Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Bjørn Larssen 

This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, I’m focusing on comedic fantasy! There is such a broad range, and the creativity of comedic authors is boundless. Bjørn Larssen, author of Why Odin Drinks, has kindly shared his time and expertise on comedy, Norse mythology, and feather dusters.
I would also like to thank Sue Bavey for her suggestions and help with this interview.

Thank you so much for chatting about comedic fantasy with me! Would you introduce yourself to the readers?

I’m the sort of person who immediately blanks when asked to say something about himself. (My grandma used to ask me to say “something” in Dutch and I would immediately forget the entire language. Including the word for “something.”) I’m an ex-mathematician (that’s stretching the truth, I have a degree, though); ex-graphic designer; ex-blacksmith; currently a recovering perfectionist, a Norse heathen, and a writer.

Can you talk a little bit about ‘Why Odin Drinks’? 

In the beginning there was confusion… in the shape(s) of Gods who have been tasked with everything, but received no instruction manuals. They don’t know what they can do until it’s done, and only one of them is vaguely aware of the idea of “consequences.” With great power comes great responsibility, but that’s a way too long word to think of when this floozie Freya wears a miniskirt and you don’t even have sweatpants.

The idea actually came from my dark fantasy book, Children – which is also funny, although the dark and the light are balanced differently. Gods having to figure out their powers by trial and error. That would explain a lot about the world, like for instance why celery exists.

To say that you are knowledgeable about Norse mythology would be an enormous understatement. What made you decide to bring the comedic element into ‘Why Odin Drinks’?

The Northmen never had a Holy Book – they had drunken bards. The Norse Gods made mistakes, cheated, lied, stole, or worse – lost… and those who listened to those stories gasped, cried, slammed their fists on the tables, and laughed their bellies off. Those are not “do this or else” stories – they’re “they did this and you won’t believe what happened next” ones. So I didn’t bring the comedic element into it, I just emphasised it.

(Thor would like everyone to know that he has never agreed to wear a dressing gown to recover his hammer by marrying a jötunn king. He is the most hurt by the suggestion that when the king looked under the veil Thor’s rage-filled eyes scared him, though. Thor’s beautiful eyes were in fact full of peace and compassion for the soon-to-be-massacred court of the king. Or rather would be, had this not been a filthy lie, probably made up by his Twitter haters.)

Is it difficult to write characters that are already established in a way that fleshes them out differently and shows a new aspect that does not already exist?

Yes. Certain aspects are locked in place. For instance, Týr has his hand bitten off by Fenrir wolf and I can’t really make that funny. I can make the act Týr’s idea and give him agency, nevertheless it must happen. I call this a pinch. I’ve read other authors’ books that are spun around retellings of myths and often the myths themselves are the weakest parts. It’s difficult when you have an act that must happen or a characteristic that must be there – in the middle of the very different story you’re actually trying to tell.

I try to go around as many of those as I can, and I make smaller, less consequential changes to the Norse lore. For instance, in Why Odin Drinks Frigg, Odin’s wife and Goddess who can foretell the future, finds out that she is going to remain childless. She is the Norse mother figure, though, and according to the Eddas Frigg and Odin did have children together. So now I lock things in place. I have an explanation why the Northmen called Frigg “mother” – that’s what the story is about. I pinched myself now, though. If any of Frigg’s and Odin’s children must appear in a book ten years from now, I better have a very good origin story for them.

I am not incredibly well-versed in Norse mythology, but I do know that certain comic book characters share the names of well-known Norse characters, but they don’t share much else. Do you think the current pop-culture expectations for those characters and mythologies make it more difficult to write about them? 

This is a very good way of phrasing it – they “share the names” indeed. MarvelTM introduced the idea of Father, Son, and the Naughty Ghost, where Odin basically delegates tasks and Loki is a bit of the Fallen Angel But Cute. What they did was an unconscious (apparently) attempt to translate a polytheist faith for people used to monotheism, and it worked too well. The real Thor is not Goody-Two-Shoes-With-Great-Pecs, Odin is not God Almighty, and Loki is not Handsome Devil. So I have to remember I am dealing with those expectations and do it without “…and now we interrupt for this scholarly explanation…”

The humour itself is difficult, because it evolves. Most retellings, such as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, are limited to the myths that are easiest to adapt to modern sensitivities (and therefore best known). I wrote about The Lay of Harbard for Norsevember and I was surprised at how, frankly, rape-y some of it is. “I made them all submit to my will,” Harbard (Odin) says, “I could have used your help, Thor, you could have helped me hold that gorgeous girl down.” “I would have helped you,” Thor answers, “if I had been there.” This was probably amusing in the 9th century, but there is no way to twist it so that it’s funny in the 2020s. I’m not surprised most writers, including myself, stay away from it. Can’t imagine MarvelTM touching it with a long pole, either.

You introduce the idea of bigotry among the humans, with some thinking they are better than others. Do you think it is important to have a message in your writing, even in comedy?

My biggest inspiration is Calvin & Hobbes, where the characters’ personalities are informed by the works of the theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Those strips often work on multiple levels. They’re funny because Calvin is wearing rocket underpants and simultaneously argues with Hobbes about what constitutes happiness or what man does to nature – in one panel with two sentences on it. They shape the reader’s subconsciousness without slamming them on the head with The Message.

I have my agenda and I have my politics, and there are things I want to talk about, but I also know that people don’t like being yelled at or be told they’re dumb and need to “educate themselves.” Humour is a very powerful weapon. There are jokes in Why Odin Drinks that are just silly and nothing more, and then there are others that smuggle my thoughts about, well, bigotry or sexism or tribalism or basic human traits. It’s funny because it’s true.

In one of the stories in ‘Why Odin Drinks’, I believe one of the characters is portrayed as a dominatrix. How sexual is the humor in that book?

It’s much worse than that! First we meet the dominatrix, Madame A, then the Wise Dom from the cover, Sir Daddy Mímir. Madame A’s favourite, ah… tools, or perhaps her clients’, are an egg whisker and a feather duster. I stole those, I mean – found inspiration in the old TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo. There’s nothing you can call explicit, yet I try to examine why people engage in BDSM without using either the acronym or explaining what it means.

Odin’s visit to Sir Daddy Mímir is my look at dom/sub relationships. The All-Father has to find something special to offer Sir Daddy (and he has to squeeze the word “Sir” out in the first place) to get what he wants. At the same time, Mímir is genuinely concerned about Odin. Odin will lose an eye (that’s another pinch) but that doesn’t mean Mímir actually wants it to happen, and he is more shocked than Odin himself when it does. I can’t remember whether there is anything actually sexual in the story. The word “seductively” appears, though.

I apply the Shrek rules here. A 13-year-old reading Why Odin Drinks will understand something very different from a 30-year-old, and it’s the latter who might be shocked by my audacity. (Although now that Internet exists, I am probably very naive about 13-year-olds.) I’m actually a prude. I feel very uncomfortable writing about sex, so I write around it, sort of.

What would you say are some of the obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

It’s actually really hard to be funny without overdoing it, or making it too on-the-nose, even though the latter is something satire is supposed to do. Some people will laugh at “peeing dispensers” in Creation, the first story in Why Odin Drinks – some will be disgusted. The former might not appreciate the Douglas Adams inspirations, though, while the latter will sigh in relief. My sense of humour is also seriously weird. My editor sometimes marks something that I think is hilarious and comments simply “?”

I have once watched a Joan Rivers documentary showing her enormous collection of index cards with one-off jokes she came up with. I also write those things down. I use memes and build around them, but the story still needs to be funny for people who don’t even know what a meme is.

There is this episode of Monty Python where the British come up with a joke so funny it makes the German soldiers die from laughing so hard. The joke finally makes its way to one of the highest rank officers, whose face goes puce as he snarls “das is nicht funny!” I have to remember that when someone scoffs at how super nicht funny my writing is.

What is the best thing about writing comedic fantasy?

Laughing at things that are not supposed to be laughed at. 

I have lived through the final years of communism in Poland. No matter what the church-pleasing politicians would want you to believe, communism has fallen because there was no food. You can live without freedom, you can’t live without food. There was a movie director, Stanisław Bareja, who managed to make that funny. His humour was so subtle that it got past the censors, because they knew he was doing something they should demand he changes, but they couldn’t figure out what. It was the humour that carried the people though those years.

2020/2021 have been… not hilarious. I can either sit here and cry my eyes out (I do sometimes) or laugh. It’s not going to change a thing, but I will feel better. When in October 2020 I published Children, which is dark, psychological fantasy, I peppered it with humour that some found inappropriate – most readers thanked me for it, though. It gave them that breath of fresh air. Why Odin Drinks is the opposite, all of the inappropriate humour with serious undertone you can choose to miss.

In a way writing comedic fantasy is my refusal to let the *gestures at everything* get to me.  I’m going to create my world, my hapless Gods, then laugh at all that even though *gestures at everything* is literally trying to kill me. My naked emperor will uncontrollably salivate at the words “feather duster” and “egg whisker.”

How would you say you “get in the zone” regarding your creative process, and comedic writing in particular? 

Randomly. I try to have a routine, sit in my little indoors cabin (longer story) and get In The Zone. There are times, though, when I’m just too tired or depressed to be creative at all, much less funny. This is why I reject the “write every day” advice – if I tried to force it, 1) I would just feel even worse about myself, and 2) you’d notice. Sometimes, though – this mostly happens either at 2am or in the shower, which is why I have a waterproof phone – I’ll have the electric jolt of an idea. (This is dangerous when you’re in the shower.) The zone pulls me in.

Do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?

The follow-up, What Odin Drinks, will explain the origin of wine – and how Thor ended up with both a wife and a lover, neither of whom is too chuffed about the other’s existence. Unfortunately, I also came up with a new oooh, shiny. Typo! A new project. Some people know that I’ve actually always wanted to write rom-coms and always failed. Romance is a very difficult genre to write. I got much better at writing, though (I think) so I’m trying again and it looks promising. Being me, I’m tackling difficult themes again, but being me, I’ll also find a way to make it funny. There will be Iceland, there might be a fantasy element here or there, and someone will be hapless enough to search for a waterfall and find an admittedly impressive puddle. Which might or might not be based on personal experience.

Thank you so much for having me!

About the author:

Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.

Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.

Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner (‘Storytellers’)

2020 Stabby Award Nominee (‘Children’)

Find out more about Bjørn at http://www.bjornlarssen.com

Social media

www.twitter.com/bjornlarssen
www.instagram.com/bjorn_larssen
www.facebook.com/bjornlarssenwriter

To Purchase:

Separate books:
https://books2read.com/storytellers
https://books2read.com/larssen-children
https://books2read.com/whyodindrinks

Collected:
https://bjornlarssen.com/author

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Kyle Lockhaven

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy. Today, I’m privileged to be able to feature Kyle Lockhaven, author of The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse.

Comedic fantasy is kind of niche, and we kind of like it that way. Of course we comedic fantasy authors wouldn’t exactly scoff at the idea of writing best-sellers or buying luxurious beach houses with the money from our book sales, but I think most of us are resigned to the idea that such things are not to be seen in the crystal balls of this world. And now I’ve invoked the idea of the world having balls, and it’s only the first paragraph. Oops.

My path to writing humorous fantasy is a strange one. Not many people know this, but I started out my writing “career” many years ago. My first book was a serious story that fell somewhere in between Middle Grade and Young Adult. My second was an historical fiction, and my third was a crime drama type thing. I kept trying to find “my thing,” and although I loved each of my books, they all lacked…something.

My editor, and the few beta readers I had (my mom, brother, and one friend) all told me the same things. The best parts of my books were the moments of levity and humor. Also, I wrote a fantasy element into the crime story, and they said that part was really good. I had loved fantasy growing up, but, for some stupid reason, I was reluctant to write in the genre.

When not writing, I work as a firefighter at a nuclear site, and I always wanted to satirize the ridiculous governmental bureaucracy there, but I could never find the right angle. Then one day, I thought, “What if this site was here to conjure a dragon from another world?” The silliness of it really took me, and the ideas began to flow. I dropped the idiotic pretense and embraced the silliness of it all, and all of the fun fantasy elements, too.

I had been trying way too hard to be cool, when the best thing I could do was to just be the goofball that I was.

The thing is, I always loved comedic fantasy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was and is the funniest thing ever, in my opinion. I love the silly social commentary, as well as the complete nonsense. And when I discovered Terry Pratchett, I realized that sort of thing could be consumed in book form, too. But the Discworld books were imbued with deeper meaning, and even more biting social commentary.

All (or at least the vast majority) of us comedic fantasy authors look up to Sir Terry Pratchett, the godfather of the genre. But we have branched off from him in so many different ways. I was heavily inspired by The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which manifested its humor through the snark of the titular (huh, huh) character. Most of the humor in my books comes from the interaction between characters who are being a bit snarky to each other. Other authors, like Sean Gibson, are kings of puns and clever wordplay, while others, like Bjørn Larssen, are able to somehow bind deep, philosophical topics together with the silliness, and others, like Quenby Olson, use subtle snark, societal observations, and fourth wall breaking to hilarious effect.

I am in the middle of posting a series of interviews about humor in books on my little blog. One of the questions I have asked everyone is, “On a scale from 1 to 10, what level of humor do you usually like to read?” The answers have varied, but I would say the average is right around a 4. That has made me wonder, what level does a book have to be at to be considered Comedic Fantasy?

Many people site Joe Abercrombie when talking about humor in fantasy. His books are the definition of Grimdark, but they’re infused with a lot of humor. I’ve heard people say the humor level is a 3 or 4.

If I had to be honest, I would rank my last book (The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex) at a 7 or 8. And I fully realize that it is WAY too much for a lot of people. That’s one thing I’ve come to learn about writing humorous fantasy; it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay, because it makes me feel a strong bond with the readers who do like my humor.

It’s tough to “break out” as an author of comedic fantasy. One of the biggest success stories was Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, which won SPFBO in 2018. Another was Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames, which currently has 3,697 reviews on Amazon. But those kinds of books are few and far between.

Personally, I’m happy to have any kind of following, and I hope to thoroughly entertain the readers I have found and have yet to find. I want to make them laugh, and think, and even feel while turning the pages of my books. I might not ever grab the world by the crystal balls, but I’ll have a lot of fun reaching for them. Er, let me try that again. I may never reach Mr. Eames’ level of success, but I will have a lot of fun reaching for it!

About the author:

KRR (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven writes fun, humorous fantasy with ever-increasing infusions of heart. His first book, The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse, can be found here https://www.amazon.com/Conjuring-Zoth-Avarex-Self-Proclaimed-Greatest-Multiverse/dp/1098351509/  He recently signed a three-book deal with Shadow Spark Publishing, and his page can be found here: https://shadowsparkpub.com/krr-lockhaven

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

This week my blog is focusing on comedic fantasy, that fantasy subgenre that is responsible for many cups of snorted coffee. I am privileged to have coerced Sean Gibson, author of several novels, including The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True, into joining me to talk about comedy, bard-offs, and porkchops.

Hi, Sean! Thank you for being willing to talk about comedic fantasy.

Thanks for having me, Jodie! Well, metaphorically speaking. Literally speaking, I would make a terrible supper, though I wouldn’t be half bad if consumed for elevensies. It’s the armpit of meals.

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I am the byproduct of two drunk orcs making the beast with three backs following an epic rock concert. I should note that one of the orcs had two backs—despite their impulsive carnality, they were most definitely not orgy people. They later abandoned me on the doorstep of a dance studio, where I subsequently learned to shimmy for my bread on suburban street corners. I do not earn a lot of bread, for which I blame my hard-working but unimpressively concave chest.

Like David Spade, my writing attempts to be funny yet isn’t even a little funny, but it gets really annoyed and defensively sarcastic when you don’t find it funny. That said, I write both comic fantasy (mostly stories featuring Heloise the Bard) and Victorian fantasy. My most recent book starring Heloise, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, inexplicably garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which summarized the book thusly: “Evoking the dry humor of Terry Pratchett and absurdist trope subversions of Monty Python…Gibson’s story is clever, twisty, and bursting with sidesplittingly funny one-liners. Fantasy fans are guaranteed a laugh.


Your books show a lighthearted ribbing of fantasy, and it’s very obvious that you have read (and hopefully enjoyed) a lot of fantasy yourself. What made you decide to take a comedic route in your fantasy?

Well, the dramatic stuff is really hard to write. Puns only require about 17% as much effort. Work smart, not hard, Jodie.

Really, it’s just such a fun playground to run around in. I absolutely love fantasy. It’s played a considerable role in shaping who I am as a human being, as weird as that may sound. But, it can also be utterly absurd—to quote Monty Python, “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government,” right?

And let’s face it: there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes conceived, developed and propagated by a porkchop of straight white guys that are in dire need of being rethought for the audience that’s reading fantasy, especially epic fantasy, today. There’s a lot to play with there, and a lot of opportunities to pay homage while lovingly tweaking and toppling conventions to try to shape something new. (A “porkchop,” incidentally, is the scientific term for a group of white men.)

You know, I do think I’ve seen “porkchop” defined that way in the dictionary. How do you manage to be funny on command? (I’m rarely funny, and never on purpose.)

I’m actually a ventriloquist’s dummy, so all credit goes to the puppeteer with her hand up my ass. It’s murder on the prostate, though.

Come on, now—you are often funny. And I know that at least some of those times are on purpose! You’re also exceedingly cool, as evidenced by the virtual company you keep.

I love that Heloise is a bard! I’m still hoping for a bard-off between her and Kvothe, but in the meantime: what made you decide to choose a bard as an integral part of The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True?

You’re a D&D aficionado like I am, so you know how fun bards are. A bard’s superpower is to make even the most mundane encounter something truly epic. I love the idea that anything can be a story with the right perspective, or at least a little creative license. Have you ever played a bard? If so, you need to share some stories!

My husband is currently playing a bard to my paladin (which I keep unintentionally playing as a rogue) and he somehow managed to convince my character to climb onto a door, which was then pushed into a swampy, noxious lake…which also happened to be the home of an incredibly cranky dragon. I kept wanting to quote the door scene in the movie Titanic. I suspect his bard is already composing songs to immortalize my character’s memory posthumously.

As for that coward Kvothe…he doesn’t have the stones. Heloise would bamboozle him faster than you can say “Skendrickian mungerswallows.” He has thus far refused to take the bait when I’ve challenged him on Twitter, though it’s possible they don’t have Twitter in Temerant, or maybe the Waystone Inn has a bad wifi connection. 

So, let’s raise the stakes: Heloise (and I) hereby officially challenge Kvothe (and Patrick Rothfuss) to a Bard-Off. Each of us has to write an epic poem in our respective bard’s inimitable style (1,000 words or less). We’ll ask the reading public to vote for which one they like best.

I’ll put up $1,000. If Kvothe’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to Worldbuilders or a charity of Mr. Rothfuss’s choice. If Heloise’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to the Cancer Research Institute. Everyone wins! Well, except for everyone who has to read Heloise’s poem.

I’m completely and totally serious, by the way, though I suspect Mr. Rothfuss is a bit too busy to take up this absurd gauntlet. Still, I think everyone needs to go forth and spread word of this challenge far and wide. Let’s make it happen.

Yes! This needs to be settled once and for all, and in this wager, everyone wins.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Comedy is so subjective, right? I mean, “A skeleton walks into a bar and orders a beer and a mop” is objectively hilarious. But, beyond that, when you start trying to be funny in a genre context while still hoping to appeal to a wide audience, it gets tricky. Unless you’re, say, William Goldman and you can call upon the awesome powers of Andre the Giant to drop mad rhymes, it’s really, really hard.

For example, there’s a scene in THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON where the characters encounter a terrible stench and they all try to describe what it smells like, with each description getting grosser and more ridiculous. And that’s the whole point of the bit—how much grosser and weirder can each description get? It’s like a bunch of comedians doing improv trying to one-up each other, and it just keeps going until they all reach an unspoken agreement that no one can top the last one-liner. And then they move onto the next thing.

I love that kind of comedy, and I love it when it comes in rapid, non-stop waves. But, that is most definitely not everyone’s jam, and a lot of people are going to find it annoying and sophomoric at best.

So, you have to make peace with the fact that what you’re writing is really only going to land with a small subset of fantasy fans—in my case, those would be the ones who share my love of wordplay, dad jokes, scatological humor, and beating a terrible joke to death and then reanimating so you can beat it some more. 

