Rennie St. James is another author who falls into the category of “person I’ve corresponded with online, but have yet to meet in real life.” And with a tagline like, “Some epic journeys start with a stumble,” for her first book and her website, I knew interviewing her would be interesting. (She’s also owned by three rescue cats and likes chocolate, both indicators that we’d get along just fine.) Rennie released the first book in her urban fantasy series The Rahki Chronicles, titled Azimuth, in September and is set to release two more books in the series this fall (October 23 and November 28, to be exact, for the e-books). She’s always busy writing, so I’m thankful that she took some time to answer my questions.
Christina: According to your website, “Rahkis are modern-day warriors with animal spirit guides.” How did the concept for this series come about, and have you always been interested in the idea of a spirit guide?
Rennie: Romances (historical and futuristic) first made me fall in love with the idea of a noble savage—warriors with a strong connection to nature and somewhat primal tendencies that belong more to the animal world. A love of martial arts further defined the image in my head with honor codes, well-honed skills, and sacred traditions. In a chaotic world of grays with so many options and views, I fell in love with the idea of such warriors fighting for good and always knowing what ‘good’ meant. Neither a degree in history nor years studying aikido could displace the fantasy warriors I have carried in my head and heart since middle school.
The animal spirit guide connection is closely linked to warriors in my mind and I’m an animal lover myself. However, such bonds are also frequent subjects in other books. In fact, one character in my series researches the historical overlap of man and beast in literature, culture, and art. Additionally, as I didn’t want to use human races, the animal kingdom was a perfect fit for my story. These very human characters often exhibit animalistic tendencies in good and bad ways. Having an Eagle eye for detail is great…being a bit of a snake in the grass isn’t as complimentary.
I will let you in on a secret—it wasn’t easy selecting the Tribe’s spirit guides, but the characters certainly fit perfectly into their respective Tribes.
Christina: In that same vein, as a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?
Rennie: I’m not sure it’s truly a choice and it appears somewhat contradictory to my Harry Potter Slytherin House affiliation, but my spirit animal is definitely feline! This isn’t based solely on being owned by three cats currently either. I think I certainly share my characteristics with the Lion (Pantivya) Tribe. Like a cat, I prefer to do things on my own schedule even if that means running around at 3 a.m. I can also be more than a little moody and anti-social—picture the cat that will allow you two belly scratches but scratches back with the third! While I can and do work well in groups, I like my independence and embrace a “live and let live” attitude.
As my spirit guide is an easy one, I find more fun in figuring out what animals my friends, family, and even complete strangers should claim!
Christina: You say that your adventures “have inspired each of the settings in Azimuth and the later books.” Can you tell us a bit about your travels, how you decide where to go, and what process you use to add the details of the setting into the book?
Rennie: While I would love to be a Rahki warrior, I do think I have a bit of Romani blood in me. We always traveled for family vacations as a child, and I participated in a study abroad in college as well. However, after that, I started working and there was no time or money to travel. I kept dreaming of the places I wanted to go and started a list.
I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled regularly for the last five-plus years. While my vacations typically last a week, I’ve had some work trips extend over a month. Work destinations were directed by others but were still great resources for me. Boston and Rochester appear in Azimuth and both are destinations I visited through my job.
My vacations have simply been a matter of taking advantage of wonderful opportunities and discovering a love of the US National Park System. Mesa Verde was the first park I visited as an adult, but I continue to seek others and also look for World Heritage Sites as well. It is the mixture of nature and history that appeal to me, and that combination is a great fit for my series.
The locations become secondary characters in my books. It takes time and effort to flesh them out and personal visits are certainly necessary. It helps to take notes while away, but I’ve also found I revisit the photo flip-books I have created too. Those books contain personal pictures, itinerary details, local stories, and more.
The more I travel, the more places I hope to include in my stories. Perhaps, I’ll even make the #RahkiWorld international one day. For now, I’ll just reveal another secret—California and West Virginia are featured in later books in the series!
Christina: Have you always written? Are there moments in time that stand out to you that reveal, “Yes, this is what I was meant to do?”
Rennie: I wrote poems as a child and started trying to write Azimuth in college and several times after that. It wasn’t until I fell in love with CW’s Arrow that I started writing regularly. I used fanfiction to ‘correct’ the show’s mistakes and fell in love with writing then. Less than one year after my first fanfic story, I self-published the first time (a prequel novella to my Rahki Chronicles). Azimuth was then published by a small independent firm. Neither experience brought fame or fortune so I worried that I wasn’t meant to do this. That is a moment that stands out clearly to me, unfortunately.
The stories in my head became clearer and louder (so to speak), and I found I still wanted to write. It wasn’t so much one clear moment, but instead, an aching need and restlessness that grew as I tried to put writing behind me. Online classes, local writers conferences, and social media writing groups honed my skills and increased my confidence. Writing is how I process the world. In that regard, I’m certainly meant to write and will continue to do so with or without fame or fortune.
Christina: Like you, I love the Magic 8 ball, and sometimes feel that I get better answers from it than I do real people. What was the last question you asked it, and did the answer guide you at all?
Rennie: I try to find other ways to determine the Universe’s signs, but the Magic 8 ball is certainly the most fun way to ask questions! The last question I asked was about taking a particular trip. The answer was yes and I did go. As the trip turned out well, I have to assume the Magic 8 ball knew what it was talking about after all.
Christina: Chocolate clearly is near and dear to your heart, as it makes an appearance on your blog, in your bio, and is mentioned on the seventh page of Azimuth! What can chocolate do you for (and your characters) that other foods cannot?
Rennie: Yes, I do adore my chocolate! The easiest answer is that chocolate has been part of my celebrations and consolations throughout my life. As such, it feels like an “inside joke” I had to include in my stories. Several characters do use chocolate in the same way as I do.
There is a more complicated and more philosophical answer though. Chocolate is a great symbol for life. There are many choices to make and everyone has a preference. Chocolate can be sweet or bitter, hot or cold, shared or enjoyed alone. It can also be fruity or nutty, simple or complex, dark or light. There are as many variations as there are people. And, just as with people, that variety is the spice of life. (By the way, if you haven’t tried chocolate with a spicy edge, I do recommend it.)
Just to be clear, as a Lion, I do not share my chocolate!
Thanks to Rennie for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.