Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring Marian L. Thorpe

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

The quick potted history – I’m 64, dual British/Canadian citizenship, have a bunch of degrees that have nothing to do with writing, been a research scientist, a high school teacher, a regional special education /assistive technology specialist; I’m a birder and an amateur landscape historian; married, no kids, one cat (at this point), and I’ve been retired from salaried work for 7 years, which means I can write full time, a huge privilege.

Will you talk a little about the Empire’s Legacy series?


The books fall into two distinct sets: the first trilogy, narrated by Lena (all the books are
written in first person) is a heroine’s journey, beginning with a choice to learn to fight to
defend her land and climaxing in a last, desperate battle. These three books have the most
traditional action (fighting) but it’s not a lot – none of the books are focused on battles,
but on personal growth and choice in the face of war, kidnap, and exile. The next two are
narrated by the musician Sorley, and the challenges are political and personal, focused in
both counts on betrayal and forgiveness. Empire’s Heir, the most recent, narrated by
Lena’s daughter Gwenna and Gwenna’s father, is a political thriller at one level, but also a
story about choices and sacrifices. But all of them are also (or maybe primarily) about
love, in many forms and for many things, both people and places, and its power in our
lives. Together the seven current books and the planned last two (Empress & Soldier will
be out later this year; Empire’s Passing 2023 or early 2024) make up a saga of choices,
betrayals, intrigue, and love, where some battles of power and politics are won with
swords – and some with words.

Your writing is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?


Well, let’s start out by saying that not everyone considers my books historical fantasy,
because they are free of magic or magical beings in any form. The ‘fantasy’ in my books is
the societal structures, but they’re not alternate history either because the geography is
different and there is no deviation from real history. Think of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books but
without the ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ of his, and you have my world.
Broadly, though, I would define historical fantasy as any book that uses history to form its
world, but either includes magic or a society so different that it is clearly not this world,
but a parallel, mirrored version of it.

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?


I wanted to explore questions of society, sexuality and the choices people make about
personal happiness vs. the public good in a setting that wasn’t our world, but wasn’t so far
distant from it. But I wanted everything, good and bad, to be within the realm of human
choice and action, so I didn’t include magic. (I probably wouldn’t have the ability to create
a magic system.) But don’t get me wrong: I love well-conceived and well-written magical
fantasy, it just wasn’t what I wanted to write.

How did you decide which era (or civilization) you wanted to draw from when writing?
There was never any question. I’ve been interested in pre-Conquest British history for a
very long time, as well as Britanno-Roman history. When I started to write Empire’s
Daughter, the first of my series, the setting came automatically.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?


For me, yes. My world is loosely based on northern Europe/Rome/Byzantium between
about the 4th and 10th centuries of the common era. I want it to feel familiar but not quite
historical, so that my deviations from both history and social constructs aren’t going to
make people say, ‘but it didn’t/couldn’t happen that way’. So, I do a lot of research,
including travel to Hadrian’s Wall and Rome specifically for the books. When I deviate
from real history – for example in how my palace/city guard works in the Rome-analogue
city Casil – I want to know what it is I’m deviating from, and which pieces of reality I
should keep to make it seem real (or at least realer.)
I also am hopeless at writing battles, so to date all the battles in the books are based on
real ones: the final battle in Empire’s Exile is entirely the Battle of Maldon (until it isn’t, at
the very end) so I read multiple translations of the poem, looked at Google Earth images
of the site as it looks today and scholarly recreations of how it would have looked in the
10 th century, before I wrote the scene.

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?


I actually haven’t found any, except that because my books aren’t fantasy in a lot of
people’s minds, they are hard to market using the genres Amazon and other platforms
subdivide books into. But that’s a problem specific to my books, not the subgenre overall.

What are some of its strengths?


I love the fact that I’m not bound by historical fact or timelines, which I would be if I wrote
pure historical fiction. I borrow from a number of cultures and events that fall into early-
medieval/late classical history, but they’re not in the ‘right’ order. Plus, with the genre’s
long history, I can include echoes of older stories which create resonance in some readers
but are very subtle. There are a lot of Arthurian themes in my books, but they are not
blatant, or direct, but reflections.

I love that you have Arthurian influences in your books because there can be so much to
draw from. Do any modern ideas and beliefs find their way into your historical fantasy?


Oh, that’s a tough question. Many people might say my approach to sexuality and
women’s rights in the books are modern ideas and beliefs, but I’m not convinced they are:
much expression of sexuality and the rights and contributions of women were suppressed
by religions and historians writing from male viewpoints and entrenched beliefs. (The
inclusion of a reliable birth control method is modern: ancient peoples had their methods,
and the herb anash, the birth control herb in my series, is inspired by silphium, a plant of
antiquity with multiple uses, including birth control, that is now extinct. But it probably
wasn’t as reliable.) Otherwise, other than that we all write from our own experiences,
which are inevitably shaped by the time we live in; I try to avoid obviously modern
concepts.

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?


I’m a morning writer, so generally I start the day (after and with coffee) by re-reading
what I wrote in the last session, making a few changes, and then going on from there. I
aim for about 800 words a day – I’m a slow writer, so that takes me about two hours.
In good weather I bike or walk for about 90 minutes most days, which is thinking time, and
I also go for long country drives alone, which is even more thinking time. If I’m stuck, I
read – going back into the research books often triggers something, and sometimes fiction
does too. If I’m really stuck, that’s telling me something’s wrong with the story, so I have
to take some thinking time to figure out what.

Who are some of your go-to authors?


Guy Gavriel Kay, first and foremost. Then Neil Gaiman. Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro,
Jonathan Nevair, Bjorn Larssen, and Karen Heenan – they’re about the only living authors
whose books I will automatically buy. I read a lot of non-fiction, so there it would be Guy
de la Bédoyère and Mary Beard on Roman history; Robert MacFarlane, John Lewis-
Stempel and Tim Dee on landscape and nature; Annie Whitehead on Anglo Saxon history,
Cat Jarman for Viking history.

Who do I re-read for the sheer pleasure of the books? Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth A
Lynn, Mary Stewart, Rosamund Pilcher, Annie Dillard (and Kay, always.) The books that
shaped me as a writer, the writers who taught me how to write.

About the author:

Taught to read at the age of three, words have been central to Marian’s life for as long as
she can remember. A novelist, poet, and essayist, Marian has several degrees, none of
which are related to writing. After two careers as a research scientist and an educator, she
retired from salaried work and returned to writing things that weren’t research papers or
reports.
Her first published work was poetry, in small journals; her first novel was released in
2015. Empire’s Daughter is the first in the Empire’s Legacy series: second-world historical
fiction, devoid of magic or other-worldly creatures and based to some extent on northern
Europe after the decline of Rome.  In addition to her novels, Marian has read poetry, short
stories, and non-fiction work at writers’ festivals and other juried venues.
Marian’s other two passions in life are birding and landscape history, both of which are
reflected in her books. Birding has taken her and her husband to all seven continents. Prior
to the pandemic, she and her husband spent several months each year in the UK, for both
research and birding, and she is desperately hoping to return.

Purchase link: https://books2read.com/marianlthorpe

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring G.M. White

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark,  Epic/High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview G.M. White, author of The Swordsman’s Lament and The Swordman’s Descent, which releases tomorrow (The preorder link is below).

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

Thank you so much for having me!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

Yes, of course. I’m G.M. White, an indie fantasy author. I live on St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly, a tiny island with a population of around 130 which is off the south west coast of the UK.  Like many people on the islands I wear a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, I also work several part time jobs, am on the local Coastguard rescue team, sit on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, play cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow find time to write.

I’ve always loved stories, and storytelling, having been an avid reader from an early age. My mum and dad instilled a love of reading in me, perhaps because the only time I was quiet was when I had my head in a book!

I’ve been an actor, played drums in bands on and off for many years, and dabbled in playwriting, but it was only in 2015 that I started to work on writing fantasy fiction. The Swordsman’s Lament, my first novel, was published in 2019.

Will you talk a little about The Swordsman’s Lament series?

Happily! The series follows the character of Belasko, a war hero, legendary swordsman, and undefeated duelist. When we meet him in The Swordsman’s Lament, he’s the Royal Champion to the King of Villan. A post he’s held for fifteen years, the first commoner to do so. But a lifetime of pushing his body hard has started to have an effect, and it is beginning to let him down.

When tragedy strikes the royal household and a prince is murdered, Belasko discovers he is expendable. The grief-stricken king demands blood, and Belasko’s options are clear: find the real killer, or die for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s a swashbuckling fantasy adventure, as Belasko fights to clear his name with help from unexpected sources. The Swordsman’s Lament is book one in the Royal Champion series. I published The Swordsman’s Intent in 2020. That is a prequel novella set fifteen years earlier and tells the tale of how Belasko became champion, the trials and training he underwent, and the friends and enemies he made along the way. It also introduces characters that appear in the other books in the series, as well as setting in motion the events of The Swordsman’s Lament.Book two, The Swordsman’s Descent, is out very soon and in that Belasko’s adventures continue as he and his companions find themselves thrown headlong into danger in a foreign city. I don’t want to give away too much, but when blades are drawn, and all seems lost, can Belasko save the lives of those he loves the most? You’ll have to read to find out… 😉

The Swordsman’s Lament is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

For me it means stories that are very much rooted in our own real-world history. Sometimes this can be in the form of alternate histories, fantasy set around real-world events, or alternate earths where magic is real. Or, like my series, a secondary world fantasy where magic isn’t a huge factor, but the setting is inspired by real world historical periods and locations. In my case, this is renaissance Europe.

What drew you to that particular time period?

That’s a good question. One of my earliest influences, before I got into fantasy, was things like The Three Musketeers, stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, these kind of semi-historical tales, myths, and legends. When I was younger we lived in the North East of England, where there are a great many castles and ruins to explore. Something we often did on weekend family walks. My brother and I were always sword fighting with sticks and pretending to be knights and these heroes of legend. So when it came time to write my own fantasy series, it makes sense that an amalgamation of these things came out. The swashbuckling adventure of D’Artagnan, the legendary warriors of Arthur’s court, the common man fighting for what is right from Robin Hood.

