As you already know, I have dived deep into the epic Drowning Empire series by S.M. Gaither this month . . . and what a wonderful adventure it has been! I have fallen in love with this author's writing and enjoyed every page of rooting for her characters through their many perils. I'm very excited to be featuring her this month, and doubly-excited that she agreed to an interview!
I hope all of you will enjoy getting to know S.M. Gaither a little bit more. And don't miss the exciting giveaway opportunity (featured at the end of this post).
I’m so glad you could make time for this interview! I know you’re busy gearing up for the launch of your brand new series, but I appreciate you taking the time to stop and talk about The Drowning Empire for a few minutes with me.
So I just finished reading book 1 . . . and I’m full of questions! But I also don’t want to spoil anything for myself, so I’m going to try to steer clear of spoiler territory.
1. First of all, I’d love to hear a little bit about YOU as an author. How did you get into writing? Has epic fantasy always been your true love, or have you dabbled in other genres?
Gaither: Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me! I’m honored to be here! Now, to answer your questions…
For almost as far back as I can remember, I was ‘that kid with the notebook’ in school. Said notebook was always full of hastily scribbled (terrible, emo) poetry, song lyrics (until I realized I couldn’t sing lol), and snippets of unfinished stories and conversations that some of my created characters would carry on in my mind (pro tip: if you write down what the voices in your head are saying, you’re not ‘crazy’, you’re a ‘writer’).
But I came into writing as a career kicking and screaming ;)
I changed my major about a thousand times in college, trying to avoid English/Creative Writing—I even majored in Spanish at one point. And no, I don’t speak a word of Spanish.
I was afraid to actually call myself ‘a writer’—and to complete a book—for a very long time. Then one day, after a conversation with one of my professors who remains a dear friend to this day, I realized that even when I was actively trying to a writing career, I was still daydreaming about such a career. I decided that very day that I would stop dreaming and start doing, and I completed my first book eight months later.
As for genre, epic fantasy was always my favorite thing to read growing up. I devoured the works of Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley, etc… And I would brainstorm and create similar worlds and characters, but the thought of actually writing an epic fantasy tome was so daunting! Perhaps because I had looked up to the aforementioned writers and been in awe of their worlds and such for so long, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of story justice. It was just another one of those fears I had to hoist myself up and over. While I was getting over it, I dabbled in science fiction and urban fantasy. But my focus lately has been almost exclusively on epic fantasy, and I’m so much happier writing it than any other genre—even on the frightening and hard days!
2. This series seems to have shades of Atlantis to it, but the blood magic and the sky barrier all feels unique, and of the course the characters and their journeys are totally original. What was the inspiration for this epic trilogy? Did you start with a concept or a character?
Gaither: It’s always difficult to pinpoint the exact catalyst of a specific story. I’ve always been fascinated with the legend of Atlantis, though, and when I started Sky Keeper I felt like I was finally ready to try my hand at epic fantasy—so I decided to brainstorm what Atlantis might look like from that angle. From there it was a combination of images I collected (I love using Pinterest to create story ‘mood boards’), and songs I listened to (all of my serious writing projects have massive playlists on Spotify) on repeat until scenes from the story started to play out in my mind.
3. I loved your heroine, Aven. I love that she’s introduced as this capable young woman ready and willing to fulfill her role . . . then ends up driven by circumstances into a path she never intended but now cannot ignore. Was she an easy character for you to write and love, or did she give you any trouble in her development?
Gaither: The toughest thing about Aven was finding the balance between her active and what some might consider passive traits. Nobody wants to read about passive characters (myself included!), but a big part of Aven’s growth as a character comes about when, as you said, she’s forced outside of the life and destiny that she’s always known and believed in. I wanted that transition from the life she had accepted to the one she must now embrace to be a realistic one, so plotting out her arc took a lot of time—and patience.
I love kick-butt heroines who burst onto the scene swinging swords and punching evil straight in the month. But that just wasn’t who Aven wanted to be. Her strength is quieter in the beginning. It took me awhile to accept/figure this out—perhaps because, at least for me, that subtle strength is harder to write. But I think it makes her (spoiler alert) eventual transformation into a fierce and fearless empress all the more rewarding!
4. The world-building in this series is truly wonderful, from details that went into the Kingdom of Garda, the magic, and the unfolding larger world that Aven discovers. What was your process for bringing this world to life?
Gaither: I…basically make things up as I go, haha. I like to discover the
world along with my characters—I find that the worldbuilding ends up feeling more organic and immersive for readers that way. When my characters stumble into a new palace, or village, or forest or anywhere else, I’m just as surprised by what it all looks like, and the customs and cultures they find there, as they are.
Obviously I go back and flesh things out in edits so that it’s all cohesive in the final product, but yeah, it basically all just comes about from my characters going ‘we’re going over here now, hope you’re paying attention, you better take some notes’.
Things like magic require a bit more planning—at least some basic rule-making—but even with that, I often work backwards; the magic crops up organically while I’m writing, and I’m just as surprised as my characters are by it, but then I go back in edits and stick in earlier hints/foundations to said magic so that it doesn’t appear to have just randomly occurred (or at least I hope it doesn’t, haha).
5. You have a fantastic-looking new series that launched just this month too. What can you tell us about the Serpents and Kings series? Is it anything like The Drowning Empire, or have you gone in a new direction? (No matter what, I can’t wait to read it!)
Gaither: Thanks for the shout-out about the new series! I’d love to tell you about it. The Queen of Cursed Things, the first book in a planned trilogy, released earlier this month. Like The Drowning Empire, this series is an epic fantasy featuring slowish-burning romance, lots of magic, mythical creatures, and an empire on the brink of war.
The heroine in this new series is that sort of kick-butt one I mentioned above—the one who steps onto the very first page swinging a sword and punching evil in the mouth. The only problem is that most of her world thinks the evil one because of a cursed mark she carries in the palm of her hand, and the dangerous magic that she accidentally awakens because of it. It’s sort of the opposite of The Drowning Empire, in that respect; whereas Aven begins her story as a revered figure who becomes a rebel, the heroine in this new series starts as a rebel who might become a revered figure…if she can learn how to quiet her curse and the dangerous, unstable part of herself. She also has to deal with an arrogant prince with questionable motives…
Actually ‘a story about people with questionable motives’ could probably be the subtitle of this book, lol.
And most characters—including the heroine— within the book could be introduced with the line ‘they may or may not be a bad person’. This was kind of true of some characters in The Drowning Empire as well; morally grey is more realistic to me! But the characters in this new series probably veer more toward the dark side, more often, than Aven and company did.
6. Last of all—can you tell my readers the best places to find and connect with you on social media?
You can find all of my books on Amazon (all in Kindle Unlimited) right HERE.
My website is: www.smgaitherbooks.com
And my Facebook page is HERE.
I so enjoyed getting answers to those questions! I loved in particularly learning about her reluctant journey into author-life . . . Who would have thought someone so obviously born to write would actually resist it for so long??? That gave me a good chuckle, and I'm glad it all turned out right in the end.
I hope all of you are now doubly intrigued to read The Drowning Empire! If you are, be sure to check out my Author of the Month Giveaway for a chance to win the complete trilogy on Kindle!