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Interview with Tahani Nelson

She is an author and English teacher in Billings, Montana. With hundreds of 5-star reviews and an ever-growing army of Faoii at her back, Nelson has become a common attendee at author events, Renaissance festivals, news programs, and conventions across the US - always wearing full armor and a face resplendent with warpaint. She strives to empower readers by creating strong, healthy female role models.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I can’t put my breastplate on by myself. My husband has to get time off work and come home to help me before every interview. I’m fine once it’s on-I can drive and move and do everything without issues, but I can’t reach the straps on my own. I never tell people because it kind of takes away some of the awesomeness, but I guess the secret’s out now. Thank gods I have such a supportive spouse.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
I just released the supplemental anthology for the Faoii Chronicles. It has short stories, new characters and old favorites, a brand-new novella, and three pieces that are from outside the Faoii universe. I’m hoping it will hold people over until the final book in the series, Faoii Ascended, came out on November 16. Faoii Ascended is going to be great, though. We’ve worked for so long to tell this story, and now everything that happened in the first two books finally culminates into a truly fantastic ending. I’m really excited to share that with everyone.

Q.3 What inspired you to write The Faoii Chronicles?
I’ve always loved reading, but classic fantasy is not often kind to women. It seems that we’re always slated as the love interest or the damsel in distress. Even when you find a badass heroine in fantasy, it feels like her aspirations and strengths change the moment she meets a man (or two). I was so over love triangles by the time I was 14. So I decided to write the stories I looked for when I was young: Matriarchal societies with women leading armies while wearing armor that actually covers all of their vital organs. And, as it turns out I wasn’t the only one searching for new role models. It’s been a truly amazing experience.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I really like the male characters in my books, but I admit that I have trouble making them as competent as my heroines. I also accidentally subvert a lot of the tropes I dislike about classic fantasy, especially at the beginning of the series. For example, my male characters in The Last Faoii are archers or dexterous fighters and wear leather armor instead of breastplates-which is the exact opposite of a classically sexist trope. However, since one of the main themes in the Faoii Chronicles is for people to look past preconceived biases and allow everyone to reach their full potential, that subverted trope really allows me to let a character shine once other characters finally see their worth.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I don’t use any formulae at all, to be honest. I write a story with only a vague idea of where it’s going and cannot control my characters at all. In fact, there have been several times where I’ve created a character specifically to fit a particular role in the story and they simply would not conform to that.

On the one hand, it makes writing a little more difficult, but it’s also a lot more fun. I’ve created scenes that surprised everyone (myself included) that I wouldn’t have ever gotten to if I’d made an outline of where I thought the tale would go. And my characters all take on unique personalities and traits that I don’t initially expect. I’m sure a lot of authors would say this is a “bad” system, but it works for me.

Q.6 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
The Faoii Chronicles includes 3 novels and a supplemental anthology. I like them all for different reasons. I love the world-building and overall plot of The Last Faoii. I loved exploring the far-reaching effects of war in Faoii Betrayer. And I am thrilled about the characters I created in Faoii Ascended

The anthology was really neat to write because there were no rules, and I could just explore the universe to my heart’s content. It gave me a chance to really look at the pieces of the timeline that didn’t make their way into the actual novels, and all of the short stories were requested by fans. If I have chosen ONE, however…I really like the novella I wrote for the anthology. The Iron Thread ties so many plots and characters together from the other books. It really feels like a solid end to a great journey.

Q.7 What was the hardest part of writing this series?
I really struggle with Imposter Syndrome. No matter what I create and how hard I work at making these novels worthy, there’s always the underlying assumption that they’re not good enough. That they’ll never be good enough. That makes it hard to find the motivation to keep going, sometimes. I broke a lot of “rules” with this series-I skip century between books, subvert a lot of tropes, and write in a genre that continuously gets made fun of by readers that think female-led military fantasy is stupid-and sometimes the comments from people telling me I “did it wrong” get to me. But overall, my support team is stronger than my dissenters. They kept me going through everything.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I assume sleep a lot more than I currently do.

