Last week, we had the pleasure of interviewing the author of the Dragon Guardian series, Aida Jacobs! As lovers of all things dragons, we were excited to have the chance to talk with an author who shares our passion! Aida has been planning and fine-tuning her series for 15 years! That’s true dedication to the craft of story telling. Check out what she has to say about her work, the fantasy genre, and the self-publishing process!
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do or did your interest develop over time?
The desire to tell stories was always inside of me, I just didn’t know how to channel it at first. Ever since I was a little kid, I would always make up all these different characters and stories in my head. I could see them vividly in my mind, and I would flesh them out and play the stories out like a movie in my head, but I never did anything with them. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. I would simply chalk it all up to my overactive imagination, and just move on with my life, never telling a soul.
It wasn’t until around junior high that things began to change. I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I am utterly obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, and I have been ever since I was a little girl. The book made me cry, and when my parents took me to see the musical at the Pantages Theater, it (as Erik, the Phantom says) “opened up my mind, and let my fantasies unwind”. Before I really knew what I was doing, I sat down and began writing a sequel to the tragic story. Again, I had no plans for this story, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing at the time…I just knew that one way or another, I had to give poor Erik a happy ending.
My desire to tell stories went mostly dormant after that, and it wouldn’t awaken again until my Senior year of high school. I found myself in the situation of not having a math class during that year, so I took Creative Writing on a whim. At the end of each week, we would either have to turn in a new short story, or a collection of three poems. Well, back then, poetry was something I reserved for when I was depressed, and the idea of having to create a new story with an entirely new plot and cast of characters on a weekly basis terrified me, so I approached my teacher and proposed that I write a book over the course of the year, and turn in a chapter each week. She gave me a very enthusiastic “yes”, and thus began the writing of the very first draft of what would eventually become Dragon Guardian: Fire. It was during the course of that year that it finally clicked in my head that writing was what I truly wanted to do with my life, and so I spent the next fourteen years honing my skills and developing my voice as a writer.
In your bio, you talk about how you were hooked on the Fantasy genre from the moment your dad read you Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” What do you think it is about fantasy that appeals to so many people?
Fantasy allows people to truly escape the stress and mundane repetition of their daily lives because it’s completely different from everything we know. Fantasy has magic and creatures that don’t exist in our world; and for however long the reader is able to be engrossed within the story before real life comes knocking, they’re able to leave all their cynicism at the door and live vicariously through the characters as they journey and quest together.
What are some of your all-time favorite Fantasy novels or authors?
Tolkien will always have a special place in my heart for sparking my love of the genre, and The Hobbit will always be in my top three. R.A. Salvatore is a very close second, however. I simply LOVE Drizzt,
You’re working on a four-part series following Princess Marin Draconya, the Dragon Guardian, as she attempts to save her kingdom from becoming enslaved by dark elves. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for this project?
The earliest draft of the first book of the series was nothing like it is now. Marin and her story, as they are now, are both the product of fourteen years of tweeks and rewrites after being rejected by publisher after publisher. In the aftermath of every rejection (after the initial two-day period of wallowing in a pit of my own despair), I would revisit my manuscript and work on making it into something better…something more. In my attempt to make my characters and story stand out and entice publishers into taking a chance on me, characters were revamped, added, and some were taken out of the story completely. The character of Duncan was the one who underwent the most changes from his original version, but I can’t imagine him being any other way now.
In regards to actual inspiration for the core story, however, it came from a variety of different places. Writers get inspiration from everything around them, and I’m certainly no exception to this. Movies, anime, music, video games, and of course, the ever-present theme of good triumphing over incredible evil all played a part in the time-intensive development of Marin, her story, and the world of Primordya.
Strong female characters have become more prevalent in novels and movies lately. Can you tell us a little more about your heroine, Princess Marin?
