Dragonlance Week: Interview with Author Margaret Weis

Logo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credit: Larry Elmore
Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Margaret Weis, the author/coauthor of DRAGON CORSAIRS, the Darksword trilogy, and the Deathgate Cycle, among other novels. She is also the author/coauthor of many Dragonlance books, including the trilogies that started it all: the Chronicles and the Legends, which I love so very much. You could say that Margaret Weis is a literary hero of mine.

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub: Hello Ms. Weis (May I call you Margaret?) Before I get to the questions, I want to thank you for being willing to chat a little bit about Dragonlance. I am beyond thrilled!


Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub: I am under the impression that the genesis of Dragonlance involved the idea of a world where dragons play a large role. I would definitely say that Dragonlance fits the bill! Can you give me a little bit of detail about the early days of Dragonlance, and how that concept became the Chronicles?

Margaret Weis: “Dragonlance was created by Tracy and Laura Hickman as they were driving from Utah to Wisconsin to go to work for TSR. They wanted a world where knights rode on dragons and they created the first three characters: Tanis, Laurana and Kitiara. When Tracy came to TSR, he described the concept to management and they put him in charge of creating the game. They wanted novels to go with it. I was hired to edit the novels. When I began working with the team, I fell in love with the world and decided that Tracy and I should write the books.”

W&B: I read somewhere that you wrote most (all?) of the books’ fight scenes. My question here is twofold: is that the case? And how did you and Tracy decide who took point on which parts of the novels?

Margaret Weis: “I do the writing and Tracy does the story telling and world building. And answers my innumerable questions!”

W&S: Are there any characters that are “yours” alone? And do any of the characters share your personality traits in any way?

Margaret Weis: “Raistlin was a character that I knew and understood. Tracy was always a fan of Tanis’s. Par-Salian says there is a little of Raistlin in all of us.:)”

W&S: I credit Raistlin with my ongoing love of morally complicated characters. He could be incredibly cruel (especially to Caramon) but was also capable of extreme compassion (as with Bupu). How did you go about writing such a complex and nuanced character?

Margaret Weis: “I knew Raistlin so well. He was very real to me. I understood him and the co-dependent relationship he had with his brother. As Par-Salian says, there’s a little Raistlin in all of us.”

W&S: One of the many wonderful things about Dragonlance, particularly the earlier books, are the barriers that were broken. Dragons of Autumn Twilight mentions Tanis “recognizing the signs of a dark depression that sometimes overwhelmed the knight”, [Sturm]. Sturm was the first character I read about in the fantasy genre who struggled with mental illness, which was hugely significant to me. There are also many instances of discrimination mentioned throughout. Were these deliberate choices and, if so, what was the reasoning behind them?

Margaret Weis: “We wanted to talk about racial discrimination in a way that would be nonthreatening to our readers. As for Sturm and depression, we wrote about him as we felt he would feel, given everything he had undergone.”

W&S: Many people (myself included) cite Dragonlance as their gateway to fantasy. Its impact hasn’t lessened at all over the years. What do you think it is about Dragonlance and the world of Krynn that continue to draw people in?

Margaret Weis: “I think it’s because the books are about middle-class people, not kings or princes or princesses. Our characters had to work for a living. They are ordinary people, drawn into extraordinary situations.”

W&S: Dovetailing off my previous question a bit: I personally find the characters so well-developed and relatable, that rereading the Dragonlance Chronicles feels a lot like coming home. Throughout the books, especially Dragons of Autumn Twilight, there are examples of events that the companions have experienced together that are mentioned in passing, like shared reminiscences. It really cements that sense of people who know each other very well. Was it difficult to convey that sort of relationship? And did you know going in that many of these mentioned instances would often become storylines in other books as the series grew?

Margaret Weis: “We rather hoped they wouldn’t become storylines! We wanted to leave them mysterious and intriguing. But the books sold so well that fans wanted more.”

W&S: The world-building is astounding. How were you and Tracy able to craft a world that is bigger even than what the reader is shown, as well as hint at places that are visited later on?

Margaret Weis: “The world-building credit goes to the DL design team. They needed a world large enough and detailed enough to accommodate twelve adventure modules.”

W&S: Dragonlance is deservedly beloved. What do you think has contributed to its place among fantasy greats?

Margaret Weis: “I’m not sure. We just wanted to tell a story.:)”

W&S: Did you have a favorite part to write?

Margaret Weis: “No, not really. I love writing!”

W&S: How do you feel about returning to the world of Krynn? Is there anything you’d like to say regarding the upcoming releases?

Margaret Weis: “Wonderful returning. And, no, I’m not permitted to talk about it.”

W&S: Are there any authors that you love or that have influenced you in some way?

Margaret Weis: “So many it’s hard to list them! Charles Dickens (particularly Bleak House), Jane Austen, Chaim Potok, Mary Renault, Rex Stout, Alexander Dumas. The list goes on!”

W&S: Finally, I have a bit of funny question. I was concerned that I would be so star-struck that I would only be able to come up with ridiculous questions, such as “Do you prefer waffles or pancakes?” So, now I have to ask. Are you a waffle or pancake person?

Margaret Weis: “Waffles.:)”

About the author:


Margaret Weis was born and raised in Independence, Missouri. She attended the University of Missouri, Columbia, graduating in 1970 with a BA degree in Literature and Creative Writing. In 1983, she moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to take a job as book editor at TSR, Inc., producers of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® role-playing game. 


At TSR, Weis became part of the DRAGONLANCE® design team. Created by Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance world has continued to intrigue fans of both the novel and the game for generations. Hickman and Weis wrote the first of many fantasy novels, the DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES, which are still in print after almost thirty years. The books have sold over twenty-five million copies worldwide. They are thrilled to be writing a new trilogy under the DRAGONLANCE CLASSIC masthead. Watch for the first book in the series to be released in 2022!

Weis is the author/co-author of several other New York Times best-selling series, including DARKSWORD, ROSE OF THE PROHET, STAR OF THE GUARDIANS, THE DEATHGATE CYCLE, and DRAGONSHIPS. Weis and her daughter, Lizz, have written two paranormal romance novels, WARRIOR ANGEL and REBEL ANGEL, published by HarperCollins. She and co-author, Robert Krammes created two trilogies – THE DRAGON BRIGADE and DRAGON CORSAIRS…be sure to check them out! 

Wisconsin is home where Weis lives with her dogs, Tika, Clancy the Hooligan and Joey the Thug. They all enjoy competing in tournaments with their team, the Barkbarians.


Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Dorian Hart

Wrapping up a month full of interviews with some incredible authors of self-published fantasy, I’m excited to be able to interview Dorian Hart, author of The Heroes of Spira. Before diving in, I want to encourage you, Reader, to check out some self-published authors (be they writers of fantasy or another genre). Okay, now on to the interview!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Heroes of Spira?

The Heroes of Spira is hopeful epic fantasy with an ensemble cast and loads of magic. By “hopeful” I mean whatever the opposite of Grimdark is; while bad things happen to my protagonists, and they don’t always get along, they are fundamentally good people I want readers to cheer for. The tone is (mostly) light-hearted, and though the series isn’t comedic fantasy, there’s plenty of humor in it.

Who are the Heroes of Spira? They are:

Dranko Blackhope, a priest-turned-pickpocket, kicked out of his church for excessive pranksterism and his irreverent mouth. Being part goblin does not help his reputation.

Ysabel Horn, an elderly farmer’s widow with a practical streak. She’s understandably confused about being chosen to help save the world.

Ernest Roundhill, a baker’s son sorely lacking in self-confidence. He’s wondering why there’s a hundreds-of-years-old statue of himself buried under his neighbor’s tavern.

Aravia Telmir, a brilliant but arrogant wizard’s apprentice who really misses her cat.

