One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition as an advisor for Fantasy Book Review’s judging team. I decided to offer a spot to the authors in our group and will post them throughout the year. To see all of our content regarding the competition, check out my SPFBO page!
Staci Olsen grew up in Alaska in a 16×20 foot cabin with ten other people (give or take a few). She bathed in a wheel barrow, was hunted by wolves, and watched the northern lights dance in the sky. She survived earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and extreme cold. Now Staci lives in Utah with her husband, four sons, one daughter, and a dog in a townhouse that is much too small, but she is used to small houses.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
I once modeled my retinas. (I’m not sure if you actually wanted an answer here. Haha.)
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
Beast’s castle, mostly for the library, but complete with a ruined wing to explore.
What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
A domovoi! It’s a house spirit that protects your family if you are good and respectful to it. They can be both endearing and scary.
Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?
I’ve dabbled in writing since I could write, but my younger brother (J.A. Devenport in this competition) is the one who really influenced me to write novels. We liked to draw maps of fantasy worlds together. Then he started writing a novel based in one of those worlds, so I decided to write a novel too.
The self-publishing route is a long story. I attended a writing conference at Brigham Young University called Life, the Universe, and Everything and bought a pitch session with an agent. He loved my pitch and asked me to submit to the publisher he worked for. They rejected it, but later the agent contacted me because he was in the process of starting his own publishing company. Initially, he was only going to publish authors that had been previously published, but since he liked my pitch so much, he wanted to give me the opportunity to submit to him even though I was unpublished. So I did and his company asked me to rewrite and resubmit. They wanted me to cut 20,000 words, a huge chunk of the novel. At the time, I was just too close to the story and couldn’t objectively see what to cut. I sat on it for a year before I started doing the work. By that time, a close friend had been hired at the company and she informed me that they had picked up a different book with shape-shifting dragons that could compel people. Part of me was frustrated with the traditional publishing process and part of me wanted to get my story out before this other, kind of similar story, so I chose to self-publish. I’m really happy with my choice and I’m leaning heavily toward doing self-publishing again for my next novel.
Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?
Oh my goodness gracious! I hate picking favorites! How can I pick one from a lifetime of reading? They ALL influence me. However, to play along, I really love C.J. Cherryh’s way with words.
If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger Staci prior to releasing Defender of Dragons what would it be?
Don’t give up and listen to your friends.
What SPFBO means to you? What do you hope to gain (fame and wealth aside)?
Exposure! I’d love to gain a wider audience. So far, I think only friends and family have read my book and I’d just like for more people to enjoy the story. Gaining an audience that is external of my personal circle would be amazing.
What inspires you/your world?
Alaska. That’s where I grew up, so I tend to write about a similar world. Someday, I intend to write a book about my childhood. It was quite unique.
Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?
At this point in my life, I identify with Astrixi, the mama dragon, because I have five kids and I’m very focused on raising them. I would want to be in an asylum with Redrick. He’s such a nut that I’d always be entertained.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?
I have read all of them so far because they’ve all been good. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with bad ones yet. I’ll probably read the first few and then stop.
Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2018 that you are excited to read?
Honestly, I have no idea what has or will come out this year. The last time I actively followed release dates was when Harry Potter was coming out.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
The Book of Mormon. Setting all religious reasons aside, it is absolutely chock-full of compelling stories: tyrant kings, unlikely heroes, rising and falling civilizations, war and politics. It’s really beautiful.
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
I recently became an acquisitions editor for Immortal Works Press. So, if anyone is interested in traditional publishing for their next project, send it my way! www.immortal-works.com
If you’d like to get in contact with Staci Olsen, you can find her on social media:
Read an excerpt below and get Defender of Dragons by clicking on the cover:
Read an excerpt of Defender of Dragons:
Advisor Kon waited with a small crowd of tittering, lavishly dressed courtiers. A gaggle of the king’s own wives and concubines had collected to observe the spectacle. Their colorful clothing rippled and waved in the morning breeze.
The tests were supposed to be private, since a failure embarrassed the high noble family involved, but word always got out when the attempt was to be made and people gathered to watch and wager on the outcome. I had never observed a test in person, until now. Marveling that my own sister would make the attempt, I gave her an encouraging smile.
“Lord Delgrosa, Lady Denyell, welcome,” Advisor Kon said, sparing only a dismissive glance for me with his large, round pupils through the fat lenses of his tinted goggles. That small, insignificant glance sent a wave of discomfort over my skin. His eyes were repulsive, weeping, reddened, with a crust of dried tears coating his lashes. Though he directed none of his potent attention toward me, he gave me a feeling of unease and foreboding. He eyed Denyell and her confidence wilted under his leering stare.
