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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

SPFBO Finalist Interview: T.A. Hernandez (author of Tethered Spirits)


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: T. A. Hernandez is a science fiction and fantasy author and a long-time fan of speculative fiction. She grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings many years ago and is now happily engaged in an exciting and lifelong quest to tell captivating stories.


She is a clinical social worker and the proud mother of two girls. She also enjoys drawing, reading, graphic design, playing video games, and making happy memories with her family and friends.

Publisher: Sanita Street Publishing (December 14, 2021) Page Count: 554 Cover art: T.A. Hernandez


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

Thanks so much for having me! My name is Tanni (sounds like Tanner), and I live in Southern Utah where I get to enjoy the heat and sunshine about 80% of the year. I’ve always been a very creative person at heart. I love to write, but I also love making art and doing other creative projects. 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

I’m fortunate to have a day job that I really love. I’m a therapist working at an agency that primarily serves youth in foster care and youth who have been adopted out of foster care, along with their families. It’s challenging work but also very rewarding. Right now I just work part time, which allows me to balance the day job with parenting, writing, and other creative pursuits.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?

Tolkien was probably my first major influence. I was just absolutely enamoured with Middle Earth and all the characters in Lord of the Rings when I first read it, and that was what really got me interested in writing my own stories. Lloyd Alexander and Diana Wynne Jones were other early influences. I also really love Neil Gaiman’s writing. I’m always impressed by his character work and the way he evokes emotion in his stories without being over-the-top. 

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

My writing style is straightforward, very clear and to the point, but I try to put a lot of nuance in some of the themes and ideas that are explored. My books are all vastly different at first glance, but a common thread between all of them is an emphasis on characters and the complexities of character relationships. 

What made you decide to self-publish Tethered Spirits as opposed to traditional publishing?

For a while, I thought I might try submitting Tethered Spirits to agents and traditional publishers, but as I got deeper into writing it and finishing it up, that idea was less appealing to me. This is a book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time and it’s very special to me in a lot of way, so a part of me selfishly wanted to keep control and feared having to make big changes at the request of a publisher. I had also self-published several other books before Tethered Spirits (four novels, a picture book, and a collection of microfiction), and with each one, I learned something that helped me do better with the next book. I felt like I was finally starting to get the hang of this self-publishing thing and that Tethered Spirits had the potential to be more successful than my previous books, so I just decided to go for it.

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

It’s accessible. Anyone can write a book and publish it. That often seems to be a criticism that’s leveled at self-publishing, and I’m not saying everyone should just write a book and throw it up on Amazon immediately. But there are some significant barriers to traditional publishing, and especially when we look at how that impacts marginalized authors and the stories they have to share, the accessibility of self-publishing can be a definite advantage.

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on?

Marketing is always the first thing that comes to mind, but I suppose that’s not a guaranteed advantage in traditional publishing, either. I do still think it’s worth pointing out, though. Those big publishers have entire, well-trained teams devoted to marketing the books they release, and like many indie authors, I’m just one woman without a clue stumbling through the process as I go. It’s been a challenge.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

I first heard about the competition a few years ago and it seemed like a great opportunity for indie fantasy authors to share their books. It was free, and I’d just published a fantasy book, so I figured why not enter? That was in 2020, and I had a lot of fun connecting with other authors and going through the process with them throughout the contest. My book reached semifinalist status before it got cut, and I saw a little bit of an uptick in sales, reviews, and general interes from that alone, so all in all it was a good experience. Upon releasing Tethered Spirits at the end of 2021, I knew immediately that I wanted to enter it in the next SPFBO, just for the fun of it, so that’s exactly what I did.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO?

First I’d probably cry. And laugh. Maybe throw on some celebratory music and break into song. After that, I don’t know. It’s genuinely so difficult to even imagine that outcome at this point that I have no idea. I’m still just trying to process the fact that I’m a finalist.

How would you describe the plot of Tethered Spirits if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Three strangers' paths intertwine as they seek to unravel a magical mystery involving a curse, immortality, and ancient haunted ruins.