Grey Wolf, a hard-bitten mercenary who’s not very happy about his new role as Chosen Hero.

Morningstar of Ell, a priestess of the goddess of night. She’s not allowed to walk outdoors in daylight, which could complicate her inclusion in this motley group.

Tor Bladebearer, a young nobleman’s son and talented swordsman who thinks being picked to help save Spira is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

Kibilhathur Bimson, a shy craftsman who insists his ability to speak with stones isn’t real magic. It’s just something he does.

The five books (three published, the fourth currently in edits, and I’ve begun the first draft of the fifth and final) are in essence one single story. While I think each volume stands on its own just fine, the primary ongoing narrative arc spans all five books, and there are plenty of mysteries, plot threads, and character arcs that stretch across multiple volumes.

In the broadest sense, the stories are about a group of in-over-their-heads would-be heroes saving the world from an ever-escalating and ultimately interconnected series of threats. They explore strange magical locales and contest with all sorts of enemies, human and otherwise, while engaging in plenty of entertaining banter and generally making themselves into a Found Family That Quests Together. It’s classic fantasy, full of wizards, magical artifacts, strange creatures, exploration and quests, gods and prophecies, as well as a villain with a perfect moustache and an unflappable butler with an unexpected secret. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can start with The Ventifact Colossus.

Your description of your book as the opposite of Grimdark makes perfect sense to me. There is a pervading sense of optimism throughout. Was it difficult to keep that feel while also maintaining a sense of urgency in the characters’ quest? How did you go about doing that so well?

Well, first, it’s kind of you to imply that I’m succeeding in at least some of what I set out to do! 😊

My natural preference is for optimistic characters, and my writing style lends itself to lighter, humor-laced storytelling. In that sense, I’m sure I’d find it more difficult to write grim and fatalistic heroes in a dark setting. But also, I don’t think there’s a natural separation between optimism and urgency. Quite the opposite, at least for me; pessimistic characters might be inclined to give up or not care about the problems besetting themselves and the world they inhabit. In large part, the characters’ hopefulness lets me steadily raise the stakes without worrying about keeping them motivated!

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a wee lad. (The first story I recall writing I scribed when I was 8. It was about two men getting into a series of perilous situations, and who were constantly saved by lucky accidents precipitated by the one who was always drunk. My teacher wrote a note to my parents which (paraphrased) said: “This story is remarkably advanced for a child Dorian’s age, and also we need to have a parent-teacher conference RIGHT NOW about his home life.”)

I’ve been absorbing fantasy books since I was very young, and was inspired most by The Hobbit, Narnia, and the Chronicles of Prydain. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up any time before my 10th birthday, I would have said “A baseball player for the Philadelphia Phillies.” But around that time, when my lack of athletic prowess was becoming too obvious to ignore, my answer changed to “A fantasy novelist.” That answer hasn’t changed in 40 years.

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

Characters first. Always characters. If I can’t make my readers care about my heroes, how can I expect them to become invested in the story?


I’m not saying that plot isn’t important. Even the most vivid characters will have trouble carrying a boring plot. But it’s not enough to make readers think: “I want to know what happens next.” They have to think: “I want to know what happens next to these people.

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

As though I would be so cruel to my poor characters!

But, seriously, the answer is mostly no – I’m not that interesting a person! – but I do think my personal desire to solve problems diplomatically probably bleeds over into some of my characters and how they interact with one another.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but I have plans to have a character in a future book who makes puns and dad-jokes. I cannot deny that such behavior would have a solid grounding in the author’s psyche.

I’m going to use this as a non-sequitur-ish segue into a small vignette from my family life. I told my wife about my plans for the dad-joking character recently. I also went on to describe a foil character who would HATE the puns and corny jokes at the beginning, but slowly, slowly come around on them, until by the end of the book they’d be making dad-jokes of their own.

My wife’s reaction to that second character: “That’s why they call it ‘fantasy.’”

Several of your characters have unique traits. Poor Ernest has zero self-confidence. Morningstar has a physical trait that makes it difficult for her to be a part of the group at first. Dranko has goblin ancestry, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a main character. What are some of the challenges of writing characters that have interior obstacles, as well as those that they face together?

I’ve always imagined my band of heroes (who style themselves “Horn’s Company” part way through the first book) going on three parallel journeys.

The most obvious one is the surface plot; they travel, quest, suffer, and triumph as they peel back layers of the Plot Onion™ and fight to save everything they hold dear.

The second journey is the evolution of the group as a whole. They start out disorganized and a bit hapless, as well as mostly doing what they’re told. By the end they’re making decisions with little guidance or assistance, devising plans, and working as a much more cohesive team. It’s by no means a smooth progression—there are plenty of setbacks and bumps on the road—but Horn’s Company has come a long way by the final book.

Finally, each character is on journey of their own, as they’re shaped and pushed by forces external and internal. Morningstar has to deal with her history of ostracism and feelings of isolation in addition to the physical challenge of walking in daylight. Ernest needs to find his confidence and overcome what we think of today as Imposter Syndrome. Dranko has his goblinoid physical appearance to deal with, as well as the constant consequences of his irreverent attitude. Each of the other heroes has some similar arc of growth and change, though that change isn’t always clearly for the better.

When guiding my characters past (or in some cases smashing them into) their interior obstacles, the biggest challenge for me is pacing their arcs across five books and bringing out their nuances in a natural way. Ernest’s journey, for instance, isn’t a matter of him performing a single brave deed and WHAM! he’s Mr. Confident. Different people change in different ways, at different speeds, and in reaction to different pressures.

You have a background in video game designing. Does your background influence your writing? 

I get asked this a lot, and the disappointing answer is “No, not really.”  My career in video games had me working alongside some fantastic writers – Austin Grossman, and later Ken Levine — who were already doing the vast majority of the storytelling. I found my niche as the “numbers guy” who focused on game balance, resource economies, and progression curves. (I was almost a math major in college before I came to my senses and pursued creative writing.)

Far more relevant to my writing is my history with tabletop RPG’s. I learned the craft of GM-ing from Kevin Kulp, an extraordinarily talented writer and TTRPG designer. Inspired by his skill, I designed and ran a 15-year-long D&D campaign, the bones of which form the skeleton of The Heroes of Spira.

I’m sure some of your readers have just had blaring alarms go off in their heads. “Oh, this is just some dude retelling his D&D campaign! I hate that!” To those people, I can offer this balm: While I used my 15 years of world-building as a foundation, I’ve always centered the characters at the heart of these books. I’ve also put a lot of effort into thinking about why RPG campaigns are typically not well suited for novelization, and what it would take to make that transition work. Before I started the first chapter of the first book, I spent months pondering issues of pacing, characters and their motivations, foreshadowing, the artificial feeling of “leveling up” and “character classes,” and the fact that games and books, at a fundamental level, are aimed at different audiences.

I’d like to think that The Heroes of Spira will evoke the feel of spying on a table where a truly epic D&D campaign is playing out, but without the burden and awkwardness of all the surface trappings of TTRPGs.

One of my favorite review quotes thus far has been this: “While some D&D-inspired novels struggle to be anything but a D&D campaign transcript, The Ventifact Colossus rises above the inspiration and proves to be an entertaining, relatively lighthearted, and satisfying story with a whole lot of heart.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

I hope it’s not too spoilery to say that there’s a death scene in a later book that got me a bit choked up to write. One side-effect of writing lovable heroes is that I grow quite attached to them. On top of wanting to make sure I gave them a suitably emotional send-off, I was extremely sad to see them go.


Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

I love writing villains! Maybe it’s because I’m such a harmless, dopey, middle-aged*, dad-joking fellow, but I adore the chapters when I get to write the bad guys, be they cackling moustache-twirlers or urbane banter-maesters. The main villain of the fourth book (“The Infinite Tower”) is a person named Axamand who pursues the heroes through a [SPOILER REDACTED]. He’s confident, talented, outwardly likable, enjoys nature, values his relationship with his partner, likes a good challenge, and can’t stop reminding the reader that he’s also a horrific sadist. He’s been the most fun character to write in the series to date. 

*
Can I still say I’m middle-aged at 51? Even though the AARP is flooding my house with mail like Hogwarts trying to make sure Harry gets his invitation?

Do you have any writing quirks, or a routine that you stick to?

I’m not sure this is a quirk per se, but I do a thing that most authors will say loudly NOT to do, which is edit as I go. I can’t help myself. Even knowing I may later delete whole section or chapters, I still smooth out my sentences. Yes, it results in some wasted effort, but it also means my first drafts are remarkably clean. (Not that I don’t still go back and hack them to pieces!)

As for routine, when I’m in drafting mode, I take great pains to write at least 500 words every day, no matter what else is happening or how late it is when I start. I keep a spreadsheet of progress and word counts, and when I miss a day due to emergency or wilderness vacations, I know exactly how much I need to write to maintain a 500 WPD average.


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

According to my meticulous calculations and overly complicated spreadsheets, I am 83% plotter and 17% pantser.

Before I wrote a single word of the Heroes of Spira, I had outlined all the major plot events and most of the connecting threads for all five books. That has given me a big advantage when it comes to foreshadowing and setting up big scenes in satisfying ways.

I also had character arcs broadly sketched, but I’ve often found my protagonists doing and saying things I hadn’t mapped out. That can lead to some surprising threads that I’ve then had to figure out how to weave into the larger tapestry of the series.

I will say that despite my preference for thorough outlining, sometimes my pants take over. For example (and please excuse the vagueness in the interest of non-spoilage) in one of the books, a character finds himself unexpectedly imprisoned by his enemies. My outline called for a series of conversations between the hero and his captor, along with some thwarted escape attempts, on the way to a pivotal final confrontation. But when I started to write the first scene in that arc, the very first person he encountered was a spy who’d infiltrated the enemy organization, and who promised to help him escape. That person was nowhere in my notes, and literally came into being as I was writing her. It felt perfectly right and proper at the time. I rejiggered that entire sub-arc to accommodate her. And since then, I’ve written that new character into the outline for the final book, where they’ll serve a small but vital role in the story.


I love that your book has that “classic fantasy feel” to it. Do you have any inspirations in the genre, or authors you look up to?

The full list of authors I admire and from whom I derive inspiration would be prohibitively long for this format, but I’m happy to share a few.

Michael J. Sullivan, author of the “Riyria Revelations” and its many prequels, is probably my closest “comp” among writers. Not that I can match his skill, of course, but he writes character-centered adventure stories with a similar “planned arc” feel to Heroes of Spira. (I’ve had two separate reviewers make that connection, so it’s not entirely my imagination!)

Mike Shel is a fellow self-published author who I think is absolutely brilliant. His Iconoclasts series is a great take on D&D-ish storytelling, though his books are much darker and more atmospheric than mine.

Josiah Bancroft inspires me not only with his amazing prose, but also because he’s such a genuine, kind, and helpful person on social media. (I assume he’s that way in real life, too!) I hope if I ever achieve half his success, I can comport myself with such humility and grace.

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

Oh, goodness. My answer to this question depends on my mood and changes often enough that I’ll give you a half-dozen of my favorites.

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov is a playful puzzle box of a novel that showcases Nabokov’s gorgeous prose without the subject-matter discomfort of Lolita.

Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R.Tolkien is beautiful and atmospheric, a seminal work in the genre, and my sentimental favorite. Who else can get away with starting so many sentences with “And lo!” and have it not seem corny?!

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft is a masterpiece, and its author a true maestro of the perfect simile. (Note that this is the third book in his Books of Babel series, and the author is currently working on the fourth and final volume.) I don’t think I’ve ever been more eager for a book release!

West with the Night is the memoir of Beryl Markham, the first aviator to cross the Atlantic east to west. Utterly gripping, with prose so crackling it’s probably dangerous to read in the bathtub. (The author is one of the few that the famously cantankerous Ernest Hemingway is on record as heaping praise upon.)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow. I’m a sucker for elegant prose, and this book delivers the wordsmithing goods in a lovely tale about magic doors and the power of stories.

The Scar, by China Mieville. If you’re ever in the mood for something mind-bendingly weird, often terrifying, and fantastically written, first read Perdido Street Station, and then read this.


Author Bio:

Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.

In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.

Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an Interview with D.H. Willison

Amazon.com: Harpyness is Only Skin Deep eBook: Willison, D. H.: Kindle Store

I’m excited to be interviewing author D.H. Willison today. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s dive right in!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Harpyness is Only Skin Deep, and Finding Your Harpy Place.

In a word: fun. The novels take place on Arvia, a beautiful, dangerous, crazy world filled with colorful, larger-than-life characters and mythical monsters more colorful and larger still. The world is seen through the eyes of two very different characters. Rinloh, the harpy main character, is one of the mythical monsters, and at a mere three stories tall, one of the smaller ones at that. Yet somehow she remains cheerful, empathetic, and insatiably curious.

And on a world brimming with danger, crawling with giant mythical monsters, a world where only the strongest, boldest warriors would dare set foot, what is the main human character like? Let me introduce Darin: a weak, nerdy, introspective adventurer wannabe, who’d love to whip out the blistering broadsword of badassary and charge in, but whose equipment is more along the lines of a rusty dagger, three novelty stink-bombs, and half a flask of cheap brandy.

I could tell you about the nefarious plot behind the disappearances in the city of Xin in Harpyness is Only Skin Deep. Or the mysterious artifact casting a long shadow of tragedy in Finding your Harpy Place. But that’s not what the books are about. They are about Darin and Rinloh, two incredibly different characters who find friendship in the most unexpected places. And fun.

What? You want me to actually describe the books? OK, fine.

Harpyness is Only Skin Deep is a portal fantasy. Darin is shocked at the dangers of this strange world he finds himself stranded on. Rinloh may be native to Arvia, but she and her flock are anything but “birds of a feather.” The two meet under difficult circumstances indeed: a human hunt. Yet as they get to know each other, they learn that they can be stronger together because of their differences, not in spite of them.

Finding your Harpy Place is a quest story. Our characters face long journeys, discovering new cities, new cultures and new monsters as they struggle to complete their quests. Using novelty stink-bombs. Or not. Release date, November 14, 2020.

Harpyness is Only Skin Deep is the first story chronologically, but they are independent and can be read in either order. Both are written for the adult reader.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

I’ve written stories since I was a child, usually of some crazy adventure I had playing through my mind. And although I’ve written in a variety of genres, I like extremes, and the fantasy genre is most accepting of extremes. You can break the laws of physics, biology, economics, and occasionally even good taste, and still make it work. The heartfelt story of a friendship between a giant harpy with talons that would shame a t-rex, and a human that should, by all rights, not have survived the first ten minutes of his trip to Arvia? Why not? It all makes perfect sense!

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

Characters are most important, but the plot is frequently hardest to write. Once a character is fully developed in my head it’s usually clear what they will do or say in certain situations. But then the fun begins: how do I actually get them into those situations? To me the plot is a frame, it has to show off the characters at their best and their worst, and that can be damn tricky.

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

I wish! Darin is way cooler than I am. And he doesn’t freeze when he’s put on the spot! Seriously though, it’s hard not to put parts of yourself into characters – subconsciously at least, though I do it consciously as well. I find it especially helpful when writing how a character feels in certain intense situations: is there something from my own life I can relate to? While I’ve regrettably only lived on contemporary earth, for many situations in my novels, there is something I can relate to from my life. I’ll remember a situation where I was genuinely afraid for my life. Or elated, or furious, or jealous. I try to remember the details of how I felt. What did I say? And was there a gap between how I felt and what I said?

