Interview with C.H. MacLean, author of ‘Two Empty Thrones’

C.H. MacLeanTo young C. H. MacLean, books were everything: mind-food, friends, and fun. They gave the shy middle child’s life color and energy. Amazingly, not everyone saw them that way. Seeing a laundry hamper full of books approach her, the librarian scolded C. H. for trying to check them all out. “You’ll never read that many before they expire!” C. H. was surprised, having shown great restraint only by keeping a list of books to check out next time. Thoroughly abashed, C. H. waited three whole days after finishing that lot before going back for more.

With an internal world more vivid than the real one, C. H. was chastised for reading in the library instead of going to class. “Neurotic, needs medical help,” the teacher diagnosed. C. H.’s father, a psychologist, just laughed when he heard. “She’s just upset because those books are more challenging than her class.” C. H. realized making up stories was just as fun as reading, and harder to get caught doing. So for a while, C. H. crafted stories and characters out of wisps and trinkets, with every toy growing an elaborate personality.

But toys were not mature, and stories weren’t respectable for a family of doctors. So C. H. grew up and learned to read serious books and study hard, shelving foolish fantasies for serious work.

Years passed in a black and white blur. Then, unpredictably falling in love all the way to a magical marriage rattled C. H.’s orderly world. A crazy idea slipped in a resulting crack and wouldn’t leave. “Write the book you want to read,” it said. “Write? As in, a fantasy novel? But I’m not creative,” C. H. protested. The idea, and C. H.’s spouse, rolled their eyes.

So one day, C. H. started writing. Just to try it, not that it would go anywhere. Big mistake. Decades of pent-up passion started pouring out, making a mess of an orderly life. It only got worse. Soon, stories popped up everywhere- in dreams, while exercising, or out of spite, in the middle of a work meeting. “But it’s not important work,” C. H. pleaded weakly. “They are not food, or friends, or…” But it was too late. C. H. had re-discovered that, like books, life should be fun too. Now, writing is a compulsion, and a calling.

C.H. lives in a Pacific Northwest forest with five cats, two kids, one spouse, and absolutely no dragons or elves, faeries, or demons… that are willing to be named, at least.

His latest book is the YA fantasy, Two Empty Thrones.

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About the Book:

Two Empty Thrones 2With her powers growing every day, fourteen-year-old Haylwen Rightad thinks she’s safe in the magical forest. And now that she finally has the friends she always wanted, what is there to be afraid of?

But she’s not out of the woods yet. Old enemies rip through her beloved forest, threatening to haul Haylwen and her newfound friends away. Their safety shattered, Haylwen and her friends are suddenly at each other’s throats. Is the friendship she worked so hard for already ruined, or is there another, unseen enemy at work?

Haylwen and her brother must unmask this mysterious enemy before they can fight it off. But even if all their enemies are destroyed, the King of the magic users will stop at nothing to ensure he’s still in power when the dragons take over the world. And he’s hidden an enemy where Haylwen would never think to look.

If no one is what they seem, who can she trust?

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What made you decide to become a published author?

I don’t know if I really decided; it was more like I just realized who I was. I sat down, just to consider if I could write something real, you know, something I would want to read. I didn’t think I had an idea at all. All at once, like a pop-up window, an image replaced the page in front of me. Words flowed onto the page. Hours flew by until I snapped out of it.

Later, I went back to read it. It sounded nothing like the boring or sloppy stuff I have to push through to read, but engaging and dynamic.

Then came the choice part: work hard and give something to the world, or not?

Would you consider your latest book, Two Empty Thrones to be a one of a kind? How so?

Combining ancient elements in new-age application and emotions driving a fast-paced plot, Two Empty Thrones is unlike anything I’ve read. It sounds familiar, with words like prophecy and magic. But the sound of a horse’s whinny you heard turns out to be a zebra-pegasus with a hidden agenda. (That character isn’t in this book, but could be.)

Where is your writing sanctuary?

I live in the forest, down a tree-hugged drive. At the end, it curves like a smile, giving shade and shelter from the rain. Noise of the ordinary muted by distance, imagination can frolic in magic and wonder.

What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?

Two things are key. One, know publishing is a long process that involves more work than you think. I am sure everyone is familiar with that story. Two, trust yourself. I hear stories of good writers trodden down by watching their creative work be dissected, sterilized and jammed into a glass jar in an attempt to be published. Editing and the process are important and we can all improve, but you should be happier on the other side.

What inspires you?

I have no idea where the actual need or urge to write comes from. I’m sure there is some biochemical or psychological explanation, but saying it’s a calling works for me. But the actual inspiration to do all the hard work comes from hearing how other people enjoy it. To think I can be part of what makes life fun and interesting for people is such an honor.

What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?

How much other people liked it. Until you hear from people you don’t know, it doesn’t seem real. Finding out that people think it’s great brings my childhood love of books full circle, and inspires me to do more and provide a better experience for others.

Why do you love to write YA fantasy?

Fantasy allows a unique exploration of an unlimited set of potential conflicts. In fantasy, reality is bound only by imagination. In the same way, young adults face life-changing decisions for the first time, on the edge of first discovering who they really are. They create themselves, only limited by their own minds.

But that’s more why I love to read fantasy and YA. I don’t set out to write in a particular category and just write the stories as they come to me.

You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book. What’s the first ingredient?

Love of reading. It’s like water to life—it’s not living, but it lets everything else mix together. Without that, you have a dry and lifeless book. If the book can reignite that love for the reader, almost anything else can work. Title, plot, character, even language might be completely different from one best-seller to another, but the love will always be there.

What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?

While I intentionally didn’t include dry explanations, I found out a good deal of its magic aligns with in-this-world fact. I keep finding things in other research and say, “Hey, that’s in there!”

Aside from writing, what’s your passion?

I have many passions, with reading and writing as obvious ones. Being active in mental, physical and metaphysical arenas is what fuels all my fires. Trekking through the woods or cleaning up the forest, working to realign natural energies with my own, that’s what recharges me.

What’s next for you?

The third book in the series, We the Three, keeps me up at night begging to be finished, it’s so close to done. I am hoping to release it in the spring/summer of 2015.

I also just finished writing an intense book entitled Fire Above, a story about a young man who dared to dream and started the first human-dragon war. It is currently going through the first round of edits.

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