Hello there, fantasy fans. It has been a wonderful month thus far, with a wide array of great traditional and contemporary fantasies that have come down the track. Recently, we were captivated by a shifter fantasy that had us glued to the pages from the first turn to the last, courtesy of Annie O’Connell. You’d be surprised to learn that she is a first-time author with her debut, The Lunar Codex, because she’s spent considerable time polishing it. In this interview, we get to chat with O’Connell about her process, her sparks of inspiration, and what comes next.
Tellest: Hello Annie! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me during all the other work that you’re doing for your books. You’re writing a lot these days and working on the marketing side of things consistently as well. I always find it very humbling to have someone carve out some of that narrow amount of time to discuss themselves and their passions. I’m eager to show new readers why they should be on the lookout for you and your books!
Annie O’Connell: Thank you so much for taking the time out to learn more about me and my writing! I have always been a fan of fantasy and the supernatural. As a child, my parents always told me that I had a vivid imagination and would act out scenes with my toys for hours on end. So, I guess, this has been decades in the making.
My first book, The Lunar Codex, is a coming-of-age story with a fantasy twist about a fourteen-year-old boy named Jace that was orphaned at 3 years old. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle and spent the next twelve years moving quite a bit because of his uncle’s job.
When we meet back up with him, he is moving to a new location, and is hopeful this will be his permanent home. He quickly makes friends and seems to be getting everything he has always wanted when a supernatural turn of events completely flips his life upside down. He is thrust down a new path of discovery where he needs to abandon everything he has known, while avoiding a danger that has been lurking in the shadows this whole time.
T: One of my first stops on the road of these interviews is at the place where I can discover the inspiration of the writing journey. I know that you were a big fan of the fantasy genre and would listen to them on road trips. Were there any particular authors or stories that had you thinking that you could cut your teeth on storytelling?
AO: I am an avid “reader” of audiobooks and have an extensive library. Some of my favorite authors are McKenzie Hunter, Cassandra Clare, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh, Deborah Harkness, Kelley Armstrong, and Diana Gabaldon. Typically, once I start one of their series, I am invested until the end and will binge every chance I get.
In my own writing, I think I have a flavor from each of them sprinkled in somewhere. For instance, my main character Jace has a mental connection with his friends that he accidentally created. When he is contacting them, he sees their attachment as ribbons of color protruding from his chest. Patricia Briggs’s character Mercy Thompson sees similar ties, but she recognizes them as strings of garland. Nalini Singh and Patricia Briggs also opened my eyes to the possibility of there being other types of shape shifters and not just wolves. It was like having a whole new realm of possibilities unlocked.
T: Shifter fantasy has been very popular for a while, and it has a great deal of perseverance as a subgenre of contemporary fantasy. The market can be saturated with books of this nature, but yours seems to stand out from the crowd, as far as the reviews go. What do you think it is about your book that breathes new life into these sorts of stories?
AO: Although it is a book related to shifters, my main goal was the relationships between each of the characters. For most people that have read it, they have said they enjoyed the friendships and interfamily and intrafamily dynamics. I think we can all find a little bit of each character within ourselves, which makes it easier to fall into the story and get lost.
T: You released your book at a time where one of the most popular television shows focuses on preteens and teens dealing with insane phenomena, but it’s likely it would not have worked out the way it had without the connection between the characters and the actors. How do you create something that’s compelling for a reader, and which feels grounded and real and earned?
AO: It’s funny you should ask that. One of the places I took inspiration from was television shows like Vampire Diaries, Shadow Hunters and Teen Wolf. There is a definite pattern to each show and once I saw it, I tried to adapt it into my writing. I think people want to have supernatural powers but are comfortable in their current life. It’s hard to imagine a future too far out or a past too long gone. Keeping it in a contemporary timeline, the reader and viewers can actually picture themselves in the roles next to their favorite character(s), which makes the book or show more enjoyable.
T: Everyone has something that they’re most proud of when it comes to their creative endeavors. If someone were to ask you right now what your favorite thing about the Codex Chronicles was, what would you tell them?
AO: Wow. That’s a tough question. There are so many aspects of the books that I love, but if I had to pinpoint one, I would have to say the relationships that I developed with my characters. Particularly the friendships between the teens. I really enjoy their banter and camaraderie they have established.