When I was in secondary school I was obsessed with the historical basis of King Arthur and post-Roman early Medieval Britain for a while. Can you guess what my next project might be? Hint, hint… 😉

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?

Funnily enough, it wasn’t that I necessarily set out to write a historical fantasy. It was the story that came to me and needed to be told, and as I worked on it it became apparent that it was a historical fantasy, rather than epic or high fantasy. Or even grimdark.

I have lots of different ideas (I sometimes wonder how I’ll find time to write them all), including an epic fantasy series with dragon riders, a historical Arthurian novel, a historical thriller/mystery series, a contemporary fantasy series… But Belasko was the character that took up residence in my head and refused to leave, and this was the setting that he fit into. I can’t really explain it more than that.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?

Yes and no. I try to have quite a light touch with my world building, dropping in small but significant details that help shape the reader’s view of the world without resorting to info dumps.

For me the first draft is for getting the story down, however roughly. As I believe Sir Terry Pratchett once said, the first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. So I tell that story, then dissect and reassemble it in the second draft. I may do some research here, but very often it’s more important in the third and final drafts when I’m doing a pass looking at world building and start hitting the research to get the detail right.

For example, I have spent many hours looking up details of renaissance/medieval clothing, or kitchens, architecture, weaponry… There are many research rabbit holes to disappear down!

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?

I suppose it is in a way quite niche, which can make finding your readers difficult. But when you have them, they’re yours forever! Also, I think it’s possible to get bogged down in the historical aspect and lose the fantasy. Just because a setting is inspired by a historical time period doesn’t mean you have to take every aspect of that into your story. I try to make sure that my fantasy worlds reflect something of my values and the world I’d like to live in, rather than adhering to strict historical accuracy. This may mean greater equality between the genders, featuring a broader spectrum of sexuality than was deemed acceptable in the historical time period etc.

I think it’s interesting that you write fantasy that reflects your values a little bit. Do you see fantasy writing as a way to unpack or “work through” real life concerns, questions, or emotions?

Absolutely. I see fantasy and science fiction as ways of viewing life through a different lens. A safe space in which to examine difficult ideas. I always hold up Terry Pratchett as an example. People that haven’t read his work may dismiss it as “funny fantasy.” While it is funny and most of it (particularly his Discworld books) is fantasy, it’s also excoriating social satire.

I often have a theme I’m thinking about when I work on something. In the upcoming The Swordsman’s Descent that is that we’re stronger together than we are apart. This was partially in reaction to the first book, where Belasko is cast out and has to take it upon himself to save the day. Whereas the second book is about people coming together to try and make the world a better place, while a few selfish groups try to derail that progress for their own ends. And it was written against the backdrop of a global pandemic where it really was important that people act in the common good.

With The Swordsman’s Lament I didn’t particularly have a theme in mind, but just set out to tell a story. What emerged was a tale of people who are willing to almost any lengths to do what they see as the right thing. One of those is the hero, Belasko, and one is the villain of the piece. Who, of course, doesn’t see themselves as the villain. And it was written while the UK was tearing itself apart over Brexit and feeling more divided than at any time I can remember in my lifetime, with people acting at cross purposes while being entirely convinced that they were completely right and the other side was completely wrong.

Of course, they’re fun adventure stories and someone may read them and not be aware of all this. But those issues and questions are in there.

What are some of its strengths?

I think that grounding in at least some level of real-world detail can give historical fantasy a very realistic feel. It’s also a great opportunity to ask “what if” questions. What if the Napoleonic wars, but with dragons? As in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Or, what if our world’s geography had developed differently, and never known the Roman empire, but with magic? As in Miles Cameron’s Masters and Mages series. 

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?

My writing time is pretty limited, so I have to make the most of it. Plotting helps, as it means when I sit down to write I know what I’m working on next. If I really need to focus and block out other distractions I’ll listen to ambient music, and I’ve recently started using brain.fm to help me focus.

Mostly, I just grab that free time and get my butt in the chair!

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Ooh, good question. I love Tad Williams, his classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series is what got me into fantasy back in the early 90s. So anything he writes is an automatic purchase for me! I feel the same way about RJ Barker, who is doing astonishing things in the fantasy genre at the moment. (If you haven’t read his Tide Child trilogy yet you really must.) Other authors that are old favourites are Robin Hobb, David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett… Newer authors (at least to me) that I’m enjoying include Ed McDonald, Miles Cameron, Jen Williams, Mark Stay… It always seems like there’s so many books and so little time!

About the author:


G.M. White is an indie fantasy author. He lives on St Martin’s, in the Isles of Scilly, with his wife and son. Like many people on the islands he wears a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, he also works several part time jobs, is on the local Coastguard rescue team, sits on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, plays cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow finds time to write.

Author site: https://gmwhite.co.uk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GMWhiteWrites
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gmwhitewrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gmwhitewrites/

Purchase links:

The Swordsman’s Lament
The Swordsman’s Descent

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring Angela Boord

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, Urban Fantasy, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month the focus is on historical fantasy, and I’m delighted to feature Angela Boord, author of Fortune’s Fool.

Writing Historical Fantasy: It’s the Vibes

by Angela Boord

In a blog series on historical fantasy, it’s probably not surprising to hear that I cut my adult fantasy teeth on the books of Guy Gavriel Kay. I liked how juicy his worlds were, how real, how they took history and transformed it into something at once familiar and strange. That’s always been the draw of historically-inspired fantasy for me, how recognizable history can give a world detail and depth, especially when it takes that “quarter turn to the fantastic”. 

My own Renaissance-inspired fantasy, Fortune’s Fool, follows a slightly different strategy to hopefully end up at a similar place. A lot of historical fantasies, including many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, base their worlds firmly on instantly recognizable earth-history analogues. As an example, I would venture to say that most Renaissance-inspired fantasies usually include a Church everyone knows is the Catholic Church with a different name. But I thought it might be fun to reconstruct the process I went through in building an historically-inspired fantasy that relies on something different for recognition: the historical vibe.

Finding an historical vibe that makes a world feel like history without using the same structures of earth-history (like the Renaissance Church) can be challenging. You have to make a lot of choices along the way. What do you import, and what can be left behind? What is absolutely necessary to get the feel of a place and time, and what can you riff on? Writing historically-inspired fantasy is a little like being a jazz musician in that way. You work in a recognizable framework, but there’s a lot of room for improvisation.

Consider the following a case history of historical riffing—or the nuts and bolts of writing an historical epic based on a history that doesn’t exist.

Coming up with the Original Idea for Fortune’s Fool 

All my stories start with a character who walks into my brain and won’t leave. Kyrra walked in one day and dropped an opening line that made me sit up and pay attention: “My right arm is made of metal”. Trying to scientifically tease apart the process of story creation is almost impossible, but somehow Kyrra also connected with another idea that had been nagging me since reading Romeo and Juliet in high school. I’d always hated the idea of Romeo and Juliet being a romance; it only made sense as a tragedy to me, and a somewhat ridiculous and yet sadly believable tragedy at that. After Kyrra claimed her portion of my brain, I started wondering, what would have happened if Romeo and Juliet hadn’t killed themselves? What kind of consequences would they face? And from there I wondered, what if I took this whole issue of a love affair between feuding Houses and wrote more about what happens after? What if I made it fantasy?

With that in mind, I had my setting. But Renaissance Italy—in particular Venice, which I used for all the reasons everybody uses Venice, because canals are cool—is hardly original, so I started thinking about all the ways I could make it mine. Kyrra had introduced herself by telling me she had a metal arm, where had that come from? Why had she lost her arm?

It was answering these why character questions that set me off into building a fantasy world based mostly on historical vibes. I borrowed cultural details more than strictly historical ones and layered in my own worldbuilding. I decided to dive into the Renaissance drive to recover classical knowledge, so instead of a Church, my world has a pantheon of scheming Greco-Romanesque gods. I included an ancient, fallen empire but I based it more on the Etruscans than the Romans, messed around with spelling, and came up with the name Eterean. I was tired of reading generic medieval fantasy, so I wrote England out of my world and made it Mediterranean instead, facing more south and east than west. I shamelessly cribbed a possibly apocryphal story about an Italian merchant stealing silk worm eggs from China by stuffing them in his pockets. I made sure all my names sounded Italian. But my world was becoming an amalgamation of changes that served the story rather than sticking with anything just because it was part of the Renaissance in our world.

There were more pieces to Kyrra’s story. Kyrra disguised herself as a man, and mercenaries were a very fantasy-friendly aspect of the Italian Renaissance, so…she was definitely going to be a mercenary. And guns. The Renaissance interested me because it was such a transitional period in almost everything, and that included warfare. The Italian Wars of the late sixteenth century were the first wars in which portable guns (arquebus) and gunpowder were used to definitively alter the outcome of battles, but at the same time, soldiers were still using swords and pikes; plate armor was in the process of phasing out. The era was a fertile jumble of the ancient, the merely old, and the new. It seemed like nobody knew where they were going, but they were headed there very quickly. I wanted to capture that feeling of change in my book, too, and I did it by introducing guns and a war that devastated Kyrra’s city—a war that like Helen of Troy, she was blamed for starting. Again, I was reaching more for echoes of a time rather than specific actual events. 

While I noodled about the basic idea, I also plundered my books about Renaissance history. Then I was ready to write, yes?

Well, kind of.

Early Drafts

Initially I thought Fortune’s Fool was going to be a short novella in which Juliet got her revenge on a Romeo who had used and discarded her in service to his family’s political scheming. By the time I got to the end, I knew it was not going to be a novella. That early draft, in which Kyrra slices Cassis di Prinze’s arm off in retribution for the loss of her own, introduced more questions than it answered. As soon as I finished, I knew it was only the outline of a much, much larger story. All because Kyrra had introduced one name in the telling: Arsenault. The man who made her arm.

The result of me wanting to know more about Arsenault was a 700 page novel contrasting the devastating effects of a bad teenage love affair to a mature love between two people truly devoted to each other—whose only goal was to see the other safe and whole with little regard for themselves. It opened up a huge world which was far deeper than I expected and sent me off to research (to date): Viking mercenaries, traditional silk growing and weaving, Renaissance amputations, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Nigerian cuisine, traditional vodka production, pirate codes, Etruscan burial practices and religion, ancient Carthage, Italian folk magic… by now, the list is really long, and will certainly only get longer.

