Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Tahani Nelson (THE FAOII CHRONICLES)
Tahani Nelson is an author and English teacher in Billings, Montana. Her fantasy series, The Faoii Chronicles, focuses on strong female protagonists and matriarchal societies. She hopes to help encourage young readers to be the warriors of their own stories.
Welcome to the Hive, Tahani Nelson. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve mostly been focusing on the finishing touches of my newest novel, Faoii Betrayer (which launches today) but I have been making my way through a re-reading of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files in preparation for Peace Talks releasing on the same day. I love Butcher’s writing style. It’s a wonderful mixture of humour, action, and urban fantasy. And don’t write anything quite as lighthearted as he does, but those fight scenes? Cannot get enough.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Cleric. I put the safety and well-being of my loved ones above anything else. So, I’d keep my friends alive either by healing them when they’re injured or holding the line so they don’t get hurt to begin with. As a Cleric, I can, and will, do both. My weapon of choice is sword and board (though I usually carry a spear at my events and signings).
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
First, I make sure that I have a cup of hot tea ready, then, I put on one of my pre-made music playlists. Usually I listen to Celtic music while writing, but if I suspect that I’m about to write a particularly bloody battle scene I put on videogame soundtracks or Two Steps from Hell. I always write at my desktop computer, and I NEVER have any idea what is going to happen until I’m halfway through the scene and my characters have already gone off to do whatever it is they do. I mostly just follow them as quickly as I can and try to write up an incident report that does their antics justice. Often, however, my characters are dumb as Hell, and I find myself deleting entire chapters after they get their fool heads knocked off. But, this also means that when something magical finally *clicks* into place or when a particularly poignant sentence forms, I’m as amazed and excited about it as my readers are. And that’s a truly wonderful feeling.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I admit that I spent much of my early writing career amazed by a certain Wizard-writing author who pulled herself out of a deep depression and created something that sculpted so much of my childhood… but then broke my heart as an unapologetic TERF who stands by her bigotry in a way I simply cannot support. In a way, she is still one of my strongest influencers—because she reminds me that no matter what I write, who I am as a person is still the most important thing. I create worlds made specifically to show every girl that she’s capable and worthy of being her own hero—I want to make sure that I, as a human, show that I think they’re worthy, too.
I will also say, however, that several of my readers have compared my writing to that of Robin Hobb, and that is such an incredible honor. She even liked one of my Tweets once and I’m still fangirling a bit. I would love to meet Ms. Hobb in person, just to let her know how amazing I think she is.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I play D&D once a week and love it. I love creating characters and building worlds with other people—telling stories when possibilities are endless and no one has complete control over the narrative. It’s such a liberating experience, and one where it’s OKAY if everything goes off the rails or shifts in ways no one was expecting. You don’t have readers to anger or word count guidelines to adhere to. It’s everything I love about writing without any of the restrictions. Also, I recently started watching Lucifer and I feel like that should be a guilty pleasure sort of show… but honestly, I don’t feel guilty about it at all.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
I sleep. A lot. The entire day. I miss it completely and regret nothing.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently finishing up the final touches on my newest Military Fantasy, Faoii Betrayer. It releases on July 14 [TODAY!] and I am so excited to share it with the world. As the sequel to The Last Faoii (now available) it follows the unforeseen consequences from the war fought in the first book and draws heavily on current events. So much of the world is on the cusp of major—and more often than not the least expected leaders are at the forefront o
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Hire a professional editor. I say this one a lot and people always seem to protest a bit. Listen. I know it can be expensive. I know it can be hard. I know it takes time—but hiring an actual editor is absolutely essential.
I can already hear some of you arguing. You’re a great writer. You edit other people’s stuff all the time. You know the language inside and out. You don’t need an editor. But none of that changes anything. I have two English degrees and edit other people’s novels, shorts stories, and essays in my spare time, but I will always shell out the money for a good editor. As writers, we’re too close to our work. We know every word that was supposed to get written down. We know every scene from every draft. We don’t realize when some things get skipped or don’t come across quite right. And we definitely see each word as a precious child we created from nothing. The harsh truth, however, is this: Not all of those children are necessary or even useful. Some of them have to go. And an editor can help you decide which ones go to the chopping block.
You’re too close to it. I promise. Hiring an editor is more important than even marketing is. If you can only pick one thing to spend your money on—pick the edit.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
The biggest thing I’ve learned to do is to stop comparing myself to other writers. The internet is crammed full of amazing blogs and groups filled with amazing, talented people. And those amazing, talented people WILL tell you how they’re doing. They’ll post their progress and their success stories, and show how awesome they are. And, if you’re anything like me, that display of progress is always more than what I’ve gotten done recently. Sometimes these groups and posts can be inspirational—but mostly it’s just daunting. Overwhelming. A lot of the time seeing other people be awesome just makes me feel like I’ll never get to that point, so I don’t even want to start. It seems like EVERY author on the internet writes 2,000 words a day. And that’s so impossible to me that, for a long time, I didn’t even try.
It took two years of me not writing anything at all before I finally made a new goal for myself: 200 words a day. 200. That’s basically nothing. A paragraph or so. 5 minutes of work. It’s such a small amount that it almost doesn’t seem worth it, does it? But it’s 200 words I wasn’t writing before. And it adds up. Sometimes just getting to that 200 is enough to open the dam and I’ll keep going for pages upon pages. Sometimes, it’s all I can get out. But I always hit it. And it works. I wrote the entirety of Faoii Betrayer 200 words at a time.
I think Writers’ Block almost always stems from some sort of fear. Fear of not succeeding. Fear of the passage not being good enough. Fear of never measuring up. And the best thing we can do to face our fears is break them into something small and manageable. Turn that huge, giant fight scene into just a group of sentences written over days and suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I’d love to visit 10th century Scandinavia to meet some of the skjaldmærs of old. There are so many parts of that time period that have been lost in patriarchal retellings, and I’d like to get more first-hand accounts of what the world and belief systems were really like.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
I write female-led Military Fantasy, so put a badass warrior in a breastplate and armor that actually covers all of her vital organs and you’re speaking my language. Joan of Arc. Xena. Wonder Woman. Okoye. These women are my heroes, and I truly hope to write stories that inspire other people the way their stories inspired me.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Beyond the Code by Kelsey Ray Barthel. Barthel has created a mesmerizing story filled with rich characters. She is definitely worth watching in the future.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
In Clearwall, the punishment for having magic is death—and Ilahna Harkins will do whatever it takes to save her brother from the flames.
Faoii Betrayer is the second novel in the Faoii Chronicles. This exciting and immersive military fantasy explores the unforeseen consequences of war and follows the unlikeliest of revolutionists—a reminder that true change comes at the hands of those who have nothing left to lose.
Thank you so much for joining us today Tehani, and good luck with the release of FAOII BETRAYER.