Katlynn Brook grew up barefoot in the African bushveld, with her own imagination the richest source of entertainment for herself and her family. When she discovered Tolkien's work, Brooke felt right at home in the world of epic fantasy and started writing her own. Today she chats with us about the first book in her series, The Six and the Crystals of Ialana, how her travels have influenced her work and how she uses dreams in her books.
Please give us a short introduction to The Six and the Crystals of Ialana
Six young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one are forced out of their homes and away from their families and everything they have ever known. Along with a seventh, they set out on a journey, guided only by a shared dream of a mysterious island. The Six must remember who they once were, and why their mission failed 500 years ago. They know their odds of survival are impossible as they are hunted down by dangerous enemies, all with a traitor in their midst.
What inspired you to write an epic fantasy?
I fell in love with epic fantasy books early in my life. I had never heard of Tolkien until one of my friends raved about The Hobbit to me. I was instantly hooked. I read everything he wrote in a matter of a few months, and I still re-read Tolkien to this day.
Since then, I have been a fan of epic fantasy. Authors such as Terry Brooks, Kenneth Grahame, and C.S. Lewis, to name only a few, have all inspired me to write fantasy as well.
I wanted to live in these worlds. I wanted to be a Hobbit. I also wanted to create a world every bit as realistic and magical as the book worlds I reluctantly left behind. I wanted a world that existed not only in my mind, but in the minds of my readers, too, to recreate a magical world that would not only entertain, but inform as well.
Fantasy gave me the outlet to do that, and while there are no Hobbits in my novels, I have the freedom to create other strange and wonderful characters, characters who could be as strange and wonderful as Hobbits and elves.
You grew up in Africa and your travels have taken you all over the world. How did this experience with all those different cultures influence your writing?
Growing up in a culture that was out of the ordinary influenced my writing considerably. I never became used to the comforts of civilization until I was in my late teens. I lived in a big city for the first time in my early twenties. Writing about the hardships my six protagonists encountered in their journey was easy for me. I had lived it.
In the first book there is a chapter about a storm at sea. I had once experienced a frightening boating incident in Indonesia that allowed me to write that chapter from first-hand experience.
In India and Indonesia, I witnessed and lived in over-crowded cities where poverty exists on an unimaginable scale, and the gap between rich and poor is nearly insurmountable. I drew, from these places, my Trueni slaves and their fishing village of Akelarre.
In which way is The Six and the Crystals of Ialana also a coming of age story?
When the six protagonists leave their homes to embark on a journey filled with danger, they must grow up quickly, leaving behind their childhood insecurities to work together as a team in order to survive their ordeals.
As the story progresses over a period of months, each one of the characters must confront their past history together, to understand that what they came here to do was bigger than any possible petty differences, and that each one has an important task.
They learn that the world around them is much more than what meets the eye—the five senses—and that their education has only just begun.
Tell us a bit about the cover of the book and how that came about
I did not want a cover that looks the same as every other cover in the fantasy genre, although I have been told that sells more books. I am also an artist, and while I have a degree in illustration, I had not worked professionally at that due to all my travels during the earlier part of my adulthood.
I learned how to use Photoshop, and I started working on creating unique covers for my books. It took me a while to come up with a cover I was happy with, and the present cover is the one I decided expressed the nature of the first book in the series perfectly. I had tried different covers, made by others, that did not feel right for the book. This one did. It spoke to me.
How challenging was it to create six fully developed heroes and find their back stories?
Not challenging at all! They felt to me as if they had pre-existed in my mind for quite some time. I knew them as well as I knew myself, and I knew their back-stories. I also know their futures and have generations of descendents in my mind. Perhaps they are parts of me, and I draw on the vast resources of the unconscious mind that is connected to everything, but they feel as if they are parts of me expressing and coming alive through my writing.
Which character did you find the most challenging to create?
Amrafalus, the Reptilian Ruler of Rhiannon. I wanted him to be larger than life, fearsome, and typical of most dictators and tyrants, but I did not want him to become a cliché. Unfortunately, tyrants and authoritarian types all have certain characteristics that make them who they are: a love of power for power’s sake, an inability to feel compassion and empathy, and an emptiness of soul. I made him a reptile, because to look in his eyes, one would see the same coldness and singlemindedness one sees in the eyes of a snake or crocodile.
How did you come up with the magic for the crystals and how they were going to work?
I have always loved crystals. My father was an amateur prospector, and often went looking for interesting rocks and minerals in the African bush that he would bring home for us to play with. Thanks to him, I felt a strong connection with minerals and crystals from my early childhood.
I realy do feel that crystals are sentient beings in their own way, and that they can be used in a way that seems magical to us if we only understood them more.
To me, the structure in a crystal is like a brain, a crystalline structure that communicates and runs frequency or energy in a way that we don’t yet understand. I can see how an enormous crystal may be used to run energy with benign, healing intent, but also how it can be misused and perverted for evil purposes. That is the whole focus of the story: the possible use and misuse of crystal energy which, in this day and age, can translate to misue of energy in any way.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I have an idea when I begin what the story is going to be about, i.e., crystals, misuse of energy, six protagonists, but then the story takes on a life of its own. I work on many outlines, and as I work on them, I write the actual story, using my outline from then on only as a guide.