“Let’s get this over with,” said Father.
“Very well,” Kon said. Without further preamble, he spoke to Denyell. “When we get inside the building, it will be dark, as dark as a cave in the mountains that the feral dragons prefer to lurk in. I have charge of one of King Caelon’s lucent-stones.” He caressed the metal box on his belt. “I will expose it to the dragon and while he is entranced, I will remove his pendant. While he is free, I will cover my lucent-stone. During that crucial moment, he may flash if you are not quick enough. The rest is up to you and your mettle.”
My father couldn’t suppress a doubting sneer.
Advisor Kon continued, “Expose your lucent-stone and the dragon will come to you, unable to resist, like a moth to flame. Do not let the dragon touch the stone, for if his skin contacts the stone, the dragon will die, instantly. Though dead dragons are valuable for their parts, we prefer them alive. Place your pendant around its neck before it flashes. Then command it to obey you. If you succeed, you will be the next Delgrosa Dragon Taker. If you succumb to your fear, you may die. Dragons flash without warning and lust for killing. We have lost Dragon Taker applicants in the past.” A sickly smile attested to the pleasure he took in such a loss.
Denyell nodded once. She pulled a glistening pendant from her pocket, her small hands trembling minutely. She swallowed. Father opened the onyx box and removed the lucent-stone, its light blinding, yet contained, brighter than the moon but dimmer than the sun. He hefted it with a grim look, the light playing between his fingers, and then passed it to Denyell.
She tried to receive the priceless stone with unstable hands. Father thought she had it and let go. Denyell fumbled and the lucent-stone fell with a ringing tone into the dirt, tumbling to a stop at Advisor Kon’s feet.
Father backhanded my sister. “Foolish girl!” he shouted.
Advisor Kon bent and picked up the lucent-stone, brushed it off with the glove he wore, and then passed it to Denyell. “Do not fear,” he said with a sallow grin. “Lucent-stones are indestructible.”
Nevertheless, Denyell gripped it tightly, afraid to drop it again. Her cheek glowed red where Father had struck her.
“You can do it, Denyell,” I said, trying to boost her wavering confidence.
She glanced at me and then turned toward the building without replying. Advisor Kon escorted her to the doors and effortlessly pushed one open. He entered first, leaving a dark rectangle staring Denyell in the face. She hesitated for a long moment on the threshold, then walked inside, the darkness from within reaching to enfold her. Kon grabbed the door’s metal ring with a gloved hand and pulled it shut behind them.
A heavy feeling descended upon the assembly. People began to shift their feet and sweat though the morning was not yet hot. I found myself quivering and panting. Fear crept into my mind. My instincts told me to get as far away from that sinister building as possible, but my sister, Denyell, was in there. I could not leave her. So I braced myself and stood next to my perspiring father, waiting for Denyell to emerge. Or be killed.
For the first time the gravity of the test fell upon me. Denyell’s life was in serious jeopardy. Everyone agreed that wild dragons were severely dangerous and bloodthirsty. They retained human form even in their natural environment, unless moved by strong emotion. Surely an opportunity for escape would stimulate the dragon inside that building. In the moment after Advisor Kon removed the pendant, the dragon might flash, could flash, would flash.
“Father,” I whispered, braving the oppressive silence, worried for my elder sister.
I’ll never know if he planned to reply. A long, desperate scream broke the silence, followed by pounding on the door. I took a step forward to open it, but Father stopped me with a pinching grip on my arm.
Advisor Kon shoved the door open from the inside, proving the dragon was under control despite Denyell’s panic. She bolted out, hair and skirt whipping as she ran. She raced across the courtyard and flung herself into Father’s arms, sobbing hysterically, shaking like a leaf in the wind. She still held the pendant and the lucent-stone.
Advisor Kon exited a moment later, shut and barred the door, and then approached solemnly. “She has failed,” he announced.
The ominous feeling lifted like a curtain and suddenly people chatted and laughed as coins changed hands.
Father stood stiffly, enduring Denyell’s hysterics. Then, tired and disgusted with the scene she made, he shoved her off, his face granitic. She collapsed in a disheveled heap on the unsympathetic ground. Brown dirt smeared her made-up face and muddied her tears.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I couldn’t d-do it! I couldn’t! I was so afraid!”
My father bent and snatched the lucent-stone and pendant from her limp hands. Without a word, he turned away in revulsion and shame and headed for the carriage.