Marin is a right, true badass. In each book, she grows stronger and more secure in her powers so she can fulfill her destiny of saving her kingdom, but she is by no means perfect. She’s actually quite flawed. She’s impatient, she’s short-tempered, she has virtually no filter when it comes to speaking her mind, she’s prone to bouts of both deep melancholy as well as nearly crippling anxiety, and she more often than not acts purely on impulse and instinct (case in point, when she jumps into the heat of battle from the back of a flying dragon). However, with all of that being said, Marin is loyal to a fault, she takes her hero’s journey very seriously, and she cares deeply for her friends, her people, and her kingdom. When she loves, it is with every ounce of her being, and she would willingly walk through the very fires of Hell if it meant saving someone.
What do you think is the most important part of a story? (characters, theme, setting etc)
While the theme is without a doubt of great importance, I believe it’s the characters that make or break a story. It’s the characters that keep a reader reading. Whether it’s the central protagonist, or one of the secondary or even tertiary characters, the reader is going to look for that one character with whom they can identify and live vicariously through. The reader is going to find that one character to deem their favorite, and they will cheer them on through all their victories and pitfalls.
This applies in a similar way to the villain of the piece. You can’t have your villain be blah. If your villain isn’t memorable, the end victory won’t have nearly as much meaning. The villain has to evoke a strong reaction from the readers just as much as the hero. Case in point, by the end of book 3, one of my readers really wanted my antagonist, Nahga, to meet with a very slow and painful end, while another reader was applauding Nahga for displaying new levels of wickedness.
Regardless of their vastly differing feelings about my central antagonist, both readers are looking forward to the final battle because of the way Marin and Nahga have each been building towards it on their individual sides of the playing field. Each character has grown and evolved over the course of the four books, and it will make things all the more exciting when it all finally comes to a head.
You self-published your series. How was the publishing process for you? Are there any tips you’d like to give writers who are looking to self publish?
The actual publishing process was easy as pie. Createspace (the platform I used) does all the “heavy lifting” when it comes to formatting and distribution. For me, the hard part is what comes after the book gets published. Being a self-published (or “indie”) author means that you are the one doing everything that an agent and publisher would be doing, and you’re doing it without the budgets and connections that agents and publishers have at their disposal. All the marketing falls to you, the writer. Any and all appearances and signings at conventions or bookstores are the result of your hustling and connection-making.
Suffice to say, it’s not easy. The best tip I can give for potential indie authors is to go into the situation with their eyes wide open, and to be prepared to invest a great deal of time and work into establishing an online presence so they can get both their name and word of their work out there.
It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
How do you handle rejection or negative reviews?
Wine and chocolate.
In all seriousness though, you’re not going to be able to please everyone. Even without trolls coming into play, sometimes, your work is just a miss with certain people, and they will either rate or review your work based on the degree of that miss. As difficult as it sometimes is to put into practice, the trick is to shake it off and keep moving forward.
How do you find your courage? A lot of new writers are scared of putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. What advice would you give to them?
Don’t be ruled by your fear.
Yes, this path I’ve chosen can be frustrating and even scary at times, but I wouldn’t trade being a writer for any other profession. At the end of the day, a writer is who I am, because it feels wrong to me not to write.
If you can’t stop writing, or can’t stop thinking about writing, then guess what? You’re a writer. Haters will be haters, and trolls will be trolls, and they will always be out there ready and waiting to pounce. Nothing will ever change that. They might seek to tear you down, but they can’t take the truth of who you are away from you; and if you know in your heart of hearts that you’re a writer, then that’s all that matters. All that’s needed from you is to take that first step. By all means, start small (especially if you’re inexperienced and haven’t done much writing). Write fanfiction, or write original stories just for yourself or for a clutch of close friends. Write what feels right to you and develop your voice and style until you finally feel ready to venture out of the wading pool and into the deep end.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on book 4 (Dragon Guardian: Earth) of my Primordyan Chronicles; and once it’s completed, it will wrap up the core story of my series.
After I finish book 4, I have plans for a few prequels and sequels that will focus on secondary characters. Originally, I had planned to end the series at book 4, but the more I fleshed out certain characters, the more I realized that they had their own stories that needed telling.