This week, I interviewed Tahani Nelson, author of the Faoii fantasy series, and other short stories. Her latest short story, Honeysuckle Sky, was published on May 6th, and her follow up to The Last Faoii, Faoii Betrayer, will launch later this summer.
Tahani Nelson is an author and English teacher in Billings, Montana. Her Faoii fantasy series focuses on strong female protagonists and matriarchal societies. When she’s not writing or teaching, she enjoys dressing up in armor to attend Renaissance Festivals and Conventions.
Her next novel Faoii Betrayer, continues the Faoii story with Ilahna and her brother…
Two centuries after the Godfell War, Ilahna knows that the only way to survive in Clearwall is to be faster and smarter than everyone around you. Keep on your toes, steal what you need… and never EVER mention magic.
Because magic is the way of the Faoii. And witches get burned in Clearwall. But Ilahna knows something else, too: Her little brother can see things no one else can and talks to an old woman in his dreams. He has magic—and it’s getting harder to hide.
Hunted as witches, the Harkins children must unbury a lifetime’s worth of lies and secrets with the help of unlikely allies…or find themselves lashed to the pyre like all the Faoii that came before.
Faoii Betrayer is the riveting and highly-anticipated second novel in the Faoii Chronicles.
1. Faoii Betrayer is the second novel-length book in your Faoii series, is this the last book? If so, what were some challenges to wrapping up a series? If it isn’t, what are your plans for the next installment?
Faoii Betrayer is the second book in the Faoii Chronicles, and shows not only the unforeseen aftermath of the war from The Last Faoii but encourages the protagonists to consider all of the waves they make when they try to change the world. It’s important to do what you can to help those around you, but how does that affect people that aren’t in your personal circle? Who aren’t fighting the same war as you are? The heroes of one person’s story are the villains of another’s.
I plan to write one more book in the trilogy, Faoii Ascended.
2. What inspired you to tell the story of the Faoii?
I loved reading fantasy books growing up, but I always felt like they were missing something. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized I didn’t really have a role model in any of the books I’d read that I could aspire to. Most of the women in classical fantasy are damsels in distress or archers in bikini armor. I wanted something more than that. I wanted to create a world where all the women I wanted to look up to were not only present, they were expected. So I created a world of female warriors.
But I hate that term. “Female warriors.” Our language is very patriarchal in many ways, and I wanted a language that reflected the awesomeness of women without having to add “female” or “-ess” to words that are known to be masculine. “Warrioress” and “Female Fighter” seem like they’re still words for lesser versions of their male counterparts. So I made an entire language to mirror the matriarchal society of the Faoii. And I think that was the part that really filled the gap I’d found in the stories I’d been reading in my youth. To have entire universes made completely of words and having none of them be quite strong enough for the women I’d been searching for my entire life? There’s something wrong with that. So, I fixed it. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the universe–make it yourself.
3. Other than your preferred genre, is there a genre you’d like to experiment with in the future? Why?
I’d never really written anything other than fantasy until earlier this year when I put out my first-ever Science Fiction story in the Writing Bloc Anthology Deception. “Honeysuckle Sky” is the story of a Martian woman working undercover to break up an intergalactic sex trafficking ring. It was really interesting to write, and I think I’d like to give other science fiction stories a try in the future. I’d also like to try my hand at horror some day. I play on a lot of really dark themes in all of my stories, but I’ve never tried to actually get under a reader’s skin and make them want to keep the lights on after they go to bed. I think it would be fun to create something deliciously creepy.
4. How do you approach worldbuilding?
I love world building. I think my books often start off with more of the world itself in my head than the actual plot. But I think that’s also why so many of my readers leave words like “immersive” in their reviews. Because the world is whole and real in my head before I ever create the character and her conflict. It also makes it easier to introduce the world in a fluid and natural manner instead of dropping a giant block of exposition during the first three pages. If the world is already completely built inside your head, then it’s real to the character too, and it’s much easier to show it through their eyes if you’re already looking at it from that point of view, instead of trying to build it from the outside looking in while writing their story from the inside looking out.
5. Writing can sometimes be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Do you have any advice for discouraged aspiring writers?
Stop comparing yourself to other writers. There’s always going to be someone else who has more reviews than you or better sales or who writes more words in a day. It is so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing that you don’t even want to try to focus on what you’re doing, because it starts to feel like it won’t matter. It won’t ever be good enough. That’s a trap I fell into for years. I saw everyone else in my writing groups putting down 2,000 words a night and that goal seemed impossible– so I didn’t even start. I felt like no one was ever going to see my novel in the sea of other indie books out there– so I stopped trying to market.
