E. L. Lyons
E.L. Lyons is the author of Starlight Jewel. Her first published novel and the first entry in the Gifts of the Auldtree series.
The pseudonym is more for sentimental reasons than anonymity. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Regent University. She’s worked as a pool manager, beauty department manager, relief counselor at a youth shelter and as a live-in caregiver. She hopes to finish her next novel from a loft overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.
1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
I didn’t have publishing in mind at all when I wrote the first draft of Starlight Jewel. I wrote it because I love to write and it’s what I wanted to write. I was surprised that I finished that first draft, and disappointed with how different it read from the story that had been in my mind. I sought help on a critique site and started the arduous process of editing, which really turned out to be relearning to write.
I never expected this book in particular to be salvageable. I just wanted to improve as a writer so that I wouldn’t be so dissatisfied with my next attempt at a novel. But as I rewrote each chapter, I fell a bit more in love with my own book as it became closer to what I had in mind.
But since it was written for me, it was a house of cards. I hadn’t bothered to explain a lot of things in it, because there’d been no need to explain them to myself. Once I started trying to explain those things within the book to bridge the reader's experience with my own, I realized that the book was unnecessarily complex with the family relations, multiple names, different factions, and hybrid laws vs human laws in varying places.
I simplified what I could manage to simplify without destroying the integrity of the story’s structure, but I feared what an editor might do with my watertight-but-too-messy plot/world/ship. I didn’t want to put the creative control into someone else’s hands without knowing if they’d sacrifice the story in favor of simplicity. While there were many reasons, this was ultimately what drove my choice to self-publish.
2.- How did the idea for Starlight Jewel appear?
Sometimes I like to go back and read Grimm’s fairytales. When reading their version of Cinderella (many came before, many after), it occurred to me that this Cinderella was rather darker than the Disney one and that it (like most of the Grimm versions of things) would be an excellent epic fantasy if I fleshed her out in a more morally gray fashion. So apparently I got the idea in the same way that SJMaas did, though I’ve never read her books cover to cover. I did read her Cinderella retelling after learning about the similarity (and being quite worried about it) and we took… very different directions. I had actually never heard of romantasy as a genre and still have yet to read a romantasy. I don’t think I ever will.
The idea was just a small part of it though. A story idea so small is really not worth much for me when starting to write something. I had been doing pretty well with a sci-fi novel I’d been writing, and felt like I might be ready to try something that delved a little more into what I really wanted as a writer. So I paired that idea with the desire to add in elements of what moved me in the real world, namely family, friendships, and morality, along with the lessons and feelings that surround them.
3.- Could you tell us more about the different races in your world?
This is a difficult one without spoiling the origin story of the sprygans and other creatures/races that’ll be featured in the rest of the series. Book two, based mostly in Remorra, has basilisks, sandsirens, and a drider-like woman. Book three will delve into Ordem with phoenixes.
4.- From all the characters you created for Gift of the Auldtree, do you have any favourite?
My favorite to write is King Henry (and that spoiler character that shows up halfway through the book), just because he’s very light and energetic. High-energy characters that don’t have to wrestle with morality aren’t as relatable, but are easier and more exciting to write as they bring pep and suspense to the story.
However, my favorite character overall is Baj. She isn’t very fun to write and was actually the trickiest character to write. I still feel like I failed her a bit as an author and didn’t manage to capture her as clearly as I hoped to. Even if it’s not clear to readers, Axly’s entire story hinges on her relationship with Baj. Her brokenness, worldview, wants, and relationships are all a reflection of how she viewed Baj when they were children.
5.- Sprygans and Hybrids are interesting concepts. Could you tell us more about how did you conceive them?
As a kid, I was kind of a mythology geek. Spriggans are a Cornish fae-like creatures. Tree-like little men with big heads. They’re kind of silly-looking, mischievous creatures. However, the RPG Dragon’s Age took liberties with the concept of spriggans, making them elegant, lithe, and magical with normal-sized heads. I loved the art for them and how majestic they were. I’ve always loved the woods, and the DA concept of spriggans sat well with me. But I hadn’t ever considered writing a story about them. I prefer low magic, and DA (unlike mythology) presented them as a high magic sort of creature.
