From Rick:

We’re pleased to interview sci-fi author Chrystalla Thoma this week. She’s written a number of shorter pieces, but I discovered her through her first novel, Rex Rising. In my mind it epitomizes everything done right in a self-published novel, from an intriguing cover with a professional look to an excellent story that’s both well-written and properly edited.

With both Rex Rising and Rex Cresting, the first and second novels in the Elei’s Chronicles series, Chrystalla Thoma proves that self-published novels CAN be every bit as good as traditionally published ones.

So, what’s so outstanding about these two? First, the covers are outstanding. They immediately pose a question to the potential reader and invite–and challenge–him to learn what story accompanies them. For me, the cover of Rex Rising did its job.

Second is the superb editing. Both novels are extremely clean, the kind of quality one expects from any good novel. In fact, in the first one, I spotted only ONE tiny typo!

Third, the story is original, and the characters are engaging. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, I enjoyed the second one even more.

With that introduction, let’s meet Chrys Thoma.

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(1) Chrys, welcome to Write Well, Write to Sell. Scott and I are honored to have you here. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m from Cyprus, which is an island in the Mediterranean (south of Turkey, east of Greece). I speak Greek (that’s my native language) and I studied English philology and translation. I have been writing fiction ever since I can remember. I love spicy Indian and Caribbean food, am obsessed with ancient religions and mythology, and I am right now writing a non-fiction book about dragons.

(2) I can’t wait to read the dragon book. What started you writing sci-fi and speculative fiction?

Somehow I have always written fantasy, since I was a child. I was a huge fan of Michael Ende’s surrealist Neverending Story (and still am!) and later Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Jumping from fantasy to science fiction wasn’t a big leap–magic is replaced by advanced technology or anything else that can be explained in scientific terms. Such as parasites…

(3) I also loved Neverending Story. The novel is quite different from the movie version, which only told half of the story. Being a fan of speculative fiction, I love the marvelous world you built in the Rex series. It’s a not-quite-Earth and not-quite-alien setting that’s just familiar enough for the reader to be able to envision. Did you have a particular inspiration for it, or was it simply a writer’s imagination unleashed?

Well, when you set out to create a new world in science fiction, you either need to look for another planet (or solar system, or dimension), or a place here on earth. I chose the ocean because it speaks to me–I’m an islander, and I find islands and their closed ecosystems fascinating. It’s where mutations quickly take place due to isolation (for instance, here on Cyprus, at the time the first humans arrived, there lived dwarf hippos and elephants – a phenomenon called Insular dwarfism.) So that was one source of inspiration.
As for the parasites… I realized I often treated magic abilities as parasites in my fantasy stories, and making the leap to real parasites in science fiction wasn’t that big. Of course, I had to read up a lot on the topic, it’s fascinating. It’s one of those areas where reality beats imagination.

(4) In the first novel’s Afterward you talk a little about your inspiration for the story premise? Can you expand on that?

Stories begin with a “what if…” So I started with a “what if there was a parasite that could change its human host to protect it and propagate it?” That’s actually not very fantastic, as insect, fish and crustacean parasites do this sort of thing often.

Then, “What if you already had a deadly parasite, and the only way to keep alive was to get another parasite?” I based this idea on the recent findings about parasites used to control allergies and other autoimmune illnesses like Krohn’s disease.

“What if in this world there was a whole new race of humans created by mutations caused by another parasite?” This notion is based on a parasite called Wollbachia which changes its hosts (flies) so much that they cannot survive without it, nor can they reproduce. It is a very interesting creature and worth reading about. The mutations of the Gultur race are based on the mutations this parasite causes to its hosts.

A scientific basis for the parasites in the Rex series

Finally, “what if a new parasite was introduced which would upset the balance reached in this world?” And Rex was born.

(5) Another thing I enjoyed about your world was the language and the terms you invented. I like how simply put the reader into your world without feeling the need to explain them, which can come across as forced writing. What are your thoughts? Have many readers complained about the lack of explanations or asked for a glossary of terms and a pronunciation guide?

Thank you! I do think that foreign terms used in a story can give the feel of a different place–just like, say, if you were reading a story about Germany and the tramway was called a Strassebahn, and a sandwich Broetchen. I personally like this sort of thing, which is why I’ve used such words in the novel.

