Author Interview 173 – Raven Oak


Raven Oak

United States

Age 44

Multi-international award-winning speculative fiction author Raven Oak is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 Ozma Fantasy Award Winner, Epic Awards Finalist, & Reader’s Choice Award Winner), Amaskan’s War (2018 UK Wishing Award YA Finalist), and Class-M Exile. She also has many published short stories in anthologies and magazines. She’s even published on the moon! (No, really!) Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling stories and 500-page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.

Besides being a writer and artist, she’s a geeky, disabled ENBY who enjoys getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography and art, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach. Her hair color changes as often as her bio does, and you can find her at www.ravenoak.net.

Her name was Adelei. She was a master in her field, one of the feared Order of Amaska. Those who were a danger to the Little Dozen Kingdoms wound up dead by her hand. The Order sends her deep into the Kingdom of Alexander, away from her home in Sadai, and into the hands of the Order’s enemy: her birth father.

The job is nothing short of a suicide mission, one serving no king, no god, and certainly not Justice. With no holy order to protect her, she tumbles dagger-first into the Boahim Senate’s political schemes and finds that magic is very much alive and well in the Little Dozen Kingdoms.

They say the truth depends on which side of the sword one stands on. But they never said what to do when all the swords are pointing at you.

Romelia:   WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE AN ACTIVIST, AND WHAT KIND?

Raven Oak:   This is an excellent question for me! In my Boahim Trilogy, particularly in Amaskan’s Blood (Book I), Adelei is an Amaskan. They’re a mix of assassin and monk, complete with holy tenets. The most important belief they live by is justice. Adelei would be most likely to be an activist considering she already is one. She ensures that ALL people of the Little Dozen Kingdoms get justice, not just the wealthy.

Romelia:   DO YOU PLAY MUSIC WHILE YOU WRITE – AND, IF SO, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE?

Raven Oak:   Absolutely! I’m a former music major so music is always a part of my day to day. Unfortunately, I can’t write while listening to songs in English. I can do instrumental music or songs sung in another language, but that’s it. When I’m writing, I play setlists I’ve created to help me set the mood—setlists such as “sad mood” or “action/adventure.” The setlists are created from a huge set of movie, TV, and video game scores as well as music by artists like Loreena McKennitt and Enya. I’ll often through in music from other countries as well as long as it’s not sung in English or is instrumental only. My favorite music to write to is either music from the Final Fantasy video game series or from the old video game, Chrono Cross.

Romelia:   HAVE PETS EVER GOTTEN IN THE WAY OF YOUR WRITING?

Raven Oak:   I am owned by three disabled cats so they absolutely disrupt my writing though I wouldn’t have it any other way. Considering all three have either been resuscitated or had near-death experiences, I’m just happy they are still here with me. Sometimes they flop down on my keyboard for attention and love, but I usually continue typing underneath them. That tends to drive them to settle somewhere else in my office since being nudged like that isn’t the most comfortable.

Romelia:   IF YOUR BOOK WERE MADE INTO A MOVIE, WHICH ACTORS WOULD PLAY YOUR CHARACTERS?

Raven Oak:   Oh, I tend to hate this question. I don’t like to think about it too much because it’s hard and unlikely for most authors to have their works optioned, let alone make it past the option stage and into filmmaking. But I also dislike it because if I think of a character as a certain person, I tend to write them that way vs. the way my brain really wants to write them. I don’t want to give them traits or appearances too much like someone existing if that makes sense. But I will admit that from the get-go, I’ve always seen Ida with Lucy Lawless’s face—particularly Xena’s face.

Romelia:   HAVE YOU EVER KILLED OFF A CHARACTER YOUR READERS LOVED?

Raven Oak:   Yes. I won’t say who because of spoilers.

Romelia:   WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT WRITING?

