Author Victoria Murata is a former middle school teacher who has published three novels since retiring in 2002. In a break from her historical fiction releases, she embraced the fantasy genre with her newest book, The Acolyte: Magicians of the Beyond (March 2021). You’ll find Vicky on Facebook and her Amazon author page.
What is your elevator pitch for The Acolyte?
Danica reads minds. It’s a problem for her because she’s been branded as “weird” by other kids at her high school. So, when Phil offers her an exciting opportunity to live with like-minded and gifted people in a place called the Beyond, she seizes it. But every opportunity comes with challenges. Her new home is literally out-of-this-world, and her training is rigorous for a mission she’s certain she’s ill-equipped. Once she leaves the Beyond and walks through the portal into another world, she discovers her lack of training is the least of her problems. The wicked magician Dumone knows her secret, and he’s been searching for her. When he finds her, he will do everything in his power to obliterate all she holds dear and destroy her.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
It’s a new genre for me. I’ve previously published two historical fiction novels, so writing fantasy required a different mindset. All fiction needs imagination, but fantasy requires the writer to venture into unknown territory and create worlds that don’t exist, with problems that have never been faced. It can be a lot of fun, but I believe the crafting must be carefully done to create a world that the reader will not only believe but will appreciate and enjoy.
How did the book come together?
I know this is overused, but the idea for this novel came from a dream which I don’t even remember any more. There’s been so many transmutations of this story since the beginning. But the main characters are still true to the original idea. All three of my novels have taken three to four years to write. When I write, and I don’t write every day, I begin with reading over the previous day’s writing. I edit and revise (I can’t help it!) and that usually gets me in the groove to continue and see where I’m taken. I’ve read often about the editing mind vs. the creating mind. For me, it’s harder to switch from one to the other when writing fantasy. Writing fantasy requires me to be in a stress-free and imaginative state of mind. If I’m distracted with a problem, it’s hard to switch it off so that I can write freely.
Who are your main characters and why will readers connect with them?
Danica is the main character in The Acolyte. She’s sixteen when she’s visited by a strange woman who tells her she has a destiny to fulfill. It all sounds wildly intriguing and mysterious to Danica whose life is underwhelming. She takes the plunge and follows this woman to a new and very different world. I think readers will connect with her because she’s a very human young “magician” who questions her abilities and wonders how she will ever be able to accomplish her mission. Another important character is Philomena. She’s a birthless, deathless magician who keeps worlds from destruction by the Others. She has a team of Coverts with unique powers who help her. Danica is the newest. She’s the acolyte, and if she’s successful on her first mission, she’ll be the next Covert.
Describe your main setting and why you chose it. Do you consider the setting a character in the book?
The settings are characters in a way because the details evoke emotions and feelings that the reader can relate to. The main setting is the Beyond. It’s a place created by Philomena where people live who have been transported from other worlds because their worlds were destroyed. In the Beyond there are five communities, one which houses the Coverts and all the people who were recruited to become Coverts. They are talented and magical, and they all constantly train for when they are called to embark on a mission. In the Beyond, they are trained not only in tactical offensive and defensive areas, but in languages, cultures, history, and skills that they need for their special objectives which all involve aiding or saving a world from interference or destruction by the Others. Another setting is Lymonia, a world in another dimension that appears Medieval but is so much more. Here is a place that is concrete and ephemeral at the same time.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for The Acolyte?
It was fun building the worlds in The Acolyte. The Beyond is so mysterious, so full of surprising and quirky elements. At the same time, it’s familiar in an imagined paradise kind of way. For example, there’s a labyrinth in the Beyond that offers so much more than a calm and meditative walk to its center. As Danica advances deeper in, she finds clues to her past and her future that scare her and propel her forward to her mission. Deciding how fantastical I wanted to go was difficult. I personally love fantasy when there aren’t too many “out-there” elements. As a young adult, I loved the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. It was set in a time I love, and it was just fantastical enough for me to believe it. Fantasy is such a huge genre and deciding on the elements that I appreciate in fantasy—and that I wanted to include in mine—was challenging.
What did you enjoy most about working on this project?
My stories are character driven, and I loved seeing Danica come to life. I loved seeing her decision-making process, sometimes fear-driven, and the consequences of her choices. I so enjoyed seeing her come to terms with her action and her failure to act. Part of Danica’s training in the Beyond for her future mission involves an obstacle course designed to test a candidate’s decision-making process, but this is no ordinary obstacle course. She must constantly remind herself that “nothing is as it seems.”
Of the three novels you’ve written, which one was the most challenging?
Historical fiction is easier to write in some ways. It involves much research, but the characters get to navigate through the challenges of the day, and they grow with each one. No matter if it’s historical fiction or fantasy, the characters have complex histories and complicated personalities. The challenge in all my writing is showing how the characters handle the problems they encounter. I enjoyed creating characters with strengths and weaknesses by showing the angst and the joy, the doubt and the certainty. The absolute fear. Nervousness. Indecision. And having them come out better for it in the end.
Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I did not hire an editor with my first novel. I had friends edit it. I had beta readers. I revised it numerous times. With my second novel, I hired an editor. She was fantastic. I was amazed at how much she found that needed “fixing.” I hired her to copy edit, not do developmental editing, but she did a little of everything, and she suggested eliminating a chapter that didn’t move the plot forward. I will never again publish a book that hasn’t been thoroughly edited by a professional.
What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I’m not a disciplined writer. I don’t keep a schedule. I have no rituals. This is probably why my books take years to write! The characters are always in my mind. I’ll go for days wondering how they’re going to handle a situation. The story is always percolating. Then I’ll get inspired and I’ll sit down and write. Sometimes I’ll write for hours. Sometimes just for a bit. Sometimes the words flow on to the page. Sometimes I do a little writing and a little thinking. I don’t revise as I write—I leave that for the next day.
Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I believe coming of age happens at all ages. We’re always growing and learning from life experiences. We never know it all or get it right every time. I’ve learned many lessons in my own life, and I’ve seen how repeated mistakes and lessons not learned have a ripple effect with far-reaching consequences. Most of my main characters are women. They all have devastating life events and challenges that bring them to their knees, but they come out triumphant in the end because they face their problems and overcome their sometimes crippling difficulties.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on book two of The Acolyte series. I’ve introduced a new character who is intriguing to me. He’s a ranger who was brought to the Beyond because of his superior tracking abilities and his amazing attention to detail. He knows the forest, the animals, the plants, and he never loses his way. He suffers from paranoia, so he doesn’t trust people, and he doesn’t go out of his way to socialize. He will be invaluable on the next mission to another world where there are strange doings in the forest outside of the capitol city.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.