Interview: Simon Turney, Author of Praetorian

TurneyPraetorianTheGreatGameDark Dabbers, please clap your eyes together and welcome Simon Turney, author of the historical fiction Praetorian, to the blog.  We chat  about ancient Rome, stage fright, Masada, Tolkien, and so much more! Enjoy!

What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

I suppose, given my genre, I should be saying Apuleius (whose work Frankie Howerd emulated in Up Pompeii – Oooh matron!), or Aristophanes and his frogs and clouds. In honesty, most of my favourite authors are still alive and kicking, some quite hard. I would dearly love to meet the man who was responsible for the Notitia Dignitatum – the catalog of Rome’s military stations and existing forces in the early 5th century. It is missing sections and aspects that would be of great interest to a student of the late Roman military. And because while that’s drool-worthy exciting for me, but excruciatingly dull for a reader, I would also have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. I would love to know what plans he had that never came to fruition even at the hands of his son. I would love to know the history of the Witch King of Angmar, leader of the Ringwraiths in particular. And the history of Tom Bombadil.

TurneyTheInvasionOfGaulIf you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I would love to relive my first experience of watching the 80s mini-series Masada (aka The Antagonists). I remember watching it in around 1981 and being utterly riveted. I have watched it as an adult and it is still one of the best pieces of film ever made, in my opinion. I love the talented Peter O’Toole‘s portrayal of the war-weary general Flavius Silva so much that it has heavily influenced the characters in my own work. But nothing will ever beat the feeling of a first watching. I used to wait for Saturday night (I think it was Saturday!) to come around, switch on the TV and settle myself in ready, no matter where I was. I watched it at my grandparents’ and even missed a meal to see it. I even went to Masada a decade or so ago, purely off the back of that series.

TurneyTheBelgaeReality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I think the level of mundane material in a book is critical. It can mean the difference between Biggles and Schindler’s Ark. If it is too heavy, it can make the book laborious, slow and OTT – like that bit of the Bible where everyone is ‘begat’ing each other. No one wants to sit and hear in detail a legionary’s toilet habits (curly poop!) when they could be reading sword fights and chases and love scenes. There is a certain requirement for it, but I find that, given these specific examples, lengthy travel is best dealt with in retrospectives while setting the next scene (unless the journey contains its own fascinating events.) Bathroom breaks I only introduce to the text if it has a place (sometimes it does – I had a legionary attacked in the latrines) or in the form of toilet humour, which gives it an extra point as well as jogging the reader’s memory that all people have to answer nature’s call in due course, even half way through cleaving a Celt in twain. Cussing is a troubling one. Every writer approaches it differently. I like to write work that my family can read. There is a great deal of violence, but I’ve yet to ever write a sex scene, and my cussing is generally of a level I would consider acceptable as a reader. I reserve the F word for moments when I want the audience to blink in shock. Maybe once or twice a book in general, and often not at all. That being said, I cuss a lot myself while writing… especially when the coffee runs out.

TurneyGalliaInvictaConventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

For me the social network revolution has produced the best bit. I enjoy connecting with readers and other writers on Facebook and particularly on Twitter, which is – let’s face it – just an ongoing world-wide conversation. The sheer vibrancy of life in the world of Twitter grabs me. Also, from a couple of years ago getting to know a Roman reenactment group to produce book covers, I have ended up as one of the unit, marching in kit, putting on displays for the public and generally exploring the life of a legionary. Not only am I learning more with every event than I ever did from half a dozen textbooks, I’m having fun into the bargain and experiencing a growing camaraderie with my fellow legionaries. For me the worst side is public speaking. I suffer with tremendous stage fright and on the odd occasions I have tried it, I tend to end up a sweaty, blubbering panic-ridden wreck stumbling and stuttering through things that I could expound on to the end of time in a small group of friends.

TurneyConspiracyOfEaglesWhat has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

My worst job was in admin and then computer network management for an insurance company. Though the job itself was pleasant enough, the extreme corporateness of the company sucked all the joy out of life and years of work there felt like walking into a tomb lit by fluorescent tubes. Moreover it did not take long to come to the conclusion that insurance was a business founded on making the ordinary man suffer. In that respect it was similar to the civil service, in which I’ve also worked! I’ve had soooo many different jobs. I’ve sold cars, sold paint, heaved around bags of sand, managed networks and small admin departments, hired cars, paid farmer subsidies, pulled pints, entered fuel data and so much more. Most were slightly more mind-numbing than even the most dull soap-opera. Quite simply nothing compares to writing. Writing wears me out like no other job has. Even when I am not writing, I am thinking about the plot and how I can improve things – as I go to sleep, as I drive the car, as I shower, as I eat my dinner. But at the same time, that is fine, because writing is a labour of love, not a job. It is simply the best career in the world, despite all uncertainty and stress.

TurneyHadesGateWhat nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

I have an enormous library of classical texts and historical reference works. My office is basically wallpapered with books. My wife bemoans my work text collection, as does my bank manager! I always look out specific texts appropriate to my plot (Les Voyages d’Alix: Massilia is a prime example for my next book.) But since most of my work is historical, most of my locations are real and the works I use are simple location-based guides and texts. Apart from a huge variety of fairly random texts, the one series that I find uniformly helpful on all projects are the military history works of Osprey Publishing which are era, nationality and unit specific.

TurneyCaesar'sVowWhat are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

I would love to visit ancient Rome, but it would have to be a qualified visit. I wouldn’t want to do it as a slave or a pauper. As a free citizen (or preferably a noble) is the only way to realistically visit Rome. I would just love to see what Rome looked like without all the blokes hanging around the Colosseum in Roman tribune costumes that are slightly less convincing than Gary Glitter’s defense lawyer. Other than ancient Rome, I would love to visit late Byzantine Constantinople. The last days of that empire under the threat of the Turk fascinate me. When did the kebab come to Istanbul again? Other than that, again, I would love to visit Charleston in the early days of the American Civil War, when it was all still to play for. I am a Confederate at heart, not because of the ‘slavery issue’ but because I believe in the individual rights of the American states to self government, and not to be ruled from Washington. And because of the cool coats. And the accents. And some of the commanders. I think I’d look good in a confederate grey coat and the red artillery hat!

TurneyTalesOfAncientRomeVol1Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Oooh, most of them! I’ve read things like the Iliad and Odyssey, and the Aeneid. I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses and various Greek and Latin playwrights. I read both Caesar’s campaign diaries and Suetonius’ 12 Caesars. But there are sooooo many others I haven’t read. I have only dipped into Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and have been trying for years to get around to reading them fully. I have Vegetius’ De Re Militari on the shelf behind me and have only used it piecemeal for reference. I’d love to read that through. Likewise Thucydides and Herodotus. There’s just not enough time in the world for all the things worth reading, is there? And it’s not like they could televise ‘On the military institutions of the Romans’ is it?

TurneyInterregnumCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Frankly, I have never got used to fanmail. When people tell me how much they life my books I come over extraordinarily shy and embarrassed. I am not a natural self-promoter. Therefore any time anyone gushes over my work, it’s awkward. Probably the oddest moments for me have been when I’ve been at a big author do, such as ‘History in the Court’ in London, and have spoken to some of the biggest names in Historical fiction, only to find out that they already know about me. That’s strange. I never expected such people to have heard of me, but it seems my infamy has spread! Probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve had was a long conversation with a fan, who enjoyed my work, but entered the conversation believing my name was Stephen. He called me that for half an hour, and I was so surprised that I didn’t immediately correct him – my name is Simon, incidentally. Then problem is that when someone has called you the wrong name several times it becomes awkward to broach the subject, and so I went by my expected pseudonym for half an hour. Weird.

TurneyPraetorianTheGreatGamePraetorian: The Great Game book blurb: 

Promoted to the elite Praetorian Guard in the thick of battle, a young legionary is thrust into a seedy world of imperial politics and corruption. Tasked with uncovering a plot against the newly-crowned emperor Commodus, his mission takes him from the cold Danubian border all the way to the heart of Rome, the villa of the emperor’s scheming sister, and the great Colosseum.

