Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with J. Leigh, author of the newly-released fantasy Way Walkers: Tangled Paths. This impressive debut novel is the first in the "Tazu Saga" series of books. Here's the blurb:

Twelve Ways create a thousand tangled paths.

Hatched from an egg but unable to shift into dragon form, Jathen is a Moot among the Tazu. His rightful throne is forbidden him because of his transformative handicap, and neither his culture nor his religion offer acceptance of his perceived flaws.

Driven by wounded anger, Jathen strikes out across the vast world beyond Tazu borders, desperate to find a place where he feels accepted and whole. Though he travels with the most trusted of companions, sabotage and conspiracy soon strike his quest. Jathen and his allies must struggle against man and magic alike, at the mercy of forces beyond their ken.

As Jathen presses on, his questions of belonging are surrounded by more of identity, loyalty, and betrayal. Where will the path of his destiny lead, and will he follow or fall?
On to our conversation with Jaime Leigh!

Jaime, welcome to KBoards, and congratulations on the publishing of your book! In a few words, how would you describe your book for our readers?

To keep it simple, Way Walkers Tangled Paths is about Jathen, a boy born different. Though both his parents were Tazu, who can shape shift into dragons, Jathen is a moot, who not only cannot shift, but also looks human. He is bombarded by prejudice and feelings of uselessness, and only through an offer of travel does he garner some hope that his life might be worth more. Unfortunately, he is beset by secrets and betrayal, and what started as a coming of age story turns into one of mere survival. There are a lot of twists, turns, subtle intrigue and well developed characters in a vastly detailed world.

Book reviewers and readers have described your book as "spellbinding," "mesmerizing," and "highly unique." That must be very gratifying. Are there reviews or reader reactions that have surprised you?

Honestly, I'm really humbled by how deeply the story has touched some readers. It had always been my intention to 'tug at heartstrings' with certain aspects of Jathen's journey, but there was a particular review where the reader said I 'completely and totally stole her heart with this book' which left me kind of awed. I've lived, worked and even slept in the Way Walkers world for so long, that to find others want to 'crawl into the world and live in it' along with me was a bit unexpected, and strangely comforting. It's been really wonderful to find the place I've come to love so much wasn't just enjoyed by the readers who picked it up, but deeply loved as well.

Jathen is a memorable character who faces a unique handicap that alters his destiny. For us, it echoed some of the challenges that people with disabilities face, for acceptance and also for the opportunity to fully realize their potential. Was any of that intentional on your part?

Oh yes. In the author's comments at the end, I mention that 'Jathen's journey was in many ways my journey'--this is a direct reference to my struggles with dyslexia. For a large portion of my childhood, and even reaching into my college years, I was told that I was 'stupid', 'lazy' and even 'unemployable' all because I couldn't spell, and was unable to properly edit my own work. A great deal of Jathen's personal frustrations and heartache were drawn from my own experiences, and I wanted to express that sense of always wondering if you are really worth more than the negative voices in your head.

One of the challenges of writing a full length fantasy is the construction of a believable environment for your characters. Your world-building has been described as "expertly handled." How do you go about defining a fleshed-out, realistic world as you plan and write your novel?

In the end, it's about taking the time to really dig in and feel the dirt squishing between your toes as you write each page. For me, the Way Walkers world began when I was only eleven, with the first full novel being completed and submitted to publishers when I was fourteen. With every rejection and every passing year came more and more layers added to my Walkers' world. I have this need for it to make sense, to be plausible and 'real' within the rules of the world. To maintain that level of detail requires a lot of research, of thinking about characters and how they go about their days, how ecosystems work, how languages evolve, everything. If something exists in some manner in our world, than it could have an equivalent within Walkers, and it's that mentality that's pushed me to fill in as many details as possible within the storyline.

The relationship between Jathen and Thee is fascinating. What are some of your thoughts about those kinds of family bonds and how they can affect people's lives?

Love takes a lot of forms, and because Jathen faced so much adversity, I wanted him to have a strong base of unconditional love, not only from his mother, but also Thee. In a lot of ways Thee mirrors their mother in her steadfast loyalty to her brother, but because she's also younger, there are aspects of him she doesn't understand, and this is where some of their 'head butting' comes into play. While it doesn't always work, I do believe a strong presence of unconditional love in the family can help balance out a person, and keep them from becoming completely lost. In the case of Jathen, it kept him from tipping completely over the edge into despair and anger.

