Sami Valentine is an urban fantasy writer who grew up in the desert and now wanders the world in search of wifi and coffee. She’s the author of the Red Witch Chronicles, and we’re delighted she took a break in her journeys to share her thoughts and experiences, and to tell us a little about her books.
One: Your Goodreads bio describes you as a mild-mannered librarian, who had a quarter life crisis and set off across the world with only her suitcase. That was four(?) years ago. What happened then? Where are you now? Where did your travels take you? Did you write your books on the road?
For years I had something—grad school, relationships, pets, leases—that tied me down. In the middle of a complete life upheaval, painful as it was, I lost those bounds. Then, at the same time, I started working online with a mix of contracts and freelance gigs. Remotely, back when that was weird. I decided that I might as well try to do the digital nomad thing. Worst case scenario, I ran out of money after a summer abroad and moved in with my sister to be her nanny while I figured things out. I am blessed to have a close-knit family but I did not want to be her nanny, so I hustled. The first three years, I migrated between the US, Latin America, and Europe as the seasons changed. My favorite place is Lisbon, especially in June. When the pandemic started, I was in Sao Paulo for carnival and managed to get back on one of the last flights to the US.
Travel gave me the confidence to write again after years of writer’s block.
My girlfriend at the time introduced me as a writer to writing/publishing teacher Derek Murphy which freaked me out. I really wanted to write fiction, but I was writing resumes and LinkedIn profiles to pay the bills. I wasn’t a real writer! It was mortifying. Derek was super encouraging and nice. After that, I started writing some short stories and developing some ideas into rough novels. Then I got the kick in the pants to get me publishing.
If I didn’t have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a castle with a bunch of experienced writers and my mentor, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to pluck up the courage to publish.
In 2019, Derek Murphy gave me a scholarship to his writing retreat. He offered it to four other applicants before me who couldn’t get to France or declined it for whatever reason. I wasn’t letting this serendipity go to waste. I was in Europe and already spent half of month in the Schengen Zone, so I needed to get the hell out to conserve my visa time. I went to scenic Bulgaria where I finished the first book in the Red Witch series before the retreat in September. The scholarship was vital in my growth as an indie writer. I wrote the second book at the castle and set up my author platform with plenty of input from the other writers. I was the most junior of the bunch, so I tried to soak it all up. We talked about everything from the craft to the business of it. If I didn’t have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a castle with a bunch of experienced writers and my mentor, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to pluck up the courage to publish.
That is an experience that would have never happened if I had stayed in Arizona.
Two: You’ve gone the indie route with your books, and you’re an active presence in the Urban Fantasy community. I’ve often seen you sharing your experiences with other writers, giving tips and advice on what’s worked for you, and what hasn’t. Can you tell us a little about that? Why did you choose to self-publish, and how important is the community to you?
The urban fantasy market is dominated by indies. It made sense. The Big Five publishers aren’t itching for UF and my experiences with small presses have been mixed. After a few years of freelancing in my own business, doing so much marketing, I would be more invested and knowledgeable than whatever intern that would be assigned to do my PR. And I would be able to choose my cover. I had an LGBT romantic comedy fail because the marketing team gave it a thriller cover.
This business is like a heist, it’s easier with a crew.
Even in my writer block years, I was a lurker on Kboards and Absolute write where people like Jasmine Walt and Chris Fox would post blogs about their progress at the beginning of their careers. I got so much value from their posts. Unfortunately, trolls and mismanagement essentially destroyed that golden age of forums, but I really appreciated that community feeling.
When I started building my platform, I already had about six years’ worth of research on the evolution of self-publishing along with years as a librarian and online worker. I was able to implement quickly and analyze my results. I’m a nerd like that. Definitely a Hermione. I didn’t want to be alone on this journey so I hoped by posting and sharing stuff that I would meet new writers.
This business is like a heist, it’s easier with a crew.
Three: You’ve published five novels and a prequel novella in the Red Witch Chronicles series, and there’s a sixth novel on the way. Could you tell us a little about Red, the main character? She’s a witch who’s lost her past, and she’s taken up with a veteran monster hunter as his intern. There’s more to her than that, though, isn’t there?
