This week's Friday Focus has Marva Dasef answering questions on her writing. Marva writes fantasy books and other young adult books. I'm afraid I can't put all of her many book covers up but I've put up the ones I've read. Here we go.
Do you ever sit down with your baby (book) months after it's published, read it for pleasure and think, "I could have done that better"? What was it and what would you have done? OR... did you read it and think "Oh, this is great!" What was it you loved?
I wouldn’t have published unless I thought the book was great. That said, there’s always room for improvement. I just don’t dwell on that. “What’s done cannot be undone.”—Lady McBeth
What I have done is rearrange and combine other stuff to create a new book, which I put out under a different title. For example, “Tales of Abu Nuwas – Setara’s Genie” started as a few short stories about a girl named Cadida. It occurred to me that these fantastical Arabian-set stories would work as a continuous story as narrated by an old story teller, Abu Nuwas.
This is a frame story similar to the “1001 Arabian Nights” concept. Scheherazade tells stories to her new (murderous) husband, stopping at a crucial point in the story to buy herself another day of life.
I did the same thing, with the framing subplot being Abu Nuwas telling a young woman about Setara’s adventures with her fantastic gang of magical beings. While telling the stories, he’s also asking the young woman a few questions. When he discovers she’s committed to marriage to man she doesn’t love in order to save her mother’s life, Abu works the arranged marriage idea into one of Setara’s tales. He also knows a doctor who could treat the woman’s mother, thus freeing her from the marriage.
That’s what I did better. I reworked a set of short stories into a continuous novel-length book using a centuries’ old framing technique.
Are you a full-out plotter? Are you a "let's see what happens" pantser? Or do you think you fall somewhere in between? Describe your process in coming up with and executing a story idea.
I’m a plotter. I have a complete outline of the book chapter by chapter. Then I proceed to writing and change the outline, add new chapters, take out ones that don’t work, shuffle everything around, tweak the ending, add some characters, remove some characters. Yup, everything is completed plotted before I start to write, at which point my pants take over.
How old were you when you finished your first novel? Is that novel published today?
Carry the 2, take away 6, add the number of ells are in a mile... Let’s just say I was finished with my mundane career before I wrote any novels. Matter of fact, I only have a couple of books long enough to be considered short novels. I started my fiction writing with short stories. As my bio brags, I’ve published over 40 short stories and written a bunch more.
It’s not too weird to not have the 70K plus novels. Most of my books are for a middle-grade audience, so tend to be shorter.
Do you work any reality from your own life into your novels? If so, do you change it to make it more or less dramatic? How and why?
Yes indeed. In some situations, you only have your own experience to make it realistic. I’ve written about drowning in cold water. Yup, did that, but survived. Most of what I write about animals are from my own experience. One of my cats has a minor, yet important role as a witch’s familiar. I used the real cat’s name and character for the fictional one. Cornelius the Siamese with a wicked sense of humor. Of all the characters you've created, who is your favorite and why? Yes, we know you aren't supposed to have favorite children, but it's okay to have a favorite character. Be sure to tell us what book they are in.
Without a doubt, I love Kat, my inept teenage witch from the Witches of Galdorheim series. I definitely wrote from real experience (not the ability to do magic part) on her frustrations, joys, loves, and sense of observing others. She’s a better person than I am because I can write her character and remove my less desirable features.
She’s no goody-two-shoes and can certainly have a temper, but when it comes down to it, she always finds sympathy for even the worst character she’s facing unless that meanie is threatening her family and friends. That includes her all of her animal friends. Since her special power as a witch is the ability to communicate with animals, she’s an enforced vegetarian (not vegan). You can’t eat somebody with whom you just had a nice conversation.
How do you choose the names of your characters?
Quite a few of my characters had name changes while a work was in progress, and a lot of them in my middle-eastern fantasy stories. I had made up silly, meaningless names for most of the characters. They weren’t bad names, but just didn’t resonate. I completely revamped the two books giving all the characters names suitable to their culture and situation. So, Cadida (made that up) became Setara – meaning star; Bascoda (made that up) the Djinn became Basit – meaning one who enlarges; Gravella and Poltrice the demons became Azizah and Petros. Every character was renamed to a more meaningful name.
