Author ML Spencer is a biology teacher by day and a writer by night. In 2011, she published the first book in her Rhenwars Saga, the award-winning Darkmage, and concluded the pentalogy with Darkfall in 2018. The series “is a sprawling epic set in a morally gray world…[filled with] epic battles, flawed heroes, and a brutal struggle where the triumph of good over evil is never guaranteed.” The complete five-book Rhenwars Saga box set is on sale for 99¢ on Amazon. You’ll find the author on her website at MLSpencerFiction.com and on Facebook.
At its heart, what is The Rhenwars Saga about?
The Rhenwars Saga is about realizing that one’s own perspective is not the only valid one, and that there may be many others who (not sharing the same world-view as ourselves) might be just as valid as our own. Even our conceptions as seemingly straightforward as good and evil/just vs unjust are actually cultural constructs subject to interpretation and misinterpretation.
What sparked the initial story idea for Darkmage, the first book in the Saga?
I wanted to take a man, tear him down, and rebuild him in the image of those he had spent his life fighting to oppose. And do so in a way that he would seem justified. I wanted him to be guilty of committing the same kind of travesties the “enemy” was despised for, and in doing so showing that there is no right or wrong on a field of battle.
Tell us a little about your main characters. What is it about your protagonist that makes readers connect with him?
My main character is Darien Lauchlin, who finds himself the only surviving mage of the Rhen. It falls to Darien to stop an ancient threat all by himself—and he is nowhere up to the task. He is forced to make a series of impossible choices, giving up a little bit more of his soul each time. Readers connect with him because he’s a man who has been dealt an absolutely horrible hand of cards and does the best he can with them—but his best isn’t anywhere good enough.
How did the series come together?
I wrote Darkmage in 2004 but failed to get it published. It sat around until 2011 when I self-published it. I really had no idea how to market the novel, so it languished on Amazon for several years until I finally started taking the business of writing seriously, wrote more books, and learned how to market. Once I started writing again, the rest of the series came together in just a couple of years.
Of the five books in the series, which one was the most challenging to write, and which was the easiest?
The easiest was Darkmage. That book just flowed out of me—230K words in 40 days! I couldn’t eat or sleep—I just wrote around the clock. The hardest was the last book, Darkfall. It was very hard to tie up all the loose ends in a way that would leave readers feeling satisfied. Of all the books, that took the most planning.
What did you do to make your world, with its social structure and magic system, believable and logical?
I built the world around the themes of the story, creating it mostly as I went along. This worked well, as I was able to use the world to serve the story and not let the worldbuilding drive the plot.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Favorite part was standing at the very end of a long journey and knowing I’d given it my all and did the very best I could do—better than I’d ever thought I was capable of. I had always doubted myself. Looking back at the finished saga was an amazing reaffirmation.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
The Wheel of Time series! If only!
How has your experience as a teacher benefited your fiction writing?
I would say my writing has benefited my teaching more than teaching has benefited my writing. I have been able to take a lot of the skills I’ve picked up as a writer and apply them to the classroom. I can certainly help students write good essays—not bad for a science teacher! And because I studied science, that has helped me in world building. A lot.
Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I would have done more research into what it takes to sell novels before I ever pushed the “publish” button on Amazon. My life would have been a lot easier and I would have saved a LOT of money.
Any writing rituals or something you absolutely need in order to write?
I must read at least a paragraph of some other work to get the wheels lubricated. My favorites are Steven Erikson or Stephen King (must be a Steve thing). Then I’m good to go!
What writing project are you working on now?
I am writing a new series in the same world, set 20 years after the events of The Rhenwars Saga.