Featured Artist Friday: Heather Sutherlin

Today I am pleased to introduce you all to fellow Clean Indie Fantasy Author: Heather Sutherlin! Heather has just recently released the third book in her Light Book series, and we’re here to help her celebrate today!

 

First a little bit about Heather’s newest book:

Light_Within_flatMerrilyn should be living her happily ever after. She’s rescued the prince, saved a small army, found her long-lost grandmother, and defeated Keardun, god of shadows, all in one summer. Her long journey has taken her from the tiny village she’s always known out into wild and incredible lands, convincing her that the world is a much bigger and brighter place than she ever imagined. But all of that won’t keep away the darkness that is spreading within her own heart. 

When Keardun returns, threatening to destroy everything she loves, Merrilyn decides to face her enemy again, this time by surrendering. She’ll face death, darkness, fear, and fire, but she won’t sit back and watch him tear her world apart. Racing north to the Borderlands, she must get to the place “untouched by light” before the winter solstice. With the help of new allies and old friends, Merrilyn will cross through the darkest parts of the world and face new enemies determined to stop her. But without The Light to guide her, the only way to survive will be to find the light within. 

1. When and why did you start writing?

I think I have always been a writer. I remember writing stories as a kid and wanting to write my first book in fourth grade. But, I never really thought I could actually BE a writer. Writers weren’t real people, were they? All the writer’s I loved most were old or dead. It honestly never occurred to me to think of writing as a career. So, I became a teacher, a mother, and filled my life with books. Then, in 2012, my family went through a failed adoption. It was deeply painful and my husband worried I would slip into a severe depression. So, he suggested it was time I took out the books I’d written in secret, polish them up, and self-publish them. We took a calendar and carved out 40 hours a week for me to focus on writing and editing my books. We invested $1200 in my new endeavor (all of which went to my editor) and that year an author was born. I published two books and have published two every year since then. To be honest, the fact that I never expected any of this to happen makes every milestone all the more special in my eyes.

2. Why did you choose to write in this genre?

I write fantasy because it allows me to shape a story without the rules of our own world interfering. But really, when I think of it, I believe fantasy is compelling for another reason, a deeper reason. It allows me to reach for something that I think we all secretly wish for and that is the unknown, the mysterious, the unseen. How often as a child I remember thinking, “There MUST be magic here…or something.” Those moments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, the feeling that something wild and wonderful is about to happen and you wait with your breath held tight inside you for something that never arrives. THAT is why I write fantasy. 

C.S. Lewis said it best, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I’m writing to reach that other world and to bring a little of it back here for us all to ponder and explore.

3. What are your fondest writing memories?

As a kid, I remember writing in the woods, perched atop giant slabs of limestone that jutted out from the hillside. From there I imagined all sorts of adventures and I’d scribble furiously in my notebooks. Those stories were all for me, never shared with anyone. 

As an adult, I found myself doing that again, writing late at night to escape my not so very pretty life. I’d wait until the kids were all sound asleep and then sneak off to the computer to type up a wild adventure in a world far away where nothing so boring as dirty diapers and filthy toilets could interfere with my character’s journey. Those nights were a tiny light during months of depression, a hope that life still held adventure. 

Now, years later with kids nearly grown, my life is very different and so are my writing experiences. I no longer hide my writing. I sit at the computer whenever I want and type away. Now, I even get to travel to exciting places and write them into my stories. Last month my husband and I went to Charleston and explored the historic part of the city. It was an adventure and I couldn’t wait to write it! My mind was full of story ideas brought on by the cobblestone streets, the incessant bells ringing from the tall churches on every corner, the sea and its ships, the overgrown graveyards with their mossy obelisks and faded headstones. We would walk every morning and then I would sit down and write all afternoon and late into the night. I think the next few books will all have traces of that trip embedded in their settings and stories. 

4. What inspires you to write?

I think I am easily inspired. I have pages and pages of novel ideas, so many that I’ll never be able to write them all! But there are three basic things that headshotinspire me:

+ Dreams. ALL of my books so far have been inspired by dreams. I have very vivid movie-like dreams that feel as though I am following a main character through whatever insane thing is happening to them at the moment. I feel their emotions intensely, I see vivid details and colors of each scene, I hear their thoughts and dialogue even if it doesn’t make sense to me. When I dream like that, I’ve learned to write it all down the minute I wake up before it disappears into faded memory. The ones I can’t stop thinking about become novels. You can read about the dream that led to my very first book on my website HERE.