Which, of course, is like three people, one of whom happens to be you, thankfully.

What are some triumphs?

I considered it a huge win when a reviewer wrote about THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, “I do not feel there was anything redeeming about this book. I can usually appreciate a good story even when poorly written but this isn’t a good story either.” (Yes, that’s an actual review.) The people have spoken—this is clearly Pulitzer Prize-caliber material.

That highwater mark notwithstanding, getting the pre-pub starred review from Publishers Weekly was huge (and hugely unexpected), as it opened some doors for the book that even a rock giant probably wouldn’t have been able to bash its way through. One of those doors was a BookBub feature in December 2021, which somehow led to the book climbing bestseller charts on multiple platforms, including hitting #1 not just for humorous fantasy on Amazon, but #1 for general humor as well. I’m sure that somewhere, P.G. Wodehouse is rolling in his grave and incredibly grateful he’s not alive to see how egregiously we’ve debased the word “humor.” We even managed to get up to #3 on the overall SFF chart. 

No one writes for chart rankings, but you do write to connect with an audience, and those things have helped people discover the book, and some of those folks have really enjoyed it. I know it’s not everyone’s jam, but I’m so incredibly grateful for those who have taken the time to read it and share a kind word or two about it. That’s really the absolute pinnacle for a writer—or for me, anyway: having someone devote a few hours of their time to hanging out in a world I created and feeling like it was time well spent.

Congratulations on such huge milestones! Of course, now I’m wondering what P.G. Wodehouse’s reaction to your book would be (I kind of think he’d like it). Do you have go-to authors when you need a book that makes you chuckle?

I don’t think writers get funnier than P.G. Wodehouse. There is no better literary cure for the blues. His writing is profound comic gold, even when I have no idea what Bertie Wooster is saying. 

That’s not to say he’s my only go-to for laughs, however—David Sedaris, Terry Pratchett, Tina Fey, Douglas Adams…even Charles Dickens…all can provide a much needed pick-me-up.

And, of course, Bill Watterson and Calvin & Hobbes never fail to make me laugh and think at the same time.

Will you talk a little bit about the recently released Dragons of a Different Tail? (I’m dying to read it.)

No.

I’m totally kidding! Fooled you though, didn’t I? 

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

DRAGONS OF A DIFFERENT TAIL is a delightful collection of 17 different dragon-focused stories that break, twist, and defy the conventions of western fantasy. I was really struggling to get any writing done during the pandemic. I used to write during my commute, but with working from home and juggling kiddos doing school from home for a year, that time disappeared and I got completely out of rhythm. I needed something to get me back in the groove, and right around the time I was really stressing about it, the publisher of THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, Shayne Leighton, just happened to recommend me to a lovely guy named Marx Pyle, who was working on putting together this anthology. 

I loved what Marx had in mind and pitched him a couple of ideas, one of which he liked. That gave me exactly the finite, bite-sized writing focal point that I needed to get writing again. The result was a short story called “Chasing the Dragon,” which is a Victorian-set, Holmesian-flavored story about a pair of detectives investigating a string of deaths at an opium den and finding out that “chasing the dragon” is a far more literal expression than they imagined. 

The stories in the collection are wildly imaginative and come from a great group of writers. I highly encourage you, and everyone else, to check it out! https://books2read.com/dragonstail

I am so incredibly grateful that you invited me to do this, Jodie! You make the reading community a better place with your kindness, creativity, enthusiasm, and, yes, YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR! Thank you for being such an awesome human being!

About the Author:

Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.

Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly), the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.




Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that will leave you in stitches (or leave you bursting stitches- maybe don’t read comedic fantasy right after a surgery). I’m grateful to be chatting with Andi Ewington, coauthor of Campaigns and Companions.

Hi, Andi! Thank you for stopping by to chat about comedic fantasy! 

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I’m Andi Ewington, a writer (of sorts) based in Surrey. I’m probably better known for writing graphic novels having worked on comics such as Forty-Five45, Freeway Fighter, Just Cause 3, Dark Souls 2, Vikings, Sunflower and S6X. But recently, I’ve moved away from the panel-by-panel medium to release Campaigns & Companions, which is a step towards traditional book publishing.

In Campaigns and Companions, you show a love of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as an uncanny understanding of how pets of all sorts act). What was the genesis of Campaigns and Companions?

It sprang from a funny meme of a cat playing Dungeons & Dragons I happened across while doomscrolling through Twitter. It immediately had me roaring with laughter and ignited my imagination; I decided to switch my Twitter focus away from complaints about the daily grind of commuting and embrace pets in funny roleplaying game scenarios to the full. After that, I curated a colossal thread that went viral and quickly realised this could make a really fun book. I brought Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi to the project, and we all pitched it to Rebellion Publishing (who gave it the thumbs up).

What was your process in bringing that humor to life?

For me, it’s looking at the stereotypical traits that pets have and trying to put a roleplaying twist on it. For example, dogs LOVE chasing after balls—so what would be the equivalent ‘ball’ in a fantasy world? My brain usually settles on a suitably humorous answer—like a fireball. Now, we have a highly amusing scenario of a dog chasing after a fireball. From that idea, I create dialogue to fit the scene and complete the joke. It then goes to Calum, who illustrates a beautiful image that captures it all to perfection.

Do you have any pets?

Growing up, I always had cats and dogs, but it has never quite been the right time with my own family. My wife is a childminder, so it’s pretty tough to have anything with babies and toddlers running around the house too. She’s looking to change career in 2022, so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get our first dog to join our family—I know the kids are desperate for one!

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Remembering that humour is subjective, and what I find funny won’t always be funny to other people—accepting that is okay. I tend to focus on the idea and stay true to it. The other thing is knowing when to give up on a joke—sometimes you have an image or gif that just doesn’t spark anything; if that happens, I stop and give up trying to make something humorous out of it. I like my jokes to be explosive and immediate—if I’m not feeling it, I usually cut it.

What are some triumphs?

Having Campaigns & Companions published is a huge triumph, especially when someone takes the time to get in touch. Hearing how the jokes made them laugh is a superb feeling that’s hard to beat. Receiving pictures of the book with a cherished pet is fantastic and something that never grows old. Seeing the reviews and the book’s popularity also gives me a real buzz. Beyond this, I think seeing a posted tweet suddenly go further than my intended audience is a huge win!

How do you get into the ‘zone’, so to speak?

I will paraphrase Bruce Banner here and say—that’s my secret, Jodie… I’m always in the zone. In all seriousness, my brain is wired to constantly search for the funny in everything (just ask my long-suffering family). Honestly, I find it really hard to switch off (which comes with its own problems, especially at funerals).

I’ve had the privilege of reading some of your next project, which is both clever and hilarious. Will you talk about it a little bit?

Sure! My next project is called ‘The Hero Interviews’, a full-on 160,000-word novel that follows the adventures of Elburn Barr, a Loremaster who is trying to find out what it’s like to be a ‘hero’ (and his missing ‘heroic’ brother at the same time). Elburn is travelling the realm, interviewing a smorgasbord of characters from fireball-loving Wizards who accidentally incinerated the rest of their adventuring party to stoic Paladins who are desperate to unleash a flurry of swearwords. I like to think of it as the Dungeons & Dragons world that has gone through a high spin cycle before being let loose. There’s almost limitless potential for fun where the rules are ripped up and merged with contemporary situations to create something that should be familiar to everyone.

Thank you so much, Andi!

Andi has graciously allowed me to share the first interview from ‘The Hero Interviews’ below. It had me rolling on the floor. Enjoy!

Interview 1:

Dorn (Human Barbarian)

Whisper the word ‘Barbarian’, and I’d wager your imagination would instantly picture a rage-filled, muscle-bound warrior clad only in a fur loincloth fuelled by a love of spleen removal whilst drinking the nearest tavern dry. You can imagine my disappointment as I sit opposite a muscle-shy, pasty-looking individual; ‘Dorn’ is the latest ‘hero’ to step out of the Heroes Guild, a polite man who seems eager to make a name for himself within the adventuring sphere. We’ve agreed to meet at Dorn’s local tavern, the Spit & Spear, a favourite watering hole of heroes, situated in the lively city of Tronte, a settlement plagued by wannabe-adventurers hoping to be spotted by one of the Heroes Guild’s numerous ‘Scouts’.

The Spit & Spear is mercifully quiet, although I suspect the evening is still too young to attract the hardened drinker questing for the only elixir that matters in their life. The only other patrons of note are a nearby Dwarven Fighter working his way through a flagon-orgy, and a Paladin, who seems to be regaling the barmaid with his tales of adventure. The young lady is so enraptured by the Holy Warrior’s words she’s failed to notice both the Barbarian and I have been without a drink for some considerable time.
 

Me: “Thanks for meeting me—”

Dorn: “My pleasure, it’s not every day I get interviewed by a bona fide Loremaster—I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get accustomed to…”

Me: “Accustomed to?”

Dorn grins proudly as he turns the collar of his jerkin over; I catch sight of a flash of silver—a badge sits snugly underneath, I can just make out a sword hilt etched into the circle design neatly bisecting a large ‘H’ and ‘G’.

Dorn: “I’m now officially a hero. Finally, I can follow in the footsteps of the greats, like Arin Darkblade1 and Gilva Flamebeard2!”

Me: “Erm… I guess congratulations are in order?”


 1Renowned for being the meanest adventurer in the entire realm—and I don’t mean in the ‘never buys a round of drinks’ kind of way, although I suspect he’s never bought a round of drinks in his life either. No, Arin is an eye-patch wearing hero who has completed more quests and despatched more monsters than any adventurer in living memory.

2Gilva Flamebeard is a legendary Dwarven Cleric who has stepped back from adventuring to become a hermit. As her name suggests, she sports a fiery red beard, which, by all accounts, contrasts sharply with an unusually calm demeanour for a Dwarf. Whether her given Dwarven clan name really is Flamebeard or not has been debated and argued in every tavern at some point or another.


Dorn: “Thanks! To be honest, I’m still in shock; I have to punch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

Me: “Don’t you mean pinch?”

Dorn: “Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch3.”

Me: “Got it—”

As if to emphasise the point, the Barbarian hits himself fully in the face—he shakes his head and looks around as if he’s just woken up.

Dorn: “Nope, it’s still real!”

Me: “You okay?”