Revision Time!

The manuscript for Fortune’s Fool sat in my closet for a long time, because my kids were little and there were a lot of them. When I finally pulled it out, technology had advanced, and I had access to google! (I said there were a lot of kids, right?) As I dismantled and re-mantled the book into the shape I wanted, I could stop and look up what Italian peasant women wore in the Renaissance (a simple dress called a guarnello), how Renaissance soap was made (sometimes scented with tea), and watch endless videos about traditional silk production. These smaller details helped build a word that could be tasted, smelled, and felt, but I started to feel like I was getting bogged down. What was the point of building my own world if all I was doing was using details from ours? Why not just layer magic into actual Venice?

It was a good question. The bottom line was: Because I didn’t want to. And also, I’m a little lazy and it’s fun to make stuff up. My forthcoming portal fantasy is partially set in Illinois in 1988, and working on that book is an exercise in not being able to fudge small details, like: what day of the week was Halloween in that year? (Saturday—which worked out well for me). What songs and movies were out in May? How much did a calzone and a coke cost? (I lived through the 80’s but I honestly can’t remember, except that it was much less.) 

My solution in Fortune’s Fool was to lean harder into the gods and magic, but also to make the world itself just a tiny bit more fantasy. I introduced a species of giant silk moth whose larvae spun burgundy silk exclusively for Kyrra’s family. I’ve had a number of readers ask me if all the silk stuff is real, including the giant moths, and the answer is 98% of it is as realistic as I could make it. The two imaginary elements I added—the giant moths and the exaggerated length of the combergirls’ fingernails, which they use to pull apart the cocoons—seem to fit seamlessly into the details I pulled from the real world, and happily, most readers seem to think it all feels real.

Incorporating Feedback

I usually put my books through a couple of big revisions. A friend of mine dubbed the first revision my “inflationary draft” because I usually add a lot of words instead of cutting. I also do at least one major revision after I get feedback, which includes comments from my trusted readers, editors, and any sensitivity readers I’ve hired. I didn’t hire sensitivity readers for Fortune’s Fool because I didn’t know they existed at that point, but I did hire expert readers for Smuggler’s Fortune and the forthcoming sequel to Fortune’s Fool, Fool’s Promise. Their feedback was invaluable, not only for developing the characters of Razi and LiSang in Smuggler’s Fortune and Jon Barra in Fool’s Promise, but also for making the world deeper in general. One of the most valuable aspects of sensitivity reader feedback, for me—and one which doesn’t get talked about a lot—is the questions they ask about the worldbuilding, which always ends up making the world more real, meaningful, specific, and consistent. After receiving sensitivity reader feedback on Smuggler’s, I spent a week or two reading about the Order of Assassins, Zoroastrianism, and male veiling among the Tuareg. This research—which I didn’t know I needed to do until my reader suggested I should–gave me a better handle on Razi, an elite Qalfan fighter who’s also a bit of a hedonist. In fact, it helped me see why he was a hedonist; his religion considers it a sin not to enjoy the good things in life. 

Is the worldbuilding done after Book 1 is published?

Writers are often compared to magpies, exceptionally curious birds which, like many members of the corvid family, collect random objects. A quick check on Wikipedia (because my daughter is a birder and will expect me to get my bird story straight) informs me that magpies are often said to collect shiny objects, especially wedding rings, but Science has determined that this isn’t exactly true; they have no preference for collecting shiny objects over dull ones. I had no idea magpies were supposed to steal wedding rings, but now that knowledge will sit in my brain amid the other shiny, dull, interesting, and just plain odd bits and pieces of information I’ve collected over the years, waiting for the opportunity to become exactly what I need to tell a story.

Is worldbuilding done after book 1 is published and the series has a foundation? Well, not if you’re me. In the first place, I’m constantly magpie-ing new information, and in the second place, I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t realize what I don’t know until I need to know it. For me, the mark of a rich world is that there are constantly new areas to explore, more ways to make the fantastic feel like history—always new ways to riff on what has come before to make your own historically-inspired music.

About the author:

Angela Boord writes giant fantasy books that blend genres–from romance and historical to espionage and epic and beyond. She likes collecting weird historical and scientific trivia to turn into scenes in her books, and she thinks way too much about food. Her Eterean Empire series, including SPFBO 5 finalist and Stabby-nominated FORTUNE’S FOOL, is historical fantasy inspired by Renaissance Italy with gunpowder and romance and big battles. Her Rai Ascendant series, forthcoming in 2022, is Cold War portal fantasy inspired by all those spy novels she read as a teenager.

Angela lives in Mississippi with her husband and the six of their nine kids still under the age of eighteen, where she writes most of her books at the kitchen table surrounded by Nerf guns and Legos.

Purchase links:

Fortune’s Fool (which will be on sale for $0.99 from Jun 24 to Jun 30 for its publication anniversary)

Smuggler’s Fortune

Dragonmeat

Socials:

Twitter: @AngelaBoord

FB: https://www.facebook.com/angelaboordauthor/

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring N.C. Koussis

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, Urban Fantasy, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on Historical Fantasy, that fascinating subgenre that adds the fantastical to real places and times.

I’m privileged to talk to N.C. Koussis, author of The Kiln of Empire.

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

Thank you for having me!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

I’ve been writing full-time since March 2019 after a series of injuries and family bereavements left me a nervous, anxious wreck. After being inspired by my incredible wife to start a creative project, I took up writing, because I’d always loved it. I had written stories when I was a kid but got discouraged by wanting it to be perfect. I loved Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and, more recently, Game of Thrones, so fantasy was the natural choice of genre for me to write in. I still have a day job, of course, and I run a local writers’ club. I’m also currently studying a PhD in neuroscience.

Will you talk a little about The Kiln of Empire?

I’d love to! The novel is set in a fantasy Constantinople, but imagine instead of Christianity, they worship their ancestors. From the afterlife, the Ancestors (as they’re known) bestow on their lineage powers—imagine a baker, who blessed by his forefathers, bakes bread that never goes stale. A potter whose glazes never chip. And of course, there’s the power structure baked in (pun intended): the ruling class are basically superheroes. The Ischyroi that rule the northern province have the strength of ten men. There’s the other side to that, as well: if you’re not blessed, if you’ve done something to majorly piss off your ancestors, they curse you. Now instead of baking bread that never goes stale, now your bread never rises, no matter how much yeast you put in. So, there’s a whole dynamic around that. You can never truly know what your forefathers think of you, either, though the clerics in the novel claim to know through auguries.

The novel opens in the middle of a revolt against the ruling family, due to a series of blunders by the emperor and a Senate who has whipped up fervor in the people, because they want to see him topped off. I won’t spoil it, but the main character, the emperor’s granddaughter, is forced to make a series of decisions to stop things from going from bad to worse.

Your writing is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

That’s a difficult question! If I was to take a stab, I would say that it’s fantasy that is far more grounded in reality. Generally, the world has followed a similar path to our own, with maybe a little creative license for magic flavor or some other exploit. Game of Thrones would probably be a step too far into high fantasy, but you can see the obvious elements of historical inspiration. I think it actually started as a much more grounded series without the magic, dragons, and the Others, though I’ll probably get a bunch of angry fans in the comments telling me that’s wrong! I think a good rule of thumb is if you can see the historical inspiration very clearly, and it’s not too different from our world (it could be set on Earth), then that’s historical fantasy.

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?

It sort-of fell into my lap, really. I’ve always been fascinated by the Eastern Romans; by their heroes who were not only incredible fighters and generals but cultured men and women, who loved poetry and read and wrote voraciously, and were incredible orators, too. Some of our most famous speeches come from the Greeks, Syriacs, Illyrians, and the Romans, etc. who came from all over to live in Constantinople, the greatest city of the age. If it wasn’t for the Eastern Romans coming west and taking all their knowledge with them (and also having it plundered by the Venetians and Franks in the Fourth Crusade, look it up) then the renaissance wouldn’t have happened, and Europe might’ve looked very different to today.

I want to tell their stories, because until recently, historians have largely ignored them. And I say ignored, not forgotten. As though Rome fell and Europe plunged into a Dark Age, and there wasn’t a second Rome just a few thousand miles east that lasted another thousand years. I have my own theories as to why, but I’ll leave the historiography to actual historians. As to why fantasy—historical fiction didn’t inspire me because I still love fantasy and magic, so I wanted to bring those elements in as well.

How do you balance the historical with the fantastical?

Another tough question! If I was to describe my process, I suppose I start with a basis of history, then bring fantastical elements in and thoroughly think about all the different facets of how society would change if that magic/exploit was real. Like a what if scenario. Throughout the process, I try to keep it grounded as much as I can.

I think it’s interesting that you start with the historical aspects! I read somewhere that George R.R. Martin did something similar (with his basis being the War of the Roses), although whether that is accurate, I can’t say with authority. Would you say that there are some similarities between historical fiction and urban fiction in the real-world basis?

For sure. Keeping things grounded keeps the suspension of disbelief strong, which is very important to maintaining reader immersion.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?

Hell yes! At least a couple hundred hours in total over the past couple of years went into researching The Kiln of Empire. In that novel, I’ve had to do so much research into how people lived in the Eastern Roman Empire, especially across the class spectrum, because ordinary people lived very differently to the patrician class. I think people like to see that genuine care for history and realism, even in this subgenre of fantasy. Just because it’s fantasy doesn’t mean you can make things up wholesale!

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?

The time it takes to research, I suppose. It’s not quite as much as historical fiction, but it’s close. The size of the market, as well! Speculative fiction is a pretty small market, at least when compared to evergreen genres like crime or romance, so a subgenre of that is going to be even smaller.

What are some of its strengths?

Yeah, on the flip side, I think if you find your people, you can find the most loyal following that a writer could ask for.

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?

