As a huge fantasy fan, I’m especially pleased to welcome other worlds inventor and author Ella Stradling to our forum today. She’s here to talk with us about a unique fantasy vision and the first book in her Secrets of the Revealers series Revealing Rexa.
Tim Greaton: Ella, before we get into the discussion of writing and your book, we’d love to learn more about where you live and a little bit about your personal history?
Ella Stradling: Hi, Tim, and thank you for this opportunity to talk with you and the readers here on the forum. I was born and raised on the east coast of New South Wales, Australia. I grew up in a tiny three-bedroom house with my parents, four siblings and two Shetland sheepdogs. Every school holiday, we would pack up the family tent and head out on a road trip, so I managed to see most of the east coast as a child. We experienced all kinds of adventures, from breaking the ice on the dogs’ water in the morning when we camped in Canberra in mid-winter to spending a week exploring the coast from Sydney to Brisbane, camping in little rest areas in a collection of tiny two-man tents. After finishing high school I worked in a lingerie factory for two years. I graduated university with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in Classical Civilization in 1994 and eventually settled into a ten-year career as proof reader, designer and copy editor in a local print company, until motherhood became my full time job. I live with my partner of eleven years and we have three beautiful children aged ten, five and two.
Tim Greaton: As a fantasy writer, I know that you have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours developing the world your characters inhabit. How do you find time for that and all of life’s other responsibilities?
Ella Stradling: I’m embarrassed to say this, Tim, but my world has been around for over twenty years. The first draft and most of the world building were created back in the mid-1990s when I was in my early twenties. I used to attend a youth theatre company. My young friends would sit and brainstorm with me between stage calls and they were my first beta readers. Once life took over, it became a lot harder to find the time, and the manuscript sat on a shelf in my study for over ten years. Now that I have rediscovered my love of writing, I’m often frustrated by the constant distractions of family life: there are times when I might not get to press that silver button on the computer for a week or more. My eldest attends recreational gymnastics classes one hour per week, so I bring my laptop and write while I wait. Some weeks it’s the only writing I get to do. I also take the laptop into the loungeroom and tap away while the kids play around me.
Tim Greaton: I’ve heard that all great works are built on the shoulders of our predecessors. What books or authors have inspired you and why?
Ella Stradling: There are so many. I have a library that fills three walls of my study (the computers are on the fourth). I read Tolkien at age twelve. I loved David Eddings and Raymond E Feist. I own all of Anne McCaffrey’s work (yes I mean all, she takes up eight feet of shelf space in my library). But there is one author who takes my breath away and I snatch up every book as soon as I find it. Her name is Sheri S. Tepper, famous for her “True Game” series aimed at young adults and a collection of stand-alone adult sci-fi novels. She is a master of speculative fiction and her worlds are incredible works of art. She is able to build a complete society and then add a twist that blows your mind. I only wish I possessed the sheer power of intellect that shines through in her books.
Tim Greaton: Most writers are usually also verbal storytellers. Could you tell us a favorite story you discuss when you’re hanging out with friends and family?
Ella Stradling: My Grandfather (Poppa) was a great storyteller. When missionaries knocked, he would often invite them in and surprise them by quoting the Bible in Hebrew. He was also full of stories from our family history. Most of those stories have stayed with me all these years. I love telling people that my family supplied forty of the ships that William the Conqueror used to invade England. I also love discussing the ancient castles that my ancestors once owned all along the Welsh Marches. One day, I hope to visit them so I can add personal experience to some of those tales.
Tim Greaton: It sounds like you come from a fascinating lineage. What’s your favorite detail about your family tree?
Ella Stradling: I am most intrigued by one long-ago family member who killed the king and ruled England for three years in the fourteenth century. I hope to use that story in one of my future projects, a series of historical novellas.
Tim Greaton: Who has been your biggest fan and motivator, and do you think of her/him when you’re writing your stories?
Ella Stradling: I would be lying if I did not say my biggest fan is my mum. Even all those years ago when this story was first growing in my teenage mind, she was supportive and always eager to read my work. She still does but is never shy about calling me out when something in a story doesn’t work or needs clarification. She is also a great sounding board and resource when I can’t get a scene to work. It was my mum that pointed out the importance of cause and effect. She taught me that when my characters do something amazing, I need to consider how it impacts them and their world and how they will go about regaining equilibrium afterward.
Tim Greaton: Fantasy is a notoriously difficult genre to write, because it requires you not only to develop a story but also a whole new world, creatures and even rules of magic. What about this story or genre made you willing to tackle that much work?
Ella Stradling: I don’t consider it work, Tim. Fantasy is fun! You have complete license to do whatever you want and nobody can tell you you’re wrong. There are no historical facts to get right, apart from your own world history. You have total freedom to develop your characters and your world any way you want. As long as your continuity holds and your people and plots are believable, you have free reign. It’s pure imagination! That said, I think it’s important to pay attention to logic. Even a story of complete imagination still has to make sense. The biggest lesson I have learned is that my readers cannot see what is in my head, so I can’t assume that they will always understand what I’m talking about.
Tim Greaton: But don’t you worry about what some authors refer to as info-dump?
Ella Stradling: For me, it’s about building background and backstory organically without lecturing the reader. I’ve learned that you can build backstories without slowing down the current story. In short, I try not to indulge in purple prose. That’s the tricky part.
Tim Greaton: And for those readers who don’t understand the term “purple prose”?