So while I’ve never encountered a harpy or a mermaid, I can relate to that time I nearly stepped on that huge timber rattlesnake that was crossing the path. Or that time at work where I got thrown under the bus in the middle of a big meeting. Or the party where I felt awkward and embarrassed. Or any number of others.

And Darin’s ability to think and talk coherently even in the most dangerous situations is like a superpower for me.

What was the hardest character or part to write?

My writing mantra: if it’s funny, go for it. And since I prefer making people laugh, tragic scenes are usually difficult for me to write. I really don’t like torturing my characters, even the ones that kinda deserve it. But even though the tone is generally light, it is a dangerous world, and bad things do happen.

You have a large amount of the fantastical in your world. How do you come up with so many unique creatures?

Most of the creatures on Arvia have roots in either mythology or real animals. Harpies in mythology are generally portrayed as ferocious and ruthless. On Arvia they are taken to the extreme: giant-sized, with an appetite for human flesh. But the real fun comes from taking their characteristics and thinking through what it would mean if you were that creature. I treat all my creatures as if they could be POV characters. They are not monsters to be conquered, but a part of the world, and they have their own day-to-day problems. Can you put yourself into the shoes of a harpy?

That was a trick question. Harpies don’t wear shoes. And they also find it totally bizarre that humans have feet so weak as to require them–and can’t even properly grasp a branch. To me, what makes a creature interesting and unique is not just how they look, but how they think.

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

I tend not to use the classic heroic character archetype, but my version of a hero is easier and more fun. I try to put myself in the shoes of all my characters (even those that can’t wear shoes) to make them feel authentic, to give them realistic-feeling motivations. And I find it downright painful putting myself in the shoes of a truly evil character. But, we must suffer for our art, right?

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

I used to put on a suit of harpy feathers and walk around the neighborhood saying things like “tremble in terror, puny humans.” But then the neighbors started giving me strange looks, rumors started spreading, and feathers kept getting stuck in my keyboard. Honestly, I tend to work non-sequentially, so if I’m drawing a blank for the next scene, I’ll skip ahead a ways and work on a different type of scene. Or if that doesn’t work I can do research. Or work through background stories for characters, or the history of cities. It’s really just a matter of making the time, sitting down and writing. Regardless of my mood, there’s always something I can do.

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

I absolutely love my own, but have a soft spot for the first fantasy humor I ever read, Another Fine Myth. I still love the dialog (especially Aahz) and outlandish situations. Puts a smile on my face every time.

About the author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history enthusiast. He’s lived around the world, absorbing history, culture, and food. Actually he’s eaten the food. It has been verified that he is a complex, multicellular life form. Fascinated by nature, technology, and history, and especially anything that can put all three of these together, he has an annoying habit of dragging his wife to the most unromantic destinations imaginable, including outdoor museums, authentic castle dungeons, the holds of tall ships, and even the tunnels of the Maginot Line.

Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous.)

Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog

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Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Joy of the Widow’s Tears?

Geoff: “Joy of the Widow’s Tears is the second book in our fantasy detective series, the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. In this book, Reva and her magic-user partner, Seeker Ansee Carya, are sent to investigate a potential double homicide, but when they get to the crime scene, both of the victim’s bodies have disappeared. The case is off to a bad start, and it gets worse when Reva is suspended for the way she handled the arrest of some adventurers. Reva figures that the time off will be good, since her boyfriend, Aavril, has just arrived back in town after spending months at sea. Unfortunately, Reva learns that Aavril has been promoted, and will be returning to sea instead of staying in Tenyl like he’d promised. Meanwhile, Seeker Carya investigates a missing persons case and soon discovers that his missing persons, and the missing murder victims, have all become seemingly invulnerable zombies with very strange powers. Reva must work outside the law to stop the mad cultist who is controlling these undead before they are unleashed upon the city.”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

Geoff:” I would say that I just have an overactive imagination. I always made up stories when I played as a kid, and I realized I could tell these stories to other people. My interest in fantasy came from Dungeons & Dragons. Being able to play games in worlds filled with magic, monsters, and dragons, fueled my interest in reading fantasy, but also in writing it.”

Coy: “Reading. Once you read enough books, on varied subjects, by different authors and in different genres, you start to think “I can do that”. What drew me to fantasy – the short answer, Gary Gygax. I have vast roots in Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. Plus, I’ve always liked other legends from real life, like King Arthur and Robin Hood.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

Geoff: “Yes. They both seem to come about at the same time. Sometimes the plot comes first and a character is developed to suit that story. Other times, it is the character that comes first. For us, more often than not, it is the character that comes first. In the Reva Lunaria series, it was Reva who came first. Our basic premise for the series was, “In a world of magic and monsters, how do the cops solve crimes?” We couldn’t figure out what the stories would be, or what the plots were, until we knew who Reva was. What kind of person is she? How does she act and react?

For our other series, a vampire gangster series that starts with Unremarkable, the basic plot came first. Once we had that, then we found a character, in Saul, who fit into the story that we wanted to tell.”


Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“Not intentionally. One of the characters (Ansee) is the same height as Geoff and seems to be as timid and cautious as Geoff is, though that wasn’t intentional. We just wanted somebody who could contrast with Reva. On the other hand, Reva very much has Coy’s personality. That does make it pretty easy to write her, since Coy just needs to know how he’d act in a similar situation. But we didn’t start out planning her that way, it just works that her forthrightness and determination, and inability to suffer fools, really matches with Coy’s personality.” 

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For Coy, it is the exposition, writing the back story, information, and other details that give depth. For Geoff, the hardest parts to write are the dialogue, making sure that characters remain true to their own voice and don’t all start sounding the same.

Characters come and go, and if the dialogue isn’t right – if you can’t experience them and get the essence of that character – then you probably need a new character. Coy is very good at making sure that the character’s essence is there and remains consistent throughout the book. Geoff likes the exposition and background, writing the setting and description of people and places. He makes sure that the stage dressing is there for the characters to perform within. We think that our skill sets really complement each other and that really makes our writing click.”

You mesh fantasy with a detective character: what are some challenges with that? What is something you love about putting those two types of books together?

“One challenge is that, when you have a prevalence of magic, you have to prevent the solving of the crime from being too easy. It’s not good if your magic user can just cast a spell and identify the murderer. We have to make sure that there is enough mystery, enough of a challenge, like you’d find in a traditional (non-fantasy) mystery novel, so that the mystery will unfold as the story progresses. To make sure that we don’t let this happen, we have created rules for our magic system, to give us a framework for the world and to make sure that our characters still must face challenges and overcome struggles to be able to solve a crime.

Why do we put them together? They’re fun! We both love detective stories and fantasy stories, so putting them together just made sense. Plus, it’s a shift in the paradigm. It’s not just another detective novel, and not just another fantasy novel. There are so many books in each of those genres already, so in a world of fantasy and mystery, how do you stand out? For us, it was to put them together. Might we have alienated some readers of each genre by doing that? Probably. But have we gained some readers who didn’t know that this was a thing and it was missing from their lives? Heck, yes. And we love meeting them.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“The villain is easier, hands down. Their motivations are simpler, and generally they don’t have to be as complex as the heroes (though having complexity does give depth). Plus, with villains, we usually don’t have to have deep back stories, or try to interweave multiple sub-plots, character interactions, or other things that our main protagonists have to deal with from book to book.