What seems a straightforward, if terrifying, assignment soon descends into Machiavellian treachery and peril as everything in which young Rufinus trusts and believes is called into question and he faces warring commanders, Sarmatian cannibals, vicious dogs, mercenary killers and even a clandestine Imperial agent. In a race against time to save the Emperor, Rufinus will be introduced, willing or not, to the great game.

Places to  find S. J. A. Turney

Website: http://www.sjaturney.co.uk/
Blog: https://sjat.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SJATurney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SJATurney

 

Interview: Erin Gitchell, Author of The Feast

GitchellTheFeastWelcome Erin Gitchell, author of The Feast. Today we chat about the company of Ents, Firefly, library work, coverart and more. Enjoy!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Book / Movie: Howl’s Moving Castle. I’d like to read the book before seeing the movie. I did it the other way around and have regretted it ever since. I wish I could go back in time and read the book for the first time without the movie characters in my head.

TV Series: Firefly. It was such a fun show! Perfect blend of humor, danger, spunk, chemistry, violence, and shiny lingo. The first time I saw it, I missed a few episodes here and there. I’ve watched it multiple times since, but I wish I could go back in time and watch it properly the first time around.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs? Would you take a selfie with the beastie?

I think I’d enjoy traveling with an Ent for a while, and I’d REALLY enjoying talking to a dragon (but not the kind that would want to eat me). I would definitely avoid a dementor, since, being a muggle, I’d have no way to protect myself from them. And no, I’d never take a selfie with an Ent, dragon, or dementor. My daughter is the only beastie I’ll take pictures with (begrudgingly).

Who are your non-writer influences?

I work at a library and see a wide variety of people every day. Some just look so much like characters, it’s hard not to imagine them that way, inventing fantastical histories and personalities for them. The downside is when they do actually talk to me, I have to pretend like I didn’t give them a name and place in a story. I’m influenced by daily life, just little moments that trigger ideas, nothing grand or methodical. “There is learning in everything,” someone said in a book I read once, and it’s something I truly believe.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you chose to do?

I’d be an inventor or explorer. I like to take things apart and try and fix them, too, which kind of goes along with inventing. Or an artist (but not the snooty kind). However, I am pretty happy being a librarian (except when grumpy patrons yell at me).

McKinleyTheDoorInTheHedgeIf you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Required Reading:

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy also encouraged)
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
1984 by George Orwell (if they somehow managed to make it this far in life without reading it)

Encouraged Reading:

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
Sabriel by Garth Nix
– Anything by Robin McKinley
– Anything by Robert Jordan (if they want to go down that road, more power to them!)

I guess the syllabus focuses on fantasy. Oh well.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

In truth, I haven’t had one yet, unless you count joining the Legolas Fan Club in junior high with the first LOTR film came out. It was a very awkward club. I usually just demonstrate my admiration for an author by re-reading the book(s) over and over.

MarillierWildwoodDancingCover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

Some covers are so photoshopped these days, that’s all I see (the photoshopping)! It’s great authors have access to artists that can use that kind of software (whether they’re self-published or working with a publisher), but sometimes there are just too many layers. That being said, some of my favorite fantasy covers were created by Kinuko Y. Craft (she has done covers for Robin McKinley and Juliet Marillier, among others). They are EXTREMELY detailed, but in a way that’s not overwhelming…more like a, “The more you look, the more you see” kind of way. I’m intrigued when the cover tells a story, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an illustration of a scene within the book.

Which mythical/fantastical race would you rather be?

I always choose mermaid (so long as I am speedy enough to avoid getting eaten) since there’s so much of the ocean that needs to be explored. However, not everyone can see the benefit of being a mermaid…

GitchellTheFeastGoodreads blurb about The Feast: Rebellion was sown…Revenge will be reaped…and The Feast for freedom awaits!

Delaterra, once a land of peace and prosperity, is tainted with suspicion and fear. The King’s Eyes and Ears, spies without conscience, hunt the Farmers, a group of Delaterran rebels who are dedicated to restoring Delaterra to her former glory. Yet there are whispers traveling fast on the wind, that the Farmers are not alone in their desire to rid the world of the Nameless One and the tyranny he sows. As The Feast draws near, a woman trapped in the body of a horse, an ex-knight, a seer, and an assassin must draw the factions together if they are to have any chance of success.

Places to Find Erin Gitchell

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

Interview & Giveaway: Edoardo Albert, Author of Edwin: High King of Britain

AuthorEdoardoAlbertIt is my pleasure to have Edoardo Albert on the blog today. His novel, Edwin: High King of Britain, is the first in the series chronicling the Christian kings of England of old. Come enjoy our chat on historical figures, Tolkien, how the Anglo-Saxons took their swearing seriously, and more! Scroll down for info on the Giveaway!

Who are some of your favorite historical villains? Who are some of your favorite historical heroes? In general, are these villains and heroes misunderstood by the modern public?

Of course, Aristotle was right: all men act according to what they see as good – even the worst men in history do not get up in the morning to twirl their mustaches and cackle, “What is the evillest thing I can do today?” But yet, men do evil, and great evil at that. A favorite villain must be one with a certain style and panache, so I suppose someone like Napoleon would rank at the top of the tree there: a man whose vanity and energy plunged Europe into a decade and a half of war, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and a world remade, yet whose charisma was such that he is still regarded as a hero as much as a villain. Such was his personal magnetism that I’m sure if I’d been in his orbit I would have ended up circling the Napoleonic sun along with all his other satellites. As for heroes, you’d be hard put to do better than William Wilberforce and the others who campaigned, and succeeded, in ending an institution as old as humanity and one that no one could really have imagined could be ended: slavery. But, since evil lacks imagination, slavery and human trafficking is on the way back, for what better way to demonstrate pure power than to own other human beings.

As to these and other historical figures being misunderstood, it depends on where you stand on the debate as to whether one can enter into any other age in any real way. The cultural and historical relativists have strong arguments, but in the end, as a writer, I plump for the belief that the fundamentals of human existence unite us through the ages. Besides, all men consider their time to be normal, and in writing historical fiction that is one of the great rules to bear in mind when dealing with the strangeness of past cultures.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

To be honest, mostly by ignoring them. Bathroom breaks are the common lot of humanity and although the toilet difficulties in pre-modern times are quite interesting they are better dealt with a non-fiction book (in fact, that could be a whole new book right there – Toilet Habits of the Past!). Anglo-Saxon swear words have transferred all too well to modern English, so I haven’t felt any particular need to include them, and a characteristic of pre-modern and barely literate peoples was a far greater reverence for language, so even the cursing was better done. There’s quite a bit about travel in Edwin: High King of Britain, for with roads being generally poor, rivers and sea were more highways than obstructions.

AlbertEdwinHighKingofBritainMyths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

At the most surface level, it has spawned various fandoms, from Harry Potter to Tolkien geeks to Trekkies. The writers of the golden age of science fiction were indirectly responsible for the space race, their writing inspiring many of the scientists and engineers that worked on the Apollo missions. Modern fantasy fiction seems to have had a more diffused effect; it’s probably stepped into the void left by the decline of religious belief in some countries of the old West, although in that case its more placebo than anything else. I suspect the jury is still out as to whether its long-term effects will be for good or ill.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

The Lord of the Rings. It still stands head and shoulders above all modern fantasy, and to read it again would be to enter Middle-earth afresh – who wouldn’t want to do that?

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

For the world of Edwin – a very real but only dimly perceived world – the two foremost documents are Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Without them, we would have only archaeology, which is vital for a deep understanding of a world but leaves us without names or actors within that world. Apart from these foundational sources, there has been a great deal of excellent scholarship on the period, notably by James Campbell (a different Campbell to the one who wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces), Peter Hunter Blair and Nick Higham. I’ve also hugely benefited from my conversations with my archaeologist co-writer of Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, Paul Gething, who shared his expertise, knowledge and passion for the period with me through many long conversations.

Who are your non-writer influences?

