Saturday, February 16, 2013

Interview with Author AK Taylor

Blurb: Seeking his revenge on Neiko for exposing him, Francesco banishes Neiko into ancient Egypt just like he did her friends eleven years ago. During her stay there, she unravels the mystery of what happened to her four friends. Now she's faced with a bigger problem-how to get home. After a series of unfortunate events, Neiko is now entangled with Pharaoh Ramesses II. Francesco also comes to make sure their fates are sealed. Can Neiko and her friends beat impossible odds and return to Hawote and back to the present?

About the Author: A.K. Taylor grew up in the backwoods of Georgia where she learned about nature. She enjoys hunting and fishing, beekeeping, gardening, archery, shooting, hiking, and has various collections. She also has interest in music, Native American history and heritage, Egyptian history, and the natural sciences. A.K. Taylor has been writing and drawing since the age of 16. A.K. Taylor has graduated from the University of Georgia with a biology degree, and she shares an interest in herpetology with her husband.

What inspired you to write your first book? The first book I had ever written was Book #1 of the Neiko Adventure Saga Neiko's Five Land Adventure which I wrote the age of 16 that birthed the entire saga. What inspired me to write it were several things: escape, nature, and my own pretend adventures I had as a child in the back yard and in the woods. Writing came from a hard time in my life and from a transition from childhood to adulthood that most teens face.

Do you have a specific writing style? My writing style is summed up in one word: complicated. In one sense I am a very visual writer in the first stages, and then later I switch gears into the technical stuff (editing, grammar, etc). I am also what you would call a planster, a hybrid of the panster and the plotter. I plot the basic outline of the story and then I let the characters take me from one point to another by the seat of my pants. In doing that the story flows, but then the twists and turns and things that happen I would have never come up with without their help.

How did you come up with the title? The title of the book I am sharing today, Escape from Ancient Egypt, basically sums up the entire book in a few words. It's the whole idea. I kind of bounced things around in my head and it kind of came from movie titles like Escape from LA or Escape from New York

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? The message of this book follows the message of the entire saga: never give up no matter how impossible things appear. Love, friendship, and the true meaning of what true warriors are and what they do also appear.

How much of the book is realistic? For Escape from Ancient Egypt I would say at least 70% of it is realistic. The hidden land of Hawote where the story begins is hidden in a real place. Ancient Egypt is a real place with some of real and historically significant people like Ramesses II the Great. Other parts of the saga it varies. Later on real life becomes non existent and pure fantasy or speculative.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Most of the experiences of my life influence my writing, and they are partly why I began writing in the first place. Coping with bullying and escaping from that life influenced me to build a strong female character. In the saga, some of the real world scenarios outside of Hawote are based on real experiences. I have refrained from using people I knew in school in the stories, but I did use some family members.

What books have most influenced your life most? Probably for my fantasy writing I would say the Shannara series by Terry Brooks and The Redwall series by Brian Jacques were my biggest influence.

What are your current projects? I plan on beginning to get Book #3 of the series ready for publication as well as write Book #5 of the series. I am also planning on trying to publish a YA thriller short story "Bloody Klondike Gold" either in an anthology if it works out or as a stand-alone.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Up until I published, friends and strangers in my local community offered some support. After entering the publishing world, I have made friends online that have offered support. Most of the time, I was/am on my own.

Do you see writing as a career? Yes I do. It is the one thing I have tried on a professional level that I have tired of quickly and have done the longest. I am able to immerse my other talents and interests in it which appeals to my nature.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? Neiko's vision turned from the green light to the world spinning around her in dizzying speed. Neiko wasn't moving, but she felt like she was in freefall-like someone had cut the cable from an elevator and she was plummeting with it. Descending in what-space and time? The evergreen and colorful deciduous vegetation of the Hawote woodlands changed to a desert with a river with some greenery and palms nearby. The cool autumn air of Hawote in October transformed into stifling, searing, dry heat. Pyramids, sphinxes, and strange statues spun around her after her house, porch, and front yard disappeared within the vortex. It was nighttime in Hawote, but the sun rose and set as time flew by-from west to east--backwards. Beneath her bare feet the wood from her front porch turned to nothing then into hot, soft sand.

Neiko's world stopped spinning, and the sun was high in the sky. Neiko watched the sun to be sure it didn't move again. Wherever she ended up, she guessed the time must be about high noon there judging by the sun's position in the sky after a few moments of observation. The heat was intense, and she discovered she must be somewhere far from home. "Where?" was the ultimate question. A gust of wind blew the feathers in her long, black hair. Her hair wrapped around her face, and she brushed it back. Sweat beaded out on her body, and she tugged at her shirt and headband. "Phew! It's hot out here! Where am I--Death Valley?" she asked. Death Valley was the only desert place she thought of off the top of her head. She had never been there, but she'd read and watched TV programs about the place. She looked around, and a city was only a few feet away. She could see the buildings down below from the high dune where she stood. She took a deep breath and fingered the fringed sheath of her knife to reassure her confidence-without thinking and by instinct. Then after a few more seconds, she trudged down to the city in the soft sand from the dune to go find some answers.

Neiko entered the city still dressed in her buckskin, decorated warrior clothes and painted for war. As she took in the sights and from the confusion, she had forgotten she was armed. Her machete was sheathed to her back, and so was her knife on her side. Incense, perfumes, and music filled the air. She didn't recognize any of the smells, but the music seemed to be like Egyptian reenactments in movies. The buildings were white alabaster covered in brilliant wall paintings. Some men rode on camels like horses and others led them by a leash. Chariots cantered by. Neiko looked around in amazement. This ruled out Death Valley, Arizona. Neiko lifted her eyes to the sun to get a bearing on north. North was as good of a direction as any to begin a search for answers. After her eyes fell from the sun and to the north, she could see the Pyramids of Giza towering in the distance. She recognized them instantly. She had seen enough pictures and documentaries on the monuments-they were unmistakable. Even though they were miles away, they towered above the city and in view. This definitely wasn't Death Valley.

