An interview in partnership with The Children’s Book Review and Dakota McElhinny, The Realm series.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Dakota McElhinny also spent time growing up in Morganton, North Carolina. Between the two, he gained the ‘bustling city life’ and ‘rural country life’ experience. After receiving his Associate of Arts from Western Piedmont Community College, he obtained his Bachelor of Science from North Greenville University. Currently, Dakota lives in South Carolina, working as a freelance writer and author.
In this interview, Dakota McElhinny discusses The Realm series which consists of three books that make for a perfect choice for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy stories.
When writing fantasy, an author is allowed to stretch and play with language. You created a wide cast of characters and gave them detailed backstories. How did you come up with names for your characters and construct their background?
Dakota McElhinny: An excellent first question. I don’t believe there’s any one true answer to this, though. Some names, such as Dar Caine or King Azekiel, come from previous unpublished works; other names, like Troy or Leda, come from history or mythology; and some, like Lars, are just a perfect fit and feel.
The most important thing is making sure the names fit not only the character but also their homeland and their people. Lars is from Hidden Forest and has a brother, William. None of the other main characters could have those. Troy is from Lithia, and one of his brothers is named Gilead. That wouldn’t fit with any other main character. So, yes, coming up with names is fun, but it needed to make sense at the same time.
Background: So, for every character, there is a basic. This is, as Neil Gaiman calls it, the funny hat. For example, King Azekiel, yes, he is an elf, and yes, he is Troy’s grandfather, but he is well-known for his library. When hearing that King Azekiel has a library, readers automatically assume and know that this king is knowledgeable and wise.
All characters receive a funny hat—this basic distinction—to make it easier for readers to remember who is who. For the four main characters, I developed and fleshed them out by writing Part I of The Realm roughly five or six times. Each time, I would learn something new about them. I like to allow the characters to develop, think, and move fluidly while remaining true to themselves and anchored by common sense.
Every author has a soft spot for their characters. Who is your favorite character? And why?
When I first started writing The Realm, I would have said Troy. I modeled his character much after my younger self. However, as time has passed on and I’ve completed the series, I would probably say Lars. Why? He’s the most relatable character. He yearns for simplicity; he overcomes a great fear in the second book, and he’s just continually growing and learning.
Across the three books, the heroes go on many adventures and encounter unfamiliar situations. How do you come up with ideas for your characters’ experiences?
This is an interesting question. So, for The Realm’s Part I, the chapters take place in the Mountains of the Blue Dragon. This allowed me to experiment, grow, and work on my craft as a writer because, before The Realm, I hadn’t ever truly written anything aside from short stories.
All in all, I’m not quite sure how I brought the different experiences about. I did outline some chapters, more so the second book; The Realm was very natural and imaginative, and the third book was much like the first, though there was probably more researching and refining there.
Did you always plan on “The Realm” being a three-book series, or did it begin with one book that grew along the way?
Yes, I always intended The Realm Series to feature three books. I began writing this at a young age; I was only fifteen, and like many other young writers, I admired Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He penned a three-book series, and I wanted to do that too.
In the books, you have created a vast and very detailed world. You designed many kingdoms and introduced many different characters. While the story ends in the final book, do you plan on taking readers back by creating another fantasy adventure in that world?
Well, I will give you a transparent answer. Currently, I am working to publish How The Realm Was Won, which I’m hoping to release in April or May of 2023. It is basically a Q&A like this, only far lengthier and more detailed. I wanted to let readers see how much detail and time went into The Realm Series while also giving inspiration and insight to aspiring authors and writers.
As for us returning to The Realm for another adventure…I am collecting ideas and worldbuilding, and a current first draft sits at 111 pages.
What did you find most challenging about writing such a sizeable story covering such a large span of time, both in your book and in real time?
