An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Joshua Gillingham

My Author’s Monster Manual series continues with an awesome addition from author Joshua Gillingham. His books, The Gatewatch and The Everspring, are epic fantasies inspired by Norse myth. Joshua’s addition of the Norosi Troll is hardcore!

The Norosi Troll:

Artist Credit: Antonio J. Manzenedo

About the author:

Joshua Gillingham is an author, game designer, and editor from Vancouver Island, Canada. His fantasy trilogy The Saga of Torin Ten-Trees (Crowsnest Books) is a rollicking, riddling, troll-hunting adventure inspired by the Norse myths and the Icelandic Sagas; it now available in paperback, ebook, and as an audiobook narrated by Alex C. Stewart. Joshua is also the co-author of Old Norse for Modern Times alongside Ian Stuart Sharpe (Vikingverse Books & Comics) and Dr. Arngrimur Vidalin (University of Iceland).

In partnership with Outland Entertainment, Joshua is the founding Worldsmith of the trans-media Outland ‘Althingi’ World set in Viking Age Iceland, featuring his original card game Althingi: One Will Rise and the groundbreaking anthology Althingi: The Crescent & the Northern Star, co-edited with Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad (A Mosque Among the Stars) which explores the under-examined historical connections between Vikings and Muslims.The latest project in the Althingi universe is Althingi: Saga Heroes, the first expansion to the base game, and it is live on Kickstarter now!

To Purchase:

The Gatewatch
The Gatewatch Audiobook
The Everspring

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Sean Gibson

Minotaurs are a fantasy staple. You can find them in most TTRPGs, but I guarantee that you have NEVER seen a minotaur like this. Author Sean Gibson takes the sense of humor that makes his side-splitting book The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True so much fun and throws it at the mythical beast.

MINOTAUR

Sure, the standard-issue minotaur is “born into the mortal realm by demonic rites,” a “savage conqueror that lives for the hunt,” and whose fur is “stained with the blood of fallen foes”…but holy cow those things are giant wusses compared to the Flatulent Minotaur.

The Beast Without. While all minotaurs are solitary carnivores who roam labyrinthine dungeons, the Flatulent Minotaur is the standard bearer for lonely isolation. The Flatulent Minotaur’s sense of smell is not as keen as its brethren—save for its ability to recognize its own nauseating, old-cheese, diaper-filled stench, which enables the beast to unerringly navigate any area in which he has issued forth his fetid backdoor exhalations. Its rages, however, are legendary, making those of common minotaurs look like the mewling protests of a suckling unicorn. When the Flatulent Minotaur starts getting cranky…just run. Really fast.

Cult of the Stin-King. Minotaurs are descended from humanoids transformed by cult rituals, with one exception: the Flatulent Minotaur. The Flatulent Minotaur was once a greedy human king whose gluttonous debaucheries were infamous. Never satiated, the king sought ever rarer and more scandalous delicacies to quell his voracious appetite. 

He quickly grew tired of roasted fawns, puppy kabobs, and ground meat patties made from disloyal subjects. He wanted more, something so rare that it was almost impossible to obtain: the fresh liver of a baby elf.

Though his most senior advisors tried to dissuade him, he formed a hunting party comprised of murderous scoundrels and ventured into the outskirts of an elven kingdom, intent on finding pointy-eared foie gras. An elven scouting party ambushed the group, and after a vicious fight, the king became separated from his band of marauders. 

Stumbling blindly through the woods, he came upon a cave. On a pedestal in the center of the cave lay a newborn elf child, swaddled in a blanket and crying softly. The king’s eyes widened with desire, and he rushed forward, knife drawn, to murder the child and cut out its liver. As he plunged the knife in, he realized the babe was an illusion disguising a powerful spell, one that set off a horrifically painful transformation as his legs and arms lengthened, his head distended, and hair sprouted all over his body while horns emerged from his head. 

Blinded with pain, he wandered to the back of the cave and down into an endless maze of tunnels, where he has lived ever since, cursed not only to live his life as a monstrous beast, but one beset by the worst gas in the history of malfunctioning bowels, mostly because the elf who cast the spell that caused the transformation really loved farts.

About the author:

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

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

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Ryan Howse

I love reading and I love table-top roleplaying games. They have a lot in common. Both books and TTRPGs rely on creativity and storytelling. Ryan Howse is a master of creative storytelling and he was kind enough to talk about his Lakhesian Ghost from his series A Concerto for the End of Days.

The Lakhesian Ghost

When I was first asked to do this, I admit I was puzzled by what my choice would be. The problem isn’t monsters; I love monsters. But my most recent book, Red in Tooth and Claw, is specifically designed to maintain ambiguity as to whether or not the monsters even exist. One character thinks he sees them and one does not, and both are unreliable narrators. That ambiguity was a big part of the tension of that novel, and to make stat blocks for Hukussu would undercut that.

So then I thought about gaming. My first series, A Concerto For the End of Days, takes place in a drastically adapted version of my old Pathfinder campaigns. The campaigns took some things straight out of Pathfinder books as well as from fiction I’d enjoyed. The campaigns had backgrounds for dwarves and elves and all the other fantasy races, all of which I excised for the books. Heck, the campaigns had clerics, and my setting was several centuries after the war that killed the gods. The way magic worked was also significantly changed, and all of those meant that the history of the setting was changed. So I adjusted that, pushed the setting forward a couple of hundred years, and used that as my starting place.