It’s difficult, I won’t lie. I have ADHD, so I can’t speak to neurotypical brains, but personally I’ve got two modes: hyperfocus; or so anxious I can’t focus on anything and get overwhelmed. I guess I’m glad for the moments of hyperfocus, where I’m able to write for hours and find that I’ve written thousands of words. But on the other edge of that sword is that I forget to go to the toilet and eat and drink. That’s probably not the healthiest thing! I make sure I have a goal, too, however small (say, let’s write 100 words today). I find that more often than not I end up writing way more than 100 words. One of the biggest things I can recommend that has helped me is to just sit down and start writing something, even if it’s crap. You can always go back and edit later.

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Guy Gavriel Kay, Robert Harris, Emily St. John Mandel, and Nnedi Okorafor. They all have very different styles, but I feel like I become a better writer and a better human after reading them, and they’ve all inspired me in different ways.

Do you have any projects in the works that you’d like to talk about?

I’m working on the prequel to The Kiln of Empire which should be drafted later this year (it currently stands at 38k/110k, but I’m giving all my focus to BITP). I’m also putting together a novella set in the same world that I should be able to give out to people for free. I’ve also thought about making all my e-books free like I’ve seen some authors do, when I release them. I can’t give the specifics, but I’m working with some people at the moment for BITP, so if you want to keep updated, make sure you follow my blog!


About the author:

NC is a Greek, Anglo, and Kamilaroi man who swam with a great white (once) and nearly drowned in the Zambezi (twice). Between ill-advised water adventures and checking heads as a neuroscientist, he writes fiction that reimagines the past with a splash (or a deluge) of magic. He runs his local university’s writers’ club, which provides advice and workshops for emerging student writers. Yell at him on Twitter at @NCKoussis. His blog at nckoussis.substack.com is about his writing journey and historical inspiration for characters, places, and cultures in his novels. His latest novel The Kiln of Empire will hopefully be coming soon.

Author Interview: Josh Winning

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Josh Winning, author of the wonderful, nostalgia-filled fantasy adventure, The Shadow Glass.

 Hello, Josh! Thank you for joining Before We Go Blog to talk about The Shadow Glass!

Thanks so much for having me! I’ll try not to mess with any of the nice things you have in here.

You don’t need to worry about ruining nice things, I like to talk with my hands while holding a full coffee mug. It is not pretty.

I’ll just pop on my waterproofs, give me a sec!

I enjoyed every nostalgic moment of The Shadow Glass. Will you tell readers a little bit about it?

That makes me so happy! The Shadow Glass is my debut novel and a love letter to 80s fantasy films like The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. It’s about the son of a movie director who goes on a real-world quest with the puppets from his father’s 1980s movie flop, The Shadow Glass.

I was ready to start the book again the second I finished the last word. You had me cheering (and yes, tearing up a bit at parts). How did you balance the fun adventure with the deeper themes found in The Shadow Glass?

Cheering and tearing up are absolutely the two big things I hoped readers would get out of this book! I think that the great thing about those 80s fantasy films is the way they balanced adventure with grown-up themes – Labyrinth is all about a teenager coming of age, The NeverEnding Story is about grief and self-actualization. The best I could do with The Shadow Glass was try to capture a smidge of that same magic.For me, it’s all about emotional honesty, leaning in to the tough feelings and working through them with fun japes along the way.

You definitely did that! I loved how Jack’s anger and regret were directed onto Iri and The Shadow Glass. His grief seemed to be sort of reflected back with Zavanna’s own grief. Was that planned from the get-go?

Absolutely. Because Jack is sort of in denial, it just felt right that he should encounter somebody who has also lost a loved one (and, of course, the fun part is that that “somebody” is a puppet). Jack is forced to finally confront head-on his own loss and pain. I think it ties in with what we were saying about 80s fantasy films – the main character always learns something after going on their quest. Jack learns how to process that anger and regret, and he creates something positive out of that.

Many 80s fantasy movies take place in other worlds, but you brought Iri into the “real world”. What made you decide to bring the fantastical into the modern world?

The whole reason I wrote this book is because I love puppet fantasies, and I loved the idea of puppets coming to life in the real world. It felt like a fun spin on the fish-out-of-water trope – a little bit Small Soldiers, a little bit Jumanji. It also allowed me to be more satirical in tone. Even though the book is very much a fantasy, it’s also a commentary on fandom, pop culture and found families. It would have been quite difficult to explore all of that in any world other than our own!

Now I have to know: what did you think of the recent Dark Crystal show?

I. LOVED. IT. It got everything right! In general, I’m not a fan of prequels, but I felt like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance dodged a lot of the “prequel pitfalls”, partly because it introduced such a fantastic cast of new characters, but also because Thra has such a huge and fascinating lore to explore, it felt fresh and loving the whole way through. I loved going back to that world. (And any show that gives us a ton of Fizzgigs, plus Aughra being a badass, gets a huge tick in my book!)

I agree! I thought it was cool that the world and lore just grew while keeping the feel of the original. I am also so glad they didn’t go the CGI route. Also-and this is weird- I loved seeing that adult Toby Froud was involved (although his wardrobe was significantly less “Where’s Waldo”). Incidentally, did a certain character’s name come from baby Toby?

Oh yes! I sprinkled quite a few easter eggs throughout the book, and the biggest one was naming a character Toby. I couldn’t resist!

You included the most loveable band of fans! I liked that they had their own brand of family, something that I’ve been privileged to discover in my own fandoms. Was that based on your own experience in any way?

Well, I am a fan, and pretty much everybody I know is a fan of something nerdy and awesome, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to come up with the fans in the book. It’s funny, the Shadow Glass Guild came to me 100% complete when I first sat down to write them, and their chapters have barely changed since the first draft. I could write them for days, they were so great to hang out with.

Did you have a favorite character or part to write?

I’m more interested to know who your favorite character was! Honestly, I love all of the characters equally, but there’s definitely a special place in my heart for the villain, Kunin Yillda. She was just SO FUN to write. I love a baddie who is unapologetically evil, and it was so liberating to really dig into the grotesqueries of that character, without feeling like I had to dumb her down at all.

Kunin Yillda was such a great baddie! I liked that you had this flat-out evil character, but I honestly felt a little sorry for Cutter. He was an easy villain to pity.

I’m glad! I wanted Cutter to be complicated. I didn’t want the reader to necessarily know exactly how they felt about him – he does some despicable things but there is an inherent sadness to him, too. He’s clearly miserable! As much as I love an all-out evil baddie, I also love a baddie who’s emotionally and psychologically complex. With this book, I decided to do both!

My favorite character is a toss-up between Toby (I just loved his excitement, and he reminded me a little of a friend of mine) and Jack. Jack’s character development was through the roof! I love watching characters evolve, so he was a joy to read about.

That’s great to hear. I was worried that Jack would turn readers off at the start of the book, because he’s so bitter and dismissive. I’m glad that you enjoyed watching him evolve. I worked really hard on that!

Were any of your characters inspired by people you know (hopefully not Kunin Yillda)?

The lub is loosely inspired by my cat, Penny, who is both cute and deadly. The name of the Guild is inspired by my boyfriend’s cousins, who are really close and call themselves the “Guild”, too. (I know, adorable, right?) That’s about it. I try not to write characters who are too close to people I know IRL, as I’d hate to upset them! (Though I have, unfortunately, met a few Kunin Yilldas in my time…)

Such great inspirations (yes, the “Guild” is adorable)!

They’re as lovely in real life as they are in the book!

What was the most challenging part to write?

The Comic-Con chapters! There were SO many moving parts and pieces in that sequence. Pretty much every single character is present, plus there’s a huge room full of cosplayers, PLUS the baddies. Then when you throw in the idea of mind control and fighting… it was A LOT to get my head around. But I’m super proud of that sequence and so happy that it finally works.

One of my favorite recent book quotes takes place during the Con.. I did not expect to get a little choked up reading about a Comic-Con.

Well now I want to know what the line is!

“This wasn’t about using nostalgia as a shield, it was about celebrating the things that defined them, the characters that spoke to their heart’s truth, the things that made them different and unique and powerful in their own special way. It united them.”

I really, really loved that entire paragraph. It was wonderful.

Oh brilliant. I genuinely believe that nostalgia and fandom can be twin forces for good. And nostalgia is nothing new – just think about your grandparents getting misty-eyed over the days before cell phones. Everybody is nostalgic for something. I just happen to be nostalgic for puppets!

Would you like to see The Shadow Glass made into a movie?

Heck yes! That would be unbelievable. I wrote The Shadow Glass because nobody is making those great puppet fantasy films anymore, so if my book inspired a little genre resurgence (in the name of Jim Henson, of course), I would be very happy indeed!

If I found the last VHS store left, what are your must-watch 80s movies?

Oh wow, how much time do you have?! The main three I mentioned earlier are absolute must-watches – Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. Other fantasy films I love from the 80s are Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Willow and Teen Witch (which is absolutely insane). Then there’s Gremlins, Back to the Future (the whole trilogy), The Goonies. And we haven’t even gotten to the John Hughes movies…

Labyrinth is one of my all-time favorite movies! I haven’t seen Teen Witch, though. I’ll need to fix that.

Oh, Teen Witch isn’t good! [laughs] But it’s VERY entertaining, and sort of a prototype for Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It totally does its own batshit thing, and I can respect that. Also the ‘Top That’ musical moment is jaw-dropping and must be seen by ALL.

Do you have any plans to write a sequel?

Not at the moment. I wrote The Shadow Glass as a standalone, so I have no sequel notes written down anywhere. There are a few little ideas percolating in the back of my brain, though, so if enough people demand it, I’m not sure I could resist reuniting with these characters for one more adventure. After all, I lub Iri!

Well, put me on the list of demanding people (usually, I prefer to avoid being demanding)!

Demanding can be good!

Do you have anything exciting in the works? I’m very excited for my next book, Burn the Negative, which is being published by Putnam in the US in summer 2023. It’s another movie-themed novel, except this time it’s pure ’90s horror. The story is about a journalist who is sent on assignment to LA to write about a new streaming series, but when she gets there, she discovers the series is based on the cursed horror movie she starred in as a child. I can’t wait for people to read it! After that, well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you. Watch this space.

*This interview originally ran on Before We Go Blog.

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring G.E. Newbegin

This year I’m focusing on some of the amazing subgenres that fantasy has to offer.  So far I’ve focused on comedic fantasy,  romantic fantasy,  grimdark, and epic fantasy.  This month I’m excited to be focusing on urban fantasy. 

