M.K. Valley is the author of a sci-fi fantasy thriller 'The Imaginators' that I've read and loved. You can read my review here.
Hi and welcome! :) Could you please introduce yourself?
Hey Alina, thank you for inviting me to do this interview. Introductions are scary! My name’s Maria, M.K. Valley is the pseudonym of someone whose Eastern European name won’t look well on book covers. All jokes aside, I come from Bulgaria, a small country on the Balkan peninsula, and English is my second language.
I’ve been writing since I knew letters – bits and pieces of poetry, fanfiction, short stories, and eventually, full-length novels. Thing is, where I’m from, being a writer is hard unless you’re a public figure as well. Which I’m not. That’s why I started writing predominantly in English, aiming to reach a wider audience. And that’s how we have The Imaginators today – my sci-fi debut, though I have an epic fantasy, a cyberpunk novel, and a romance in the making.
Still, doesn’t mean I’ve given up writing in my native language. In fact, the accursed 2020 saw me winning a short story competition for an anthology and having another text shortlisted for publication. I’ll be making my native debut rather sooner than later.
That's a lot of exciting plans! Let's talk about ‘The Imaginators’ first. Could you explain who the imaginators are to the people who haven’t read the book?
The Imaginators are a phenomenon, something that started as an experiment and is now evolution. By now I mean at least 3,000 years in the future when it’s not humans but humanoid species that populate and rule the universe. Imaginators have the unique ability to tap into the mysterious Aether, the thing between and beyond the atoms, and bend it to their will at the cost of life force, creating matter. Or, in some rare cases, influencing existing matter.
These abilities also have made them a threat to authority. But to avoid spoilers, I’ll let readers find out for themselves how’s that relevant to the story.
The concept of the imaginators was intriguing for me. I associated their abilities with magic (even though it’s not seen as such in the book) but also with creativity and art. How did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been a huge Naruto fan all my life, played in a writing-based forum RPG inspired by it for more than a decade. The concept of the Ninjutsu there had a massive influence for sure. But I didn’t want the Imaginators to have merely elemental abilities as that would’ve been right-out magic, as you point out.
I wanted to make them masters over matter, wanted to give them the ‘power of creation’, the ability to craft and build, limited only by their capacity and imagination. In fact, even in the current setting of the world, most Imaginators are artisans. It’s just that all the action happens around those that can imagine guns and blades.
When I first came up with the idea, everything happened quickly, hastily. It was messy because I wrote it in a very short period of time for a call for unsolicited submissions. Only a couple of years later, when I revisited the world with my mind set on publishing the novella, did I ask myself the question ‘If people could imagine anything into existence, what would it be?’. The first thing that came to mind, sadly, were weapons and that endless arms race. But hopefully, someone somewhere out there is ready to imagine roses and build libraries.
Andria is a very compelling protagonist. What was your process of creating such a complex character?
Thank you for saying that. The truth is, I don’t have a process, and I always wonder whether people will relate or if they’ll like a character and see more than two dimensions to them. I just have the experience of writing a dramatic character for ten years (in that Naruto RPG), a character that’s been torn down and reformed a thousand times, and I go with my gut when it comes to adding nuances. I also tend to weave in tendrils of my own experience, but that’s why you’ll hardly ever find happy-go-lucky characters in my stories. I don’t even know where to begin with those.
'The Imaginators' is the first book in a planned series. What’s next? Are you already writing the next book?
It was also supposed to be the only book in this world! But, as it happens, after editing it a thousand times, the tiniest worldbuilding element of the story evolved into a full-length novel idea. And yes, that’s what’s next. Decided to dive right in after publishing the novella, while it still felt fresh, and the characters – familiar, and I’m almost halfway through the sequel’s first draft.
I'm intrigued! How many books are you planning to write for the series?
Just the two. Unless another tiny element blows out of proportions at some point, it’s planned as a duology. Besides, I have an ‘Infinite Universe’ of other worlds I’m eager to explore.
Will the next book have the same protagonist and happen after the events of ‘The Imaginators’ or are you planning to explore other stories and timelines?
The second book picks up 2 months after the events in the epilogue, which occur five years after the events in the novella. The familiar faces are back, with a couple of new additions. I can promise you, though, that we’ll be exploring a lot more of the universe outside the Olympians’ system.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
I guess, for me, the best part is being able to tell stories and share worlds crafted with love with the readers. And getting them excited about them. Not just that, but also finding some incredible people on the author journey. Both readers and other authors, likeminded people to discuss progress and ideas with.
What’s the most challenging thing about being an author?
Apart from actually writing the books and stories? I’d say peddling them. At least in my experience as an indie author. And I’m not talking about paid advertising that might or might not bring results, but rather the organic reach and exposure. On one hand, I do want to constantly scream at people about my work. On the other, I don’t really want to bother them. It’s a hard balance.
Do you think people will colonize other planets in the future? How likely is that?
