There are countless ways of discovering authors and their books online. In the past two years, my top three sources have been Twitter, blogs, and Goodreads. That last site is where I met YA fantasy author Rachel E. Carter. While her books are still on my TBR list, I’ve enjoyed reading her book reviews and watching her interact with fans there. She isn’t just an author who adores YA fantasy; she’s one who engages, encourages, and respects other readers, including those who review her work.
Today I’m thrilled to have Rachel here to talk about her Black Mage series, whose third installment Candidate comes out on Tuesday, October 27th. You’ll learn more about her love for kick-butt female protagonists and bad-boy love interests, how music influences her writing process, and her tips on writing and social media platforms. And maaaaybe some Harry Potter and Song of the Lioness fangirling – which I wholeheartedly approve of!
Also, if you like e-books, you can buy the debut Black Mage novel First Year for 99 cents from Kindle, Nook, iBooks / iTunes, and KOBO through October 31st! Look for the links at the end of this post. 😉
Q&A with Rachel E. Carter
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Candidate! Is it hard to believe that you’ll soon have three novels out in the world?
Rachel: I know! It feels so surreal. For so long I struggled to finish anything I started – I’m talking years of projects that would fizz out and die after 20,000 to 50,000 words. I always wanted to be an author growing up, but I thought I never could be because I couldn’t finish. And now I finished. And it’s real. And I have people reading a series I’ve been daydreaming about since 7th grade.
Some readers of this blog might not be familiar with your Black Mage series. Could you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it? (Also, the blurb for the first book, First Year, makes me think of Harry Potter meets Song of the Lioness. Is that an accurate description?)
Rachel: I tend to market The Black Mage as the magic of Harry Potter with the fighting of Divergent and a love interest like Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries (or Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter), but only because people seem to be less familiar with Tamora Pierce’s work. In truth, my series is totally along the lines of Song of the Lioness meets Harry Potter. Basically it’s about a girl who dreams of being a kick-ass female fighter with magic, and the series progresses in four books from struggling to prove herself in war school to being one of the most powerful mages in the realm with a complicated love interest along the way. Like Harry Potter and Song of the Lioness, the series gets more dangerous and dark as it progresses.
How would you describe your protagonist, Ryiah? What you do admire most about her?
Rachel: She is real. She makes mistakes. She never gives up. I think I admire the latter the most. Heck, it’s the reason Tamora Pierce is my role model. Tammy made all of her protagonists work their butts off to become great fighters, and I tried to do the same with Ryiah. I tend to dislike special snowflakes, and I really tried to make her transformation believable to my readers. The type of character where they think it could be them if they put their mind to it, not the perfect good-at-everything protagonist the reader admires but could never be.
Rachel: Hehehe. Bad boy. All the way. I just love sarcasm and that love-hate tension too much to make Darren a softie. I like the good boys too (Team Peeta!), but there’s something about that jerk love interest that has redeeming moments that tends to steal my heart.
Here’s one of my favorite questions to ask speculative fiction authors: If you were able to visit the world of Black Mage, what would you do there? (Consider this a “travel advertisement” for your series.) And, what would you avoid doing there?
Rachel: Hmmmm. I think I would go to the Academy (magic war school). Only because I really want to learn Alchemy (potions) so I can be awesome like Professor Snape. The downside is it’s a bootcamp-like environment, and I hate PE.
You’re a huge music lover (and a fan of Darren Hayes and Evanescence! *high fives Rachel*), and you’ve mentioned in other blog posts that music plays an important role in your creative process. How does it help you? And, could you share a couple songs that are part of your “soundtrack” for Candidate?
Rachel: I think the main thing music does for me is trigger book scenes in my head. This doesn’t happen with every song I listen to – and I have to be actively listening, not just talking in a car with the radio on, etc. – but if a song strikes a chord with me, a story will play out in my head. The way people get amped up when listening to an awesome fight song before going out to play a game, sometimes picturing their impending victory or what it will feel like to touch the finish line? That’s how I get about music.
Sometimes it’s the beat or tone, if it’s really catchy and intriguing – or the feel, like what emotions the song evokes, sorrow or love or hate – or the lyrics, if they’re so good they are practically writing a character for me. Whatever it is, if the song makes me feel something, more often than not I’m going to play it on repeat and shut my eyes and let the scene unfold. It’s a music video about a book in my head, and while I might have an initial idea how I want it to start, my imagination takes over directed by the feelings projected by the music. Sometimes what I see really surprises me; it’ll take my characters into a situation I never imagined. I usually find a notepad (on phone, computer, napkin, etc.) and scribble down as many things as I can remember about that scene. Then I note the song I was listening to, and later when plotting each book I try to include that scene and make sure to note the song so I can listen to it while writing as background (or at least listen to it before I write the scene to remind me of the “tone” for what I want to write).
Here are a few songs for Candidate that don’t give away any spoilers. 😉
- Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”: Ever since I heard this song a year and a half ago, I’ve had an image of Darren and Ryiah dueling at night in the palace, just the two of them. It’s a sexy, fun song, and I always wanted an exciting opener to Candidate, where you see these two characters finally challenge each other and talk smack.
