Please welcome Emily B. Martin to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Woodwalker was published on May 17, 2016 (eBook) and will be published on June 14, 2016 (print) by Harper Voyager Impulse.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Emily: Thank you for having me!
I started writing in earnest in middle school. My best friend and I had an imaginary world, and we would write stories about our adventures in it and then swap them to read on the bus home (spoiler: we’re still best friends). At the time, we didn’t ever think about us creating a foundation for our future careers as authors—it was just something we did because we loved it. Now, of course, I realize how formative those experiences were—we learned how to build worlds, create characters, and craft story arcs just from practicing and sharing with each other. We now serve as each other’s beta readers.
Building on that experience, my writing expanded through high school and college and became a serious pursuit after I had kids.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Emily: I’m about 75% plotter and 25% pantser. Woodwalker has a pretty significant plot twist toward the end, and I had to be sure that everything I wrote would lead up to that, so I had all kinds of outlines, notes, and storyboards. In my current manuscript, though, things are a bit more vague. I knew where I was starting and ending, but the middle was pretty nebulous and only really coalesced once I stopped outlining and started writing.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Emily: Time, of course, but pretty much everyone says that, so I’ll supplement it with issue sensitivity. We’re entering a time when traditionally marginalized voices are finally receiving more attention—rightfully so. As such, writers must become more sensitive to how we portray and describe characters who are different from ourselves.
It can be upsetting to realize what I’ve written is potentially offensive. I’m not talking about my character swearing or having a gay couple—I mean things like cultural appropriation, racism, and ableism. I wanted Woodwalker to have a world that felt American, and in creating it, I pulled some inspiration from the Cherokee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I work seasonally. I realized too late, after copyedits were done, that I might not have been as sensitive as I should have been in borrowing place names and practices. I wish I had known more about cultural appropriation before I started, and I hope any potential readers I may offend will know that I’m trying to be more conscious and careful in my subsequent books. As frustrating as it can be for writers trying to write diversely, we have to remember that none of our frustration and challenges come close to those of the people who have been silenced for so long.
TQ: What has influenced/influences your writing?
Emily: The natural world. I’m a park ranger and avid hiker/backpacker, and nothing inspires me quite like being outside. Woodwalker doesn’t have any magic, but it’s rife with natural phenomena. Like I said above, I wanted the setting to reflect the American landscape, and a vast majority of the book is spent in a country channeling southern Appalachia, my home. I wanted to try to pull out and highlight the magic in our own world—again, I’m a park ranger, this is what I do—so everything Mae and her companions encounter or experience are real things, like fireflies that glow blue and songbirds that talk.
As far as authors go, Megan Whalen Turner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tamora Pierce have all played big roles in my writing. Music, too, always gets me thinking, particularly contemporary Celtic and folk artists like Flook, Kíla, Shooglenifty, Great Big Sea, and Alan Doyle.
TQ: Describe Woodwalker in 140 characters or less.
Emily: An exiled ranger is recruited by a queen-in-hiding to guide her through the treacherous mountains to reclaim her throne.
TQ: Tell us something about Woodwalker that is not found in the book description.
Emily: I drew the cover! I’m an illustrator as well as an author, and when my editor asked for my ideas for the cover, I sent him a few sketches. He picked one and we refined it into what it is now. I also drew the world map inside the cover, and I post tons of related sketches and artwork on my website and Facebook page. Art has been a big player in creating my world and characters.
TQ: What inspired you to write Woodwalker? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Emily: I was two years and two kids into being a stay-at-home mom, and I was starting to get cabin fever. I turned to writing to try to stay connected to my former non-mom self, typing out fantasy-adventure stories when I had the time for it. A few months after my second daughter was born, we went on our first hike as a family of four. Being back out in the woods after being homebound for so long opened up this flood of inspiration. I remember the exact trail we were on. I talked my husband’s ear off the whole time, bouncing ideas off him and hashing out key scenes. By the end of the hike, I had a pretty strong grasp on the plot and protagonist. That night, I opened up a Word document and starting laying down the story.
I have always been drawn to Fantasy. It’s limitless. Beyond just the magical element to it, it allows me to turn other aspects of our world on their heads, such as traditional gender expectations and stereotypes (more on that below).
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Woodwalker?
