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When we launched Thrice Read Books’ review blog, our inaugural post was for Donna Migliaccio’s Fiskur (book 2 in the Gemeta Stone Series). Since so much has happened, and Donna has released three more books in the series, we snagged an opportunity to sit down with her to talk about the Gemeta Stone series in general, her most recent release, and what’s next for this epic fantasy author.
Jenn: Shall we talk books? Specifically, yours… It’s been a year or so since we last sat down and talked. I think Ragis was just coming out.
Donna: Ragis came out in September 2018. A lot has changed in the interim, with Fiery Seas going out of business and me having to learn the self-publishing biz.
Jenn: Tell us a little about yourself?
Donna: Sure. I’m a professional stage actress based out of the Washington, DC area and have published five books in my epic fantasy series, The Gemeta Stone.
I’ve also published a couple of short stories as well.
Jenn: How did I miss the short stories?
Donna: They didn’t get a wide distribution LOL.
Donna: One was a more literary work called Yaa & The Coffins, published in the now-defunct Thinkerbeat Journal; the other, Fire Bird, was published in Wild Musette a couple of years ago.
I don’t write short-form very often.
Jenn: I can imagine writing short form is challenging, especially when you write epic fantasy.
Donna: What’s funny is that when I write short stories, they tend to be under 3k words.
On the shorter side of “short.”
Jenn: You have my admiration! That’s amazing.
Jenn: Have you always wanted to write or publish your writing?
Donna: Well, I’ve always written. Even when I was small, my brother and I used to write illustrated stories together. We’d open one of those black and white composition books and lay on the floor facing each other, each one drawing and writing on their own page. We were usually writing the same characters and roughly the same plot, just with our own twists. We’d spend hours doing that. Unfortunately all those “picture books” are gone now.
Jenn: Oh, no. What a loss.
Donna: When you’re an Army brat, you get used to it.
Jenn: Ahh the bliss of the PCS move.
Donna: My dad was ruthless about getting rid of stuff when we had to move.
Jenn: So how did you go from composition books to publishing Gemeta Stone?
Donna: I first wrote the Kristan Gemeta character as part of a high school composition assignment. We had to write the beginning of a novel, and I’d had a dream about a young man on a horse meeting with a young woman on a road beside a forest. So that’s what I wrote.
It was nothing more than a sketch, but I’d actually dreamed the name Kristan Gemeta.
I never did anything with it until years later, when I was out of college and living alone for the first time.
I’d already written and trunked another novel (a truly awful contemporary romance about a blind prince – fortunately it, too, no longer exists), but there was something interesting about the Kristan character that made me want to resurrect him.
Jenn: Who are the major influencers in your life and philosophy?
Donna: Family for certain. I come from a large family (six siblings!) and my mother and father are/were very dynamic people. Dad passed back in 2000; Mom just celebrated her 99th birthday.
Jenn: Happy Birthday, Mom!
Donna: All my siblings are “artsy” – we all sang or played an instrument or danced or drew or wrote growing up.
My parents encouraged that. We had to learn to amuse ourselves on long road trips.
So being imaginative was a survival skill.
Jenn: I think that’s awesome. So many kids now don’t have that support towards the arts.
Donna: Ain’t that the truth. Or if they do, it’s rarely arts for art’s sake. It’s more “how can I turn this into a side hustle and make some money?”
If you can’t find the joy in art first, it’s going to get real old real fast.
Jenn: It takes patience, perseverance, and a deep love for the craft to get good at any form of art. You’re absolutely right. If you can enjoy it, you won’t stick with it.
What advice would you give young artists – dancers, singers, writers, painters – from your perspective of having dedicated most of your life to the creative arts?
Donna: There’s a mindset with young people these days that they have to “win” at the creative game quickly. They might put in a couple of months’ work and get frustrated that they’re not experts at the end of that time. I wonder if that mindset comes out of playing video games – you put in thirty hours playing a game and you generally end up fairly proficient at it. But the creative process isn’t like that. It can take years to develop the skill set you need to write a book, or play an instrument, or act in a play.
Jenn: Very true. I think that falls into the “10,000 Hours” philosophy… that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to master any skill.
Donna: My advice to writers would be to READ. Read all the time. Read widely and analytically. I’m constantly stunned by the number of young people I’ve encountered who’ve decided they want to write a book – but they don’t read. They watch a lot of movies and TV, but they don’t read. And writing a novel is a completely different skill set.
Jenn: I’ve run into that quite a bit, myself.
Jenn: What other books or authors have influenced your writing, and specifically, the Gemeta Stone series?
