Some thoughts with … L. L. Stephens

6 Aug 2022

The Author/s

L.L. Stephens

L.L. Stephens

L.L. Stephens is a hot modern female with delusions of supervillainy trapped in the body of a little old lady. Weekdays, she writes epic fantasy sagas and the occasional erotic novel or story. On weekends she plays card and board games with her husbands’ Big Italian Family, cooks delicious family meals, and paints board game miniatures. Occasionally she visits family in Wisconsin and Ohio and aspires to at long last visit the son in Georgia.

The Interview

Here we are, in one of my favourite sections that appears when I make a review, talking with authors, also known as Some thoughts with… Today we are accompanied by L. L. Stephens, a really prolific author whose novel Sordaneon is the first in The Triempery Revelations series.

Let’s dive in!

1.-First of all, why you decided to go for self published route?

I’m not actually self-published. I am published through Forest Path Books, an indie press. They’re top-notch and I couldn’t be happier.

The truth is I’m only interested in writing books; I’m not at all interested in publishing books. Being published, yes. Having readers is great. Knowing my books are making readers happy is the best feeling in the world. But I don’t like the work of publishing and if I had to do it myself I would never publish anything.

I love weaving worlds for readers to escape into. Giving life to fictional people and sharing their stories. That’s the happiest place in the world. But publishing is a different set of skills, a different hat altogether. From getting ISBNS to dealing with vendors to managing revenue streams, I would find everything about it nerve-wracking. There’s a lot of work involved in a writer publishing their own books and I have flat-out respect for those writers who do it. More yet for those who do it successfully. I would be a disaster at publishing myself—and I know this.

I’ve been published in the past by traditional and indie presses. One was a long time ago and the other was a different genre. I made attempts over the years to pitch Sordaneon and the series to agents, but never had success. My published history was either too far in the past (my query letter was mocked on an agent’s blog for having brought up an “old” novel) or in the wrong genre. It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at selling myself and my work. I’d send out queries to agents I thought promising, receive no response… and just go back to writing. Because I love writing. I hate querying. So I would write for another couple years before I would get in the mood to try querying again. A lot of time can pass that way. It’s also how I ended up writing all six books of the Triempery series while intermittently querying. The niche genre publisher I had worked with expressed interest, but they wanted me to change the focus of the book in a profound way and I knew they were all wrong for it. Even if their readers would have loved it, I wouldn’t have.

One day out of the blue, the publisher for Forest Path Books called and asked if she could publish Sordaneon. She had read the book and loved it. And she was also interested in publishing the whole series. Forest Path Books would do the stuff I didn’t want to do and I could just be what I want to be: a writer. It’s a match made in heaven. Plus she really believes in these books and wants them to be out there for people to discover and read.

2.-I find your worldbuilding really interesting, where do you draw inspiration for it?

Thanks! Worldbuilding and characters are why I write. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear a reader has moved into my novel and enjoyed being in it.

Everything is inspiration for worldbuilding. Mine almost certainly has roots in my nomadic childhood. I never lived more than two years in the same place and by the time I was a teen I had lived in just about every part of the continental United States. A lot of my worldbuilding is geographic. Where something is influences what it is, how it is, even why it is. Dorilian can be explained perfectly using geography; so can Essera or Ardaen or the Khelds as a people.

Of course, geography isn’t the only thing at work. Being practical, I acquired career skills—my writing, although I would gladly do nothing else in the world, would not support a guppy, much less a human being—and so my careers too provide inspiration. My worldbuilding is very much science-based and, courtesy of a career path later in life, infrastructure-centric. I adore infrastructure. How societies maintain their basic needs is fundamental to the kind of success they achieve… or can’t reach. The Rill is an example of infrastructure in worldbuilding: It is a supernatural being, yet because it builds economies and facilitates travel, the people of the Triempery think of it as a machine that serves their needs. Humans like a god that serves their needs. Because of what the Rill does, they’ve lost sight of what it is.

I love playing with ideas like that. Building a world to explore its concepts.Other aspects of my worldbuilding are cultural. I spent time in Bolivia—more geographic inspiration here, with the Andes—and the vibrancy of the people and culture, the music, the beliefs, seeped deeply into my imagination. Elements of the Aymara language and concepts of time have influenced a few of my stories. The Wall owes some of its function to the way the Aymara view Time.

Things like that. Economics. History. Nature. Colonialism and how it might play out. Everything inspires. If other-than-completely-human people lived among us, could we handle it? Would we diminish what they are to make ourselves feel more comfortable with the fact they exist? And how would we go about doing that? Would we choose to kill them off?

3.-It is possible that Essera gets some characteristics from old Greece?

You noticed that! It’s in the names, of course, people and places. Apollonia. Permephedon. The world of the Triempery originated in its very first form decades ago, in my teens, when I was quite absorbed by Greek and Norse mythology. The Aryati from my fantasy world fled to our world, so there’s a tie-in. They were the gods of our world, but Greeks were my first version of that. I connected the Aryati to other past cultures, too, but the Greeks were the first.

4.-Let’s talk more about the Sordaneons, what makes them so special?

The Sordaneons and their relations with the Malyrdeons, known as Highborn, are not completely human. Dorilian’s genes are maybe 60% human—the rest are genes created by Leur to convey Leur traits in a way compatible with human physiology and transmissible by human sexual reproduction. Leurs are not human at all. They’re gods. So the Sordaneons and Malyrdeons have god stuff—but only the males. There was more room on the human Y chromosome for Leur to put stuff.

Among other things, Highborn blood is immortal. Not the rest of their flesh bodies; not their lives. Just the blood. When the body dies, the blood remains alive. Forever. That kind of thing. The Highborn are different from humans in mostly in matters of their nervous systems, an ability to channel arcane energies, and a few other things. It’s not always obvious.

