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Friday, July 1, 2022

SPFBO Semi-Finalist Interview: Kristin Gleeson, the author of Awakening The Gods

About Kristin Gleeson: USA Today Bestselling author, Kristin Gleeson is originally from Philadelphia but has lived in West Cork in Ireland for a number of years where she plays the harp and sings, in addition to painting the beautiful landscape around her. She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a large archives, library and museum in America and also worked as a public librarian in America and Ireland. She is a B.R.A.G. medallion Honoree.

Myths and other folk tales have always fascinated her and she combined her love of these tales with her harp playing and performed as a professional harper/storyteller at events in Britain, America and Ireland.

Find Kristin online: Facebook, Twitter

Awakening the Gods links: Amazon, Goodreads


Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks for asking me. I am a writer, musician and artist who is married to a Cornish man and lives in wilds of West Cork, Ireland, though I’m originally from Philadelphia. I’m a USA Today bestselling author and I have a PhD in history, and a Masters in Library Science which translates to I love books and I love history (sadly there was no degree available in fantasy). My working career has gone through several morphs from nurse to archivist to administrator of a large historical society, a musician and storyteller, a children’s librarian and an art teacher, all taking place in America, UK and Ireland. Now I pose as a writer and enjoy long bouts of indulging my imagination.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

Noooo. Such a hard question for me. I read widely and have several currently. I am still a fan of Charles de Lint’s books that are an early kind of literary urban fantasy set in Canada that weave in mythic Native American and Celtic characters and always have a bit of music in them. But in the past I’ve loved Stephen Donaldson, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Morgan Llewellyn, not to mention Phillip Pullman, all of whom I’ve gone back to more than once to read. Currently I enjoy Bridgid Kimmerer’s takes on fairytales and Leigh Bardugo’s complex worlds that she creates in her series and have really taken to R.F. Kuang. The epic fantasy, The Poppy War, set in a medieval China was amazing.

De Lint would be a big influencer in my fantasy writing, but also Llewellyn and Bradley. But I would also have to say that Joseph Boyden has really inspired me, not just his writing style but also the First Nations cultural context he weaves so beautifully in his books. He has a real ear for how the indigenous people generally express themselves, just as Roddy Doyle does for the Irish people, another author I admire.

When and why have you decided to become an author?

My mother loved to make up stories for my sister and me when we were young which easily translated for me to make up my own for boring periods like waiting in line with my dad at the supermarket, sitting in church, school or even lying in bed before I went to sleep. There was always a story going on in my head. I wrote my first story down when I was about 11, Professor Dealy’s Inventions, complete with illustrations (I still have it—how sad is that). It was all go from there and I was writing short stories after that for school, my earliest at 12, “An LSD Trip as I Imagine It”. I make no comment on that except that I have older brothers. I still have the story and can only say that it’s hysterical. I wrote short stories through high school and college, but following college I moved to the UK and life took off.

After returning to the US some years later I began to tell stories with the harp. It was mostly old Celtic myths and tales and I’d play music that fit and played at festivals, schools, etc. I really got into the selkie myths by doing this and my first novel idea was born. It framed the selkie myth into a story set in 19th century Alaska. Not quite fantasy and not quite historical fiction. Somewhere in between. It was published in 2012 by a small trad press.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

I’m a fairly structured writer, probably from my years of researching and writing history. I write a plot summary first and then a chapter summary, to guide me as I write, though I have been known to go wildly off piste. That started when I was working full time and would write on my breaks and lunch hour. I still give myself a general goal of words per week when I am in novel mode that can range anywhere from 5- 10,000 words a week. Over the years I’ve found it’s important physically and mentally to spread out the writing and have other things fill the day as well. I work better if I have time to play music or paint as well as walk in the day (besides boring things like fixing meals, cleaning, washing).

What made you decide to self-publish Awakening the Gods as opposed to traditional publishing?

I left my small trad publisher in 2014 after a frustrating experience. Besides the attitude, I found that I had far more success marketing my novels and was better placed to tweak and modify marketing approaches in the face of an ever-changing situation online, not to mention create covers that I love with my designer. I didn’t look back and have enjoyed the freedom that I have and am lucky to have built up a small group of authors to alpha read for me and give solid feedback, so that I can be confident about my work.

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

It impressed me because of its transparency, something rare for a literary competition, and the fact that those reviewing and judging the books do it because they love the genre. Mark Lawrence’s involvement was the clincher, though. I’d read his books and used them in the teen book clubs I ran in the US and Ireland which were huge in getting the lads to bridge that reading chasm from kid to adult and continue reading.

