As a criminal prosecutor at the Delaware Department of Justice, R. A. Denny would fantasize about writing a novel.
Then one day, after watching the first Hobbit movie with her family members who share her love of writing, she spouted off an interesting fact: Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ riveting fantasy novels came about as a result of a writer’s group called the Inklings.
“We could do that,” one of her sons responded.
She laughed. He followed it up with a challenge. The gauntlet had been thrown. Her unexpected journey had begun: R.A. Denny, the fantasy novelist was born.
In the beginning, Denny continued her day job as a prosecutor. However, once immersed in the Tzoladian Empire, the writer in her demanded that she pursue her passion of writing full time.
R.A. Denny received her law degree from Duke University. She loves adventure, animals and history. She has traveled to the ancient rock city of Petra on horseback, flown through the jungles of Costa Rica on zip lines, and visited the Great Pyramid on a camel.
R.A. Denny has two wonderful sons. When she is not writing or reading books, she enjoys swimming, drawing, kayaking, and horseback riding.
Let’s get started. What was the funniest mistake you’ve made as a writer?
When I started writing my Mud, Rocks, and Trees Series, I used the scientific name, patagium, for the fold of skin between the ankles and wrists of my Glider race of people. In one scene, Brina’s father hugs her, and I wrote that he “wrapped her in his warm patagium.” My “Inklings” all said it was disgusting and laughed at me. They made up ridiculous sentences using the word patagium until I was laughing too. As a result, I coined the term “glides”. Much better, don’t you think?!
Absolutely. We can’t use everything we find while reading up on our worlds, although I enjoy diving into a research hole. What’s been the most memorable piece of research that you’ve turned up?
I love this question! I can’t possibly pick just one. Looking up “random useless information” is one of my favorites pastimes. I weave together ideas from many different cultures and hope that my readers will have fun identifying them! Here are some examples that I found while doing research for my Mud, Rocks, and Trees Series:
- According to Herodotus, Scythian warriors scalped their victims, drank their blood, made their skulls into cups lined with gold, and used their skin to make leather items. Tattooed women warriors on horseback fought beside the men, shooting bows and arrows. Archaeology has confirmed these claims.
- Herodotus also claimed that people living beyond the land of the Scythians hibernated for six months out of the year. Archaeology hasn’t confirmed this tale…at least not yet. Currently, scientists are researching human hibernation for future space travel.
- Pangolins are adorable mammals covered in scale-like armor made of keratin, the same substance as our fingernails. When frightened, they roll up in a ball to protect their vital organs. They can also spray like a skunk. In the 19th century pangolin scales were used to make armor for men and horses. Sadly, pangolins are currently the most trafficked animals in the world and are in danger of extinction. Save the Pangolin!
- Moringa seeds can purify water. The leaves contain an incredible amount of nutrition, reduce inflammation, and can protect against arsenic toxicity.
- Moken children in Borneo can see clearly when diving deep underwater just like dolphins and seals. These “sea nomads” can make their pupils smaller and change their lens shape. With practice, any child can learn this skill.
- Gold is created by a supernovae collision.
- Sulfur burns blue.
What’s the craziest story idea you’ve ever had? And did you write it?
Yes, I wrote it! My crazy story idea became my Mud, Rocks, and Trees Series. I’ve always loved huge trees. When I was a kid, my Dad built me several treehouses, and I raised flying squirrels. When I watched my pets leap into the air and zoom from tree to tree, I wanted to live like that! So I created the Gliders in the Mud, Rocks, and Trees Series. They travel around their forest home by gliding.
Nowadays some people actually do glide in wingsuits as an extreme sport. It looks exciting, but zip lines are as close as I get to the real thing!
What about your upcoming work? Will there be more books in your series?