Apart from Paul, my wife and children. Harriet is my first reader, my best critic and, as an actress and voice teacher, the perfect person to read my stories out loud to me; there is no better way to learn if something works or not than to hear it read to you. And having a family has simultaneously reduced the time I have available to write by half but increased my productivity when I do write by something like fiftyfold – I have reason to write other than myself now!

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Thucydides and Herodotus are on my to read list, along with the Aeneid, from the Classical period. The lack of sources for the early Anglo-Saxon era means that it’s really not that difficult to read everything that’s survived from then, and Bede is such a pleasure to read that I return to him frequently.

With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

I would hope it means that people will read more widely; I suspect that little of the self-consciously literary fiction of the second half of the twentieth century has any lasting value, but some of the genre novels will survive as long as people read – Stephen King is a better chronicler of our times than the vast majority of literary novelists. As to me, I read widely as a matter of course, so I’d be delighted to be lured out of my comfort zone.

If you could go enjoy a meal in a historical setting (time travel, here we come!), where/when would that be, and what would you eat? Who would you invite from that time and place to sup with you?

Gosh, that’s a tough question! Part of me would like to attend the Last Supper, but I’m not sure I could bear to be present for the events of the day afterwards. Apart from that, I’d like to invite Dante and Boccacio to a high medieval feast in Italy – days of feasting, song and conversation – and then to drop into the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford in the 1930s when Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings were all in full flow.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Read! Bring up children. Day job – the usual stuff writers do when they’re not writing.

I snooped around on your website. You have written in several genres: SFF short stories, history books, a biography of Tolkien, a children’s book, historical texts on Islamic philosophers. Which do you find more challenging: the non-fiction or fiction works? Are there genres you would like to branch out into even further? Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Non-fiction and fiction present different challenges. With non-fiction the first and greatest challenge is to tell the truth. Of course, that’s also the challenge of fiction, but the templates of truth are different in each case. Non-fiction requires adherence to sources, proper understanding and sifting of contemporary scholarship – with its enthusiasms and biases – and synthesis; there’s always more you could write! Fiction demands the writer remains true to the story and its characters, removing himself from them as far as is possible. I think working in different areas has benefited me hugely as a writer and I’d definitely hope to write in further genres; in fact, a book I’ve been commissioned to write on the spiritual history of London is turning into something of a new genre in itself: part history, part travel, part spiritual autobiography, I’m making it up as I go along! When writing, I usually just write one book at a time, but I’ll probably be reading and researching the next at the same time.

Thank you for your questions; they really made me think hard!

About the Book

Debut historical fiction series vividly recreating the rise of the Christian kings of Northumbria, England.

In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure–the missionary Paulinus– who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.

Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.

This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade–and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.

The dramatic story of Northumbria’s Christian kings helped give birth to England as a nation, English as a language, and the adoption of Christianity as the faith of the English.

Places to Find Edoardo Albert

 Website

Twitter

Facebook

Giveaway!

Edoardo Albert has one paperback copy of Edwin: High King of Britain. The giveaway is open to US, UK and Canada residents. In order to enter, leave a comment answering this question: What historical figure would you like to read a historical fiction on? I’ll select at the end of the book tour (midnight September 19th, 2014). Leave me a way to contact you in the comment (email, twitter, etc.). Good luck!

Follow The Tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Monday, August 25
Review at Princess of Eboli
Review at 2 Book Lovers Reviews

Tuesday, August 26
Review at Just One More Chapter
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Wednesday, August 27
Review at Dab of Darkness

Thursday, August 28
Interview & Giveaway at Dab of Darkness

Monday, September 1
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, September 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Writing Desk
Review at The Mad Reviewer

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 8
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, September 9
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, September 10
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Thoughts in Progress

Friday, September 12
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Layered Pages

Thursday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews

Friday, September 19
Review at Book Drunkard

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Interview: Michael Coorlim, Author of Sky Pirates Over London

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonI have enjoyed several of Michael’s works, so it is with great pleasure that I wheedled an interview out of him. Please sit back and enjoy the chat about Doctor Who, Stargate, The Lord of the Rings, Xena, and plenty more!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

That’s a hard question. I’ve found that often, a lot of my favorite series don’t really match up to the way I remember them, because they haven’t aged well, or because I’ve changed from the person who first enjoyed them.

That said: Doctor Who. It hasn’t let me down. I’d love to watch it all over again with fresh eyes.

CoorlimInfernalRevelation1Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Reality is important when it comes to characterization and consequences. Lengthy travel and bathroom breaks and the like should be skipped over unless, for whatever reason, they’re vital to the plot or the character’s nature. Swearing is definitely part of characterization; the way people talk and the words they use tells us a lot about them.

My most recent release, Infernal Revelation, recently had a reviewer mark it down for its profanity. The speakers in question are rebellious teenage boys outside of adult supervision, and yeah, that’s how they talk. It’s part of their cultural make-up. In particular, it’s a YA book, and teens know how teens talk.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

I’d like to see a simulation/management game based on Leo Frankowski‘s Cross-Time Engineer. A modern day man is sent back to the 13th century and has ten years to prepare medieval Poland for the Mongol invasion. I like games where you build things, where you see a lot of development on any scale, personal or social or whatever.

CoorlimMaidenVoyageOfRioGrandeWith the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Genre has always been a bit of a tyrannical marketing tool. I think that we’re only beginning to see the possibilities available. This has impacted my writing more than my reading… I’ve always read anything I could get my hands on, but now I’m no longer being told that to be a successful writer I have to pick a single genre and stick to it.

I think we’re going to see some great experimentation from big name authors in the future.

Who are some of your favorite book villains? Who are your favorite hero duos from the pages?

Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes was great because you don’t really see him so much as you see the effects of his presence. Hero duos: Frodo and Sam. Gilgamesh and Enkidu if you want to get tragic about it.

CoorlimFineYoungTurkOften various historical aspects (people, locations, events) are used in fantasy and sometimes rehashed in a far-flung future. Are there examples of such historical aspects being used well in the SF/F genre? Examples of what didn’t work for you?

I read a lot of alternate history and time travel fiction. Michael Chriton’s Timeline – the book – was good. I didn’t care so much for the movie. Stargate – the movie and the television series – mined mythology, as did the Hercules and Xena television shows. They weren’t terribly accurate, but they didn’t have to be. It was just great to catch the references.

Oh, and the early Doctor Who seasons did a lot more with time travel. They weren’t always terribly accurate, but they were a lot of fun.

In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

The best villains are the tragic villains. Ideally I want my readers to identify with and even sympathize for my villains. I want them to understand why they commit terrible acts, and perhaps to see how they might end up in the same situation. Ultimately, though, what makes a villain is the failure to change, to grow like the protagonist does. They are defined and defeated by their destructive patterns.

I want readers to feel bad for my villains, but also that their downfall was inevitable.

CoorlimTrailScissormanIf you could go enjoy a meal in a fictional world, where would that be, and what would you eat?

Middle-Earth. Lembas wafers.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

I was on a Worldcon panel with Eleanor Arnason, Bud Sparhawk, and Connie Willis. All I could think about was that I should probably be down in the audience instead, not alongside Hugo and Nebula award-winning authors. I’d grown up reading their stories.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I think I notice bad covers more than good, but I’m approaching them from a design standpoint. I evaluate them for their color compositions, layout, and typography. I find it hard to “see” them like a reader.

CoorlimCollectedJameAndBartlebyAdventuresWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

The validity of genre fiction compared to “literature.” There are a lot of people out there who like to look down on others because of what they read and what they enjoy. I think it’s a form of insecurity, seeking validation through the dismissal of others.

Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works? What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

I really liked Merry and Pippin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In my own work, I’ve found that often secondary characters will spawn books of their own; in The Collected Bartleby and James Adventures, Bartleby’s fiance Aldora makes a few appearances, but I was so taken with the character that I wrote the second collection in the series all about her. I have vague plans now to do the same for some of the other characters, namely James’s old friend and con-artist Buckley and his experiences with the Parisian underworld of the Belle Epoque.