Dorn: “Nothing a drink won’t sort out—”

The Barbarian waves trying to catch the eye of the barmaid stood behind the bar—without success.

Me: “Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look how I’d imagine a Barbarian would look.”

Dorn: “Really? What were you expecting?”

Me: “Erm…”

Dorn: “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I were wearing a fur loincloth?”

My cheeks flush red in embarrassment.

Dorn: “Sorry to dispel that particular myth, but the truth is adventuring can get awfully cold. While I’m sure it has its place, a fur loincloth is impractical on so many levels4. If you want to survive on a quest, you need to be wearing layers, lots of layers—and I don’t mean armour either.”

Me: “Forgive me, I was just expected a bit more flesh on show5.”


3Not strictly true, some Rogues have been known to punch, although I’m sure they’d prefer not to let their opponent know it was incoming. While ‘some’ Barbarians have a bad reputation of unwanted pinching, usually of barmaids’ behinds.

4I guess on a frozen adventure, the loins would be nice and warm, while the rest of the Barbarian’s extremities would undoubtedly be frozen solid—still, a warm groin is something not to be sniffed at (quite literally).

5Just to be clear, and as much as this may appear to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to encourage the Barbarian into stripping for me here.


The Barbarian gives me the strangest of looks.

Dorn: “Are you okay? Fighting while wearing just a tight-fitting loincloth is… is a little bit weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “I thought that’s the whole point of being a Barbarian? Attacking your enemies half-naked while lost in a furious battle-rage6?”

Dorn: “You’ve been hanging around with the wrong type of people if you think that’s how Barbarians dress these days.”

Me: “I’m only going by the legendary warriors from days of yore.”


I point to the wall of hero paintings on the far wall, several of which are of muscle-mountains wearing only the tiniest fur loincloths.7

Dorn: “Ha! Those old Barbarians are so out of touch with the modern Barbarians of today. Nobody wears fur loincloths anymore—anyway, I prefer to leave my family jewels to the imagination, if it’s all the same to you…”

He tries to catch the barmaid’s eye but misses once again—the Barbarian thumps the table in frustration.

Dorn: “Balls!”

I feel the need to quickly change the subject away from the Barbarian’s nether regions.

Me: “Did you always want to be a Barbarian?”

The anger-prone warrior laughs at the absurdity of my question.

Dorn: “Me? No—never in my wildest dreams! I actually thought I was going to become a Wizard.”

Me: “A Wizard?

Dorn: “I know, it’s really odd—but I was convinced to switch my focus to the Barbarian class rather than follow a wizardry one. Besides, Wizards are generally frowned upon at the Heroes Guild.”


 6A rage brought on by discovering that someone had just stolen their clothes.

7At least I ‘hoped’ they were wearing loincloths. From where I was sitting it could be mistaken for loin hair.


Me: “Frowned upon—I thought the Heroes Guild would welcome Wizards with open arms8?”

Dorn: “Seems there’s a long-running rivalry between the Heroes Guild and the Wizards Guild—in truth, they hate each other, but recently they’ve begrudgingly agreed on an uneasy peace…”

Me: “How did the feud come about?”

Dorn: “I don’t think the Wizards Guild liked it when the Heroes Guild started recruiting Wizards to their cause—it resulted in the Battle of the Blind Bowman.”

Me: “I’ve never heard of this battle?”

Dorn: “That’s because it happened one fateful afternoon in the middle of a tavern—The Blind Bowman9.”

Me: “They had a battle in a tavern?”

Dorn: “I think I may have oversold the ‘battle’ part of this story—it was more of a untidy brawl with an lot of pushing and accusatory pointing.”

Me: “Who won?”

Dorn: “Nobody, when the dust settled The Blind Bowman was no more—the entire place had either been burnt down by a spell or smashed into tiny pieces by the fist. The warring guilds realised their mistake when they couldn’t order another round of drinks—and immediately held emergency talks in the ashes of the former privy. The Heroes Guild agreed they would not add any more Wizards to their numbers; in exchange, the Wizards Guild agreed to help them recruit more non-Wizard heroes to their ranks.”

Me: “So Wizards only come from the Wizards Guild?”

Dorn: “Officially—yes.”

Me: “Unofficially?”


 8As long as they had been patted down for any concealed Fireballs first.

 9Named after a legendary blind archer who could hit any Goblin with unerring accuracy, a remarkable feat rendered useless if no actual Goblins were around to shoot in the first place.

 10I bet my family’s estate it was a fireball.


Dorn: “I’ve seen a few robe-wearing, book reading types walking around the Heroes Guild—but they could be Loremasters, I suppose11.”

Me: “How does a Loremaster join the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “If you get us a couple more ales, I’ll put to good word in for you12.”

I laugh at the boldness of the Barbarian.

Me: “Fair enough—so the Heroes Guild made you a Barbarian instead? I mean no offence by this, but you don’t look the angry-warrior type. Why do you think they wanted you to become a Barbarian?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Dorn: “Isn’t it obvious?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Me: “Not really…”

Dorn: “They want me to revamp a Barbarian’s stereotypical image, usher in a new age of warriors who don’t go around smashing up taverns just because they’re a bit angry about poor bar service. They want me to be the face of tomorrow’s Barbarian—a thoughtful, calm Barbarian who has a bit of a sensitive side too.”

The Barbarian flexes an arm muscle. I can’t quite see it, but I don’t want to ruin Dorn’s moment.

Me: “Impressive!13

Dorn: “Yup, I’m the first in a new wave of approachable Barbarians; less rage—more brains.”

Me: “The thinking man’s warrior14?”

The young hero slams the table with his hand before pointing at me excitedly.


11 I seriously doubt any of my profession would be interested in joining the Heroes Guild—the closest a Loremaster usually gets to danger is drinking a hot cup of tea too quickly and burning the roof of their mouth. 

12If we could ‘actually’ get any service that is—the barmaid still hadn’t managed to drag herself away from the Paladin’s vicinity; if I were the Landlord I’d be asking some serious questions about her work ethic.

 13It always pays to tell a Barbarian what they want to hear—even if your whole being is screaming at you to do otherwise.

14Although I suspect Paladins will feel as if they have something to say about this.


Dorn: “The Barbarian with a heart of gold!”

Me: “Catchy. So, have you been on any adventures yet?”

Dorn: “Only the training dungeons. They’re pretty tough and can hurt if you’re not careful—I mean, really hurt. I passed with flying colours, of course. Even resisted sitting on that bloody trapped throne too, unlike the Ranger I was with.”

Me: “What happened to the Ranger?”

Dorn: “He insisted on sitting down and got his backside frozen to it as a consequence.”

Me: “That’s terrible.”

Dorn: “I know, took me ages to pull him free from it—when I finally did he had a huge hole ripped in his breeches.”

Me: “That must have been a bit awkward—?”

Dorn: “Yeah, I had to keep him behind me for the remainder of the adventure—there are some things not even a Barbarian should have to bare witness to.15

The Barbarian looks again for the barmaid, but she’s too still busy, lost in her Paladin-filled daze to notice him—I sense Dorn clenching and unclenching his fists as he slowly boils with anger.

Me: “How did you first get involved with the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “I was spotted.”

Me: “Spotted?”

Dorn: “Yes, you know, seen—in this place actually, which is ironic if you think about it.”

Me: “Why’s that?”

The Barbarian grinds his teeth and throws imaginary daggers in the Paladin’s direction.

Dorn: “Because I can’t seem to be seen right now, can I?! SERVICE!!


15Bare indeed!


The Barbarian shouts at the top of his voice, but he is still ignored by the barmaid currently draped over the Holy Warrior.

Me: “Who spotted you?”

Dorn: “A representative of the Heroes Guild—a Scout.”

Me: “Where were you sat?“

I look around the bar try to picture an excitable and nervous Dorn standing around waiting to be spotted by the Heroes Guild Scout.

Dorn: “Here!”

Me: “Here?”

I point to the table we’re currently sat at.

Dorn: “Well, not here exactly, more like over there.”

The Barbarian motions to a table next to us, occupied by a Dwarven Fighter polishing off his tenth flagon of ale—judging by the nine empty flagons sat in front of him17.

I find myself staring at the inebriated Dwarf as he spills more beer on the table than into his mouth.

Dorn: “That’s not the Scout, just in case you were wondering.”

I nod and turn my attention back to the Barbarian.

Me: “How did you find out about this place?”

Dorn: “I heard about the Spit & Spear from a friend. He told me the Heroes Guild Scouts frequented it—and if I wanted to be spotted, I could do a lot worse than hang around the tavern.”

Me: “What happens if you’re lucky enough to be spotted?”

Dorn: “If a Scout thinks you have potential to join the Heroes Guild, they employ a test—”

Me: “Test? What sort of test? Written18?”


16To be fair the Paladin seems to be happily encouraging this.

17I have no idea how this Dwarf has managed to get served not once, but ten times—it is a miraculous feat that should be compared to dragon slaying with only one arm…

18Which would be an overly cruel thing to do to a would-be Barbarian.


Dorn: “No—practical. Sometimes it’s a stolen purse, other times it’s a spontaneous bar-fight—whatever it is, it is always designed to test a specific attribute.”

Me: “What attribute did they test of yours?”

Dorn: “Why, my strength, of course19. Anyway, it so happened that I had struck up a conversation with the very Scout who had taken a keen interest in me.”

Me: “What are the odds? So, what did you two talk about?”
Dorn: “Oh, this and that—he seemed especially interested in my family’s estate on the far side of the Evergreen Forest. That seemed to give him confidence I had the right stuff to join the Guild. He even said he saw in me the potential to be one of the realm’s greatest heroes!”

Me: “What did you say to that?”

Dorn: “It was Bardic music to my ears20—everything I wanted was being promised to me. But at the same time, I had to make an impromptu call to the privy, so I excused myself for a moment to tend to my pressing need. When I returned, I found this brute of a Half-Orc sat at my table, drinking my ale!”

Me: “Who was he? What did you do?”

Dorn: “A stranger, it seemed, who wanted a free drink. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to mention this, but—”

Me: “Go on…”

Dorn: “I barely hit him. I guess I didn’t realise I possessed such strength!”

Me: “You hit him?”
Dorn: “I knocked him straight out of my seat and across the tavern—which immediately started a mass brawl with some Gnomes21 sat at the table in the corner. Once I had dealt with the Gnomes, the impressed Scout clapped me on the back and signed me up, there and then!”