Because of these Leur traits, Highborn males like Dorilian possess the potential for gifts humans don’t have. Dorilian’s bloodline, the Sordaneons, originated with Derlon, who transformed into the Rill, and so Dorilian has an affinity to that god-machine and may be able to someday command or even integrate with it. No one knows for sure just what his potential might be or where it will land him—if he lives to fulfill it.

Readers will see Dorilian explore these questions about whether or not he is human. So do the people around him. As for powers… he’s connected to the Rill. There is no more powerful Entity.

5.-For me, one of the most curious aspects is how the Entities are sentient. Are they specifically concentrated in a part of the world?

There are only two Entities: the Wall and the Rill. The Wall is located in only one place, Stauberg. Its dimensions can change, but its location does not.

The Rill is also a single Entity—but it is visible and accessible at many locations. The Rill spans the entire Creation, even parts that are inaccessible to those who live on it (something Sordaneon hints at). Humans define the Rill by what they see, but they do not see the whole Entity.

The Rill appears to be concentrated along a corridor within the Triempery, which has used the Rill for centuries to make itself into an economic and military power. Other nations do not have active Rill nodes—but they do have inactive ones, usually without crowning structures. Readers can notice these sites peppered throughout the book: hills, often naked, but sometimes built up with forts or towns. They are mentioned in passing.

The Rill Entity has the potential to be/go anywhere in the Creation. For now, however, it is constrained to just a handful of locations.

6.- I know writers tend to say they don’t have favourite characters, but which one would you say it’s your favourite?

While I cherish and appreciate all my characters, I do have favorites. Marc Frederick is someone I would love to spend time with and Dorilian is fun to write, so I do love that about him. I adore Cullen Brodheson and I think some readers do, too. I rewarded Cullen with an expanded role in The Kheld King.

My favorite character of all is someone readers won’t get to know until later in the series.

7.-Which challenges have you faced while writing Sordaneon?

Sordaneon is an origin story. When I first showed what is now the third book in the Triempery series to my editor at DAW, he wrote back saying, “What about this guy? I want to know more about him and what happened there.” He meant Dorilian and Marc Frederick. He wanted to know Dorilian’s back story—and I wanted to give that to him, but life happened.

You know how life sometimes kicks you in the teeth? Life kicked hard. During my divorce, a judge literally ordered me to find a “real job” and stop “your fantasy about writing.” Obviously, I didn’t give up writing. But I had three children to support, and my royalties were puny, so I did stop the whole writing-to-publish thing. It’s complicated and involved my manuscripts as marital assets. In any event, Sordaneon wasn’t written until several years had passed.

But I did write it. I wrote it late at night after working all day. I wrote it on airplanes as I traveled cross-country. I wrote it in airports and I wrote it on notepads in my car while waiting for my sons at soccer games.

So there’s that kind of challenge, the life challenge. And then there’s the writing challenge: Sordaneon is an origin story.

I had written an entire series, or at the very least written the first draft of that series. Certain things had to happen for other things to happen. Which meant that I had to fit those events into Sordaneon, tell them firsthand. Set up an entire existing structure. It was interesting at times. Certain characters had to die or be born. Marc Frederick was no longer a legend; he needed to be made a flesh and blood human being. He needed to talk… say things. Stand for things.

I have drafts, so many drafts… so many conversations, and different deaths, and stabs at characters and relationships that just didn’t fit because there was no place for them in the later story.

I love how it all turned out, though. The ending just wrote itself.

8.- I want to ask a little about the Triempery. For some reason, the map remembers me to Europe, is this just coincidental? Any place that hasn’t appeared yet, but you would like to spotlight?

My continent and its seas have a few inspirations. Europe is one, to be sure. The Telarkan Mountains run east to west the way some mountains in Europe do and Sarkuan, the huge lake in its center could be seen as analogous to the Mediterranean Sea. Sordan enjoys a climate somewhere between Mediterranean and another inspiration. The overall north to south setup of the Triempery’s landmass also takes inspiration from the Americas—North and South, with Sordan being kind of where the Caribbean is. Except of course, Sordan is in an immense lake surrounded by a continent.

Amallar resembles the Appalachian U.S. because that is a country I have visited and lived in and know, so used my own impressions when writing. Amallar could also resemble European forested lands, though that would be coincidental. I’ve never been to Europe, though I would dearly love to go there. I use Europe quite a lot for inspiration, in part because I love the history. The Roman Empire also had a thing for infrastructure.

The Dazun could resemble the Danube or the Mississippi River (which I have researched to pattern certain things about it). The Sorand’ruil is based more on the Nile and rivers in China.

Though it did not appear at all in Sordaneon, I think readers are going to enjoy getting to know the Sorand’ruil, the great river between Sordan and the sea. In The Kheld King the river serves as the setting for heart-pounding action with Dorilian in military mode.

I also think readers will enjoy Gignastha and its poisoned lake. The Vermillion Aqueduct is there also, an important part of story lore. And they might like Randpory, a dusty smaller Rill port that, among other things, illustrates the scope of the empire the Rill has created.

9.- What can we expect from L. L. Stephens in the future?

Well, there’s the rest of the Triempery Revelations series. All six books are written and in addition to Sordaneon, which is already published, The Kheld King will be out in September this year. The third book, The Second Stone, is already scheduled for 2023.

This year I also hope to publish Moon Blood and Salt Flowers, a fantasy-horror novella featuring evil flora and Inca mummies set in 1560s Peru.

I also have three novels of a science fiction series based on my first published novel. Again, all fully written. I’ve never tried to sell them, either, but I think the world might be ready for my female-dominant quasi-human aliens and the lost colony of humans they enslaved to serve them.