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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SPFBO: Powers Of The Six by Kristal Shaff & Mini-Interview with the author (by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Powers Of The Six was my first selection among the 30 books that I was alloted. It was a fantasy book that mixes epic fantasy with magical powers and was very reminiscent of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson as well as the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher but with younger protagonists.

The main plot of the book begins with Nolan who is a scribe and has a sectret that he wishes to hide from everyone. It has been under wraps for the past two years and if Nolan has his way then will continue on to his deathbed. Alec Deverell is a blacksmith’s son wth a temper to boot. He tries to control it but being a fifteen year old, it’s hard for him to know the ways of the world. Both Nolan and Alec meet under trying circumstances however they both will show their mettle in ways they can’t imagine as the world of Adamah finally begins to understand what is truly happening to the powers known as the Shays.

The main plot line begins from this thread and the story focuses on the six Shays which can grant spectacular abilities to mankind. The Shays are for accuracy, empathy, healing, perception, speed, and strength. Most individuals only have one, a few have two and rarely three, there’s only one person who has mastery over all six Shays and that’s the king Alcandor. The king however is a tyrant and a truly evil one at that. The story then basically twists into a quest as Nolan and Alec along with Nolan’s cousin are forced to endure and find out why everyone’s powers are slowly going away?

The main thing I enjoyed about the book was the book’s pace and snappy plot. The story unfurls rather quickly and the readers will be zooming along our intrepid heroes as they fight off evil doers and nasty creatures. This book while seemingly YA isn’t a YA book, it deals with some pretty gruesome stuff. The king is as psychotic and sociopathic as they come, he indulges in some nasty sexual proclivities towards both sexes and most readers will hate him to their core. This book while talking and referencing rape doesn’t showcase it so there’s that. Also while the main plot concerns teenagers, they don’t behave like teenagers. These children are exposed to some dark stuff and they are shown to react accordingly. There is very little teenage angst showcased  however they do behave like teenagers from time to time (as is their wont). The best example of this is Alec in the beginning chapters as he constantly tries to stay out of trouble but manages to find it all too often.

Another aspect which I enjoyed was the characterization, even though we get the story via two POV characters, the other characters Megan, Emery, the highlander, etc. don’t feel two-dimensional. The author tries her best to make everyone seem complex however doesn’t quite manage to hit the bullseye with the villains who come across as boorish and one-dimensional. Lastly the author also does her best with the Shays as we get characters who appear to have superpowers and some of the action scenes are truly fun to read.

Going on to the parts that I didn’t enjoy was the fact the world and magic system isn’t all that clearly defined. There’s a few mentions towards the last third of the story and a lot of plot set-up for the second book but overall the reader is in as much mystery along with the main characters. Then there’s the aspect of the villains, we don’t get much backstory about the king as well his general (who is Nolan’s older brother) as to why they are that way. We are told that they are arrogant and act as such but there wasn’t any clear cut motivation exposed.

Lastly I would recommend this book to anybody who wants to read a fantasy book about teenage protagonists who act mature for their ages and with very little angsty romance. This was a solid plus point for me and I was excited to see how the author setup the world with regards to the Shays and I hope we get further light shed on the magic system in the sequels.

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Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

KS: Thanks for having me! I was born in Northwest Indiana, pretty much in the shadow of Chicago. I attended Ball State University to study music education after high school. It was during my time in college when I met my future husband. Once we both graduated, I moved out to Iowa to become a wife of an Iowa farmer. After a really horrible year of teaching music, I put that hat away to become a wife and mom to four awesome kids.

I’ve always been very right brained and I juggle a lot of creative balls. From music to crafts, I tend to move quickly from one interest to the next. (I suspect that I am a little ADD). Writing is actually something that has lasted for many years, but during those years I’ve thrown other activities into the mix. The last seven years I’ve also been a professional face painter. It’s a fun and rewarding job.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you choose to go the self-publishing route?

KS: I’ve always loved reading; my first job was in the local library shelving books. My first go at writing was creating a play in my 3rd-grade class—which we performed about the Easter Bunny. It was a memory I’d forgotten until I started writing again.