T: Your characters are indeed a standout part of The Lunar Codex. A cast of interesting characters can make or break a story, but you’ve injected Williston with interesting folks from one end to the other. How much of the town did you know about before the story started to unfold?
AO: Funny enough, I have never been to Williston, although I want to go because of the book. Although, when I was younger, I lived about forty-five minutes south of the town.
As I was doing my research for the location of the Lunar Codex, I went back and forth on using a real location versus a fake one. My ultimate decision came when I found the Blue Grotto. From there, I started looking through pictures of the town and it reminded me of the area I grew up in. A few of the locations in Williston, including the school, are based on real locations where I used to live. Others are based on places I know of now. For instance, the interior design of Burgerporium is modeled after Roll-N-Roaster in Brooklyn, NY. (If you are ever in the area, you should stop by!). The remainder are completely fictional.
T: Florida is a busy place, but Williston has a very small-town feel (both in real life, and in your story). Was it an easy decision to establish your story in a sleepier feeling town—especially when you’re living in another place that’s known for its hustle and bustle?
AO: I have always been drawn to a quieter type of environment. The area I live in now is a quiet suburb town on the outskirts of NYC. I can see the NYC skyline from my back deck but am enjoying a slower pace from the outskirts. Although there is so much to see and do in a place like Manhattan, being able to take it slow and just breath is nice as well. In a large City environment, I feel like he might have had too much to deal with. Perhaps in future books, he may venture out into larger cities.
T: Your main character was inspired by your boys. What do they think about being immortalized, in a way, in a story that you wrote that so many people are enjoying?
AO: That’s a very interesting, and almost terrifying way to think about it. My kids are such a huge part of my life and are pretty awesome people in their own right. So, I would have to say, I love the idea of introducing them to everyone who reads my work.
T: On your website, you mention that the onset of the story came to you when you weren’t exactly expecting it. I love the image of you running to your computer to get the first thoughts down. Was that your first “aha” moment when it came to storytelling?
AO: I had actually started writing a medical suspense novel when I was eighteen. The thought was so pervasive, that it woke me up from my sleep and I started writing it. I had made it roughly six chapters in before I slowed down and shelved it. Life took over and it started collecting dust on an external hard drive. Then, Hurricane Sandy hit, and that external hard drive died when it took an unexpected swim in my living room. We tried to save it, but there was nothing we could do. It was gone.
Although it had been years since I worked on it, it felt as though a piece of me had died with the file and I wouldn’t work on anything (writing related) after it. With that being said, I did have a file on my phone and computer with ideas of stories, but life was always too busy to devote any time to it. COVID forced a slowing of things and when I was home, the number of distractions dramatically reduced leaving more time to start and complete the work.
T: Obviously the Codex Chronicles has become a huge part of your life, and that’s going to be where a lot of the focus is. Does the medical suspense story ever start to creep back into your mind? Does it ever try to convince you to write for that again? Or are you firmly of the mind that dead is dead, and that might have been a sign to move on to other projects?
AO: I don’t believe it is totally dead and buried. My creative juices are very caught up with this series right now, as well as a possible spin off series, but I have not completely eliminated the prospect of starting it up again. We’ll just have to see what happens in the future. But nothing is out of the question.
T: While Jace is based on your family, and the foundation of the story was a flash of inspiration at an opportune moment, how did you come up with the rest of plot that unfolds? It grew into something quite interesting and complex!
AO: I equate my writing to being a transcriber of what I see in my head. There is a rough skeleton of an outline, but as I am writing, the characters will do or say something unexpected, and it pulls the story in a completely different direction. At other times, it is people discussing their thoughts on the plot. My husband was a huge help with this, constantly forcing me to go deeper into the characters and plot line.
A great example of this was my first attempt at the story. Initially, Jace had lived in Williston his whole life. As I continued forward, I felt the pace was not moving the way I wanted it to go and was really struggling to get any kind of momentum. My husband, in passing, had asked me why Jace had to be from the town. That one question helped to open so many doors and fill in so many blanks, progressing the story much better. Now, I had a richer story line with him constantly moving and adding in the tension of Jace feeling alone most of the time. That one switch helped progress into book two where more questions needed to be answered.
T: Does Williston remain the big set piece, or does the scope of the second book expand much farther? Williston took on almost a personality of its own in your story, and I’m sure your fans grew used to it and enjoyed feeling like a part of it.
