Selah J Tay-Song is living proof that if you persevere, you’ll catch your dreams. She decided to be an author at the age of six. Today she is the author of the Dreams of QaiMaj series, an epic fantasy series described as magical, poetic and engrossing. When she’s not writing, she’s stalking the urban river otters that live less than a mile from her home in the Pacific Northwest.
Selah J Tay-Song FAQ:
Q: What was your inspiration for the Dreams of QaiMaj series?
A: The initial idea for Dreams of QaiMaj came out of a combination of re-reading “The Secret Garden” and dreaming about wandering through narrow tunnels, searching for something elusive. Of course, it evolved considerably from there! Once the characters started to materialize on the page, the story took on its own life.
Q: How do you create such realism in a fantastical story-world setting?
A: Even though I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, when I went into college, I started to worry about making a living. I was interested in biology, and a career in biology seemed like it would be much more stable than an English degree. So I majored in biology. While I didn’t end up pursuing science after college, studying math, biology, physics and chemistry grounded my writing a great deal. While I love writing fantasy, fantasy is always better when it follows rules that make sense to the reader. Studying the rules of our world gave me a foundation for creating realistic rules for my fantastical worlds and creatures to follow. The other piece of the puzzle is observing and, at least attempting to understand, human nature. If the characters ring true, the readers will forgive a lot.
Q: What does the future hold for the Dreams of QaiMaj series? Do you have a project planned after the series is complete?
A: Dreams of QaiMaj will almost certainly be a five book series. I will be releasing the last two books over the next few years. After that I’ll be taking a break from this universe and working on another project, probably a more traditional medieval fantasy. Eventually, I may return to QaiMaj to write some prequels and sequels. I’ll miss these characters! But I have so many other ideas for stories that I want to explore.
Q: Why did you choose to self-publish instead of seeking traditional publishing?
A: Self-publishing was a way for me to reach out to readers right away, without spending years in slush piles. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of eventually working with a traditional publisher, but for me right now, self-publishing makes the most sense. Instead of waiting to become an author, I am an author today. I am lucky enough to be in a community of a lot of other authors. The other thing I love about publishing my own books is the level of control I have. Writing is a very intimate, personal art for me and while I always listen carefully to feedback from editors and peers. Indy publishing gives me the right to say “this is my story, I’m telling it my way.” And that level of control is in everything, from the genre to the cover art to the formatting. The flip side of that coin is of course responsibility. If I get it wrong, I’m the one responsible. I’ve had to make a lot of mistakes. Luckily, the stakes are low when you’re starting out, and it’s easy to fix mistakes when you’re self-publishing with ebooks and print on demand.
Q: What authors have influenced your work, and how?
A: I grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia and George MacDonald and fairy tales, among many other things. When I was older and started being able to digest epic fantasy, I fell in love with Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. He was my very favorite for a very long time and through most of my early writing career, I aspired to write like him. But as all things do, my tastes evolved. Just a few years ago I discovered Robin Hobb, and she unseated RJ. The development of the characters in her novels is exquisite, and as I started to realize that it is characters who carry the reader through story, I started trying to write deeper characterization. But honestly, I pick up a little bit from every writer I read. Cinematic brutality from GRR Martin. Conflict and tension between allies from Robert Jordan. World-building from Brandon Sanderson. How to convey otherworldly magical realms from Tad Williams. Character development from Hobb. It all goes into the pot, and comes out, I hope, into something uniquely me.
Q: What draws you to epic fantasy, rather than some other genre?
A: Epic fantasy differs from other types of fantasy in several ways: It generally takes place in a completely author-designed story-world (think Middle Earth, Narnia, Westeros, etc.), it involves high stakes (usually the destruction or enslavement of the entire world) and it weaves together a complex cast of highly developed characters. I love creating whole worlds from scratch; I love the intensity of such high stakes, and most of all I love being able to work with a diverse cast of characters. Also, epic fantasy usually incorporates elements of other genres; often there’s a mystery to solve that relates to the eventual success of the heroes; inevitably romance is a strong element in the story.