Name Selah J Tay-Song
Where are you from Washington State
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was about seven. When I was fourteen, I started writing my first fantasy series. I never finished revising that series, but I did learn a lot from the process of trying. I got sidetracked from writing in college, where I studied biology, but I missed writing so I came back to it after I graduated. I don’t regret my science background; I feel those studies helped to ground my thinking. Since college, I have worked odd jobs in retail and banking to support my writing habit. Now I work as a bookkeeper during the day. I live in a tiny apartment in Washington state with a view of the Puget Sound, along with my boyfriend and our blind cat.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Selah: This fall I will be publishing my third book, Shattered Dreams, Book Three in the Dreams of QaiMaj epic fantasy series.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Selah: I started writing fantasy stories when I was seven. All through grade school I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Selah: In spite of my early start with writing, I actually didn’t think of myself as a writer until after I wrote my first published book, Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern. Up to then, I was always in doubt, even though I had drafted a lot–three full books and countless short stories and poems. This was the first book where I could read it and say to myself, “I have something here.” And then when I saw it in print, it really hit home. I stopped calling myself an “aspiring author” and started thinking of myself as “a writer.”
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Selah: To tell the truth, I was bored. I was fourteen. Sitting around my house one day, I thought, I should write a novel. I wrote a few pages and then started creating an alternate solar system for the book to take place within. I named the characters after constellations on a star chart on our wall.
I mired in that project for about ten years. The problem was that everytime I would take it to another stage–a revision pass, a new draft, a new outline–my writing skills had advanced, so it was like starting over again. Finally, it had too many layers of bad writing to fix, and I realized I needed to set it aside.
When I started my current project, the Dreams of QaiMaj series, I was differently inspired. I had a dream in which I was crawling around in tunnels looking for something. Then there was a different dream where magical people were battling each other with heat magic and cold magic. And I was re-reading “The Secret Garden.” I knew I wanted to write a book that had tunnels, hot and cold magic, and a hidden garden, and everything pretty much evolved from that.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Selah: Probably? I don’t know how I’d put it into words though. Readers have described it as poetic, but I’m also known in my circle of writers for fast paced action scenes. If I had to say a style I’m going for, it would be a combination of the best genre fantasy, with high action and deep imagining, combined with the kind of care and attention to prose that goes into the best literary fiction. Ursula K LeGuin is a big influence and aspiration of mine.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Selah: Titles are hard! Since the books were inspired by a dream and since dreaming plays a large role in the books, I knew I wanted Dream in the title. It took a while, but Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern ended up being the final choice. As readers find out when they read the book, there is a huge clue hidden in plain sight in that title, as to where the story is going. But it doesn’t hit you until the end of the book.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Selah: There are a lot of messages! One thing about epic fantasy that I love is that sprawling epic serieses can accommodate more than one theme. The pitfall of that is that it can be easy to try to pack too much into one project.
But if I had to state the over-arching theme of the Dreams of QaiMaj series, it is probably that good and evil are a balance. The traditional theme of epic fantasy is good versus evil, and in my books I try to show that every single character has the capacity for both; that good people can do bad things for good reasons, and that bad people can change, given the right environment.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Selah: Well, of course none of this book is literally realistic since it’s fantasy, but many of the themes and characters are based on my own experiences, relationships, and life events. However, it’s a very indirect, loose, almost subconscious basing. For example, after my boyfriend read Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern, he pointed out that the two main characters Stasia and Dynat are very similar to my brother and sister in many ways. Now it’s very obvious to me, but I didn’t write those characters thinking, this one will be like my brother, and this one will be like my sister.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Selah: So many, it would be impossible to list them all! Books and mentors. The most critical book, though, would be Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. Hobbs was the first epic fantasy writer who really demonstrated to me that fantasy can be completely character driven. Up to then I had heard from a lot of instructors and books about writing that readers want vibrant characters, that the story must be character driven, etc, etc. But I didn’t really internalize that until I started reading Assassin’s Apprentice.