I am privileged to interview G.E. Newbegin,  author of Pyramidion. 

Hi G.E.! Thank you for being willing to chat about urban fantasy with me!

 

No worries – glad to!

 

Will you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about Pyramidion?

 

Sure – I’m G.E. Newbegin, a newly self- published Australian author, with two books released and another not far off. I live in Melbourne with my wife and two kids and I talk about cybersecurity for a day job. If you’re wondering – yes, I’ve tried to write sci-fi, but sci-fi is HARD. So I gave up.

Pyramidion was my debut novel, which I released in June 2021. It took me about a year to write, edit, rewrite again after my editor pulled it apart, typeset and ultimately publish, all of which I did while working from home. So… if your readers are thinking about what to do with their downtime while working from home? Don’t work more, write!

I wanted to write a horror fantasy, but as I worked through the story, it turned into an action-adventure that some readers have compared to Indiana Jones. While that character wasn’t a direct influence, I will happily accept the comparison!

Pyramidion tells the tale of Luke Nixon, who is propelled on a globe-trotting adventure (and beyond…) after seemingly losing everything, encountering gods and demons along the way. There are some common themes with this kind of story (secret organisations, bloodlines, alternate history), but it’s my take on these ideas. It’s fun, but can be dark in places, just like real life.

 

Pyramidion has the concept of a huge loss, which propels Luke on a life-changing adventure. Do you think a strength of urban fantasy is that it allows for a realistic exploration of themes such as loss and grief?

 

Honestly, I think most genres can explore these same themes, but being set in more familiar territory means readers can empathise more readily. Adding “fantastical” elements means you can explore things in ways that reality might limit you…

 

How would you define urban fantasy?

 

It’s a tricky genre to define, because in some ways, an urban fantasy could be any fantasy set in a city, but I generally define the “urban” component as a “contemporary setting” – so, any fantasy set in a familiar, modern setting. Pyramidion is set in the real world, but there are fantastical truths hidden from the populace.  Stories like Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and many more besides can be considered Urban (or Contemporary) fantasy, among others – books tend to fit into several molds.

 

What drew you to writing urban fantasy?

 

To be honest, it was simply the idea that came to mind, and it worked best for me. Since I wanted to touch on “real” themes, such as mythology and religion, for example, I found it easier to set the story in modern times. There was a point I was considering setting the story in a world of my own, but given I wanted to use real myths and legends, it probably wouldn’t work.

I’ve just released a second book in April (“The Fathomless Sky Lake” – a novella, not the sequel to Pyramidion, which I am working on right now), but this time I’ve decided to go all in on fantasy – in fact, even the sequel to Pyramidion will lean further into fantasy. I guess it depends on what suits the story more.

 

What were some obstacles to writing Pyramidion?

 

Being my first novel, motivation was the biggest obstacle. I’d considered myself a writer since I was a child, but all I had to show for it was a bunch of half finished manuscripts (most of which have been lost to time).

The other obstacle was research – how much do you REALLY need to know about something in order to write about it effectively? You can quite easily waste time going down a rabbithole that you really don’t need to. On the other hand, not enough research can stand out to some readers. So there’s a need to balance different kinds of work – the only work that gets you closer to finishing is the writing itself.

 

What were some successes?

 

Finishing the book in the first place. Convincing myself I could do it. Building the courage to put it out in the public eye.

But for me, the biggest success was having strangers – people I have never met and probably never will – read my book. That was a success in itself, and every bit of feedback, both good and bad, encourages me to work harder.

 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

 

I mostly read sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, so many of the usuals would top my list – JRR Tolkien, GRR Martin, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Joe Abercrombie, Gene Wolfe, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Mark Lawrence, Jim Butcher, Richard Morgan… And if I can recommend a new author I’m enjoying at the moment, Christopher Ruocchio, who has released a really riveting and well developed space opera with his Sun Eater series.

Where to purchase:

Pyramidion

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

Today, I’m privileged to talk with Jamie Jackson, author of the Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid series.

Hi Jamie! Thank you for joining me to talk about urban fantasy!

First, will you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

So, I’m basically Doug from Up.  I’m easily excitable, loud, and often distracted.  I love fantasy and science fiction but will read any and all genres I can get my hands on.  I’ve worked backstage in theater and behind the scenes documentaries about movies and TV shows are my favorite things to watch.  I’m also married to an awesome and supportive man, have three kids, and two dogs.

Will you talk a little bit about Fear and Fury?

So, it’s the first novel in my urban fantasy superhero series, Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid.  It has a 4th wall-breaking 1st person narrative, Greek mythology retelling, and a cast of ruthless, morally grey heroes going up against some epic villains.  The first book is essentially Meg’s “origin” story, when a previously unknown villain makes her his next target, she has to turn to the heroes she’s spent her life trying to avoid for help.

I love that your main character, Megaera, is a “self-described not-a-hero”. How did you get in the “zone”, so to speak, when writing a more self-centered character?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea.  I like to think that I thought about if I was hero, what kind of hero would I hope to be, and then wrote the opposite of that.  But she just showed up as a petty, and somewhat self-centered person to start with.

Your book is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

I would say urban fantasy is anything occurring in a modern setting that has fantastical elements, either magic, superheroes, the paranormal, etc.

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

I wanted a world that had cell phones.

In truth, it’s a genre I enjoy reading, and for my first real novel I wanted to write something where there wasn’t going to be an overwhelming amount of world-building.  When it’s a universe like ours, we already know most of the rules for how things work, so for a project I was attempting while involuntarily homeschooling it was the ideal genre to write in.  And the idea for Meg had been knocking around in my head for a while already. 

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

Realism! You have to balance the line of what could realistically occur in our world with modern elements like technology and still being able to exaggerate it without losing your readers benefit of the doubt.

What are some strengths in this subgenre?

I think one of the strengths is that since it occurs in the modern world, it can be easier for readers to relate the situations the characters get into.  And as a whole I think we would love for there to be magic in the modern world, and urban fantasy gives that to us.  It’s also flexible with the amount of creatures, mythology, and magic you can put into your story. The genre runs the gamut from werewolves and vampires to the fae and gods and goddesses being a part of those worlds.  And it tends to blend sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Who are some of your go-to authors?
Craig Schaefer, Rachel Aaron. I’ve read the majority of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Right now I have a huge backlog of indie author books I’m working through, but the authors of the ones I have read are all on my instant buy list.

Purchase links:

http://mybook.to/FearandFury

http://mybook.to/TormentandTarnish

http://mybook.to/ScornandSorrow

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Peter Hartog

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Grimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview Peter Hartog, author of The Guardian of Empire City, an urban fantasy series.

Hi Peter! Thank you for being willing to talk about urban fantasy with me!

First, will you introduce yourself to the readers and tell them a little about yourself?

Thank you for inviting me! My name is Peter Hartog, and I’m an over-the-hill self-published urban science fantasy author with two teenage boys, a demanding day job, and a house full of three rescue cats and an 80-pound golden retriever named Ollie. How my wife manages to keep us all straight is a testament to her incredible organizational and management skills, as well as her infinite patience. I don’t know where I’d be without her steering the ship.

I grew up in Massachusetts (go Ashland Clockers!), then moved to Georgia two years after my graduation from Brandeis University. Got married, got divorced, stumbled into a career in underwriting, got remarried and now enjoy the many misadventures of raising two crazy boys along with our fuzzy menagerie.

I’ve loved storytelling since I could walk. Growing up with my older brother in the late 70s, when we weren’t outside rolling in the dirt, playing catch, riding our bikes, or just exploring the world, we read books, assembled model warships, played with action figures, and generally built stories around what toys we had. I’d act as the narrator, and my brother would always be the hero. We had space adventures, superhero battles, even pretended we had a talking zoo.

Stories have always captured my imagination, whether I write, watch, listen or read them. I’m a proud card-carrying nerd (I keep a Harry Dresden business card in my wallet) who still sits around a table and rolls dice on Sunday nights with his gaming group of over 30 years. When I’m not working to save humanity one commercial property insurance policy at a time, I’m reading, watching shows and movies (Star Trek > Star Wars), listening to music (I’m forever stuck in the 80s), playing tennis, cooking, cheering on my New England sports teams, GMing or playing in tabletop games, and occasionally putting virtual pen to virtual paper.

Will you talk a little bit about The Guardian of Empire City series?

Both Bloodlines and Pieces of Eight follow homicide detective Tom “Doc” Holliday and his eclectic crew of investigators as they attempt to solve the strange and unusual by any means necessary. The stories take place in Empire City, one of fifty-two walled human enclaves that survived World War III and the horrors that followed. As a result of massive nuclear detonations weakening the fabric of reality, magic returned to the world as well as one-way portals that infrequently introduce new and sometimes frightening interdimensional beings. One such group, called Vellans, are intelligent, civilized humanoids who fled from their alternate Earth to find refuge on Holliday’s Earth.

After years of recovery from the war and pandemics that followed it, and through the aid of Vellan technology and knowledge that taught humanity how to harness the power of magic into usable energy, humanity endured to what it is today. The people of Empire City have jobs, there’s trade and travel with other enclaves, and life goes on.

And with all that also comes politics, greed, taxes, marriage, divorce, and murder.

The GoEC combines the genres of urban fantasy with science fiction and crime thriller to provide an exciting blend of whodunnit and magical shenanigans.

If I’m being honest, the GoEC series came out of nowhere. Prior to writing it, I was an avid fan of the classic fantasy stories by the usual suspects. I read plenty of classic literature in high school and college, but my go-to escapism was the pure fun of high fantasy. I ran dozens of D&D campaigns for my friends. I even managed to write five chapters of a fantasy novel, but it never went anywhere.

Like many urban fantasy authors, I’ve read Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. I’d grown tired of sword-and-sorcery stories. While they weren’t necessarily cookie-cutter, my mind grew bored. Dresden was a refreshing read. It combined the mainstay elements of what I had been enjoying for decades colorfully painted upon a modern-day canvas. From the pop culture references, the humor, the larger-than-life villains, the crazy cases, the series’ appeal was immediate.

Around the same time, I’d begun watching the television shows Person of Interest and The Blacklist. From there, my mind started churning with possibilities.

