Tell our readers about yourself. I'm a physician by day and a character-driven author in the fantasy/speculative fiction genres by night. I write because I love getting to know my characters - I publish in the hopes that their stories hold meaning for my readers, too. I've been working on the "Forsaken Lands" series since 2012 and look forward to finishing up the final novel in the main trilogy this coming year. I'm a US ex-pat who just recently moved to New Zealand with my partner and our three kitties. That's amazing. I'm extremely happy for you that you're building an amazing life in beautiful New Zealand and NOT jealous at all. When did your writing journey begin?
Hah, thanks! Moving during the pandemic has been its own adventure, but we are so excited to be here. I started writing way back when - I can remember giving my third grade teacher my stories as "extra credit" to get feedback. I started writing a never-published series in middle/high school, which I may return to someday. Back then writing was an escape from a challenging home situation, and it ended up having a lot of dark, angsty teen themes. I all but stopped writing for a few years in college when life got busy, and finally returned to writing in earnest during medical school, around the time when independent publishing through Amazon was gaining popularity. The idea that I could produce something and get it out in the world on my own time table was a huge motivator - I started writing in between clinical rotations, and finished the first "Forsaken Lands" novel just before I graduated med school.
As someone who put writing on the back burner during the last several years because I was in grad school, I greatly commend you for keeping up with writing during that busy time of your life. What do you feel is your biggest inspiration/motivation in your writing?
Stories have meant so much to me since I was young, and the power of story-telling
continues to drive me to create. Books like "Illusions" by Richard Bach, the "Dark Jewels" trilogy by Anne Bishop, and the Star Trek franchise (books and shows, both) stand out as works that changed how I saw the world and gave me comfort. I grew up in a strictly religious household, and finding characters I could identify with and learn from changed my life in ways that wouldn't have been possible without them. I'm not so grandiose as to think that my work has done that for other people, but it's a lovely aspiration. In the meantime it's fun for me, and that counts for something!
Absolutely! That’s an honorable aspiration. And I think really, at the core, that’s what all writers want. Not fame in fortune. But for their work to matter and make a difference they books have for us. I’m sure yours will and probably have. What has been the greatest challenge of your writing career? Oh, writing, so full of challenges! As pedestrian as it may be, continuing to write while life happens has been an ongoing struggle. I've gone through "feast and famine" with my ability to put words on the screen. Having some difficulty in life helps with my motivation to create, but too much saps all the energy from my muse - I admire people who manage to make time each and every day no matter what is going on. So far, that's not me. I'm hoping that once things normalize slightly from the pandemic-move I can get back on track to achieve more regular goals.
You mentioned a couple of times that reading was an escape from hard situations in your childhood and your family. Am I understanding that correctly?
Yes, very true. There was a lot of hatred disguised as religious conviction in my childhood.
I am cringing as I read that because I relate really well. My childhood was much the same,
and my family (and in laws) are deeply religious -- or as you put it, hatred disguised as religious conviction. Reading was an escape for you. Has writing also been an escape, and if so, can you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. Writing was a place where I could be myself - for the most part my family found it too much effort to read what I wrote, which was for the best, though I vividly remember hiding or destroying things I read or wrote which strongly conflicted with my family's values (for example, writing about gods/goddesses other than the Christian god, reading stories which challenged religious doctrine, or anything related to queer or non-white characters). I remember being intensely afraid that what I was doing was some kind of thought-crime, yet at the same time, I couldn't help but be myself. Eventually I learned that who I am isn't so bad after all - or that's what I'm choosing to believe! Finding online communities of people who also liked to write stories helped normalize the experience. I'm still friends with a number of those people today, more than 15 years later. Mm. That must have been so difficult to find your way through that. I wish I could say I couldn't imagine what hiding your writing from your family is like, but I do understand. You sound as though you have accepted yourself and come to a place of peace, which I'm really happy to hear. When you decided to publish, I can imagine it might have been scary, no longer being able to hide the things that differed from your family's beliefs. Can you tell me about this experience?
In some ways it was, for sure. Parts of my family who are not so extreme have read it, and that hasn't been bad. I still sometimes worry about them reading my blogs and other things, since there's a lot of what happened to me which shows up in what I share that they don't understand. Other parts of my family, quite frankly, are no longer part of my life for the good of my own mental health. I have sometimes wondered if they read my work; at this point I may never know, and that's for the best. They wouldn't approve off my work any more than they approve of my lifestyle. I try to focus on my chosen family (friends and colleagues), who are my true supports. I'm so grateful for finding them.
