Today I have the pleasure of chatting with Michelle Horst, Author of Vaalbara: Visions & Shadows, released on September 29th, 2011. Michelle writes for Precious Gems Publishing and this is just the beginning for a fantastic person and brilliant writer. Michelle is one of the first writers I’ve ever met. and I’m privileged to call her a friend.
Before we hear from Michelle, here’s a brief synopsis of Vaalbara: Visions & Shadows:
Aislinn blushes, stutters, and is famous for her sarcasm. In other words, she’s a typical teenage girl. Although normal, Aislinn holds a truly fantastical secret, and has spent her whole life wondering why she has been plagued by the frightening dreams that feel so realistic, she can barely breathe at times.
When a new student named Ryan comes to school, this handsome stranger sparks feelings in Aislinn she never even knew she had. As Ryan continues to follow her around, Aislinn begins to notice some odd quirks about the ‘new guy.’ He speaks as if he’s from another time, and the stories he tells have Aislinn completely confused. Soon, teenage life goes out the window when Aislinn uncovers the fact that her dreams are quite real, and that her name is really Alchera. When Ryan reveals that he is Raighne, her guardian sent to bring her back home, Aislinn’s true destiny begins.
Stepping through a waterfall, Alchera soon finds herself in Vaalbara, her homeland, where she quickly learns that she must retrieve Ten Chosen Ones from Earth. The immortals onVaalbara must train this long lost girl, while she has to accept a warrior sister; a sibling who’s being used by the Angels; and, a Mother and Father who are complete and utter strangers.
With her beloved Raighne by her side, Alchera must contend with Adeth – a monstrous immortal who will do anything to make sure the ‘Ten Chosen Ones’ do not survive. And Carter – Adeth’s only son – who goes from torturer to confidant in the blink of an eye.
While Alchera fights the strange forces of the shadows growing within her own heart, she must complete her destiny, stay away from the Land of Shadows, and try with all her might to determine who she’ll spend eternity beside: Raighne, who she loves with her whole heart; or, Carter, the man who knows about the nightmares eating away at her soul.
Hi, Michelle. I’m glad to have you for a little while. For openers, tell us about yourself.
Me? (Gulp) I live in a wonderland of dreams. Really. No matter whether I’m busy with my everyday chores, or out with friends, my head is always in the clouds and my mind is writing up a storm. The loves of my life are, of course, my husband, my son and my God, but I cannot go a day without writing; it’s more precious than the air I breathe. I love music, reading and watching every movie I can get my hands on. Other artists work inspire me, as well.
Nature – the softness of my heart. I find myself surrounded by animals and dear ole’ Mother Earth every blessed day. I live in the cozy town of Alberton, South Africa and might not have any degrees to boast, but as a retired Business Banker I could not ask for more than to be able to write every day. Please don’t think of me as ancient, or have the ability to be retired – I’m everything but!
I’d like to think of myself as a positive go-getter, who, once I’ve set my heart on achieving something, I do my best to realize that goal. Getting VAALBARA: Visions and Shadowspublished and out there, was my biggest dream. And with the help of my editor and close friend, Amy Lignor, that dream came true. Now it’s onto the next dream.
What writer or writers inspire you?
Ooh…there are so many! The fiction writers who I enjoy reading are: Amy Lignor, Simone Elkeles, Sarah Dressen, L.J. Smith, and Stephenie Meyer, to name a few. But the ones who inspire me are few and far in between. “127 Hours” by Aron Ralston; “The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz; Nicholas Sparks (who I feel writes with a passion that few still have); and, J.R.R. Tolkien – the master of all. Tolkien opened my eyes to a different world, where he showed us all how a humble soul could destroy the greatest evil of all.
When you finish a book, what effect does the completed work have on you? Is it relief, or is it a subject and theme that lingers on in your mind?
The book lingers, or should I say – it stays with me every day. I am a bit relieved, but I have a great deal of pride for what I’ve accomplished. I’ll admit, I get emotional knowing there’s no more work to be done on all those pages, not another empty page to fill with their adventure, but that’s why I’ll start with my research for the next book so I can continue their adventure in the sequel.