My characters often take the plot in a completely different direction to the one I had originally planned. I find this quite exciting, since often I have no idea myself how the story will end—until it does. I then go in and polish it up, fixing any plot holes, and expanding on or deleting other threads within the story.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
I write every day, but I am not one of those who give myself a goal of say, 5,000 words a day. I prefer to write something down, even if it’s only a sentence or two, or just an idea. For me, creativity works best when it’s not constantly directed by the mental mind. Sometimes, creativity just does not flow well, so I let it be. The mental mind then goes ape, worrying about how the creative mind “should” be doing this or that, but the creative mind, like Stan Laurel to Oliver Hardy, has plans of its own.
(For those who are not familiar with the Laurel and Hardy reference, they were a comedy duo in the early days of cinema, and were almost complete opposites in nature.)
When and why did you begin to write?
In Africa, I grew up mostly in the bushveld. There were no distractions for me in the form of television, movies, or other children to play with. For us, my brother, two sisters, and me, the bush was our playground, and we could walk for miles, barefoot, over blazing hot, thorny ground. The soles of our feet were like leather. We were rather Hobbit-like, already, I guess!
My parents allowed me much freedom to create, to not only write, but read as well. I wrote plays that we produced on our 8-track battery operated recorder, complete with sound-effects. They were always horror: dark, stormy nights and creaking doors. In fact, we called one of them, “The Creaking Door”.
Later, when we lived on the outskirts of a town, we made a movie with my mother’s 8mm Bell and Howell camera. It was called “Moses in the Bullrushes” and in the final scene at the “Nile” river the camera panned over a railway bridge in the background, but no one seemed to care. It was our smash hit for about a week.
I was exposed to different types of schooling that ranged from home-schooled by my mother, to a somewhat restrictive Christian boarding school, and then back to the government-run day school once we moved to a town. All of these schooling venues, however, only encouraged my creativity, and I thank them all for that.
So, writing to me was a form of entertainment, and it still is. I love it, and I am as entertained by my books as I hope my readers will be.
How do you think dreams serve us in life? How do you use dreams in your books and why?
I think that dreams are our entry into not only the sub-conscious mind, but also the vast unconscious field that connects us all. I have always been interested in dreams since I am a lifelong prolific dreamer. I dream in full technicolor, often lucidly, and have a reliable dream recall. I keep a journal of my dreams so that I can use their guidance in my personal life.
If we can learn how to understand, or translate, what our dreams tell us, we can find out a lot about ourselves and the universe around us that the conscious mind does not yet know. Dreaming is the conscious mind’s access to the unknown.
I use a dream in the first book to unlock the secrets of the past for my six protagonists. They all experience the same dream, but it is not coincidental. They all programmed themselves in a past life to have these dreams that would trigger another attempt at their healing mission, a mission that failed 500 years in the past.
Their dreams are persistent, and will not let up until they pick up their mission again. Sometimes, when we have recurring dreams that are intense, they are trying to send a message to us from our expanded beingness that wants us to look at something, to fix or to heal a situation.
How does the Gardeners of Ialana tie in with this book?
The Gardeners of Ialana continues with the next stage of the journey of The Six. They began their training under the mentorship of Irusan, the shape-shifter, and with the help of the enlightened people of Mu’A, but now they must continue their training elsewhere. The “elsewhere” involves elemental command under the tutelage of Finn, the elemental being. Their adventures continue, and a new antagonist arises, one who has abilities of her own, and one who is fully capable of dealing with The Six on their own level.
The saga continues in the third of the series, Anwyn of Ialana, an exciting adventure with a new protagonist, Anwyn, the daughter of two of the six healers.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on the fourth book in the Ialana Series. I have not yet settled on a title, but this book may actually turn into three books, a self-contained trilogy. I have received so many requests to make my books longer, that I have taken this advice to heart. I listen to my readers and value their comments.
The fourth book will satisfy even the most demanding reader of epic fantasy, and will go into a lot more detail, character development and the future of The Six and their progeny.
Where can our readers interact with you or discover more of your work?
All my books are currently available on Amazon, but as more readers discover the Ialana Series, I may branch out to other outlets. At the moment, Amazon works for me in a way that other outlets cannot. I can offer my books free at certain times, and I will always ensure that when they are not free, they are affordable for all.
I have free offers on my website. I am offering a free novella, “The People of the Damned”, a backstory of the parents of one of my characters, Djana. I felt these two characters, Adne and Holgar, deserved a book of their own. To get this book, go to www.katlynnbrooke.com.
I will also have an audio book available for The Six and the Crystals of Ialana, quite soon. I estimate it will be released sometime in late August or September of 2016. The narrator is Jeff Hays, and I know that lovers of audio books will not be disappointed by his incredible talent for narration. He brings the book alive in a way that needs to be heard to be believed!