I gave up writing until about ten years ago. It was a “let’s try this” moment after I’d read the book ERAGON by Christopher Paolini. I found out he was a teenage author and it inspired me to try myself, just for fun. I didn’t realize what a long and emotional journey writing and publishing would end up being.

My book, POWERS OF THE SIX, was a labor of stubborn love. It was originally titled THE EMISSARY, and its first messy draft was over 200k. After trimming it down considerably, I got an agent and we submitted it to many houses. At that time, it was an adult fantasy, but my agent pushed me to turn it into Young Adult because of the voice.

After I changed it to YA, we submitted it again. Little Brown Publishing offered me a rewrite and resubmit. In the end, it didn’t sell and my agent and I went our separate ways. I subbed it to many houses on my own after leaving my agent, including Angry Robot’s open submissions. Again, Angry Robot told me it felt more like YA, so they passed it on to their YA imprint, Strange Chemistry (which is no longer in business).

***This moment in my career was very enlightening. After having someone else tell me my writing was YA again, I realized that my writing voice was much younger than my actual age. I am more of a YA/children’s author, which is why my writing comes across as more streamlined than other epic fantasy books. It was a moment of self-discovery that I am actually… immature. (grin)***

After another rewrite and resubmit, I was rejected by Strange Chemistry. It was a hard time to be that close to success and still fail, especially when two other authors, Wesley Chu and Laura Lam, where with me in the process at that time. Both of these authors were accepted, and have since then moved on to great things. I couldn’t be happier for either of them.

I had planned to self-publish at that point, and I was already working on a cover with an artist. It was then when I was offered a contract with a small press I’d submitted to. The journey with this small press was very long, very painful, and very discouraging. It really sucked the joy of writing out of me for a long time. In the end, I got my rights back and publish on my own with a new title and an awesome new cover by Anne Drury. I couldn’t be happier to be self-published and in control of my work.

I can’t say that I regret the hardships to get where I am today. My book and writing have grown through the experience. I think that even my last, bad publisher, enabled me to grow, as well as it helped me appreciate the freedom that self-publishing has given me. I am grateful for the long journey.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

KS: I don’t have a muse. However, I do become depressed if I don’t express myself creatively. This is one of the avenues that feeds my imagination.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of POWERS OF THE SIX occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

KS: POWERS OF THE SIX is my first book. The first draft started around ten years ago. It took me several years working on the book to learn different aspects of the craft. I know it sounds backward, that people say to write a lot and throw out your first book, but there is something to be said for reworking and polishing something over and over again. I learned a lot that way. I’ve deleted characters. I’ve deleted chapters. I’ve added layers for world building. I changed it from 3rd person to 1st person and then back to 3rd person POV again. The manuscript has evolved dramatically from where it started. There were long breaks in-between when I worked on different projects, but I kept coming back to POWERS OF THE SIX because I really did believe in it. Input from industry professionals, critique partners, etc. gave me tons of insight to improve. Throughout the changes, the primary storyline has mostly stayed intact.


Q] Powers Of The Six is the first volume in the Emissary Of Light series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

KS: My second book is already out. It has a much different feel than the first one as it focuses more on relationships, character building, and it has more romantic elements than the first. It is called BLOOD OF THE GUARDIAN. The third book will go back to more fighting/conflict and focus less on relationships, though I’m sure my characters might have a say since they have a mind of their own. Book three is still in the early stages of planning as I am finishing up a separate Middle-Grade project which I am really excited to get out into the world; it’s been really fun to create. However, my writing time has been… complicated this last year since we adopted our youngest son from Bulgaria. Having a two-year-old around the house (as well as three teenagers, one of them with autism) can make personal writing time a challenge.

Q] Your book has a magic system which very much reminded me of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson with regards to its ingenuity and the differing combinations that users had access to. Can you talk about its inception and how you developed it?