I hesitated, unsure whether to follow him or to comfort Denyell. Choosing the latter, I knelt next to her and stroked her hair like my mother used to stroke mine after I’d endured one of Father’s beatings. “It’s all right,” I said. “You’re safe now.”
She prized her appearance above almost anything else, but my attempt to brush the dirt off her face displeased her. “Get away from me!” she shrieked and swung at me.
The palm of her hand stung my cheek in a wild, poorly aimed attack. I stood and stepped back.
“What should I do?” I asked my father, who had stopped to look back at me.
Father gazed at the lucent-stone in his hand, his features dark with disappointment and anger. He seemed torn with indecision. Finally, he said, “You should take the test, Alskan.”
“Take the test,” he repeated.
Chatter grew louder among the courtiers and concubines. Some that had been leaving quickly returned, eager to witness the growing spectacle. Advisor Kon smiled his eerie smile and adjusted his goggles. Even Denyell stopped bawling and stared at Father with her mouth agape.
“Father,” Denyell gasped. “She’s too young!”
“She’s seventeen,” he said.
“But she’s so immature. She’ll never be able to pass that test.”
He ignored Denyell.
I gawped at him.
“Do you hear me?” he shouted, his face reddening. “Take the cursed test!”
Afraid he would strike me in front of so many observers, I stammered, “Yes, Sir.”
He shoved the lucent-stone and pendant roughly into my hands.
Chuckling softly, a sound that made my skin crawl, Advisor Kon dabbed at his damp cheeks with a handkerchief and said, “Follow me then.” He led me to the monolithic doors. I kept looking back at Father, expecting him to change his mind, that this was all an elaborate hoax at my expense. Advisor Kon pushed the door open. The hinges groaned with the effort of bearing such a load. He entered.
The opening gaped at me. Acting without thought, I stepped inside. My mind had stopped functioning. The door closed with a dull boom that echoed off the high ceiling and distant walls and suddenly, I was in darkness. A gasp of fear escaped my lips. A heavy bar thudded into place and the advisor moved with a rustle, then opened his hand. His lucent-stone gleamed from the palm of his glove, drawing a small circle of light around us. The thick goggles over his eyes flashed in the light.
Presently, a dragon slave shuffled into the circle of light, the same dragon selected from our home. His eyes fixated on the lucent-stone. His lips parted. He seemed unaware of anything but the light.
Advisor Kon looked at me. “Are you ready?” he asked, an odd, skeptical, almost mocking tone in his voice.
I squeezed the artifacts in my hands. “Yes.”
Advisor Kon quickly lifted the pendant from around the slave’s neck. Carefully, he stepped back until he was standing beside me, his hands steady, the light of the lucent-stone unwavering. Then he covered his stone, plunging us into darkness once more.
Immediately, an oppression of fear filled me near to bursting. The darkness was a burden, like a physical blanket made of chains, but the dragon did not flash in that brief, intense moment of vulnerability.
I uncovered my father’s lucent-stone and backed up until the door pressed against my sweating back, the edges of the metal bands pushing against my shoulders and hips. The free dragon stood his ground and disappeared out of the circle of light when I backed away from him. A mistake. Now I didn’t know where he was. Advisor Kon’s continued presence scarcely registered. My hands shook and thoughts ran through my head.
Here comes death. Violent and slow. Try to save yourself. Run! Run away! Run away! Pitiful, brainless female. Worthless for all but pleasuring men. You do not have the strength to face this monster. I know your weakness and fear. Be afraid. Run away!
Then the images began. Fire, acuate teeth and claws, blood and bodies, screaming and violence. Such would be my fate if I faced this free dragon. I knew it without doubt. Here would I die. Alone. Torn and ravaged. My blood spilt upon the ground. My last breath rattling away from among the splintered bones and a cavernous hole in my chest.
Terrified and suffocating in dark thoughts, I clutched the pendant until its sharp edges cut into my fingers. My hands shook so badly that the lucent-stone was in danger of falling from my open palm. More than anything I wanted to run, wanted to pound on the door as Denyell had done and be released into the light and free air.
But what then? Rational thought attempted to circumvent my fear.
What would become of the Delgrosa family? Of my sister? Of my father? Denyell should obtain her dream of being Prince Walker’s wife and queen. Father might smile at me and be proud, even for a moment, that he had me for a daughter.
Run or die! Run away!
