Hello everyone and welcome to our latest author interview for the 7th annual Self Published Fantasy Blog Off! I’ve been working on reaching out to each of the authors who have landed in our batch of books for the competition to see if they would be interested in being interviewed or contributing a guest article in an attempt to drum up a little extra excitement for their book and (hopefully) get to know them a bit better.
Today, we are joined by the author The Outworlder, Natalie J. Holden!
If you want to check out the rest of our SPFBO coverage, be sure to check our SPFBO 7 landing page here. On to the Q&A!
Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello. Thanks for having me! My pen name is Natalie J. Holden. I’m a beginning author who just published her first full-length novel. I’ve been suffering from worldbuilding disease for years, but only recently managed to figure out a decent story to make use of it.
I want to start things off by asking: what is a great book that you’ve read recently and why should we give it a go?
The Linguist by C.F. Welburn – it had one of the most beautiful writing I experienced in a while. It’s dark and unsettling, so be careful, but damn, I wish I could one day write something so beautiful.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?
Currently, I live on writing. In the past, I had multiple special interests that were very intense for a few months or years then fizzled out. Ancient cultures were one. Mythologies. HP Lovecraft. Japanese metal music. Quantum physics. Then nutrition. Ecology. Now writing.
Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?
I was always making up stories. I could never find myself in the real world, I couldn’t get along with people, etc. So, I thought it would be easier in the made-up word.
The universe I currently write in was born when I was 13. That was… a long time ago. It evolved in time, got weirder, more advanced, reflected all the things that grabbed my interest along the way.
In my early twenties my life got complicated, I received some harsh criticism, and basically gave up on writing.
Only a few years ago I picked it up. At first in fanfiction and I think that was great—it’s a very supportive community and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find people who’ll enjoy your writing. And that was important, as I was now writing in English, which is not my first language.
One of my stories reached 70k, which was long enough for a novel, and I thought if I can write a novel-length work, why not a real novel?
So I dug up my old universe—luckily, all the documents were preserved. Found a one-sentence premise that became The Outworlder.
And so it went.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances, but it can be even more so as a self-published author. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
I haven’t. I mean, my real life is pretty messy, and writing for me is a mix of a coping mechanism, escape and hope for the future. I’ll let you know how it works out.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
This is my first full novel. Previously I published a novelette and a short story collection.
But getting the paper version took an extra effort, and it taught me that I shouldn’t run into anything face-first, but do my research and prepare everything in advance.
It also helps to have the right people lined up for the job.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
There’s never silence, is there? Cars running outside, dehumidifier buzzing behind me, water gurgling in the pipes… I prefer music, but it has to be very specific, not too fast, not too slow, no vocals, preferably instrumental (not electronic).
Is this your first time entering SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
I’ve been working on this book for a couple of years, and I put a lot of myself into it. It’s very personal and I think it’s deeper and more literary than most fantasy published. And more original.
Okay, that sounded like bragging. But I’m really not. I wrote The Outworlder to put all the things I missed in most writing. Characters that are not represented. Rich worldbuilding, to oppose the never-ending onslaught of quasi-medieval European settings. Themes that are close to my heart, but not often touched upon. One reviewer said there’s not a single trope in my book and while that might be an overstatement, it is certainly different. Which became a problem when I was trying to write the blurb and realized I had no familiar tropes to entice people.
What made you want to write in the fantasy genre? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I think I could write all kinds of novels in my setting. My universe is big – over 200 worlds, if you can believe it. Some of them are more traditional, perfect spots for epic fantasy, others are more advanced and would fit in with more sci-fi-like stories (like The Outworlder). There are ancient ruins that could house Lovecraftian horrors. Dragons, demons, and gods, though they rarely interact with us, mere mortals. Necromancy is a subject taught at the Academy, so dark fantasy is an option. A city on a crossroad between worlds, that is above the law.
To be honest, my dream is to start a shared universe with other writers making their own stories in my setting, kinda like the Metro franchise.
There are so many roads to releasing a book these days (which is wonderful!). Why did you decide to self-publish?
