Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?
I started my author journey about fifteen years ago, right before high school graduation. For years, I worked out of sight, only when alone or in a corner where no one could peer over my shoulder. In those days, I was scared to admit that I wrote—fearful it wouldn't live up to my expectations, fearful that I would be judged for it. I spent most of my time daydreaming, and the writing I did didn’t ever seem to finish. I would write and write and write but I could never look at anything and say, look at what I made, it’s done. Instead, I toiled for almost twelve years without finishing anything. It wasn’t until I graduated grad school that I finally admitted my writing wasn’t a hobby, that I wanted to be an author. I’ve spent the last seven years doggedly pursuing that goal, but crazy as it seems, I think the work is only just beginning. The whole time I’ve felt like I’m climbing the mountain, but here at the publication of my first novel, I realize, I only just got to the trail.
What got you into writing?
I started writing about fifteen years ago, shortly before high school graduation. In those days, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but it came about as a compulsion that to this day is rather inexplicable. I daydreamed of adventure and of being a hero, and so I started writing what I liked. At the time, The Fellowship of the Ring had been recently released, and visually, it provided the stimulus to create. Fantasy fiction before that had always been my favorite genre, but it was like my imagination hadn’t yet fully wrapped my head around just how wild the lands could be or how diverse the worlds could look. It sparked my imagination, and I just started to create the story I wanted to live in. Fifteen years later, that world continues to grow, and after another fifteen years, maybe a few readers will come to love it as I do.
What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?
Between the Shade and the Shadow is actually derived from my other work, The Realmless, which a yet to be finished story still a couple years away from publication. Ahraia, the main character, plays a role in that series, and I knew the precise moment that she comes on to the stage, which intrigued me. From there, I knew one thing about her—she was wild. Born of the forest and the darkness, but I didn’t know a thing about her culture or society or why she was in the particular place she had come to be. The place isn’t exactly the place you would choose to find yourself, and so I started asking how she got there. The next thing I knew, a story was starting to form, and when the first line sprang into mind on a flight to Arizona, I was off to the races.
Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?
The world I’ve been creating is rather extensive, and most of the characters I’ve written haven’t seen the light of day yet. Many of my favorites are still stuck in rough drafts, and so it doesn’t make much sense to tell you about them, but from my first novel, Between the Shade and the Shadow, my heroine, Ahraia, is my favorite. She is strong and wild, and she marches to her own beat. She doesn’t conform to her society, and like me, would rather run from it all. Luckily enough for her, she doesn’t have a mortgage to keep her grounded.
What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?
This is tough. I’ve got a couple. Ahraia’s magic was always fun to write, but my favorite scenes are the first and the last scenes, and they are also the oldest. The last scene has too many spoilers so I won’t delve into here, but the first scene was the very first scene I wrote (in this book), and I fell in love with it because of the first two lines. “Midnight had come and gone and Ahraia still hadn’t found a shadow. If she didn’t find one soon, she was dead.” It came to me on a flight, and at the time, I was pissed because I couldn’t get to my computer to start writing. And so I made notes on my phone and tried not to let anything I was thinking slip away. The scene describes Ahraia’s hunt for a shadow, a type of woodland creature that will accompany on her journey towards adulthood, and takes her out of the forest for the first time in her life. I think the scene captures Ahraia’s spirit.
What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?
I like dialogue and action. If my plot is solid, it comes so easily that sometimes I can’t keep up.
How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?
My writing process is always developing. For the first ten years, I didn’t finish anything. I can write quickly, but finishing is my challenge. In the last couple of years I’ve had a lot more luck. Between the Shade and the Shadow took about three months to get the first draft out. That draft is entirely unrecognizable to today’s book. It was utter trash and it took almost another year to finish the second draft, and after that, I digressed into draft after draft. I think it was first book struggles.
What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?
I love Fantasy for a couple of reasons. First of all, the world can be full of wonder and adventure. It can be dark or light. It can be deep or frivolous. But the big thing to me is the range of ideas it can explore. This first book really was my exploration of the struggle to maintain self-sovereignty in the face of societal pressure. My central series meanwhile, gives me a chance to explore the ideas that I think are most important in the world— the struggle against racism, ignorance, hatred, bigotry, and oppression. Another story I'm working on examines the idea of tradition and love. In essence, I think the genre, along with science fiction, is uniquely positioned to set up and examine human problems, whether at a micro or macro level.
Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?
I think all the books I’ve read influence me. The big ones growing up were The Redwall series by Brian Jacques and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Most of the time, bad writing inspires me to keep pushing, and every once in a while good writing convinces me I should quit. But it’s only temporary. And if I take too many days off, I get agitated, so I get back in the chair.
Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?
All the time. I try to write from a loose framework, but I’ve never written a scene that went exactly as planned. The scenes that don’t work are when I try to force a character into doing something. Most of the time, I have to let them run the show. It is, after all, their motivation that is driving them, and so if you suddenly allow that driving force to become convoluted, the story falls apart. But motivations change, and that dance is what makes writing so difficult sometimes.
Thanks for stopping by!
