Hey all! Recently I was lucky enough to do an interview with my cousin Elaine Bassier, who happens to be a crazy-talented YA Fantasy author. We talked about everything from resources for self-published authors to unicorn mating habits! For loads of writing tips, helpful websites, answers to burning fan questions, and some very tantalizing hints about the two remaining books in her trilogy, please keep reading!
ATHF: Hi, Elaine! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview! Before we get started, please tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your books!
Elaine Bassier: I’m the youngest of five siblings. I was born and raised in Elko, Nevada, and I’m going to go ahead and answer the two most frequent follow-up questions I get when people hear that. 1) No, it’s not near Las Vegas (Elko is in the northeastern part of the state) and 2) Yes, it does snow there. I now live in Spokane, Washington. 1) No, it’s not near Seattle (it’s in the eastern part of the state) and 2) No, it’s not always rainy here.
I’m left-handed (and, fun fact, so is Arianna!). I’m an introvert. I love animals. I have a Golden Retriever named Ruby. I’ve never owned a horse, but I took riding lessons on and off growing up and it’s a dream of mine to one day have a few.
I like to write Young Adult fantasy. My debut novel, Knight’s Duty, is the first book in the Unicorn Knight trilogy. It tells the story of a young woman named Arianna, who longs to be a Unicorn Knight. When she comes across a unicorn who lost her knight and learns she has strange magical powers, Arianna and the unicorn agree to partner together. Under the tutelage of her knight-master Flynn, Arianna’s training as a warrior and magic user begin.
ATHF: I read on Goodreads that you started writing The Unicorn Knight trilogy when you were just 12 years old! That’s so amazing, that the story has been with you since childhood. Are there any details that have remained the same from first concept all the way through to the finished product?
EB: This is a great question! I sadly lost the very first draft of the story when our family computer crashed, so I don’t remember a lot of details about it. I so wish I could look at it again! It’s changed quite a bit since I first started.
The one thing that has remained more or less constant since the beginning, though, is the characters. Arianna has always been the protagonist and she’s always looked the same. She’s always been partnered with a unicorn (though initially it was a male unicorn that became Ronan in later drafts instead of the female Serissa). Most of the other characters have kept their names and personalities, too.
ATHF: Is there anything that totally changed from the way you originally imagined it?
EB: The biggest change I remember from the first draft to the published edition is that Arianna was originally a princess trying to reclaim her throne. Obviously, the plot has changed a ton since that initial idea.
The magic system changed pretty drastically from draft to draft as well. It started with humans having the “traditional” fantasy magic. Then it slowly evolved into the concept of the Magickers, where only magical creatures and a few humans have special powers.
ATHF: I really love how you handled the world-building in Knight’s Duty. You wove the details of setting and culture seamlessly throughout the story, rather than telling it all in a big info dump. Do you have any world-building advice for aspiring fantasy authors?
EB: Thank you so much! That’s so kind of you to say. World-building can be a challenge, especially in fantasy books, because most of the time you are literally creating the entire universe your characters inhabit.
I’m lucky because I love learning about mythology and studying other religions, especially ones with a pantheon of gods. One thing I’d recommend to other writers is to really think about the organization of the world. What form of government does the country have? What is the most popular religion?
My world and the country of Failyn really came together once I developed the idea of the Magickers. Each country has more of one [type of] Magicker than the rest, which then influences a lot of the culture of the area.
Figuring out all of this stuff means you’ll know a lot of details that may or may not end up in your books, but that’s okay. The more you know about your world, the more realistic it becomes in your own mind. That familiarity will come across in your writing, even if you’re not sharing specific details.
ATHF: That is great advice! Do you have any tips for writers in general, regardless of what genre they’re working in?
EB: There’s the obvious one (and one I need to follow myself at the moment!): Write! Whatever you’re writing, just keep going!