Places to Find Michael Coorlim

Website

Goodreads

Facebook

Twitter

Wytchfire by Michael Meyerhofer

MeyerhoferWytchfireWhy I Read It: The cover drew me in & I needed some darker fantasy in my life.

Where I Got It: A review copy via the blog tour (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of Tolkien-like fantasy will find this fulfills the need.

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing (2014)

Length: 375 pages

Series: Book 1 The Dragonkin Trilogy

Author’s Page

We open with Fadarah, who is a kind of warrior mage, a half-breed, and a key person in the siege of the city. The Shel’ai control the nightmare that can tear down city walls, and if let off its leash, completely destroy a city. Then we meet Rowen Locke who is a down-on-his-luck wannabe knight. He failed his goal in achieving knighthood, and then fails to sense a trap on the highway and becomes the victim of a nasty mugging. Penniless, injured, and jaded concerning the bulk of the human race, his adventure begins.

Wow! Just, wow! This was a fun, entertaining, impressive work of fantasy fiction. If you enjoy your Tolkien-esque adventures, then this is definitely a book for you to check out. There was plenty of world-building (peoples from various ethnicities – fictional and real) along with characters of depth. The book had my attention from the beginning because Fadarah seems to genuinely regret what he must do, seems a little disgusted at the methods for conquering the city, and yet he goes forth and does it. Then Rowen. Ah, the poor man walked on stage with so many secrets! He was a tantalizing character to follow and watch some of those secrets come into the reader’s light.

I quite enjoyed the mixing of elements from the legends of King Arthur and feudal Japan. The Knightly Order of the Lotus was a nice touch. And the action was quite engaging. There’s sell swords, brigands, warrior mage, etc. The average farmer seems to be in some sort of recession, which makes sense with war here and there. But sprinkled among the action are moments of introspection by the characters, so the reader doesn’t get battle fatigue.

While I would have liked to see a few more female characters, it seems I am always saying that. I can just pretend Rowen or Fadarah is a woman in disguise. 😉 There were a few typos in my version, but it is an early ebook review copy; these typos were not enough to distract me from enjoying the overall book.

What I Liked: Multi-dimensional characters; various ethnicities represented; plenty of world-building; the mix of King Arths and feudal Japan was very fun.

What I Disliked: Could use a few more female characters.

What Others Think:

Adventures in Storyland

Footnotes

CS Fantasy Reviews

Places to Find Michael Meyerhofer

Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2DPJ60

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wytchfire-michael-meyerhofer/1119392198?ean=2940149291106

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wytchfire-3

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20935130-wytchfire

Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/wytchfire/

Author page on RAP:  http://redadeptpublishing.com/michael-meyerhofer/

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Interview: Michael Meyerhofer, Author of Wytchfire

MichaelMeyerhoferAuthorEveryone, please welcome the author of Wytchfire to the blog today, Michael Meyehofer. We’re going to chat about poetry, ways to burn down a city under siege, the Star Wars Holiday Special, a college course in SFF literature, sidekicks, along with a lot more! Prepare to be entertained!

What are your non-writer influences?

Being an unapologetic addict to the History Channel (Ancient Aliens notwithstanding), I get a lot of inspiration from documentaries. I’m fascinated by ancient and religious history, and of course ancient military history, and I try to weave those elements into my stories whenever I can. One small example: in The Knight of the Crane, the forthcoming sequel to Wytchfire, I needed a quick way for one of my more loathsome antagonist-generals to take down a well-fortified city. I recalled a documentary that mentioned how someone (I think it was Olga of Kiev) conquered a hostile town by capturing birds, tying burning twigs to their claws, and setting them free to spread the blaze around the rooftops of the town. I thought it was a fascinating, if macabre, story (those poor birds!) and decided to incorporate something similar into my book. I also tried to incorporate a lot of my nerdy interest in the history of the samurai and medieval European knighthood.

MeyerhoferWytchfireWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Ha, I’ve always wanted to sit down and read Paradise Lost but to this day, I still haven’t gotten around to it. I’m really fascinated by different religious texts (especially the Epic of Gilgamesh). Not sure if this counts because I technically read them piecemeal in college, but I’ve always wanted to go back and spend some time with The Odyssey and The Iliad, too.

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Not to state the obvious but pretty much all of George R. R. Martin’s villains are chillingly awesome—I think because they’re so complex, never quite completely evil. In that same vein, I’m also really partial to Tolkien’s Boromir, Lloyd Alexander’s Ellidyr, and Raistlin from the Dragonlance books.

Often various historical aspects (people, locations, events) are used in fantasy and sometimes rehashed in a far-flung future. Are there examples of such historical aspects being used well in the SF/F genre? Examples of what didn’t work for you?

Not to sound like a broken record but GRRM is another great go-to for this. His rugged, realistic depictions of realistic, messy warfare seem heavily influenced by medieval history and political intrigue. I think Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books pull that off, too. Here are a couple more examples relating to warfare, since we’re already on that topic. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a big fan of how Raymond Feist handles his battles (and even more so, the preparation for battle). There’s also the obvious example of how JRR Tolkien’s experiences with trench warfare affected his depictions of battle in his Lord of the Rings books, not to mention how Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences informed Slaughterhouse-Five and his other works.

There are plenty of examples of historical stuff woven into stories besides those involving warfare, though. I was recently impressed by the way Deborah Harkness uses her background as an academic to weave historical elements into A Discovery of Witches. I also love the echoes of “western” philosophy and “eastern” religion that frequently pop up in SFF, plus how the social and political strife in SFF worlds often mirror the social and cultural revolutions we’ve experienced throughout our country’s own relatively short history. Frank Herbert’s Dune books and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are a couple examples. In terms of what doesn’t work for me, though, I don’t have specific examples so much as a general complaint. I find that I’m not all that interested in stories that propagate rather silly historical misconceptions. For instance, the Knighthood in my Dragonkin Trilogy is heavily inspired by the samurai, but I tried to steer clear of silly stereotypes that the samurai were always honorable, undefeatable paragons of virtue. I think that, like medieval European knights, they could be as terrible and repressive as they could be honorable and selfless.

MeyerhoferClayShaper'sHusbandWhat reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I’m a sucker for pretty much any dark re-imagining of fairy tales, ever since Anne Sexton did that in her poetry. I picked up My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me the other day and I’m already halfway through it, really digging the premise! Also maybe it’s just the English prof in me but I can’t help thinking that virtually all the stories we see today can in some way be traced back to Shakespeare (of which there have been plenty of excellent and awful adaptations, by the way). That’s not a bad thing, though, since probably all the basic story elements in Shakespeare’s plays can be traced back even earlier, maybe to Homer. And his stories echo even earlier myths, back and back, to cave-shadowed campfires near heaps of charred animal bones. Even back then, I think humans had the same basic fears, desires, and curiosities (but significantly less literacy and way more body hair).

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

There’s no denying the fact that self-promotion is as challenging as it is essential—especially with so many other fine, hard-working authors clamoring to get noticed! You need to write countless blog and forum posts, plus maintain very active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and maybe even more importantly, you can’t just promote your own work! Especially with so many books coming out all the time, readers don’t just want to hear from someone who pops in once a year to announce a book release, then disappears. They want authors who are also active members of the community. And it has to be genuine because readers are smart and they’ll see through insincerity pretty quickly. In other words, an author also has to prove that they’re a voracious reader, that he or she loves the genre they’re writing in, that they’re as willing and eager to talk shop and promote other writers they admire. Oh, and authors need to do all this while still finding time to write and revise three, four, even five-hundred-page manuscripts.

That’s all pretty daunting, sure, but I don’t mind. Actually, I like it because it’s worthwhile. Whoever said that it should be easy? I’d add that I first came to publishing as a contemporary poet, and poetry has an even smaller audience than SFF! So that made me more respectful of what it takes to “make it,” and even more grateful and humbled when I find a reader willing to give my work a chance, or a fellow author willing to promote my work aside her or his own.