I pushed at the cruel inner voice, trying to give myself room to think. Mama had done this and succeeded. If she could do it, then couldn’t I? Couldn’t I be as strong as she had been? Standing here, now, petrified by the weight of darkness and dragon, the knowledge of my mother’s strength reassured me.
I felt it coming then. The dragon.
A faltering step brought me forward to meet it. With that step, I realized that the consuming desire to run did not come from my own mind. The wretched images formed in a lurid, inhuman brain and transferred somehow to me. In some manner, the dragon pressured my thoughts with its own vile will. With that essential understanding, the urge to run became easier to resist.
The dragon shuffled back into view, drawn to the enticing light. It drew closer with slow, deadened steps, unconscious of its own actions, its face slack and sagging, its gaze fixed. I steadied myself, concerned that the dragon’s trance might break if I dropped the lucent-stone or the pendant, allowing it to flash. If it flashed, I would die. Advisor Kon would die. All the people waiting outside betting on the result of the test would die. I knew its thoughts. I had seen my own death in them.
Surreptitiously hooking my fingers through the chain of the pendant and spreading it wide, I prepared to drop it over the dragon’s head with one hand.
The dragon shambled nearer and nearer. Fear knotted my throat, choking and thick. Finally, the creature stopped before me, staring at the lucent-stone on my hand, appearing completely human but for the strange, vertically slit pupils, like a string of black pearls. Quickly, I swung the pendant high and looped the chain over its head. One side of the chain caught on the dragon’s right ear and I gave it a rough yank so that the pendant fell against his chest. My rattling fingers brushed the dragon’s greasy hair. I flinched. But the pendant was on.
“Don’t hurt me!” I blurted. “Obey me! Don’t take off the pendant!”
Seeing I would not continue, Advisor Kon recited, “Maintain your human form always. You must remain a slave and compel everyone to never remove your pendant. Obey your master in all things. Always perform at your best.”
The dragon didn’t move, slave once again.
Advisor Kon abruptly opened the door. The blackness in my mind vanished and consciousness of my violently wobbling knees replaced it. My hand closed over the lucent-stone. The dragon slave’s eyes rose from my fist to my face, revealing the sickness that overwhelmed him as he recognized his renewed captivity.
And I knew that he could have and should have flashed, but he didn’t because he didn’t want to harm me and because Advisor Kon was too near.
I stumbled into daylight.
Advisor Kon grabbed the slave by its shirt and yanked it out the door. “She has succeeded!” he shouted. “Lady Alskan is the new Delgrosa Dragon Taker!”
The gathered courtiers erupted into cheers and applause. I tottered to my father and disbelieving sister, grinning broadly, feeling much safer outside that horrible building now that the dragon was enslaved again.
“I did it!” I said.
My father spared a small nod for me, grudging respect and a hint of jealousy showing in his frigid eyes. He did not smile.
“Thank you, Father, for trusting me with this level of responsibility,” I said, my grin shrinking.
“Give me the lucent-stone.”
“Yes, Sir.” I handed it over to him and he placed it quickly in the onyx case.
“When you are ready to go hunting, I will lend it to you.”
“She’s too immature,” Denyell snarled again. “We can’t trust her.”
“She’s all we have,” Father snapped, damaging my enthusiasm again, but only for a moment.
I said, “Don’t be angry, Denyell. I’ll see to it that you get to marry Prince Walker. You’ll be queen soon.”
“Only if you get more dragons,” she spat.
“Just don’t fail,” Father said. “Our family needs this.”
“I won’t fail,” I promised.
As we returned to the carriage, the courtiers, concubines, and wives came forward to congratulate me. None of them had ever spoken to me before.
“Well done, Lady Alskan!”
“My commendations, My Lady.”
They couldn’t speak enough praise. They bowed and curtsied, anxious to catch my attention. A slight distaste rose within. Their interest was not in me, but in the dragons I might catch.
Father pushed through the eager crowd without pausing. I had no choice but to follow. Just as I was about to climb into the carriage behind my father and Denyell, Advisor Kon said, “Lady Alskan.”
I paused and turned, trying not to cringe. “Yes?”
“You are forgetting your slave.”
“Oh. Of course.” Unsure, I addressed the dragon slave. “What is your name?”
“Calypsus,” the slave answered.
“Return with us,” I commanded. “When we arrive home, you may resume your previous work assignment.” The slave obeyed, taking a position behind the carriage.
My sister glowered, tears still leaking down her cheeks, and refused to look at me when I sat next to her. One side of her face was still reddened by its encounter with Father’s hand.
We returned home in silence. Not one word of praise escaped their lips.