Yes, much more and telling too much will spoil people. 😉
Red is funny, loyal, and committed to shielding people from the monsters. Sometimes she can seem like an old soul while other times, you can clearly tell she lacks life experience because she only has a year of personal memories. She has a Semantic memory (general knowledge about the world) but has a complete dead zone for the eight years between 2010-2018. The overarching series plot has to do with her origins, and it really starts in book one when she goes to Los Angeles and discovers vampires who seem to recognize her.
I am interested in the nature of identity, the soul, and how our experiences shape us. While I can’t claim the deep prose of Anne Rice, an astute reader will notice the subtext and discussion on self-creation. As the series goes on, you will notice that Red’s point of view gets more textured as she develops.
Four: While we’re on about your books, let’s talk a little about the world you’ve created. There’s vampires, werewolves, and witches, but that’s not all, is it? The term demon keeps popping up, and the Dark Veil has a real problem with social media…
There’s also the Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes, but they’re not the same as the hunters. I get the feeling that bards and heroes are something more than just humans out to stake some vamps. Could you tell us a little more about that?
The Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes is your typical secret scholarly order protecting the world. Over the centuries, the world needs more and more saving so these guys have to outsource the low level stuff like clearing out ghouls or busting ghosts to hunters. Red is a hunter which is like a supernatural gig worker. A recurring theme in the world building are these supernatural organizations that have either gone to seed or are trying to reinvent themselves in the modern day. Not everyone wants to evolve with the times, which leads to conflict in later books.
Like many urban fantasy series, my characters operate under what the trope talkers call a masquerade. Mine is named Dark Veil which as you can imagine is really hard to maintain in this modern age.
Not everyone wants to evolve with the times, …
Generally, demon is used as an interchangeable term for any malevolent supernatural. It’s not always that simple especially with the vampires who have been cursed to feel guilt. This is a trope of the good guy vamp popularized by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Vampire Diaries among others, but I wanted to expand it so it wasn’t just a single vamp but more like an epidemic to vampire kind and affected their politics.
The supernatural world has their own factions. Red travels the west coast of the US in the series discovering alchemists ruling Las Vegas, vampires controlling LA, and a half-fae protecting a small town in Oregon. It leads to different stakes and consequences depending on the jurisdiction.
The world building can be as much of an obstacle to my characters as the antagonists.
I composed this series into a set of three trilogies, so we got three more to go after book 6. I have a notebook full of other ideas for new tales with some other projects in various stages of completeness. To save myself the marketing fatigue, I want to publish all the Red books before switching gears.
Six: A few quick questions:
What’s your favorite…
…book, in recent time?
I wanted to read something completely different last month and got Death at the Priory, which is a nonfiction historical account of one of the most famous poisonings in Victorian England. It was a lively read that really shows you how easy it was to get away with murder back then.
…game, in recent time?
This is some obscure geekery but I am looking forward to the remaster/remake of the 90s cult city builder: Pharaoh. I can’t wait to become Pharoah all over again.
There is plenty out there. Write a lot; you’ll figure it out.
…advice for someone who wants to publish their own book?
Be realistic. Not every genre is profitable or viable for self-publishing. Uptown fiction, literary fiction, children’s books, etc. can be hard sells to an indie crowd. Even if you are writing in a genre that the publishers have abandoned (like urban fantasy), the work only begins after you publish. Writing is more fun than publishing and marketing, much like sex is more fun than parenting. I wouldn’t rush to publish if you only just finished your first book. Write more stuff, experiment with short fiction, develop your skills. If you do that then you’ll have more content to work with when you start publishing.
…source of inspiration?
Lately, it has been old Hollywood if you follow my Facebook page which is mostly memes and aesthetics. I’m pretty sure my next series will be way shorter and set in the past.
…way to clear your mind when everything gets a bit much?
Does mindlessly watching classic episodes from the Simpsons count?
Eight: Do you have any last words?
Not really, but if you are a podcast listener check out the Stuff You Missed in History episode on the famous dancer, Isadora Duncan who had the best last words—“Off I go to glory.” As for me, I’m probably off to take a nap since it’s a Sunday afternoon.
If this interview has been mildly intriguing, readers can get a short story upon signing up to my newsletter at SamiValentine.Com.
Books by Sami Valentine
(pssst… book one is on sale until end of April)
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