Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Danielle Ackley-McPhail, my guest for this week’s blog post. An award-winning author, Dani has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over seventeen years. Her works include the urban fantasies, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Today’s Promise, and The Halfling’s Court, and the writers guide, The Literary Handyman. She edits the Bad-Ass faeries anthologies and Dragon’s Lure, and has contributed to numerous other anthologies.

Let’s jump in, shall we?

When did you discover or decide to become a writer?
I was a reader before I was a writer. My mom would bring home kids books someone she worked with gave her and I would read them over and over again. I think I was about six. A year or two after that she took me to the library for my first library card. The moment it was in my hand she said “You can get as many as you can carry.” I was hooked ever since. I read every change I could get to the point she would yell at me to put the book down. Basically, I learned to write through osmosis. When I hit the age of twelve or so, I was so disappointed when the story was over that I would write my own sequels in my mind as I was falling asleep at night. After that it was just a natural progression to active writer. About that age is when the serious writing begins in English class and I was doomed ever since. For the most part I only dabbled, though, until after I was done with college.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
As a person…that one is tough. I don’t think any specific book. I’ve read so voraciously since I was first able that they all start to blend after a while. I take a little something from most books, even if it is just a fact that I didn’t know before. I think the most profound way books have affected me is that they have made me more self-aware. I will see a character that I didn’t particularly care for and perhaps recognize something about myself that I didn’t like in the character and endeavor to weed out that behavior. Now if you mean as an author, I love anything based on mythology or utilizing created mythologies so I would say my biggest influences are P.C. Hodgell, Mercedes Lackey, and Anne McCaffrey. Their worlds are so rich and detailed, with layers upon layers of significance. I definitely strive toward that in my own work.

Where and how do you find the most inspiration for your writing?
To be truthful, most of my ideas come at me out of left field. Someone will say something or my mind will reach out and grab me with something cool and I won’t even know why the thought occurred to me. This happened with my vampire novel (WIP). I was in the kitchen doing something and all of a sudden for a reason I can’t explain the thought came to me that we are all vampires before we are born. Someday I’ll finish and everyone will be able to see where I ran with that one! Of course, there are other times when I am writing for a specific (generally themed) project. In those cases I either ask the editor what they wanted that they didn’t receive and let that shape my inspiration, or I look for the most out-of-left-field approach I can think of to meet the theme but still offer up the unexpected. Once for a contest I had to write about Leaving. That was all we were given for a topic. I looked up leaving in the dictionary and found that it also meant to put forth leaves…so I wrote about dryads waking up after winter.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Passive voice, overuse of adjectives…definitely commas! Most of my writing skill is instinctive…gained by osmosis, almost, you could say. I have read so much that my writing and storytelling just naturally developed. (The other kids hated me in school). Now, this isn’t to say my writing is perfect, but I am fortunate that most of my time is spent figuring out the story, rather than the technical aspects of writing.

When you’re writing, do your characters talk to you, develop a life of their own?
Oh…it depends on the character…definitely depends on the character. There are things that develop that I can’t really claim active credit for: events that happen, personality traits that evolve on the page. Sometimes I resist, but I find if I flow with the unexpected. One of the most independent characters I have is Beag Scath, a pixie from my Eternal Cycle Trilogy series. He started out as just a background element, transitioned to comic relief, and by book three he ended up one of the heroes of the book. Consistently he is the character everyone who has voiced an opinion loves. More often, though, the incidents are isolated occurrences of rebellion…like, oh, pivotal characters dying before they’ve payed their part…stuff like that.

If you could become one of your characters, which would it be?
You know, I’ve never thought about it…but there is one character I think it would be cool to step into. Brid, a Sidhe seer who appears briefly in Tomorrow’s Memories and more prominently in Today’s Promise. She is the polar opposite of me in so many ways, but she is strong and kick-ass when least expected. Even though the trilogy is over, I may just have to extend the series so that I can have fun playing with characters like her.

What is the toughest scene you ever wrote?
In Tomorrow’s Memories I have the beginnings of a torture scene where my main character Kara O’Keefe is toyed with, then mutilated by an evil demigod. It is an intense and uncomfortable scene to write and read, but no matter how many times I looked at it, the most uncomfortable bits had to remain in because nothing short of that would have had enough impact in keeping with the rest of the book, the characters’ reactions would not have rung true.

I ran into something similar with Today’s Promise. The scene itself was not hard to write, unfortunately, but definitely hard to justify. In the end, I edited it out of the book. Tony De LoCosta is possessed by the evil demigod mentioned above. His spirit is becoming less controlled and the demigod starts committing atrocities and then backing off so that Tony’s consciousness is left to confront the outcome. He does this to break the character’s spirit. Yes, it would have worked and yes, it would have been intense, but I felt it would have sensationalized a horrific act. There was no good reason for that and I was able to accomplish the same goal through other means.

What are you planning for future projects?
Wow…way, way too many. First and foremost I have to finish to anthologies: Bad-Ass Faeries 4: It’s Elemental, and Eternal Flame (Book Two in the Legends of the New Age Series), and then the novel The Redcap’s Queen: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. I’m also working on Kantasi Nation, a vampire novel, Daire’s Devils, a military science fiction novel.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be prepared to work hard. An author’s job isn’t over when the last word is typed in. Being a published author is a business. There’s paperwork, contracts, promotions. You will get out of the experience what you put into it. If you want to get somewhere, you have to work for it.

Where can we find your work?
Well, you can find out about my books at, but you can buy them on Amazon and the other major distribution sites, as well as the publisher’s websites.

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