In that case I can get on the first flight home, she thought. She believed that she had landed in Cairo. This city came to mind because it's the only one close to the Pyramids of Giza. Then she realized she didn't have any money as she put her hands in the pockets of her buckskin shorts and only felt the house key. She had left her wallet in the car back at home when she left from Phoenix's house after the battle.

" Well, I can probably make up some story that I was abducted or something-which is sort of true. Really funny, Francesco. I guess you meant no way back since I'm broke. I'll hitchhike back to Hawote if I have to. I'll scrounge around to see if I can find some change for a pay phone on the road," she remarked to herself, and maybe the phone book would have some information on where to find an airport or something. But, then again, would the phonebook be written in English or Arabic? It was a chance she had to take. The worst that could happen was not getting anywhere.

Neiko began walking to find help, change, a pay phone, the U.S. Embassy, an airport, or whatever she could find first. After a few more minutes of exploring, she recognized the clothing of the people: white linen kilts, some wore robes and fine jewelry, some wore headcloths while others did not. No one seemed to be dressed like the Arab residents of 21st century Egypt. "Why is everyone dressed like ancient Egyptians?" she asked herself. She wondered if this was some sort of a cult or a weird secret society that lived like the Amish in Cairo.

A small group of armed soldiers marched in front of her, but they didn't pay any attention to her. They carried swords, shields, spears, and were dressed in ancient Egyptian armor. She had seen it in books and movies. They weren't carrying guns or dressed in desert camouflage BDUs like Egyptian soldiers of the 21st century.

She headed farther in to the marketplace. It was obvious since people had shops and bazaars selling goods. People were yelling and haggling. People thrust things at Neiko trying to entice her to buy. Neiko put up her hands and shook her head. She couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. Funny, no one seemed to be selling T-shirts, souvenirs, or that type stuff for tourists. Quite frankly, no one seemed to be selling any maps.

Neiko walked up to a man who was a merchant at a bazaar. He was selling all manner of fine jewelry. Heavy collars, bracelets, necklaces, arm pieces, earrings were on display. All gaudy like the ancient Egyptians liked. "Excuse me, can you tell me where I am? I seem to be lost. Do you know where I can find a map or where the airport is? A phone?" she asked as she made her hand like a phone and put it to her ear; her thumb the earpiece and her pinkie the mouthpiece.

The man looked at her startled because of her strange appearance and because he couldn't understand her. He was dressed in linen like everyone else and sported some of that same Egyptian bling since he was a successful jeweler.

" That's a little out of style, don't you think? I mean, guys don't wear eyeliner…and, that skirt and that sheet on your head are not how people dress nowadays. People dress like ancient Egyptians only on Halloween. Last I checked it was still three weeks away," Neiko said to the man as she shook her head.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I'm probably with a number of authors on this, editing gets me. It mostly wears me out and is grueling. The constructive criticism doesn't bother me, it's the technical nitpicky stuff like some forms of punctuation: when to use an ellipsis or an M dash. When I talk about some of the content problems with my editor, we laugh together. If something appears not as intended, then we talk about it and fix it. I get more out of that than having a tirade (which I haven't done or would recommend). Most of the time I have a hard time with the start of a story, but I am working on it. That's another reason to have a good editor that I can work with!

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? At this present time, no. I mostly stay in my local areas and haven't left my home state because of my books. That may become a factor later on.

Who designed the covers? I did. I have a specific design in mind and the characters are based off of my own character sketches. I am very visual and artistic. I have a professional designer put it all together for me because I am not that tech savvy. I also do my illustrations in a similar manner. I don't want anything to look cheesy!

What was the hardest part of writing your book? To reiterate, the very beginning. It's even more difficult to do this within a series to start a new story and to dive in at the same time while leaving the last one and tying them together at the same time.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? From hammering out Escape from Ancient Egypt and working with my editor I learned more about how to start a book and that fine line of getting the right amount of detail to paint the picture without beating the reader in the head with it. In the case of too much or not enough, I had to give a little more. I also had to learn to pick out a character and tell the scene from his or her perspective and refrain from 3rd person omniscient since it has gone out of style and to eliminate head-hopping.

Do you have any advice for other writers? Marketing is hard, but you can't quit. Break down the long uphill hike into smaller pieces. Carve out a small group of people, who are your core target audience, and reach them. Also find an editor that works well with you and you get along with. Avoid one you have a love/hate relationship with, and I can say that from my own personal experience.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? Probably literary. I wrote Escape from Ancient Egypt right after Neiko's Five Land Adventure, and I was only 17 years old. I didn't know anything about what is "literary", what it meant, nor did I really care. All I cared about was embarking on an exciting adventure, and that's what I felt when I read something as a kid. I didn't care about its "literary merit"; I cared about if it was exciting or boring or cool or drab, or did it provide that escape I was looking for. Frankly, I still feel that way, and that's why I work with an editor and a critique partner. There is only so much "literary" that can fit into an action adventure story, especially one for a young reader-we need just enough to make it pretty or give it a keen edge, but not so much as to drag it down. Now I have an idea of how to do that. Sometimes after a while you get into splitting hairs on what is "literary enough", but I must remember I am writing a fantasy action adventure story for young readers, not a literary novel for adults. There is a fine line there, and I think I have a better grasp on that. I have to piece together what I have learned as well as remember back what I liked to read when I was at the age I am writing for.