C.E. Clayton - High Fantasy With a Fantastic Group of Friends at the Center
C. E. Clayton was born and raised in the greater Los Angeles area, where she attended the University of Southern California (Fight On!) for both her Bachelors and Masters, and then worked in the advertising industry for several years on accounts ranging from fast food, to cars, and video games (her personal favorite). After going the traditional career route and becoming restless, she went back to her first love—writing—and hasn’t stopped. She is now the author of “The Monster of Selkirk” series and her horror short stories have appeared in anthologies across the country. As our Author of the Day, Clayton tells us all about the first book in the series: The Duality of Nature.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Monster of Selkirk Book I: The Duality of Nature is about.
The first book in the series is about a young woman trying to find her place in a world that says she has to be one way, when that's not what she wants. Tallis is trying to feel comfortable in her own skin, which isn't helped by the fact that most people in her little town feel uncomfortable in her presence for reasons she can't understand. But just as Tallis decides to embark on her own, the feral elves that live in the forest pour into her town hissing her name! Now everyone thinks this odd girl has something to do with it, and Tallis is forced to figure out what's going on for no other reason then to clear her own name. It's very much a coming of age, and a hero's journey story. Tallis has a quest of sorts, one that she would rather not have to do because she doesn't want that responsibility, a quest where the answers to what she seeks, plus things she didn't even know she needed the answer to, await her in a creepy forest. Tallis does not want to be a hero, or a leader, but when no one else steps up to do the right thing, Tallis doesn't shy away from the task. A lot of these themes continue on in later books in the series, but are first introduced in "The Duality of Nature".
Tell us more about Tallis. What makes her tick?
Tallis wants to be your normal, average girl. She has never felt comfortable with where or who she was, like something is missing, but can't ever place where the wrongness emanates from. She wants more from her life then what has been established as her place as a poor woman from an unimportant town. But, because she's always wanted to fit in, she doesn't know how to go about achieving those goals without standing out in a bad way, and yet it doesn't stop her from begging her older cousin to teach her how to defend herself! Tallis is full of these opposing forces, and she struggles with that all the time, so it often fills her with a lot of self-doubt to the point where she gladly looks to others to lead or to be her moral compass. Tallis also has a mild form of anxiety, so she would rather avoid shouldering responsibility for others because it makes her so uncomfortable--it makes for a very reluctant hero indeed!
Why did you decide to tell this story using a group of friends instead of just one main character?
Having a group of friends on a journey felt more realistic to me. I can't imagine, in fantasy or otherwise, a situation where the world you once knew begins to fall apart around you, and you'd want to go and fix it by yourself. I'd want help! I know I'd need and want others to come along with me, personally. Plus, writing a journey with a bunch of friends meant that I could bring up all kinds of complications as different personality types clash, or allow for a bit of fun through dialogue or the situations these strong characters find themselves in. I felt like it allowed for a lot of fun possibilities to have a group of people on this really dangerous journey, including romance!
What inspired you to write about a horde of feral elves?
I've always loved elves in fantasy; anything from books, to movies, to video games. I've always liked how beautiful they are, and how acrobatic they are in combat, and I've always been intrigued by their regal and arrogant attitudes when it comes to other races or creatures. So when I was world building for my Monster of Selkirk series, I thought "I wonder what would happen if the elves weren't so noble anymore?" You see some of that with Drow, or dark elves if you aren't familiar with Dungeon and Dragons-like lore. But even those elves are still really arrogant, even though they are usually considered to be the bad guy. So I just kept pushing, trying to see how far I could take the elves away from that graceful nobility and have them still feel like elves. So I kept their longevity, their nimbleness, their pointed ears, but instead of keeping them as these creatures whose arrogance is born from them being around longer then races like humans, I thought it'd be fun to turn elves into the beasts for once, stripping away all those things that, supposedly, made them better than everyone else.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Each character brings something unique to the story, whether its how you can still be a badass while still being emotional and confused and yearning for acceptance (like Tallis), or that being sensitive and smart (like Tomas) isn't a bad thing and is just as important as being stereotypically strong. But I think the biggest point about basic human nature that I try to portray throughout all the books is how important it is for young people to understand that it’s okay for them to be sad and to be sad for as long as they need to be sad for. Especially when something especially terrible happens to them, no matter how it makes others around them feel. And conversely, when you’re the one on the other side — when someone you love has been hurt and is grieving, it’s okay to want them to feel better, but it’s also sometimes a good thing to let them have their space to grieve. I want readers to be swept away in the fantastic elements of my story, but to feel a very real connection to my characters, and I often try to achieve that through showing how characters deal with heavy emotional situations in healthy ways.
This is the first book in a series - how do the other books tie in with this one? Can The Monster of Selkirk be read as a standalone?
Tallis learns a very uncomfortable truth about the elves, and herself in the process. A fact that becomes more complicated, with higher stakes, over the course of the series. The things she discovers from the first book, compound and evolve from book to book as that initial answer snowballs into something far bigger and world encompassing. This is very much a series about a journey, both as Tallis comes into her own, and a journey to fix the problems that arise from book to book as Tallis travels. So, unfortunately, this isn't one of those series you can read out of order as certain characters come and go, or more secrets get unearthed and more answers about what Tallis is and what she needs to do to keep the world she knows from crumbling, or what kind of precautions she needs to take in order to keep people safe--sometimes from herself. Plus, with the slow burn romance I introduce early in the series, it tends to be sweetest if you "watch" the characters fall in love as it happens.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I don't know if I'd call it all that interesting, but I can't work in silence. I need music in the background or it's far too easy for my mind to wander and bounce around to a million other little things. They may be things that I need to get done, but I could be mid sentence in writing something then bounce over to answer a comment on Instagram if I don't have music playing to kind of keep me in the flow of things. It's part of the reason why each of my books has their own playlist on Spotify! I'm pretty proud of those playlists, actually, so here's the link to the soundtrack for the first two books if you want it: https://spoti.fi/2YJPzDq . But that means a typical writing day for me is kind of all over the place. I'm fortunate to be a full time writer and that my husband supports my decision to follow my dreams, so I try to get 4-5 solid writing hours in every day, though sometimes that comes in the form of revising, or researching, or world building. I may not write new words, but I'm building the foundation so I can write pretty uninterrupted once I'm at that stage. When I'm not writing, I'm usually taking care of my dog (he needs walks pretty frequently) or doing other house maintenance, like laundry. Laundry is the bane of my existence!
What are you working on right now?
Now that all the books in The Monster of Selkirk series are out, I've been branching out a little bit. I've finished a contemporary family saga that I am querying literary agents for, and I am revising the first book in my new adult fantasy series. That series is a bit of a departure from my YA fantasy series, especially as it's a cyberpunk world that blends science and magic together. Think Altered Carbon meets Saga, but without it being a graphic novel. I am also doing research for another contemporary that deals more with gender and a kind of sexual awakening. It's not going to be erotic or anything like that, but another adult topic with how heavy the discussion will end up being for my characters. I have so many different ideas for stories, that I just can't keep my fingers still for very long.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can read more about my work or how I create my characters and worlds over on my website, which is where I have my blog, links to all my books, and also host book reviews for all the books I read. I'm also always open to having readers ask me questions on Goodreads or my Facebook page. Though I will say I am the most active on Instagram where I talk about all kinds of bookish things, and occasionally post pictures of my fur babies. Here are all the links, I love hearing from readers!