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

I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for so long that it’s hard to even remember all the initial inspirations for it. The characters came first, way back in 2007 or something when I was still in high school. Howl’s Moving Castle, His Dark Materials, and the Chrono Crusade anime were some early inspirations behind the characters. Most of them were supposed to be the main characters of their own books, but I quickly found ways to tie their stories together and began writing down some ideas and pieces of scenes. I never got around to actually writing a draft, though. There were a few years after high school where I stopped writing entirely due to challenges in my personal life, and then I wrote some other things. In 2016, I finally started a draft of the book that would eventually become Tethered Spirits. I made it about 75% through that first draft before I had to accept that I simply didn’t have the skill to pull off the story the way I wanted to. So I shelved it, wrote some other books, decided to self-publish those, and finally got back to Tethered Spirits in 2019. All that time, it had really been weighing on my heart, a story begging to be told. It’s been more than a decade in the making and I’m very proud of how it’s turned out.

If you had to describe it in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Exploratory, enchanting, heartfelt.

Is it part of the series or a standalone? If series, how many books have you planned for it?

Tethered Spirits is the first book in a planned trilogy, so there are two more to come. The sequel, Revenant Prince, is already in the works.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Tethered Spirits’ protagonists/antagonists?

Tethered Spirits follows three point of view characters who are each on their own personal journeys, but their paths intertwine pretty quickly once the story begins. The first character we follow is Amar, who’s been cursed with a unique form of immortality that allows him to come back to life each time he dies. However, he loses all memories of his prior life whenever that happens. When we first meet him, he’s looking for a way to bring back his memories and understand what’s happening to him. Then there’s Kesari, a girl who traded half her remaining lifespan to form a Bond with a magical being, which allows her to use magic herself. She’s terrified of her magic and refuses to use it, so she’s looking for a way to break her Bond and get rid of that power altogether. Finally, there’s our antagonist, Aleida, an orphaned young woman who is  hunting Amar and his companions because she believes his immortality could save her brother from a fatal illness.

How did you select the names of your characters?

When I’m writing something like Tethered Spirits that has characters from different countries and cultures in this fantasy world, I want all the names from a specific place to have a sense of consistency. Sometimes I start out with names from real world languages and then alter them a little from there. I pick out names I like, and then I might play around with different letters and sounds until I land on something that fits the character.

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

It does have magic. Magic users are called Tarja, and most of the time, they’re born with the ability to channel altma, which is the energy used to perform magical feats. If a natural-born Tarja dies prematurely, the altma connected to their soul keeps their spirit tied to the physical world. Eventually the spirit will fade away, but they might instead choose to form a Bond with a living person. In that case, the living person and the spirit they Bond with would share the same life, which means that the living person’s remaining lifespan is essentially halved. This allows the living person to become a Tarja and use magic themselves. Two of our main characters, Kesari and Aleida, became Tarja through this method.

 Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Tethered Spirits and the artist?

I actually made the cover myself. I know that’s not usually advisable for most authors, but when I first started publishing, I didn’t have money to pay a cover designer, so I just learned to do everything myself. I’ve always enjoyed art and graphic design, so it was fun for me, and I like being in control of the final product. The idea for this cover started with me wanting to incorporate all three main characters somehow. There’s a lot of symbolism in it, with the lotus flower in the center representing Amar, the lightning bolt representing Aleida, and the flame shapes around the edges representing Kesari. The blue color and the glowing orbs floating around are representative of the spirits in the story and the magic system, and then I threw the diamond shape in there to bring it all together and carry across the series.

Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

I guess I wish people would ask what my favorite scene in the book is. There are a few, and without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that I really like some of the scenes that take place in Shavhalla, an ancient cursed city the characters visit toward the end of the book. The spooky atmosphere and descriptions were really fun to write, and there’s a lot of important stuff that happens there to tie together the pieces we’ve been collecting throughout the rest of the story.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2021/2022?

I’m still hard at work on the sequel to Tethered Spirits, which is called Revenant Prince. That should be done and ready for publication in early 2023. I don’t have a specific release date yet, but I should be making that announcement hopefully in the very near future.

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.

Thanks again so much for giving me this opportunity to share a little more about my writing. If any readers out there do decide to pick up Tethered Spirits, thank you for your support, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.



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