- Three Days Grace’s “Over and Over”: The chorus of this song is so heart-wrenchingly beautiful. It’s about a boy and girl who shouldn’t be together and make mistakes and yet they keep finding their way back to one another.
- Darren Hayes’ “Darkness”: The lyrics of this song kind of trace Darren’s backstory pre-Ryiah and his past comes to light in this book. I absolutely love how terrifying this song is, and you can see the (extremely talented) singer’s way of telling how hard it was to overcome his own personal demons. It’s also those demons that will come to a crescendo in the final Black Mage book, Last Stand.
- Rachel Platten’s “Lone Ranger”: It’s just an upbeat, fun, “I’ll do it on my own” song. This was an easy background to use for the first half of Candidate when Ryiah was trying to prove herself to all of those who doubted her.
Which authors would you say influenced your work the most? Why? Also, who are some of your favorite authors currently?
Rachel: Tamora Pierce! And then L.J. Smith (for how she portrayed Julian in The Forbidden Game). I actually wrote really bad fanfic retelling TFG and lots of stories with Julian when I was younger. He is how I finally learned to write jerky love interests, so without L.J. I probably wouldn’t have joined the bad boy dark side ‘til much later.
Favorite authors currently? So, sooo many. Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Tahereh Mafi, Victoria Aveyard, Cassandra Clare, Moira Young, Kelly Oram, Elise Kova, Sally Slater, Jennifer Armentrout, Meg Cabot, Kasie West, Michelle Hodkin, L.J. Smith… OK, I have way more than that, and honestly I am probably missing a couple of my favorites, but there ya go. ❤
On top of “bad guy” and “good guy” characters, you’re also a fan of dynamic female protagonists. Who are some of your favorites, and why?
Rachel: Alanna, Kel, and Daine from Tamora Pierce’s books. Katniss from The Hunger Games. Saba from Blood Red Road. Those are the top three that come to mind, I also just finished the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre and Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, and those had amazing girl protagonists as well. I think I prefer dynamic female protagonists because they all face incredible odds and persevere without coming off as insincere or boy-obsessed. My favorites tend to be fighters; there’s something so “girl-power-make-your-own-destiny” about them. 🙂
I always like to ask writers about their individual journeys with their craft. When and how did you realize how serious you were about writing and getting your work published?
Rachel: It was always a hobby to write, never a career for me. Mainly because I never thought I’d actually finish a book (writer’s block, boredom, restlessness, no free time, etc.). So I went to school, and after graduation I got a job in insurance. I made lots of money and hated my life. To try to feel better about myself I started writing on an old story idea I’d had since 7th grade (First Year, the first book of The Black Mage series) and saved up for a year and a half. Then I paid off my student loans and made a deal with my fiancé: Let me write for 2 years while working part-time to pay bills, and then if I never get published or make no money, I will go back to working full-time in corporate.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing like the pressure of having everyone you know watch you quit a well-paying job to pursue a “hobby.” I had to sell my car and scrimp and save every last penny to make ends meet, and knowing I put my fiancé and I in such a tight situation was all the guilt I needed to break my writer’s block. Four months later, I finished a very rough draft of First Year, and the rest is history.
You’re working with a small press (Astraea Press / Clean Reads) to publish The Black Mage series. How did this arrangement come about? Had you originally considered another method of publication (traditional publishing / querying agents, self-publishing, etc.), or was this your plan from the beginning?
Rachel: I’m sure the same as countless others – full of queries, lovely rejection letters, and more queries. I started off with agents and worked my way through to small publishers. I got three offers and took the best one. Ideally, like every other author, I would love to have had an agent and a big publisher, but that wasn’t the hand I was dealt this time around. However, there’s always that next series, and I’ve definitely got some stories I’ve been dying to write almost as long as The Black Mage series that I can’t wait to actually put out there.
You’re an active Goodreads user who engages with other readers through book reviews, status comments, and group discussions. How important have Goodreads and other social media sites been for you as an author? Also, do you have any tips on how writers can used social media to grow their audience?
Rachel: So important! Readers and reviewers are everything to me. Seriously, if you or your publisher don’t have the marketing budget of a big New York Times bestseller (and most of us don’t!), it is so important to devote time to your social media platforms. Otherwise, you can have a great book but no readers. There are just too many books competing in the market these days, and people need to know your name! Unless you know a celebrity, word of mouth will build too slowly if you don’t help budge it with social media. I think Goodreads works best for me because I really am a reader, and I love reading, reviewing, and discussing YA books (not just my own), so I found a lot of great people on there I relate to!