+Forests. I love trees. I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something nearly magical about being in a forest. The way the light filters through the branches overhead, the sound of leaves rustling even when you can’t feel the wind, shadows in the distance, the stillness in the midst of so much life…it all makes me feel like something mysterious is going to happen any minute. My brain feels more alive and I see story in everything around me. If I could have a perfect writing place, it would definitely be in the middle of a forest.

+The Bible. I know this surprises most people, but hear me out. Have you ever read the Bible? It is so full of wild, fantastic story that it takes my breath away. Drama, mysterious events, unseen forces, creation and destruction, kingdoms toppling, desire, war, the list goes on and on. It’s an amazing book. But then, you add to it the idea that some believe it is all true? Wow. Really. Just think about it. What if it was all true? There’s some wild stuff in this book! Fortune-telling, people rising up from the dead, angels, demons, spirits, teleportation, that is just a tiny, tiny list! And all of it inspires me to write. You can read more about why the Bible inspires me to write fantasy HERE.

That is cool, Heather. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a story from a dream before, but I feel the same way about forests. And the Bible is truly inspiring, in many ways. As one who believes it is the ultimate standard of truth and the inspired Word of God, I also get a lot of my inspiration from its pages.

5. What is the hardest thing about writing?

I used to think it was editing, but the hardest thing about writing is allowing yourself to feel the pain of your characters. I realized earlier this year that I was avoiding certain scenes, certain characters, because I didn’t want to feel what they were feeling. I glossed over their pain, their heartbreak, their fear. I rushed on to tell the next part of the story because I didn’t want to sit with them through those tough emotions. That was a hard reality and it felt like a deeper lesson for me in general, a glimpse into how often I avoid feeling anything unpleasant, hurrying on to the next activity in avoidance. Funny how life seeps into the story.

6. Describe your ideal place to write.

My dream writing cave would be a little cabin in the middle of a forest with big picture windows so I can stare out at the light filtering through the trees. It would have a fireplace or wood stove for cold winter days and a big comfy couch with a bookcase full of good books to read when I need some literary inspiration. 

I think you and I would get along just fine, Heather! Forests, cabins, fantasy… 

7. What do you do when you’re NOT writing? (hobbies, things you do for fun, your day-job, etc?

I love to cook! I am a culinary school drop out and my absolute favorite thing in the world is to cook for a crowd. I hate baking desserts, but a five course gourmet dinner party is a thrill! My husband and I both work from home and we homeschool our three kids, so we are together all the time. We’ve made a habit of eating dinner together at the dining table every night. My kids tease me that every meal is always gourmet. I remember my husband used to beg me to make something normal like Hamburger Helper or Sloppy Joes. Ha! They’re used to it now, but I’m afraid I’ve ruined them. God bless the girl who marries my son. She’s inheriting a boy with very high expectations at the dinner table.

8. Are you working on anything new, and would you be willing to tell us about it?

I am! I have a YA paranormal coming out next year that is about a 17 year old run away who meets a 19 year old carnival magician who warns her she’s being stalked by demons. It’s a bit of a thriller compared to my other work and I’m excited to see how the world responds to it. Watch for it later next year. Meanwhile, I’m working on the next book in The Light Series, The City of Light. I hope to have it in reader’s hands by summer. It’s got some big surprises in it and I think readers will be excited to see what happens next in Merrilyn’s story.

And now for a bit of a lighter set of questions:

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean. You can ask anyone, I’m crazy particular. Don’t try to scam me with Homemade Vanilla or French Vanilla. And yes, I’m dying to get my hands on a carton of Blue Bell after waiting nearly six months for it. I’m hoping for a Christmas miracle.

Favorite season? Why?

Fall. I love walking in the forest during the fall when everything is changing and feels a little more mysterious. Fall is my best writing season, too.

The best pizza you’ve ever had was from….?

A tiny, family owned pizza place in Windham, Maine. They made this pesto pizza with feta and sundried tomatoes that makes me weak in the knees. All the best pizza I’ve ever eaten was in Maine. 

How many siblings do you have?

I have two, a brother and a sister. I’m the oldest.

Storms: awesome or terrifying?

Awesome…as long as I’m safe and dry inside.

Thank you for coming by for an interview and taking part in Featured Artist Fridays, Heather! One final thing, would you be willing to share an excerpt from your latest book?

Absolutely! Here is a small scene from the first chapter of The Light Within.

