When Life is Story relaunched, we did so from scratch. As the site has grown (over 15k visitors this month!), I’ve started to work on reformatting or republishing our years of archives. Almost immediately, I ran into my reviews of Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. It had been a few years since I’d thought of the series. I decided to go track her down. All trails ran cold. It was as if she’d dropped off the face of the earth. Or, as one friend suggested (and you were even correct on the pen name, Emma), started writing under a pseudonym. I happened to have Anne’s email and reached out to her. The result is this hour-long podcast of love and loss, high-acclaim and low-sales, and a sweeping epic journey from traditional to indie publishing. Along with that journey came a new name: Sylvia Mercedes.
The Interview | Sylvia Mercedes
This excerpt has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the play button above or subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Josh Olds: Tales of Goldstone Wood was published between 2010-2015. You had seven full-length novels and three novellas…and then you just sort of disappeared. What’s the story?
Sylvia Mercedes: When I was quite young—I was still a teenager—I had this idea for a complex world with many facets and layers of reality, and I wanted to write this fantasy series where I could basically jump in and out of it at any point in time and write complete standalone stories, but with threads of connection throughout history. And it was just going to be this super vast, complex thing. I was super passionate about it and totally unable to write anything like that at the time. Fast forward a couple of years, a couple of years spent studying English Lit and really immersing myself in great literature, and some of the great minds of all ages and I actually got an idea for a much, much simpler story, which was Heartless. And that simplicity was exactly what I needed. I had been playing with these huge ideas that were so far beyond me. And then I had this little simple jewel of a concept. And so I wrote my heart out with this super, super simple story. And somehow that combination of passion, simplicity, with hints of this more complex world that I wanted to write ended up being something kind of special. And I just loved that story at the time.
I started querying for an agent a year after I wrote it. Got the first agent I queried. She started querying publishing houses and got the first publishing house she queried. I signed a contract. And by 2010, I had my first published book in my hand, that was almost exactly 10 years ago. That was July 10, 2010. And yeah, so I became a professional novelist at age 24. By the time I had the first book, I thought that meant I had a head start on success as a novelist. What it actually meant was I had a head start on all the pitfalls of a novelist and the world of publishing. I could start very young learning how to do all the wrong things and do them with gusto. But I learned a lot in the process.
Josh Olds: You went on to write six books in the series before moving to your own indie press, Rooglewood Press, for book seven. What precipitated that change?
Sylvia Mercedes: Well, you probably guessed it, I didn’t get the next contract. It really was just that simple. My series didn’t sell well enough. And they had to let me go. At that point indie publishing was really starting to get rolling as a legitimate way to make a career in the writing world. So I thought, Hey, you know what, I’ve got the audience. I’ve got the writing chops. I’ve got connections with talented editors, I can figure out some of these other, you know, elements involved. Surely I can find cover designers and learn how to format and all of that stuff. Let’s, you know, let’s let’s see what I can do with indie publishing.
Josh Olds: That lasted for Golden Daughter, book seven, and a few novellas—along with some other titles by other authors, but then that ended too and your journey as Anne Elisabeth Stengl was done.
Sylvia Mercedes: Yeah, it was truly devastating. This is the first time I’ve talked about it in a public setting. And it’s still honestly very hard for me—like I’m tearing up a little bit talking about it. Now I’m in a much better place than I was at the time. But the truth is, it was devastating. I loved those stories. You know, I loved that world….It was very, very hard. And I clung to it for a very long time. I really wanted to keep doing it. After publishing Golden Daughter, I started writing the next novel, Poison Crown, which I still get letters from my fans asking when that one’s coming out. And I wrote, I want to say three or four different versions of that book, and I clung to it so hard, and I could feel God telling me it was time to let go. And I did not want to. But this was not where I was supposed to be….I started to realize this is truly not where God wants me. And it was hard, it was very hard to leave it.
Josh Olds: So you became Sylvia Mercedes.
Sylvia Mercedes: Sylvia Mercedes is my great-grandmother. And apparently, I am a lot like her, except she was a blonde and I’m a brunette. But other than that, we’re very, very similar people. I met her only once when I was very, very small. And the few things I know about her I’m like, “Yeah, okay, I feel like I might be living on a little bit of a Sylvia legacy.” I thought her name was cool. Apparently, she hated her name, but I thought, “Oh, that’s a cool writer sounding name.” So yeah, I decided to claim her name for mine.
The Books | The Venatrix Chronicles
Ayleth and her shade move as one, ever hungry for the hunt. Under her mentor’s tight control, she fears her memories are being stolen. Now nineteen, apprenticed for as long as she can remember to the mysterious Holy Order, she longs to rise in the ranks and banish untamed spirits for the prophesied Golden Prince.
When shadowy threats descend on the crown, Ayleth seizes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove her worth in open competition. Seeking to win the prince’s favor and escape her scheming mentor, she resolves to hold her own against Terryn, a handsome, arrogant opponent who may be more than a match for her untested powers.
But as the two rivals follow a trail beyond the Great Barrier and confront legendary evil, the stolen secrets of Ayleth’s past may return to haunt her . . .
Can Ayleth win the trial and reclaim her true self? Can she even survive her first day?
Daughter of Shades is the first breathtaking book in The Venatrix Chronicles YA fantasy series. If you like kick-butt heroines, intriguing worlds of magic, and slow-burn romance then you’ll love Sylvia Mercedes’s action-packed story.
The Author | Sylvia Mercedes
Sylvia Mercedes makes her home in the idyllic North Carolina countryside with her handsome husband, sweet baby-lady, and Gummy Bear, the Toothless Wonder Cat. When she’s not writing she’s . . . okay, let’s be honest. When she’s not writing, she’s running around after her little girl, cleaning up glitter, trying to plan healthy-ish meals, and wondering where she left her phone. In between, she reads a steady diet of fantasy novels.
But mostly she’s writing.
After a short career in traditional publishing (under a different name), Sylvia decided to take the plunge into the indie publishing world and is enjoying every minute of it. The Venatrix Chronicles is her first series as an independent author, but she’s got many more planned!
You can visit her at SylviaMercedesBooks.com.