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by Harmony Todd August 14, 2021
In 2020 we released the literary candle Avilésor in collaboration with author Sara A. Noë. The candle smells like a mystical forest inspired by Noë's supernatural world she created for her fantasy series, Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms. Last week I (virtually) sat down with Sara to learn more about her journey as an artist and author.
- Harmony Todd
I’m an author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. Sharing my work with the world is the single most terrifying and rewarding risk I’ve ever taken. I’m always daydreaming, and I love being able to bring my imagination to life and share it with others.
My poems, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been featured in a variety of publications, including Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans, Northwest Indiana Literary Journal, Voices Literary Journal, the Indiana Poetry Archives, and Flying Island Literary Journal, among others.
The first two novels in my supernatural fantasy series, Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms, both won the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020, and I’m currently working on Book #3 in the series.
Some kids know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. But becoming a writer wasn’t even on my radar until the eighth grade when I wrote my first novella, Flight of Faith.
The following year, I completed my first full-length high fantasy novel, Shadow Rider, but I didn’t start to seriously think about publishing until a few years later in my senior year of high school.
I credit a few exceptional teachers who infected me with the writing bug, especially in seventh grade when I was inspired to write the novella, and then as a junior and senior when my English teacher pushed me far outside of my comfort zone but made me become much more serious about writing.
I made the mistake of trusting someone I thought was my mentor to help me publish Shadow Rider, but when the relationship went south, I fell. Hard. I shelved the project, although I do still intend to return to it and publish the novel someday.
I had already started the Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series as a college freshman, and I threw myself into the project after the failure with Shadow Rider. I worked on the series throughout my entire college career and a few years beyond.
While writing, I took inspiration from a variety of television shows, books, and movies I’d enjoyed when I was younger, and I pulled just about every element I love in a good story – character psychology, the thrill of a hunt, captor-hostage relationships, betrayal, found families, fantasy worldbuilding, conflicted villains and less-than-perfect protagonists, experimentation, supernatural battles, et cetera.
But what happened surprised me – I put a lot more of myself into the books than I’d realized. I battled some depression during those years, even though I was in denial about it about the time.
A lot of my personal struggles manifested in the story. Cato’s difficulty finding his place in the world was very much an echo of my own insecurity as I pursued a college degree for a career that I knew wouldn’t make me happy, and his two divine powers became a direct reflection of my depression. Some days, I felt cold, exhausted, emotionless, and numb. Other days, I just wanted to scream.
Writing was therapeutic. It wasn’t always a healthy habit when I would work long hours into the night and survive on very little sleep, but I needed to get it all out of my head and onto the page. I suppose that’s why Cato and I have a complicated relationship – he was my therapy, but he’s also a reflection of a darker time in my life.
This strategy came with pros and cons. On the plus side, I wrote most of the series all as one big project and then divided the books at natural breaks, which means I know exactly how the story will end and I’ve slipped in subtle foreshadowing and references that tie together throughout the books. Fans who reread the series will be able to pick up on details they wouldn’t have noticed the first time that allude to events later in the series.
But, on the negative side, I was essentially left with hundreds of scenes that needed to be ordered and stitched together, like a puzzle. Sometimes, scenes didn’t fit into the plot flow and had to be deleted or completely reworked. Connecting all of the pieces can be a major challenge when I’m trying to create a smooth transition between scenes that were written at different times.
Once the hard work of writing and editing was done, publishing was an entirely different challenge. Creatives put their hearts and souls into their work, and it’s terrifying to open yourself up to criticism and bad reviews.
I was blessed to have the first novel receive so much praise, but that put a lot more pressure on me to make sure the second book lived up to the reputation set by its predecessor. Now, I’m facing that same challenge with Book III.
3. The second book in the series was released in 2020, how many books do you think will be in the series?
Seven books are planned for the War of the Realms, which is a subseries of the Chronicles of Avilésor. The first six books will take place in chronological order, and then the seventh will be a prequel featuring eight stories, each narrated by one of the Alpha subjects in their early lives before captivity.
The rest of the chronicles, however, won’t stop there. I have a few spinoff ideas that will take place within the fictional world of Avilésor but will feature different time periods and characters. There are many different directions I could take this — the sky really is the limit.
4. Several of your readers have been inspired to create fan art, how does that make you feel as an author?
It’s an incredible feeling! I do my best to paint vivid images in a reader’s mind, and it’s fun to see how fans imagined the characters and the world that I’ve built. I love seeing fan art as well as #bookstagram features that show there’s a community building around this series.
5. You are also an artist and photographer; can you tell us more about those projects?
My artist genes definitely came from my paternal grandma and maternal grandpa. I spent a lot of time drawing with them a kid. Grayscale is my preference, and my primary mediums are pencil and charcoal. I currently have artwork displayed on light pole banners in downtown Michigan City.
One of my dreams when I published was to create my own book covers, and that’s just what I did. I used my artist’s eye and the Photoshop skills I’d learned from my days studying landscape architecture in college to create my covers and other supplemental graphics.
Recently, I expanded my art into the digital realm of clothing, merchandise, and apparel designs based on the book series. Fans can shop Project Alpha gear and designs featuring Kit and Axel from the books through my online Spring store.
Photography wasn’t a hobby I took very seriously until reluctantly joining my high school photography club under pressure from a friend, where I realized I had a natural eye for it. While I’ve done some commissioned weddings and senior portraits, I’m happier when I’m free to simply wander outside shooting landscapes and wildlife with my DSLR.
In 2018, my photograph “Aftermath” was published on the cover of Voices Literary Journal. And then in 2019, “Spiraling” won the Best Still Life Award at a juried gallery exhibit. I’ve displayed and sold both my artwork and my photography at various events.
But the successful writers are the ones that do.
Spend time developing your craft. Join a writing group, if you can. Having a support system is a great asset, and you should always be networking.
Read a lot. Write a lot.
And when someone knocks you down – and they will – take a moment to catch your breath, sit up, dust yourself off, wipe away the blood and tears, and stand back up when you’re ready.
Perseverance pays off. There’s no feeling in the world like the very first time you hold your own book in your hands.
by Harmony Todd May 28, 2021