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Author Spotlight: H.E. Bauman

Welcome to the second Author Spotlight of 2023! In this blog series, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.

This month, the author in the spotlight is H.E Bauman! H.E. and I connected on Instagram, and I was lucky enough to read an eARC of her debut novel, Under Darkened Skies.

Bio: H.E. Bauman is a fantasy author obsessed with all things magical. She’s the author of the Darkened Skies series and has a space fantasy series in the works. She’s been writing since she was a child, and some of her earliest stories were about witches, cats, and talking gryphons. When she’s not writing, you can find her playing tennis, immersed in a video game, or spending time with her family.

Q: Can you tell readers about Under Darkened Skies?

A: Under Darkened Skies is a new adult fantasy novel about a 24-year-old woman keeping a magical secret. Astrea Sovna, the main character, is a Lightbringer, a magical healer and empath. Her uncle is the court seer, and when she was very young, he had a vision of Astrea dying on the battlefield. In the empire, all healers are forced to serve in the military, so Saros and Astrea hid her magic from the emperor to spare her that fate and ward off Saros’s vision of her death.

Astrea works as a junior librarian, but the emperor personally selects her to work on a diplomatic project with his youngest son and her former best friend, Prince Varojin Auris. Forced to work together, they soon uncover a series of murders and shadowy people that seem to be connected to both Astrea’s magic and the emperor’s project. Astrea, Varojin, and their friends must uncover those secrets for the security of the whole continent.

Under Darkened Skies is mysterious, adventurous, and emotional—even a bit sad! It’s not a super fast-paced epic fantasy full of battles, though there are some fight scenes and plenty of dangers lurking in the shadows. There’s slow-burn romance, the foundations for found family to grow, and of course, only one bed. Without giving away any spoilers, though, I can say the rest of the series skews into those epic fantasy high-stakes scenarios, which I’m having a lot of fun writing.

Q: This book has a fantastic cast of characters, each with their own distinct personality. How did you come up with the protagonists?

A: Thank you! Astrea, Varojin, Eliana, and Cressida were actually the first four I came up with, and Saros, Emperor Aelius, and the Nikaphoroses were not far behind. Everyone else came after that.

They’ve all lived in my head for so long that I’m not sure exactly how I came up with each one’s basic personality. I knew their magical affinities very early, and with each scene I wrote featuring various characters, got clearer pictures of their personalities.

Once I felt I had a good handle on them, I took the Myers-Briggs test for Astrea and her five friends. While that’s just one framework, the questionnaire was helpful to imagine how they’d react in different scenarios. I was able to bring out more strengths and weaknesses of their personalities from there and twine those with backstory. They’ve grown organically from there!

Q: The magic system you’ve created is complex, and I can’t wait to learn more about it! What was the inspiration for the magic in the series?

A: I’ve always loved elemental magic systems. I grew up watching shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, and so many fantasy books I read from middle school onward featured some kind of elemental magic. I knew I wanted to use the same basic elemental system, but I wanted to bring in two more schools, not just air, earth, fire, and water.

Astrea’s Lightbringer magic means she’s a magical healer and empath. She experiences people’s emotions as colors in the air, sensations on her skin, and even tastes in her mouth. I thought this would be an interesting downside to that type of magic, especially since she has very little training. Imagine how overwhelming that would be! Part of the inspiration behind this was also my lifelong sensory problems, though I greatly expanded on that to weave it into Lightbringer magic.

There’s a lot more magic to come in later books, including new powers and incredible stamina shown by readers’ favorite characters, including Astrea. I can’t wait to share!

Q: If you could visit anywhere in Kalama, where would you go and why?

A: Honestly, I’d want to go to The White Lily café! A strong latte, fresh pastries, and friendly owner—what’s not to like? I think the history museum would also be fun.

Q: If you had the same power as one of the characters, what power would it be and why?

A: I would love to be a Greenkeeper like Sarsali Nikaphoros. Though readers don’t get to see her actively using her magic in Under Darkened Skies, she’s an earth mage with the ability to encourage plant growth and even control plants in a fight. I love flowers and am really trying to become a better gardener. Having Greenkeeper magic would be both fun and useful!

Q: Why did you choose the self-publishing route?