I had written a few “test scene drafts” of Starlight Jewel–the ballroom scene, the opening scene, a few ending scenes–and it was just a regular low magic fantasy with no sprygans. Then I was in the car and the song, “Roots” by In This Moment came on. I hadn’t heard it before but it perfectly fits the character of Axly that I’d been developing. Kind of suddenly while listening to it, the scene from the chapter “Riddled Roots” came to mind, then I drudged up spriggan lore from my memory and decided to take the DA approach and just be liberal with the concept.
I decided to make them as grounded as they are in Cornish lore, as elegant as DA, but… darker, a bit more menacing, and regal. I thought up a fun origin story (I don’t want to spoil book two for anyone) for the sprygans and started brainstorming what the anatomy and physiology of my sprygans would be, then how that would translate to hybrids, then how each society would function based on that.
Traditionally it’s spelled spriggans, but that didn’t have very regal, fantasy, or intimidating vibes in my opinion. Sprygans, for reasons I couldn’t guess, fit better with the image I was trying to create with them.
6.- For a debut novel, Starlight Jewel is relatively long (170k words). Did you plan it, or was just how it ended?
I planned it. I’m definitely a plotter, but something of a flexible plotter. I had at least half a dozen endings planned, along with a lot of options for arcs and other plot points. Sometimes where I intend to take my characters isn’t what feels natural when I’m actually writing, or things just don’t work out like I expect. But I like to have points available to get me back on track. When I got a little closer to midbook on SJ, my momentum slowed and I skipped to the end and wrote backwards from there, then just kind of skipped back and forth until I had a full book.
Then I added in King Henry because the midsection was slow and dry, so that tacked on a bit more length.
While SJ is my debut, I have written a lot over my life. I’m a compulsive writer. I usually run out of steam on books when new ideas come to mind and the difficult midsections bog me down. It used to not bother me when I didn’t finish books because it was just a hobby. I never got feedback on anything. I was very self-conscious about the hobby partly due to my dysgraphia and also because it seemed like a waste of time. But eventually, it did start to nag me that I wasn’t finishing books and I became a bit more determined.
The point being though, all the books I’ve planned to write have been chonky. My brain seems to think in long plots and drawn-out character arcs. I’ve pondered a number of times if I could have made a shorter version of SJ, and I don’t particularly like the idea. I’m not sure I can function as a writer in a smaller space/word count.
7.- What does E.L. Lyons like to do in her free time?
Reading and writing are my most time-consuming hobbies for sure. But I also enjoy video games. I have some gaming friends who I haven’t gotten to hang out with much while writing/editing the last few years. When I was just writing as a hobby, it didn’t take up as much time. I would write furiously for an hour or three, then I’d feel relieved of the story and I could game. Now I write, then I edit, then I market, and maybe on the weekend, I’ll pick up a controller once every couple months. But I love RPGs and FPSs mostly when I’m gaming.
I also love to hike and garden and generally just be outside. I’m hoping to move back to a more rural area soon, as I miss the quiet and fresh air.
8.- What can we expect from E.L. Lyons in the future?
I’m halfway through writing and editing book two of the Gifts of the Auldtree series, and I expect to be done around the end of this year some time. It’s… more violent than the first book, and more fast-paced.
I’m still chipping away at episodes of Bad Knack, my redneck fantasy humor series about Tammy Lynn, a shotgun-carrying magicker with a flying carpet. I’m terrible about advertising it, but I enjoy writing it since it’s lighter and less complex.
After book three of GotA is out, I’ll probably do a sci-fi trilogy, the working title of which is Dread. It’s been brewing in my head for about as long as GotA and I started writing test drafts before starting GotA.
I’m slowly working on the audiobook for SJ, but I live right beside a jet base, so… it’s not going well so far.