I also really like the advice from an author I’ll paraphrase here: Write what YOU want to write. For a very long time, you’re going to be the only one reading your work, so make sure you love it. And don’t think your story is too niche – someone out there, probably several someones, is waiting to discover a book just like yours.
ATHF: In the acknowledgements of Knight’s Duty, you mentioned your friends on Wattpad. For those who don’t know, can you tell us about Wattpad? What exactly is it, and how did it impact your journey to publication?
EB: Wattpad is a website where people can post any kind of writing for other people to view for free. Fanfiction is very popular there, but there is also original fiction and even non-fiction and poetry. The quality of the writing and the grammar can vary wildly, but everyone can find something they like.
With that being said, Wattpad is very popular among teens, which is why I chose to first post Knight’s Duty on it. I wanted to build an audience with people in my target demographic.
One particularly awesome feature on Wattpad is the ability to interact with your readers. People can comment on a single line from the text and you can reply. I loved reading people’s reactions to exciting moments in the book and having discussions with them about where they think the story is going.
I will admit that I think Wattpad works better for people who write fanfiction, or post earlier drafts and even things they don’t ever plan on publishing. However, I’ve made a few good friends there who were the first fans of my work outside of my family and that means a lot to me.
ATHF: I think your book cover is beautiful! The silver and blue tones make me think of the unicorns’ coats. Please tell us a little bit about your cover. Who is the artist and how did you find her/him? Did you already have an image in mind for your cover before approaching the artist? What did it feel like, seeing your finished cover for the first time?
EB: Thank you so much! I love all three of the covers I have for the Unicorn Knight trilogy, but the first is my favorite. My cover artist is R.L. Sather, and I found her on an awesome website called SelfPubBookCovers.com. It has hundreds of covers, each one is unique, and once you buy one, the website won’t sell it to anyone else. It also lets you customize the font and title.
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted the cover to look like when I first started trying to find one. I looked at similar book covers to get an idea of what’s popular in the genre. I highly recommend other authors do the same, by the way: we might say not to judge a book by its cover, but the biggest deciding factor in whether someone will consider reading your book or not is the cover. You want to make sure you’re attracting the right readers.
Looking through the options on SelfPubBookCovers.com, I found what would eventually become the covers for Book 2 and Book 3. However, I couldn’t find a third cover that fit with the other two. I wanted all three to have a similar look so people would know they were part of the same series. So, I contacted the artist who did the other two covers and commissioned a custom piece, which ended up becoming Book 1’s cover. The entire process was a whole lot of fun, and it ended up being the push I needed to actually start the publishing process.
Seeing my cover at every stage – when I first bought it and looked at the finished product, when it was posted online on various websites, and especially seeing the paperback version – was incredible. It made the whole process feel real to me and it was so cool to see something that I had created that looked like an actual book.
ATHF: Sounds like an amazing ending to an incredible journey! Going back to the beginning of that journey, do you have a favorite author, and/or someone who really influenced your writing?
EB: One of my favorite authors is Tamora Pierce. I think anyone who has read her earlier work and my own book will see how she has influenced me. She’s also a Young Adult fantasy author and she’s known for creating strong female characters. If you haven’t read any of her books, I recommend starting with Alanna: The First Adventure.
ATHF: Are there any books, websites, or other resources you’d recommend for authors thinking of self-publishing?
EB: Other than SelfPubBookCovers.com, which I mentioned above, I also encourage aspiring self-publishers to check out Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP. You’re most likely going to publish on Amazon (and maybe other places) once you do publish, and that website has a bunch of resources, including a community where you can talk with other authors.
ATHF: Now that you’ve survived the process of publishing your first book, what is the most important thing you learned from the experience? Is there anything you’ll do differently the second time around?
EB: I wish I had decided to publish sooner! Seriously, I held off on putting my work out in the world for a long time because I was so afraid of what people might think of it and of me. It was a huge hurdle to get over, but once I did, I was astounded by the support I received from everyone, including people I hadn’t had contact with in years. It’s been a dream come true!
