Today we’re joined by Z. Apollo and M. J. Northwood, authors of Birth of the Dawnhawk. Keep scrolling to read more about their inspirations, thoughts on self-publishing, and their advice for authors looking to collaborate on the writing of a story. Also, don’t forget to enter to win a paperback copy of their book once you’re done reading the interview!

About the Authors

Z. Apollo’s love for creation and storytelling go back to when he was at school studying English Lit/Lan, Music and History, these subjects fuelled his imagination so much he would often create little ideas for stories drenched in fantasy & history in his spare time. After studying History & Media Production at A Level he went on to university and did a plethora of subjects which included modules like Film Studies, Marketing & Advertising, English Lan, Editing and Film & Television Production with his core subject being Publishing & Media, Z. Apollo graduated in 2005 and has slowly been making his mark ever since.

Z. Apollo has extensive history in creation and story telling, he spent many years writing, creating & recording music for himself & others being heavily involved with the production and has also directed music videos for him self and others with his meticulous eye for detail.

Z. Apollo has also spent time designing clothes, writing ideas for books & film. He has a great eye for talent & detail and always manages to help the people he works with springboard into other ventures and is often called to creatively direct projects for people, whether it be music videos, fashion styling or written projects. 

Z. Apollo loves the art of creation and more recently things seem to have come full circle as he embarked on yet another passion project “Dreambean” a company he formed to bring all of his storytelling to the masses, the first of which would be “Birth Of The Dawnhawk”.

Z. Apollo used his amazing eye for talent to recruit M. J. after posting an ad looking for someone to help bring his project to life and after a few brainstorming meetings, a unique partnership was born.

Z. Apollo is currently developing a fantasy anthology/series of stories from Africa’s greatest civilisations & warriors, as well as working on the sequel to “Birth Of The Dawnhawk”.
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A Co-Founder of Critical Tales, M. J. Northwood has taken his years of storytelling experience and gathered it into his latest books.

Regardless of the media format, M. J. Northwood adores telling fresh and exciting stories that plays with the reader’s imagination.

After winning a competition at a younger age, M. J. worked towards creating his first full-length novel under commission. After spending a few years travelling and living in Japan, he delivered his first book in partnership, The Birth of the Dawnhawk.

Soon after, M. J. independently developed Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon.

We already have your official bio, now we want to challenge you to describe yourself in ten words or less…Go!

Z. Apollo: A Meticulously calculated, imaginative, creatively innovative, perfectionist. 

M.J.: Optimistically ambitious yet intensely self-critical, to a fault.

Who or what are your inspirations when it comes to writing? Is it a particular author or authors, art, history, culture, current events, something else? How have they influenced your work?

M.J.: I’m inspired by everything in my life. I’d say all of my characters have elements of who I am in them. Different faces that I might wear, or at least fractions of them. I like to observe the way people behave at try to reflect that. Character development interests me because all sorts of people will grow and change through the experiences they live through, but there are those that don’t. Some people never change.

If I was to highlight a media that inspires me most, it would likely be television. I’m quite a visually driven person which often comes through in my writing. 

Z. Apollo: Like M.J. I’m inspired by everything in my life, and my vast experiences. I love world history & traveling  and that has a major influence on my creativity, when every I’m thinking of world building or characters I like to incorporate some sort of history whether it be culture, gestures or mannerisms or  law, architecture & landscape. I feel I am able to imagine more because I can relate my creative fantasy to something real therefore I am able to expand upon whatever it is that much more because I’m speaking/creating reality into it. 

What do you love about self-publishing and on the flipside what drives you nuts about it? What aspects of self-publishing do you excel at and in what ways do you struggle?

Z. Apollo: I love that self-publishing puts the power in the creators/authors hand, rather than writing cover letters and trying to pitch your novel to agents  you can simply release your stories into the world. However self-publishing is very demanding of the creator/author, it all depends on your resources and if you have limited resources as opposed to a big publisher you end up with a limited reach. Personally I think I excel in the planning and struggle with the self marketing.

M.J.: I love that self-publishing allows you to create this physical version of something you’ve worked hard to create. It solidifies what you’ve spent potentially years working on. You get to be involved all the way through and don’t need to answer to someone else’s desires (which can be a creative conflict).

However, self-publishing makes it hard to take off. It also makes it hard to gauge how well received the book is. Without a full team behind you, it can be a little debilitating.

What does your daily writing process look like? What do you do to get in the writing zone?  How many hours do you write or do you go for a word count? Tell us everything!

M.J.: I try to get a little something done each day. Usually I’ll set a word count for the week and divide that across the days, but it can depend on how productive I’ve been. I write in the evening and I usually focus on scenes or even chapters that I’ve been ruminating on throughout the day. Sometimes those writing sessions can be focused entirely on something as simple as “Make this character sound colder”. 

