Dakota McElhinny

Good evening Dakota and thank you for taking time out of your busy day to take this interview and answer a few questions about being an independent author and what drew you to writing.

Q: Why did you decide to write The Realm?

A: The book was somewhat of an accident in a way. Growing up, I wrote a lot of short stories, most stemmed from books that I read on knights, but some ideas came from my dad. He was very supportive, and some of the names he’d even suggest, they made it into The Realm. I guess I wrote the book because things just started to click for me, and I began to see a bigger story than just the short stories I had been writing.

Why do I write? There’s a few reasons, but I’ll only share my main one. I feel writing, especially poetry, it gives me a voice; I can release and pour my feelings into words. Writing The Realm is different though, because with The Realm I get to step into another world, and even though I’m the creator of that world, not everything works out as planned because new ideas and situations are constantly popping up inside my mind.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I started writing in the summer of 2006. I was starting a new school, and I needed to be able to write in cursive, so I sat down and wrote short stories in cursive handwriting. Doing this, I fell in love with writing. It’s funny to look back though because my first short story, I considered it a “book”, and it consisted of 10 pages and each individual page was a chapter. I’ve been writing for ten years, and its only fitting, that after a decade of doing what I love, I have been able to publish my first book.

Q: How long did it take you to write this book?

A: This question is somewhat tricky for me. I wrote the first four or five chapters in 2010, and then, I just set it off to the side and kind of forgot about it. In the spring or summer of 2011, I found the draft of The Realm, and I remember everything clicking in my head. Between developing a plot, stringing everything together, and writing, the first book took about a year. Once I finished it, I immediately started writing the second book, but with the second book, I wrote on and off from early 2013 to early 2015, until I completed it. I have even written a predecessor to The Realm, which tells and explains more of a history lead-up to The Realm, and I did that over a Christmas break from college, which took a little over a month to write. As for the question on The Realm, it took between a year and a year-and-a-half.

Q: What do you use to write your books?

A: When I was younger, I used nothing but pen and paper; if you’d walked into my room, you would have seen around twelve to eighteen notebooks just filled with short stories, ideas, and an early book I’d written. When I hit my junior year of high school, I started using a laptop for my writing. Anymore, I enjoy using pen and paper to write my first drafts, and afterwards, I transfer to my laptop for further drafts and corrections.

Q: What problems did you encounter?

A: For the most part, I didn’t have too many problems. I did encounter timeline problems, which were easy fixes. Since I started writing The Realm at a young age, I did run into a lot of grammar problems. As for writer’s block, I never had it with the first book. I had it later with the second book, but I balanced it out when I started writing poetry. I’ve never dealt with writer’s block with poetry and The Realm books at the same time, so I’m able to rotate and keep my mind fresh.

Q: How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?

A: I believe I’ve come a long way; I always try to have an open mind whenever someone is teaching me any aspect of writing. Commas were probably my biggest problem at one point, but I now have a confident grasp on them. Learning what I have, it has translated into some side jobs as a freelance writer and consultant.

I think the moment I knew I was ready, it was when my parents gave me feedback. For years, I never let anyone read my writing because I was nervous of rejection, and I knew writing was something I loved. So about three years ago, when I finally let my mom read my poetry and my dad read one of my short stories, it was like a burden lifted off of me because they were both pleasantly surprised by it. Ever since then, I’ve gained a certain confidence that has allowed me to take more risks and believe more in myself.

Q: Is there anything you wished you’d known when you started writing?

A: Not really. I think I learned everything as I needed to. If I’d known everything from the beginning, then I wouldn’t be able to see my own evolution as a writer.

Q: Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?

A: I’m an avid sport fan; I love college football. In sports, you have your set rules, but then, you have all your individual games with different outcomes. That’s how I view writing. I have an idea or situation in mind, my set rules, but then after that, everything plays out itself.

Q: Do you work on a set amount of words per day or does it change?