Thanks for asking about this! I’m about to publish “Warriors,” Book 4 in the Mud, Rocks, and Trees Series. Here is a sneak preview of the blurb:
“Let the battle begin! The vast Tzoladian army clashes with the Karsonian confederation in the valley of Mt. Sarmos. But the stakes are higher than a mere human fight for power. As the cruel emperor intensifies his persecution of the “subhumans,” the three chosen teens make tough choices that will decide the fate of the world.”
Spoiler Alert!!! Readers who have not finished books 1-3 should not read the rest of this blurb! Skip down to the next question instead!
“Young Amanki is a soldier fighting for an empire that wants him dead. After losing her freedom and her seal, Brina faces the ruthless leader of the Sparragi tribes. Meanwhile, Tuka is surrounded by intrigue, while plots of assassination abound. How can the three bring the seals together?
Thrown into circumstances they never would have chosen or even imagined, the teens must adapt or die. Have they forgotten their true mission?”
Who are your writing heroes and why?
C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Dostoyevsky. They carried me away to another place and time to impart new meaning into my life. Through them I discovered fantasy books and Russian literature. I’m so enamored with C.S. Lewis’ that I read Phantastes by George MacDonald, The Everlasting Man by G.K Chesterton, and The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius just because Lewis named them in his list of books that most influenced him.
I did something similar. I read The Guns of August because it was one of President Kennedy’s favorite books. I was interested in the subject matter, but also as to why it was so important to him. Besides understanding your influences, do you have any basic writing philosophy or tips?
- Everybody has a story in them. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our task? We find ourselves in stories. So, just write! You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
- Start your own group of “Inklings.” Meeting with other people who love to write will help to get you across the finish line. We all need encouragement!
How do you develop your characters?
I base many of my characters on people from history, including some from the Bible. My more sinister characters are based on the research of Stanton Samenow into the criminal mind, which I studied as a criminal prosecutor. In addition, I use characteristics of people I know and of course pieces of me. One of my most evil characters is based on a person who bullied me!
Do you find it more difficult to write your first draft or to revise?
I fly through the first draft and then revise forever. Revisions are tough.
I hear you. This is exactly how I write. Do you have any revision tips to share?
Yes. At some point, you just have to stop.
What has been the hardest thing about publishing for you?
It is difficult to put my work out there and wait to see what people will think. Like all art, it is a piece of me! Every time I see that my number of reviews has gone up on Amazon, I feel really excited and happy. Then there is that moment of doubt before I look. What if it’s bad?
I think of the scene in the film Dr. Zhivago when Yevgraf tells his brother, Yuri, what he’d heard about his poems. With deep concern, Yuri answers, “Not… liked? Not liked by whom? Why not liked?”
My writing is not really finished until the words I have written reach somebody else and have meaning for them too. In the end, although it can be difficult, receiving feedback has turned out to be one of the best things about writing! And thankfully, almost all of my reviews have been really good so far. Thank you, readers!
How did you decide on your genre?
I love fantasy!
So do I! What is the single most important quality in a novel–what must an author do to win you over?
They must make me either love or love to hate their characters.
Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
Yes. “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair.
What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Hmm…I become frightened very easily. But my theory is that if you volunteer to go first then everybody thinks you’re brave, and you end up being brave. Trust in God and take the leap.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first book at age 6, and yes, I still have it! It is called “The Funny Kitten.” It is an eight page story about a kitten named Snowflake who is so mischievous that she even tries to drive a car.
Tell us something that will surprise us.
When I was a criminal prosecutor, I traveled around the country giving bullying prevention speeches that included teenagers in skits. I love being on stage! In 2006, I wrote and produced an indie bullying prevention film that was shown in schools and film festivals around the world. You can watch Strings of Fear on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjiHUw1J8p0. The students in the film were a joy to work with and so talented!
You can find out more about R.A.Denny at https://radennyauthor.wordpress.com/about/, and you can read the Look Inside to Book 1 of her series here: https://www.amazon.com/Refugees-Mud-Rocks-Trees-Book-ebook/dp/B06Y5X34F9/.