I didn’t think I’d have a chance in trad publishing. And I don’t take rejection well, so I decided to spare myself the trouble,
Are there any advantages or disadvantages to self-publishing rather than going the route of the traditional or independent presses?
Advantages: anyone can publish whatever they want and don’t have to worry about those pesky “trends”.
Disadvantages: anyone can publish whatever they want and don’t have to worry about those pesky “trends”.
Also, the costs.
What is one thing that you love about the current state of fantasy and what is one thing that you wish you saw more of?
I love how people from different backgrounds are able to make up their own stories. I love fantasy written by members of different cultures and I’d love to see more of it.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
Influences are definitely Lovecraft, Zelazny, Le Guin, and Sapkowski.
I’m not sure about current writers. I started reading modern fiction not long ago and I’ve yet to find someone as defining as those four.
C.F. Welburn impressed me, but I’ve only read one book. I also enjoyed a lot of stories written by East Asian authors: Nghi Vo, Neon Yang, and so on.
And my guilty pleasures are K.J. Charles and A.H. Lee.
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
A lot of description.
Lively dialogues between diverse characters.
Focus on characters and worlds rather than action.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I pantsed through my first book, but have the second one planned. We’ll see how it goes.
What are your favorite types of characters?
I like characters who are not bad-asses. And even if they are bad-asses, they’re not arrogant about it. Intelligent, but not looking down on less-educated people. LGBTQ+ is a plus. And recently, as I discovered I may be neurodivergent, I’ve been looking for books with ND characters, though I haven’t read that many yet.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
Aldeaith is basically me, with a different set of chromosomes (and cool skills).
For those who haven’t read The Outworlder, give us the elevator pitch.
Aldeaith, a second-generation immigrant and soldier with social anxiety, has to fight for his place in the universe in the wake of the war between two of his homeworlds.
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
Vivid. Unique. Soul-stirring.
What do you think is the overarching theme?
That anyone can find their place in the world and their people, though sometimes it may take crossing the worlds.
Were there any specific challenges with writing The Outworlder? Or, did you find anything to be easier?
The main challenge for me was that English is not my first language and I was really anxious about making my writing “correct”. I also had a problem finding good editors and the whole process took longer than it should.
Another thing was describing emotions. Aldeaith is very unusual for a fantasy protagonist, as in, he suffers from social anxiety and is very self-conscious. All emotion-writing tutorials focus on very basic ones: joy, sadness, wrath. It was hard to find good examples to take inspiration from.
If you had to do so in just one or two sentences, how would you describe the plot of The Outworlder?
When Tarvissian colonists rebel against Dahlsian Empire, the only Tarvissi in the Dahlsian army has to fight to prove his loyalty before everything he cares about turns to dust.
I’m not sure I can say anything else without spoilers. There’s a lot happening, you best go read it.
They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Outworlder?
I wanted to show a character torn between two nations. There’s Tarviss, land of his parents, represented by a white villa. And Dahls, a land he chose to serve, represented by a dark dome. If one seems more archaic and the second more futuristic, that was certainly intentional.
There’s a also battle between them and powerful magic being unleashed.
One of my favorite things is highlighting quotes that really resonate with me and sharing them in my reviews. Do you have a favorite quote from The Outworlder that you can share with us?
“You must be so disappointed. We’re the most advanced civilization… but all the magic in the universe cannot shield us from ourselves. We’re still humans. We still feel: love, hate, resentment. We still make mistakes.” He lifted his hand, seemingly inadvertently, to touch his scars. “It’s all terribly petty sometimes.”
What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?
Well, The Outworlder 2, obviously! I also have a new Tayrel Kan novelette planned (a sequel to Octopus Song) and a few short stories. But TO2 is the biggest one.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
Thanks for having me! I hope you’ll give The Outworlder a try and love it.
I’m not good at dispensing advice, but if there’s one I want to give: anxiety is awful, but don’t let it stop you from doing what you love. No matter what it is, you can succeed, if you try hard enough. I believe in you.
About the Author
A cat at heart and a hopeless herbal tea addict, Natalie J. Holden prefers imaginary worlds to the real one, but shamelessly uses fiction to tackle real-life issues. She takes not being good with people to the next level.
Author Website: https://www.njholdenauthor.com