I realized I wanted to create something different, a genre-mashup that combined the stories I’d grown up with coupled with the familiarity of today’s world. But it wasn’t enough. Butcher had already covered that with Dresden, so I thought further on what I could add to separate myself from the gold standard of urban fantasy. Did I succeed? You be the judge.

Around the spring of 2014, I started writing a story about a down-on-his-luck private investigator working out of Boston. It didn’t go anywhere because it felt too much like Dresden fanfiction.

But the seed that had been planted when I first read Dresden germinated further in my subconsciousness.

I began asking myself a simple question: “What if?”

What if, instead of having a modern setting, the world had evolved in some ways, remained the same in others, and history diverged?

I loved the glitzy, glittering cityscape scenes and massive scope of Ridley Scott’s futuristic and dystopian vision in Blade Runner. I’d never played Shadowrun, never read Gibson’s Neuromancer (it’s on my TBR), never read any cyberpunk. But I started seeing images of a dystopian New York called Empire City. I imagined what life would be like after a nuclear holocaust. Why humanity would want to restore civilization, how people would come together either to return to what they once knew or gather beneath the banner of some other socio-economic and/or religious focus.

And then I sprinkled magic on top of it.

I took these ideas, wrote an outline, developed side characters, and approached my gaming group with the idea of GMing it. The concept of writing a novel, let alone two, hadn’t even entered my mind. The players came up with character ideas (all of whom are represented in the novels in some form except for Doc Holliday), I built the world around them, and the Special Crimes Unit was born. The game ran about a year and was a smashing success. After the Bloodlines game, I developed two more cases: Pieces of Eight and The Devil’s Share (my current WIP).

Enamored by the games I ran and the setting I’d created, I began novelizing Bloodlines in 2016. For once, the words came easily to me. No longer stymied by writer’s block or a lack of inspiration, I made steady progress until I self-published in 2018.

As for the stories themselves, I leaned heavily into the tropes that I’ve loved since I was a kid: the down-on-his-luck hero with a heart of gold; the crusty, inveterate heavy with a dark past; the mysterious and ethereal alien; the sharp, ebullient kid with a shadowy dark-side. Villains embraced their villainy. There’s good and bad, and stuff in-between. Pulpy dialogue, cinematic scenes, flowery writing, bad jokes, pop culture and music references.

I know the GoEC series isn’t ground-breaking. It’s not unique, nor is it the greatest fiction you’ll ever read (although I do think it’s pretty good, but I’m biased that way). At the end of the day, my imagination craved a change of scenery. I’d been stuck in a rut, gotten bored with the same old-same old, and needed something new.

So, I followed some of the best writing advice I’d ever been given: write what you want to read.

Your series focuses on a detective solving mysteries of the fantastical nature. Did writing the case element present unique challenges? 

I’d never written crime fiction. I don’t personally know anyone in law enforcement, either. I had no idea where to begin. But the internet can be a wonderfully helpful tool, and research is your friend. I read police procedurals, searched the NYPD website and associated websites, watched copy shows on television and on film, and tried to provide just enough realism in the stories for the average reader. Are there mistakes? Probably, but so far no one has pointed them out.

I also have the benefit of writing urban science fantasy which means I can bend or break the rules. The setting isn’t 21st century New York. The NYPD has its policies and procedures, but that doesn’t mean Empire City’s police shares the same. Sure, there are reflections, but I can diverge however I want. Funny thing is, I tried to keep that aspect of the stories grounded as best I could.

Holliday starts off thinking he’s dealing with an ordinary, yet weird, crime. And as the reader tracks his progression, they’ll see how his view shifts considerably but only after he experiences the extraordinary. Despite possessing his own magic (with its own problems), and living in a world powered by magic, I developed a skeptical, world-weary main character whose arc takes him to where the reader expects him to go.

One of the most interesting aspects of my research were autopsy reports. The gruesome, yet clinical detail involved, a fresh reminder of humanity’s awful capacity to harm one another. It wasn’t just the science and nuts-and-bolts side of things. Reading sample reports and how the medical examiner conducts their job was both enlightening and frightening.

While both stories involve magic, Empire City’s world-building uses the mystical as a pragmatic foundation for its existence. Simplistically, magic is an energy source drawn from Nexus nodes, previously invisible vessels of power brought to light because of multiple catastrophic nuclear detonations. Holliday remarks early in Bloodlines how the Vellans (interdimensional beings who found refuge on Holliday’s Earth) taught humanity to harness the Nexus nodes, saving civilization from ruin. The average citizen considers magic akin to electricity. Magic is used to heat water, power machinery, keep the lights on. 

This blending of magic and technology granted me a lot of freedom. Moments such as examining the crime scene, reviewing the remains at the medical examiner’s office, sifting through digital files via holo-technology, and digging through the victim’s home and personal effects came off as both hand’s on and clinical minus the sense of the arcane despite magic being omnipresent. Yet, like himself, Holliday is aware of others who can wield magic to uncanny effect, and not just to turn the light off in the other room.

I’m hopeful this grounding of Holliday’s reality to give the reader a sense of place and time is balanced by the fantastical elements that comprise the rest of the story.

Your series is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

To me, urban fantasy is taking magic, magical creatures, magical places, magical items, and everything associated with those things, moving them from castles and dungeons, airships and dragons and dropping them into a 21st century (or later) modern day setting.

As you’ve read previously, I consider my books to be urban science fantasy because my timeline is set in an alternate future. When exactly, I leave vague. But it’s not too distant that the 21st century and everything that came before was forgotten. 

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy, as opposed to another type of fantasy?

I never expected to write the GoEC series. I figured I’d eventually put together a classic high fantasy story because that’s my first love. But the words wouldn’t flow. The ideas never stuck. The characters all fell flat.

Then Special Crimes and Detective Tom “Doc” Holliday popped into my head. The words quickly followed.

I think the familiarity of New York and Boston helped the most. Rather than create a world from scratch, I picked on places that I’ve enjoyed visiting. By transforming them in some way, I get to play in a familiar sandbox and mold it into something else just for the fun of it.

What are some struggles with writing urban fantasy?

Authenticity. If you’re going to use New York City, then the setting needs to live up to the alternate “reality”. Sure, I’ll change specific places, but the reader needs to know they’re still in New York, regardless of the year or what’s happening in the story itself. Dialogue is another challenge. You want readers to hear the distinctive accents, to see the neighborhoods and how they reflect the character and architecture that has defined New York as the melting pot for so many beautiful cultures, past and present. 

What are some strengths to this subgenre?

Urban fantasy is like tofu. Tofu by itself doesn’t have much of a flavor (at least, not to me), but when you combine it with other seasonings and sauces, tofu takes on the best (and worst) of those aspects.

The urban fantasy sandbox is deep and varied. It allows the blending of so many fun genres, and if balanced correctly, creates the potential for a deep and meaningful setting and story.

Who are your go-to authors?

In my formative years, the list icnludes JRR Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Barbara Hambly, and Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman.

Lately, I’ve been reading Michael Connelly, George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, Andy Weir, Fonda Lee, Patricia Jackson, and Ben Aaronovitch.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out the TREMENDOUS talent of a host of indie and self-published authors out there including Douglas Lumsden (who writes my absolute favorite urban fantasy series everyone should read), Jonathan Nevair, T.A. Bruno (a 2021 SPSFC Finalist!), Krystle Matar (an SPFBO7 Finalist!), Jeff Speight, Peter James Martin, and Leigh Grissom.

Is there anything on the horizon you’d like to talk about?

I’m slowly working my way through The Devil’s Share, the third book in The Guardian of Empire City series. It’s been slow going because my day job has been brutally busy, but I still manage to write here and there. I have a wonderful critique group who keeps me on my toes and sharp and are some of the most supportive writers I’ve ever met, thanks to Twitter. 

The audiobook for Pieces of Eight will be produced at some point in 2022, as well. I’m also toying with the idea of merchandise, specifically coffee mugs. For anyone who knows Holliday, then you understand. And if you haven’t read Bloodlines and Pieces of Eight, what are you waiting for? 

About Peter Hartog:

A native son of Massachusetts, Peter has been living in the Deep South for over 25 years. By day, he’s an insurance professional, saving the world one policy at a time. But at night, well, no one really wants to see him fighting crime in his Spider-Man onesie. Instead, Peter develops new worlds of adventure influenced by his love of science fiction, mysteries, music and fantasy. Whether it’s running role-playing games for his long-time friends, watching his beloved New England sporting teams vie for another championship, or just chilling with a movie, his wife, two boys, three cats and one dog, Peter’s imagination is always on the move. It’s the reason why his stories are an eclectic blend of intrigue, excitement, humor and magic, drawn from four decade’s worth of television, film, novels and comic books.

Website: peterhartog.com

Twitter: @althazyr

LinkedIn: Peter Hartog

Books:

mybook.to/BloodlinesEBook

mybook.to/PiecesOfEight

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring C. Thomas Lafollette

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Grimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

I’m excited to talk to C. Thomas Lafollette, author of the Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War series.

First, will you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Wyoming and lived there until my family moved to Oregon when I was ten. I attended a small liberal arts college where I got degrees in History and Economics with specializations in Classics and Religion. Along the way, I’ve read poetry with Yevgeny Yevtushenko, traveled around Europe, and even dined in the same room as the Belgian prime minister—it was purely a coincidence.

Currently, I’m a full-time freelance editor along with my partner, author Amy Cissell. Before going full-time, I worked in the beer industry for nearly twenty years. I started writing seriously in 2012 when I started a beer blog. Since then, I’ve published articles in magazines around the world. 

Like a lot of fantasy writers, my first foray into writing was inspired by Tolkien when I created hobbit knightly orders. Though, I didn’t stick with writing except for school projects and homework. After I graduated from college, I tried writing short stories but never really seemed to develop the knack for it if it wasn’t for a school assignment. I think I finished more novels in 2021 than I ever did short stories in the entire time between graduating from college and when I started writing novels. Now, I’ve finished nine novels that are either published or in various stages of editing.

I’ll be releasing two novels in May and the rest of the Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War series throughout 2022 and into 2023.

Will you talk a little bit about Luke Irontree and the Last Vampire War?

