I had the privilege of interviewing M.H. Elrich, author of Etania’s Worth, a Christian YA fantasy story now available as an audiobook! Etania’s Worth is her first novel—one that I got to see her create from the ground up. In the spirit of a true interview, however, I’ll be pretending I don’t know her or anything about her book so I can ask her some very authorly questions. ☺
1. What got you into writing? Did you always want to be a writer, or was it a process of realization?
I got into writing because of my second grade teacher, Ms. Bowman. She asked us to write a story for class and then asked us to write one every week, with pictures. Because of her assignments, I grew to love creating stories. That passion for creation continued until I was in fourth grade, and my church went through the program 40 Days of Purpose. The children's program was slightly different, but the point of looking for God's purpose for me individually came through my mind. Creative Writing was my calling, and since then, I haven't stopped writing.
2. In a nutshell, what is the plot of Etania’s Worth and who is Etania?
In a nutshell: Etania Selali is an eighteen-year-old woman whose father is a powerful man in Tamnarae, where she lives. Her somewhat-ordinary life is shattered when she fends off an attacker with a power, or Neuma, she didn’t know she had. When her father discovers Etania’s gift, he wants to use her as a weapon to stop a new threat rising over Tamnarae. But Etania has other ideas, and only the death of a loved one can propel her on a quest to discover her true worth.
3. What inspired you to write Etania’s Worth? How long did it take you?
I was inspired to write Etania's Worth after I came up with an idea for a woman to travel to a new fantasy world. This woman was Lavanna, Etania's daughter. Even though I scrapped the idea for a portal fantasy, I thought it would be fun to write a Christian fantasy not only about Lavanna, but about Lavanna's parents. The idea for Etania was born somewhere in 2012, and it took me six years to finish Etania's Worth.
4. Have you ever been published before and, if so, where?
My short stories have been published in The Write Word, Orpheus, and Short Fiction Break.
5. Do you read much? Who are your favorite authors?
I read as often as I can in the margins of my life. I'm more attracted to fiction than nonfiction because I often read when I'm tired and want some entertainment or escape. Some of my favorite authors include Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Anne Radcliffe, Janette Oak, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Rick Riorden, Ted Dekker, Tricia Mingerink, C.S. Wachter, and Jaye L. Knight. In nonfiction, I enjoyed reading books by Jeff Goins, Joanna Penn, Chris Syme, and Joni Eareckson Tada.
(I'd say that qualifies as reading a LOT! Those are great authors...some are my fav, too.)
6. In Etania’s Worth you are listed as the author and publisher, so I am guessing that you self-published it. What led you to make this decision?
Honestly? Prayer. I had researched both self-publishing and traditional-publishing, and I really liked how much control I could have over my work by self-publishing. However, I knew it would be hard to market on my own. So, I prayed about my decision and God confirmed that I should self-publish it by the Holy Spirit.
7. As a Christian author, how much does your faith influence your writing?
My faith defines my writing. I can't write without incorporating my faith in some way-whether through symbolism, as was the case with my short story, "Breaking Free" or through outright action, with my short story, "Elizabeth's Courage." Etania's Worth is a cross between both because it has a God character through Melchizidek, like C.S. Lewis' Aslan. Whatever I write, I seek to honor God in all of it, embracing the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be the Glory).
8. What would you say was the most challenging thing about writing Etania’s Worth?
Finishing and refining it. At first, it was finishing, because I wanted the beginning to be perfect before continuing to write, and that's impossible to do for the first draft. Second, it was refining the story, because I have a hard time editing my own work. However, it was well worth the pain and effort to have a finished product.
9. Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I do a little of both. I plot out the most important events in the story so that I can know when my characters change. However, often I will start writing and the story will take different twists and turns that God inspired or I felt like doing. So I wouldn't say that I write "by the seat of my pants" in the purest sense, but more like a "guided" tour where I may be hiking in a forest of Redwoods, with specific points to stop, but no other plans.
10. How much of yourself (or others) do you put into your books?
I think Etania and her companions are all different parts of my personality more fleshed out and walking around. I did base Jakin loosely on my brother, whose humor I tried to infuse into my character and Keyel loosely on my husband, whose quiet confidence is echoed in Keyel. However, that is where the similarities end, because I strive to make my characters unique.
