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2017 May 30, Tuesday
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S. J. Reisner Interview
by Anne Verville
First published online on 2005 August 01.
Editor’s Foreword
Note to readers: Writers commonly refer to word lengths using K as an abbreviation for 1,000. For example, 25K would be 25,000 words. So, where S.J. refers to a work being 50K, she is indicating 50,000 words and not kilobytes or degrees Kelvin.
SFFH: Article

Congratulations upon the publication of your first novel, Left Horse Black! I’ve read the excerpt on your publisher’s site (ArcheBooks). I think Left Horse Black will launch readers into such a fascinating yet realistic world of magic and adventure, they’ll hate to leave it!

I find the title very intriguing. Would you explain its meaning, or would it spoil things?

Thank you! Basically, the title has to do with a myth in the story that the characters find parallel to their situation. It’s a play on words really. It’s a combination of Left Hand Path philosophy (worship of the self), and the color black being representative of hidden mysteries and the unknown. As for horses, they are well known (like most animals) for their keen instinct to recognize hidden danger. The choice of a horse goes back to an incident from my childhood where I was spared a rattlesnake bite because of a horse’s instinct. This explains the title without really giving anything away.

I also find the names of your characters–Tnasha and Aragel, for example–intriguing. They seem to fit perfectly. How did you come up with them?

When I’m world building I usually sit down and just write lists of nonsensical names, or foreign names, or names I like. Then I play with them. A vowel moved here, a consonant added there. If I know who the character is before hand and have a good idea of his/her personality I will fit a name to a character. But in the case of Left Horse Black, I started with names and built the characters around them.

You dedicated your novel to your sister Connie, who encouraged you to follow your dreams. On your site you say you wrote a 100-page book when you were only seven. That’s amazing! Did you try other professions before you followed your sister’s advice?

Actually, I started writing short stories when I was about seven. I wrote the 100-page novel when I was eleven. I started out in college as a journalism major and ended up with an English degree. I thought I would go into teaching, but decided against it because I didn’t think I had enough patience. I ended up being an administrative assistant, webmaster, IT person, and accounting clerk for the family business. My sister was there for me through all the rejection and moments of self-doubt. She’s been one of my biggest fans and toughest critics throughout my writing career. It’s hard to find someone who knows your work so well and who will always be there for you. No one else I know would have read the novel three times like she did. I’m lucky and grateful to have her.

In the acknowledgements section, you thank Karen K., who “helped me tremendously during the ugly stages.” Were there many ugly stages? Would you describe any of them?

There were three ugly stages. See, Left Horse Black was originally three separate novels that became the current novel. My first novel was called “The King’s Nephew” and ran approximately 50K in length. Two years later, at age twenty-one, I wrote my second novel, Traveling on the Left Horse Black. That novel only weighed in at 40K. So there I was with two very short novels in first draft form. The problem was neither of the novels worked. They were ugly. The stories were simple, the characters lifeless, and nothing about either book felt right.

Then, one day, when I was about twenty-five, I had an epiphany over my morning bowl of cereal. Both books were an attempt to tell the same story from different character points of view. It was then I decided I could just cut and paste both books together, alternating point of view every other chapter. So I began my third novel and decided to call it “The Black Blade Asunder”.

Much like Frankenstein’s monster, the third novel was an abomination. One could tell it had been haphazardly sewn together from pieces and parts written at different stages. Yet I still had hope and decided the bones of the novel were good. With that in mind, I started over from square one, changed the title back to Traveling on the Left Horse Black, and rewrote the novel from beginning to end. It was re-titled Left Horse Black during the final stages of editing.

You will be a member of at least two panels at the RMFW Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference starting September 9. What are your feelings about being on the panels?

I’m uneasy about public speaking because I’m kind of shy, but I’m also excited because being on the panels will give me a chance to pay forward and share what I’ve learned with other writers. Hopefully the information they receive will help them make educated choices about their own writing careers. I’m not sure what to expect. Luckily I’ve had a chance to converse with the other panelists via e-mail and have found some comfort in the fact that many of them have done this numerous times before. It’s definitely going to be a learning experience.

I see that you will have your first book signing soon, either at the Gold Writers Conference or the Black Canyon Writer’s Conference in October. Have you ever been to a signing? What are your hopes and concerns regarding the signing?

I have never been to a book signing so I do have a lot of concerns. Everything from what to wear, what type of pen to use, do I just sign my name unless they ask for an inscription? I need to stop biting my nails. Is my handwriting terrible? Should I practice? How should I set up my table? Where should I sign? These are the some of the crazy things going through my mind. I’m also concerned about having to pitch my novel in a sentence to a potential reader without tripping over my tongue. My hope is that someone will actually want me to sign their copy of my novel, and that I won’t embarrass anyone (myself included).

I read on your website that you crawled through the dank remains of medieval English castles and crossed the towering battlement walls of Warwick, despite your fear of heights. You performed these feats in order to “get a feel for” Left Horse Black. You are obviously very dedicated. Where else have you traveled? What else have you done for the purpose of “getting a feel” for your works?

I love that you asked this question. I’m someone who believes “Write what you know” is not bad advice. If you don’t know, then you have an opportunity to learn something new. I have taken various types of swordsmanship lessons (Fencing, Kendo, Elizabethan), I collect edged weapons so I handle replicas and the real thing often, and I’ve practiced archery among other things. One of the trips I took was a tour of Western Ireland on horseback. We rode from town to town from the Mt. Shannon region, through the Burren and down to the Cliffs of Moher. We spent 5-8 hours a day on horseback, cared for our own horses, and ate on the trail. The only thing the trip didn’t include was camping out. We stayed in B&Bs at night. I did it because I wanted to know what it was like to actually travel a long distance on horseback. I’m glad I did, too. For a character who rides, but who isn’t accustomed to riding for long hours–it can be a physically demanding experience.

I know that Left Horse Black is only the first in the Sorcerer’s Twilight series. Do you feel pressured by this fact? Or reassured?

I feel reassured because the story couldn’t be told in one novel. The second novel is written and undergoing the final edit, and the third book is half written at this point. The only pressure I feel is to make the next book better than the one before it. I don’t want to fall into that pattern of the first novel being good, the second so-so, and the third lousy. I want to continually improve and make each book the best one I’ve written.

Is there anything else you’d care to tell us?

I’d like to encourage readers to consider supporting small press and independent booksellers. A lot of wonderful authors are debuting in the small press these days and independent booksellers are usually the only place you’ll find a lot of small press books in stock. And, of course, for shameless self-promotion of Left Horse Black and The Sorcerers’ Twilight Series readers can visit my website at http://www.sjreisner.com/ or my publisher’s site at http://www.archebooks.com/.

Thank you very much for talking to us. We are all looking forward to reading Left Horse Black and more of your gripping works!

I enjoyed this interview very much. Thank you!

Anne Verville is a New Hampshire freelance writer who enjoys reading a variety of novels, but the fantasy genre may quickly become her favorite.
Purchase S.J. Reisner's Left Horse Black
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