Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don’t forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 

Author’s name: Kristen Kooistra
Title of book and/or series: Heart of the Winterland
Brief summary of the story: In the heart of snow-cursed Trabor, a princess and her guardian live in a haze cast by an ancient spell. On the dawn of her 200th birthday, Princess Calisandra awakes with a clear mind. No longer happy to just sit idle, Cali and Voice set out to find what lies beyond their shielded kingdom.
Joined by Angel—a fiery redhead that delights in ruffling Cali’s feathers—they soon find themselves fleeing from the legendary Captain Kota who is determined to capture Angel. Cali’s perfect vision of her journey is shattered and it takes all of her strength just to keep up in a world she doesn’t understand. Everything is a new experience and tests Cali physically and mentally.
Will she ever find out what happened to her kingdom? And what will Voice’s purpose be when Cali no longer needs her?
Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Heart of the Winterland takes place in two countries, Trabor and Shayal. Princess Cali and Voice live in Trabor, but leave it within the first few chapters and spend the rest of the journey in Shayal. There is both a past and present storyline, while Cali’s in the present, Amee is in the past and her story takes place in Trabor.
At the time of the present, Trabor is devoid of human life except for Cali and is completely covered in snow. Shayal is like a medieval European country.
If we were to visit Shayal as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
Visit Rokuhai! They have all sorts of entertainment from the traveling performers, to food and wares on every corner, and of course local eating establishments and sailing ships.
What dangers should we avoid in Shayal?
Definitely the Duke and his men, mainly the captain of the guard, Kota.
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Shayal?
There is little travel between cities and villages, most food is homecooked meals that consist of local products and whatever that particular village raises/grows.
What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Shayal?
Swords and daggers are the most common by far. Only nobility and the Guard are allowed to have such weapons. Hunters may carry bows or a hunting knife. To prevent rebellion, the people are kept as powerless as possible.
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Shayal? Most people walk or ride horses, though some of the wealthier people will travel in carriages. Cali and Voice started their journey from Trabor to Shayal in a sleigh that converts into a carriage when needed.
What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Trabor or Shayal that we don’t see on Earth?
Ooh, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. Hmm, Winterland primarily focuses on the characters. It’s a character-driven story where the friendships involved and the characters growing and discovering themselves are the main focus. There is a snow-fountain tree, which only grows from the tears of a certain group of people. We see hints of other races. There’s a immortal, magical women who is the last of her race, an invisible, shapeless protector of a book, and there’s quite a few characters who are Sjadians—a race discovered more thoroughly in book 2 and 3—which are long-lived and some of them possess magic.
And there’s a few more surprises that I won’t give away.
What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Trabor and Shayal?  If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used.
Magic is almost unheard of in both countries. Trabor had no experience with it until recently, and well, that didn’t go so well. Shayal has forbidden magic and that’s why Tera—the sole survivor of her race—is hiding out in her forest, and why she’s the last.
Sjadians do occasionally have magic, and since some of them have immigrated to this continent, there are instances of magic in Amee’s timelime. The magic works differently for each race that has such powers. For Sjadians, they can see deep into the magical plane that covers everything. They can see lines of power that connects everything and they use spells to command those lines to twist reality into doing whatever they need.
Each magic wielder has a certain amount of power. Think a rechargeable battery. One battery may hold a lot longer charge, and people with a higher max capacity can do greater spells and more of them. When not using magic, they slowly recharge back to full. In that way they are limited somewhat, and can’t just cast spells willy nilly unless they want to overextend themselves which has consequences, the least being that they won’t have enough power to do a spell even if their life depends on it.
Are the days of the week and months of the year the same in Shayal/Trabor as on Earth? What holidays or special events are celebrated regularly there?
Oh yes, goodness, I can’t imagine coming up with new time cycles. The one holiday that is referenced is the annual Winter Festival from Trabor’s past where the royal family set up a field full of events and free food.
What is the political or government structure in Shayal and Trabor?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Both Trabor and Shayal are monarchies, though Duke Bludgaard of Shayal has managed to weasel quite a bit of control and though it’s not stated, I’d say the king is more of a puppet.
Cali is the crown princess of Trabor, but there’s no people there! So there’s no one to rule over. She’s not sure what kind of leader she’d be anyway. She has no training when it comes to leading or even interacting with people. Maybe there’ll be people in her kingdom someday and then she’ll find out if she’s cut out to be a ruler.
Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
I live in Michigan, so the idea for Trabor and the never-ending winter came from my personal loathing of winter and thinking it’d be horrible if I didn’t get a few months off. I’ve met a lot of people over the years, and I used bits of personalities to form a lot of my characters.
A Scottish friend of mine became Captain Rebol, a sea captain with a cat that I named after one he’d lost.
Dikala was inspired by a young man I met whose future was mapped out for him because of his cultural upbringing. His parents made the plans, and he was expected to follow them. He never really thought to do otherwise, and I brought that into the character of Dikala.
My favorite inspiration though was a mute friend of mine who never let her inability to talk hinder her. She had a strong presence of character and it never felt like she was outside of the conversation. When I created Captain Kota, I knew she was going to emulate those strong characteristics and this is a minor spoiler, but I love it when people don’t realize Kota doesn’t speak for quite awhile. I like to think it’s because she’s such a force to be reckoned with, that we notice that and not what she’s missing. Being mute is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her and it’s certainly not going to hold her back from achieving her goals.
What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
Hmm, not so much for this book, maybe with the next one. There are seeds of some racial discrimination, but I think that becomes more of a central theme with the next book. I hope most of the themes for this book are ones that people can agree with, for the most part. Friendship, family being more than just blood, accepting responsibility, admitting when you’re wrong, redemption, open hearts, and not trying to be someone else, but rather be the best YOU that you can be.
Author Autobiography:
Kristen Kooistra fell in love with reading at a young age and never resurfaced. She loved solving mysteries, riding across the prairie, and sailing on the open sea. But her favorite books were those that held the fantastical. So when the time came for her to seriously approach publishing a book, it had to be fantasy!
Living in Michigan (her own winterland) with her husband, three kids, and two cats, she has lots of free time . . . Okay, so more like she squeezes in writing time late at night when only the cats are awake to pester her.
“Heart of the Winterland” is Kristen’s first novel, and though it started as a whim, it grew into so much more and has inspired a sequel (in progress), “Heart of the Sorceress”.
Tucked into a quiet countryside, Kristen spends most of her time being Mommy. She loves spending time with her family and hopes that her writing will entertain and inspire them as well.
Besides writing, Kristen enjoys reading (of course!), chatting with her writer’s group, sewing, swimming, gardening, and cooking (please no baking!).
Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book? 
Amazon. Available as paperback or ebook for Kindle.
Where can readers connect with you online?

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I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Trabor and Shayal.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to another world, in Realm Explorers Part CXVII!
-Annie Douglass Lima