Interview with Lela Markham   Leave a comment

My son suggested that for book release week, I interview myself. So I answered all the questions and he helped me organize them.


Hi, I’m Kyle and I am interviewing my mother this week. Welcome to the blog, Lela Markham. Tell us something about yourself.

Hi, I am Lela and this feels weird. I grew up in Alaska where I still live. I’ve traveled, but this is home. Alaska is like no other place on earth. We challenge ourselves just going to work every day in the winter, but it is also a culture where people have a deep respect for the right of others to pursue their own lives without asking permission from their neighbors.


Author pic ditch close-up (1)At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My parents were avid readers. Mom used to joke that if Dad built a house, there’d be no windows because he wouldn’t want to waste the wall space. So I became an avid reader by second grade. Apparently I told stories as soon as I could talk. I used to make up imaginative realms for my friends and cousins so that those playtimes in the basement were more fun. Then I started writing them down. I’m not sure I decided to become a writer. I think I may have been born a writer, but I wrote down a story for the first time when I was 12, for a class assignment. I hated the process because it was very narrowly defined, but it ignited a passion that has been part of my life ever since.


Tell us about your writing process.

It’s sort of unprocessed. I work full time and I have a family, so I write when I can, as I can. A lot of my “writing” happens when I’m doing boring aspects of my money job. Data entry is a great imagination stoker. So is filing.

When I sit down to write though, I like to listen to music that seems appropriate to the genre or the scene. Since my books usually have multiple story lines, I usually write one line at a time maybe halfway through the book and then go back and write another line interwoven within the first line. Then I repeat with the other lines. Then I pick up the story, decide where it needs to end and start writing the second half of the book.

I do go back to read what I’ve written before I go forward and I’ll change obvious errors, but I don’t really do any editing until I’ve reached the end of the book. I set the book aside for a while … go work on another book, go hiking, sew a quilt … and then I come back and read the book all the way through is if I’ve never seen it before. It’s usually pretty bare-bones … it tends to be a lot of dialogue or character thoughts, so I start considering adding setting, action, and taking out boring bits. When I finish that, I give the book to some beta readers and go do something else. When the beta critiques come back, I read the book once more, incorporating the edits. I go do something else for a day or two – not long because the end is in sight now and I really want to get there. I read the book one more time and then print it out and ask you and your Dad to read it with a red pen in hand. When that’s done and I’ve incorporated your suggestions and repairs, I start formatting for print and ebook.


Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverWhat is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

I love to read fantasy, science fiction, dystopian and mysteries. I write in multiple genres, but I have only published in fantasy and dystopian … for now.


What are you passionate about?

Jesus Christ as Savior is my first passion, followed closely by my family and writing, and then by my commitment to personal liberty. Without liberty, we really are slaves to someone else and can easily find ourselves denied freedom of faith, speech and association.


What is something you cannot live without?

My salvation and the ability to write.


Front Cover LAWKI no windowWhen you are not writing, what do you do?

Alaskans divide our lives by the seasons. In the winter, I quilt and sometimes help with home improvements. I like to cook, watch television, attend the North American Sled Dog Championship and I love to read. In the summer, we hike, ride bicycles, and are building a cabin set in a 10-acre blueberry field guarded by a grizzly bear. We also like to canoe, we grow vegetables and perennials and read out on the deck at all hours of the day or night (since the sun doesn’t go down). We also love to dipnet for salmon on the Copper River. It’s a mighty and awe-inspiring river and the salmon are well worth the risks … as are the blueberries and cabin.


Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?

Yes, Transformation Project (Life As We Knew It is Book 1 of the series) has exerted an enormous influence on my political philosophy. I’ve been on a slow journey from being a moderate with conservative leanings through conservativism to voluntaryist libertarian with anarchist admirations. It all started with thinking about what it would take to fundamentally transform the United States as we knew it. The more I researched, the more concerned I came for our country and the more I realized that much of the national culture is enslaved. If something happened to disrupt the supply and authority lines, people would not know what to do and bad things would issue from that.


Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

Daermad Cyle, my fantasy, was really inspired by reading a lot of fantasy and listening to Enya on a rainy Alaska summer day.

Transformation Project is really from the newspapers and the excellent resources you can find if you look for them.


Front Cover RedWhat sort of research do you do for your novels?

Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) is based in a world that is not Earth, though it shares some similarities. Mostly, I researched Celtic gods, Medieval society, and then any questions that come up as I’m writing – what colors a horse can see matters if your horse is sentient.