KS: I am a fan of fantasy, swords, and all geeky endeavors. I am also a huge fan of superheroes, especially Superman; he is such a good-hearted boy scout. I wanted to create a world where both aspects exist. So the powers in my world came from different aspects of superheroes: super speed, inhuman strength, mind control, etc. It was fun to combine two of my favorite things. I also have always been interested in rainbows, which is why I incorporated the glowing eyes and the rainbow colors in the story. In elementary school, I did a science project on the spectrum and how white light contains all the colors. Even now, I have a crystal prism hanging in my kitchen to catch the morning light. Ironically, I found out later that my mother has always had Iridophobia, an actual, genuine fear of rainbows. She never let on when I was growing up. I wonder now how she had put up with me as a kid!

Thank you so much for any comparison to Brandon Sanderson! It is truly an honor since he is my favorite author. A funny thing about Brandon. I discovered him by blindly picking up his book, ELANTRIS, at a bookstore when it was first released. One of the main reasons I bought his book was because I was afraid that it might be similar to my POWERS OF THE SIX book (which I was finishing at the time). It was different, of course, and I was glad to discover my new favorite author. I’ve watched Brandon’s career take off over the years, and I’m glad to say I liked him before he became so well-known.

Q] Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write this book and what were things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

KS: My husband has always been a great sounding board. He’s a smart man who can tell me when I’m being stupid with facts, such as travel, map-making, weapons, and especially blacksmithing questions (he’s an armature blacksmith/ bladesmith). I also researched on types of boats and even on how to hold and shoot a sling. There is a great forum for slingers that I found (slinging.org), and they were very helpful and welcoming to all of my questions. One of the guys even sent me a couple of handcrafted slings so I could do hands-on research of my own. I also discovered other details such as musical instruments and eyewear in history. Even though my world is fantasy, I didn’t want information to stick out as strange. Small details can pull someone out of a story, and my goal was to make things as realistic (fantasy-wise) as they can be.

Q] Your book has an intriguing world with some different characteristics. What was your inspiration for the setting and what are your thoughts on world-building in general?

KS: My inspiration for the setting? I guess I started with a generic world, and then I found ways to make it different and layered. Approaching world building in increments was the most helpful to me. I added different aspects during different drafts, building details one on top of another. A person doesn’t need to build a world all at once. Building a house starts with a structure. Then the walls. Then siding and a roof, followed by paint and landscaping. Decor and furniture are added for interest at the end. You can think of writing much the same way. The base, then other aspects, followed by small details to make it more connected and interesting and rich.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

KS: Through my teen years, I read a lot of historical romance, most of them focusing on medieval knights. When I started dating my husband (after our first date at a renaissance festival), he shoved the book THE HOBBIT into my hands and told me I needed to read it. I resisted at first, but once I started reading, I threw out my historical romance and picked up more fantasy. I never looked back.

Since then I’ve taken to reading fantasy in a multitude of different ways. My favorite adult fantasy authors are Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn) and Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files). Then in Middle Grade, I’ve read and enjoyed Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson), Jennifer A. Nielsen (The False Prince), and JK Rowling (Harry Potter, of course). I also enjoy Young Adult books from authors such as Veronica Roth (Divergent) and Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles). These are just a few. I enjoy books in all sorts of age groups and styles.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

KS: I’d love to encourage writers to find others to support them, to keep going when it feels hopeless, and to remember that there are lots of paths to publishing. Work hard and remember there is always room to improve.

I also wanted to bring to let everyone know that my audiobook recently came out. It was a ton of fun to choose a narrator and be a part of the process. Gary Furlong, my narrator, did an awesome job. Check it out if you get a chance.

Thanks for having me on here and for taking time out to participate in the SPFBO. I’m sure that reading 30 books and making this type of decision wasn’t an easy task. Also, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to speak to your readers. I hope they give POWERS OF THE SIX a chance.

1 comments:

Kathryn Troy said...

The discussion about the long road to self publication was enlightening. I've just crossed that bridge myself, and trying to hash out the finer points as I go but overall happy that something that brings me great joy can also be an empowering force-to share what I might on my own blog, ladybathoryscloset.blogspot.com, and be in control of how my work is presented to the world. The more people out there taking control of their writing, while still listening to the constructive voices, the better the state of literature will be.

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