You can probably guess that this was a terrible mistake. And it was. Eventually, I realized that I’d allowed my comparisons to people I don’t even know to ruin the one thing I truly enjoyed. So I stopped comparing myself to others. I set a personal goal of 200 words a night. 200. That’s barely 5 minutes of work. No matter how busy or tired I was, I knew I could do that. And you know what? It worked. I remembered how much I enjoyed writing and was able to push through every bout of writer’s block I had, 200 words at a time. I make connections rather than ad campaigns now, and while I probably don’t sell anywhere NEAR as many books as other people (and my father’s constant comments of ‘do you make any money?’ or ‘that’s not a lot of sales’ is still wearing) but my soul is lighter than it was when I let the marketing hole suck away the joy I got from creating worlds. Now, I’ve discovered that a lot of my readers do my marketing for me. Word of mouth is huge, guys, but you need to create something you love before it will start spreading. And the first step to creating something you love is to love yourself. And the first step to that is to stop comparing yourself to other writers.
6. Is there a key theme or message in your work?
I think my biggest message in all of my books are: anyone can be a warrior. You’re stronger than you think you are, and you’re stronger still if you take the time and energy to know yourself. The world is filled with terrible things, but absolutely none of them are bigger than that core of raw power you have inside of you. Find the things that help you expand it. A sense of purpose. Friends that support you. Pride in who you are and what you’ve done and what you’ll be. You are amazing, Faoii. Prove it.
7. What early experience taught you writing had power?
My absolute earliest memories are my father reading to me as a child. I have daydreamed about the amazing, beautiful worlds I found in books for as long as I can remember. If reading is an escape, then writing is like lucid dreaming. Worlds others can’t even imagine yet are open for you to mold and build and live in. There is nothing like knowing you have the power to create those early memories you have of your own daydreams for new people… but that now you can make those worlds even better. Because now you’re filling in all the gaps that the books you had to read left you longing for.
8. Do you have any favorite writing craft/reference books?
I feel terrible saying that I’ve never actually read a writing craft or reference book. I didn’t actually know those were a thing until recently. I’m sure that there will be a lot of people out there telling me why this is wrong. And they’ll probably make some really good points. Maybe I’ll read the ones that they suggest.
9. What’s your favorite and least favorite part of the publishing journey? Any advice for writers starting their publishing journey?
I absolutely hated the first publisher I went through. It was a terrible experience and unfortunately closed a lot of doors that I think I would have rather tried once I realized the mistakes I’d made. Luckily, I’ve recently broken free of that publisher, and am now self-publishing The Faoii Chronicles. It is so much less stressful and more rewarding than it was, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this new process, though it does require a lot of work. I’ve taught myself from the ground up how to format and typeset. Marketing is 100% on me (though, as it turns out, that was true with the first publisher I went through, as well. And now I have complete control over all of my own work, so that makes it a lot easier to market). But having complete creative freedom over the things you’ve created? What a lovely feeling!
I wish that I hadn’t gone with my previous publisher in an act of desperation and fear. I wish that I’d had more patience and faith and kept trying to find a traditional agent. But, then, maybe it never would have happened, anyway. A lot of agents I talked to said that my book wasn’t marketable. That the female cast or the LGBTQ protagonist or the main character being female AND a person of color made all of it too difficult to market well. I think I would have had to make some big changes that I wouldn’t have liked if I’d gone through a traditional publisher. So maybe self-publishing was always in the cards and I just had to try a lot of different things before I got there.
My advice to new writers: Do your research. Find out what you want from the publishing world and what you’re willing to give up. And never EVER be the sole editor for your own work. You’re too close to it. I promise. Hire an editor.
10. What other project(s) do you have in the works?
Faoii Betrayer is about to release later this summer, and I am so incredibly excited about it. It’s been a weird couple of years since The Last Faoii released and I’m so pleased that I’ve not only rediscovered my love for writing, but that I’ve finally channeled that love into something worthwhile for all of you. While I wait on edits for that book, I’ve started the first draft of Faoii Ascended, which will actually take the reader outside Clearwall and Imeriel for the first time, so I cannot wait to build that portion of this world into something grand. I’ll also be putting up “Honeysuckle Sky” for download on my website in the next couple of weeks, if you prefer short stories (though “The Faoii of Ashwood” is a freestanding short story set in the Faoii universe that is already available for download, if you’d like to dip your toes in before diving into the entire series). Honestly, the craziness in the world has given me a lot of time to spend in my own head and in front of my keyboard. I can’t wait to share some of it with all of you.
Thank you for being willing to “sit down” for an interview, Tahani!
Be sure to follow Tahani on Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can also find more information about her, and her work at her website. Add The Last Faoii to your reading TBR on Goodreads, and don’t forget to watch for the next installment in the Faoii saga. Tahahni’s work is available through Amazon.
Click here to see my review of The Last Faoii.