What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

I’d love to sit in a big smoky hall and hoist a mug on Durin’s Day (the Tolkien Dwarfish equivalent of New Years Day). Whacking Day from The Simpsons would be cool, provided the snakes are unquestionably eeeevil! I’m also tempted to add Life Day from the Star Wars Holiday Special, though I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to do it.

MeyerhoferDamnatioMemoriaeWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

Oh, I was the poster child for shyness and over-sensitivity! I recall spending whole days sitting with a book—sometimes because I was lost in a story, other times because I was afraid to go outside and face bullying for birth defects (a malformed right ear and a bad limp, which seemed like the end of the world back then). Eventually, though, overcoming this gave me extra ambition and some extra perspective that I could weave into my own writing.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Li Po – hot and sour soup and a salmon bagel. Walt Whitman – a big plate of hot wings. D. H. Lawrence – mead and a turkey leg. Emily Dickinson – a Cinnabon. Raymond Carver – straight whiskey, probably.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I know there’s some disagreement as to whether or not this constitutes SF but Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five would be high on my list. I already mentioned George R. R. Martin earlier, though I’d probably start with The Tales of Dunk and Egg, his Song of Ice and Fire prequels. I’m also partial to the character development (particularly for Erik Von Darkmoor) and the realism in Shadow of a Dark Queen, the first book in Raymond Feist’s Serpentwar Saga. Of course, there’s Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (though I’m maybe a bit more partial to Childhood’s End). I’d also need Madeleine L’Engle, J.K. Rowling, and Philip Dick in there somewhere, too, though I’d have a terrible time picking one of their books over another.

KnaakReaversBloodSeaCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

What, me be awkward?! Ha, actually, I’d have a hard time coming up with an instance when I met a writer (novelist or poet) that I really admired and I wasn’t kind of a dork about it! I tend to get really, really excited when I read something I like. In fact, I have kind of a strange rule that if I come across a book that blows me away (or a short story or a poem, for that matter), I make an effort to contact the author and let them know. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few readers do that for me and let me tell you, that kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

While part of me has a soft spot for minimalism, I also love the epic feel of pretty much every cover made for Richard Knaak’s books. And I’m still jealous of the cover of Raising Chaos by fellow Red Adept author, Elizabeth Corrigan!

CorriganRaisingChaosWhat do you do when you are not writing?

I’m really into exercise, especially weightlifting. Like I said, I love documentaries. And video games. And, of course, reading.

Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works (books, movies, plays, etc.)?

Oh, I have a soft spot for side characters! I absolutely love Tolkien’s Faramir, Lloyd Alexander’s Prince Rhun, GRRM’s Davos Seaworth, Terry Brooks’ Garet Jax, and Margaret Weiss and Tricky Hickman’s Hugh the Hand.

You are also a poet, and as such, what works would you recommend for a science fiction, fantasy reader?

I like poets who know how to tell engaging stories with humor and cool imagery, but without pretension. Luckily, there are plenty who can do just that! Here are just a few of my contemporary favorites: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephen Dobyns, Allison Joseph, Justin Hamm, Norman Minnick, Peter Davis, George Bilgere, Djelloul Marbrook, Travis Mossotti, and Tony Hoagland. For poets technically no longer listed among the living, some of my favorites are Walt Whitman, James Wright, Li Po, Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, Basho, Issa, Chiyo-ni, Wallace Stevens, and Ai.

Places to Find Michael Meyerhofer

Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2DPJ60

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wytchfire-michael-meyerhofer/1119392198?ean=2940149291106

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wytchfire-3

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20935130-wytchfire

Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/wytchfire/

Author page on RAP:  http://redadeptpublishing.com/michael-meyerhofer/

Giveaway!

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Interview: David Litwack, Author of Along the Watchtower

LitwackAlongWatchtowerMy fellow bibliophiles, please welcome David Litwack to the blog today. We shall chat about the secret lives of linguistics professors, Homer’s Odyssey, The Life of Pi, and how no celebration is complete without bread pudding. Don’t forget to check out the giveaway at the end of the post!

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Even in reality, we all face extraordinary circumstances, albeit a small number of times in our lives. These times are periods of high stress, when our mettle is most tested and our emotions most intense. Readers read to get that emotional high vicariously, without real life risks (e.g. facing death. If the character dies, the reader gets to close the book and go on with their life). While the mundane minutia of life still goes on during such times, it’s not what interests the reader. Lots of detail is fine, but only if it adds depth to the action.

What biographies of the creators of your favorite genres do you want to read? Are there lesser known creators that still need a biography?

I’m fascinated by Tolkien’s real life. The richly detailed world he created couldn’t have come out of nowhere. It’s hard to imagine the mundane life of an Oxford linguistics professor could have spawned the intensity of The Lord of The Rings. Did his sense of Mordor come from his time in the trenches in World War I? From the loss of his parents at a young age? Unfortunately, while he left us a wealth of fiction, we know little about his inner life. Biographies of Tolkien tell an external story. I’d love to know what went on inside the mind of a writer who could create such an enduring and epic tale.

ShayAchillesInVietnamWhat nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

Along the Watchtower portrays two fictional worlds—the world of a recovering veteran in a VA hospital and the fantasy world of his dreams. For the fantasy world, I played many hours of World of Warcraft to get a feel for “living in the game.” I also read a number of academic texts on the mindset of gaming and why it’s so popular.

To better understand post-traumatic stress, one of the best books I read was Achilles in Vietnam. The author, a noted PTS therapist, juxtaposes dialog from his patients during their sessions with text from Homer’s Odyssey, showing the stress of war on soldiers across the millennia. That juxtaposition helped me create the fantasy world of a prince who suffers from war trauma as must as our vets today.

With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Some readers still stick to their genre, despite ebooks. Maybe that’s a relic of bookstores, where books are shelved together by genre. Or maybe it’s a lack of risk taking. To me, after a while, books of a single pure genre start to feel the same.

I prefer books that cross genre boundaries and are less predictable. The best literature defies genre. I hope as the book store mindset fades, readers will take the chance and explore more outside their comfort zone.

LitwackThereComesAProphetIn writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

I was taught that a villain should be the hero of his own story. A villain who does evil just because he’s a bad guy doesn’t interest me. I like a villain who is doing what he believes to be right, even though it may cause irreparable harm to others. A good example is the arch vicar in my first novel, There Comes a Prophet. He believes in his heart that progress and innovation have been the leading cause of evil throughout history. He dedicates his life to avoiding a repeat of ancient wars by suppressing that most human trait—the desire to fulfill one’s potential.

Is there a book to movie/TV adaptation that you found excellent? One that didn’t work for you?

I was surprised that the movie of The Life of Pi was so well done. Most of the book takes place in the mind of the main character. I had my doubts it would transfer well to film, but thought the movie was great. Ender’s Game, which is one of my favorite sci-fi books, was not so fortunate. While generally true to the story, its inability to live inside the main character’s head crippled the impact of events, leaving mostly special effects.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

Most writers are private people and not self-promoters by nature, making marketing feel awkward. I find it takes a lot of time, and I’m always fighting my sense of discomfort. On the positive side, I like connecting with readers in a way that wasn’t possible before. When I do an interview like this, or write a blog post, and someone comments in a way that shows I’ve touched them—that’s very rewarding

ShayDaughterOfSeaAndSkyHow did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?

Dinner with my wife and friends. A good bottle of wine. Bread pudding for dessert.

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor for no other reason than I had an aunt who insisted I be a doctor. Around twelve, I found out what doctors do. I’m on the squeamish side about blood and stuff, so I changed my mind. And my eventual career in software did not yet exist at that time. The writing bug didn’t strike me until I was sixteen. The editor of a newsletter at a summer youth encampment—a girl with striking blue eyes—recruited me to write an article. The next morning I saw it in print with my byline, and I was hooked.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I know that cover art is important, and I spend a lot of time for each book trying to get it right. But for myself, the cover is the tip of the iceberg. I never buy a book without reading a few good and bad reviews, the blurb, and however far Amazon’s ‘look inside’ lets me go. If the description doesn’t strike me, or if the writing style turns me off, I won’t buy the book.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Read, go for long walks, bicycle, travel, play golf…badly.