I think I laid down the first ideas for Luke Irontree in 2017 and started writing in earnest in 2018. Initially, I set out to create a wise cracking sarcastic main character that is typical of the genre, but that failed pretty quickly. The more I delved deeper into the character, I realized that’s not what he was.

After nearly 2,000 years, he’s alone and traumatized from a mission he didn’t exactly understand when he agreed to it. Fleeing to Portland, Oregon after World War II, he hoped to hide in a new place without the memories of his past only for his past to come looking for him.

Luke’s life changes when he discovers his local brewpub owner is also the second of a LGBTQ werewolf pack. They eventually join forces to protect their city’s most vulnerable people from becoming vampire chow.

Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War is set in a dark world with warm characters as Luke finds healing through friendship and community.

Luke Irontree, the main character in your novel, is a former Roman Legionnaire. What was the historical research like, in regard to writing Luke?

My degree is in Ancient History, which was a good base to build on, but there was a lot of research into the minutia of the legions in particular, as well as the specific settings and peoples included in the historical vignettes. Most of the research is background material that functions as flavor as opposed to on the page hard history.

It was fun to dive into some research. I got to acquire some cool books and sift through tons of research on academia.edu. I have files and files of papers, dissertations, and articles archived. Though I did have to be careful not to let it become a time sink.

And while the main series only has brief snippets of history, the first book Dark Fangs Rising more than the rest, I wrote two Roman era historical fantasy novels. The first, Rise of the Centurio Immortalis, is set just after the historical events outlined in Dark Fangs Rising and functions as Luke’s origin story. The second Luke Irontree historical is a romance set two hundred years later during the reign of Constantine the Great.

Interesting! Was it more difficult to switch to straight-out historical fantasy, without having Portland as a grounding point for readers, so to speak?

The first two were set at various periods in the Roman Empire, but there’s very little time spent in cities so I didn’t have to worry about much trying to recreate more than a building or general sense of a location or two. The more difficult piece was backtracking Luke’s personality so the books would display his development through time. In the first one, it’s a young human officer who’s earned his way into an elite unit in the Roman Legions.

It’s set against the backdrop of the end of the Trajan’s Parthian war as the emperor is dying and the Romans are pulling out of the territories they conquered, including Armenia. As Lucius (Luke) is sent to Armenia on a final mission for Trajan, he and his cohort must navigate the sudden power vacuum as Parthians move in to reassert their influence. Along the way, he befriends their guides, a pair of young Armenian siblings, and discovers his ability to lead and preserver.

In the second historical, we see Luke two hundred years later, the leader of an elite vampire hunting legion, but immortality is starting to wear on him. The base genre for this one is Romance, though it’s a full-on historical fantasy as well, complete with loads of action at the same time. It’s set against the backdrop of Constantine the Great’s Gothic war as Lucius is ordered across the border to aid the empire’s new allies the Sarmatians in a coordinated attack on the Goths as they move toward the empire’s border. As he coordinates with the Sarmatian clan chieftain, he struggles with his attraction to her while also trying to manage the changing dynamics of his relationship with the Roman Empire and how he views his future.

In both cases, everything is based around the main character. Each book has a new cast of characters and a new setting. I’ve tried to provide characters with their own cultural feel. The Roman Empire was a multicultural place as were the legions. Within that, I try to build in the political backdrop and the historical currents that are motivating and driving the characters.

In reality, it’s the same building blocks as the Urban Fantasy part of the series. It’s how I world build. There’s a cultural underpinning to all the characters that’s loaded with their history. Throughout the series, the readers will get snippets of the various characters and their lives. With a cast full of long-lived werewolves from all over the world, it provides a lot of fun material.

I’ve still got two more historicals planned. One set in Vienna at the beginning of the 19th century, and another set in US in the 1970s.

Your series is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

For me, urban fantasy is magical elements and creatures set in a modern earth setting, most commonly in a city. It can be a made-up city, but I think it should be on earth. I don’t consider it to be urban fantasy if it’s set on a secondary world. That’s something else.

I like that urban fantasy is going beyond the city into newer settings. But whatever the earth setting, the locale should play an important role in the story. It should be another character.

Luke lives in Portland, and the problems he’s facing are very much influenced by the nature of Portland. Too many urban fantasy series treat their setting like a clean, neutral backdrop. In Luke’s world, you get the full Portland—warts and all. Though, once you dive in, you’ll realize the warts don’t always belong to those you think they should.

I love that you talk about the setting being another character! Many of my favorite books have settings rich with character. Do you have a process for adding that personality to your setting, or is living in “real-life” Portland enough?

Mostly it’s from living in Portland which is why a lot of settings are around North Portland, but I also like to pepper in other areas to give a full look at the whole city. When I worked in the beer business, I sold beer all over the city for a lot of years, so I got to learn a lot about the city and its various neighborhoods. It’s fun to revisit those parts of the city in fiction.

 Are there side characters that take their inspiration from people you know?

Not really, not consciously at least. Secondary characters come from a lot of different places to serve a variety of story purposes. I usually start with a basic personality type that I think would fit into the story well and serve as a good balance with Luke. If it’s a protagonist, I want a personality that’ll be different from the other protagonists and that’ll provide something unique. For antagonists, well, I just smash together traits I’m not fond of. It’s not series heavy on individual antagonists, but when one is on the page, I really enjoy disliking them.

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

My partner Amy played an audiobook of the first Iron Druid book during a road trip, and I was hooked. After that, I dove into her library of urban fantasy books, covering a lot of the big name UF series.

While helping her get her books ready for publishing, I’d been toying with getting back into writing fiction when I had the idea for the character Luke Irontree. Of course, I had to set it in my city. Portland doesn’t get as much love in urban fantasy since it’s not one of the brand name big cities. I thought the unique combo of the character and the city would make a good hook.

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

History and the modern surveillance state. How do you fold a magical world inside thousands of years of history without disrupting events or blowing up your own world? With urban fantasy, you have to slide the magical elements between the cracks so that the existence of magic feels and works within the boundaries of real events.

The modern surveillance state is the other big challenge for urban fantasy. A lot of the genre is hidden world meaning the average citizen doesn’t know the magical world exists. How do you have werewolves running around with a sword wielding vampire slayer and not have it picked up on video cameras?

It becomes ever more difficult in Luke’s world because there aren’t magic practitioners to interfere with such devices. I’ve had to come up with a lot of creative solutions that seem realistic, so I don’t break the reader immersion.

What are some strengths to this subgenre?

One of the best strengths of urban fantasy is the blending of the familiar with the fantastical. People know cities and have probably visited some of the more famous cities used in the genre. It’s a way of adding a little bit of magic to ordinary lives.

The other fun aspect is authors have a whole world of mythologies to draw on for inspiration. For Luke’s world, I’ve blended aspects of Zoroastrianism and the Roman cult of Mithras with elements of Ancient Greek, Ossetian, Armenian, Sarmatian, and other ancient mythologies to create the world’s magical underpinnings.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Mikhail Bulgokov. The Master & Margarita has become a big influence on my aesthetic. Kevin Hearne is probably my favorite urban fantasy writer. I really dig his Iron Druid and Ink & Sigil series. Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels is another fantastic series I really enjoy. Outside of urban fantasy, I really like Kristen Britain and her Green Rider series.

About the author:

C. Thomas Lafollette was born in Wyoming and moved to Oregon when he was ten. He attended Albertson College of Idaho and received degrees in Economics and Ancient History with specializations in Classics and Religion. After college, he moved to Portland, Oregon where we he worked in the beer and wine industry for nineteen years. Currently, he is a fulltime freelance editor and writer. He lives in Portland with his wife, fellow author Amy Cissell, his step-daughter, and their three cats.

Dark Fangs Rising, C. Thomas Lafollette’s first novel, was started in 2017 and is the first book in the new urban fantasy series Luke Irontree & The Last Vampire War. It will be released in March of 2022 followed by the rest of the nine novel series throughout 2022.

PREORDER Dark Fangs Rising

Universal Book Link – Purchase links to most stores and countries.

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Jason & Rose Bishop

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I’ve been privileged to chat with Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thank you for having us! It’s one of our favorite topics.

Will you introduce yourselves?

Well, we’re Jason and Rose Bishop, a husband-and-wife team, married twenty-seven years and currently co-authoring the Storm’s Rising epic fantasy series. We met in college, and quickly discovered we both had a passion for fantasy stories and role-playing games such as AD&D and Pathfinder. In fact, it was during our gaming sessions that we unwittingly began building the world of Cyrradon, created some of the historical figures that became the basis of the saga, and thought up some of the pivotal events leading to the story we’re writing now.

On the personal side, we’ve taken on a wide variety of interests and hobbies over the years, including bicycling, motorcycling, guitar playing, fly fishing, home brewing, making mead and cider, and all kinds of home meat production (sausages, salamis, smoked/cured meats, etc.). We had a long phase of very near homesteading, where we raised much of what we ate, including a huge garden, a sustainable greenhouse with some hydroponics, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and horses (we didn’t eat those). We found we love those primitive DIY skills, like canning and preserving, fermentation (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough) and we think a lot of that goes into our stories and contribute to their complexity.

Can you talk a little bit about the Storm’s Rising series?

The Storm’s Rising series is our reach for the kind of story we would want to find on the shelf to read for ourselves. It’s a tale that begins with several young folk who had some serious drama in their past they were never fully aware of. And as in real life, eventually that drama comes along and sweeps them into it. But the story itself, as we’ve hinted at, began way before page one of book one. It’s somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story, somewhat of a “chosen one” story, and somewhat of a lit-RPG. We think the best thing about the books are its characters. Some of them we created on our own, others were inspired or outright created by our kids when they got old enough to game with us. But all of them have become like family to us, and they surprise us just as much as real people do with the things they say and the decisions they make. We’re not really in control here, we just document what they do! We even have songs we’ve attributed to many of them, that sort of capture the essence of each character for us!