I’m sure finished products affect each writer differently. Considering that, do you sometimes find an element in your last book that is something you may want to expand upon in the next volume, or in another title?
For now there is a trilogy in the works with Vaalbara. I’m not willing to let the characters’ journey end just yet. I throw my heart into a book, so I guess I always try and find a way to link it to another book. I have another book named, A Breathtaking Moment that is also in a ‘round-about-way’ linked to Vaalbara.
Here’s something I struggle with. When you write a story, what values do you adhere to? Do you sometimes want to break out and be chaotic? (e.g., not a happy ending?)
Values…I stick to my values at all times.
My most important value of all – I will use the odd emotional word (as I like to call it) in my book to bring across a statement, but under no circumstance will I use the Lord’s name in vain. I can never understand what people try to prove by doing so. I feel one can write a book without offending another’s religion or culture and gain many readers’ respect.
I like to be different in my writing. I use a lot of facts and will never write something I’m uncomfortable with. I find a book that heads straight for that ultimate ‘happy ending’ quite boring, so that’s the last thing you’ll find in mine. There will be chaos, there will be horror, and there will be heartache, so have your tissues handy!
How about characters? What method do you use to come up with character names and origins?
To create a character comes naturally to me. I know who he or she has to be, but giving them a name can sometimes be a pain. I like to search Irish names. I have a fondness for Ireland. (Sigh)
The names are very important to me and each one has a special meaning: Alchera ~ Dreamtime; Raighne ~ Kingly; Carter ~ Silence and Fierce; Alandra ~ Defender; Evin ~ Swift; Eamer ~ Guardian; Elora ~ God is light, just to name a few.
Okay, let’s talk about Vaalbara: Visions and Shadows. Tell us where the idea came from and how it all came together for you.
The word Alchera first got stuck in my head in 2000 when I paged through a dictionary that belonged to my brother and stumbled across it. The READER’S DIGEST Universal Dictionary, states its meaning as: Dreamtime.
To my son, this word was the end of his night terrors and the beginning of many a bedtime story, as it became the name of a tiny fairy hanging next to his bed. Alchera would take him to the stars and beyond to see where the stars were born, or to Neverland to play with Peter Pan. As time went by Alchera took us to her own land, one more beautiful than Earth. There we could see the waterfalls and the greenest hills and plains where we could run and play together. This land left us breathless and dreamy each and every night.
Alchera grew from a mere fairy hanging next to a bedside lamp into a teenage girl in the ten years it took my son to grow into the teenager he was becoming. Alchera and Sheldon grew so far apart she now no longer remembers him, nor how she came to be so preciously placed on page after page for all to see.
That was how Alchera was born, from the pages of a dictionary to the desperate imagination of a mother who needed to calm her son before bedtime.
Many months ago you told me about the origins of Alchera. That memory is still fresh. Do you mind sharing that with readers?
Alchera has a very fascinating story. As stated, ‘Alcheringa’ is an Aboriginal Australian word for ‘the Dreamtime.’ The one tale of the Aboriginals I respect very much is, of course, the tale of Alcheringa, and how they believe that during the mythical time of creation, the world and all living creatures were sung and dreamt into existence.
The Dreamtime is the Aboriginal understanding of the world, of it’s creation, and it’s great stories. The Dreamtime is the beginning of knowledge, from which came the laws of existence.
When writing Vaalbara: Visions and Shadows, did you just sit down and churn out the words, or work from an outline?
I just sit down and write. My husband likes to shake his head at me; he doesn’t know where it comes from. But you know, when it’s in you and you have a story that needs to be told, you don’t need an outline…it’s just there. And the blank page before me is another opportunity for me to spill my heart and dreams so that others can someday read and enjoy.
So, what’s the perfect writing environment for you?
No people around me, with my favorite music playing in the background. I prefer night to day – everything is so much serener with the world sleeping around me.
Is anything in your book based upon real life experiences, or is it purely imagination?
