Xanxa Symanah Interview
Sarah Xanxa Wallace (AKA Xanxa Symanah) has always been involved in creative writing. In fact, before she learned to read and write, she would make up stories, telling them to anyone who would listen, or simply reciting them to herself when she lacked an audience.
She is also a poet, having had some of her poetry published in an anthology which was brought out by a Brasilian University publishing house. Some of her poems have also featured on drug abuse awareness websites, youth club websites and other creative communities online.
Her main areas of work are epic and urban fantasy. She has written seven fantasy novels with the collective title The Virian Chronicles and offshoot novels collectively entitled The Virian Companions. She is currently working on another series of offshoot novels called The Vyrdigaan Prophecies. She has also written one detective novel and published a collection of her dark poetry under the name Xanxa Raggatt.
She is married to the home-based progressive rock musician Ian Vincent Wallace and she wrote a novella to accompany one of his albums, The Presence, telling the story of the concept in her own words. The novella was distributed with the first batch of CDs released but is now only available in ebook format.
Besides creative writing, she has a keen interest in fantasy and science-fiction movies and TV shows, travel, languages and music.
Xanxa’s Interview with Robb Wallace
About (Who, why, when, where, what)
Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.
I write epic and urban fantasy in contemporary settings, often blended with elements of other genres, such as sci-fi, courtroom and prison dramas, detective mysteries, espionage thrillers, gangster sagas and multi-generational family tales.
Although I write fantasy, many of the themes are related to the real world. I include issues such as bribery and corruption, manipulation of the news media, political rivalries and power-plays, poverty, racism, substance abuse and slavery.
My books are all set in a fictional universe known as the Fenian Galaxy. I’ve spent over 30 years building this universe and each novel I write brings something new to it.
While my books are presented in series, each one can be read as a stand-alone. They are all self-contained stories and I write them in such a way that readers don’t need to read all the books in each series. There are some characters and locations common to several books, but each book reaches its own conclusion.
Latest releases and upcoming titles?
My latest release is from January 2021. “Children of the Desert” is a collection of short stories set in the same universe as my main novels.
My next release will be “Feniyaan Unchained”, another collection of short stories set in the same universe as my main novels. I plan to bring it out in the next month or so.
What are you currently working on?
I’m in the process of editing two novels in my Vyrdigaan Prophecies series — “The Donovan Destiny” and “Chimera Obscura”. The latter needs a lot of work to get it in shape for publication!
When and why did you get into writing fantasy?
Back in the 80s I tried writing sci-fi and discovered that I wasn’t very good at it. I then had a go at writing old-school detective novels. Somewhere along the way, I started combining elements of fantasy into a detective novel. Over several revisions, the fantasy became the main element. I enjoyed the freedom that the speculative genres bring and so I continued writing more fantasy novels.
Who are your favourite fantasy writers/ fantasy authors?
Terry Goodkind, Robin Hobb, Trudi Canavan, Joe Abercrombie, Lynn Flewelling and Raymond Feist.
What is your favourite fantasy series and why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’d say Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series is probably my overall favourite. His world-building is complex and his characters are memorable.
Who are some of your all-time favourite fantasy characters? And why do you think they became your favourites?
Chade Fallstar (created by Robin Hobb) is one of the most intriguing fantasy characters. He’s secretive, cranky, eccentric and quite harsh with his young apprentices, but he’s lovable at the same time.
Zeddicus Zorander (created by Terry Goodkind) is an eccentric, lovable wizard who is much more than he seems when he’s first introduced. He can be comedic and serious. He’s loved and lost so much and that makes him relatable.
Londo Mollari (created by J M Straczinski for his Babylon 5 TV series) reminds me of myself at times. He’s an Ambassador and he does the wrong things for the right reasons. His rise and fall from grace is an amazing story arc. He’s the ultimate tragic-comic hero, irritating, sometimes ruthless, sometimes kind, but always relatable and lovable.
The writing process (Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing)
Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I’m a planner. I work out how the story will start and end. I make bullet-point lists of main events and I add sub-plots as I go along. I write character sheets and world-building notes alongside the main writing process.
How has your writing process changed since you first started writing?
My understanding of the craft has grown. I’ve learned better ways of expressing myself. I’ve widened my vocabulary and I’m always working on improving my techniques. This means fewer revisions are needed in comparison with my earlier novels.
How long does it normally take you to write a fantasy novel, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
A first draft typically takes me around nine months. I then set it aside for a month or two while I work on other projects. I come back to it for several rounds of revision, editing and proof-reading. Those will take three to four months. I’d say it takes approximately a year and a half from first draft to being ready for publication.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
The freedom of writing the first draft. I love the challenge of coming up with a new storyline and creating new characters to populate it.
Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?