Raven Oak:   I used to think the most valuable advice I’d received was “write every day,” but since becoming disabled and now having Post-COVID syndrome (aka long COVID), I realize that “write every day,” is a very ableist viewpoint. I think the feeling behind it means well as I suspect it’s meant to say, “Don’t let life get in the way of writing.” We can all find excuses not to write. We’re too tired. We need to clean _______. The reality is that if you don’t make time for your craft, it won’t be a craft. It’ll be a hobby that you never get around to. It’ll be the one-chapter book you never finished. So I would rephrase that advice to be, “Make time to work on your craft. Even if it’s five minutes a day on the bus to work. Make the time.”

Romelia:   WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE WRITING SKILLS?

Raven Oak:   Practice. They say it takes a million words to get good at writing and to some extent, that’s true. (For most people, because there are always exceptions.) If you don’t practice writing—not just what you love but a variety of styles, points-of-view, and genres—then you won’t improve enough. You might be able to sling together a passable story that some folks will read, but it won’t be the best you’re capable of writing.

Romelia:   WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO HELP OTHERS CREATE PLOTLINES?

Raven Oak:   Don’t be afraid to experiment. Read books on plotline development like Save the Cat! Find out what works best for you and use it, be that plotter or pantser or in-between; snowflake method or graphed plotlines; on paper vs. using software like Aeon Timeline or Plotter; and so on.

Romelia:   WHAT HAS HELPED OR HINDERED YOU MOST WHEN WRITING A BOOK?

Raven Oak:   Scrivener. This program has all the bells and whistles I need to stay organized. I use the folders and sheets to organize my series bible. I use notecards for organizing and reorganizing my plot lines. There’s more to it than that, but I just love this program. I’ve been using it since the beginning and have never looked back.

Romelia:   DOES WRITING ENERGIZE OR EXHAUST YOU? OR BOTH?

Raven Oak:   Writing both energizes and exhausts if you’re doing it correctly. There’s the moment when ideas click and the writing flows from you like a waterfall, when the characters know the dance moves, and everything is perfect. Then there are the moments when lines get tied in knots. Even the finish is both—you’re excited that your book is finished and exhausted from the work, yet you’re sad that it’s done. Or at least I am.

Romelia:   WHAT IS THE BEST MONEY YOU’VE EVER SPENT WITH REGARD TO YOUR WRITING?

Raven Oak:   Going to the Locus Writers’ Workshop, run by Locus Magazine, early in my career. I would say that and going to the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat—1 rainforest, no Internet, and 4.5 days of writing with other pros. I once wrote 40,772 words in four days while there.

Romelia:   WHAT ARE COMMON TRAPS FOR NEW AUTHORS?

Raven Oak:   One common trap is the assumption that if you write it, they will come. Writing is hard work. It’s a job that requires skill. If you want to write as a hobby to share with your parents, fine, but if you want people to read your works and take you seriously, you have to hone your craft. Write as often as you can, have other writers read and critique your work, attend workshops to learn from others, read books on your craft, etc. Typing “The End” doesn’t make the work done.

Romelia:   HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WRITE?

Raven Oak:   I write until I reach my word count for the day or my deadline. Most days I aim for 2,000—3,000 words, which I can normally knock out in a few hours. Then I spend that same amount of time editing some other work. If I have a deadline, I can write for 9-10 hours if needed.

Romelia:   WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BLOGS OR WEBSITES FOR WRITERS?

Raven Oak:   Being a member of SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), I love their resources for writers. You don’t have to be a member to view most of them. Writers’ Beware is an excellent stop on the SFWA site as it can help new writers recognize the predatory practices of vanity presses and some of the award sites that are scams. http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/

I’m also a fan of Writers Helping Writers. Good site. Great books.
https://writershelpingwriters.net/

Romelia:   AT WHAT TIME OF THE DAY DO YOU DO MOST OF YOUR WRITING?

Raven Oak:   Most of my writing is done from 1 PM – 6:30 PM. I do my editing in the AM.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES FOR YOUR STORIES?