Of course! Thanks for having me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coleman Alexander lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, exploration runs deep in his blood. Whether visiting the remote wilds of Alaska or the imaginary lands of his books, he is happiest with his head in the woods or the mountains. The farther off the beaten path the better.
His favorite author's include J.R.R. Tolkien, Patrick Rothfuss, and J.K. Rowling, and his work is influenced by a great number of fantasy and science fiction movies and books. Music plays an integral part of his writing process, and he is always diving down the rabbit hole for new musicians.
Between the Shade and the Shadow is his debut novel, but is only the first piece of a much greater world he is creating, the world of The Realmless.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live.
But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and eventually, to kill them.
Ahraia is a shade who has bound a wolf for a shadow, as strong a shadow as there has ever been. But while her wolf marks her for greatness, Ahraia struggles with the violent ways of her people. Illicit as it is, she would rather be running wild beneath the moons. But a test is coming, and the further she and her shadow wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her . . .
Genre: Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy, Coming of Age
Page Count: 464
Publication Date: June 21st, 2018
Midnight had come and gone and Ahraia still hadn’t found a shadow. If she didn’t find one soon, she was dead.
Her hair stuck to her face even in the bitter cold and though the sky was clear and overflowing with stars, a fine dusting of snow spun from the treetops with the gusting wind. The branches swayed and shifted. The light of the moons danced dangerously across the ground. But it was a lifeless dance—the woods were desolate. Deserted.
Dead, Ahraia thought. Like I’m going to be.
The lightrise was coming.
“Do wolves have names?” Ahraia murmured aloud.
The wolf’s thoughts burned like dim flames, ill-conceived beyond instinct. Her shadow’s ears tucked back nervously. She was thinking of the plains and the moons and her pack.
We tell stories about the moons, Ahraia conveyed, making her thoughts known to the wolf. They were wolves once, like you, sisters who roamed the plains. My people tell the story of the Blood Wolf and the Dark Wolf, but my favorite is the story of the Bright Wolf. Ahraia ran her finger’s through her wolf’s fur, knowing how unspritish that was to admit. The Blood Moon and Dark Moon were smaller and slower—they didn’t burn like the Bright Moon. Her shadow didn’t care. Her ears stood straighter; she was listening.
The Bright Wolf was the strongest wolf to ever walk the lands, Ahraia thought to her wolf. Losna was her name, and it was known from Everdark to Everlight. But one day, Losna’s mother was killed by the Dae-Mon. So bitter and angry was she that she leapt into the sky to chase after the Dae-Mon. Losna became the Bright Moon, the Masah, the great hunter of the night. Now she spends her night ruling over the world and her days chasing the Dae-Mon. That is why the wolves call for her. Because they love her. And they miss her.
Ahraia let her mind fall into silence. They walked for a time, dodging between slivers of moonlight that fell to the forest floor.
Losna, her shadow thought.
“I will call you Losna.” The name rolled off Ahraia’s tongue and rumbled in her heart. She nodded, as though it was decided. “It’s a good name,” she said, running her fingers through her shadow’s fur.
Ahraia’s mother knelt before her, a summer breeze rustling the silver-white hairs that had escaped her tarry-vine.
“Do you know the true purpose of our shadows?”
Ahraia used Losna to steady herself, clutching tightly to the thick clump of fur at her neck.
To guide us as shades? she conveyed. Her eyes and ears tipped down as tears dripped over her cheeks.
Three years had passed since she returned from binding Losna, and, since that day, she had heard her mother’s voice many times—but this would be the last.
Fog swirled from the opposite bank, spilling out over the waters of the Winnowlin and hiding the stars above. Her mother’s cheek bled from the Posturant’s cut, her mark of defeat.
Her mark of condemnation.
If she was nervous, she didn’t show it. Her stark-white eyes were fixed on Ahraia, her ears upright and face a veil of calm. Ahraia’s own lip quivered, and she couldn’t help as a stricken sob escaped.
Stop that, her mother conveyed. Golden veins darkened across her eyes, like tendrils of clouds crawling across the Bright Moon. It shows weakness. And you of all shades can’t show weakness.
Ahraia dragged a light-scarred hand across her face and sniffed hard. Losna nuzzled her, her tongue scratching across her wrist.
That’s better. Her mother wiped the remaining damp from her cheek, ignoring her own bloodied face.
“The true purpose of a shadow is not to guide the shade—but to make a sprite of her. Our shadows are a measure of us. They choose us as spritelings, when we are weak and naïve, grown of soft roots—and they leave us as sprites, hardened and sharp, cut from stone. But it’s what lies between that makes us who we are.”
“Wolves have ever been the most revered among us. Like us, they’re ruled by the strongest, with no heart for the weak. Losna marks you, as the light marks you. But unlike the light”—her mother paused, took her hands and turned them, so her scars were hidden—“Losna marks you for greatness. She marks the strength within you.”
She locked eyes with Ahraia and conveyed the next so softly that no one but Ahraia was privy to her thoughts. You will be an Astra one day. Perhaps even the Masai of the whole Silh.