I always love and appreciate when something unique unexpectedly crosses my path, so I was beyond excited when I was presented with this wonderful opportunity to help author R.E.M. Verberg share her series The Raven’s Toll. What’s that you may ask? Instead of publishing this story in a traditional medium, R.E.M. has decided to release it in episodes on her podcast Far-Fetched Stories, every other week. Oh, and it’s free!
The Raven’s Toll is a novella that takes place in the universe of A Song Discordant, a duology by Verberg, and focuses on a side character from book one The Book Of Regret. Fans of N.K. Jemisin and Robin Hobb may find this psychological and sociological tale right up their alley. Check out the blurb below, get to know the author, and check out Episode 1, which is available now!
An ancient being, forced to dwell in a world he once nearly destroyed; a despicable commander he needs to protect from his own servants; and a magic power he can barely control. Will The Raven finally find his place in the world…or will he doom it all over again?
The Raven’s Toll is character-driven (low) fantasy, about a man who wields an irresistible power, but has sworn never to use it. When he’s forced to go against his own morals, how long will his restraint last?
Episode 1 – The Raven’s Dream is available now!
The Raven is trying to deal with a recent loss, but experiences a rude awakening at the hands of his old friend, The Sparrow.
I live in Utrecht, The Netherlands, with my partner Dirk and our two pet rats.
For the past fifteen years I’ve worked as a (bilingual) writing coach and copywriter, while writing fiction on the side. Perfectionism and a ‘highbrow’ education – a degree in Prose/Poetry from the Utrecht School of the Arts – always held me back from pursuing a career as an author. Writing was something just for me. I explored genre fiction, in a different language, in order to make it even more of an escape.
Meanwhile, I coached many (sometimes published) authors, ran two businesses, and learned to find balance with a chronic illness. Then, after a number of horrendous ‘practice novels’, I wrote a fantasy book, and finally, something clicked. I was able to get out of my own way and say: yes, I’d like to be a Real Writer, thank you. Over the past few years I’ve started to direct more and more professional energy towards my own work, and now I’m excited to share it with the world!
Welcome to Whispers & Wonder, R.E.M.. Since we already have your official bio, care to tell us about yourself in ten words or less?
Deep yet non-conflicting interests in geekery, glamour, animals, knitting, alcohol.
Can you share with us something about The Raven’s Toll that isn’t in the blurb?
Yes! There will be a fight scene, and a death scene. Even, to some extent, a love scene. I’m not giving away which characters are involved in which, of course.
Give us an idea of how The Raven’s Toll came to fruition.
The Raven is a character from my debut novel, The Book Of Regret, which takes place in Thunya. In the book, he’s an advisor for one of the protagonists. Although he only plays a minor role, he’s very cool and enigmatic, and throughout the book you get hints that his kind, the Vanta, are responsible for a major disaster that happened two hundred years ago. All that’s part of the backstory – it’s not like the characters sit around and discuss it in depth. So when I got the idea for a spin-off, I realized it would give me the chance to delve deeper into Thunya’s history. And choosing the perspective of The Raven gives that history meaning: he still lives with the guilt of what he’s done every day. He wants to act on his own moral judgment, but he knows he would probably make things worse if he did. That struggle became the focal point of the whole story.
Is The Raven’s Toll your fantasy debut, or have you shared other stories in the past?
I’ve shared a few short stories so far – but yes, I guess you could call this my debut!
What made you decide to use a podcast for your storytelling medium?
I started querying in May 2019, and while I was writing my second book, I wanted a more direct way to connect with readers. My boyfriend suggested writing some short stories, but I wasn’t sure who’d be interested in that. Then one day, while I was talking to my colleague, the two of us came up with the idea to publish audio stories instead of ‘regular’ ones. That really appealed to me. I love podcasts and listening to books – I even narrated for the Library of the Blind when I was a student!