A: It was really a business decision, as I think self-publishing is for a lot of writers. Like many, I wanted to control my own publishing schedule, be really involved in the cover design process, and just get final say on everything. That’s not to say traditional publishing isn’t a great option; it is! I’d consider it in the future for other books. But with Under Darkened Skies, my desire to tell the story a specific way and desire to try a rapid-ish release strategy just solidified my choice.

Q: What advice would you give authors who are looking into self-publishing?

A: Everyone says it, but you are going to wear ALL the hats yourself, even when you hire outside help. Pace yourself, take care of yourself, and give yourself more time than you think you need. There are often things to change after you receive printed proof copies or once ARC readers find a typo that made it through all those rounds of editing! You’ll be glad you gave yourself an extra month before your official launch.

Q: What advice would you give authors about worldbuilding for fantasy novels?

A: I’d recommend two things.

#1: Don’t try to build it all at once. As you set up new pieces of your world, it’s going to open new questions and have ripple effects. Start with the basics, then layer details on top.

#2: Don’t try to show everything at once. I know it’s tempting! But you can introduce pieces of your world slowly as it makes sense for your story and your characters. There are many things they won’t know about the world they live in and many things they won’t experience until you throw them into that situation.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas)

A: In autumn and winter, I always brew my favorite hot tea before I settle in for a writing session. But in spring and summer, I don’t have any specific drink or ritual.

One thing that never changes, though, is I always take a break before I write in the evenings. I spend time with my husband; we usually cook dinner, watch TV, or even play tennis. What’s important is I’m off the computer and off my phone for a few hours at minimum, just enjoying life and not worrying about notifications or marketing or word counts. That’s very important for me!

Q: What does your research process look like for your writing, if there is one?

A: Under Darkened Skies is set in a post-industrialized world, similar to the 1920s in real life. When I tell people the book has 1920s-level tech, I often get asked if it’s like The Great Gatsby with magic, or if there are gangsters and flappers. The answer to both is “no.”

Because it’s a made-up fantasy world, I do give myself room to play, but I still like to understand how things work and see real-life examples. I’ve researched so many things: 1920s-style cars, zeppelins, communication technology, fashion and architecture, and even espresso machines! Recently, I’ve been reading up on how to forge steel and how naval ships were camouflaged at the turn of the 20th century—important for books later in the series.

Q: Do you have any specific authors or books that you’ve learned from on your writing journey?

A: I really started learning from the authors I was reading, even from a young age. Authors like Tamora Pierce definitely influenced my love for fantasy, and as I practiced writing novels way back in the day, I would study her books (among others) to try to figure out how she was building stories and characters. I still do that with books I love!

And reading outside my genre is helpful, too. Dave Grohl’s memoir, The Storyteller, had some great lessons about the creative heart and finding courage to share your art. Contemporary romance has helped me study romantic tension, which is always great when you have a romance subplot in your series regardless of your genre!

Up next on my list is Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses; I’ve heard it’s really good for deconstructing Western ideas about story structure and writing workshops.

Q: What’s your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?

A: Oh, this is still one I’m working on myself! If it’s something you struggle with, my heart goes out to you; it’s not fun. I think it’s so important to give yourself grace and acknowledge that the publishing process is going to be a roller coaster of emotions. Some days, you feel on top of the world. Others, you wake up feeling like an imposter even if people are responding positively to your book. Protect your mental health, whether that’s not obsessing over social media or not reading book reviews. Practice lots of self-compassion. And remember, no one can tell your story like you do. Trust yourself and your story.

Q: How do you refill your creative well?

A: I find I need some kind of ‘active’ rest, like a hobby I enjoy outside of writing or reading. I’ll engage with TV shows I love, listen to podcasts while I take walks or do chores, play tennis, and even play video games. This space away from my writing helps me regain my energy and enthusiasm, especially when I’ve been stuck on a plot problem or am slogging through revisions. I know lots of authors say they read to refill their well, but I find that sometimes a break from the written word helps me the most.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Though Under Darkened Skies is the first book in the Darkened Skies series, I’ve actually written up through Book 3 already. As of this month, I’ve officially started drafting Book 4 and am very excited to get the first draft done!

If you'd like to follow H.E. Bauman on her writing journey or find out more about her stories, this is where you can find her:

Instagram: @hebauman


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