For mentors, my writing teacher Laurel Leigh taught me everything I know about writing. To this day when I am writing I can hear her voice in my head, telling me what to do and what not to do. She is an amazingly brilliant writer, editor and teacher, and I’m lucky now to also call her a friend.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Selah: My favorite author (as you can probably guess from the answer before) is Robin Hobb, and the thing I like best about her work is her characters. I haven’t found a new author recently who really inspired me, but I have re-discovered some old favorites. Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jacqueline Carey, and Gregory Macguire are a few I’ve been recently enjoying. And I’ve been reading a lot of Ursula K LeGuin that I didn’t fully appreciate when I was younger but now I can stomach the thematic complexity in her work a lot easier.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Selah: My writing group, although they’ve practically become family over the years. We formed out of one of Laurel Liegh’s workshop classes, and were active for about seven years. In recent months we’ve become dormant, but we still meet socially on occasion. But the members of that group helped me become the writer I am today, with brutally honest but incredibly useful feedback. One of the members is my current editor, and several of them still read over things for me.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Selah: I’m sort of at a crossroads in that question. Most of my life, I’ve said very clearly that I want to be a career author. Two years ago, I quit my dayjob and took a year off to write. During that time, I found that I loved the writing process much, much more than I loved the career aspects of writing. Now, I have a dayjob that I enjoy, and I write in my freetime. I’m seeing writing now more as an investment plan than a career. In theory, I’ll write books in my spare time all my life and when I retire from my day job, I’ll have a huge backlist to promote and then I can live off that income. But that’s not a final decision by any means. I don’t think writing as an art form and writing as a career are mutually exclusive, I’m just in the process of realizing that for me, writing as art takes precedence. If I have an hour to work, I’ll draft rather than solicit reviews.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Selah: EEEEKKKK!!!!! That’s a scary question for a writer like me. I can’t really re-read my published books because the whole time I’m finding ways to improve them. Not because they are truly hideous, just because that’s the way my mind works. We are our own worst critics. So, the short answer is, yes, lots of things. The long answer is, no, because at a certain point you have to let go and say, this project is done.
All that being said, the main thing I’d change about my second book, Dream of a City of Ruin, is the middle. The middle contains a long journey and in my opinion it kind of sags, although I did a lot of revision to make it engaging. If I were to do it again, I’d probably try to find a way to keep the main plot more closely twined into the journey.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Selah: I was so young it’s hard to say, but I think it came out of my love for reading. We didn’t have a television and I read voraciously. I was reading The Little House books in second grade, and I remember being told that Laura Ingalls Wilder, the little girl in the books, was a writer. I identified a great deal with Laura, so I probably thought it only natural that I should be a writer as well.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Selah: Here is a short excerpt from Shattered Dreams. One of the main characters, Dynat, is on a mission of reconnaissance past enemy lines, in an ancient city that has fallen to ruin.
“Dynat crept past a line of concrete pilings that disappeared into the river and followed the ancient pier up to the closest avenue. He did not want to survive his mission only to end up lost among the vast array of buildings. Squinting, he paid careful attention to the landmarks he could see in the dim light of the moon. It did not illuminate much. Nevertheless, he could see the pilings, and a building that looked like the folds of a garment, its rusty walls fallen upon each other, and another building with no windows and a sharp spike on its tall roof.
The avenue led him north through the city, past storefronts with broken-out windows. They reminded him of the stalls in Market. He could almost see the past, a lively riverside district with hundreds of people streaming down this lane, chatting with each other and the shopkeepers.
The avenue was crossed with many side streets, and Dynat ignored them until he came to a crossroads where a much wider avenue ran east to west. Dynat stopped and turned, looking back the way he’d come, contemplating which of the three paths before him to take.
A hooded figure ducked out of the avenue behind him and into one of the empty shops. Dynat barely caught the motion out of the corner of his eye. He shivered under his cloak and turned away as if he had seen nothing.
The Fire Spirit was here somewhere. Or rather, the Svardark man who had plagued Dynat’s mind from childhood, pretending to be his deity while manipulating every aspect of his life. That man, for so long no more than a shadowy face of flames in Dynat’s mind, was inside this labyrinthine city, within miles of him, in the flesh. Dynat was torn between the urge to flee back to the safety of the wall and the desire to search out his former tormentor and destroy him.
He did neither, instead heading west on the wide avenue. The flood gate was near to the mouth of the river, and he figured the bulk of the city would be to the west of the ocean. As he walked, he peered from side to side, looking for silent watchers in the store fronts. He listened intently for sounds behind him, but heard nothing. Then, when he halted abruptly in the middle of the lane, he caught the softest crunch of glass under a foot. He resumed his stride, this time turning down a side lane, up the street running parallel to the original avenue, then back toward it via an alley. He wove his way west thus, listening and watching for signs of his pursuer.
Whoever was following him was good, so good that he wondered if it could be Dragan disobeying his orders. But that was impossible; with no khyor, the guard could not have passed through the gate without triggering a warning and attracting the Dhuciri. More likely it was a Dhuciri, or some other denizen of this place.
Perhaps one of the Svardark. But why would they go to the trouble of following him, when Medoc said they could enter his mind without his knowledge and melt the flesh off his bones without even touching him?