I’ve found the easiest way to get into the zone is to either read something I’ve written before (preceding the new scene) or to write a nonsense little story–just 100 words maybe. Doesn’t need to make sense, it just gets the juices flowing. 

Z. Apollo: For me I like to get in the zone before I start any work, I need to be in the right state of mind. I may put on some music Herb Alphet or something like that  to get my mind moving in a creative space. I try to get myself through 10 pages a day.

What do you think makes a good story?

Z. Apollo: For me there has got to be a vivid degree of realism, whether that is character motivation, emotion, plot, world building, narrative or prose no matter how fantastical your story is I need to believe it, I need to be able to relate to it somehow and the best way to do that is through using something real. A real feeling, a real thought, a location described so perfectly I can paint a picture of it in my imagination and see it perfectly.

M.J.: Motivation. Everything has to be motivated by something else. Not just the characters, but even the way the world works. Even the smallest things, like the way a character walks, should have a motivation and reason behind it. If it doesn’t, then why bother mentioning it? Even the absence of motivation can be a good tool if used properly.

When it comes to plot, it’s not important. That’s to say, it’s not it’s separate entity. Plot shouldn’t be something that happens that the characters react to, the plot should be driven by active characters. It shouldn’t be an inevitable (with the exception of maybe a good horror). Plot should be created, driven, and altered by characters.

What were the dynamics of your collaboration for Birth of the Dawnhawk? Was it a pretty smooth experience or was there some butting of heads? Do you have any advice for authors that wish to co-author or collaborate on a book?

M.J.: I was brought in to work on this project with a skeleton of an idea that we slowly fleshed out as we went along, continuously brainstorming and finding new dimensions of our story and different ways it could go. As we started fleshing out the story Z. Apollo gave me a lot of creative control, especially with the world building and character motivation so that he wouldn’t slow my writing process, he’d say what he envisions and I would encapsulate it. We agreed Z. Apollo would have the last word as it his project. That made any disagreements easier. There was only the rare occasion where we would have a prolonged back-and-forth but I don’t ever recall it being an issue for us.

When it comes to collaborating, I’d personally advise you compartmentalise. It worked well for us as I was writing most of the text and Z. Apollo was editing and rewriting. But for others that may be more direct writing partners, decide early who leads on what. Be open to each other’s suggestions and don’t take their criticisms personally. You’re there to grow together.

Z. Apollo: What M.J. said, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Is there one particular platform you find is most beneficial as a self-published author?

Z. Apollo: I really like Amazon KDP I’ve found it better than iBooks and I love the fact that places like Goodreads are already integrated with Amazon so it makes Amazon like a one stop shop for authors.

M.J.: I’m a big fan of Goodreads. I think it’s a pretty great place to interact with people who love literacy and it’s wonderfully intuitive. It even makes it easy for readers to follow authors they enjoy, while sharing the books they loved.

Name an under-appreciated novel that you love. Let us know why we should check it out.

Z. Apollo: I’m not sure if I know of any under appreciated novel as I suppose that’s subjective. A novel I’ll always love for its underlying connotations and frequently revisit is Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

M.J.: Regrettably, I’m embarrassed to say I don’t think I’ve read an under-appreciated novel. Everything I’ve read is because someone else I know recommended it.  

What comes first, the characters or the plot?

Z. Apollo: For me it has to be the characters, I love watching a characters development in a book or on screen it’s something we tried to with Avila our lead character in Birth Of The Dawnhawk she goes through real character development in the story, I hope the readers can appreciate it. You can have awesome plot but without amazing characters the plot will seem somewhat hollow.

M.J.: Like I mentioned before, characters. Even if you have a FANTASTIC plot idea that you really want to get out there, it has to come from the characters. You have to make characters that belong in that situation and every move they make should fit how you’ve established those characters. It’s fine to work backwards a little, but each plot point should always have the characters at the core. 

Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?

Z. Apollo: Yes. Especially self-publishing I feel a sense of accomplishment without having to seek anyone’s approval for it. 

M.J.: Yes. Like any experience in life, writing changes you. Even if just a little. I think there’s something about getting public opinion that you can’t get from writing for yourself. I suppose you might call it validation, one way or another. For me, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable and confident in what I’m writing. I’m happier just writing what I want, the way I want.  

What do the words “literary success” mean to you?

Z. Apollo: For me it means having everyone talk about your book(s) and having your book(s) in everyone’s hands, having the masses read your book(s) and enjoy it. Enjoy it so much they continue to share it and spread word of its enjoyability. 

M.J.: Creating a literary journey that people can admire. To me, it means having people that share your dream look to you and appreciate what you’ve accomplished, whether that’s financial, critical, or any other kind of success. 


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