#SPFBO4 Interview with Alice Sabo, author of High Barrens

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Today I’m pleased to welcome to my blog Alice Sabo, author of High Barrens.

Hi Alice, thank you so much for not only taking part in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off but also for agreeing to take part in an interview.  

It may seem a bit of an overused opener but can you start by telling readers a little bit about yourself and a short introduction to what your book is about – something that isn’t lifted straight from the bio already available on line if possible.

I grew up in New Jersey but have lived all over the country. I blame my wanderlust on nomadic ancestors. The Celts migrated through Hungary, where my father was born, and continued on to Ireland where my mother’s people are from. I’m the family genealogist and spend way too much time researching people that I might be related to. It gives me a lot more stories that I want to write.

High Barrens is set in the high desert. I lived in New Mexico and Colorado for a while. The desert there fascinated me. The landscape is so rugged and parched. Ultimately, it was too dry and hot for this east-coast soul.

The main thrust of the book is about a young woman, Flint, learning about herself and her skills. She’s grown up in a dangerous frontier town and feels that she can handle anything. But once she gets out into the world, she encounters things that are so far outside of her experience that she’s at a loss. However, Flint is a strong, resourceful person. Even when she is caught in the middle of a battle, she can keep her head and lend a hand.

The magic in this world is all controlled by specific gods which each have a certain skill set. For example, Bhanur is the god of healing and his followers, called Hands, run temples that serve as hospitals. There are some odd cracks in the overlap of the various gods’ domains. A few skills are not beholding to anyone, including Flint’s ability to see a person’s soul. The why of that is something that Flint wants to pursue, but she gets sidetracked by other things.

The book is just Flint’s story and I think of it as a standalone. That doesn’t mean it’s the last time we’ll see her. But the next book in the series will be someone else’s story.

I love the sound of Flint’s frontier beginnings and look forward to reading about her adventures.

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So, I can see where the influence for your setting came from.  How about the character?  Did the story come first or the character?

The main character, Flint, has been around for a long time. It’s a story that I originally started decades ago. It was part of a much bigger story and I didn’t have the skills to pull it off. But I learned with a different book to scale down and decided to pull this character out and give her a smaller story. I ended up changing the name and then the gender. That gave me enough distance to separate her from the rut of the old story line. Then I could create something new.

It’s interesting that the next story will be from a different character.  Do you worry at all that that might be risky – readers can become very attached to a character after all?

I left Flint in a good place that also had a jumping off point. In fact, someone left a review stating that they knew what the next book would be about. That made me chuckle because it does seem obvious. She will be around and she might get another book of her own down the line. The next book will deal with people that were introduced in the first book. They were side characters, but hung around for awhile. I can only hope that readers found them interesting enough to want to know more about them.

You mention that High Barrens will be a standalone with a new character featuring in the next book – will that be from the same world?  Do you envisage that Flint might put in an appearance at some point?

Yes, this is all in the same world. I named the series Tales of Haroon specifically because I wanted to be able to spend time on different aspects. I’ve always loved the huge epics, but sometimes they get so confusing. When I started reading Game of Thrones I felt like I needed a flowchart to keep track of all the characters and their affiliations. Also I was hanging out on a readers forum for a while and several said that they didn’t like being forced into a series. Especially one with long arcs. That got me to thinking that it might be better to wrap up the story in one book. It’s sort of an experiment but also the best way for me to do the stories in this world.

When did you first start to write and how many books have you written so far?  

I started writing things down when I was pretty young. It never occurred to me to write a book because I was more focused on art. I started writing after the death of a dear friend as catharsis. When I got that out of my system (and that story will always stay in the drawer) I decided that maybe I could write a book. I started writing seriously about 2005. My 11th novel came out Aug 23rd.

What happened to your earliest attempts at writing – did you feel that they were successful or did you shelve them?

A lot of what I started, I couldn’t finish properly. Many of the stories were episodic, the adventures of a bunch of friends. They were mostly written for fun. I go back occasionally and find an idea that I want to develop. Some of it has morphed into new projects.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice about your earlier works what would that be – would you want to make changes at all?

It’s hard to say because those stories come from a younger, less experienced version of myself. I guess I would just say to keep writing. Practice really does improve your skills.

I notice that you write in a number of genres – do you have a particular favourite?  How easy, or not, is it to keep all the different books and series compartmentalised?

I read in all those genres, so I wanted to write in them also. The favorite is usually the one I’m working on. I like to jump into a completely different world when I’m done with a book. I’ve just finished a mystery and I’m starting a new book in my post-apocalyptic series now. It’s a relief to let go for awhile. I do keep a very detailed bible of each world, the characters and some plot points. So if I forget if someone has blue eyes or green, I can easily find it. Genre-jumping isn’t recommended for building an audience because sometimes there is little crossover – a reader of mysteries might not read scifi and vice versa. So it’s taken me a lot longer to build any kind of following.