DavidLitwackAuthorFinally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

My third novel, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, just came out. It’s an alternate world story about a world divided between the Blessed Lands, a place of the spirit, and the Republic, whose people worship at the altar of reason. A mysterious nine-year-old girl from the Blessed Lands sails into the lives of a troubled couple in the Republic and changes everyone she meets. She reveals nothing about herself, other than to say she’s the daughter of the sea and the sky. But she harbors a secret wound she herself can’t heal.

My latest worked is a sequel to There Comes a Prophet. I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, but the characters, Orah and Nathaniel, kept nagging me to finish their story. Now, I plan on making it a trilogy.

Places to Find David Litwack

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads  |  Newsletter
And don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!
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Interview: Dean F. Wilson, author of The Children of Telm Series

WilsonCallOfAgonFolks, please welcome Dean Wilson back for another interrogation! He was kind enough to submit to my questions once again. I thoroughly enjoyed Book 1 in The Children of Telm series, The Call of Agon. And now the sequel, The Road to Rebirth is out. Please enjoy our little chat about Norse mythology, how every day events can influence writing, and avoiding deadly but beautiful fictional beasts.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Yes, but in very different ways. While many people really believed in various gods, goddesses, and mythological creatures and events in the past, that is generally not true today. Fantasy is explicitly labelled as fiction, while the mythology of the past was part of complex religions and belief systems. Of course, not all people of the ancient world believed in the literal truth of these tales, whether it was Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Norse, or even Jewish, Christian, Islamic, or any other religion or tradition. There is a core human need for inspiring and evocative tales to help us make sense of the world around us, and ourselves, and encourage us to do the right thing, and discourage evil deeds. I think an element of that will always remain with us, even with the vast majority of us recognizing scientific fact in place of mythological constructs.

That does not mean, however, that powerful modern fiction does not have an effect. We only need to look at the investment many fans make in the worlds of Middle-earth, or Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other alternative universe. Invented languages are studied as ardently as real ones, and there are many scholars of these texts and films, just as there are for mythology and religion. The constant success of speculative fiction, and of fiction in general, shows just how important these seemingly “not real” stories are, and many people and cultures are changed drastically by books like these.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

This is a tough choice, especially because so many creatures sound wonderful, but would also be very scary. The majesty and intelligence of dragons makes them very intriguing, while the pegasus combines the beauty of horses and angels. I don’t think I’d like to meet a gorgon, as I’d rather not be turned to stone. Likewise, I don’t think fighting a hydra would go down too well, with all those heads that keep growing back. Thankfully I, and all of us, can encounter these and more from the safety of a book.

Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

I like anything that connects me directly with readers, where I can find out what they really thought of my work, the story, the characters, the world, etc. I’m less enthused by promotions that are essentially one-way ads, where readers are bombarded with “buy me” notices, even if they are veiled as something else. I don’t learn anything from that kind of promotion, so I cannot use it to improve my writing and make the next book even better. Direct engagement will always trump any other means.

WilsonRoadToRebirthWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

I haven’t yet read the Edda, the Norse tales that heavily influenced Tolkien, although I do know many of the tales indirectly and have arguably been, even unintentionally, influenced by it. There is a lot of Shakespeare I haven’t read yet either, and I’d like to correct that. In fact, I recently bought his full collection.

With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

The growth of ebooks has certainly helped with those odd, genre-defying books, which might not succeed under one heading. It also helps any book that could be under several categories, as it will appeal beyond just the fantasy fans, or just the horror fans, and so forth.

That said, I don’t tend to tuck into genres I’m not enthused by (like horror) unless I really want to learn something from it (like how to build suspense, or, by reading Stephen King, how to develop strong characters). I think most readers know what they like, and the category acts only as an initial filter. The cover, blurb, and eventually the book itself all have to appeal to him or her.

As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

I think all activities can benefit an author to some degree, but some are more suited for certain genres. Video games can help writers understand what an immersive world feels like. Films help writers develop their ability to capture events visually, and thus communicate visually to a reader. Music can help writers develop pace and rhythm–effectively the “score” to the book. History can help writers with ideas, or with generating realism. Mythology can help writers identify universal archetypes. I don’t think there’s anything that writers cannot benefit from and bring into their work.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

It’s neat and tidy for a short while, and then very messy for a much longer time. I can sometimes end up with piles of books on the floor alongside me, despite having several bookshelves behind me. I may have various notes lying about the place, and stuff I should have thrown out years ago. Then it’s neat and tidy for a short while before it begins all over again.

I can write anywhere, but I am most productive in my office. A lot of that has to do with having access to all my digital files, and my being used to a PC. It’s not the same accessing them from a smartphone or tablet. I prefer to have a large screen and a real full-size keyboard.

WilsonMemoryMagusLeechOfLoveHow did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?

I’m not one for throwing parties or having celebratory dinners for stuff like this. To me it was just one stepping stone along the path, and it just encouraged me to do more and aim higher. I don’t believe in “good enough.” I always want to push for something better.

Thanks again for this opportunity, and for your time and attention.

Places to Stalk Dean F. Wilson

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Interview: Georgina Garrastazu, Author of Jaguars

GarrastazuJaguarsEveryone, please welcome author Georgina Garrastazu to the blog. She recently published her first book, Jaguars, and even with the whirlwind madness of all that, she still had time to do an interview here. We chat about lucid dreaming, Divergent, dinner menu for dead authors, and a few historical texts.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

I see modern fantasy definitely affecting human culture. It affords people the opportunity to examine concepts, such as good and evil, outside of the parameters set by religion, nationality, and race. By taking the reader into a new dimension, reality, and mindset, the author gently moves the reader into new and cleaner parameters. Cleaner because ideas, words, and their definitions become imbued with meaning through life and usage. By cleaning these extra meanings out, the reader can start anew with his/her examinations of core concepts without the weight that certain “items” have acquired.

I can give an example of this, kind of. I haven’t read the Divergent books, but I did see the movie this last weekend. In Divergent, you have what appears to be a society repairing and rebuilding itself by classifying its citizens into personality types. The real story, at least to me, is not about some girl who chooses a new more exciting life, but about whether one trait can truly be superior in a person’s life to the exclusion of all other traits. Can intelligence truly be what is best for society without the balance of the others? Without the balance of honesty, joy, action, or compassion? Bruce Lee would say no – “It is compassion, not the principles of justice, which guard us against being unjust to our fellow man.” I would agree. Any story is a simplification, in a way, yet this one successfully forces us to examine the idea of utilitarian intelligence unfettered by compassion and the dangers such a state might lead to.

I also see fantasy as a way to slip certain ideas into modern thought. More to the point, it is a way to reintroduce certain entities in under the radar for the “talented” to rediscover and contact. Not all fictional characters or beings are truly fictional. But this is another matter, entirely.

What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

I wouldn’t mind spending any solstice with the Elven peoples. Imagine the beauty and magic of how they must celebrate!

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

They are on my t.b.r. list, I swear!
a) Three Books of Occult Philosophy – Agrippa
b) The complete works of Thomas Aquinas
c) The Hindu scriptures

a) & b) – because I want to know the thoughts they had before they repudiated, reconsidered, or recanted them.
c) – because the double is found in the Hindu pantheon. The double is what my own work concentrates upon and revolves around.

In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

I agree with that, in general, just not in my book. My main aim is to teach people how to reach the double and how to use it. Everything else is extraneous. I use the story to frame this aim and put it into context or to explore other actions related to the double. My own research was in lucid dreaming and I first performed the double in 1996. Since then, I have experimented with it and other aspects of dreaming and related activities, such as gazing. All of these I write down in my practitioner journals. Then I lift them from the journals and insert them into the story. So the lucid dreams in the story are fairly factual, even though some of them are out of order to when they actually occurred.

That’s what I do. I don’t know what real fantasy writers do.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I don’t know enough about self-promotion and I despise the idea of telling people to read my book. I find it embarrassing. I would like to get to the point where I could talk and discuss the finer points with the readers, especially if they are practitioners of dreaming. All I’ve done is mention my book on Facebook and WordPress.

