Author Interview with Toni Mobley

Dragon Soul Press interviewed Toni Mobley, an author featured in History, Age of Artifice, and Haunt.


1. Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s hard to pick just one! My all-time favorite author is a tie between Sara Douglass and Garth Nix! When I lived in Australia, they were the inspiration for wanting to improve my craft and I have always looked up to them. Sara Douglass created these fantastical worlds with rich history and made it seem so effortless, while Garth Nix perfected memorable characters that have stuck with me even years after reading his books.

2. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote my first book at 11 about all my classmates and I on a deserted island, and it was after that I called myself a writer. But it wasn’t until my first short story was published that I called myself an author.

3. What comes first, the plot or characters?

For me, I usually come up with a plot or a location and then work characters into it. I’ll be inspired by beautiful locations around the world or something I saw in a video game and think, that’s amazing, I want something just like that!

4. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

Before I even start writing a book or short story, I’ll create a list of the most important aspects of the book, including several titles. It isn’t until I’ve finished writing that I sit down and choose the title that most suits the story.

5. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Sticking with my outline! As I’m writing sometimes my characters will change or I’ll decide a location no longer suits the tone of the story and I’ll have to go back and nitpick everything. Or, more often than not, I’ll be halfway through writing a story and inspiration will strike and I’ll want to completely rewrite what I’ve written.

6. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

I can spend hours and hours writing, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. But I’m not just writing, often times I’m researching, and I’m sure many people are familiar with researching something innocent like the History of London, England and three hours later they’re learning about particle acceleration.

7. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Although it’s rare to find me not writing, I enjoy spending my free time reading or playing video games. I am a sucker for nature and enjoy going for a drive to the beach or mountains. But I’m just as happy at home watching TV or testing out new recipes I found online.

8. What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?

My favorite parts are the people I meet along the way who are just like me, and at the very end being able to hold something in your hands with your name on it and thinking, ‘Wow, this is surreal!’ The least favorite part is the waiting! The publishing industry is notoriously slow with hundreds of moving parts and requires a tremendous amount of patience.

9. What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

The first thing (or eight) that you create won’t be perfect. I’ve written a dozen novels, but it was my third book that got me a publisher. Like any form of art, it requires dedication. It’s a craft that you must continuously work on to improve yourself at. Even prolific authors like Stephen King and Nora Roberts are still learning. Read a lot, write a lot, no matter if it’s an article on particle acceleration, or a short poem. Anything and everything helps you to do better!

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find me on Twitter or my website.

How Long Should a Chapter Be?

A common debate amongst authors is how long should a chapter be? James Patterson has chapters literally one page in length while J.R.R. Tolkien’s are dozens. Both are great authors. Both are infamous. But in the matter of chapter lengths, which one is right? The answer is they both are.

Let’s look at the definition of a chapter before going any further.

Chapter (Noun) – 1. A main division of a book, typically with a number or title. 2. A local branch of a society. 3. The governing body of a religious community, especially a cathedral or a knightly order. 4. A period of time or an episode in a person’s life, a nation’s history, etc.

We know it’s a main division of a book without even having to look at the definition, but look at the last example they give. A period of time or an episode in a person’s life, a nation’s history, etc. This is literally telling you, within the definition itself, that it does not matter how long the length of the chapter is as long as the scene within it is completed. You can still have a cliff-hanger at the end of the chapter, even if it is a page long.

Still not satisfied that the chapter can be any length? Let’s talk about lengthy chapters.

Do you remember seeing those fancy designs in between the text in some books? Those are called divider vectors. They are a visual ending of a scene for the reader. Vectors help to break up longer chapters so the reader is able to find a stopping point, because the reality is we always get interrupted by something while reading. It leaves an easier place to come back to.

Looking back at the definition of chapter again: A period of time or an episode in a person’s life. Your personal life is not cut into perfectly timed portions. An example — you only meant to stay at that Halloween party for two hours, but time whisked away and you found yourself there for five hours. The same goes with writing. One minute your character is behaving themselves and following the script. The next minute, they’re gallivanting across the countryside with a bunch of Dwarves and a wizard.

Do not restrict yourself or your characters on the fairytale ideals of perfect chapter lengths. Of course for young readers, you should make sure the chapters are easily comprehensible. But you still are not limited to a certain word count or a certain page-length for chapters. This is one of the steps that prevents many authors from simply writing.

So, sit down at the keyboard and just write.

Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!

Author Interview with Steven Bruce

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview Steven Bruce, an author of poetry and horror.


1. What inspired you to start writing?

The inspiration came from needing something to pull me out of a quiet life of desperation. I was between unemployment and warehouse jobs while living in a run-down apartment block.

Steven Bruce
(Photo courtesy of Steven Bruce)

Then one night, I recalled hearing Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in primary school. And I thought, what if I wrote horror stories. So I got out of bed, switched my old computer on, and, in total ignorance of the craft, spent the night writing. By the time the sun came up, I had written my first horror story.

From there, I never looked back.

2. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

At the very beginning, before I typed the first letter of the first word of the first sentence of my first story.

Before you can convince others of what you are, you have to convince yourself.

3. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I find perfectionism during the editing process hampers my output. From time to time, I also suffer from procrastination.

4. Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?

Yes, I write full-time. Although, I also moonlight as an editor and proofreader.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to live a spartan lifestyle, so I don’t need large sums of money to survive. I can be content with a cup of coffee with a good book in the morning and, in the evening, my wife’s tuna pasta with a film.

I think putting an artist in a nine-to-five, dead-end job is comparable to strapping them in a straightjacket. Not to say that I’m an artist, but I’m definitely an artist type.

5. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Creative, diligent, and sexy.

Disclaimer: The three words above are chosen solely by my wife, who may be slightly biased.

6. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

At the moment, I’m working on a second poetry collection titled Caffeine. It’s a collection of poems that delves into what keeps us awake at night. It’s an intimate collection which I hope reaches out into the familiar.

It will be available to buy in August of this year.

It’s my departure from poetry. At least for now. I want to focus more on writing fiction.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s always challenging to pick a single favourite when there are so many authors I admire.

I often return to the works of Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov, and Franz Kafka, to name a few.

However, if I had to pick one, it would be Ernest Hemingway for his brevity.

8. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

For poetry, Ezra Pound.

For fiction, Gordon Lish.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing, I like to visit art galleries, museums, parks, and cafés. I also enjoy reading and going on long weekend walks around Barcelona with Gosia (my wife).

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place would be through my website, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Amazon.