This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Grimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.
I’m excited to talk to C. Thomas Lafollette, author of the Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War series.
First, will you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Wyoming and lived there until my family moved to Oregon when I was ten. I attended a small liberal arts college where I got degrees in History and Economics with specializations in Classics and Religion. Along the way, I’ve read poetry with Yevgeny Yevtushenko, traveled around Europe, and even dined in the same room as the Belgian prime minister—it was purely a coincidence.
Currently, I’m a full-time freelance editor along with my partner, author Amy Cissell. Before going full-time, I worked in the beer industry for nearly twenty years. I started writing seriously in 2012 when I started a beer blog. Since then, I’ve published articles in magazines around the world.
Like a lot of fantasy writers, my first foray into writing was inspired by Tolkien when I created hobbit knightly orders. Though, I didn’t stick with writing except for school projects and homework. After I graduated from college, I tried writing short stories but never really seemed to develop the knack for it if it wasn’t for a school assignment. I think I finished more novels in 2021 than I ever did short stories in the entire time between graduating from college and when I started writing novels. Now, I’ve finished nine novels that are either published or in various stages of editing.
I’ll be releasing two novels in May and the rest of the Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War series throughout 2022 and into 2023.
Will you talk a little bit about Luke Irontree and the Last Vampire War?
I think I laid down the first ideas for Luke Irontree in 2017 and started writing in earnest in 2018. Initially, I set out to create a wise cracking sarcastic main character that is typical of the genre, but that failed pretty quickly. The more I delved deeper into the character, I realized that’s not what he was.
After nearly 2,000 years, he’s alone and traumatized from a mission he didn’t exactly understand when he agreed to it. Fleeing to Portland, Oregon after World War II, he hoped to hide in a new place without the memories of his past only for his past to come looking for him.
Luke’s life changes when he discovers his local brewpub owner is also the second of a LGBTQ werewolf pack. They eventually join forces to protect their city’s most vulnerable people from becoming vampire chow.
Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War is set in a dark world with warm characters as Luke finds healing through friendship and community.
Luke Irontree, the main character in your novel, is a former Roman Legionnaire. What was the historical research like, in regard to writing Luke?
My degree is in Ancient History, which was a good base to build on, but there was a lot of research into the minutia of the legions in particular, as well as the specific settings and peoples included in the historical vignettes. Most of the research is background material that functions as flavor as opposed to on the page hard history.
It was fun to dive into some research. I got to acquire some cool books and sift through tons of research on academia.edu. I have files and files of papers, dissertations, and articles archived. Though I did have to be careful not to let it become a time sink.
And while the main series only has brief snippets of history, the first book Dark Fangs Rising more than the rest, I wrote two Roman era historical fantasy novels. The first, Rise of the Centurio Immortalis, is set just after the historical events outlined in Dark Fangs Rising and functions as Luke’s origin story. The second Luke Irontree historical is a romance set two hundred years later during the reign of Constantine the Great.
Interesting! Was it more difficult to switch to straight-out historical fantasy, without having Portland as a grounding point for readers, so to speak?
The first two were set at various periods in the Roman Empire, but there’s very little time spent in cities so I didn’t have to worry about much trying to recreate more than a building or general sense of a location or two. The more difficult piece was backtracking Luke’s personality so the books would display his development through time. In the first one, it’s a young human officer who’s earned his way into an elite unit in the Roman Legions.
It’s set against the backdrop of the end of the Trajan’s Parthian war as the emperor is dying and the Romans are pulling out of the territories they conquered, including Armenia. As Lucius (Luke) is sent to Armenia on a final mission for Trajan, he and his cohort must navigate the sudden power vacuum as Parthians move in to reassert their influence. Along the way, he befriends their guides, a pair of young Armenian siblings, and discovers his ability to lead and preserver.
In the second historical, we see Luke two hundred years later, the leader of an elite vampire hunting legion, but immortality is starting to wear on him. The base genre for this one is Romance, though it’s a full-on historical fantasy as well, complete with loads of action at the same time. It’s set against the backdrop of Constantine the Great’s Gothic war as Lucius is ordered across the border to aid the empire’s new allies the Sarmatians in a coordinated attack on the Goths as they move toward the empire’s border. As he coordinates with the Sarmatian clan chieftain, he struggles with his attraction to her while also trying to manage the changing dynamics of his relationship with the Roman Empire and how he views his future.
In both cases, everything is based around the main character. Each book has a new cast of characters and a new setting. I’ve tried to provide characters with their own cultural feel. The Roman Empire was a multicultural place as were the legions. Within that, I try to build in the political backdrop and the historical currents that are motivating and driving the characters.