Transformation Project (Life As We knew It with Objects in View coming out later in the year) requires a lot more research. It seems like almost everything I try to do with this story causes me to look at topics I’m not adequately versed in. Suitcase nukes … rural airports … the Interstate Highway System … corn farming in the Midwest … it’s all a lot of research.


If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

I love character-driven stories, so you will always find strong characters in my stories. I’m a character driving writer because that’s how a story presents itself to me — a character comes into my mind that wants to tell me their story. Plot has a place, but it’s not the priority.


Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer?  Why?

I am a discovery writer. I really don’t know how to start from an outline, which might be why I can’t finish a mystery. I do use a loose outline on my second draft.


What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?

I prefer 3rd person with the ability to switch between character POVs. It’s just a more flexible way to write. I limit myself to one POV per scene, but I wouldn’t want limit myself to a single “head” for an entire 120,000-word novel. Way too limiting.


I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Okay, I tried to skip this question because I thought it was silly to ask an Alaskan this question, but Kyle insisted. It’s a required question.

I would assume there’s no electricity or nothing beyond a LED light system, so I would leave my laptop at home. Since I’m really trying to write a mystery, I would bring several paperback mysteries based in the 1920s and two notebooks. In one, I’d write all my observations about the mysteries I’m reading. The other notebook would be for my own writing because I couldn’t forgo that for a month.

I’d also bring my hiking boots and camera and probably a net hat to control the mosquitoes. I would look forward to exploring the area. Another item I would bring would be my 357 because a remote cabin usually means bears and sometimes upset moose, so I’d want the ability to protect myself if needed.


Talk about your books individually.

Daermad Cycle is my fantasy series, set in the alternative-Earth world of Daermad, which is not Earth, but is connected to Earth in some way that allows Earth people to get there. The indigenous populations were stressed by the arrival of these other races, displaced and marginalized on the edge of the Kingdom of Celdrya, which was built by the Celtic invaders. Now a vengeful Celtic goddess is fomenting an invasion by more powerful enemies and the people of Celdrya must find a way to survive that, possibly by working with those they have subjugated in the past.

The Willow Branch starts the story, introduces the Kingdom and their neighbors and the risk. It occurs in two time lines — show the past destruction of the royal family, which has left Celdrya vulnerable to attack — and then the present as there is an effort to find the True King and re-establish the Kingdom before the invaders sweep over them.

Mirklin Wood continues the story, showing the aftermath of a nasty spell cast by black mages. It introduces a few new characters and really begins to show the politics and factions that are as much a risk as the looming Svard.

I also have a short story in the Breakwater Harbor Books anthology, a peek into the novel realms of the cooperative’s authors – Gateways. Mine is Pivot of Fate and it tells a story that is alluded to in The Willow Branch and has great importance to some of the characters in Mirklin Wood.

Transformation Project starts out with a series of terrorist attacks that disrupts the world we live in. Going forward, we’ll see the larger society breakdown, but it really will be a celebration of the individual’s ability to cope with the support of the small group.

Life As We Knew It introduces the main characters and the town of Emmaus Kansas and really ends with the first aftermath of the terrorist attack. Objects in View will show what comes after.


Was it your intention to write a story with a message or a moral?

Yes. Daermad Cycle warns that you need to learn from history or you might repeat it.

Transformation Project really explores what is wrong with our society and what might happen if we don’t take some clear-eyed steps to prevent it.


What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

I hope they feel that they have visited a richly detailed world filled with people they could enjoy knowing.


What influenced your decision to self-publish?

I got tired of rejection. I’m a Christian author who doesn’t write Christian genre literature. That makes it surprisingly difficult to find a niche. I was hearing that I am a good writer with a good story, but I needed to either be a Christian author or a non-Christian one. I couldn’t see how I could do either and be true to myself or the stories I want to tell. Self-publishing became attractive for the control it gives me to tell my own stories without gatekeepers.


There are people who believe that traditional publishing is on the ropes, that self-publishing is the future. Do you agree? Why?

I believe traditional publishing has lacked competition for too long. They had this pentopoly that could control the publishing industry, decide what books and what authors had a chance to be heard by the world. They could make ridiculous anti-capitalistic rules like you have to have an agent.

They were completely unprepared for the indie revolution, but individual authors by themselves are not really competition for these behemoth companies. In time, I think we’ll see more indies forming author cooperatives because these allow groups of authors to make use of each other’s strengths while not giving up the liberty that self-publishing provides.


What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishng?

Control of my product from first word to publication. I know authors who have gone through publishers and were very unhappy with some aspect of their book’s final product and then were unable to change it. I can make needed changes when I need to.


What do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?