An interesting aspect of your world building is the notion that there are multiple spiritual paths that are appropriate for different people -- the "ways to walk" through life implied in the title. Please comment on your thoughts about this.

I think I could spend several hours expressing my thoughts on this. [laughter] To keep it brief though, the concept of the Twelve Ways began when I started researching religions for Way Walkers. I discovered that while the details of belief systems are vastly different, the majority of religions all have the same core of belief, what later evolved into the five laws of Walkers. So, given that so much 'paranormal' phenomena in the Walkers world is considered measurable and normal, and their understanding of life and death was more concrete, it made sense for their religion to keep a core base from which only the details of how you worship varied. In some aspects, it's sort of an idealized version of our own world, where each path to Spirit recognizes the value of the others, without resorting to wars and death to prove who is 'right'. (Most of the time.)

There seems to be something mystical about the number twelve. I remember as a child looking at a clock and noting all the ways that the 12 slices could be grouped into equal parts. Talk to us about how that particular number figures into your story, with the various races and spiritual paths.

Well, the decision of Twelve Ways was sort of a happy accident. I didn't pick the number twelve and go from there, rather, when I decided I wanted different Ways, I brainstormed until I had made what I believed was a solid list of all the most prominent variants of worship I'd noticed in my research. When I counted them up, I realized I had twelve, and since that fit in neatly with astrology, the months of the solar calendar, and indeed the hours of the day, I decided that was the number to stick with. I'm also a bit into numerology, and twelve has been described in some books as a number of 'cosmic harmony', and well, that just sounded like it fit.

Interesting! One thing I love about your book: for me, the cover seemed to grow in meaning and symbolism as I read the story. Tell us about how that beautiful cover came to be.

Obviously the 'Spirit Star,' as I call it, is my way of organizing the Twelve Ways into a single manageable symbol. There's actually a lot of thought that went into it, as I wanted there to be interplay between the placements of each of the Way stones/colors on the star. Ones across from each other for example are considered 'opposites' while ones next to each other are complementary, and then still there is interplay with the ones connected at the angles, and well, I could talk about it for hours. The cover itself was done up by Streetlight Graphics, who made it absolutely gorgeous, and actually added the cracked earth behind it without my suggesting it. (Which if you read the whole book, you'll discover it's almost foreshadowing certain aspects of the plot.)

It seems fitting that, given the richness of the world you've created, it has now taken shape in not only your book but also in a smartphone game! Tell our readers a bit about "Way Walkers University."

Actually, while the novels and the world were written first, Way Walkers debuted to the public first in August 2012 as the interactive novel Way Walkers: University, and then it's sequel came out in 2013, Way Walkers: University 2. It set in the same world, but in a much, much earlier timeline than Tangled Paths. You play as a fourteen year old human Exemplary Talent attending the Tar'citadel University for Talents. There's actually a considerable amount of plot involved, and the 'choose your own' format lends itself well to Walkers, given the emphases that the Twelve Ways place on freewill. It's honestly a fun, interactive reading experience and most who read Tangled Paths have found they've enjoyed the lighter, more playful romp through the events in Way Walkers: University.

Many authors are daunted by the challenges of writing fantasy. What advice or encouragement would you give to an aspiring writer of fantasy?

First and foremost, be patient, and do your due diligence with your world building. Good, solid worlds are not built over night. They have deep histories as long and elaborate as our own, and any serious author should take the time to sit down and flesh out their personal world to mirror such. Also, don't be intimidated by the demand to be 'wholly original'. By all means, don't directly steal ideas or plagiarize, but also keep in mind that the core of good fantasy is in the details. We've all ready read about the young boy who leaves home to discover his destiny, but the key is to make certain your boy is different than the others written about. Take your time, and above all if you wouldn't want to read it, don't write it.

We understand you've already put some work into other novels based in the Way Walkers universe. Tell us what we can expect!

Well, Tangled Paths is set to have at least two sequels, possibly four, depending on what insanity Jathen gets himself into. Past that, there is the final part of the Way Walkers: University trilogy to put out, and I can now reveal that there have been talks about possibly doing more of the interactive novels with a co-author, though nothing is decided for certain yet. What I am keeping on the back burner for after Jathen's tale is my long saga that had originally spawned Way Walkers: my series set in the Clan Lands.

Thanks for creating a great book, and for talking with us today!

Thank you!

Readers: Way Walkers: Tangled Paths is available now to download to your Kindle!