A Map of Southern Tamnarae, the land where the action of Etania's Worth takes place!
11. What is one thing most readers probably don’t know about your specific genre?
Christian fantasy is thriving. Most people think of Christian fantasy as beginning and ending with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. However, that simply isn't true. There are many Christian fantasy books out there that are just as great of quality as Tolkien and Lewis's stories. I think it's important for readers to convey that Christian fantasy isn't dead, and how there are many other books out there just like mine.
12. How did it feel when you first published Etania’s Worth?
I literally squealed when I first published it. I loved the fact that I could read it on my tablet, phone, kindle, or laptop and that I could hold it in my hand. It is been so much work to get it to be published, so it is nice to see it done!
13. What is your opinion of the Christian fiction market in general?
Just like Christian fantasy, Christian fiction is thriving. There are plenty of people out there who want to read a clean Christian fiction story. Consider Hallmark, which plays clean Christmas movies during this season. Those movies are more popular than ever. So are the recent releases of I can only Imagine and The Shack. The Christian fiction market is alive and well.
14. Would you say Christian speculative fiction authors are more likely to succeed self-publishing or traditionally publishing, and why?
I think it is important for those authors to consider what their definition of success is before I answer that question. If you want to win awards and be more accepted by media sources, then traditional publishing is for you. If you want complete control over your work, then self-publishing is for you. So I don't want to recommend one over the other for the Christian speculative fiction author, because it really depends on you, and what God tells you to do.
15. Are you part of any writing groups and, if so, how has that influenced you?
I am part of a writing group we call the Inklings, after J.R.R. Tolkein's and C.S. Lewis' group. This group has been influential in keeping me accountable and helping me come up with new ideas. The group is the reason I was able to finish and polish Etania's Worth, so I highly recommend joining one if you haven't already.
16. What advice do you have for writers struggling with their first novels?
Make time each day to write. Get into a writer's group. Then write.that.first.draft. Those three pieces of advice are
how I was able to finish my first novel, and I definitely think that's how any writer will succeed.
17. Who would you recommend as the ideal reader for your book?
Even though this has been put in young adult/juvenile fiction, the ideal reader of my book was an adult 18+. That being said, I think teenagers with a higher reading level and understanding would still enjoy my book. My main character is eighteen and the book is very much a bildungsroman, where a character becomes an adult. However, my following books will have more mature things that my characters face, so it will be less appealing to young readers.
18. Some see "Christian fantasy" as a contradiction. What would your response be to that kind of criticism?
I don't see anything contradictory in the words "Christian" and "fantasy" because fantasy is essentially fiction with unique peoples and cultures. I think anyone criticizing the genre because they think fantasy has magic and spells, which are against the Bible. However, Christian Fantasy, in my opinion, treats spells and forms of magic as evil. So the argument that Christian fantasy is evil because of those things is wrong. On the other hand, if Christians believe that fiction shouldn't be written, I point to Jesus' use of allegories to teach lessons. I believe the story is the best way to reach non-Christians, inspire and encourage Christians, and help them remember the truths of God. Christian fantasy does the same-with sparkly unicorns!
19. If you could be any character in your own work, who would it be, and why?
This is a hard one! I really would like to have fire powers and teleportation like Jakin. I also would love to be able to heal anything like Keyel. Growing plants and shielding others would also be cool, so Cephas would be a fun character to be. However, I would probably choose Etania, because she is the closest to me in personality.
20. Now that you’ve finished Etania’s Worth, what’s next for you?
First, I will finish Toothbreaker, a novella that takes place during Etania's Worth but follows the story of a man Etania changed with her Neuma. This story is available for free for any of my e-readers. Then, I will work on finishing the second in novel in my Daughters of Tamnarae series, Etania's Calling. My plan is to come out with Etania's Calling by December of next year.
Thank you for your time interviewing me, C.E. Stone! ☺
Thanks, M.H.! It was fun! You can buy Etania's Worth on Amazon in a variety of formats, and follow my friend on Facebook and Goodreads for updates and news about her fantastical universe. ☺