And my partner, of course! They're a huge support.
Man, what an inspiration. I am glad you have found a community to support you through that. That is so important when your own family unit does not support your dreams. Other than a community, what else has helped you find the courage to pursue your dreams?
I've faced a lot of situations in my life where it felt like I had little to lose. I packed up my belongings and drove from California to Tennessee when I was seventeen, and didn't look back - in my mind, it was always worth taking a chance. Taking risks doesn't always pay off the way one hopes, but it's better than remaining stuck. I'm not sure where that outlook comes from, to be honest. Girl, you're going to the top of my list of fearless writers! Talk about grit. Haha, thanks! I feel fortunate, more than anything, despite my initial life challenges. It has helped me understand more people, which is why I went into medicine - to help others who need a someone on their side, like I've needed.
That's amazing, and I bet it makes you an amazing physician as well. Would you say at the core that what has given you the power to persevere is ultimately - not just the support around you - but believing in yourself?
Pretty much, I guess! Seems funny to put it that way. Believing in myself, planning carefully, and trusting that I can deal with what comes after. Ironically, I have taken my share of "leaps of faith." I think trusting yourself and knowing you can deal with whatever comes your way is the very definition of being fearless. Not that taking those leaps of faiths aren't scary. Anyway, going back. You mentioned that a lot of what happened to you still comes through in your writing? I think everything in our life experience comes through in writing. Can you elaborate more about that? if this is too personal of a question, by all means you don't have to answer.
Sure! In a lot of ways Aiasjia, my main character, shares much of my history. I shamelessly put a lot of my experiences, including with family members, into her backstory. A major divergence is that in Aia's story, she accidentally kills her mother, and that accident haunts her even though she didn't have a loving relationship with her mother. Most of my characters have some piece of my life in their story, including their experiences of of trauma, loss, and even with crises of faith. The underlying message of "Forsaken Lands," though, deals with how people keep going even when things seem bleak - resilience in the face of darkness.
I love it so much. What an incredible message? If I suddenly stop responding it's because I downloaded your book off Amazon and am now devouring it. Can you tell us more about your series?
One only hopes it lives up to the hype! My series takes place in a world where many people are divinely gifted, but a select few are called Deldri, individuals with surprising abilities who have gone missing for many decades. Aia and Teveres are among the first Deldri to survive in many years; they hold the powers of life and death in their hands. As a war brews and a new, unknown force appears in their homeland, they are forced to forge unexpected alliances to protect their world - if they can move past the tragedies of their pasts. There is a free short story prequel from the perspective of Garren, one of the secondary characters, available on kindle for those who are curious. [link here] So looking forward to it. So it's a trilogy correct? Yep. The first two in the trilogy are "Tragedy" and "Sacrifice" - I am writing a series of first-person shorts that are related to the trilogy. "Fathers and Sons" and "Broken" are currently available, and a novella that takes place between books 1 and 2 will be available by June.
What about the third book? Are you currently working on that or when do you expect that to be published?
I'm just starting in on the final book, "Redemption." I hope for that to be out in the next year or so, but I know better than to make promises! I do promise to be hard at work getting it finished as soon as I release the novella, titled "Brothers in Arms."
Uh, can I just say that I love the title? What a perfect name for a final book. Also, just downloaded Tragedy and can't wait to dig in. I understand you also run a blog. Tell us a little about that. I actually run two! The more frequently-updated blog right now is http://imadoctornota.wordpress.com where I've been talking about adventures in medicine and expatriation. My main writing blog is http://sydneymcooper.com, where I post scenes, musing on the writing process, and parts of a serial story called "Fae and Folly." That should be more active in the upcoming months leading up to the release of "Brothers in Arms."
Sounds so great. I'll be sure to check those out. Now for the last two questions. What is one random thing about you? The sillier the better. Probably the silliest thing is that I frequently sing or break into dance when people say something that reminds me of a song (which happens more than you'd think). That's awesome. I love that. And last question, if you could give one piece of advice to a writer, what would it be? Write like nobody is watching. Your best work will be unfiltered at the start - there's always time to edit later.
Thank you so much for chatting with me! It's been great.
What an amazing lady and what a great interview.
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