For those that haven’t read Awakening The Gods, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a fantasy that weaves in Irish gods in a modern Irish setting in which Saoirse, a failed barista and top trad musician, is compelled by circumstances to go to West Cork to be with her newly discovered grandmother. There she finds that her grandmother claims to be a god and Saoirse isn’t who she thought she was, either. Everyone she meets, especially the brooding blacksmith Smithy, and the events that start to happen, take on a whole new meaning as she learns to understand the reasons behind them, the danger that’s threatening, and what she is being called to do.

What was your initial inspiration for Awakening The Gods? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

I would say that where I live was the original inspiration for the novel. Living here in Ireland you can’t help but feel the myths and legends that have shaped the people, culture and even the land. The Tuatha de Danann legends are present in the mountains nearby and the foothills, the ancient ruins, (fairy) forts, wells and local lore. I shaped my own idea of the gods and wanted to put them in a modern setting so I could bring the gods to the present and reflect how they still live on in subtle ways in the community. In some ways it’s been shaping in my head for years, since I arrived, and was constantly discovering yet another site linked to my favorite myths. But I also knew I wanted to create a story that showed the Irish music and the colorful context in which it thrives, as well as the banter and craic.

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?

Ah, they're all quirky in their way. Saoirse, the FMC, dresses a kind of mash-up of boho and urban funk. Her failure to carve out a career and even sustain a basic job, though she has a prestigious degree, is a reflection of her disinterest in the corporate ladder and her passion for Irish music. Her unabashed love for traditional Irish music means she abhors any posers who turn up to sessions.

Smithy is moody, occasionally impatient, and at one point becomes self-absorbed with his failures and what he can’t do. Still, it doesn’t take away from the appeal of his incredible wit, his love of a wry joke, and his joy when the magic flows, making his smithcraft come to life (at least to me J).

How many books have you planned for the series?

I have published all three of the books in the series, the last one just in April. I’m toying with a spin-off or two, but haven’t decided yet.

Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book?

My cover designer is the fabulous Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Designs. We work together trading off on ideas and concepts, usually. I knew for this book I wanted a forest scene because it would represent the idea that Saoirse doesn’t know who she is, kind of lost in the forest, or can’t see the forest for the trees. Also, forests appear in the story in a few cases. And the light represents her acquired knowledge, her awakening, like the dawn. Initially I had a young woman at the front of it (you might find that rendition on Goodreads) but I decided that though a figure might be traditional in urban fantasy, my book wasn’t the usual urban fantasy with action and a straightforward writing style, it was more literary with a quirky writing style and more moderate pace. So I took the woman off and had the figures removed for the other two covers (we did all three at the same time, since I already knew the full story in my head).

Would you say that Awakening The Gods follows tropes or kicks them?

I would say that the book walks alongside a trope or two. There is a clear foe and the group must triumph over the foe or the land and the Tuatha de Danann will face dire consequences. At the end of this book it’s clear that there is a quest element shaping up for the next book. As for the romance element, you could say that it’s a second chance romance in the strangest possible way.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?

Since I work from chapter summaries and outline I have a fairly good idea before I actually start about the plot arc and pacing and whether it will work, so that my first draft is usually pretty solid. I go back and edit and spell check it and when I’m satisfied I send it to my alpha group for structural and other types of input. When all those changes are done I send it off to my editor. Though I have done stints in both structural and line editing I know better than to edit my own work, so I definitely have an editor.

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s your publishing schedule for 2022/2023?

Since I just published the third in this series, right now I am filling my head with various stories while I play around with the harp, guitar and fiddle. It’s a germination period for me. I have several ideas for more stories of Irish gods, a novel set in Medieval Ireland, an addition to my series set in Tudor Scotland and a contemporary novel set in America all of which have loads of music in them and most a hint of fantasy. I’ll let the gods decide. J

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

I just want to thank Lukasz of the Fantasy Book Critic for his thoughtful comments on the book and for selecting it as one of the semi-finalists. Also a big thanks to Mark Lawrence for the whole SPFBO. I’ve enjoyed it as a process this year, as well as adding many books to my TBR pile and getting to know some great authors.


Playwright said...

I loved Kristin's book The Holy Woman of the Bees, one of her earliest published, which takes the folk legend of St Gobnait [a West Cork saint] and builds a detailed, sympathetic narrative around it. I wish her every success with Awakening the Gods and will be reading it this weekend!

Playwright said...

In my previouscomment, I gave the book 'In Praise of the Bees' the wrong title! If you're looking for it, look for this title!


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