Emily: My favorite bit of research was talking with a woman I worked with at Great Smoky Mountains, who’s an incredible wildcrafter and knows all about medicinal plants and traditional Appalachian lifeways. She helped lay the foundation for Mae’s skills with plantlore and woodcraft. I also brought a notebook along with me on our family hikes, making notes on things like terrain, wildlife, fatigue, trail food, weather, etc. And then, of course, a ton of reading, on everything from freshwater pearl diving to historic battle tactics. Oh! And PBS documentaries. PBS is the best.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Emily: The easiest and most fun was Mae, the protagonist—I got to channel my love for adventure and past experiences through her. Though I did have to be careful, in certain places, to get her inner dialogue just right (but that’s a plot point I can’t give away).
Mona, the exiled queen, was difficult sometimes, because she’s very particular and fussy, and I ultimately needed her to be a likable character. Sometimes I think she comes off as a bit too persnickety, but I think the end point of her character arc resolves some of those issues.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Woodwalker?
Emily: One social issue I chose to include by not including it is sexism and traditional gender roles. In Mae’s world, there is no stratification by gender. That’s not to say it’s not a stratified society—there’s certainly a spectrum of nobility and common folk, but gender doesn’t play into it. Women have every opportunity to attempt and achieve the same things as men. Women can be rulers without the need for a spouse, unless they want one. Birth control is readily available, with no stigma attached. Women as soldiers, foresters, politicians, and solo travelers are so normal it’s beyond comment. Any separation of the sexes is a product of preference and free choice.
This was really born out of my own frustration with traditional gender constructs in our world and in fantasy literature. I wanted to write a female character who was special because of her skills, not because she was female. I wanted her to stand out from other men and women because of how capable she was and how well she met the challenges of the story. I told a lot of my friends I wanted “girl Aragorn where nobody cares she’s a girl.”
This issue comes into play more in subsequent novels, where we see women making significant decisions and playing roles that are fairly uncommon in our society, such as passing on matriarchal surnames and acting as high-ranking religious leaders (in the sense of a bishop or pope). Over the course of this series, we’ll see a spectrum of female characters—highly-skilled, capable women; clumsy, inconsequential women; and everything in between.
TQ: Which question about Woodwalker do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Emily: Hm, maybe—what is the best advice you received about the publishing process?
And I would say—you’re not out to sell a million books in a day; you’re out to sell a few books every day for the rest of your life. Hearing that from a fellow author not only put things in perspective for me, it got rid of so much stress. I think we like to cling to this notion of “overnight success,” telling ourselves that if we can only get that one big break, we’ll be golden. But not only is that not true, it’s a sure way to lead to disappointment and disillusionment. I want to build my author brand and my following not in a few months, but over the rest of my life. I want to still be writing books forty years down the line. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Rearranging my perspective around that philosophy has helped me not stress my stats and let go of release day fears.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Woodwalker.
Emily: Mae has a go-to mantra, which she repeats several times throughout the story: “One crisis at a time.”
TQ: What's next?
Emily: Woodwalker has two companion novels. The second is currently with my editor, and I’m banging my head against the wall with some plot snarls in the third. I have a sketchy outline for the next series I’d like to attempt… something about a sword-and-buckler- wielding lady outlaw in a Lord of the Rings-style Wild West… it, uh, makes sense in my head.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Emily: Thank you very much! Thanks for helping promote debut authors.
TQ: It's a pleasure!
Harper Voyager Impulse, May 17, 2016
eBook, 336 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, June 14 , 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
“What on earth would I gain from that?” I asked him. “Risk my own neck by violating my banishment just to leave you? The sentence placed on me if I return is execution. If I’m entering the mountains again, I’d damn well better get something out of it.”
Exiled from the Silverwood and the people she loves, Mae has few illusions about ever returning to her home. But when she comes across three out-of-place strangers in her wanderings, she finds herself contemplating the unthinkable: risking death to help a deposed queen regain her throne.
And if anyone can help Mona Alastaire of Lumen Lake, it is a former Woodwalker—a ranger whose very being is intimately tied to the woods they are sworn to protect. Mae was once one of the best, and despite the potential of every tree limb to become the gibbet she’s hung from, she not only feels a duty to aide Mona and her brothers, but also to walk beneath her beloved trees once more.
A grand quest in the tradition of great epic fantasies, filled with adventure and the sharp wit—and tongue—of a unique hero, Woodwalker is the perfect novel to start your own journey into the realm of magical fiction.
Park ranger by summer, stay-at-home mom the rest of the year, Emily B. Martin is also a freelance artist and illustrator. An avid hiker and explorer, her experiences as a ranger helped inform the character of Mae and the world of Woodwalker. When not patrolling places like Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, or Philmont Scout Ranch, she lives in South Carolina with her husband, Will, and two daughters, Lucy and Amelia.