I worked for many years as a legal secretary. The exacting nature of the work has made me a good proof-reader, which is always a useful skill. Also, I’ve incorporated some of my knowledge of law and lawyers into my novels. You’ll find many lawyer characters and several courtroom scenes.
Do you do a lot of research for each book? If so how do you conduct your research?
It depends on the book and how much detail I want or need in order to make the best story. Some aspects can be hinted at, whereas others need more detail. For example, I had to research fire accelerants and the psychology of serial killers for one novel. For another book, I did research on fabrics and embroidery.
Nowadays, I conduct my research online. Before I had internet at home, I used public libraries. On a few occasions, I interviewed people with the requisite knowledge.
How do you overcome blank writing spells?
I always have more than one project on the go at any given time. If I get stuck on one, I switch to another.
Publishing (formatting, cover design, formats, marketing)
Will your next book be traditional or indie published?
I’m self-published all the way. I decided long ago that the traditional route wasn’t for me.
Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?
I’d definitely recommend self-publishing, especially for those who don’t necessarily want to write to specific trends or demographics. For writers who place more importance on staying true to their creative vision than on being a big seller and becoming famous, it’s the way to go.
The traditional path means being prepared to make compromises in order to be more marketable. Some publishing houses have strict guidelines on word count and content. If a writer is willing to work within that framework, then it makes sense for them to try for a traditional contract.
What do you do pre and post-release to help get your books noticed?
Prior to release, I post a series of teaser memes on social media. These consist of character profiles and quotes, short extracts from the narrative and a few hints about events in the story.
Once the book is released, I post my self-made advertisements on social media, along with the relevant links. I can’t afford paid advertising so I have to do the majority of it myself. Some friends help by sharing my links and spreading the word.
On an ongoing basis, I try to find ways of engaging with potential readers. I post items relating to my other areas of interest outside of writing and I interact with as many people as possible on social media. I also do interviews like this one.
Marketing is so important nowadays, what’s your best advice to fellow authors?
If you can afford paid advertising, ask for recommendations from fellow authors. Take the time to find reputable publicists.
If you can’t afford to pay for advertising, take a look at the sort of publicity materials used by other authors and make similar ones to advertise your books. That’s what I do. I also network with other authors and we share each others’ work to give it a wider reach.
Advice on making an impact in today’s busy Sci-Fi and Fantasy markets.
The way I see it, there are two approaches. You can either check out what’s popular and write your own version of it, or you can do the opposite and write something outside the current trends. Either way, you need to put your own stamp on it. You should aim to bring some element which will make your work stand out. There will always be stories similar to yours, so it’s important to develop your individual style and brand.
Do you read digital, paperback or hardback or do you listen to audiobooks?
Paperback is my preferred format. I consider hardbacks more as collectors’ items and they look great when displayed on shelves. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten used to reading ebooks. I have a slight hearing difficulty so I haven’t tried audiobooks. I think I’d struggle to maintain concentration when listening to a book being read.
What are some difficulties you’ve experienced in your writing career; how do you handle book critiques/criticism?
I’m a niche writer. My material isn’t for everyone. I don’t follow most of the style guidelines and I ignore some of the more conventional formatting. I have to accept that this might put me at a disadvantage in terms of appealing to a broad readership.
Another huge issue is the fact that self-published authors are still being stigmatised and denigrated as mere hobbyists or not proper authors. Myself and many others take a professional pride in putting out quality products. I can only hope that in time, this prejudice will end and we will have equal status to traditionally published authors.
As for critiques and criticism, it depends on how useful it is. Vague complaints about a book or personal insults directed at the author don’t help anyone. Pointing out specific issues can help both the author and other potential readers.
I know some people are going to hate my novels. That’s fair enough. They’re not the right readership for my books. It would be naïve and unrealistic to expect everyone to love my books and give them glowing reviews. Bad reviews happen. We need to get over them and move on.
What are the best experiences in your writing career?
I love the art of crafting a story and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. It’s also extremely uplifting when someone enjoys my work. The best compliment I ever had was when a reader said they would love to live in my fictional universe.
What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?
Don’t give up on your dream because certain people in your life think it’s a waste of time. We all have our own paths in this life and we don’t have to justify them to anyone else. If creative writing is your passion, stick with it.
Get in touch
(Under Spoken Word category, I post recordings of myself reading out extracts from my novels. The idea came from my husband, who is a musician on Reverbnation)
My Amazon author pages serve as my website.
US Author Page:
UK Author Page:
Book links? Same as above (Amazon)
Any final words for the readers? (Anything, open platform)
I’d like to thank all those who have supported my writing career and continue to do so. I wish my fellow writers success with their creative endeavours and I’m grateful to the readers who have taken an interest in my work.