Me: “And that’s when you became a Barbarian?”


19Of course…

20This depends greatly on the Bard doing the ‘singing’ in the first place, of course.

21As much as this sounds unimpressive, fighting something that stands at waist height is fraught with danger for any tall combatants.


Dorn: “He said I was a natural—that I had untapped raw power in my fists!”

Me: “—And you believed him?”

Dorn: “Why wouldn’t I? I had just seen what I could do with my own eyes! But I still held a strong desire to be a Wizard…”

Me: “I guess he explained the problem with being a Wizard?”

Dorn: “Indeed he did—we had a good chat about it, and I agreed to give up my dream of wielding magic in favour of wielding an oversized axe22. Anyway, Barbarians have better perks in the long run. Sure, there’s a clause in the contract, but the Scout said that it was just a standard—”

Me: “Wait a moment—a clause? What clause?

Dorn: “He promised me it was all just legal mumbo-jumbo—the Scout called it a ‘Death in Service’ clause. If you want to join the Heroes Guild, you have to sign the clause—no exceptions.”

Me: “What does the clause do?”

Dorn: “For me? —Nothing… but for the Heroes Guild—they end up owning my family’s estate in the event of my death.”

Me: “That sounds a tad unfair.”

Dorn: “Apparently, it’s standard stuff that every hero signs—it won’t ever happen, not to me. The Scout explained that there’s a sizeable risk in retrieving a hero’s fallen body from a failed quest, not to mention all the funeral arrangements and lost equipment, some of which are magical and very expensive—the Death in Service clause covers for all damage or any loss to property. It’s pretty thoughtful, if you think about it.”

Me: “I see—what else did the Scout say?”

Dorn: “He said he had never seen such a natural athlete—the complete hero he called me! Said he wanted to send me on a category five23 adventure after I had completed all my training dungeons!”

Me: “What’s a category five adventure?”


 22The weapon of choice for any self-respecting Barbarian—closely followed by a heavy fist…

23I’m not sure what this means, but the fact there are four categories before it cannot be a good thing.


Dorn: “Only a quest meant for the hardiest of adventurers—certain death assured24!”

Me: “Aren’t you worried? You might, you know—die?
Dorn: “Nah, you’re talking to the realm’s next greatest Barbarian25, I laugh in the face of death—”

Laughter breaks out from the barmaid sits in the Paladin’s lap; Dorn suddenly kicks back from the table and stands with purpose and drive.

Dorn: “Although the Guild’s next greatest Barbarian is STILL thirsty. Time I finally got that drink—wait here, I’ll be right back.”
I watch as Dorn the Barbarian storms over to the Paladin and the barmaid to make his displeasure known. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of the approaching Battle of theSpit & Spear, I decide to leave this interview post-haste26.


 24See, I was right!

25The realm’s last greatest Barbarian was Thrull the Bitter, who expired after a fight with a group of drunken Gnomes and ended up ironically bitten in the groin and bleeding to death—perhaps not quite the glorious way he had imagined moving on to the Great Beyond.

 26I did leave a polite note explaining my sudden departure, blaming it on a sudden urge to drink elsewhere—specifically, a place with good bar service and less chance of seeing spilt blood…

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald: Storytellers on Tour

Today I am privileged to join Storytellers on Tour in talking about The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald. This book is available for purchase now.

So, what is The Living Waters about?

About The Living Waters:

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

The Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.

Author Dan Fitzgerald was kind enough to share some of the inspiration behind The Living Waters.

Water photography : inspiration for The Living Waters

“Photography was my pandemic hobby, and I discovered a hidden world just a few minutes walk from my doorstep on Capitol Hill, DC. Most of the photos you see here were taken by me within one mile of my house, so within two miles of the US Capitol building. The photos have been retouched using various filters and effects on Instagram, to better capture what my eye saw, which the camera sometimes fails to show.

Swirls in muddy water

The Living Waters features two painted faced nobles being led on a trip down a muddy river called the Agra. Mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, which sparks their guide to lead them to find the source. This picture hints at the muddy mystery of the river portion of their trip. It’s actually a photo of a mudpuddle in a construction site; little bubbles kept popping up from the bottom, causing these weird little swirls in the muddy water.

Wetland flowers

This little wetland is between Congressional Cemetery and the Anacostia River, known to be one of the most polluted waterways in the country. You have to wiggle your way through some dense underbrush to find it, and depending on when you go, it can be muddy or magical. I was amazed to find these gorgeous flowers blooming there this spring! I can easily imagine this being the entrance to the mythical wetlands in the book.

Tiny bubbles

This photo was taken in almost the exact same spot as the flower photo. I looked down into the shallow, mucky water at my feet and saw all these tiny bubbles on underwater moss, and took a bunch of pictures until I came up with one that just worked. There’s a moment in the book, where one of the characters is shown the world inside her mind, and this photo really captures that feeling of hidden microcosms.

Water on lotus leaf

This is from a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in DC, an amazing collection of water lilies and lotus plants set in a dozen or so small ponds just off the Anacostia River. I loved the way the light reflected off the water in this leaf, giving such an ethereal feel. There are watery beings called sitri in The Living Waters, and this photo reminds me of them.

Rainbow water

This photo was taken in a drainage ditch leading into a mucky wetland in Fort Dupont Park, a few miles from my house. The clay in the soil adds a nice orangey color to the photographs, and I used some enhancers to capture the color of leaves and sky reflected in the water to give a kind of rainbow effect. I love finding beauty in these little out of the way places. The ethereal wonder of this photograph captures the essence of the book for me.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to show some photographs and talk about them! I hope they bring a few readers some joy.”

You can find reviews, guest posts, and more for The Living Waters at Storytellers on Tour.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.  


Website: https://www.danfitzwrites.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/ 

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

I’m so excited to be able to talk about D&D with author Rob Edwards today! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book, The Ascension Machine?

It’s a science fiction superhero novel, in which a young grifter impersonates a guy and in the process winds up enrolled at a college for alien superheroes. Grey, as he starts calling himself, stays for the novelty, but despite himself finds friends, and a place he belongs. It’s all based on his lie, so to stay at the Justice Academy Grey has to keep lying, even to his new friends. Things escalate, the team end up fighting gangsters and aliens, and investigate strange goings on. It’s an adventure romp with a large cast of characters all dealing with the difficult adjustment of starting college… with super powers.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

In 1983 I was about 12 or 13, and I came across an advert in some comic books which I became kind of obsessed with. A party of adventurers explore a dungeon, battle a monster then encounter some green slime. I cannot tell you for why, but when the elf rogue shouts “Look out, it’s dripping!” I knew I had to play this game.

I got the “Red Box” Basic set for my next birthday, and never looked back. I’ve played or run every edition of D&D since, as well as many many other systems. 

Here’s the list of some of the games I’ve played in the order of them occurring to me: GURPS, DC Heroes, TORG, Amber Diceless, Golden Heroes, Marvel, Mutants and Masterminds, Hero, Star Wars d6, Star Wars d20, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Ghostbusters, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Spycraft, Fantasycraft, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP, Doctor Who, Song of Ice and Fire, Babylon Project, Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Arcanis, Seventh Sea, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Judge Dredd, TMNT… plus a few more for one shots that I’m probably forgetting).

Oh, my greatest Geek pride (as it says in my bio): back when Wizards of the Coast had the Star Wars license and were running the Living Force campaign for convention play, I got to write seven modules for the campaign, meaning someone somewhere at Lucasfilm (probably an intern) read something I wrote in the Star Wars universe and said “OK”. Meaning that, until Disney bought Star Wars, I was briefly, obscurely, canon. 

Anyway, this answer is far too long. Suffice to say I’m almost always the DM these days, which I love, but my rare chances to play are solid gold for me.

That sounds like my husband. He always ends up being a DM. After a less-than -successful attempt on my part several years ago ( I failed to communicate to my players exactly what kind of campaign I was trying to run, which did not go well), I’m still working up my courage to try again. I might give it another go in a decade or so. 

As DM, do you feel like your writing affects how you tell the story? Did your experience with gaming play into your writing at all?

Interesting question. Firstly, I think over time I’ve come to realise that my writing and my DMing, at least for home brew things, come from a very similar place, creatively. I’ve found the more I’m writing, the less I have in the tank for coming up with my own worlds and plotlines for games. And vice versa. As a result, since taking my writing more seriously, I’ve tended to stick to prewritten adventures. Perhaps not as engaging as creating my own world, but still a lot of fun.

I’d say my experience gaming has absolutely everything to do with my writing. I’ve always been a writer, always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember, but for the best part of four decades, I honed my skills as a storyteller on all my many players. Sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. When I started writing professionally, I had all of that foundation to build on. A sense of how much foreshadowing is too much. A sense of when the story needs a kick from an action beat. Why world building is important and how too much can be a distraction and suck the pace out of a scene. All of my instinct for that comes from my gaming. (Also reading so very very much in my youth).

That said, I have a D&D campaign world that I’ve run different groups in for…. Wow, is it twenty years now? … There’s a story to be told there, there’s a novel, possibly a trilogy in it. But actually writing the book of the campaign(s)… I’ve tried starting a few times but so far it has totally stumped me.

Wow, twenty years is a huge accomplishment! I bet the world development for that campaign is incredible. Do the characters being played change as the players do, or does each player bring a new facet to the same characters?

Most of the active world building happened for the first campaign — that was a lot — and the original sequel campaign. Those campaigns had the same players, playing different characters two decades apart in the campaign timeline. Since then, I’ve run three variations on the original campaign, always with different characters, always bringing new wrinkles to the way the world works. New characters bring new focus, it’s interesting to see NPCs (non-player characters) who were hugely significant in the original run fading into the background or  taking very different actions and suffering very different fates in later playthroughs. By the same token, NPCs who barely got a name in the original version get the spotlight in later runs.

The most recent version of the campaign fell apart at about the time the pandemic hit. I’ve since decided it’s time to retire that campaign world and start something fresh. Though in this campaign, I’m trying to be a little more improvisational about it all, because I don’t want it to suck the energy out of my writing.

