Author Interview: Elana McDougall

As promised, today marks the first of many author interviews to come. And I’m delighted to say that today’s interview is with the lovely Elana McDougall, author of the Eldritch of Hallows series–the first two of which I reviewed yesterday. I asked Elana a series of questions about her, her books, her advice to writers, and what she’s planning on doing this spooky season.

Hi, Gabriel! Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I have enjoyed talking with you on Twitter, and now, I’m enjoying reading your book. [Blogger’s Note: I’m popping in here to say I did NOT ask her to say that last part. LOL!]

Question 1: Tell us a little about yourself.

Answer: I’m a retired elementary school teacher—how cliched. I lived and taught in Grenada, West Indies, and in an Ojibwe village in northern Canada before I ended up living and working outside Toronto. Writing has been my escape from the pandemic. I began Hidden Magic about six years ago as a relief from writing report cards. I’d add something and leave it. When I retired, I figured I’d finish it. I adore animals and currently am owned by two dachshunds, a chihuahua, and two cats.

Q 2: What got you interested in writing?

A: I’ve been a voracious reader all my life–every genre. I always dreamed of being a writer; where artists see images, I hear words in my head, and as a child, I used to fall asleep telling myself stories.

Q 3: Where did the idea for the Eldritch of Hallows series come from?

A: I started writing a “Tolkien-style” epic with a village of magical exiles from a fantasy world with orcs and swordplay. I got more interested in the village and less in “the battle to destroy the ultimate evil and claim the throne” story. Why did the village exist? What sort of magical peoples were there, and how would the history of persecution affect them? There would be stresses. I began to imagine what it might be like to live there.

Q 4: Tell us about Hidden Magic.

A: A village full of magical beings is fun to write. You have statues that heckle at passersby and a Town Hall where the carvings move. Hallows couldn’t be a magical utopia of pale blonde elves. The Eldritch peoples would be as diverse as we are. There would be rivalries and trauma. What if a human found them? What would be the village’s reaction? And what if one of their people, the sheriff of all things, fell in love with her? Readers get to see Hallows emerge through her eyes. And I adore plot twists. I want readers to gasp. And you can’t have a romance without lots of hot sexy scenes. Jake is so strong and calm and Sasha so desperate to find safety and love after a traumatic childhood.

Q 5: Tell us about Scorched Earth Magic.

A: I want each book in The Eldritch of Hallows series to be different. Scorched Earth Magic started off as a simple magical spin on Romeo and Juliet–two lovers from rival mage covens. But I added a few surprises. I hinted in Hidden Magic that their romance didn’t end well. Julia hid herself away, and now she’s back, and oh. My. God—the passion, angst, and drama. I loved writing about Julia and Sebastian. Sebastian is a hot, arrogant, alpha male. And Julia is fiery and strong. I got to describe the mage clan and its rituals. Since it’s set around Samhain, the Celtic festival of the dead, that influenced the storyline. I introduced a renegade village and its very mysterious queen with eerie powers. And yes, plot twists and surprises. And steamy, spicy romance.

Q 6: What’s next in the series, and when can we expect to see it?

A: I’ve started Blood Moon Magic. This is Gwen’s story. She’s been described as full of bravado, but I want to reveal her vulnerable side. We’re looking at her backstory. What did she do in Boston five years ago that scandalized Hallows? And when it comes down to love for a human and love for Hallows, where are her loyalties? I’m pulling threads from the other two books. I keep referencing a civil war that nearly destroyed Hallows, but now we learn more. The protection spells that hide Hallows are designed to allow Eldritch in, but what about the descendants of those who fled Hallows in the aftermath of the civil war? What happens when they return? And what if they are evil? [Blogger’s Note: No ETA on this novel, but holy hells does it sound amazing.]

Q 7: What would you say to readers who were curious about reading your books?

A: My stories are designed to capture your imagination and transport you to a very different place. I’ve taken peoples of myth and legends and made them, and magic, believable. Like us, they struggle with their own prejudices about each other. Unlike us, it’s not about the color of their skin or their sexuality. I like that in Hallows, no one cares that a same-sex couple is having a child together. What drives the animosity is clan vs. clan. Which clan is the true, pure Eldritch? Mixed clan marriages are still frowned upon. Much of the conflict is rooted in their shared history of persecution at the hands of humans. Which clan suffered most during the Witch Hunts? How can a hidden community heal intergenerational trauma? How do the supernatural beings deal with the humans living among them whose ancestors tormented theirs? And always, they struggle with the fear of being discovered and having their gifts weaponized.

But most of all, I write romances between strong-willed characters.  You’re going to fall in love with them. They’re not perfect. There will be conflict and romance and tension. But I promise an epic finale and a happy-ever-after.

Q 8: What advice would you give writers who are just starting out?

A: Write your story. Take classes. I assumed creative writing classes were about generating ideas. No, they’re about the structures of the novel: point-of-view, story arcs, character development. I learned so much. Find people to read and comment on your story. That’s hard, I know. It’s like you’re offering a glimpse into your soul, but the right criticism helps make a better story.