I don’t know if there were any true challenges, honestly. I suppose I was lucky. I started writing The Realm in 2010, I started writing The Realm: Rise of the Demon Prince in 2012, and I started writing The Realm: The Chess Master’s Ring in 2017. The Realm was published in 2016 under the Palmetto Publishing Group, and the second book followed under the PPG brand in 2017.
I suppose two “challenges” come to mind. The first would be that The Realm was published in August or September of 2016, and PPG wanted a quick turnaround for the second book. I decided that I wanted to rewrite Part I of the second book, though, because I believed it could be better. So, in a two-to-three-week period, in March/April of 2017, I reimagined and rewrote Part I of the second book.
The second challenge occurred in 2018. The Palmetto Publishing Group changed ownership, and I made the decision to withdraw from their brand. I decided to self-publish the first two books, and later on, I self-published the third book. That was a fun challenge, though, as I learned something new by teaching myself how to self-publish.
In the first book, Troy, an elf, finds a ring on the finger of a dwarf. He takes it and discovers it is made of starlight. It was one of the only times you mentioned taking a prize after a battle. Then in book three, you say that the Chessmaster’s ring is needed to unlock the chessboard’s magic, and readers automatically think back to Troy’s ring. Was this a purposeful red herring? Are there other literary Easter Eggs hidden in your writing?
This is a great question, but I’m not sure I understand it properly. The ring of Starlight, which Troy finds, is used as Troy’s treasured gift in the game of Rabbit Hole against Odie.
Is there a red herring for the Chess Master’s ring in The Realm? Yes, but it is not the ring of starlight.
There is a multitude of literary Easter Eggs. I do enjoy planting them when they seem relevant. Sometimes names have meanings. The Patheo of Zinzinc, Gnosis and Agnoia are Greek words; Gnosis means knowledge of the truth, while Agnoia means ignorance. These given names match their personalities. There are fun ones, too. Odie is a Gneiss, and gneiss is a type of stone. Leda’s father is named Uther, after Uther Pendragon, who was the father of King Arthur.
Have you taken inspiration from other fantasy authors? Who? How did that incorporate itself into your story?
I think it’s difficult for any writer or author to not take inspiration from other writers and authors. When I started writing The Realm in 2010, I probably took more inspiration from Tolkien. However, in later years, especially regarding the third book, I probably took more inspiration from C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander. And when I say I took inspiration, I don’t strictly mean their ideas, but more of their writing style and their word weaving.
Lewis has A Horse and His Boy, and Alexander has Taran Wanderer, both books focusing on the main character finding and learning who they are as a person. I wanted to take their teachings and implement something similar in the third Realm book, and readers can see this with each of the main characters, especially Troy.
What do you think makes a great story? How do you work this into your writing?
Everything that is written is written for entertainment. However, the best stories take it one step further. Those stories teach us lessons. They teach us that there are dragons; they ready us for those dragons; and then, when those stories are finished, they let us return to the real world, where we have the opportunity to share and implement what we’ve learned.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I would like to recognize Rachael Griffin and Izzy Brander. Rachael did the artwork for all three of The Realm book covers, and Izzy did the artwork for the interior of the third book. I am preparing to release an autobiography for The Realm Series, How The Realm Was Won, and it details the timeline and coming about for the series, as well as showcasing the amazing artwork of Rachael and Izzy. I’m proud to have worked with both, and I hope readers enjoy their artwork and The Realm Series as much as we enjoyed creating it.
For more information, https://www.dakotamcelhinny-author.com/.
Book GiveawayThe Realm Series Book Giveaway
The Realm Series
Written by Dakota McElhinny
Ages 13+ | 283 Pages
Publisher: Dakota McElhinny | ISBN-13: 9781944313258
Buy the Book
Written by Dakota McElhinny
Ages 13+ | 283 Pages
Publisher: Dakota McElhinny | ISBN-13: 9781641110266
Buy the Book
Written by Dakota McElhinny
Ages 13+ | 306 Pages
Publisher: Dakota McElhinny | ISBN-13: 9798667725268