Q.9 If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
Danai Gurira would be an amazing Kaiya. Ironically, I often get asked if the Dora Milaje in Black Panther-inspired the Faoii Order, even though The Last Faoii came out more than a year before that movie did.

Q.10 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
There are so many books published every year that it’s nearly impossible to be seen in that literary sea without good marketing. That being said, all of my best marketing techniques have been… weird. I had a 1-star review go viral once that really put The Last Faoii in front of a lot of readers. I do all of my events, interviews, and readings in armor, which helps me to make an impression (and has become the thing I’m known for). The best way to market yourself and your books is to stand out from the crowd-find your audience in their circles. Give them a reason to come to you instead of desperately chasing after them.

Q.11 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
My go-to D&D character is a Dwarven Cleric of the war domain. I like being able to help those that stand beside me, but also hold my own on the front line. I like dwarves because, aesthetically, they look the most like I do in real-life, and it’s affirming to find an entire race of short, husky people that aren’t immediately shamed for not being classically beautiful. In the real world, my armor photo shoots get shared with fat-shaming groups from time to time, but I don’t think that would be a problem in dwarven society.

Q.12 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?
We don’t all live solely on coffee and desperation. Some of us prefer tea. We are almost all nerds, though. I’m amazed by how many of my favorite fantasy writing friends are in my anime or sci-fi fandoms or (slightly) disappointed they have to stay at their booth instead of exploring the rest of a con. But getting to watch a fantasy writer fangirl is a thing to behold.

Q.13 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t compare yourself to other writers. There will always be someone who sells more books than you or who writes more each night or who has more reviews. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were a year ago. Or 5. Or 10. We never thought we’d get this far, so be proud of what you’ve done, not disappointed in what you haven’t.

Q.14 Among all the supporting characters in your book, who is dear to you and why?
Tendaji. He’s just such a strong support character, and I love him dearly. He’s also a definite fan favorite, so I’m so glad that I got to feature him more prominently in The First Faoli and Other Stories. A lot of people asked me to give him more “screen time” and I’ve been able to offer that in ways no one expected.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select him/her?
I select the font and images for my covers, and then one of my friends (usually Katherine Forrister or Evan Graham) put them together using a program I have no experience with. Originally, I did my covers by myself and they were terrible, so I’m really grateful for the support that people have given me. I love that they believe in me enough to help me with the things I don’t know how to do on my own.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
Most of my characters come to me with names attached, but sometimes I have to come up with something. If that’s the case, I usually find something that I associate with the character (sword, ocean, twilight, etc.) and look up that word in other languages. Once I find a version of the word I like, I switch around letters or play with the word until it’s something unique.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
I read all of my reviews. The good ones keep me motivated and help me fight off the Imposter Syndrome. The bad ones help me to improve as a writer. And, sometimes, I’ll find one that helps me with my marketing. So far, my best-performing ad was a 1-star review. Nothing is really good or bad-it depending on what you do with it.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
I’d love to meet Tamora Pierce. She’s one of the main reasons I started writing. She was the first person that really created characters I could identify with. And even though I write darker stories than what she introduced me to, I want to thank her for opening the gate I was allowed to go through. I want her to know how much a difference she made in my life, and how much she convinced me that it was okay that I’d rather have a sword than a glass slipper.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
I really like Kelsey Rae Barthel’s Beyond the Code. She and I met right when we started our author journeys, and it’s been such an amazing treat to grow and learn with her.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I started off with a terrible indie publisher that never paid me any royalties and really turned me off from the writing experience altogether. But I persevered and decided to self-publish the minute I could escape my previous contract. Self-publishing has been a game-changer. I love having an active role in every part of the process and knowing that everything-all of my successes or failures-is because of what I’ve done or haven’t done. It’s turned into an amazing experience that consistently helps me to learn and grow.

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