Q 9: Who are some of your writing influences?

A: I grew up reading authors with intriguing plots and lovely prose: Mary Stewart, Enid Blyton, Alistair Maclean, Lloyd Alexander. It’s not enough to tell the story. The language has to sing, and you need to entertain your readers. You want to lure them through the story so that when it finishes, they’re both satisfied and sorry that it’s over.

Q 10: What are you currently reading?

A: I have a TBR list that is as long as my arm. I always have several books on the go. I just finished Louise Penny’s All the Devils are Here. I’m in the middle of Scott Thornley’s Vantage Point, which I haven’t finished because I was distracted by another novel, an erotic romance, The Orchid and The Lion, by a phenomenal writer, @GHargraveWrites. Very good. [Blogger’s Note: Her words, not mine. LOL! I’d actually forgotten she was reading my book when I asked this question.]

Q 11: What’s your writing set-up? (Include pics if you want!) What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

A: No way am I taking pictures of my set-up! My dining-room/writing room is littered with coffee cups, notepads, pens, and the remains of a plant I forgot to water! I start writing around ten in the morning after dealing with the dogs and checking the news and Twitter. (And sneaking a glance at my Kindle report to see how many books I’ve sold.) I like to write/edit for six hours. But I admit, when researching something for the novel, I end up going down a few rabbit holes. And since Sasha is a fantastic chef and runs a high-end restaurant in Hallows, I can happily spend hours planning an appropriate menu. If you like food, then this series is for you.

Q 12: There are a lot of different types of people (creatures?) in Eldritch. Which is your favorite to write and why?

A: You’d think it was the Fae, the elves/dwarves/brownies, but really, I love writing about the trolls. They represent the complicated nature of Hallows. Of all the Eldritch, during the Witch Hunts, they’ve suffered the most. With their huge, angularly massive bodies, they couldn’t pass as humans like the Kin and mages could. They resent those two clans as a result and self-segregate themselves. Humans captured them and forced them to fight animals and each other. Their long bones were used to make thrones for petty kings; their skulls became goblets. Even now, they hide their dead in burying pits high in the mountains.

At the same time, they stalked humans for food, and even now, they celebrate that hunt in the traditional Sumaatra March. Their leader bears the title Redcap to commemorate their habit of bathing their hats in human blood. Yet, they are also famous throughout the Eldritch sanctuaries as artists capable of extraordinary music, dance, and art.

Q 13: It’s the spooky season. What do you do to celebrate, if anything?

A: I wrote Scorched Earth Magic with Halloween in mind. As a teacher, I used to dress up as a witch and delighted in scaring my students. We’d carve pumpkins, and I’d bring in the seeds the next day so the ESL students could experience the season. Now I carve my own pumpkin and hand out candy on the driveway with a big glass of wine in my hand.

Q 14: What is your biggest writing goal?

A: Like every author, I’d like to see my books in more hands. I’m looking forward to seeing this series through, and I’m already mulling over a second series, potentially set in Maine, with a different sort of Eldritch sanctuary. But first I need to finish Blood Moon Magic. My biggest goal is probably to make sure I entertain all my readers.

Q 15: We met on Twitter. What would you say to aspiring writers who are shy about joining and/or interacting with people on social media?

A: I wish I had joined sooner. I have met so many wonderful, supportive authors, like you, on Twitter. I’ve learned so much. Even if you haven’t finished your book, join. Reach out to the #WritingCommunity. Ask questions, lots of them. Follow authors. Participate in conversations. And have faith in yourself.

Q 16: Anything else you want to add! This could be a fun story, something about your characters or books, other projects you’re interested in working on, pictures of your pets. Whatever you want.

A: I had just finished Hidden Magic and was getting ready to send it to an editor. You know the combination excitement and terror that engenders. I’d tentatively titled the story Haven because, at that time, that was the name of the village. It made sense: Haven~Sanctuary. That’s when I learned there was already a sci-fi/fantasy TV series called Haven. I had to spend the next day trying to find another suitable name and figure out the replace-all function of Word. And then I had to go through the entire story again to make sure I’d done it correctly. Which was when I twigged to the fact I had two characters with the initial ‘A’—Abby and Aggie. So, another pass-through to turn Aggie into Jesse.
But I didn’t realize until I started Scorched Earth Magic that my first two romantic couples had the initials S and J: Sebastian and Julia, Sasha and Jake. (Smack head.) So word of advice to new authors: keep a running list of all your characters, minor and major, which was how before I sent Scorched Earth Magic to the editor, I was able to deal with the two Larrys I had in the story.

I want to give a big THANK YOU to Elana McDougall. I couldn’t have asked for a better inaugural author interview. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

If you have any questions for Elana, feel free to leave them in the comments. Or you can tweet at her. She’s super sweet and doesn’t bite. I promise.

-Gabriel

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