As to fun, for us it is some of the minor characters that pop into the story, who are neither the hero nor the villain, that are the most fun to write. With them, we are not constrained by their motives or their actions, and we can play them however we want. We sometimes play these minor characters for humor, but we can also play them as over-the-top characters to help contrast with our main characters. In this series, we have several characters that are fun to write. Rhoanlan is a pawn broker, a known fence for stolen items, and a confidential informant that Reva uses. He is based on Sidney Greenstreet’s character of Signor Ferrari in Casablanca – a man who has his fingers in many places, has the pulse of the city, seems to know more information than everybody else, and will give it up for the right price. Rhoanlan has been in both books in the series so far. In Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduced several other minor characters that are a lot of fun to write. Pfastbinder is a cleric of Banok, the god of chaos, and this gives us immense freedom in how we play him, and in how he interacts with the other characters. Another new character is Amaryllis, who is a costume designer at Pfenestra’s Playhouse, and is another resource that Reva sometimes uses if she is in need of a disguise. Amaryllis is a blend of Nathan Lane’s character of Albert from The Birdcage and Edna Mode from The Incredibles. This makes Amaryllis very easy to write, and a lot of fun.”

I know you also work in publishing. Does that affect your writing process at all?

“Only in the sense that it means that Geoff has less time to write. It doesn’t really affect the actual writing process itself. We still plot our stories (we are both plotters) and then Geoff usually writes the first draft while Coy then fixes all of Geoff’s mistakes, corrects the dialogue, and makes sure that it is a coherent story.

Where being a publisher really helps is in what happens after the story is written. The publishing company (Shadow Dragon Press, which is an imprint of the main company, Artemesia Publishing, LLC) handles the expenses for editing, cover design, etc., as well as distribution and marketing. Geoff treats himself and Coy the same as he does all of the other writers he publishes, giving just as much focus to their stories so that there is no playing of favorites.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

Coy: “Currently, John Dies at the End by David Wong.”

Geoff: “Without Remorse by Tom Clancy because it is a great character study.”

Author Bios:

The writing duo of Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee have been life-long friends since high school in Manhattan, Kansas. (Affectionately known as the Little Apple, which was a much better place to grow up than the Big Apple, in our humble opinion.) We love reading, baseball, cats, role-playing games, comics, and board games (not necessarily in that order and sometimes the cats can be very trying). We’ve spent many hours together over the years (and it’s been many years) basically geeking out and talking about our favorite books, authors, and movies, often discussing what we would do differently to fix a story or make a better script. We eventually turned this passion into something more than just talk and now write the stories that we want to read. 

Coy lives with his wife in Lenexa, Kansas. Geoff lives with his wife and son in Tijeras, New Mexico.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Ryan Howse

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your books. 

“I’d love to. I have three books out. The first two are both in my A Concerto For the End of Days series, which takes place several centuries after a magical apocalypse so powerful it broke the world. Reality has been made much stranger, but human ingenuity has taken those setbacks, harnessed the magical currents of the world, and learned how to use it for their own gain. 

The Steel Discord is a magitech train heist that follows a young Arcanist who attempts to rescue his mentor from a military train.

The Alchemy Dirge is a noir that follows an alchemist and a black market arcana merchant. The alchemist is desperately trying to fund his newest invention, a printing press, and sells a batch of alchemy that turns volatile—and valuable. 

The third book is Red in Tooth and Claw, which was a palette cleanser for me. Instead of the intricate world-building and plotting of the others, it’s just two people from opposite sides of a war caught in the wilderness. They hate each other, and they can’t survive without the other.”

You’ve written several different series. Is there one in particular, that you’re extra fond of? 

“I think The Alchemy Dirge has all the urban intricacies down pat. Aeon feels like a living city, infused with a sense of weird that I love. It also has protagonists who are pretty far from traditional fantasy heroes. Salai, the alchemist, profoundly hates how much everyone he knows has been held back by their lower-class stature. Ilher, the merchant, wants to gain power in the city to shift the laws, not just because they’re holding him back but because he sincerely believes they’re unjust. Neither is a wizard or a warrior or an assassin. 

But no book has ever come out faster than Red in Tooth and Claw. It had been sitting in the back of my mind for nearly a decade, so once I started it, it flowed out fast.”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I have vivid memories of a ‘dinosaurs eat each other’ story I wrote quite young—possibly in kindergarten. As for genre, I love the potential of fantasy. Anything can happen. 

Yes, there are tropes that appear often—medieval European analogs, stabbing as an effective method of problem-solving—but none are required. You can bend the rules of reality. You can get the historical detail of a Miles Cameron if you want, or the wild abandon of China Mieville. I love the feeling one gets when the real and the unreal meet.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

“They feed off each other. The only reasonable answer is, ‘they come at the same time.’ If Salai didn’t create the volatile alchemy, The Alchemy Dirge wouldn’t have been a book. If I put Zarachius and Kyran into Red in Tooth and Claw, there’d be a lot less tension because they trust each other and would just banter. 

I work hard to make my protagonists make a choice early on which causes the plot. Zarachius could have realized his mentor was arrested and ran away instead of attempting a rescue. Salai could have refused to sell the alchemy that didn’t work right.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“Most characters have some relation to me or I’d not write them. They need to make sense, even if I disagree with them. Zarachius and Kyran have a fun ‘give each other shit’ camaraderie reminiscent of my friends. I disagree with Ilher’s politics but I understand where he’s coming from.”

 What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Zarachius, definitely. Zarachius is obsessed with symbolism and believes fervently that reading these signs will lead to the best solution or at least give him warning of problems to come. Making that an integral part of the story, while not making him insufferable, was sometimes a tough act. His relationships with his brother, his friend, and his mentor were all key in making him human.”

I hear that you enjoy role playing games. As a fellow rpg player, I’m curious: how does storytelling differ from DM’ing?

“I love role-playing games! I’ve even created my own system, a sort of Star Trek meets Mass Effect space opera.

Challenging your players is always a wildly different beast than challenging your characters. For one, if you get the players into a difficult situation, it’s up to them to get out of it. Not so if you’re writing a book. If I get a character into a bind I need to figure out how to rescue them.

I also find running RPGs to be a lot more episodic than writing novels. It’s a bit more compartmentalized. A novel needs a sense of unity of theme and atmosphere throughout, while a good RPG campaign can have sessions feel wildly different. It’s closer to a TV show, if anything. One session about a character‘s backstory coming back to haunt them. One session as a tense horror on a derelict but not-quite-abandoned ship. One session that reminds everyone of the overarching plot.”

 Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Honestly, because I try to limit my POVs the books I have out currently only have protagonist POVs. Some of those protagonists are not great people—Agash from Red in Tooth and Claw is a timebomb of a man. But they are protagonists.

My villains all have reasons for what they do. I can only think of one who’s vile for the sake of it, and they’re fairly tertiary. But my antagonists have, so far, been given less page time to develop than the heroes.

The real key is to make the villains reflective of the protagonist in some way.

Unless the villain is a bear.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“Lately, I’ve been using tabletopaudio.com It’s ambience for rpgs, but some of the pieces help get a sense of place. I used a lot of ‘Sea of Moving Ice’ for Red in Tooth and Claw, for instance. I can’t do silence or more bombastic music anymore.”

 Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. The perfect historical mystery novel. Aw yeah.

Doestoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov has the best characters in all of literature. Frankenstein is just an absolute perfect book; watching those two characters destroy each other is fascinating.

For somewhat more modern books, I have a lot of love for Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine, China Mieville’s Bas-Lag novels, KJ Bishop’s The Etched City, Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence.”






Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with M.D. Presley

image credit: Amazon

Today I get to learn a little bit more about author M.D. Presely, and his fantasy series, Sol Harvest. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about the Sol’s Harvest series?