Professional discipline and marketing assistance. I strive to put out the best books I can, but I see a lot of indie books out there that suffer from a lack of editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting. If you lack the ability to do some of these things, pay the money for someone else to do it for you. It’s worth it … if you can afford it. But at the very least, proofread your manuscript.

The best marketing might be a good book cover and well-written blurb, but I believe the big publishing companies do help their authors with marketing, even if it is only with the cache of their name.


With the number of self-published books increasing by such a huge rate, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?

I try to have a really attractive cover and a well-written blurb. I’m not able to afford a lot of advertising, but I do what I can. I try to be very generous with my blog to other authors. I believe in the Biblical dictum of casting your bread upon the water and lettigng God return it in His good time.


Who designed your book cover/s?

It’s been a group effort that I now largely do on my own. Your sister the artist got me started by doing a cover for The Willow Branch back in the Authonomy days, but when I decided to publish, I never got a reply from the artist on my request to use his image. So Bri found another similar painting from the 1800s that was public domain. She was off traveling with the bluegrass band when I finished my second book Life As We Knew It. I got a friend of hers to show me how he created a cover. Drew insisted I could do it too if I tired. Right after I published LAWKI, I suffered a catastrophic hardware failire that affected my backup, so I had to put those new skills to work because my cover images were gone.

Since I’ve now done five of them, I think I’m getting decent at it.



Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

 I do, actually. It’s not easy. You can’t take it for granted and you have to be willing to spend a lot of effort toward it. I have a background in journalism, so I came to the publication game with skills that some writers don’t have. It pays to know your limits. There are things I can’t do. I want to do an audio version of my book, but I can’t do that myself. Other people can’t be their own editors or their own cover designers. When you get to something you can’t do, admit it and find someone else who can do it for you. It might cost money, but that is a cost of doing business as a publisher.


Do you belong to a writer’s cooperative? Describe your experience with that.

I belong to Breakwater Harbor Books which has been helpful for finding beta readers and review swaps. It’s nice to have a support group. I’ve used the Booktrap for market cooperation. BHB will continue to be my publisher of record and I’m now moving into Books Go Social and Clean Indie Reads for an expanded marketing.


As a Christian, do you write specifically for a Christian audience? Why or why not?

I don’t. I take the advice of C.S. Lewis that Christians should seek to write the very best stories we can write and let our worldview shine through without preaching, which just mucks up the story. I want a larger audience than just a Christian audience, but I also think too much emphasis on my beliefs is not necessary if my stories are good.


What are some of the special challenges of being a Christian writer?

There is a coercive desire among Christian readers and publishes to force Christian writers into a certain mold that creates a false impression of Christians in general. We don’t become perfect when we’re saved and our lives are not without conflict. Sometimes we sin and sometimes we encounter good people who are reprobates and nominal Christians who are wool-heads. I want to show that, but sometimes my Christian beta readers don’t like it.


Christians are told to be “in the world, but not of it.” As a Christian writer, how do you write to conform to that scripture?

I try to write flinch-free literature. I reference sex, but I don’t detail it. I go light on details where violence is part of the narrative. But I also try to be honest about sin and its consequences. I don’t want to deny the power of sin the world, while also hoping that I show God’s majesty in the world.


Do you feel that Christian writers are expected to conform to some standards that are perhaps not realistic to the world?

Yeah. When I was looking for an agent, I got a few well meaning notes explaining that I was a good writer with a good story, but that a Christian author couldn’t deal with sex or violence and still be a Christian author. The world is broken and Christian agents and publishers want us to ignore that. It’s not realistic.


Do you feel that Christian writers should focus on writing really great story or on presenting the gospel clearly in everything they write? Or is it possible to do both?

We should also be true to what we believe, but our primary focus as writers should be on writing good stories. I believe we can do both, but our first goal should be to write a great story. If we truly walk with Jesus Christ, our worldview can’t help but shine through.


If you write speculative fiction, do you find that the Christian reader community is accepting of that genre?

I know lots of Christians who read fantasy, but there are very few Christian authors who write in the speculative fiction genres. I don’t see my Christian reader friends stocking their shelves with those Christian spec fic authors. Admittedly, there are some bad and schloch books, but they don’t jump for the good authors either. Or if they do, its a guilty pleasure for some reason. So I think the Christian reader is a bit double-minded on the subject. They want to read about magic and all that, but they don’t want Christian writers to be the source of that magic and fantasy.


 ALWAYS include links, author photos, and cover art. It makes for a prettier interview and readers want to find you and your books.


Lela Markham

The Willow Branch

Mirklin Wood


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