Oh, for sure. I’m a firm believer that humankind needs to colonize space if it wants to survive. I don’t think it will happen in this century, what with humanity preoccupied with its wars and conflicts and race for riches. But it will happen. I don’t think our species will survive otherwise, as grim as it might sound.
Do you think that if humans keep evolving, especially on other planets for long enough, they will develop unusual abilities?
It might sound far-fetched right now, but why not? We've evolved on Earth. We adapt and change every day. In different situations, our senses adjust. If you think about it, we evolve daily to adjust to climate changes, to adapt to extreme temperatures, and live in those conditions. My ignorant opinion is that the more extreme the conditions, the faster we'll evolve to meet them. Of course, faster meaning generations and generations of people living in the new place.
But why not evolve to breathe underwater if a planet is 99% water? Or get some sort of tough, armored skin to protect us from extreme heat or cold. We'll have to adapt to a variety of toxins and bacteria, and so on. Why not one day be able to survive in vacuum, leap across canyons, or even manipulate matter like the Imaginators?
As long as we're able to populate the universe, I believe anything's possible.
If there were some planets colonized by humans and relatively easy to get to now, would you go to live on one of them?
I would! But I think only if I could go back whenever I wanted to. In John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, the authorities forbid recruits from returning to Earth, and I find it heartbreaking. There should really be nothing left for me here in order to abandon it all forever.
How would you choose a planet to go to?
Carl Sagan’s said it great in Pale Blue Dot – “long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game”. And even though in the context of the book, those don’t last forever, and that’s why the search for new worlds is never-ending, I think it’s a good start. I don’t imagine myself fighting for my survival or over habitable plot with the local flora and fauna.
What’s your favorite place on Earth?
Home. I love to travel, explore new destinations and cultures, but I always get homesick. And that’s mainly because of the people that feel like home. I’d love to build a home on a sea’s coast, but if my loved ones aren’t around, it won’t feel the same.
Who are your favorite authors?
I favor books, not so much authors, to be honest. But if I’m to namedrop, I’d say I love Dan Simmons’ imagination, the unapologetic violence in Pierce Brown’s world, the lyrical magic of V.E. Schwab, and the grimdark torment of Joe Abercrombie. If an author manages to make me feel strong feelings, their book will become a personal favorite, though, even if not every author is an automatic buy.
If you could visit a world described in one of the books you’ve read, where would you go and why?
Ah, remember I said I don’t imagine myself capable of fighting for my life? Yeah, but I’d love to explore the labyrinthine worlds, all the worlds, in fact, of the Hyperion Cantos despite the threat of the Shrike.
Alternatively, I’d love to roam the Malazan Empire and navigate the complex web of gods, and warmongers, and nations. I love “rich” worlds, with a lot of lore and history. That’s how I pick most of my traveling destinations here, so it 100% applies to “other” worlds. I would not pass on the opportunity to soak myself in the lore.
What do you do for fun?
I read a lot for pleasure. I love playing video games. The last half a year saw me binge-watching a ton of video game streams. I have a bookstagram that’s 50% fun, 50% anxiety. As weird as it might sound, I enjoy constantly learning new things, so I have fun with self-paced online courses. And, of course, a cup of coffee with my friends is always fun.
What video games do you like playing?
I'd play anything that has a third-person perspective. While I grew to like first-person POV books and even write them, first-person games are not my thing. I prefer to see the character I am. Anything with swords and sorcery that allows me to mash all the buttons will grow on me. Might sound old-school, but I'm a die-hard Prince of Persia and Devil May Cry fan. The Witcher 2 and 3 embody what I want of RPGs.
This year I had my first clash with a SoulsBorne game. So far, I've played 60 hours in Dark Souls, and I'm postponing the last couple of bosses, I just don't want it to end. There's something incredibly satisfying in dying a thousand deaths until you're able to finally face-tank through the enemies, and the only real adversaries are the camera and gravity. Not to mention the worldbuilding, lore, and overall concept of SoulsBorne games. Simply playing Dark Souls taught me more about writing such complex worlds than I thought possible.
What online courses have you taken recently?
I'm currently going through a course on Narrative Design and writing for video games, and it's quite engaging. I also have a Unity 2D & 3D game development class on my plate, but I take it slow. After all, those books need to be written. But I'd love to write for video games one day. I'd love to see a book of mine become a video game. Did I mention I'm into video games?
That's really cool, I hope your dream will come true! I can see Imaginators made into a game. Is there anything you'd like to add?
I’d like to thank you for this interview, it’s been so much fun! I’m so happy to see indie authors coming together to support each other. There’s plenty of noteworthy independent literature out there, I hope more people pay attention to it.
And a last word to all those wondering if it’s worth it going forward with publishing your work (I was such a person once) – it 100% is. If you can imagine something, and it looks good to you, go make it a reality.
I feel the same way about indie literature and mutual support! I'm absolutely blown away by some of the books I've discovered in the community, and I hope that together we can popularize indie literature. Thanks a lot for the interview, it's been a pleasure <3
No, thank you, Alina!