As for my big series (Galdorheim), Kat changed her name a couple of times. Katya, Katrina, maybe another. Anyway, at a writers’ workshop, an “agent” read a couple of pages of the first chapter and said something like, “The main character has a dull name while her brother is named Rune. That doesn’t make sense.” My answer was only in my mind as I said, “Thank you.” In my head, I was saying, “Look, you stupid twat, of course her name is mundane. Didn’t you even get that she’s a klutzy witch with bullying problems at school and part of that is her heritage?” And so on. The point I made with the mundane name is that she was different from the other witches. Duh. I wouldn’t have wanted that agent even if she was interested. Anyway, I changed the Kat’s name again, then went back to Katrina, and mostly referred to as Kat. I might have selected something different, but the name Katrina fit. People can read the series to figure out why Rune has a cool name, but his sister does not.
How does it make you feel when people who have read your books talk to you about them? Are you self-conscious, or does it inspire you?
I’m essentially an introvert, so self-conscious doesn’t even begin to describe it. Besides, people never want to talk about my books unless they’re also involved in the creation process, such as my fabulous Alpha and Beta readers, volunteer nit-pickers, and enthusiastic idea suggesters. The ones who ask me about my books are mystified as to what the heck I’m writing about. A witch with an Orca friend, a smart-aleck, half-vampire brother, a frozen between life and death Sami father, an aunt in love with the Troll King, an old sorceress who’s not really a sorceress, but has secrets. Yeah, that’s just the first book. And don’t forget the cultural reference Easter eggs for the adult readers, and puns flying all over the place. Good times.
Did you ever write a novel with a message to the readers, or at least, a message you hope your readers garnered from it? What was the book, and what was the message. Why did you want to express it?
Every book I write has a message underlying the story. Sometimes people pick up on it, sometimes not. I hope to write an entertaining story in either case.
“Eagle Quest” is pretty obviously about bullying and being the odd kid out in school. The book is about a half-Native American boy who wants to delve into his roots. He decides to go on a spirit quest to gain insight. He’s joined by three unlikely school friends who go along expecting to just be back up without actually interfering in the quest. That gets shunted aside when the kids discover eagle poachers. The setting is Bear Valley Wildlife Preserve in southern Oregon. It just happens to be an eagle breeding area, so finding an eagle isn’t hard to do.
Has being a writer affected how you read other books?
Absolutely. I’ve been beat over the head about the proper way of doing things like story arcs, consistent tense, keeping your character names straight! When I read a book by someone famous or not so famous, I’m editing along the way, writing notes and spelling corrections. If the flaws in the book are too numerous, sometimes I just can’t go on. Hey, Writer! I work hard at this stuff. You have no excuse not to do the same.
Did you write stories or make up stories as a child? Do you remember what any of them were about? Tell us...
Made up stories, but I didn’t write them down. Are you kidding? My parents would have put me in a mental ward. I had an on-going story where I was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. She had all sorts of adventures, all in my head, of course.
Marva is offering a free book of her Galdhoreim series to go with this article. For Friday 5th and Saturday 6th only. Get it now before it's too late!
BLOOD TIES TESTED FREE ON AMAZON JANUARY 5TH-6TH
Marva was born in Eugene, Oregon and after a few years wandering, has return to her hometown. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Technical Communications. She spent the next umpteen years working as a technical writer and programmer/analyst. In 2005, she gave up all that glamour for the solitary life of a fiction writer.
She has published more than forty stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with several included in Best of anthologies. She has several already published print and ebooks, and has produced seven audio books.
See descriptions of her published work at
Books in Ebook, Print, and Audio
Tales of a Texas Boy : Missing, Assumed Dead
The Witches of Galdorheim Series
Spellslinger :Bad Spelling
Midnight Oil : Scotch Broom
Blood Ties Tested
Books in Ebook and Print
First Duty : Ultimate Duty
Mixed Bag : Mixed Bag II: Supersized
Tales of Abu Nuwas 1 - Setara’s Genie
Tales of Abu Nuwas 2 - Faizah’s Destiny