Raven Oak:   Part of my world-building is understanding the culture and linguistics of the world I’ve built. If I have a country or kingdom that is loosely derived from 16th century France, then the names of characters and places should be based on French. I’ll often spend time researching the linguistics of say…France and name characters with either outright French names or names that sound as if they could be French because they are based on French linguistics. I was a linguistics minor for one of my degrees so I tend to ensure I get these names correct.

Romelia:   DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN WRITING CHALLENGES ON SOCIAL MEDIA? DO YOU RECOMMEND ANY?

Raven Oak:   I’m part of several writing groups locally (not online) as well as online via Discord and Twitter. Because my local group meets weekly, I tend to get the kick in the pants that I need (if I need it). Sometimes I participate in the online ones if I am struggling. Most of those are for members of groups like SFWA or the area writing workshops. Sometimes I participate in Jane Espenson’s writing challenge on Twitter. Those are loads of fun too.

Romelia:   IF YOU HAD THE POWER TO CURE A DISEASE OF YOUR CHOOSING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Raven Oak:   Cancer.

Romelia:   WHEN YOU’RE WRITING AN EMOTIONAL OR DIFFICULT SCENE, HOW DO YOU SET THE MOOD?

Raven Oak:   Usually with music. If I put on a movie, TV, or video game score that is from a sad scene, I remember the scene and how it made me feel. I remember crying at whatever was happening on screen, which gets me in the correct frame of mind to write what I need to write.

Romelia:   WHOM DO YOU TRUST FOR OBJECTIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM OF YOUR WORK?

Raven Oak:   I have several friends I go to—professional writers who’ve been at this much longer than I have and who can give objective and constructive criticism. I also have other writers who serve as my alpha readers and readers who serve as my beta readers. After that, everything goes to whatever editor I’m working with depending upon who the publisher is.

Romelia:   WHAT BOOKS DO YOU ENJOY READING?

Raven Oak:   I tend to read widely so that I know what’s going on in the industry, but I prefer to read science fiction/fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, horror, and some historical fiction.

Romelia:   ARE THERE ANY BOOKS OR AUTHORS THAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?

Raven Oak:   Absolutely. The first time I read one of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, I was in love. Dragons! People were writing about dragons. I was so excited that the summer after 6th grade, I sat down and created my own version of Pern. I thought that’s what writers did (LOL) so I thought I was the s*** in creating it. I then wrote 350+ pages of my first book. I still have it, though it’ll never see the light of day. It’s filled with all the angst of a 7th-grade kid.

Romelia:   NAME AN UNDERAPPRECIATED NOVEL THAT YOU LOVE.

Raven Oak:   Not enough love goes to Blood Orbit by Kat Richardson, written under K. R. Richardson. Mystery and sci-fi that reads like it could be now. It’s an amazing tale that was developed from details of a real-life crime. I had the honor of beta-reading and critiquing it beforehand. Wow. I love Kat’s work but this was, in my opinion, the best book she’s ever written.

Romelia:   TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Raven Oak:   My partner and I know each other very, very well. We’ve been friends since high school and yes, he was my high school sweetheart. We enjoy singing video game music in the car together and finishing each other’s sentences. It’s all quite sappy. But one night, or perhaps I should say early morning, we had a case of giggles as we were trying to go to sleep. Our cats were all snuggled up to us and one of them let out a serious fart. It stank of stenches untold, so it was only natural for us to revert to childhood for a time. We began singing songs whose lyrics contained the word heart, except we replaced the word heart with the word fart. So “Total Eclipse of the Heart” became “Total Eclipse of the Fart,” and so on. We were up another hour with our antics, much to our cats’ dismay.

Romelia:   DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES. TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU HATE ABOUT THE WORLD.

Raven Oak:   I’m a geeky, disabled, neurodiverse, ENBY writer. (ENBY means non-binary). Most of that comes through in my writing. I’m also demi and am looking forward to writing something soon with demi and ace characters. Something you might not know is that I’m allergic to tomatoes. Something I hate about the world is the lack of empathy in it. We’ve forgotten how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Contact Details:

Email: kaonevar@gmail.com (personal)

          raven@raven-oak.com (official)

Website: www.ravenoak.net

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