Sunlight streamed through the trees on the bank of the river, its glow sparkling on the water like molten gold. As the light caught each mote of dust, the air seemed to swell with magic, drifting, swaying, shimmering beneath the trees. A gentle breeze blew through the branches above, casting their blossoms into the air and spreading their sweet scent through the center of the party. Merrilyn stood in the center of the crowd, smiling up at Justan. Her hair was twisted up in a silver cascade that glistened in the bright sunlight. Her dress was elaborate, expensive lace over a pale blue rean brought all the way from Zinder, a gift from Justan for his bride.  Lifting her skirts, Merrilyn danced beneath a shower of pink petals. She laughed and Justan joined her, their joy spilling over to the guests around them. 

Pulling her into his arms, he led her twirling and spinning across the green spring grass. “Now our life together can truly begin.  Today you’ve made all of Nomar smile and every household in all the land will be celebrating along with us.”

Merrilyn glanced across the lawn at her grandmother Benetina and her dear friend Aileena. The two women stood watching the couple and clapping with joy, their eyes glistening with happy tears. 

This is bliss, she thought.

Justan spun her out away from him and she laughed. Throwing herself into the motion, she hurtled toward the edge of the river. The music faded, its last notes a haunting sound as they drifted away. The sunshine and laughter were gone and so were the wedding guests. She stood alone facing the cold, dark river. Thick fog rolled across its surface toward her, and as it climbed the bank, she felt a sense of foreboding swell within her chest. It grew into panic as the fog billowed at her feet. A chill spread down Merri’s arms and she shivered. She turned to run. An icy hand on her arm pulled her to a stop and she froze, too afraid to move.

She could feel him there, behind her, his body moving ever closer to hers. She knew he would be smiling that awful, tempting smile that made her stomach clench. His lips moved against her ear and she gasped.  

He laughed.  The sound raised goosebumps on her arms but he smoothed them away, rubbing his hands down her arms until they tingled at his touch. 

“Celebrating already, hmmm? You really should have waited for me.”

She could hear the smile in his voice and forced herself not to picture his face.

“You don’t have to fight against it, Merrilyn.  Simply turn around.  I’m right here.  Look upon me if you will.  Who will know?  We both know you won’t tell anyone.  You never do.”

She felt the tears then, threatening to drown her again.

“Why can’t I just be happy,” she asked.  “I should be allowed to be happy for a little while.”

“But you have been happy, my dear,” his voice purred.  

Surrounded by the night, she couldn’t see him, but she could picture clearly the seductive smile that came with his words.  

“Yes, you’ve been very happy here with your prince,” he said.  The air took on a frosty chill. Merrilyn shivered again.

“But now…we move on.”

Pushing against him, Merrilyn fought to free herself. He laughed as Merrilyn jerked hard against his grip. He let go and Merrilyn fell to the floor, wrapped tightly in her sheets.  

She stared around her, gasping for air. The smooth stone floor was cold against her bare legs. The drapes were drawn over the window, but she could see that it was morning by the faint light seeping in around its edges. The bed towered over her, its canopy the same faded blue it had been the first day she’d ever seen it as a little girl wandering the castle with her new playmate, the young prince Justan. Now it was a bit worse for wear, especially with its bedding tangled in a heap and strewn about the floor – evidence of a night spent in twisted dreams.

Merrilyn ran a hand up the side of her flushed cheek, trailing her fingers into the mess of silver hair spread over her shoulder. Her heart was still racing, the chill of Keardun’s hands still tingling on her arms. Although, the more she calmed, the more she could see that it was genuinely cold in the room. It was autumn now and the stone walls of the castle held the chill like a tight fisted child with a sweet in its hand. 

She knew by heart the way Keardun twisted reality, making it almost impossible to tell the truth from the fantasy. Although it had been months since he’d invaded her sleep, she remembered well how each dream felt more real than the last until at the end she found herself standing in front of the Dream Stealer himself. Rubbing her hands over the lingering goosebumps on her chilled arms, she wondered if he’d really been there, holding her, or if it had all been her imagination conjuring up the enemy of her past.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Nightmares, princes, Stealers of Dreams… it all sounds quite thrilling! Also, I am already partial to this Justan character, as I have a Justan of my own in the Minstrel’s Song series!

Thank you for allowing me to chat on and on about myself. I hope you’ll all enjoy a good read this weekend and maybe you’ll start a new adventure with A Light in the Darkness. It’s FREE!

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You can find out more about Heather over on her website.

~ jenelle

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