Born in Fountain Valley, CA, raised in a small town called Montrose, CA, Amanda Orneck has never stayed in one place for long – until now. She currently calls Huntsville, AL home, where she spends her days writing, gaming, and loving her family to pieces.
Amanda received her Creative Writing degree from the University of Southern California, learning her craft at the feet of David St. John, Aimee Bender and Carol Muske-Dukes. While at USC, she received the Middleton Creative Writing Fellowship for excellence in poetry.
For seven years she honed her writing craft as a video game journalist, writing for GamePro, WoW Insider, GameGeex, and a handful of other outlets. In 2014 Amanda left the world of blogging behind to focus on her first love, fiction. Shadow of the Owl is her first novel, and she is currently in production on a cyberpunk novel entitled Deus Hex Machina.
In a kingdom populated with nomadic elves and human colonists, pampered princess Mylena lives a charmed life. Her world is thrown into turmoil however, the night her mother loses her throne, her kingdom and her life. Forced to flee the castle, Mylena must live in secret amongst the peasants of a small elven settlement, tending to her wounded father and eking out a living as an apothecary. As she does, a new sort of life rises from the ashes of her old one, a life that includes the kindling of romance with a young elven boy named Fionn. Mylena falls in love with her new life among the peasants, and prepares to spend her days treating illnesses and hiding who she really is.
Until the day the usurper’s minions find her and rip that life to shreds.
Now Mylena’s running from not only the evil sorcerer who wants her dragged back to the castle in chains, but also from those who want her to step into her mother’s position and retake her family’s kingdom. The once pampered princess must choose: Leave behind the simple life she’s come to love and rise up to save her people from tyranny, or stay hidden and watch it all burn down around her.
Q. Shadow of the Owl is a wonderful fantasy set in a world with humans, elves, sorcerers, and magic. Tell us about the story and its main characters.
Shadow of the Owl is a traditional fantasy novel in the vein of Lord of the Rings and Sword of Shannara. Mylena, the main character, is an exiled princess I think a lot of people would identify with. She’s struggling with growing up in a kingdom under siege, living in secret with her father in a village in the forest. The culture of the world is a bit unique in that the original inhabitants of Shadowhaven were a race of shamanistic elves, each of them born with one type of elemental magic. Add to that a group of colonizing humans who built a society with these elves, and you have a melting pot of a kingdom that is very much in its infancy. Mylena sort of represents this mixture, being half human and half pixie (the race of her mother).
Q. Do you find it more fun to write heroes or villains? Why?
I’ve never been a fan of villains. I used to do my best to write without them, but stories get boring without antagonists, don’t they? I have always rooted for the hero, and I find their stories more compelling to write.
Q. What do you like most about your Princess Mylena? What do you like least about her?
Mylena is incredibly strong willed, and I love that about her. Writing her character I often tried to make her do things in scenes and she just would flat out refuse. “I was raised in a castle, in comfort and luxury, I would never do that!” she would announced. It made writing her incredibly challenging and incredibly fun. I don’t like the selfish streak she has though. She’s the sort of person that thinks of herself first — I guess that comes from being raised as the heir to the throne. She learns to get a bit better on that score along the way, I’m happy to say.
Q. Why did you choose to write fantasy? What draws you to that genre?
I grew up on fantasy. My father was a huge sci-fi and fantasy reader, and one of the first books I remember him reading me was Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. I also think an unhealthy fixation with Disney princesses added to that, come to think of it.
Q. What’s different or unique about your story from other fantasies?
Mostly I think that I’ve got a unique bunch of people adventuring together. Aside from Mylena Saebariela, you have the orphan Chiave, who’s the only human with a magical ability in the realm, Warrek, the Captain of the Guard who comes home after duty out of the country to find his best friend the king is gone, and I can’t forget Joppa — she’s sharing memories with her dead twin brother.
Q. Readers may not realize that writers do lots of research, even for fantasy stories, before they complete a book. What kind of research did you do for this story?
I did a lot of research into medieval combat and herbology, specially about American plants and how they can be used for medicinal purposes.
Q. Which works and authors would you say influenced the book? How?
Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, most definitely.
Q. What was your favorite scene to write?
Definitely the swamp scene. You’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll probably agree that it’s the best.
