are much better. I am learning and Shauna’s remake of my logo has really helped.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Arie: I’d say the hardest part was making time to write in the beginning. I was living an extremely full life. I had two small children, a household to run, a large garden that truly provides us with our sustenance, an herbal practice and several par-time jobs. There was literally no time in my days or nights for writing, let alone for a lot of writing. I had stopped working as a full-time journalist because of having little kids. Journalism and family don’t mix well, especially covering conflicts and war zones the way I did some of the time. So, I was out of the habit of making writing a huge part of my day and I really had no time.
At first, I found a crack to wiggle into. There was one hour a week when I could find time to schedule writing while I was supposed to be watching children sleep at a preschool as part of one of my part-time survival jobs. One hour a week. So, I decided I would take my laptop with me and start writing this story. It was grueling. I couldn’t remember what I had written week to week, so I had to start by reading over what I had done. That went on for eight weeks and I got more and more excited and it was painful that I didn’t have time for more.
Finally I got a sore throat and my husband took the kids for a day and I was free to really work on the story a bit more. Then it was like a dam burst. I wrote all day in a frenzy and then I couldn’t stop. I spent the next three months almost not sleeping at all. I wrote all night and worked all day in a daze. I let my kids bicker and break things. I just wrote with them there. I was in a fever and I couldn’t stop. I wrote the first draft of the first three books in the series in three months while working and dealing with toddlers. It wasn’t a sustainable way to write, but it got me started. My husband and I reorganized so that I could have two hours a day to write. It still isn’t much but it is a lot more than nothing.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Arie: I learned so many things from writing my first full-length work of fiction that they are impossible to innumerate. I learned about how fictional characters take over and become living entities. I learned about plot and structure in practice—like the difference between reading about riding a bike and actually riding one. I learned about how to keep the line of tension in a story going as if I was flying a kite, keeping just enough tension at all times. I also learned that it is preferable to pace yourself, rather than write three books in three months, become exhausted and neglect your children. But I also learned that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get it done. After I had written the books the real learning commenced. I learned about publishing and book marketing and graphic design and web design and blogging and newsletters and social media platforms. It was a huge learning curve, as steep as anything I’ve ever been on before in journalism, teaching or parenting.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Arie: Write because you want to and write what you are passionate about. Yes, you need to work with genre expectations and markets, but figure out what will work with those issues AND inspire you. If you try to write just what you think will sell when it doesn’t really arouse your passion it will never have the necessary emotional impact. And today, unless you are already industry-connected, you have to be spectacular and have the punch of an Olympic boxer to have a ghost of a chance in the market. Even incredibly talented writers are struggling today. There are a lot of people out there making money off of the myth that this is a wonderful time to make money writing, when the reality is that it is harder than ever to make money but it is easier to get your feet wet. Yes, you will see a lot of lame books that are traditionally published and moderately successful, but those authors have connections, platform or finances that most of us never will. For the bootstrapping author passion is mandatory.
Beyond that, my advice is practical and about marketing, with one exception. Get Scrivener. I know I argued about it too. Just bite the bullet. Otherwise, get a real website. Don’t rely on a secondary-domain blog. This is crucial. Get a mailing list, even if you aren’t really ready to develop it. Start it and post interesting stuff even if you can only do so irregularly. Learn graphic design if you can. Even if you can’t, learn the rules of how to work with Creative Commons images legally and use them on your website and newsletter. Images matter in online content a lot. Read stuff about marketing and writing all the time. You will have a good strategy and in one month you’ll have to change it because conditions, platforms or rules change.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
My books are a real series—kind of like The Lord of the Rings or The Belgariad. No, they won’t make sense if you jump in with Book Three or Book Five. There is a reason for that. This is an intense story. It isn’t a TV sitcom. I know reader attention spans are short. That’s okay. Once you start reading my series from the beginning, you won’t be able to put it down. The reviews say so and I couldn’t stop writing it either. It is one hell of a story.