Dynat was so intent upon the mystery shadowing him that he didn’t see the three Dhuciri on the main avenue until he stepped around a corner and froze just in front of them.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Selah: I’m really good at getting my characters up to their necks in trouble, but the biggest challenge for me is finding believable ways for them to overcome those troubles. I tend to have to edit a lot of clues and foreshadows in after the fact, to make escapes and sudden talents or allies buyable.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Selah: I don’t travel much, although if I got really serious about promoting, I would probably travel to different fantasy/sci-fi conventions. And since I write in imagined worlds, I don’t really need to travel to do research. However, I love traveling for fun, and when I do, I usually am mining my new experiences for eventual translation into books. For example, when I went to Germany, I soaked up all the old castles. Right now, I’m not writing strictly medieval fantasy, but when I do, I will certainly be able to put that experience to use.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Selah: I found an amazing artist through 99designs named Benjamin Roque. He lives in the Philippines and works as a graphic designer by day, and makes fantasy art by night. I knew I wanted him to do my covers when I found his website with fan art from one of my favorite epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I love the sense of action and motion in Ben’s art.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Selah: Everything? Lol. Probably the hardest part was deciding it was done. As I said before, I’m the kind of writer who can constantly find things to change and improve. I could have kept doing that with my book forever. The thing that really got me past that was having readers (in my writing group, and a hired editor) telling me that I had a finished story.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Selah: I learned a lot from writing these books, and I’m still learning all the time, but if I had to point to the biggest lesson, it would be realizing that I’m capable of finishing a project.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
Selah: I don’t have anyone in mind for the main character, Stasia, but I’ve always imagined the second, Dynat, as a young Antonio Banderas.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Selah: So much! In fact, I have a blog series on my website called “101 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote My First Book.” But I would say the biggest piece of advice I have is, know what you want from writing. Be proactive in your relationship with writing and know if writing is more of an art, a business, or a form of socializing for you personally. Because time is limited, and knowing what you want from writing will help you focus your efforts and really get what you need out of it.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Selah: Mostly, thank you thank you thank you! Knowing that my books are being read and enjoyed is such a huge motivation to me when the going gets tough. I know it takes a lot of time and dedication to read a book, and as a not-very-well-known author I’m always grateful when a new reader gives my books a chance.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Selah: I’ve just started Carol Berg’s “Flesh and Spirit.” It is epic fantasy, and it hasn’t quite gripped me yet, but I’m giving it a chance because readers have compared her to Robin Hobb, and I can see some potential. Often epic fantasies start slower than other types of writing, so you have to give a little bit more investment upfront, but the payoff can be huge when you discover a new series you love. I’m hoping that’s the case here.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Selah: I’m pretty sure it was the Serendipity book called “Bangalee,” which is essentially about keeping your room clean (although it clearly didn’t have an impact on me thematically). That was the first time I recall actually reading the words, rather than being read to.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Selah: My partner of 14 years makes me laugh very frequently. Also John Oliver, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and various cat memes. As for crying, I often cry at the end of a book or movie, especially if they are tearjerkers. The most recent bawl I had was at the end of the movie “Instructions Not Included.” I can’t tell you why, you just have to watch it.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Selah: Laura Ingalls Wilder, because as I mentioned before she was pretty much my childhood hero. However I think I probably am her, so if we met we’d probably break some law of physics and destroy the universe. So that would be bad. But if we could meet without destroying the universe, then yes, Laura.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Selah: “Here lies the author of over 100 books” lol Actually, in all seriousness, I’d rather have a tree than a headstone.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Selah: Yes, too many. I love cooking and gardening, hiking, and I do a lot of crafting and sewing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Selah: I don’t watch a lot of TV currently but I do love movies. My very favorite are Miyazaki animations like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Lately I’ve been enjoying old Hitchcock films. And I love a good raunchy rom-com.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Selah: My favorite food is Indian, really rich dishes like Mali Kofta. I love most colors, but deep teal is probably my favorite. Oh and chocolate brown. I have an eclectic taste in music; my current favorites are Rihanna, The Cure, Of Monsters and Men, and Die Antwoord.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Selah: I would probably be something like a seamstress/visual artist/interior designer. I love colors and textures.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Selah: Thank you for asking! My website is http://www.selahjtaysong.com/
and I blog there about writing or whatever’s on my mind. I also have a website for my series http://www.dreamsofqaimaj.com/ where you can find free short stories in audio form, as well as maps and pictures related to the series.
Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about my passion, writing!