Well, Sol’s Harvest is the unholy amalgamation of Airbender mixed with True Detective and a heaping helping of an American Civil War documentary. It’s a flintlock fantasy that takes place in a secondary world that very much mirrors the Reconstruction Era in US history. So pretty far off the beaten path in terms of fantasy. In it a spy who was captured and forced to fight against her homeland is tasked with escorting a catatonic child into enemy territory to assassinate the girl’s father. Plus, you know, psychic exoskeletons, airships, and monsters made up of the breath of their dead god.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
I’ve always been attached to fantasy and always wanted to be a screenwriter, which were diametrically opposed for many years since fantasy is so expensive to shoot. So Sol’s Harvest is the story I always wanted to tell and knew damn well that no producer would ever invest in. So I invested my own time and money to write the story exactly as I wanted for a change.


When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Characters, plot, and world are all pretty simultaneous for me in that one always feeds into the other, which ends up influencing the first, which then works its way back around. In this case I cannibalized a lot of existing ideas of mine: I made the world as a thought experiment a few years before, the protagonist was an idea I had in college but couldn’t ever get to work in a story, while the non-linear plot was inspired by True Detective. And once I thought about those three together, they sort of clicked and began creating a feedback loop that tied them all together.


Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
Parts of me are reflected in all the characters, but I will say that Marta’s core component of clarity that descends upon her when she gets angry is one of my own traits. I swear I could rule the world if I were angry enough, which is unfortunate since I’m pretty laid back.


What was the hardest character or part to write?
Inhuman entities with lifespans that don’t match our own. So much of our own understanding is based upon how long we expect to live, so when you suddenly change that it reshapes the character’s entire worldview. It makes them alien to a certain extent, which you then have to explain to the audience in human terms.


Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
Villains are almost always more fun, although they aren’t really as satisfying since they aren’t as constrained as heroes are. Heroes (usually) have to abide by a moral code, which makes everything more difficult for them. This in turn (if done right) means the hero is more dramatically satisfying


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?
I am 100% grade-A plotter in that I write out reams of paper ahead of time detailing the characters, plot, and world. It’s a carryover from being a screenwriter where page space is limited and every detail counts. You can’t waste space figuring your story out on the page that way, so you have to get it all down before you start writing. At least I do.


You have also written books about fantasy worldbuilding. I love rpg’s and creating fantasy worlds and I think that is SO COOL! How did your knowledge of world building affect your novels?
I’ve not written a novel since I did that deep delve into worldbuilding, so it’s a little difficult to answer. But I did just get off a call with some producers where they signed off on all the character and plot points, but got completely stymied when it came to the rules of the worldbuilding. For fantasy and science fiction in particular, worldbuilding is part of what sells audience on the genre in the first place, and now that I have that in mind, I really want to make my worlds more vibrant, consistent, and inviting. Because, I realized, unlike plot and characters, great worldbuilding does not suffer from diminishing returns. In fact, it gets better the more times you consume it, which means great worldbuilding should ensure multiple consumptions. Which hopefully means more money…

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

This may sound trite, but I find it’s best not to ever get out of the zone. I always compare writing to cycling in that, once you get up to cruising speed, it’s not much effort to maintain that speed. But if you have to stop, you then have to expend a ton of energy to get back up to that speed you were so effortlessly maintaining just a few minutes ago. I’m in no way saying don’t take breaks, but it’s a lot easier to be consistently tuned in to writing if you never tune out.

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

Favorites are hard to decide on because you can judge them by a lot of criteria like most influential (Sandman), or the one that caused the most emotional reaction (The Brothers Karamazov), or the one that you could just devour the prose with a spoon (The Great Gatsby). So I’ll just say that the book I’ve read the most is Goodnight Moon.

About M.D. Presley:

Never passing up the opportunity to speak about himself in the third person, M.D. Presley is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. Born and raised in Texas, he spent several years on the East Coast and now waits for the West Coast to shake him loose. He has worked as a screenwriter and managed an amazing team of coverage readers. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an interview with Luke Tarzian

I’m fortunate to be able to hear from Luke Tarzian, author of dark fantasy. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Vultures? 

VULTURES is…dark. Some people have said it’s the darkest fantasy they’ve ever read (I’m especially chuffed to have been told by one reviewer that it was more brutal than Joe Abercrombie). VULTURES is very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes. It takes place in a very phantasmagoric landscape full of demons, in a land where dreams are sometimes more than dreams and everyone—I mean everyone—is broken. Think some amalgamation of Edgar Allan Poe, The Licanius Trilogy, and a David Lynch film.”


What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy? 

“Reading Harry Potter and wanting to create my own worlds. I’ve been in love with the fantastic since I was a child and Harry Potter was kind of the final push I need to say “Hey—I’m gonna write my own stuff.” I write fantasy for escapism and the ability to self-examine through a fictional lens. I deal with a lot of depression and anxiety, and being able to filter that into my characters and take them on a journey helps me figure out my own issues.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot? 

“Characters one-hundred percent.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way? 

“Oh god, only way too much. A lot of the grief and loss and depression and anxiety and anger issues yada yada yada that the characters in VULTURES are subjected to are very much manifestations of my own struggles. For me, writing those into my characters a) helps make my characters that much more relatable and b) is stupidly and completely cathartic.”

What was the hardest character or part to write? 

“There is a moment in a scene very late in the book, probably in the third to last chapter, that was, in a sense, very real to write as it was heavily, heavily influenced by my mother’s death and her state in the final days before she passed. It was extremely cathartic to write, but it also fucked me up for a few days.”

I see your book is described as featuring anxiety and depression. I am always appreciative of any author who includes mental health representation in their work. Was it difficult to write about those things? 

“Yes and no. Yes because it’s always scary examining yourself, especially to that degree. But no, for the exact same reason, if that makes sense. Once you take a hard look at yourself and realize you have some issues you need to deal with (at least in my case), it becomes that much easier to address your issues through a fictional lens. A lot of the stuff I write I do so because I have a story to tell, but the way it comes out is absolutely related to what’s going on in my head.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Honestly, it really depends on the character. I consider myself an exceptionally strong character writer so, at the very least, any character I write is going to be fun. I think the bigger question is what character is the hardest to write, and, for me, it’s any character who is on the precipice of absolute good or absolute evil—because most people are somewhere in between (I think).”

Would you consider yourself more of a “pantser” or a plotter?

“I’d say I’m somewhere in between. I like to have a brief idea of where I’m going—the simplest of roadmaps. But, for the most part, my writing is very exploratory, very instinctive.”

How do you get “in the zone” when writing?

“Coffee and white noise, preferably rain. I don’t really write chronologically either, so I like to pick something I’m especially excited about to start with when I sit down to write as it helps build momentum.”


Luke Tarzian is…
Fantasy Author. Long Doggo Enthusiast. Snoot Booper. Shouter of Profanities. Drinker of Whiskey. These are all titles. I’m the Khaleesi nobody wanted and the one they certainly didn’t deserve, but here we are.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an Interview with Marcus Lee

I’m so excited to be joined by Marcus Lee, author of Kings and Daemons. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about Kings and Daemons?

“Well, Kings and Daemons is my first published book. It is also the first in a trilogy called ‘The gifted and the cursed.’

It seems that for different people it is many different things, for some, it is dark fantasy, for others high fantasy, or even fantasy romance.

I have tried to craft a story in a genre that is littered with magic and powers without limits, whereby those who are gifted by the gods are also cursed, and thus it adds balance. There are no omnipotent characters, and I’d like to think everyone is fallible, vulnerable and torn about many of the choices they have to make that are often forced upon them. We see guilt, love, jealousy, betrayal, greed, ambition, sacrifice, and so much more from many different characters.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil the plot for possible readers. Yet, if someone wants more flesh added to the bones, I can only point them to your own review, or that of many other amazing bloggers who wrote novellas singing praises of the plot. These can be found linked to my review page on the website http://www.marcusleebooks.com.”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I grew up reading fantasy from an early age. Anyone who knows me or followed the recent blog tour will likely be familiar with my tales of reading Homer the Illiad and Oddysey around the age of seven. Thereafter it was tales of greek heroes, mythology, then moving into mainstream fantasy was a mere step away. Being such an avid reader (I did branch into sci-fi here and there) it was only natural that if I were to write, it would be fantasy through and through. Saying that, I a half-finished sci-fi standalone book that I might go back to one day… so never say never.