I’m intrigued by your first answer where you mention that Flint had been around for about a decade and was part of a much bigger story.  How difficult is it to come to such  a conclusion that something isn’t working and to decide to start over in this way?  Particularly after you’ve invested such a lot of work already?

I’d put that story on the back burner a couple of times because I just didn’t know where it was going. If you can’t finish a story, that’s a dead giveaway that it’s got issues. I started noodling around with screenplays for awhile and was astonished that there was actually a formula to this stuff. Who’d a thunk it? Then I started writing a mystery and that has a formula to it also. It’s much looser, but ultimately it’s about a crime that needs to be solved and a killer arrested. When I went back to some of my rambling, episodic writings, I could see how it needed more structure. Once you can understand the overall structure of storytelling, you can spot the problems in a story. A lot of the work I put into world building and character profiles could still be used. It gave me a terrific foundation to start with. And since some of the story was so old, I couldn’t remember half of it. So I wasn’t constrained by the old plot lines.

Starting over immediately on a bad story isn’t always a good idea. Put it aside and let it rest. Get your brain working on something different. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, and maybe new skills, it’s easier to see solutions.

I noticed on your blog that you studied Fine Art – is that something that you’re still interested in or has writing filled that creative need in you now?  Is there time for both in your life?

I haven’t done any artwork in awhile. I don’t rule it out, I just haven’t had the urge to draw or paint for awhile. The creative energy is probably going into my writing. Also I don’t really have a space to work. But the workmen have started on my office and I foresee some painting in the near future.

Does the artistic side of you mean that you become involved in the cover process at all or do you leave that to others?

I tried doing my covers but there is a big difference between graphic art and painting for the fun of it. The learning curve for some of the programs was daunting. And there is a whole lot of information that a graphic artist just knows from experience that I don’t. I floundered around until I connected with Alex Storer. He’s done all but one of my covers. Sometimes I have a specific image in mind and he works up some sketches based on my input. Sometimes I don’t have a clue and I just give him a list of story elements that he can incorporate. Then I look at the rough sketches and give him feedback. He usually has a winner for me in the 1st or 2nd try. We have a very good working relationship.

I think having a background in art helps me to envision the completed image from the sketch. It also helps me to explain any changes I want, slight color shift or moving an element that gets closer to the image in my head.

HighBarrens

Finally, you may be relieved to hear, and on a lighter note, do you have any stories you could share or experiences of something crazy that you’ve done?

The craziest thing I’ve ever done…there’s been a lot of that, but I’ll go with a G-rated one.

I was living in Boston, back in my early twenties, and had just gotten back from an extended vacation. I had quit my job before leaving, so I needed to find work right away. I don’t even remember how it came about, but I signed up with this guy to be a Sandwich Witch. That meant I had to wear this awful hazard-orange, bibbed hot pants sort of thing and sell sandwiches out of a big wicker basket. It was a revolting outfit that wasn’t the least bit sexy on me. Also, it was made out of some sort of heavy plastic and it was the summer, so that made the thing even more uncomfortable.

The tricky part was that he told me to go into the high rise buildings and hawk the sandwiches in all the offices. Since I had never done anything remotely like it, I was ignorant of a slew of laws. I was quickly caught by security who demanded to see my peddler’s license. Which of course I didn’t have. And it turned out – neither did my boss. The security guy was nice enough to not call the cops on me for who knows how many different violations. (I didn’t even ask where the sandwiches came from, and was kind of surprised anyone would actually buy them.) I quickly handed in my outfit, but it had leaked orange dye all over my blouse and underwear. And I didn’t make a cent for all my sweat and aggravation.

Lesson learned about taking odd jobs and I still have an aversion to the color orange.

Alice, thank you so much for taking part, for being so patient and for sharing your experiences.  I really enjoyed our interview and I wish you all the best in the SPFBO.

For more information about Alice check out the following:

Website
Twitter
URL

 

 

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9 Responses to “#SPFBO4 Interview with Alice Sabo, author of High Barrens”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Interesting, and thank you for sharing this!
    I like the idea of a series that stays on the same background but changes the focus on different characters with each new book: it does indeed take some courage (some readers might find it difficult to accept the change), but I believe that it would ultimately work in favor of the story’s liveliness. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I suppose there’s also the opportunity to see more of the world and of course, if you don’t really love the first protagonist you get a second chance.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    Fascinating interview, and I do love the cover art of the book. Thanks for sharing, and good luck to the author!

  3. Carmen

    Insightful interview into Alice as a creative force and into her writing process. Great job, Lynn, and good luck to Alice! 🙂 I happen to like the idea of stories based on a place rather than focusing a series on one character; sometimes it gets tiresome reading about the same antics from the same people in book after book.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I think this is a good opportunity to look at different people and places.
      Lynn 😀

  4. waytoofantasy

    Great interview! I really love the cover of this book. 🙂

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    This looks great! I love desert/wasteland setting fantasy. I’m quite taken with the cover to.

  6. Alice Sabo

    Thanks to all of you. And I have to thank my cover artist – Alex Storer – for his hard work.

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