AO: Williston is there in spirit, but book two follows Jace to his next destination on his journey. Here, we get to meet a somewhat larger, and broader, cast of characters, mixed in with some of the old. But the main portion of book two occurs in Emerald Creek. Book three will likely be across multiple locations, but it is still in the development stages.
T: What lessons have you learned since beginning your writing journey? Were there any steps that you would have taken differently, or any challenges that you might have tried to prepare for in another way?
AO: The Lunar Codex is a relaunch after a failed initial launch using a “hybrid publisher.” This type of publishing house gives all the rights to the author, but edits, creates the book cover, and helps with the actual publishing. It was a decent up-front price and at the end, I felt that they did not help the way they said they would and simply took my money. With this relaunch, I did more research and used a different company. I had a much better experience, but still found that I did most of the leg work and decided with book two I would go it alone and not use a publishing company. Although they were expensive learning lessons, they helped to show me what to and not to do. So, I guess, I wouldn’t change the way I went about things in the past.
In life, everything is an opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes they are expensive and painful mistakes, but they are still important steps. True growth happens when you can look past failures and see them as steppingstones to becoming a better you. Like Thomas Edison said when he invented the lightbulb. “I didn’t fail, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
T: Your next book looks to be here sooner than people might think. When do you anticipate having that completed? Have you added to your team to ensure that things move quicker and smoother than the original release?
AO: Yes, the book is currently with the editor, and I hope to have it back by the end of August. I will re-read through it and then submit my corrections back. The process typically takes about six weeks, in total. While all of this is happening, the cover is currently in design and should be ready within the next two weeks. My goal is to have the book released in October, but may be the end of September, depending on how smoothly things go.
T: How unreal does it feel to be able to race through your stories now? In a lot of ways, it must seem like you opened the creative floodgates. Writing one book, after all, is a huge milestone. But to keep at it is another thing entirely. And at your pace, you certainly aim to impress!
AO: My father always said, “If you do something you enjoy, you will never work a day in your life.” Writing brings me so much enjoyment, which helps with the speed. When I first started, the thought of completing 50,000 words was so daunting. But after finishing my first book, which was a touch over 120,000 words and now my second, which was just about 130,000 words, I feel confident that I can handle the task without any trouble. I just need my cast of characters to behave long enough to get everything down on paper.
T: That’s always a fun thing that I like to learn about, since everyone’s process is different. How often do you let your characters off the leash, so to speak? Do they ever take you in strange directions that you weren’t expecting, or do they know not to tick off their creator?
AO: There are certain characters that tend to go off on fun tangents and I love following where they lead me. Marcus is high up on that list. I love writing for him and find myself laughing at his antics and phrases. I would say that Brian was also a close second with his sarcasm oozing off on him. He tends to be the voice of reason for the group. All in all, just letting your mind run free can open doors that you weren’t expecting. These happy little mistakes can make a scene more enjoyable and lead to more avenues of opportunity.
T: If someone wanted to know more about Annie O’Connell, where would they go? Do you prefer people to go to your website, or are you more active on a specific social media channel?
AO: I have quite a few places you can find more information on me and my book(s). My website is Annie-OConnell.com. I am also on social media – Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Everyone has told me to create a TicTok channel, which I did, but there really is nothing on it.
Café Press site (merchandise): https://www.cafepress.com/lunarcodex
T: Annie, it was wonderful spending time with you, learning about The Lunar Codex and the Codex Chronicles. I know you’re incredibly busy, so to be able to have some time carved out just to chat and discover more about you and your process has been a lovely experience. I know readers will enjoy this little behind-the-scenes treat as well.
AO: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule as well. I’m so glad we had this opportunity to discuss my book and look forward to doing it again with the next installment, which is currently with the editor.
Once again, I’d like to thank Annie O’Connell for sharing with us some of her time. It’s clear that she’s very busy across the board, but she’s been especially persistent and determined when it comes to her book series. To have the opportunity to talk to her about something so dear to her was something that we at Tellest are very pleased we were able to bring to fantasy fans. For those who are interested in getting in on the ground floor of Annie’s storytelling adventures, don’t forget to check out THE LUNAR CODEX: Book One of the Codex Chronicles on Amazon today!
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