Q. What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?
Since I started writing this novel when I was a child, combat was by far the hardest thing for me to grasp, so much so that I put down the manuscript for years until I “grew up” enough to be able to tackle those parts of the book.
Q. What inspired you to write this story with these characters?
I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, honestly. As I said, I began writing it when I was twelve, so who knows where the first spark came from.
Q. Do you have plans for more books in this series?
I do. Most likely two more books in the main series and if there is reader interest, Joppa might get a book of her own.
Q. Do you plan to ever write in a different genre?
I do write in science fiction as well. My current project, which I am doing the final edit on with my publisher, is a cyberpunk novel set in dystopic future California. It’s entitled Deus Hex Machina and sort of answers the question “What if worship of technology went too far?”
Q. What made you decide to get serious about writing? How long were you “dabbling” before you felt the time was right to publish your work?
I had sat on SotO for so long I honestly forgot about it. Then a friend published a book on Amazon, and since I was looking for work suggested I write some short stories and publish them as a way to get some income. I started planning some, then remembered I had a novel almost done, and the rest is history.
Q. A lot of writers seem to despise the editing process. Do you like it or hate it? How do you approach the task of editing?
Oh I love editing, but I spent many years as an online editor for various websites. I really love the process of taking raw writing and polishing it. I’m editing DHM right now, and it’s a ton of fun to be able to check off scenes as “fixed.” I use a lot of spreadsheets when editing (I also use them a fair bit when writing), to keep me organized and on track.
Q. Most of us authors don’t make enough money from writing – yet – to pay the bills. Do you have a job other than writing?
No, I used to write for a variety of video game websites, but I realized when that work dried up that I was chafing to get back to fiction, so this is my only gig now.
Q. When you aren’t crafting amazing stories, what do you do for fun?
I love reading (but I suppose that’s part of the craft, isn’t it?) and playing video games, watching movies and TV shows with great stories. Basically, anyway I can consume stories, I do it.
Q. What advice do you have for writers who want to become published authors?
Make a plan. Deciding which avenue for publishing you want to pursue is a huge step, and once you focus on self-publishing or finding an agent, it will help you focus your energy in the right places. Once you have a book you are proud of, make sure to get as many eyes on it as possible. Honest feedback is the greatest gift your friends can give you, and it’s even better if its from someone who doesn’t care about your feelings. Write a lot, read a lot, and never feel guilty for reading a book instead of doing something else. It’s research for your craft!
Q. Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?
Publishing today has changed so much, but even before the shift to a more indie-available paradigm, writing has always been seen as easy — after all, everyone can write. We do it every day, so therefore what authors do isn’t really all that valuable. I have recently come to own my role as an artist, and am proud to speak up in defense of writing as an art form. No, it’s not easy. Yes, anyone can type words on a page, but the crafting of characters, structuring pleasing plots and rousing scenes, describing details in such a way that the reader is captivated, none of that is easy. Writing is one of the hardest things I do, and though I often wonder why I pour so much of myself into this endeavor, I can’t stop. It’s who I am.
Q. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?
Oh, great question. My biggest issue with a book is a protagonist with all the tools. If your character has every key to every locked door, how is that interesting to read? If however, they encounter locks that not only bar their way, but fill the room with water every time you try to pick them, then we get to learn something about the character by how they react to the impossible. Give me struggle, and you will own my interest. Sure I want a hero to win the day, but I want to see them sweat a bit on the way.
Q. What’s your all-time favorite book? Why?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It won my heart with its magical realism, and nothing has been able to capture the joy of spontaneously appearing butterflies since (although I did try myself).
Q. What’s your all-time favorite TV show? Why?
Oh, that’s a toss up between Gilmore Girls and Firefly. Both of those shows gave us amazing characters that were witty and delightful. There’s definitely a bit of River Tam in Joppa.
Q. What’s your all-time favorite movie? Why?
State and Main. I love movies about writers, and there is something so charming about this movie.
Q. Where is one place you’d like to visit that you haven’t been before? Why?
Only one? That’s cruel. I would say Japan is at the top of my list because I’ve traveled Europe a couple of times, but I haven’t yet visited Asia.
Author Name: Amanda Orneck
Book Links: books.pronoun.com/amandaorneck
Deus Hex Machina: Inkshares.com