But let’s get this straight. It’s a series. Book One does not wrap up the plot in a nice little package. This is not an episodic thing where Katniss supposedly thinks she is going to live the quiet life now and she’s all done with the Hunger Games at the end of the first book even when the reader knows she’s a fool and she’s right back in the frying pan within five pages in the second book. Nope. I’m not going to make smart characters sound naïve at the end of every book, just so that I can satisfy the current fashion against cliffhangers. There is nothing wrong with ongoing suspense in a series. That’s why it’s a connected series. The individual books each contain a story arc and yet the major plot continues unabated. The first trilogy is one story. The second trilogy is a different story that takes off from the first and resolves some things not resolved in the first story. As such it is two connected series in which one plotline ends with Book 3 and another begins in Book 4 and goes through Book 6.
I know some people hate series books that end in “cliffhangers” or any sort of suspense. That’s okay. There are plenty of episodic series to choose from. The Kyrennei Series is a different sort of animal. It will grab you hard and won’t let go for three books at least. You will walk around thinking about it when you aren’t reading and it will very probably make you cry and laugh (and scream according to some readers). You have been warned.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Arie: With certainty, no. The first book I clearly remember listening to as a bedtime story was The Saga of Erik the Viking by Terry Jones and Michael Foreman. I remember it primarily because it terrified me. I was probably eight or nine at the time and I was a bit young for such an intense story, but I was also fascinated by it and I remembered it until adulthood. To me that is the mark of a very good book.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Arie: Intense emotional stuff, people experiencing terrible hardship or miraculously escaping from tragedy by a hair. I often laugh and cry while reading the news and while reading fictional books. I do know the difference between real and fictional events. But fiction is there for a reason. It builds our minds, emotions and inner worth. It is good to react to fiction with authentic emotion.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Arie: Laura Ingles Wilder comes to mind. I read some of her speeches from the 1920s and she was a woman of incredible spirit, intelligence and deep understanding of racial and social issues for her time. I would also love to meet Mark Twain and Sojourner Truth.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Arie: “She did rugged well.” My mother always used to say we “did poverty well” because we always had joy and laughter and hope in our family, no matter how hard things got. I haven’t always been poor but my life has always been rugged and I don’t expect it to get less so. If I make a bunch of money, I will spend it fighting climate change and giving refugee kids good education and health care. And I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Life isn’t going to ever get smooth and easy in this generation for those with a moral compass. The world has too many problems. I hope that I can do the rugged living well and keep joy and passion alight for me, my kids and my readers while being honest about the hard stuff. And if that is what I’m remembered for, I’ll be a lucky spirit.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Arie: I grow medicinal herbs and make herbal medicines. It is also something I feel is as necessary to my family’s well-being as putting food on the table because our experiences with pharmaceutical medicine have been… well, rugged. But it can be classified as a hobby because I love it and feel relaxed while doing it and wish I had more time to devote to it. There is something in herbs that combines my love of magic and mystery with my very practical and scientific side. Modern science doesn’t always know why herbs so often work far better and more dramatically than pharmaceutical medicines, but I’ve seen the evidence time and time again. I love reading the science and I love the intuitive part.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Arie: My family doesn’t have a TV. I’m not against TV ideologically, although I think a lot of modern TV has become very empty and manipulative. But there are a lot of movies and even some TV shows I’d love to watch. I just don’t have time. My life is full of so much that is real and intense that there isn’t much time and reading tends to come first when there is time. I loved Star Trek when I was younger, especially the Next Generation. I wish I could watch the Netflicks Outlander series if I lived in the US.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Arie: I love dark mint chocolate, praline ice cream, East African spicy peanut sauce, Indian yellow curry, hot Tai soup and corn on the cob. My favorite colors are dark blue and gold. I listen to folk music and rock. I particularly like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Fred Small and Buffy Saint Marie
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Arie: If I can’t say journalist because that’s technically a writer too, I’d have to say graphic designer, professional herbalist or social activist. Fortunately, I can sort of dabble in all those things.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I write about books, practical herb lore and things that arouse my passions at www.ariefarnam.com.
You can even sign up to get The Soul and the Seed free atwww.ariefarnam.com/tsats.
I love hanging out with writers, artists and book lovers of all kinds at https://www.facebook.com/arieanna.farnam