Only one reader has complained so far about lack of explanations (if I remember correctly)– but I found the request for a glossary sound and I added one. As for a pronunciation guide–strangely, you’re the only one who asked for one, and I admit I hadn’t thought of it before… 😉 So thank you. I will do it. (*adds item to her to-do list*)

I only asked for a pronunciation guide because I puzzled over the precise pronunciations of “Elei” and “Kalaes” (and how they were accented).

(6) I appreciate your use of invented curses, instead of using the standard swears, which can pull a reader out of your setting because they’re too Earth-like. You do use “shit” and variations on “damn,” but those pretty much neutral terms. Comments?

That was tricky for me. Invented curses often sound fake and contrived, whereas using existing curses which refer to today’s pantheon, for instance (Sweet Mary, Jesus, etc.) can take you out of the story because they don’t belong in this different world. Since pornographic terms were out of the question–this is, after all, Young Adult (if for older/mature teens and adults), I resorted to the pantheon of my invented world, which is mostly Egyptian and Greek, and it has five hells in the bottom of the ocean.

(7) One of the few reader review criticisms I’ve read is that because you use so few characters in the first novel, some of the plot points were predictable. I have to admit that I wasn’t totally surprised by the ending. Nevertheless, I nevertheless enjoyed the novel (and I like the second one even more) because you pulled me completely into your world and let me experience it. Sometimes that’s more rewarding for a reader than a total surprise ending. How do you feel about that?

This is a very interesting question. I’m not sure the number of characters matters when it comes to surprise twists. I think it all depends what the author is trying to do with a story–even two characters could be enough to keep a mystery and the tension.

The main “What if” concerning the main characters of Rex Rising was “what if the people I trust aren’t trustworthy” and how the characters deal with that. Therefore, one of my main goals was to exemplify character through actions–plus, I hoped readers would enjoy spending time with my cast of characters.

Which I guess is what you’re saying about being pulled into the world (and thanks!)

Another thing is that finding the fine line–where you don’t lose some readers because they didn’t get it and others because they got it on page one and got bored–is hard. Not all readers predicted the ending. Some were really surprised. But I think no-one got lost. 🙂

I definitely didn’t get lost. And I agree on finding that fine line. I’ve had to deal with it myself.

(8) Based on the ending of the second novel in this series, presumably there will be a third Rex novel. Yes, no?

Yes, indeed! The third book in the series is called Rex Equilibrium and there will be lots of action, emotion, a tiny bit of romance, and many things will fall into place. It will come out the first week of November.

In fact, there will also be a fourth book, a short novel called Rex Aftermath, and probably a novella or novel recounting Kalaes’ past.

Definitely looking forward to the Kalaes story as well.

(9) What are your writing plans after you finish the Rex series?

I have a list. 🙂 But number one is a Steampunk series with vampires set in Cyprus. I’ve been preparing the world building for years now, so I’m very excited that I will finally start writing it next year.

Gotta love vampires, especially Steampunk ones. 🙂 I’m looking forward to it.

(10) To wrap up, why did you decide to self-publish and how has your self-publishing experience has been so far? Do you have any advice on lessons learned?

I decided to self publish because I wanted to try it out! I loved the idea of having total control over my covers (especially this!), but also the pricing, the promotion, and everything. So far, I love it. As for advice: self-publishing can be harsh because you’re responsible for everything. You can’t blame your publisher for crappy editing or cover. It’s up to you to make your book perfect, or as perfect as possible.

Well, in my mind, you’ve succeeded.

(11) Is there anything I’ve left out that you’d like to share?

It’s been an amazing experience, writing and publishing in English. Ten years ago, if you told me I’d be doing this, I’d laugh. I didn’t think I could write in any language other than my own (Greek). I think, in the end, it’s all about decisiveness and perseverance. And, of course, imagination. 🙂

Thank you very much for having me today!

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Chrys, you did an amazing job on the language front. Nothing in either novel gave me the impression that English was not your first language. You’ve certainly mastered it and made it work for you. I will eagerly grab up anything you write in the future, knowing that I’m always going to be treated to something different and will be taken on a great ride.

I hope some of our readers will check out your novels (available in both paper and e-book versions at the link below) and give them a try and feel likewise.

Chrystalla Thoma’s books and stories on Amazon

I wish you much success with your writing. Thanks for letting us to interview you.

–Rick