Ella Stradling: Purple prose usually means extravagant, ornate or flowery language…but an expanded definition might be bloated or swollen description or information. For instance, I might say “Jane wore the dress her mother had sewn for her,” but I would probably not try to add that “her mother had been sewing dressings for thirty-five years and had once sewn a leather dress with red fringes for the Princess of Never No Mind, who also happened to be the niece of so and so….” To say her mother had sewn the dress is a brief organic detail that doesn’t require all the rest. Too much information and backstory can really weigh a story down.
Tim Greaton: I have the inside scoop about Miyam from Revealing Rexa, but could you tell our readers a little about your protagonist and what makes her such a memorable character?
Ella Stradling: Miyam is a young woman with a troubled past. Once she was a novice in the College of the Art, the home of the revealers, a society of elite psychic detectives who use stealth and highly refined psychic power to sniff out information for their clients. She was removed from the college against her will when her mother was killed and had to build a new life with a father she hardly knew in the outside world. Miyam narrates the story of Princess Nettayna and Prince Atwin as she joins them on their quest to find the king’s amulet and save the life of the Queen. But beneath that adventure is Miyam’s personal journey to find herself. Along the way she regains her strength, falls in love and eventually is given the chance to return to the life she loved and lost. She is a very human character with no illusions and nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Miyam is a character I hope readers will relate with. For me, her story resonates with a gentle message of hope.
Tim Greaton: There is a strong moral theme that runs through your novel. Could you tell us how that theme impacts your characters?
Ella Stradling: You know, I really never thought about it like that, but you are right. My four main characters all struggle with a future not of their choosing. The lesson for each of them is to discover their true path and embrace it wholeheartedly. In the case of my narrator, there is an additional message: to never give up on your dream. In a way, I relate most to her because I gave up on my writing dreams for a long time; it takes a lot of courage to keep at it even when all odds seem against you. There is a darker moral, too, a running theme throughout the entire series. It involves the non-human race, the kalkar, who we first perceive as creatures of nightmares, but they slowly emerge as a thinking, feeling, sentient race with a rich history and society of their own. Now that you have me thinking about it, I think there is a strong message of tolerance and respect for others within the story, a realization that we are all the same on the inside.
Tim Greaton: Of all the creatures and magical items in your world, which one would you want to appear in your living room or on your front yard tomorrow?
Ella Stradling: Let me think. There are two unusual creatures, one sentient non-human enemy and several magical items which are actually technological anomalies from a sci-fi past, of which my characters (and readers) are unaware. I would not want a kalkar to appear in my front yard for fear it would burn my baby fruit trees. I would love to meet Gliss, the winged unicorn from the story, but she would only appear if I were a virgin princess!
Tim Greaton: I’m not going to go there, Ella.
*She gives me a mischievous grin*
Tim Greaton: So which character or creature—that would be willing to visit you—would you invite to our world?
I think tree spirit Leshma would be the most fun. My narrator describes him as a “dwarf-like gnomy creature” who constantly “sniggles” at everyone. He managed to keep the lost King’s amulet on a shelf of trinkets above his bed for 800 years. I’d like him to help me retrieve all my lost treasures.
Tim Greaton: I haven’t heard much from you over the past few months. Could you tell us the title and a little about the book that has kept you from socializing with your usually irresistible friends?
*My turn to grin*
Ella Stradling: I just finished the very book we have been discussing. Revealing Rexa is a fantasy adventure with a touch of romance. The first half of the manuscript made it to the top 50 (top 1%) of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2011. Now longer, this 80,000-word novel is for anyone from late teens and up. It’s a unique fantasy in that there are no Tolkeinesc fantasy creatures, just one non-human race of my own invention (we’ve talked about the kalkar already) who stand sizzling and smoking while they absorb solar energy in the daylight and move only at night, burning everything in their path. While the human queen lies dying, with the only way to save her life being to reunite the ancient souls of King Rexa and his queen, both of whom are embedded in a pair of amulets, the enemy strives to prevent the return of the king’s amulet because of their racial memory of a long-ago defeat at the hands of those two spirits. My narrator and her lover, a talented revealer, lead the search for the missing amulet but that quest is secondary to the growth the four main characters undergo as they accept and move toward their predestined paths: the princess must surrender her innocence to grow into her new role; the prince is called to rekindle a lost power; the revealer, hardened by grief and self-doubt, must learn to open his heart; and Miyam must reconcile her past and rediscover her lost destiny. Together they all find friendship, love and purpose along the way.
Tim Greaton: Do you plan a sequel or is your book part of a series?
Ella Stradling: Yes there is a sequel. The second half of that original contest manuscript is titled Awakening Sand and is currently in final development. I’m hoping it will be ready for e-book release before Christmas, which would mean the paperback would be in stores by early next year. A direct continuation of the Revealing Rexa story, Awakening Sand follows a theme that is only hinted at in the first book. I can say a kidnapping is at the core. I also have a third book in the Secrets of the Revealers series in the early planning stage. I think other sequels and at least one prequel are likely.
Tim Greaton: It would be great if you could share your website/blogsite and links to where our audience could directly purchase your books.
Ella Stradling: Thanks Tim, I would love to see some more visitors to my humble little website at:
There, readers can find excerpts from Revealing Rexa and Awakening Sand as well as character biographies and sketches. There are also links to my Facebook and Twitter pages. The bookstore page contains links to the books for purchase and soon I will be selling directly from my site.
Tim Greaton: Thanks for taking the time with me today, Ella. I feel certain that many fantasy fans are already heading over to your site or are looking up your titles at the nearest online bookstore.
Ella Stradling: Thanks again, Tim. Your forum is a wonderful place for authors and readers to get together. I appreciate all of your efforts here and elsewhere.