A: Some days I can churn out three chapters, and other days I’m lucky to develop a page. I don’t force my writing ever; if I have an idea, I’ll write it down and come back to it when I’m fresh. Most days, I’d say I write between five and ten pages, and on top of that, I’ll do some editing, re-reading, and brainstorming.

Q: Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?

A: Yes! I love the researching process; it’s one of my favorite processes. The Realm is fantasy, so for it, I had to research subjects such as, different medieval weaponry, in depth studies on certain cultures in history, and what some words/names mean.

Q: How would you describe your writing process Dakota?

A: Brainstorm the story and basic plot; research into the basics of what I need to know; with pen and paper, write the first draft, while taking notes on ideas to add in; research on any notes taken; type up a second draft, while implementing notational ideas from first draft; re-read and edit. That’s a rough outline of my writing process.

Q: What time of the day do you find is best to write?

A: For me, it’s late at night between 10pm-2am. My favorite “ritual routine”  is set up as: 8pm clean up and shower; 9pm sip on a mug of hot chocolate, while perusing social media and reading my writing from the day before; afterwards from 10pm-2pm, I do nothing but write, brainstorm, and every once in a while talk to myself!

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A: Music heavily influences my work, and rock is my favorite genre of music. My go to bands are usually, Led Zeppelin, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Dio, and Black Sabbath. There’s other bands I’ll listen to while writing, but those are the predominant ones. I also enjoy listening to Celtic music and classical music, while writing The Realm or anything fantasy.

Q: What draws you to this genre?

A: My fascination with knights and the medieval times drew me in; some of my early short stories reflect that. What gave the hook, line, and sinker effect was reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and that happened about two years after I started writing. I love the genre because anything goes. If you imagine it, then you can use it, as long as it seems genuinely real and not forced.

Q: Have you ever tried to write other genres?

A: I actually have, but only with short stories. Obviously, I write fantasy fiction; I can write children’s stories, poetry, and fiction; if I attempted a book in any of those three genres, I could do it, and I may or may not have ideas in those genres. I must admit though, I struggle with mystery and horror stories, though I grew up enjoying mystery books a lot.

Q: Which author/book would compare yours too?

A: Ah, the comparative question! Some people, that have read my book, compare it to Harry Potter, and others compare it to Lord of the Rings. Growing up, I wanted to be like Tolkien; he’s the godfather of fantasy, and most authors in the genre probably idolize him. Here in the past few years though, I’ve dropped that idea of being compared to him; anymore, I want to be compared to me. I don’t want the comparison because I don’t want to live under a shadow, but I know people will compare because Tolkien, and Rowling, are revered and renowned in the genre.

Q: Can you relate to any of your own stories?

A: Yeah, there’s a few short stories that are based on true stories involving me. I wrote the stories because the feelings and emotions are so raw and strong; most of the stories rotate around my high school era, when everything in life seemed unclear.

Stories about struggling to comprehend and accept choices that have been made, are some of my favorite ones to write. So, I use that theme in fictional stories too because, as humans, we can all relate to questioning our past decisions.

Q: How many books have you written Dakota?

A: The first book of The Realm is the only one I have published. So far, I plan on releasing the second book next year, and I’m looking to release a poetry book soon, too.

Q: Have you ever written in collaboration with another author?

A: Not yet, but I have the interest.

Q: Who designed your front cover?

A: The highly talented, Ms. Rachael Griffin. I want to take a moment and brag about her. She gained her BFA from Ohio University; she majored in both printmaking and painting. Recently, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with her MFA, and she is an aspiring teacher. The Realm is the second book she had done illustrations for, and I can’t brag enough about her, honestly. She did a tremendous job with my book, and if it wasn’t for her bringing the cover to life, an element would be missing. She’s the best!

Q: Who was the first person you showed your novel too?

A: By default, my amazing girlfriend who was in the car with me. After that, it was my mom.

Q: Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?

A: Yes, I did dedicate The Realm to my family, close friends, and former English teachers. As I say in the dedication, they are my greatest supporters and critics.

Q: How do you market your books?

