Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE UNDER-APPRECIATED NOVEL?
Cully Mack: Shawn Dressler’s A Tale of Cloak and Shadows. This was a new author for me. The prose is poetic, and the world is painted with vivid imagery. The way Galindel switches back and forth from the present to his memories is enchanting and intriguing. It’s not technically a novel, more of a prequel to the Kingdoms of Core series. Everything about feels so alive and made for intense reading. The world building, characterization and dialogue were all spot on. An author to try out for sure.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU BALANCE MAKING DEMANDS ON THE READER WITH TAKING CARE OF THE READER?
Cully Mack: Let’s just say I wanted to end book one on a tragedy, but my Professor wisely said don’t do it. Still, the tragic event needed to happen, so I wrote it at the beginning of the next book which gave the reader time to adjust to their emotional responses.
It’s the part in my series which I get contacted about the most, and readers have varied emotions. Some feel it’s unforgivable, others feel conflicted and guilty about moving on, and others prefer the way the story unfolds. The book in question is called A Scream That Shatters. It’s not like I’ve hidden the theme of the book.
I’m conscious of the reader while writing. I tend to push my characters to their limits. I’m always asking myself if readers will trust me with this, but at the same time, it’s important to be true to the story, and to tell it in an honest way. All I can say is read to the end of the book and you’ll see why I wrote it the way I did.
Romelia: AS A WRITER, WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE AS YOUR MASCOT/AVATAR/SPIRIT ANIMAL?
Cully Mack: An eagle. They have the ability to see the bigger picture and also narrow in on the minutest detail. I also have one tattooed on my shoulder.
Romelia: WHAT DO YOU OWE THE REAL PEOPLE UPON WHOM YOU BASE YOUR CHARACTERS?
Cully Mack: I don’t base my characters on real people. The closest I have come to this is with a character named Ammo. Ammo is a cocky, confident, alpha male, and a bit of a rogue.
I know somebody who oozes confidence to the point of bluffing their way through unfamiliar situations. When writing Ammo, I often considered how that person might act if they were in similar situations. Apart from this one trait, their personalities are very different. Ammo is wiser and, believe it or not, he has a tad more humility.
Romelia: HOW MANY UNPUBLISHED AND HALF-FINISHED BOOKS DO YOU HAVE?
Cully Mack: I’m currently writing the first draft of book five in my Voice that Thunders fantasy series. Think epic battles with immortals and beasts of all kinds, throw in some elemental magic, huge plot twists, portals and unique worlds, intense romance, and an ever-growing cast of characters trying to save their world.
I’m also writing a collection of short stories concerning women from fairy tales, legends and myth.
Romelia: WHAT DOES LITERARY SUCCES LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Cully Mack: Completing a work, crafted to the best of my ability, and having people appreciate it.
Romelia: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MARKET YOUR BOOKS?
Cully Mack: Finding my target audience. For me, its fans of character driven epic/high fantasy who enjoy fantastical worlds, mythology, romantic subplots, and epic conflict. So, I look for readers who enjoy authors who write in a similar vein. In my case, S J Maas’ Throne of Glass series is a good example. It’s fairly close with elemental magic, multiple points of view, and several character arcs, etc. I tend to find readers in Facebook groups, Twitter and Instagram.
I’ve learnt how important it is to have a genre-specific professional cover which catches the eye of my intended audience. Without it, I wouldn’t stand a chance in a very competitive market.
Romelia: WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO, AND HOW LONG DO YOU SPEND RESEARCHING BEFORE BEGINNING A BOOK?
Cully Mack: I’m very interested in mythological texts from Ancient Mesopotamia which feature gods and mythical beings. I began researching several years prior to writing, and it’s still ongoing.
Mesopotamia was the birthplace of civilisation with many cultures living side by side. Depending on the culture, some saw the gods as a positive thing, others negative. It makes for great conflict when you can reimagine gods, hybrids and giants interacting with humanity.
In my series, I’ve tried to capture an essence of these cultures and transfer them to my world. My series is filled with ancient myth, the kind that is buried in soul waiting to be reawakened.
Romelia: DO YOU VIEW WRITING AS A KING OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE?
Cully Mack: I consider writing as creating something new which never before existed. That creative act can be considered spiritual, I guess. As with many mythological tales, themes in my books cover topics such as destiny, our place in the world, and views on the afterlife.
Romelia: WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT WRITING CHARACTERS FROM THE OPPOSITE SEX?
Cully Mack: Trying to get my head into the mindset of a fifteen-year-old boy and not make assumptions. Asking people of the opposite sex to share what it felt like for their first kiss was enlightening.
Romelia: HOW LONG WERE YOU A PART-TIME WRITER BEFORE YOU BECOME A FULL-TIME ONE?
Cully Mack: I was a part-time writer for six years before I became a full-time writer. The current pandemic moved my agenda forward after being made redundant from my employment.
Romelia: HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WRITE?
Cully Mack: When writing the first draft, I write all day, every day. I immerse myself in my world and don’t stop unless I have to. I think this is part of the process of a discovery writer. Without a structured plot, everything tends to stay in my head. I need to get it down before I lose it. I do make notes, but even stopping to write them is a risk of losing my flow.
Romelia: WHAT PERIOD OF YOUR LIFE DO YOU FIND YOU WRITE ABOUT MOST OFTEN? (CHILD, TEENAGER, YOUNG ADULT).