Once I started those stories, I was lucky enough to strike up a collaboration with my long-time friend, Diana Moore, who turned out to be a fantastic narrator. After four stories I was confident that I could produce things on schedule. So then I started rethinking the format: how cool would it be if my listeners had something to come back for? And if I could give them a taste of the fantasy universe I’d already created? This led me to the idea of a spin-off series.
Is this the first time you’ve used the spoken word format to tell a story?
Apart from my short stories, yes.
What’s a day of writing like in the shoes of R.E.M.? Do you have any quirks, routines, or rituals?
I have a chronic illness, so I’m actually pretty boring when it comes to routines. I work part-time in an artisanal soap workshop, so most mornings I spend there. When I get home, I usually take a walk and mull over my thoughts and ideas; then I change into ‘house clothes’ (we all know those) and write in bed. I love listening to film scores, particularly Carter Burwell. And I have one rule I never break: if it’s a writing day, I have to write 300 words. It’s a small number, but I have to make it. That really helps keep me consistent, particularly because I don’t always have the energy to write for longer periods of time.
What comes first, the characters or the plot?
For me, those are two sides of the same coin. A character who doesn’t want anything and/or doesn’t go out into the world to get it, isn’t a character. That’s just a bystander. Similarly, a clever plot doesn’t work if it doesn’t make sense in relation to the people involved in it.
I have a natural tendency to start with an interesting character, and just sort of stare at them in adoration. But I’ve trained myself to immediately put them in motion, make them dynamic. From the moment we meet them, they have to be in transit. It’s like putting them in quicksand, and seeing what they do. And then somehow you have to make that meaningful. That quicksand is not just any quicksand, that character not just any character. The combination of both, and the way they relate to each other, is your unique storytelling ability.
What about the fantasy genre appeals most to you?
I think it’s the fact that you control all the parameters within your story world. You’re not bound by the rules of this world; you get the chance to make your own rules (and think about what they mean). It’s like this super interesting allegory for your own (subconscious) mind.
What do you think makes a good story?
There’s a Dutch word that translates to urgency, that I’ve always loved in relation to story. An urgent story is one that absolutely needed to be told; it feels like it was already there, just waiting to be discovered. Like a law of nature. In On Writing, Stephen King calls such stories ‘fossils’.
And of course you have to craft those stories, of course they’re not fossils that you just dust off. But I do agree that it’s equal parts craftsmanship, and the subconscious wanting to express itself. Like I said before: you can craft a great character and a great plot, but what do they mean when you put them together? Why would you tell this story specifically? I think when you read a really good story, you don’t ask those questions. You just instantly get sucked in. It elevates you.
Is there one particular book you hold dearest to your heart?
Last year I discovered Ursula Le Guin (specifically her fantasy books). If we’re talking good stories, then The Tombs of Atuan was an amazing story for me. The way everything fits together almost nonchalantly, and yet there’s such a deep meaning to it…it still sends chills down my spine.
Writing can be a stressful pursuit. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
It’s a cliche, but you really have to do it for the love of the craft. Don’t get caught up in the strategic/commercial aspects. They’re nice, but they can’t be a lasting driving force for creativity (I say this as somebody who’s seen a lot of authors, not as an actual successful author).
My boyfriend’s a screenwriter, and a producer once told him: “Oh, don’t worry about that – you’re the creative. We’re the producers, we’ll worry about it.” And I think that’s so true: as a ‘creative’, you first and foremost have to worry about creating good things. As independent authors we sometimes get distracted by the ‘producing’ aspect of it all – building a platform, trying to sell books – but it really helps to keep focusing on the writing itself. As long as you truly enjoy that, you’re already succeeding!
Thank you again for taking the time to have a chat! Other than your ongoing episodes of The Raven’s Toll, do you have anything else coming up that you’d like the world to know about?
I’d definitely encourage people to keep listening to Far-Fetched Stories: after The Raven’s Toll we have some even bigger and better plans on the horizon. For now, I’d be stoked if you tune in on January 21st!