ATHF: I’m so glad to hear that :)! Getting back to Knight’s Duty, I will admit to being a hopeless romantic, so of course I noticed a spark of something brewing between Arianna and Flynn. I’m not asking for a definite answer to “will they or won’t they?”, but is there at least a chance of romance between these two in the next installment? Or maybe Book 3?
EB: I’ll keep this one brief because I don’t want to give anything away, but I think readers will be pleased with what happens between Arianna and Flynn in the future. 😉
ATHF: Any possibility for *unicorn* romance on the horizon? Are they romantic creatures, or are they more practical about that sort of thing?
EB: This is a really interesting question and I’m not sure anyone has ever asked me about it before. I don’t want to go into detail for fear of having written myself into a corner later on, but I will say that unicorns don’t magically appear fully formed. They are mammals and have young in the same way normal mammals would. I don’t have any plans to include a romance between unicorns in the trilogy, but I could definitely see myself writing a short story or something in the future about it to explain everything now that you’ve brought it up!
ATHF: LOL! Speaking of creatures, the alphyns were my favorite ones in Knight’s Duty. Were these an original creation of yours, or did they come from somewhere in mythology? Will they appear in Book 2?
EB: Thanks so much! I loved coming up with the magical creatures and what kind of powers they have. It was one of my favorite parts of writing this story.
The alphyns are not an original creation, although my interpretation of them adds some uniqueness. For example, the alphyns in lore are not associated with concealing or tracking magic like the ones in my book are.
I knew early on that I wanted a wolf-like magical creature because I love wolves/dogs. I stumbled across the alphyn while looking up mythical creatures online (I can’t seem to find the website where I first read about them now), and decided I liked the name. It’s actually a Germanic word that means “wolf.”
I think there are fewer mentions of alphyns in book two than there were in the first book, unfortunately, but you will get more of them in the third one!
ATHF: Awesome! When can we expect Book 2, btw? Is there a release date scheduled?
EB: Yes! I’m planning on publishing Knight’s Honor on May 1, 2019! I’m hoping to do something a little different this time and have both the ebook and the paperback available on the same day. (With Knight’s Duty, I published the ebook first and then the paperback about a month later.)
For those of you who just can’t wait or who might like a preview, the first several (unpolished) chapters are on Wattpad. There will be some changes to the Wattpad version compared to the one that’s actually published, but the overall plot will remain the same.
ATHF: Any tantalizing Book 2 tidbits you can tease us with (don’t give TOO much away!)?
EB: Knight’s Honor has always been my favorite book in the trilogy for several reasons. The action amps up and the characters and their relationships deepen. Plus, you finally get to meet the main villain of the trilogy, and he is both frightening and fascinating. I can’t wait to hear what readers will think of the second book!
ATHF: It sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it! But since I can’t get the book just yet, and since we’re still doing an interview, is there a question I didn’t ask that you wish I had? If so, what is it and how would you answer?
EB: This might fit in the question about websites you asked above, but I’d like to talk about naming characters, since it’s a fun thing to work on especially with fantasy writing. Many authors say they use baby name books to come up with names for their characters, and I’m no exception. I actually use a website called babynames.com to find names. It even has a handy “tips for writers” section that has my personal favorite advice when it comes to naming fantasy characters.
You probably want something that sounds unique and otherworldly for character names (not many fantasy stories have protagonists named Bob, after all), but I also encourage you to make sure your names are easy to pronounce. If a reader is stumbling over how to say a character’s name every time they come across it, it can create a frustrating experience.
ATHF: ROFL! That’s fantastic advice. (Also, I now have the urge to write an epic fantasy about someone named Bob Smith! ;)) On a slightly more serious note, I just want to say thank you again, Elaine, for taking the time to do this interview, and for sharing your writing gift with the world! We will all be looking forward to reading Knight’s Honor in just a few short days!
EB: Thank you so much!