Cully Mack: My youngest character is fifteen, the eldest is immortal. I relate to most of them on some level, but I haven’t written myself into the story. However, there is one arc which I wanted to explore. It’s personal and relates to the grief caused by losing a sibling, and adjusting to the loss of them as you age. Apart from this, I’m wary of relying on my own life experiences. I like to keep it more varied.
For many years, I worked with people who were the most broken, those experiencing homelessness, trauma, addictions, etc. Except for addiction, my characters have similar experiences. Their arcs tend to be redemptive, finding themselves, rising out of the ashes, kind of thing.
Romelia: HAVE YOU READ ANYTHING THAT MADE YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT FICTION?
Cully Mack: Yes. I think differently about underlying themes in my books because I studied English Literature from the 16th century and onwards. Over the years, together with industrialisation and modernity, literature impacted on culture and vice versa.
Throughout the centuries, there are distinct trends in fiction. We see it now in how authors respond to themes of equality and diversity, climate change, and more recently, the pandemic. These issues were not in the mindset of prominent authors a few generations ago. They had their own issues. Think of how Jane Austin and women’s role in society has evolved in such a short time.
These issues were definitively not in the mindsets of cultures from millennia ago. I’m very conscious of how my worldview may influence my writing. It’s a balancing act, creating a world which is different but at the same time relatable.
Romelia: WHAT ARE THE ETHICS OF WRITING ABOUT HISTORICAL FIGURES?
Cully Mack: If an author is writing about an individual and it’s biographical, I believe it’s an author’s duty to do their research and to write an accurate representation.
In fiction, the lines can blur. I’m thinking of fictionalized retellings and alternate history where the author goes out of their way to subvert a character or situation. In these situations, it’s important to remember that it’s a fictional piece of art and not intended to be based on facts. For me, there is still a line though, I’d consider it unethical to defame a historical character and hurt their reputation.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU SELECT THE NAMES OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Cully Mack: All my characters’ names have meanings. Protagonist characters tend to have names originating in Hebrew and antagonist characters are either Sumerian or Akkadian. They are usually named after a personality trait or hinting at a possible plot arc. Here are some examples:
- Ditallu Ashes (sum). Known as Belit Seri (Lady of the Wilderness)
- Usemi Changed/turned into (Sum). Usemi is a master of enchantments and illusions.
- Dara Mercy, compassion or pearl of wisdom (Heb).
- Esha Fire (Heb). Esha is a Fire Wielder.
- Neviah Prophetess/seer (Heb).
Romelia: DO YOU READ YOUR BOOK REVIEWS? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH BAD OR GOOD ONES?
Cully Mack: I do. I use them to gauge reader responses. I believe all feedback has value. I’ve lost count of the times a review has boosted me when I was questioning if any of this was worth it.
I don’t expect everybody to like my books, and I’m okay with that. We all have different tastes. Overall, my reviews have been encouraging and positive. Although, someone recently rated all my books with a one star. At first, it hurt. I’m human. Apparently, this happens often with people targeting an author’s ratings. I think people sometimes forget there is an author on the other side of the pages.
Romelia: DO YOU HIDE ANY SECRETS IN YOUR BOOKS THAT ONLY A FEW PEOPLE WILL FIND?
Cully Mack: Nothing is as it seems in my series. I drop hints and foreshadow the plot in places. There are some huge plot twists! What I loved most about writing book three, A Fire That Whispers, is how the two main characters are trying to discover the truth but are unable to discuss and compare their findings. Other characters who know the truth are possibly lying. Even I didn’t know how it was going to play out until the latter part of the book. The reader learns the truth as the characters do, because that’s how it was revealed to me. This is the beauty of discovery writing.
Romelia: WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST SCENE TO WRITE?
Cully Mack: One of the hardest scenes to write was when a character learned that someone they loved was murdered. She sensed it before having it confirmed. Carrying the grief with nobody else knowing was very isolating. It’s a delicate subject elevated by the unique relationship these two people had.
Romelia: DO YOU GOOLE YOURSELF?
Cully Mack: No. I’ve never thought about it. Now I’m wondering?!
Romelia: WHAT ONE THING WOULD YOU GIVE UP TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER?
Cully Mack: I honestly don’t know. I’ve already given up everything except for my family, my dog. and my collection of books.
Romelia: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE LITERARY JOURNALS?
Cully Mack: I never have time to read them. I once did an essay on The Owl. It a literary journal from 1919. I loved their manifesto:
“‘All owls are satisfactory,’ Lewis Carroll begins his essay on these birds: we accept the omen gratefully. It must be understood that “The Owl” has no politics, leads no new movement and is not even the organ of any particular generation–for that matter sixty-seven years separate the oldest and youngest contributors. But we find in common a love of honest work well done, and a distaste for short cuts and popular success. “The Owl’ will come out quarterly or whenever enough suitable material is in the hands of the Editors.”
You can find out more here if you are interest https://modernistmagazines.org/british/the-owl/#1464124286764-16c18c4a-368dfc84-7731
Romelia: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BOOK?
Cully Mack: The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. At its heart it’s a portal fantasy with the characters climbing a magical tree and entering enchanted lands.
Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.
Cully Mack: When visiting Buckingham Palace, it’s not advisable to wear brand new shiny bottomed shoes and walk along a velvety carpet. Neither is it advisable to take photos where you’re not supposed to, sit on a velvet cushioned chair while wearing a slippery silk skirt, or to yawn in front of the Queen while she’s giving out medals.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Cully Mack: I loved dogs, hate prawns. I’m an advocate for social justice. I have a soft spot for reading rascals, rogues, and alpha holes, and love reading redemptive arcs.
I hate sharks and bullies!