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

When I was real little, I was super-cute with long hair, a happy disposition, a smile, and little patent leather Mary Jane’s. Then I went to school and it was all downhill from there. I became very shy, introspective, and weird. The type of kid who doesn’t care to conform to how their peers think they should be. Since I went to Catholic school, I used to spend a lot of time in church, just sitting there in the early afternoons. So I was a loner at an early age.

I wanted to be a dentist. I had this incredible dentist named Dr. Thompson who had his office building framed with Mayan stone glyphs. He also had a little treasure chest that I would raid after my appointments. There were plastic trinkets in it along with lollipops. Then one day, he disappeared. He was piloting a small plane and was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Except for that last part, I wanted to be like him. He was kind, compassionate, and a gentleman. That was a real loss to humankind.

If you could sit down and have a fancy meal with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would everyone choose to eat?

I’d invite Kurt Vonnegut, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Anton Wilson, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenski for dinner. Wait, I also want to invite Ovid because he was the catalyst for me becoming a bookworm. So he stays even though he ups the diners to 7 for dinner. As far as I’m concerned, they will eat whatever I put on the table. People who aren’t cooking may not control the menu in my house. There will be fine wines to drink, along with Coke and water. For appetizers, we will have Tortillas de Patata which are Spanish omelettes made with fried potatoes and onions. There will also be chicken croquettes and Papas Rellenas which are fried and breaded potato balls filled with seasoned ground beef. Then for the entrée we will have a dish I make that is a cinnamon and ground almond chicken stew over rice. We can have espresso and flan for dessert.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I’m not the right person to ask about this because I like plain books without cover art, those that just have the title printed on the cover. But those are non-fiction books.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

I have an article coming out in Affluent Magazine sometime in the summer. I’ll let you know if anything comes up. Oops, the print edition is coming out mid-April, so I guess that counts.

Places to Find Georgina Garrastazu

Blog – The Toltec Arts

Facebook

Amazon

GarrastazuJaguarsAbout The Book, Jaguars

Lonely and dissatisfied with eternity, Zaki Raxa Palo is an immortal seer from the golden age of the Toltecs, the time during the emergence of the great Lord Quitzalcuat. He is alive today because of the arcane secrets he learned. He describes the first twelve days of his instruction in the esoteric as they occurred thousands of years ago, when the tight knot of immortality was unraveled before him and he was taught to wrap it around himself.

Although he is a prince with a questionable birthright, once he hits puberty the learned seers and sorcerers around him seize upon the moment as they groom him for kingship. Suddenly, Zaki is forced to learn and take notice of the world around him; no longer can he be the isolated and lazy boy he was. Accompanied by his pet, Chahel, an orphaned jaguar, he is led into the reality of myth. The lead instructor of wisdom, the Cabicacmotz, introduces him to the frightening practices of the Toltecs. Who knew that awareness could dwell in one’s shadow?

Zaki has seen a few games of Bateh, the deadly ball-game, but he has never seen it as it is meant to be played, where intent can propel the ball towards the goal and defeat can be complete. On the day of the Festival of Adults, a private affair within the tribe, he sees the royal team upon the grand ball court. The Cabicacmotz leads him around the festival to receive omens from different groups he must learn from. The Chuchmox will teach him gazing, the sneaky Etamanel Evan will make him smoke a spiky plant, the Balam Ch’Ab will show him how to transform himself into a jaguar, he will learn to play Bateh with The Jaguars, and the strange Ahtoobalvar will show him how to fly over mountains in a new body.

Fate has conspired against little Zaki. His instructor, the Cabicacmotz has the ability to set Zaki’s hair on fire and he just might become his brother-in-law. Worst of all, the Cabicacmotz can read his mind and rifle through it at ease. How does one only think good thoughts? It’s a trick worth learning when one’s hair is on the line.

Being a boy was a luxury, no one paid any attention to Zaki. Now he is counted as a man, it seems, and all of the tribe knows his business. Disappear once while trying to gaze at one’s shadow and everyone hears about it. They even think he might have been transported away by the Xibalbans, the denizens of the underworld. Zaki can’t understand what all the fuss is about. He doesn’t understand that it’s best never to be noticed by those beings. Now he is under constant observation.

The only good thing that has happened is that Zaki now has friends. Only the noble-born children get to learn the arts or those who have been pointed out by omens. Two brothers, Hac and Cham, of the lowest caste are chosen to learn alongside Zaki. Quiet Hac and the cocky Cham are the only boys who are confident or stupid enough to befriend the prince. At least Zaki no longer feels invisible and unworthy. Friends can make all the difference.

Not everything is going well in the tribe, however. Spies have delivered devastating news to the Toltecs. Once, long ago, the Toltecs rebelled against false gods and their followers within the tribe. They thought they had destroyed them all, but now they know that is not so. The idolaters have thrived and they are forcing the tribes around them into subjugation. Do their gods still exist? No one knows. They only know that they must be stopped and war is in the air.

No matter what, though, he is still going to have to learn all that his teachers demand. He’ll have to wear a navel stone, practice dreaming, smoke things that make him think oddly, learn where his sense of self is at all times, live with purpose, and discover that the childhood stories of his tribe contain incomprehensible and esoteric truths. The world is much more mysterious than he ever imagined…

Interview: Eric Zawadzki & Matthew Schick

ZawadzkiSchickPithdaiGatePlease welcome the authors of The Pithdai Gate, Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick. These two gentlemen (am I using the term loosely?) agreed to be interviewed together, and they do provide quite an entertaining read. I expect you’ll enjoy them as much as myself.

As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

Eric: There’s no way I could name them all. My childhood was a sort of warm bath of Chosen One fantasy – fiction and film alike. Like many kids my age I grew up watching (and obsessed with) Star Wars. The Neverending Story was an extremely awesome movie in which the hero is sent on an epic quest. As far as fiction goes, Lloyd Alexander was a huge early influence – an ordinary boy who grows up into a king. Tolkien certainly played a role, too – less the hobbits (I didn’t really appreciate them until I was older) than Strider, who was another secret king. Chronicles of Narnia had ordinary kids finding themselves flung into a fantasy world where they soon became legendary heroes. The sort of Arthurian literature kids get exposed to at an early age is in there somewhere too.

How did you and Eric meet? (Feel free to embellish embarrassing details.) And how did you two develop the writing duo the world knows you as today?

Matthew: We had a few classes together our freshman year in high school, and teachers like to sit students alphabetically.  Eric was always the last chair in the room, and more often than not, I was the chair directly in front of him.  You get to talking that way, when you’re sitting near a familiar face a lot.  It turned out we were both interested in creating worlds.  He had an idea but needed some more motivation, I had no projects but a big motivation.  That shifted a lot as we’ve grown up.

For the longest time, we were like a see-saw.  On one 10-day family vacation, I busted out 100 pages of a story, while Eric hardly wrote; for most of freshman year of college, Eric polished a complete manuscript, while I ignored Word as best as I could (for the record, both of those stories have been rewritten so often they’re unrecognizable today).  One of us working hard tended — it still tends — to motivate the other to work hard, but I’m still a knock-it-all-out-in-a-weekend kind of person.

ZawadzkiSchickLessonOfFireWhy Poland? And did that backpacking experience end up twisted and repackaged somehow in your writings?

Eric: As you might guess from my surname, I’m Polish on my father’s side. Moreover, I’m only a few generations away from the old country. My grandmother grew up bilingual, and my great grandmother spoke very little English. As a kid I was fairly proud of that heritage and I endured many a “dumb Pollock” joke as a result. When I decided to do some backpacking in Europe after college it was close to the top of my list of destinations and ended up being the first foreign soil my feet ever touched.

I was woefully unprepared for this journey. I had no phrase book, no hotel reservation, and no local currency. My guidebook (which covered all of Europe) gave me ten words of Polish and a 1-page map of the city center. Had this been France or Germany, it would have been no problem, since English speakers (and foolish American tourists) are common there, but this was Poland about a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so almost no one over the age of 25 spoke more than a few words of English.