I’ve written so many short stories and poetry throughout the years, but a beautiful woman who had a hugely positive impact on my life was the main inspiration for me picking up a quill and putting it to parchment. My son was also an important reason, for I wanted to leave him a legacy that lived on, and we have agreed to start a family tradition whereby every father writes a book or books for their children.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

“For me, the characters come first. I so wanted people to love every character I created or loved to hate them. If you can get readers to invest emotion in the characters, then the plot follows easily, and it matters less what the characters do, as long as it is them doing it. Of course, I wanted the plot to keep readers on the edge of the seat, constantly pulling them along, wanting to read ‘just one more chapter’ so don’t think I ignored that at all.”

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“All the handsome, witty ones! … if only. Seriously though, many of the characters and a lot of the emotions are from personal experience or from people I know. I would like to think I am a warrior without peer like Kalas, or a bit of a rogue like Taran, but I think I would be doing their characters a disservice if they were supposed to be like me… However, Taran is a bit of a romantic.. and I can’t help but admit to being one myself.. so perhaps him, if any.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“I think for me some of the most enjoyable, but difficult parts to write, were the backstories of the characters, both primary and secondary without it being an info dump or burdensome on the reader. For me, these were important parts of the worldbuilding, and gave readers an understanding into the motives behind actions, or to help the reader understand how they became, who they became. People in this world are not born evil, events shaped them, and I wanted the reader to not be treated as a fool with just glib portrayals. What I have liked about so many reviews is that readers had so many favourite characters based a lot on understanding their historic journeys.”

Your book took a darker tone, without crossing the line into completely hopeless. How were you able to write positivity into a negative world?

“If you think book one took a darker tone, sadly (spoiler alert) there is much more to come. Yet, life and writing is about finding balance. For me, Maya’s gift was the key, showing that spark of hope on the darkest of nights. Sometimes that is all it takes, one small spark to start a fire that burns with a brightness that can be seen from the heavens.”


Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“That’s a tough question, especially as in my books I try and have the propensity for both good and heinous deeds in every character, with the exception of perhaps Maya. I enjoyed writing the stories for all my characters equally, even crafting backstories for the secondary characters was a joy irrespective of their leaning toward light or darkness. So, I’ll sit on the fence on this one.”

Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

“I knew the plot in my head from start to finish, but never wrote it down, so I guess I am more a pantser (which by the way I had to google) .. I already have my next trilogy in my head, but as I’ll be working on this project for a while yet, who knows maybe I’ll jot some notes down … maybe.”

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

“I really do need ‘peace and quiet’ from others around me and also from other ‘things’ that need attention. So, if I have a must-do list, there would be no point trying to write. Once all those things are out of the way I can turn on some familiar music that suits the mood of what I am trying to write.”

What’s your next goal?

“I have two main goals.

  1. To continue with polishing ‘Tristan’s Folly’ the second book in the series. It was going to be ready for release in August, yet I had some new ideas which involved a ‘little’ rewrite. So it is delayed by about a month, maybe a touch more. ‘The end of dreams’ book three, is already written as well, so it’s just editing, editing, editing, proofreading, beta reading etc. to get them ready.
  2. I also really want to engage with readers who have enjoyed the book. It isn’t just because I want to grow my fanbase, although that would be lovely, it is because of the inspiration positive feedback gives me. Reading a good review, or receiving a message saying someone liked the book, is like a legal drug, I get so high and become enthused and creative. Even negative critique makes me strive to be better, as long as it is delivered nicely.

There’s a reason I am open to DM’s on Twitter and have my email up on my website, so if anyone wants to reach out, I would love them to do so.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favourite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“In which case, Kings and Daemons! In some ways, anything you put so much time, love and life into, will be so close to your heart that it is hard not to feel that way. Who knows, once more books are out I’ll have another favourite.

However, it would be horribly narcissistic to just say my own and not give credit to others, so, I think it would have to be ‘Lion of Macedon’ by David Gemmel. I love historical fantasy, and greek mythology is my favourite, so it fits perfectly.”

Self-Published Fantasy Authors: an interview with author Jesse Nolan Bailey

The Jealousy of Jalice (A Disaster of Dokojin Book 1) by [Jesse Nolan Bailey]

Today, I’m excited to hear from Jesse Nolan Bailey, author of The Jealousy of Jalice. Thank you so much for taking a bit of time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Jealousy of Jalice?

The book is an adult dark fantasy featuring female protagonists (anti-heroines), demons, and plenty of bleak moments. It begins with two women enacting a scheme to overthrow a tyrant chief by first kidnapping his wife. Annilasia whisks Jalice off into a forest infested with beasts and demonic entities, while Delilee remains behind to spy on the chief. Yet a dangerous event from Jalice’s past threatens to undo their schemes.

It’s a book that caters to readers who want that spooky, creepy vibe in their fantasy stories, almost horror at times, but still maintains a tale that explores what it means to be human and all the emotions that come with that.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction. If there’s aliens, ghosts, or dragons involved, count me in. Some of my favorite childhood series were The Magic Treehouse series, any Star Wars EU books, and The Bailey School Kids series. My obsession with fantastical tales only grew from there, and from a young age I knew I wanted to be a fantasy author.

Fantasy uses other-worldly settings and characters to draw in the reader, and provides a form of escape for a lot of people. Yet, I also found that, with a lot of fantasy, it speaks on real-life issues and emotions. I was a shy kid, and books helped me digest the real world around me while still hooking me with those fantastical elements. Books also taught me the power that words held, and how stories could be incredibly influential.

When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?

Both. Honestly, it’s usually a scene. I listen to instrumental movie scores to get inspired, and often times inspiration strikes when I envision a character in a specific setting or involved in some pivotal act. Almost like a movie trailer. I get bits and pieces that seem intriguing to me, and they slowly come together as I get to outlining the story further.

Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

Most certainly, yes. Well-written characters evolve from a writer being able to tap into the character’s mindset and emotions. Doing so requires the writer to dig deep, and in my personal experience, it’s meant I’ve had to sit and mull over my own emotions and memories. Even villains are written this way. I think we view villains as ‘other’ or ‘inhuman’, but its usually their actions that fit those terms—their emotions, on the other hand, probably are more relatable than people would initially admit. Jealousy, anger, selfishness: we all experience these. It’s just our story-villains take those emotions and take extraordinary action on them that the average person wouldn’t. Or, at the very least, they take exaggerated actions.

Basically, yes, I think each of my main characters reflects different parts of me. Jalice is naïve and perpetuates a false innocence when really she is in denial of her past sins. Annilasia starts with a righteous anger over the state of her world, but this righteous anger quickly devolves into self-righteous pride and an uncontrollable temper. The villain, Hydrim, is stuck in a mindset of control and power with an unwillingness to examine his motivations and vulnerabilities that fuel that mindset.

I’ve been there—each of those mindsets. I think we all have in different moments of our lives.

What was the hardest character or part to write?

This is going to sound kind of silly, but honestly, for me its how a character looks. Finding unique and interesting ways to flesh out how a character looks and what they wear is difficult. My mindset if usually ‘get to the story, get to the magic, who cares what they look like?’ That, of course, isn’t going to fly with my readers, so I had to spend time learning how and when to describe a character’s looks.

I’ve heard this book being described as darker in tone? Would you agree?