Donna: T.H. White’s The Once and Future King had a huge impact on me. I believe I first read it because I was a fan of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. But they’re nothing alike (in fact, I can’t bear the cartoon now – it seems coarse and thudding). The Once and Future King is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, but there’s such grace and whimsy and melancholy all mingled together. I was entranced by the idea of this good-hearted child who must learn to be a king.
Jenn: Having read Gemeta Stone, I can definitely see the influence there.
Jenn: If you had to explain this series in one sentence, what would you say?
Donna: Oh dear.
With the aid of a magical talisman, a gentle young king struggles to free his country from the grip of a powerful magician.
Or something like that.
I always struggle trying to reduce a six-book series to a single sentence.
Jenn: I can empathize with the struggle…
Jenn: For our readers that are unfamiliar with the series, can you give us a quick book-by-book elevator pitch? (I promise I am not trying to break our featured author.)
Book 1 – Kinglet
Robbed of his throne, his crown, and even his name, gentle and introspective Kristan Gemeta must learn to lead before he can recover his family’s ancient talisman and take a stand against the Wichelord Daazna.
Book 2 – Fiskur
With the assistance of a band of rebels, a shipful of brigands, and the legendary Kentavron, Kristan defeats Daazna and his minions – but at a terrible price.
Book 3 – Stoneking
Kristan struggles to unite four disparate kingdoms and understand the true nature of the Gemeta Stone while battling the fear that he is losing his sanity along with those he loves.
Book 4 – Ragis
Kristan Gemeta teeters on the brink of madness while forced into a dangerous winter journey that will end in a confrontation he dreads.
Prequel – Princeling
The child Kristan Gemeta tries to find a place in his father’s battle-hardened court, while the youth Daazna faces his own struggles as he learns ancient Wiche skills.
GAH – why is that kind of thing so HARD??
Jenn: Because you told the story with many hundreds of words, and your brain is trying to take the whole thing into account?
Jenn: In our last interview, we mentioned this series is appropriate for readers 16 and over, because of some sexual content and graphic violence. Now that the prequel is out, would you consider these standalone novels, or would you recommend that readers start in a particular place?
Donna: I feel that Princeling could be read at any point in the series, but where I think it’s most valuable is between Ragis and the yet-to-be-published final book in the series.
It answers a lot of questions set up in the first four books and gives some clues about what might happen in the final book.
Jenn: It does.
So Kinglet would be the recommended starting point?
Donna: I think that’s most useful – Kinglet, Fiskur, Stoneking, Ragis, Princeling, and then the last book.
Once I finish that LOL.
Jenn: What are some of the major ideas that you integrate into this book or your life in general?
Donna: That kindness is an essential component of life.
Even if showing kindness is viewed as a weakness rather than strength.
Kindness is at the core of Kristan’s existence, and trying to find a balance between that strong moral compass and the demands of his rule is a constant source of tension.
Particularly when he’s pitted against an adversary who is completely without compassion.
Jenn: And Daazna is definitely that.
Donna: Daazna is definitely a Big Bad, but one of the things I wanted to tackle in Princeling was how he got that way.
Jenn: Because people don’t just wake up one day and decide to be that level of evil.
Donna: What was surprising as I wrote the book was discovering that he and Kristan faced many of the same obstacles: loss of a parent, not being accepted in their society, etc.
Jenn: You mentioned that elusive last book… what’s next for Kristan and his intrepid writer?
Donna: I do have a single line description of the final book LOL.
Jenn: Hehe… Let’s hear it!
(and hopefully, it doesn’t give anything away!)
Donna: After twenty years of peace, Kristan must face his old enemy in a new form.
So….we’re talking a major passage of time between the end of RAGIS and the beginning of the new book.
Jenn: Oh, my!
Donna: Which means I not only have to pick up all the various plot threads from the earlier books, but also introduce a boatload of new characters.
Jenn: Fantasy casts can get… enormous. Am I right?
Donna: They can indeed.
Jenn: So how can readers follow you and find out when the exciting conclusion is available? (Also, follow for the Daily Fox, and other great Donna excitement!)
Donna: I have a newsletter: Fantasy, Fancies & the Occasional Fox. It comes out about every other month and includes my writing and theatre news, plus stories about my local fox population, birding, gardening, recipes, and other things that interest me. (It also has a Hidden Treasures link that will take you to a secret page on my website where I’ll occasionally post short stories and other writing.)
Or, readers can visit my website at donnamigliaccio.com
You can sign up for the newsletter on the website.
I can be followed on Twitter (@donnamig) and Instagram (mrsmig1).
Jenn: Sounds good.
It has been a pleasure, once again, to sit down and “talk” with you, Donna. Thank you so much for your time, and for giving us such fantastic stories as Kristan’s.