If anyone is super interested, you can get a hint of what some of the setting was like in my short story Virtue’s Blade in the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Magic and Destiny. It’s a new story not taken directly from any specific adventure in that world, but does give a flavour of some of the world building for that campaign. (Or listen to me read it on my podcast here: Episode 39: Virtue’s Pirate · StorycastRob (spotify.com))

You mentioned using your time as DM (Dungeon Master, for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo) to hone your storytelling skills, and how that helped with pacing and foreshadowing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Ascension Machine was that the pacing was never too rushed, nor was it too slow. Your practice definitely made perfect!

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Grey was an interesting character in that, while he was conning everyone, at his heart he had a strong moral compass. Is that sort of “alignment” your go-to when gaming? And dovetailing off of that, do you have a favorite character class? Or do you prefer to shake things up when creating your own character (obviously, prewritten adventures are a little different)?

Oh yeah. I know people can get very excited by evil campaigns or characters, but they don’t really interest me. I’m always the good guy in games as a player, if I ever feel the urge to be evil, I have my DMing for that!

As for character classes, I like my characters to be skilled and versatile. They don’t need to be The Best, but I do prefer competence. In pursuit of it, I’ve dabbled in just about every class over the years, but my big go-tos are Sorcerer, Fighter, Bard. My least travelled are probably Druid and Cleric. My current obsession is Artificer, and I think I might actually get to play one soon.

Grey in The Ascension Machine could absolutely be one of my characters in a game. I’ve played plenty of rogues, swindlers and con artists in all sorts of settings, from Jack “Ace” King, a gambler in a Wild West game, to Agent Duchess, my Spycraft “Face” character. In The Ascension Machine, Grey’s plan on Bantus (no details, read the book!) was basically something I pulled in-character for a D&D game one time. 

 I am almost obsessively honest in the real world, so these characters are pure escapism!

Ah, you claim you’re obsessively honest. Perhaps that is what a dishonest person would say? 😉 I must say, I’ve never played an artificer. I bet it would be a blast, though. What would you say to someone who is curious about playing ttrpgs, but has never played before?

Give it a go! The hobby isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it for yourself. Oh there are plenty of YouTube shows and let’s plays out there that you can watch to get a sense of how things work (Including our own DragonLance play, right Jodie?) but really you have to play it to be sure. Just, try and find a good DM, they really do make all the difference. If someone is asking me, I might well offer to run a session, if we can find some more players.

But if you’re asking how would I describe ttrpgs to somebody…? The grand description is that it’s cooperative improvised storytelling (with dice). It’s “Let’s Pretend” for grown-ups and kids  (with dice).

Any other description can be contradicted (and even the dice thing, one of my favourite games is Amber, a diceless system based on Roger Zelazny’s books). 

Because, yes, it can be an epic tale of heroes battling monsters, saving the world and getting loot (with dice), if that’s the story your group wants to tell. But it could equally be a disturbing tale of standing against unspeakable horrors where only madness and death awaits (with dice), or a political intrigue with backstabbing (and dice), or… whatever else you need it to be.

It is such a versatile hobby. As long as you can find a group of people who want to tell the same kind of story you do, it can be whatever you want it to be. Usually with dice.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

I’ve been talking about table-top roleplaying games with authors over the last few days. Today I’m joined by Ricardo Victoria, author of the Tempest Blades series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about D&D with me!

First, will you tell me a bit about The Tempest Blades series?

The Tempest Blades series is a story in progress (2 books published, 2-3 more to go, plus a few short stories) about this legendary hero Fionn, who after his final battle during the Great War found himself awakening 100 years later and  after a few years of adjustment is asked to return to the role of hero to stop an evil from his past. In the way, he is joined by a new band of heroes: Gaby, Alex, Sam (who is Fionn’s great granddaughter and adoptive daughter), Fionn’s best friend Harland and Sid the Samoharo (later joined by Kasumi the demonhunter, Joshua, a mysterious man and Yokoyawa, Sid’s cousin). And Fionn finds himself in the role of mentor to this new band, preparing them for the challenges that they will face from now on. Every action has a consequence both in the large scale of the world they live in, and in a personal level, which is reflected in the second book with the fallout of the first adventure and the toll in the mental health of Alex. All towards saving the world from looming menaces from beyond the physical realm.

Bottom line, Tempest Blades is a story about getting a second opportunity, finding redemption and your place in the world amidst action packed adventures that actually read like a ttrpg campaing! I have to note that I’m writing each book as self-contained, even if they are in the same continuity, so readers get a whole story in each book along a larger arc. Again, kinda like a ttrpg campaign, composed of smaller adventures all linked together.

Now that I think of… basically I’m writing my ideal ttrpg with me playing all the roles and the DM.

How about your history with ttrps? When did you first start playing and what drew you to it?

I always wanted to play since I saw the D&D cartoon as a kid, but never had the access to the books or with whom to play until I got to college. There I got my copies of the three core books of D&D 3e. and a few of a system called BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouths, which is basically a system to play anime style adventures). Then my best friend, who already had his D&D group at the time, started to run a game at college with his classmates and I sorta, kinda ‘forced’ my way to join the group at their second adventure. And we kept playing for the next three years. Sometimes to give him a rest as DM I ran games in Stars Wars D20, or BESM, or another player ran his homebrew Saint Seiya game. We also played D20 modern, where our DM adapted the first Resident Evil game. It was awesome.

Then when I moved to UK for my Ph.D. I joined the Roleplay and Wargames Society, as a way to practice my English in an informal setting and to meet friends (and this incidentally got me to know the guys with whom we created Inklings Press, but that’s another story). There I played D&D, Exhalted and Bureau 13, and ran a few sessions of an improvised BESM game.

I haven’t played since I came back to Mexico since a) my best friend passed away, so his group simply disbanded and b) the downside of being an adult with responsibilities is that finding the time and someone play with. But I’m trying to create a new group with a  friend and his nephew and in the meantime I get my fix for ttrpg listening to a couple of live roleplay podcasts: The Dark Dice and Dumbgeons & Dragons, while I plan how to develop a ttrpg (or at least the setting for an established system) based on Tempest Blades.

Does your gaming experience have an effect on your writing?

I have come to realize that both follow the same kind of structured improvisation. I might have an overall plot I want to follow with a given story I’m working on, but how I go from the start to the end (and to the key scenes I have I mind) tends to be somewhat improvisational, just like in a game. The advantage of having a good grasp of who my characters are and how they tend to act allows me to improvise on the way to a key scene. Like the relationship between players and DM. Of course in this case my players are still me so there is nothing 100% unexpected about how things happen. Also I tend to world build my stories the same way I do for my games, creating the world as I’m needing it. And of course there is the fact that Fionn evolved from my first D&D character. On a more personal note, after my best friend suddenly passed away a few years ago, and with permission of the other players from the college group, I incorporated a few of his locations and characters into the world of Tempest Blades as a way to remember him and a homage. Fionn’s character arc was in part inspired by the plans we both had at the time of his passing to restart the campaign as I was ‘promoted’ to co-DM and was helping him with the world building and the plot of the campaign. Also Alex’s constant mentions in The Cursed Titans to a deceased friend are references to that personal event, because that’s the kind of things that remain with you, years after.

That absolutely stays with a person and I think it is a wonderful, very personal way to pay homage to your friend.

What would you say is your favorite thing about ttrpgs?

I love that for a couple of hours, you can be another person, with a different history and in a different world, able to have the adventures you won’t ever have in real life, just with the help of a set of dice, some pencils and paper and through the sheer power of imagination. For a moment you can be the hero (or the villain if you want), leave behind all the worries and weights on our shoulders and be as free as you imagined you would be when a kid. For me, that and the friendships you make through the game are what makes them truly special.

Yes, I agree that the camaraderie really is something special. And, as a reader, it’s already pretty obvious that I’m a big fan of escapism! 

What would you say to someone who has never played a ttrpg , but is curious about it?

The best way to learn about them is playing them. That said, nowadays ttrpg is not the niche hobby it was 20 years ago when I was in college, it has even been showcased in some tv shows like in Community (which I believe is the most “accurate” depiction so far). It has become more accessible and there are more resources to learn about them: facebook groups, your local hobby store, youtube videos, podcasts. Personally, if you are still curious about them but don’t want to commit to play just yet, you can listen to actual play podcasts of which I confess I’m a big fan and there are several good ones. My personal favorites by far are The Dark Dice (which is a D&D horror themed game that includes in its second season Jeff Goldblum. Yes, that Jeff), and Dumbgeons & Dragons, (a more traditional story of adventure but the chemistry between players is off the chart and their comments are hilarious. It’s my go to show to listen when I’m feeling down and it always manages me to cheer me up). Or if you are more visually inclined, check some of the gaming sessions by Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated (from the guys of Penny Arcade, which also from time to time featured Wil Wheaton) in YouTube. Many games as well offer free or really cheap starter kits on their website or Amazon, like the D&D starter set, so you can get a sense of how it works. 

Word of advice though: don’t believe that D&D is the beginning and the end of the hobby. There are tons of companies, games, settings to choose from: L5R for samurais/ninja, BESM/Anime 5e for anime inspired games, the White Wolf books for your supernatural or mythological inclined. Bureau 13 for those more into the X-Files/Supernatural kind of Stories. Basic Fantasy for a really simple game to play. Call of Cthulhu for classic cosmic horror or Cthulhutech for SF cosmic horror. There are as many settings as fiction subgenres there are, and within them, different settings to play with and within different price ranges for your needs.

But really, the only things you need to play are pencil, paper, a set of dice, friends and above all, a lot of imagination. No need for expensive hardware or software, just what your mind can create.

About the Author:

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. You can find both The Withered King and The Cursed Titans (books one and two) now.

To purchase The Withered King:

Amazon

To purchase The Cursed Titans:

Amazon

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

Continuing on with my series on great fantasy authors and table-top roleplaying games, I’m excited to be able to talk with Jeffrey Speight, author of the excellent Paladin Unbound. Thanks for taking the time to chat D&D!

Will you talk a little bit about your recently released fantasy book, Paladin Unbound?

I’d be happy to. Paladin Unbound is a fast-paced high fantasy adventure that follows a half-Orc mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker, as he uncovers an insidious plot to bring the natural order of Evelium to its knees. In the process, he suffers tremendous loss as a result of his own reluctance to show his true nature and risks his own life in coming forth about his secret to guarantee he never makes such a mistake again. It’s a tale of self-discovery, honor, and lots of action.   