My advice to other writers is to be sincere. Don’t go on social media just to sell your book. Readers aren’t idiots – they can tell when you are just there to solicit your books and spam them. Of course you want to sell your book, but it needs to be more than that. Whatever platform you use, make it genuine. For me, it’s Goodreads because I love recommending books and discussing bad boy love interests, etc. For someone else, it might be Instagram or Tumblr with all the cool pictures, etc. Just be yourself, and if people like what you post, maybe they will be more willing to try your book. Maybe not, but that’s life. I’ve had reviewers try my books not because I offered them review copies, but because over the year we have discovered a mutual fondness over certain types of books and trust each other’s recommendations.
Last Stand, the final installment for The Black Mage series, is due out next summer. How is it coming along? And, how do you feel knowing that this series you’ve been working on for so long is coming to an end?
Rachel: That one is still early on in the works. I’ve got the whole book outlined down to each chapter, it’s just a matter of putting words to paper. I got side-tracked after finishing Candidate with wedding planning and buying our first house and a possible novella for the series that took precedence. (I have yet to decide if I will publish it – it’s basically a prequel to the series with Darren’s point of view from childhood through his first day at the Academy meeting our lead character, Ryiah. It’s a really fun project, but it’s very different from how I normally write, so we shall see what comes of that.) I am hoping to be done with the rough draft of Last Stand by mid-March so I can get a release mid-July to September 2016 at the latest. I made a promise to myself to never give readers more than a year between books – book gods only know how much I hate waiting longer than that for all my favorite series!
I already know I am going to cry when it comes to an end. This is a story I’ve had in my head since 7th grade, and all the events of the last book are what made me start this series in the first place. It’s highly emotional. I’ve been with these characters since I was 12, and I’m finally going to have to set them free. And like I mentioned earlier, I struggled to finish a book for so long; and even just writing this series with work and real life in between, it seemed for a while after I wrote First Year that I would never be finished telling my characters’ story, that 2 years of writing books would be forever, and now it’s finally here. And gosh, I’m not ready.
Any idea what you might work on next once you’ve finished the Black Mage series?
Rachel: Ohhhhhhhh YES. I’m the crazy girl with over 60 story ideas saved in a folder called “Book Ideas” (I actually had way more, but I lost all the ones through college when my computer crashed). I have my next BIG series idea which I am EXTREMELY PASSIONATE ABOUT. I don’t want to give too much away – but, oh hell, it’s young adult kind of Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park meets Survivor. If that makes any sense. 😀 But I also kind of want to write a standalone or two before I attempt my next series because it’s the worst kind of torture when you have so many ideas but are stuck on a series forever. I’m not one of those talented authors who can write five different books at same time – I’d never finish!
What one piece of advice would you give to as-yet unpublished writers?
Rachel: Write every single day. I don’t care if it’s a blog, your book, a poem, etc. Just keep writing! That is what will help you finish and stay passionate. 🙂 It’s too easy to forget or make excuses, but even if you wrote only 250 words a day, that would still be a whole novel in 1 year!
Thank you so much for stopping by, Rachel! Best of luck with Candidate and the rest of The Black Mage series!
Rachel E. Carter’s Final Fast Five
- Last Book She Read & Adored: Air Awakens by Elise Kova. Aldrik has my heart!
- Class She’d Love to Attend at Hogwarts: POTIONS! Professor Snape is my homeboy.
- Fictional Animal or Creature She Wishes She Had for a Pet: The raptor named Blue from Jurassic World.
- Random Object(s) We’d Find on Her Writing Desk / Space: Lots of Diet Coke and/or coffee.
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: Books, music, and love.
About Rachel E. Carter
Rachel E. Carter is a young adult author who hoards coffee and books. She has a weakness for villain and bad boy love interests. When not writing, she is usually reading, and when not reading she is usually asleep. To her, the real world is Hogwarts and everything else is a lie.
The Black Mage is Rachel’s first YA fantasy series, with many more to come. She loves to interact with fellow readers and aspiring writers, and here is a list of places you can find her online:
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If you haven’t checked out Rachel E. Carter’s Black Mage series yet, start with…
Before the age of seventeen, the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice:follow tradition, or pursue a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight, or mage…
For 15-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a warrior, and leave the boring confines of her lowborn life behind. Set to enroll in the School of Knighthood on the eve of her next birthday, plans suddenly shift when her twin brother discovers powers. Hoping that hers will soon follow, she enrolls with Alex at the Academy instead, the realm’s most notorious war school for those with magic.
Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Every “first-year” is given a trial year to prove their worth – and no amount of hard work and drive will guarantee them a spot. It seems like everyone is rooting for her to fail – and first and foremost among them, Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.
When an accidental encounter leads Ryiah and Darren to an unlikely friendship, she is convinced nothing good will come of it. But the lines become blurred when she begins to improve – and soon she is a key competitor for the faction of Combat. Still, nothing is ever as it seems. And when the world comes crashing down around her, Ry is forced to place faith in the one thing she can believe in – herself. Will it be enough?
First Year is available for purchase at Amazon (U.S. / foreign), Barnes & Noble, KOBO, Smashwords, iTunes, The Book Depository, or Overdrive (library). Remember that you can buy First Year for 99 cents from Kindle, Nook, iBooks/ iTunes, and KOBO through Sunday, October 31st!