A: I’m new at it, honestly, so I’m still gaining a foothold. I use Twitter and FaceBook as platforms. I have family and friends, who constantly share my posts. I recently got involved with Brag My Book, Enas Reviews, and, of course, the eBook Bump family! There’s a few other ideas I have, but they’re still in development.

Q: How do you deal with bad reviews?

A: I’ve not had one, but I’m waiting for them. I think there’s two type of negative reviews: constructive criticism and then the “this is the worse book ever” review. I always listen to constructive criticism because those people are trying to help me better myself; the “this is the worse book ever” review is more of an opinion, which I know I can’t take to heart. Not everyone likes everything and that’s okay.

Q: Do you use an agent?

A: No. I reached out to one about three years ago, and I never heard back. If one wanted to talk with me, I’d gladly listen to their pitch, but I’m not going out and looking for one right now.

Q: How much time do you devote to marketing your books Dakota?

A: I usually upload posts about my book in the morning and late afternoon, on my social media platforms. I also use about two to three hours each day for studying and trying to find the next big marketing tool.

Q: How do you get your book reviews/reviewed?

A: I reached out to you, but I’ve had other bloggers and reviewers reach out to me. I have Twitter followers that review books, and I’ve talked with most of them about doing a review  for The Realm, so it’s going well.

Q: Do you do all your own proof reading and editing?

A: I do a lot, but I’m not the only one. My publisher, Palmetto Publishing Group, assigned my book to one of their editors, Katrina. She did a phenomenal job with it; I was highly impressed.

Q: How and where are you publishing this book?

A: I’m going through Palmetto Publishing Group. They are not a traditional publisher, they charge for their services, but what they charge, is in line with prices that people who self publish would pay for. I know that last part because I considered self-publishing at one point; I always do my homework before making a final decision. They are a small company, but they are the best, they make sure the author’s input is used, and I have no regrets going with them. They take care of their authors!

Q: What are you reading at the moment? Which book do you have by your bed?

A: World Mythology in Bite-Sized Chunks by Mark Daniels. It encompasses all the different cultural mythologies, the chapters are very short and detailed, but the summaries highlight the main points.

Q: What was the first book you ever read?

A: Probably, the children’s Bible that I had. It sticks out in my mind because I remember looking at the pictures, as I’d read it. I use to read everything and anything though, when I was younger.

Q: Who is your favourite author?

A: My favorite author is Tolkien; I know, big surprise. My favorite book is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Being truthful with you, I had never read any of the Harry Potter books until last fall, while in my final semester of college. I loved the whole series!

Q: What is your favourite quote from a book?

A: “Magic never dies. It merely fades away.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

Q: What is your favourite book to film adaptation?

A: Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guilford Four by Gerry Conlon into the movie In the Name of the Father. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Gerry and three others were falsely arrested, tortured, and forced to a crime they did not commit . They were imprisoned, and, even though evidence arose of their innocence, the higher ups kept the proof quiet. In the end, the proof is accidentally found out, and the Guilford Four are released. Both the book and movie are excellent.

Q: Where are your favourite places to read?

A: My writing desk or in bed. In college, I use to read and write in a garden on the college campus, which was relaxing and nice.

Q: What books do you read to your children?

A: My first one is on the way! I have a small collection of books that include Curious George, Owl at Home, and the Frog and Toad series. I’m tickled to death over it all!

Q: When you read do you prefer a book or a kindle/tablet?

A: My preference is a book; I love feeling them and starring at covers. I do own a Nook though, and I enjoy reading from it, too.

Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

A: Be a sponge! Never stop learning because there is always something to learn, and never quit writing because if you choose to write, then a part of you loves it.

Q: OK Dakota, so what’s coming next?

A: More marketing for The Realm; I am looking at tour dates to talk about it, too. I plan on releasing the second book next year, and in between the two books, I’d like to release my poetry book.

Q: Where can we find more about you!?

A: Follow me on Twitter: @dakotawrites100

Like my FaceBook author page: Dakota McElhinny

You can buy a copy of my book: The Realm here

Feel free to follow me and reach out to me; I love interacting with fans!