How about your history with ttrpgs? Have you been playing for long?

I started playing D&D when I was in middle school in the late 80s. My first character was an elf ranger named Sage. I played rangers a lot growing up. Somewhere along the way, I shifted to preferring paladins. I’m a lawful good alignment, myself, so I think there’s a natural connection there. Several years ago, I started playing again to introduce my three sons to the game and get them off screens. Ugh. It got the creative bug going and led me to homebrewing Tyveriel (the planet where Evelium sits) and, eventually writing the book.

One of the things that I really loved about Paladin Unbound is that it has a bit of a classic D&D feel to it. Is any part of the book inspired by gaming at all?

Absolutely. As I said, the worldbuilding and some of the early character development came directly from a homebrewed D&D campaign for my kids. I way overbuilt for what they needed to learn the game and decided to keep going and really flesh it all out. I took a lot of what I had made for the campaign, elevated the worldbuilding and the characters and started writing Paladin Unbound. The book is very much a love letter to D&D. 

I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?

Without a doubt. I think there is a natural connection between the world building, character creation, and fantasy backdrop of D&D and other TTRPGs and the writing process. For many, it’s a direct connection as was the case for Paladin Unbound. For others it’s looser. But let’s face it, if you are spending your time creating a conflicted Dwarvish Sorcerer with a rich backstory, you’re well on your way to writing a fantasy book.

What are some similarities and differences? 

I think the similarities are pretty straight forward. Creating a fantasy world with engaging characters and a storyline are critical to both. Where they diverge is in the craft of actually writing a book. It’s very different than designing, running, or playing a campaign. You can’t go off on silly side quests that don’t further the plot of the story (I totally endorse silly side quests that do further the plot of the story), you are seeing things from only one perspective per scene, you can provide the readers more context than the characters themselves are aware of, etc. 

Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?

For me, it flows both ways. It’s like working out (I’m not an expert in the field) in that if you flex a muscle, it grows stronger over time. Creating a world and characters and stories, whether it is for D&D or writing, will make you better at doing those things in both venues. The more we create, the better we get at creating. A virtuous cycle.

What do you love about gaming?

Oh man, where do I start. I love sitting around the table with a group and experience a story built cooperatively. I love the unexpected twists and turns a game can take due to a single decision or roll of the dice. I love how real it can feel when you are in the middle of a great session. And dice…I love dice.

Yes, the surprise twists are the best! I always smile a little when I find out later that a campaign that someone was running went in a completely unexpected direction and the DM spent the last little bit pulling things out of thin air. With the best DMs, I can’t even tell. As for dice: a certain first-time paladin needed new dice. Absolutely needed them. Nowadays, do you DM more often, or are you a player?

I was so excited to hear you were going to play a paladin. You’ll be smiting evil in no time. As most of my D&D time is spent with my kids, I often find myself the DM. They will walk in the room and ask, Dad, can we play D&D? I’ll say sure. Then they’ll tell me about the new characters they built and that they want to have the campaign based in a flying city run by an evil wizard. They just expect me to have that ready to go. I’d definitely like to join up with a crew for some adult game time, though. Maybe as a player…

What first drew you to writing? 

The escape. I took up writing as a hobby and found that I really enjoyed and benefitted mentally from my time in Evelium. It’s relaxing to leave things behind for a moment and immerse yourself in another world. I had no intention of publishing a book. That came much later once the story was finished and a friend encouraged me to explore publication.

Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?

Every Halloween I do a one shot for my wife and kids. It’s usually a short, creepy storyline that involves us as the characters. We’ve built a lot of great memories around those sessions that I will always cherish. Then, there was the time my oldest son thought he could make friends with an orc guard. The party was hiding in the bushes and saw the orc guarding a keep we knew was hostile. He insisted on trying to persuade the orc to let us pass. I asked if he was sure and he said yes. He stood up and waved hello. He took a pretty bad hit from a javelin. We still laugh about that one.

That’s hilarious! Memories like that are the best. I remember the first time my husband and I gamed with my oldest. His wizard accidentally lit the tree my rogue was hiding in on fire. Surprisingly, that gets brought up a lot. Are the majority of your games homebrewed?

Yes. I’ve run a few modules for my kids. They are usually fun, but I actually prefer having more control over the world and the campaign plot. If I’m going to DM, I’d much rather build it all from the ground up.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?

I think a lot of people don’t play TTRPGs because they seem so complicated. I’d say to go into it with an open mind, be willing to learn, and just have fun. A good DM and experienced players will help you out along the way. If you want to DM yourself, I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in all the rules. They are a guideline. Set the expectations accordingly for your table that you aren’t going strictly by the book and just go for it. You’ll have a blast and so will your friends/family. Oh. And be a Paladin…there aren’t enough of us.

About the Author:

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

I’ve been exploring the connection between table top roleplaying games and great authors all week. Today I’m excited to chat a little with Thomas Howard Riley, author of We Break Immortals.

Thanks for talking with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book?

Of course, and thank you for having me on your site to chat. 

My upcoming book is titled WE BREAK IMMORTALS.

It is full of swordplay, terrifying magick duels, mysteries, sex, riddles, kings, prophecies, battles, quests, murderers, and, of course, superhuman serial killer cult leaders. It explores themes of obsession, longing, self-reflection, vengeance, corruption, terror, loss, the bonds of friendship, the feeling of being outcast, and how even people who have no family of their own are able to find one among the people they meet.

It is an epic fantasy adventure, but one that threads the needle between what is usually considered High Fantasy and Grimdark Fantasy, what I prefer to call Rated-R Epic Fantasy. It is an adult fantasy, which does include things like graphic violence, sex, and drug use. 

It is an expansive world, where people who are able to use magick are hated and feared, hunted and burned. Unless they are one of the select few who can buy or bargain their way into celebrity…or…the become powerful enough that no one can stop them. 

My world has an expansive magic-system, however, the thing that defines this world is the magick-undoing system. The methods of stopping magick and those who use it is as in-depth and rule-based as the magick itself. More so even. To keep magick-users in check, and hunt them down when they go rogue, kingdoms employ Render Tracers, professionals who have accumulated secrets and loopholes that can stop magick and track those who use it.

The story includes multiple points of view, each character quite different from one another. It took a lot to juggle so many large personalities.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

I was drawn to it originally by two things. Firstly, most of my earliest reading was fantasy (and also sci fi, but mostly fantasy). I read every Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novel written through at least 1995. And the local hobby store sold gaming modules for these series, including ones specific to the very books I had been reading. I still have some of them. It allowed me to insert myself into the stories that I loved to read, and to affect the outcome. It was awesome. 

Secondly, it was a way to play knights and soldiers and wizards with your friends, but with rules to back it up. So there would be no more of the “you can’t beat my guy because he has more powers”, or “your knight didn’t kill my archer because he’s too fast,” etc. that always happened when we were little kids. 

RPGs provided a structure, so that we would know for sure whether the knight beat the archer, or the wizard’s powers were enough to stop whatever-it-was. It made everything fair. We did not have to argue; the dice decided. It was up to us to know our characters so that we could make the right choices of how to target those dice, to maximize our chances of success. It was like playing toy soldiers and craps at the same time. It felt badass. 

Eventually I played virtually everything that was around at the time: D&D of every variety, Warhammer 40k, Battletech, Space Fleet, Blood Bowl, etc.

I love that books were your gateway into gaming, so to speak! Did ttrps influence your desire to write at all?

I definitely feel its influence there. Being part of a ttrpg (back then we just called them rpgs because there was no option other than tabletop at that time) was like training wheels for storytelling. I not only had the opportunity to watch the GM weave a tale together while accommodating 10+ people with their own motives, but as a player-character I was able to participate in that storytelling, sometimes creating epic character arcs worthy of their own books. And when I did decide to pursue writing books, I was able to come to it with that experience. So it not only inspired me to storytelling, it also taught me some useful tools for it.

One of the key things I feel playing RPGs cultivated within me was the ability to wrangle multiple characters with different plans, hopes, motivations, and decisions. Seeing that different players did not always get along when on the same quests, or would get annoyed with each other, or would go on to betray each other, really helped guide me when creating my own characters, so that I pay great attention to make sure they are each their own person, with their own dreams, and their own way of doing things, and that their goals may not always align with one another. 

I also am forever blessed/cursed with a love of crews, teams, clans, squads. I do write characters by themselves if the scene absolutely demands it, but I much prefer when characters bounce dialogue and actions off one another in a group. Even though I write multiple POVs in my own books, I tend to give each individual POV their own crew to belong to.

The best RPG I was ever a part of was run by, and in a world created by, a very good old sword-fighting friend of mine. (I used to sword-fight as well by the way. And no, I do NOT mean fencing. This was a very different thing). His name is Richard Marsden, who is incidentally also the founder of the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship, a HEMA organization that teaches sword-fighting techniques for heavy rapiers, sabers, and longswords (and who writes his own SF books actually – you can check out his humorous Traveling Tyrant SF series, or his acclaimed swordsmanship books Historical European Martial Arts In Context or The Polish Saber). 

This was the longest running individual adventure I ever participated in, lasting well over a year, played on hazy afternoons in a smoke-filled alcohol-fueled garage. And from it I gained two things that jump out at me right away, one general and one very specific.

The general thing, was I learned that not everything ended neatly, and that emotions would rear their head, that things would get messy, and that adventures sometimes ended in tragedy. I learned there was a balance of humor and seriousness, of triumph and tragedy, that was real, and if I could walk that line, my story could be incredible.

This was a funny bunch of people, myself included (I have been told that I am, as they say, a real card). And we laughed a lot. But we were also serious. This game saw some of us start wars, or preside over atrocities, caused the downfall of thriving civilizations, ruined environments, and burned down religions. This game included player-characters betraying one another, and at some points even killing each other (literally taking them out of the game permanently). It included a player-character suicide in-game. This was not a G-rated dalliance. It was both heavy and light. But when it was heavy, it was very heavy.

The specific thing is one particular set battle, a siege really, of a vast city that our characters needed to get inside to stop something that powerful priests were doing. It included player-character in-fighting, murder, ingenuity, betrayal, and redemption. And the way I have plotted my own series, Advent Lumina, I have set it up so that particular part of our rpg, played decades ago around a card table in an empty two-car garage, will one day be immortalized in my books (obviously modified to fit within my own story framework, world, and characters, but you get the idea).

