Sunday, May 20, 2012

Interview With Award Winning Author Mikko Azul


My good friend Mikko Azul has just released her award winning fantasy novel, Askari, and has agreed to a spotlight interview. Yea!

Hi Mikko!

Would you tell us about your AMAZING road to publication?

I started writing as a venue for escapism. I’d just had a baby and was home with two infants, bored and frustrated with my life. It took years of research and polishing before I finally got the courage to “put it out there” as it were. Entering the San Francisco Writer’s Conference was a huge risk for me. What if they didn’t like it, or worse, completely ignored my work? Writers work in a vacuum, usually sitting alone in a quiet room for months or years at a time, so there is little opportunity for feedback.

When I arrived in San Francisco from my Washington State, I was overwhelmed at the hundreds of people attending and who were effectively my competition. I quickly became intimidated. I had hoped to “pitch” my story to the several agents and publishers attending in hopes of securing a contract. By the second day, I was so discouraged and insecure about my work that I paid one of the professionals there to discuss my “pitch” with me. He suggested that I self-publish and give copies away to my friends and family and try again. It took everything I had not to leave the conference that moment.

As I made my way to the dining room for lunch and the awards banquet, head hanging and shoulders drooping, I began formulating a plan for returning to the workforce and abandoning my dream of becoming a published author. When my name was called as the first place winner of the Indie Publishing competition, I couldn’t restrain the tears of joy. It’s been a fantastic ride straight up since then. I hired an editor to work with me who has helped me refine and craft Askari into a piece of middle grade fantasy literature that I am extremely proud of.

It was a huge boost of confidence to win this competition. I have now been published without spending a dime. Author House is the largest independent publisher in the country and has given me all the advantages of Ingram’s distribution and print on demand capability with the added benefit of booksellers being able to return any unsold books at no charge. Fortunately, that hasn’t been an issue!

Could you talk a little about your main characters and their conflicts? 

Cedron Varkaras is a 15 year-old heir to a hostile nation of people who hate him because he is different. His mother was from an enemy land where ancient hatreds still run deep. Because of his mixed heritage, he has certain abilities that manifest at puberty, putting both him and his land at risk. He is exiled for the protection of everyone involved, but a new and even more dangerous threat looms that requires Cedron to risk everything to return…

Raika Angersol is the eldest of five girls in a family of renowned warriors who discovers the true nature of the evil that threatens their world. Breaking her people’s most sacred law, she seeks out the one who may hold the key to their survival.

Being from enemy lands, Cedron and Raika form an uneasy alliance and undertake a perilous journey to save their world. Their quest becomes more treacherous as forces from their respective lands pursue them for their betrayal of the laws. Death and destruction follow the pair as they make their way across the land of Muralia in search of the lost weapon capable of destroying the ancient evil and the one who has the power to wield it. The last thing they expect is for that person to be an even greater threat.

How did you come up with the world of Muralia?

I am an avid reader of National Geographic magazine. I’ve loved it since I was little because it is filled with so many fantastic places, people and sights. Most of my inspiration comes from it or Andrew Zimmern’s Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods. I grabbed an Arabic/English dictionary to form the words and names of Muralia so that there would be some meaning. Askari is Arabic for warrior…I thought that appropriate.

Are you a big Tolkien fan? Who are your favorite fantasy authors?

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were the first fantasy authors I’d been introduced to as a kid, and I was hooked from an early age. My contemporary influences are Terry Brooks and Michael Scott, but I’ve found that introducing elements from other genres really enlivens my writing and makes it more unique among fantasy novels. Clive Cussler’s action adventures are huge influences as well as the visual effects from movies like Avatar.


Where can we find Askari?

Askari is available through Author House at www.authorhouse.com or for a more accessible venue, www.barnesandnoble.com. It is available as a hardcover, softcover, on the Nook and Kindle. Amazon carries it online, but their prices are significantly higher for the books, not the Kindle version, than other sites.

Could you tell us about your current projects? Will we see another book from you soon?

Askari is the first book in my Child of Muralia trilogy. The second installment, Yezman, is currently in the works. Like many contemporary authors, I’ve included a sneak peak of Yezman at the back of Askari.


What are some of the things you are doing to market your book?

By far, the most successful piece of marketing for us dead broke authors is social media. I’ve been working on befriending other authors and reading groups for the past few years, writing reviews and blogging to help other authors in their pursuit of the dream. Now that it’s my turn, I’m finding an overwhelming number of interested people reading my book, enjoying it, and passing the word along. Word of mouth advertising is slow, but it is sustainable and the most effective…and it’s priceless. Facebook is my single biggest venue for getting the word out. I’ve got hundreds of friends after working in several different places and states. I use it to notify people of my events like book signings and to tease my readers with snippets or quotes from the book to entice them.

Now for the fun stuff.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m the proud mom of four energetic boys, ages 19, 18, 8 and 7. We live in a rural town in Washington State where we raise dogs, garden and have lots of room to run. I love living on Puget Sound and we spend a lot of time boating, fishing and my personal favorite, SCUBA diving. When I’m not writing or playing, I am a substitute teacher, which I absolutely love!

I understand you were a Marine. Can you tell us how you joined and what you liked about serving our country?

I joined the Marine Corps as a personal challenge. I wanted to push myself and to try and find my limitations. Being a Marine was a transformational experience, giving me the confidence that most teenage girls develop in their 40’s. I was very fortunate to have served during a time of peace, never having to go to war. I honor and respect all members of our Armed Services who have not been as fortunate and now suffer from the repercussions of their dedication to country.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

One of the things that I’m most excited about with the publication of Askari is that it has caught the attention of teachers. Although it is written for the middle grade audience, the language is sophisticated enough to meet middle school state standards. A teacher at my local junior high is writing a grant to get Askari into the hands of every child in her classroom. We are planning to spend the summer months developing curriculum to accompany the book for this coming school year.

Wow, Mikko, that is really cool! I’m so happy for you!!

Where can readers find you on the Web?

Webpage: www.mikkoazul.com
Blog: www.wordpress.com/mikkoazul
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Askari

Many thanks to Mikko Azul for spending your time on my blog! Best wishes for your continued success.  

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