Absolutely. That was my intention. This is certainly fantasy: there’s magic, there’s monsters, there’s swords and arrows. But this isn’t The Chronicles of Narnia by any means. My characters are incredibly flawed (i.e. not exactly noble for the most part), and the world they live in is harsh. Deformed monsters lurk in the bleak forest, and demon-like entities stalk the astral realms. Blood and screams infest the pages of this book.

Yet this wasn’t for the sake of shock value. I felt the darker setting was appropriate given the underlying themes I sought to explore. The personal betrayals and delusional mindsets are reflected in the world my characters inhabit.

What were some obstacles and joys of writing a bleaker world?

I worried that readers seeking fantasy would be put off by the horror elements. It felt like a risk. Fantasy typically features a noble and hopeful vibe, and although that still exists within this story, the bleaker world definitely swallows that up at times. From initial reactions though, readers seem to be enjoying this surprising genre-blend.

I enjoyed writing the horror elements. Horror evokes deep-rooted emotions that every human experiences: fear and dread. I think embedding those in with the fantasy setting helps accentuate the themes I was exploring. My characters get to interact with magic and swords while confronting their worst fears and the horrific effects of some of their decisions.

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

Easier? Probably the hero, though I use the term ‘hero’ very loosely whenever TJOJ is involved in the discussion. My protagonists aren’t heroes in the traditional definition. They’re just not evil enough to be considered villains. Villainous characters can be tough to write because they can easily become a caricature or cliché.

More fun? I think they both offer fun elements. Heroes get to save the day, but I honestly get the most enjoyment forcing my heroes to confront their flaws. Heroes are only as strong as their greatest vulnerabilities and their courage to face those alongside the monsters. Villains, on the other hand, are fun to write because (at least for me) it’s a sort of cathartic examination of the darker experiences of humanity. Perhaps that sounds troubling, but we all must at some point examine the seeds of darkness within ourselves. Writing villains allows an almost therapeutic outlet for that.

How do you “get in the writing zone”?

Music is a quick way to jump-start inspiration. So I listen to an instrumental song that fits the scene I’m attempting to dive into. Usually, sugar and caffeine are involved as well. I’m an author—the job description demands I be addicted to either coffee or tea. I’ve chosen coffee (easier to excuse the copious amounts of sugar I combine with it. Can’t get away with that as much with tea).

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

That’s a tough question. I think the book that has stuck with me the most is The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I haven’t even finished the series it belongs to (got half way through the series twice, but never have the momentum to get past that midway point). Yet, I really enjoy Jordan’s style of writing and the characters he created. Alongside Patrick Rothfuss, Jordan is who I hope to emulate someday with my writing style.

Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with Nicole Mainardi

A Curse of Thorns by Nicole Mainardi

Continuing on with Self-published Fantasy Month, today I get to chat with Nicole Mainardi, author of A Curse of Thorns. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about A Curse of Thorns?

“I’m so bad at summarizing my own book, so I’ll just pull from the summary on Goodreads that I worked super hard on!

In order to repay her father’s debt to the Regime and save her sisters from a terrible fate, Belle Fairfax—an eighteen-year-old girl with a love for forbidden books and the thrill of the hunt—must risk everything to find the reclusive Beast and steal the ring that cursed him. But the Beast is not what she expects. A young king cursed by a witch and forgotten by his village, all Bastian wants is to win the heart of the forest girl with the silver scars. But he’s a hideous Beast that abandoned his people for the sake of vanity, and he knows it won’t be easy to earn her affection. But there’s more to the girl than he thought. Belle only has one purpose once she makes it to the Beast’s castle: find the ring, take it, and leave the Beast to rot. But as she comes to know about the Beast, she realizes that she has more to fight for than just her family. Bastian knows he’s left his people in the hands of the corrupt Regime, and the guilt of their suffering gnaws at him. The more time he spends with Belle, though, the less he hates what he’s become. With Briar on the brink of falling completely under the control of the Regime, Belle and Bastian find that, together, they may be the key to freeing their home from the reaching grasp of the tyrannical Emperor. In short, it’s a Young Adult Beauty and the Beast retelling with some faerie magic, a cursed ring, sisterly love, a badass heroine and cinnamon roll boi beast, and a love story that’s as old as time!”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I’ve always had story ideas floating around in my head, for as long as I can remember anyway. I used to write terrible, angsty teen poetry, and even finished a book when I was twelve that will NEVER see the light of day (seriously, never). I worked on A Curse of Thorns when I needed a break from my still-current WIP, so that I could take a breath in a story I loved with my whole heart. What drew me to write fantasy specifically is getting to make my own rules. It’s literally the best! I have another idea right now that will involve A LOT of historical research and adhering to actual rules and timelines and real people, and I think that’s the part I’m least looking forward to.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you-the characters or the plot?

“Definitely plot. That’s where I get most of my character development, and if I feel like a scene needs someone else involved, then I create another character who might just take control of the narrative for a bit, or pop up somewhere else. Most main characters are plotted out though with certain tipping points, but those could change depending on where the story takes me!”

Do you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“I think it would be naïve to say that authors don’t put a little of themselves into every character, especially if you’re writing from their POV. Sometimes, it’s a character we wish we were more like, or a character with our biggest flaw. Everything comes from something else; it’s almost impossible to pluck a character out of thin air without having at least experienced similar traits before.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For A Curse of Thorns, the quiet moments were hard for me to write. I’m very much about action, and even though I think I’m pretty great at dialogue, I can’t have too many quiet moments, otherwise I get bored. Which definitely means my readers are getting bored. But I knew I needed the quiet moments between Belle and Bastian, and I also know that there could’ve been more of them.”

A Curse of Thorns draws inspiration from Beauty and the Beast. What drew you to that story? What are some challenges and advantages to writing fairy tale re-imaginings?

“I’ve always loved fairytale retellings, and that undoubtedly stems from my love for Disney movies really early on in life. The animated Beauty and the Beast is still one of my favorite movies to this day, and is one of the bigger inspirations for this book. But I also wanted to pull things from the original story too, because even though it’s not the worst of the fairytales, it certainly has its moments. I wanted to keep the whimsy and romance of the Disney version, but inject some of the grit and hopelessness of the original story.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Oh, hero, FOR SURE. And these days, I feel like this is an unpopular answer. I grew up loving the unexpected heroes forced into the job: Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Geralt of Rivia, etc. I actually don’t like writing villains, though I know I have to give them substance and purpose, otherwise it’s not as satisfying when the hero defeats them. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the complicated hero journey far more than the fall from or rise to villainy.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“I go into another room, put on headphones, and listen to appropriate music, which is usually movie scores. For A Curse of Thorns, I listened a little to the soundtrack from Pride & Prejudice (2003), the song where the Beast transforms into Prince Adam on repeat, and some of the orchestral songs from the live-action BatB when it came out. For my current WIP, I listen to the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack on repeat. And for a shiny new idea I have, I’ve been listening to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy Returns.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“Okay, I AM going to be super lame and say my current WIP (tentatively titled The Darkling Sea), because I’ve worked on it really hard this year and I think it’s finally ready for querying agents! I started researching for it when I was 18/19 (for reference, I’ll be 30 this coming January), and I think this might be the first time it has true potential to be traditionally published! Also, I have too many favorites to just pick one! But if I had to pick a favorite author of all time, it’d be Ray Bradbury.”

Thank you so much, Nicole! You can find her book on Amazon.

Author Bio:

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, finding my passion for reading in the Harry Potter books, and then later my love for young adult in the Twilight saga and The Mortal Instruments series. My first novel, A Curse of Thorns, is a self-published YA Beauty and the Beast retelling that takes place in an alternate past of France. I have also had a couple of short stories published: the first, called “Of Scales and Sorrow”, was published as part of a showcase on an author’s website, and the second was selected by YA author Megan Shepherd to be published in a collection, the Beastie Tales (mine is called “Brother of the Monster”). I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in English, and live in Southern California with my husband and our dog Luna.