That feels like a lot more than you asked for. But I have never been known for my brevity.

In short, participating in rpgs gave me both inspiration and preparation for writing the kind of stories I wanted to write.

I think brevity is overrated. I love that you mention the love of teams/ squads. I myself prefer books with multiple characters that play off each other as I think it allows for a more natural way for characters to develop. But that’s just my personal preference.

I’m seeing some similarities between DMing and writing. What are some differences?

The key difference is control. Running a game as DM calls for a certain amount of control (one has to wrangle recalcitrant players generally down the path you have prepared for them after all) But the control ends where the players begin. They can make their own choices, and affect the story in their own ways. All you can hope to do is loosely shove them along in the right direction. This is part of the fun, seeing which way things will go, and what unexpected reactions will pop up as you go. 

When writing, you have total control. You are the DM and the players. You are responsible for every aspect of the story. This is at once amazing and nerve-wracking. You have sole control, but also sole responsibility if anything goes wrong, if the story doesn’t not work right, if the characters don’t mesh, and so on.

That does not mean that you cannot still be surprised by your own story. No matter how much I plan out ahead, new themes and ideas and character motives and epiphanies may leap out of the background and make the story better. But even this surprise comes from the writer’s subconscious. There is no outside input, just your own ideas bouncing around in your head.

Another difference is the kind of pressure on you. A DM must wrangle the players along the story, but must also keep them entertained, making sure they want to come back again and again. It is difficult to keep someone’s attention for weeks or months on end. That requires a certain skill. You have to be interactive, fun, accommodating, and you have to think hard on the spot, under pressure. If one of the players (or all of the players if they are just plain rude) takes the party off the carefully manicured path you have set out for them, you have to be able to think quick on your feet to come up with ways to still somehow bring them back to that path. That is a somewhat different skill set than a writer. And also the degree of perfection is a bit different. Writing a finished product requires a lot of professional polish. Being a DM is inherently a bit more relaxed, as you are usually just playing with your friends.  

Writing (mostly) takes place in private. You may find your characters wandering in your mind away from where you wan them to go. But you have time, alone, to come up with solutions. You are not the deer in headlights that a surprised DM would be. (I have seen some DMs sweat for a while, desperately trying to think of a way to get things back on track without looking like they ever went off the track in the first place.) 

It is different for a writer. For a very long time you have no one to impress but yourself. The finished product is what matters, meaning you can write the story backwards from the end, or a bit from the beginning, middle, and end. You can jump around, and skip over parts that aren’t clicking and work on others, and come back to it later, without the pressure to make sure each piece is chronologically perfect before moving on to the next. There is much more pressure to make it perfect, but writers have the benefit of being able to draft, revise, and polish their story in total before anyone really sees it. A DM only has to work on creating one piece at a time as they are played, though they must make sure each piece is ready for play on a deadline. 

It seems that more and more authors (and creatives in general) are playing or mentioning D&D. Do you think that it’s rising in popularity for any particular reason, or do you think it’s always been enjoyed, but not necessarily mentioned?

I think it has always been enjoyed. I think the stigma around it has changed. Much like comic books were looked down upon as a geek culture for much of the 70s, 80s, and 90s by the grownups and cool kids, D&D and fantasy in general was sneered at.

But then one day everyone who had spent their whole lives reading and playing got older and said, “You know what? This is fun and we like it and we don’t have to conform to anyone else’s version of cool or grown up. We have that money to spend, and we set the rules of what we want to do. And anyone who doesn’t like it? Well, bye.” 

And the bigger that collective group became that was seen publicly approving of it, the more people found courage and feel comfortable talking about it in turn, and now here we are. (This is true of human nature in regard societal change in general)

Now comics and D&D and fantasy and sci-fi are mainstream. The most popular video games are D&D based. There are tournaments where real money is made. Kids now would never know it was ever something that used to be ridiculed. 

How can you ridicule Final Fantasy? Or World of Warcraft? Or League of Legends? Or Marvel movies? Or the Walking Dead comics? That stuff is popular. You may not like one or another as a personal preference, but gone are the days when that subject matter could just be dismissed out of hand as geeky childhood dalliance. That stuff is mainstream now. It’s cool. And I’m glad for that. 

What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?

I would say go for it. Definitely. It’s a fun thing to do with like minded people. It’s like having a poker night only better because you can let your creativity shine. (And you are less likely to lose a lot of money) 
But I would say make sure to go in with people you are comfortable with. Whether you go in for serious or silly or a little of both, it is best if you do it with people who you know will have a good time hanging out as well as gaming. 

About the author:

Thomas Howard Riley currently resides in a secluded grotto in the wasteland metropolis, where he reads ancient books, plays ancient games, watches ancient movies, jams on ancient guitars, and writes furiously day and night. He sometimes appears on clear nights when the moon is gibbous, and he has often been seen in the presence of cats. 

He always wanted to make up his own worlds, tell his own stories, invent his own people, honor the truths of life, and explore both the light and the darkness of human nature. With a few swords thrown in for good measure. 

And some magick. Awesome magick. 

He can be found digitally at THOMASHOWARDRILEY.COM 

On Twitter he is @ornithopteryx, where he is sometimes funny, always clever, and never mean.

https://amzn.to/3hVPA3J Amazon US link

https://amzn.to/2UYvhtT Amazon UK link

https://bit.ly/3zU8qyq    Goodreads link

http://thomashowardriley.com  Author Website

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

Today Dan Fitzgerald, author of The Maer Cycle, is sharing his thoughts on D&D. Incidentally, he just released The Maer Cycle Omnibus, which I definitely recommend picking up.


Like many fantasy writers, I got my start playing D&D. When I was just a wee pre-teen, D&D was pretty much my life. Sure, I did other things—went to school, ate food, watched TV, what have you, but the thing I always looked forward to for days at a time and obsessed about afterward, the thing I could do for hours on end with no care for food or sleep, was play D&D. I would even stay up late some nights when I couldn’t play with others, rolling up random characters and taking them through randomly generated dungeons until they died. Ah, good times!

This was the early 80s, so we’re talking 1st edition AD&D, where a first level mage had max 4 hit points and only one spell, and if they somehow made it to level 2 they got another 1-4 HP and another spell. Surviving to level 3 was a miracle, and staying alive long enough to actually cast a fireball was damned near impossible. It was a blast.

Fast forward to today’s D&D 5E (that’s 5th edition for you less nerdy types), where mages are more powerful at 1st level than they used to be at level 3, where characters miraculously heal overnight from the most grievous wounds, where you can be unconscious and on death’s door one moment, then hacking and slashing a few seconds after a simple healing spell. This is not a diss on 5E (okay, well actually it is, but the original had its flaws too); it’s just a different way of playing, and of thinking about the game, and I think we may have lost something in the process. The old game was more nitty-gritty, more deadly, and to me, a lot more fun.

My gaming pals back in the day liked to power up and play high-level characters and fight everything in the Monster Manual (and later the Fiend Folio, the Holy Grail of D&D books), and I was happy enough to play along, but I always enjoyed the tough, early starts, the 1st level characters with nothing more than their wits and a longsword, and maybe a Magic Missile or Cure Light Wounds once a day, to protect them. When a handful of orcs or a gaggle of goblins was enough to make you think twice, and if you killed an ogre, you felt like a superhero. Nowadays a new character already feels like a superhero, and I miss that feeling of vulnerability.

What I don’t miss? The idea that each race had certain characteristics inherent to it, and limitations on what characters could or couldn’t become. The notion that orcs, goblins, ogres, and many other humanoid races were automatically evil. The gender binary. The heteronormativity. Whatever I may not like about 5E, it states very clearly in the Player’s Handbook: “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.” That’s honestly refreshing, as is the lifting of limitations on what races can play what classes. I may not like some of the rules updates, but the overall tone is better, which matters quite a bit.

But I digress. Or rather, I don’t. Because what I love about D&D, at its essence, is the idea that you can pretend to be anyone you want, and you get to participate in a live story that’s never existed before. It’s all about a group of people sitting around a table (or in recent times, a Zoom and Roll20 screen) telling stories together. Sure, there are rules to guide you, and they can help streamline play, but they can also limit the role of your imagination. Honestly, if you’re not homebrewing your rules at least a little, are you even playing D&D? My favorite games are ones in which you can always deviate from the rules or make an exception when it makes for a better story.

It’s the same way with fantasy. There are “rules” to follow if you want to be traditionally published, but aren’t the best stories the ones that break those rules in innovative ways? And with the flourishing of small presses and independent publishing in contemporary fantasy, there really are no rules to speak of, only stories, writers, and readers. I can write whatever the hell I want, and someone is going to read it, but let’s be honest: as a writer, I don’t want just someone to read my books. I want a LOT of someones to read my books. I want to tell my stories to whoever will listen, and I always hope to convince someone who might not have read fantasy before to try my books.

In my Maer Cycle trilogy, I tried to write books that would appeal to fans of classic fantasy, to D&D players and nerds of various stripes, and would have that feel of the low-level characters gritting it out against well-matched opponents, with a lot more role-playing than fighting. And as their skills advance through the trilogy, I wanted it to feel earned. I also hoped to write something that felt grounded enough that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for readers who don’t usually read fantasy—there’s not a lot of big, showy magic, and the fantasy creatures are (mostly) meant to feel almost plausible.

Now that the trilogy is out in the world, I’ve got something totally different in the works, the Weirdwater Confluence duology, which I’m calling sword-free fantasy. It’s quite a bit more removed from D&D, but if I’m totally honest, one aspect of The Living Waters was inspired a little by a particular creature from the D&D universe. I won’t say which one, but old-school nerds may recognize something a bit familiar in the name of the duology.

However far I may roam, the bones of my writer’s soul remain grounded in the world of the imagination opened up by Dungeons and Dragons, which has influenced my storytelling as much as any book I’ve ever read.

You can read more about me or my books on my website, http://www.danfitzwrites.com, and my books can be purchased from the usual online vendors, which my publisher, Shadow Spark, has available on one easy page. I can also be found on Twitter, where I talk about fantasy, books, and general nerdery, and on Instagram, where I post way too many nature pics and the occasional bookish snippet or announcement.


You can find The Maer Cycle Omnibus on Amazon