In reality, it’s the same building blocks as the Urban Fantasy part of the series. It’s how I world build. There’s a cultural underpinning to all the characters that’s loaded with their history. Throughout the series, the readers will get snippets of the various characters and their lives. With a cast full of long-lived werewolves from all over the world, it provides a lot of fun material.
I’ve still got two more historicals planned. One set in Vienna at the beginning of the 19th century, and another set in US in the 1970s.
Your series is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?
For me, urban fantasy is magical elements and creatures set in a modern earth setting, most commonly in a city. It can be a made-up city, but I think it should be on earth. I don’t consider it to be urban fantasy if it’s set on a secondary world. That’s something else.
I like that urban fantasy is going beyond the city into newer settings. But whatever the earth setting, the locale should play an important role in the story. It should be another character.
Luke lives in Portland, and the problems he’s facing are very much influenced by the nature of Portland. Too many urban fantasy series treat their setting like a clean, neutral backdrop. In Luke’s world, you get the full Portland—warts and all. Though, once you dive in, you’ll realize the warts don’t always belong to those you think they should.
I love that you talk about the setting being another character! Many of my favorite books have settings rich with character. Do you have a process for adding that personality to your setting, or is living in “real-life” Portland enough?
Mostly it’s from living in Portland which is why a lot of settings are around North Portland, but I also like to pepper in other areas to give a full look at the whole city. When I worked in the beer business, I sold beer all over the city for a lot of years, so I got to learn a lot about the city and its various neighborhoods. It’s fun to revisit those parts of the city in fiction.
Are there side characters that take their inspiration from people you know?
Not really, not consciously at least. Secondary characters come from a lot of different places to serve a variety of story purposes. I usually start with a basic personality type that I think would fit into the story well and serve as a good balance with Luke. If it’s a protagonist, I want a personality that’ll be different from the other protagonists and that’ll provide something unique. For antagonists, well, I just smash together traits I’m not fond of. It’s not series heavy on individual antagonists, but when one is on the page, I really enjoy disliking them.
What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?
My partner Amy played an audiobook of the first Iron Druid book during a road trip, and I was hooked. After that, I dove into her library of urban fantasy books, covering a lot of the big name UF series.
While helping her get her books ready for publishing, I’d been toying with getting back into writing fiction when I had the idea for the character Luke Irontree. Of course, I had to set it in my city. Portland doesn’t get as much love in urban fantasy since it’s not one of the brand name big cities. I thought the unique combo of the character and the city would make a good hook.
What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?
History and the modern surveillance state. How do you fold a magical world inside thousands of years of history without disrupting events or blowing up your own world? With urban fantasy, you have to slide the magical elements between the cracks so that the existence of magic feels and works within the boundaries of real events.
The modern surveillance state is the other big challenge for urban fantasy. A lot of the genre is hidden world meaning the average citizen doesn’t know the magical world exists. How do you have werewolves running around with a sword wielding vampire slayer and not have it picked up on video cameras?
It becomes ever more difficult in Luke’s world because there aren’t magic practitioners to interfere with such devices. I’ve had to come up with a lot of creative solutions that seem realistic, so I don’t break the reader immersion.
What are some strengths to this subgenre?
One of the best strengths of urban fantasy is the blending of the familiar with the fantastical. People know cities and have probably visited some of the more famous cities used in the genre. It’s a way of adding a little bit of magic to ordinary lives.
The other fun aspect is authors have a whole world of mythologies to draw on for inspiration. For Luke’s world, I’ve blended aspects of Zoroastrianism and the Roman cult of Mithras with elements of Ancient Greek, Ossetian, Armenian, Sarmatian, and other ancient mythologies to create the world’s magical underpinnings.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Mikhail Bulgokov. The Master & Margarita has become a big influence on my aesthetic. Kevin Hearne is probably my favorite urban fantasy writer. I really dig his Iron Druid and Ink & Sigil series. Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels is another fantastic series I really enjoy. Outside of urban fantasy, I really like Kristen Britain and her Green Rider series.
About the author:
C. Thomas Lafollette was born in Wyoming and moved to Oregon when he was ten. He attended Albertson College of Idaho and received degrees in Economics and Ancient History with specializations in Classics and Religion. After college, he moved to Portland, Oregon where we he worked in the beer and wine industry for nineteen years. Currently, he is a fulltime freelance editor and writer. He lives in Portland with his wife, fellow author Amy Cissell, his step-daughter, and their three cats.
Dark Fangs Rising, C. Thomas Lafollette’s first novel, was started in 2017 and is the first book in the new urban fantasy series Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War. It will be released in March of 2022 followed by the rest of the nine novel series throughout 2022.
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- Newsletter: Dispatches from C. Thomas Lafollette
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