Overall, the series tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Five, whose formation occurred centuries ago following an event called the Great Reavening. Their purpose is to somehow undo the damage that was done to Cyrradon, and to the nature of life, death, and time in that horrific event. Each member of the Five bears an amulet, handed down from generation to generation, one of five powerful artifacts that mark and aid them as mortal champions of the five gods who oversee the elder races of the world. There are dark powers both mortal and immortal vying to take advantage of the brokenness of the world to dominate all life. And believe it or not, our villains are as complex and relatable as our MCs (with theme songs of their own). But of course the MCs don’t know any of this at the beginning, and that’s the beauty of the epic fantasy: the reader is right there alongside them, learning things piece by piece as they do, puzzling it out one shattered fragment at a time.

The best part of the story for us is the way the MCs grow. At first, they know nothing of each other, and very little about themselves or their past. They come from different cultures with lots of preconceptions about the other races and especially mixed breeds. So seeing them grow into their own potential, learn to trust each other (or not), learn to work together (or not), and learn that the world they live in is so much bigger and more deadly than they’d ever known, is really a privilege for us to witness. 

What were some obstacles to writing The Call (book 1)? I know you have had an interesting journey into the world of indie publishing.

It’s been a long road, and one we didn’t actually know we were on for a long time. As you know, we started building our world and our story long before we ever thought it would be a book, much less a massive series of books! Rose, who was usually our DM when we gamed, had an extensive pile of notes, maps, story ideas, character bios, etc., from our gaming sessions, so that gave us a great start. Then I (Jason) used some of my spare time working night shifts to dream up a lot of the histories of Cyrradon, and that ended up being a huge resource, bigger than we planned. So the first obstacle was really deciding how to put it all together. We knew there was no way our story could be told in just one book, so our first concept was a five-book series. Five heroes, five amulets, five gods, right? But by the time we got the first draft of book one down, we knew even five wasn’t going to be enough. 

The next obstacle came gift-wrapped in all the preconceptions of what a debut novel should look like according to the big names in publishing. Around 80,000 words, a complete novel in one volume, professionally edited and published, amazing cover art, etc. And it was about this time we got neck deep in the churn of query letters and rejections. At that time, our perception of indie authors was not complimentary. We were led to believe that self-publishing was for folks who just didn’t have what it took, and we were beginning to wonder if that was us. Then, fortunately for us, a certain steamy romance novel began making headlines and we learned it had originally gained popularity as an independent work, then got picked up by one of the big five, topping the charts internationally and even becoming a series of movies, despite being by most accounts rather terribly written. We knew our writing was better, beyond any doubt. We had to reevaluate our definitions of what was “worthy,” and whether we wanted to allow the ‘big five’ to determine that for us. We decided we did not.

Of course, there was another obstacle of the “elephant in the room” variety: the whole notion of a man and wife writing a story together and avoiding divorce in the process! We had to learn a lot about each other. How to communicate, how to manage our expectations, how to concede to one another in some regards and let go of our own “darlings” to move forward in others. In a lot of ways, we changed how we write as we realized where our strengths lay. We developed our roles and became much more comfortable in them. In the beginning, we both would write scenes independently, then hand them off to the other to go through and edit or critique. This was fraught with pitfalls, because as any writer knows, no matter how you plan out a scene, it always develops legs and arms you didn’t anticipate. We began finding these appendages fighting with one another and creating conflict in the story and in our relationship. Over time, we shifted to what could be called a “framer and painter” format. Rose is the architect (in our writing, and coincidentally as a profession); she puts the framework together and makes sure the plotlines and the critical elements of the story stay true. I’m the fluff guy (Rose says ‘artist’); I put all the pretty stuff on the outside, write the dialogue, develop the characters, and so on. So, when we’re crafting a new scene, Rose takes the lead until we have the mechanics figured out, then I take the stage for the drafting. It’s been an exercise that has strengthened not only our story writing, but our marriage as well.

What are some successes?

[JASON] I’d say our successes are built in right after our failures. Like the example with our thoughts toward indie authors, that failure led us to the success of being primed to accept some formative advice we received one day in early 2020 from a wise gentleman named Paul. He said two things we wouldn’t have been ready to hear prior to that smutty bestseller hitting the news. The first was, “There are over seven billion people in the world. All you need to be successful is 200-300 thousand of them to like your story.” This was like a light switch, flooding my brain to the very darkest reaches and making all the little doubting critters scamper off. Then he followed up with, “Now, just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens.” And that was it. We went through the book one last time, an out-loud reading at home with the family, and when we were done, we hopped on Kindle Direct Publishing and hit ‘submit.’ Then we cracked open a bottle of a massive Belgian style ‘dubbel’ homebrew we save for special occasions and celebrated!

There have definitely been more successes along the way. Getting positive reviews are always a success that has us on cloud nine for days. Finishing each new novel, getting that author proof in the mail and getting to hold it, smell it, flip through the pages and see all the hard work in our hands! Sending “thank you” copies to our beta readers. Every new follower on social media, everyone who reaches out just to say hi, or tells us something about how the book affected them or prods us for when the next one might be coming, these are all the successes that matter the most to us. We’re proud to be part of the indie tribe because it means we did it on our own. That’s a success in and of itself.

[ROSE] Jason found a great cover artist company, JD&J Cover Artists, who took our ideas and made them real. We also have a fantastic group of beta readers whose input helped us to fill in some blanks and remember that our readers don’t know the world as intimately as we do. Formatting the books was difficult, but doable. It taught me a lot of patience.

I know Storm’s Rising is considered epic fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what epic fantasy is?

It’s a high fantasy that’s bigger than the books. The story has its origins way before chapter one. And throughout the reading of the story, the reader is overwhelmed with a grandness of scale, depth, complexity, and history that transcends the words on the page. Like scenes from a movie, the characters are right there in the foreground moving the story along, but all the while there is a complete, mature world behind them just begging to be admired and explored, and crying out of a history so rich nearly all of it has passed out of memory and become legend or perhaps even myth. 

Some conventional sources assert the terms ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘high fantasy’ as interchangeable. We don’t believe that for a second. In our mind, a high fantasy world (i.e., a world separate from our own, where realities are a bit different, and everyone carries a blade or uses magic) is where an epic fantasy tale can occur. But simply being high fantasy does not make it epic. Convention would also have us believe to be an epic fantasy it must (1) be a massively voluminous story, (2) about an orphan or outcast who grows up to be the chosen one to save the world, from (3) an unavoidable, unescapable evil. And further that the story (4) be the type of tale that is told and retold through generations, so old that you and your parents and grandparents even cannot recall a time when the story did not exist. So why then do we call ours epic? Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little on number 4, but we have the first three dead to rights! The last one is up to our readers and time to tell. But we don’t have any doubts that lovers of classical fantasy sagas who read our story won’t dispute the label.

What drew you to writing that sort of, really, vast type of book?

No surprises here, it was having read fantasies of the epic variety before and knowing that’s what we wanted to craft for ourselves. We’ve never been satisfied with ‘garden variety’ anything. An epic fantasy requires a hero; we have multiple. An epic fantasy requires a villain; we have three pretty consistent bad guys you might choose to hate, with a handful of other minor villains for flavor. An epic fantasy requires an artifact of rare and mythic power; depending on your take on this, we either have five (the amulets) or we have none at all (we don’t exactly have a quest to find all the McGuffins, horcruxes, etc.) We’re okay with whichever you decide is the case.

One thing that differentiates our story from the traditional epic fantasy is that even though our MCs have skills they hone and lean on through the story, they’re not necessarily prodigies in the making. The typical epic starts with that orphan or outcast youth who has incredible fighting or magic using potential that ends up being the key to resolving the conflict. We veered away from that, preferring instead to show how heart, courage, and sacrifice could be the keys rather than puissant skill at arms or the magical equivalent.

Regardless, we wanted to take the time needed to tell the story completely, to lay it out with broad strokes so the reader can look forward to a journey they’ll enjoy start to finish. We wanted to delay as much as possible the inevitable moment when the reader is forced to turn that final page and decide what to do with the rest of their lives. That’s what we would want as readers. There’s nothing worse than just getting to the point you understand what’s going on and you love the characters, and then the story wraps up and you’re done. Or worse, you buy the next book in the series and all the characters you just met aren’t even mentioned again! What even is that? (If you know, you know.)

Perhaps the best part of writing epic fantasy is the allure of the world, in spite of all its flaws and dangers. Yes, there’s an overarching threat that promises to snuff out everything good, with nowhere to go and no way to escape it. But despite all that ugliness on the surface, it’s still a place you find yourself wishing you could go.

Are you more pantsers or plotters?

This is a tough one! It’s the classic argument of predestination versus free will. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? 

Any good writer, we think, needs to be a bit of both, pantser and plotter. While we love the planning phase (see our blog post on the ‘sticky note’ story boarding method we use), once we start actually writing we often see our characters making some pretty wild choices! Sometimes even choices that send our plotline off in directions we couldn’t have predicted. Or we’ll throw in a minor character for flavor in a certain scene, and then watch that character somehow grow into someone far more significant than we had designed. But you know, once it happens and Rose and I look at each other and say, “Oh, he definitely would have said that,” or “That’s so perfect!” then we’re committed and we just have to figure it out. So at that point, I suppose we become pantsers! Until the next scene, when we have it all planned out like before, and it happens again.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Top of the list goes J. R. R. Tolkien, for pretty predictable reasons. He defined the genre for us and set the bar for world-building so high we will likely never reach it. Despite having a world-building file nearly big enough now to publish as its own novel, and even despite having created our own elven language, we doubt we’ll ever get to the Silmarillion level. He’s the godfather of epic fantasy, and always will be. 

Others well-deserving of praise in both our minds include David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (and many others of the Dragonlance and Ravenloft sagas), Joe Abercrombie, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, John Flannagan, Simon Hawke, John Gwynne, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Leo Tolstoy, Judith Tarr and David B. Coe. All of these authors had some formative effect on us in terms of what we enjoy reading, and how we write our own stories.

About the authors:

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

Visit our WEBSITE

Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

FREE audiobook preview of Storm’s Rising Book 1: The Call (click above)

Follow us for news, previews, blog posts and more!

Author Page – https://www.amazon.com/author/jasonandrosebishop

Twitter – @cyrradon

Instagram – legendsofcyrradon

Facebook – @cyrradon

Goodreads – Jason Bishop / Rose Bishop

Wattpad – jasonandrosebishop

Email – legendsofcyrradon@gmail.com