It was terrifying. It was incredible. It was like something straight out of The Hero’s Journey. I was only there for a week, and I have about a hundred stories about complete strangers who helped me or, in one case, took me in for the night. It sounds cheesy, but I learned a lot about the world and my place in it from the experience. The fact that everything still turned out okay in spite of the initial culture shock and some missteps made me more willing to try new things even when I wasn’t sure of the outcome. It also strengthened my faith in humanity, and I think that, more than anything, comes out in my writing.

ZawadzkiSchickKingmakerAs a journalist, how does that real life experience affect your fiction writing? Does it feed into character development or ambiance of the book?

Matthew: God, put a journalism major with an English major and tell them to write something … I hand him a 70K-word draft and get back a 140K-word epic, and it’s been all I can do to not shred it.  I’ve had to learn that yes, adjectives are important.  Yes, we need this seemingly irrelevant anecdote — though I try to make it relevant.  Adverbs have been fantastically tricky, but sometimes they’re the easiest way to present a concept. Recently, as I work on the sequel to Kingmaker, it’s been fun to let go and add in stuff that may be useless for the next draft.

Oh, but you mean experiences!  As I think about it, the biggest impact might be in how people talk about their news.  Politicians often don’t sound truthful; cops often sound guarded.  A really passionate advocate sounds a little crazy.  Reporters and editors sometimes give a bit more background on their sources’ personalities in private, so you can see the difference between the public and private faces.  When it comes to making characters, the news is full of them.

As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

Eric: Ultimately, everything a writer does becomes grist for the idea mill. If I could pick one that has helped me most, though, I’d have to say tabletop roleplaying games – particularly GMing games. When you run a game well, you’re basically organizing a collaborative storytelling exercise with a small audience. It comes with immediate feedback, as well. If the players aren’t enjoying themselves, boy will you know it! You also learn that you can’t please everyone, which I think is an important lesson for a writer. We all want so badly to be liked, but every book won’t click with every reader just as some styles of game play just aren’t compatible. Being able to listen to your players during and between sessions and find out what’s working and what isn’t – and then to give them more of what they want and less of what they don’t (rather than getting angry at the players for not thinking all your ideas are awesome) – is the mark of a good GM. As writers, Gamemastering teaches storytelling techniques. It teaches the importance of knowing your audience. It is also a fairly inexpensive hobby that involves getting together with friends on a regular basis.

Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

Matthew: I’m looking for something that’s not been done.  Kingmaker was something I’d never seen before: Kids lose their magic as they grow older. It usually happens the other way. I’ve not had an idea that good before.  Eric really ran with that, and in The Pithdai Gate, we got to take if further.

I don’t go out of my way, to be honest.  If I need a swashbuckler, I’m using one.  I’m just putting him in my world, where he’s part of a minority race, he’s a little ADHD, he can turn into a fish, and … well, I’m not going to give it all away.  I do like to have simple characters with one or two traits, but Eric will flesh out the lowliest peasant … which can lead to some awesome twists.

Four Moons Press is a collaboration between you and Matthew Schick and is used to publish your fantasy books, all of which have 4 moons. Why 4? And how do you work that in to your various books, some of which are not connected?

Eric: I find that every generation of writers builds on or reacts against the work of previous generations (and quite often both). Almost all the fantasy we read growing up only had one moon just like Earth’s – quite often with the same lunar calendar. A few had an extra moon or two, but aside from a different color or lunar calendar, it looked like…the moon. Don’t ask me why that little bit of slightly lazy world-building drove us crazy, but we decided our world was going to buck that trend. Three, four, and eight were magic numbers early in our collaboration, and so we settled on three visible moons and one “dark moon” that is only visible as a circle of darkness that passes in front of the stars and other moons. We also decided they’d have really weird orbits – one travels across the sky from west to east, one orbits north-south, and the other two go from east to west.

I cannot begin to tell you how many hours of productivity we have lost over the last couple decades to trying to figure out how these bizarre orbits look from the ground, but it’s probably far more than it needed to be. We used to take great pains to mention each moon and used elaborate lunar calendars to make sure we weren’t describing the moons wrong. We really don’t do that anymore. The moons are important in some books because of their mythological or magical significance. They’re Mar gods in Lesson of the Fire. The yellow moon facilitates communication between the Wen in The Pithdai Gate. They’re mentioned here and there throughout our books as part of the scenery whenever you might expect another fantasy novel to mention the presence of the moon. I’d like to think it lends our world a slightly more alien quality. This isn’t Earth. It’s Someplace Else Entirely. It also gives us a chance to describe moons without using the phrases “pale orb” and “silver crescent.” Yay variety!

Have you ever cosplayed any of the characters of your books?

Matthew: Nope. I haven’t found one I’d like to yet.

It is the holiday season, where we are inundated with holiday marketing and music and food until January 2nd. What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

Eric: I don’t really have a favorite from a book, but the made-up holiday I like think is the niftiest is Marchoween. It started when a friend of mine decided she really wanted to have a costume party but it was March and she wasn’t quite the kind of person to throw a costume party just because. She settled on calling it Marchoween because it fell on the 31st of March. Instead of dressing up as imaginary people, we wore costumes intended to lampoon each other. I stole the sweater she wears all the time, and she borrowed the laptop I carry with me everywhere. Several others did similar swaps, and we went in-character as other people at the party. It was a lot of fun to see the different interpretations, and it gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves. I thought this was particularly fitting for a costume party held on April Fools Day Eve. Maybe I’ll work the concept into a book, but it hasn’t happened yet.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

Matthew: I prefer a neat, empty space with easy access to coffee and Reeses Pieces.  The fewer things there are to distract me, the better, and that often means no music.  I have a computer with almost no programs on it, and I like to find a place with no Internet, and hash out my rough drafts that way.  I keep a list of things I might need to research later.

ZawadzkiGodMachineChronicleI see that you have a connection to Onyx Path Publishing, an RPG press. What magic and mayhem have you concocted with the folks of Onyx Path?

Eric: I’ve been doing rather a lot of work for Onyx Path in the last year or so. I wrote the introduction for The God-Machine Chronicle and a short story for its accompanying anthology. I’ve also done a bit of work for the 20th anniversary edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – mostly world-building bits, which I can pretty much conjure at will after 20+ years writing fantasy. Most of the work I’m doing now is for the newest Onyx Path game Demon: The Descent, which concerns the cloak-and-dagger lives of biomechanical fallen angels on the run from the God-Machine that created them for its own inscrutable purposes. I hope to be able to do some more work for Mage: The Awakening in the next year, which is still probably my favorite game as a player.

ZawadzkiGodMachineAnthologyWhat upcoming or future projects would you like to share with the readers today?

Eric: The big news right now is the 12/20 release of The Pithdai Gate. This book involves characters and a part of the world we’re really excited about. Kingmaker is a bit of a bittersweet coming of age story. Lesson of the Fire features a hero who has fallen from grace and is on a collision course with tragedy. For The Pithdai Gate we decided we wanted to do something light and fun. We took as inspiration old Robin Hood stories, The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, The A-Team, comic books, and all sorts of other stories about clever, larger-than-life heroes working together to thwart the plans of villains.

Looking into the future, we’ve never had a shortage of ideas for new books. Matt’s currently finishing up the first draft of the sequel to Kingmaker (the first book of our YA-ish series), so I’ll be doing the second draft of that soon. We hope to have that ready to publish in late 2014. After that, maybe a sequel to The Pithdai Gate. I’ve also been slowly working on the first draft of a rather elaborate multi-book project I jokingly call How I Destroyed Civilization. That’s years away from being ready for Matt to revise because there are letters in the first book that are being written by characters during events in the last book, so we can’t write those letters until we know what happens in the last book.

Places to Stalk Eric and Matthew

Four Moons Press

Eric on Goodreads

Matthew on Goodreads

Smashwords

Eric on Goodreads

Gentlemen, thank you so much for venturing into my little corner of the blogosphere. I really like that idea of Marchoween. Maybe I can make it a local holiday! Goodluck in all your endeavors!