Ooh, the big question! Some of it is based on my life. I’m willing to say that everyone hasshadows to deal with. After I dealt with mine, Vaalbara came to life on paper, and with the help of an overactive imagination it became what you see today.
Why did I, for instance, make Alchera stutter when she was on Earth but not on Vaalbara? My husband stutters due to a car accident he was in. People tend to place those with a speech impediment in the ‘stupid’ segment, but on the contrary, my husband is a very successful businessman. The switch from Earth to Vaalbara was to show that Alchera was still the vibrant, fiery and talented girl she was – whether stuttering, or giving Raighne a piece of her mind.
What has been the toughest criticism directed toward you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Criticism: I joined a writers club called, YouWriteOn, where you upload a piece of your book and then get advice. The way my characters talk varies between Alchera’s slang and the Immortals ‘proper’ speech. This makes for some excitement in the book. (i.e.: Alchera says ‘don’t’ while Raighne says ‘do not.’) A specific person gave me a whole speech on how no one speaks that proper anymore, and how it will keep my book back. The way he critiqued the piece was very hurtful.
Best Compliment: The first time I met Amy Lignor! I was in the clouds and danced around the living room with my laptop. This also happened on the site of YouWriteOn. She told me my book held endless possibilities and how refreshing it was to read the short piece. I immediately emailed her my book to be edited and she was blown away after reading the whole manuscript. We’ve been joined at the hip ever since!
Do you write one specific genre?
No. Vaalbara borders on YA/Fantasy, but the other two I’m busy with are totally different. “I’ve Never Been to Me” is a YA/Drama; whereas ‘A Breathtaking Moment’ is Adult, due to the ‘thriller’ content it will hold.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Three golden rules: Believe in yourself and what you can achieve. Be honest with yourself. Be your own worst critic; don’t send your work out if you know it’s not your absolute best. Sometimes you can write a story but your grammar and spelling is not up to par. And don’t be scared to pay for a good editor to help you; the cheap ones will only keep you on a line and not do justice to all your hard work. And never give up after the first five rejection letters! If you believe your book is good then keep on trying. Some writers only managed to publish after twenty years.
What’s next for you?
Writing, dreaming, and then some more writing…
Vaalbara: The Land of Shadows is a sequel to Visions and Shadows and that’s what I’m busy with now. A lot was left unsaid in the first book and will be explained in the second; and new, exciting characters will come into play. It simply picks up the strands where the first left off. I, myself, must say The Land of Shadows is going to be the adventure and romance of a lifetime, as we follow different destinies and unravel secrets while trying to save Alchera from the ultimate shadows.
I also want to finish ‘A Breathtaking Moment’ and ‘I’ve Never Been to Me,’ but that is long-term and will keep me busy for the next two years.
Finally, tell us about relationship building as it pertains to marketing in this new era of e-publishing. For example, the importance of peer reviews and reader reviews, as well.
It’s very important to build relationships in the publishing world and with authors, alike. You can write a book, but without knowing the right person it will not get published and it will not be marketed.
I started out on Twitter and moved on to Facebook to create a small, but growing platform for myself. I was lucky to meet a group of talented authors there who have been cheering me along. Their guidance and reviews mean the world to me, and without their support my world would be a dull one. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dawn Kirby who was there to review each chapter as I wrote it. I enjoyed sharing the journey with her.
Amy Lignor is a relationship I will be thankful for every day. As my soulmate, editor and now publisher she has made my every dream come true, and if you want your book to be edited by the best you need not look any further than her golden touch.
Reader reviews are also very important. It means someone read my book and that is all I want. I want to share my story with the world. Without readers, a book is nothing more than unread words. It only comes to life once eyes are set upon it.
Thanks for chatting with me, Michelle.
Thank you for having me as a guest on your site, A.T. I wish you and our readers all the best of luck with any future endeavors.
Michelle’s, Vaalbara: Visions and Shadows is available at:
You can also connect with her at her website: http://www.michellehorst.com/
Editor, Amy Lignor: http://www.thewritecompanion.com/default.html
Facebook: Michelle Horst: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001886515409