The magic in my setting (well, some parts of the setting—magic is cultural, and different places have different techniques) is done through summoning and binding creatures known as caitiffs, a catch-all term for spirits from another realm. Some of those spirits are your typical elemental powers (undines, water elementals, are placed with ignans, or fire elementals, to create steam power for trains, for example) but there are others that are a bit less commonplace—dream spirits, spirits of geometries, spirits of law, the sun, and more. But my personal favorite was the Lakhesian Ghost, a spirit of fate.

As a being of fate it could only ever be found in places where something of massive import had or would happen. It wouldn’t observe time in the linear fashion we do, so it could be a place that would have such ramifications in the present of the story, or in the future, or a distant past. When an arcanist properly bound one and could tap into its power, they’d be able to see their own futures depending on what choice they would make. They could observe everything and try it again with different choices to see what would unfold next. Given enough time, one could wage an entire war before the first soldiers fired a shot and know how to win the most efficiently.

The Lakhesian Ghost becomes the fulcrum for the novel, the maguffin everyone wants to capture and use for their own. And we see how different people react to this desire, and what they’re willing to do and give up for a chance at capturing it. 

The ultimate weapon, if it could be caught.

I opted to use the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games for the stat block for this, mostly because I think it fits well in with the sense of Weirdness that Numenera and the other Cypher System games have going for them. 

Lakhesian Ghost (8)

Health: 40
Combat: The Lakhesian Ghost does not need to attack you. It needs to get you to attack it in such a way that you or your allies will be harmed instead. A ricocheting bullet, tripping with your blade, stepping on a loose patch of rocks on a cliff’s edge…

If an attacker manages to lock in on it with a mental attack, it will provide all the information that person asks of it, while also draining their life force.

Damage inflicted: self-inflicted injuries, or 6 damage to your intellect pool if you fail an Intellect Defense task and cannot pull yourself away while attempting to use it. 

About the author:

Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord, The Alchemy Dirge, and Red in Tooth and Claw. He can be found at twitter.com/RyanHowse

An Interview with Author CM Kerley

Today, I’m excited to be able to chat with C.M. Kerly, author of the Barclan series, epic fantasy at its finest. You can find my review for book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, here.

Thank you for joining me to talk about the Barclan series and epic fantasy! Will you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Caroline, I’m from London but grew up in South Africa. I’m from a small town surrounded by farms, and at night I used to think the noises I could hear were ghosts at war with each other and the lights in the sky might definitely maybe not be stars but somehow magic. I suppose the noises might have been sounds from the neighborhood, and the stars were just stars, but I still prefer to think it was magic.

Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?

Okay, just the opener because it’s too vast to summarize easily. The series is set in an imagined world, in the kingdom of Barlcan. It starts with the reign of a very inept and timid king in a time when magic has become something rare which is to be feared and there are very few people alive who remember or know enough about it to believe it even exists. There are omens and very real-world signs that something is starting to move against the kingdom, but the king chooses not to see it. So, it is left to the prince, who does believe, to pull together the people whom he believes will give him a chance to fight back this threat that only he can see, that others think he is imagining. 

Yes the story is fantasy, but it isn’t about magic and creatures and spells or vampires and dragons and cackling villains or magical maps and destiny that comes to those who least expect it. 

My story, at its core, is about Control; do we really have control over ourselves, what are we willing to give it up for, and who are we willing to give it to. 

What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?

In part, one of the hardest things writing a series of books like this, with that 80s Epic Fantasy feel, was knowing that they aren’t very popular right now. Knowing that the fantasy scene is dominated by specific names and if you aren’t part of the echo chamber of the style or type, you’ll never ‘make it’.

Which can sound crazy, right, but if you’re like me and your dream of talking to people about the stories, not making all the folding money, it can be daunting and when you spend six years writing three books, keeping motivated can be an obstacle.

What are some successes?

The limitless art of fantasy is the landscape for the story I’ve crafted, and is full of unique characters that are believable, plausible, and face situations that the reader can empathise with, creating that real connection between the page and the person. The characters are not clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is more nuance within the characterisation. They are written so they each carry the overall theme of the story, but there are opportunities for the reader to themselves consider if what they are doing is good or bad. 

The use of magic is not the driving force of the story. It isn’t spelled out to the reader and doesn’t overly feel cumbersome to the narrative. It is a device used to enhance the characters, not a tool to explain wildly ridiculous events put there to make the story stand-out. There is romance, adventure, deep relationships, sadness, joy, and laughter all set out, with something to satisfy even the most critical fantasy fan, in a thoroughly good, and complete story.

In The Hummingbird’s Tear, we meet two siblings who have very different characteristics which lead to two very distinct story arcs. How did you go about weaving the two separate storylines together? 

It was a challenge. With Calem, who starts mute, I made the conscious decision to only give him two defining characteristics, the fire he can conjure and his silence. 

I then had to flesh out Brennan, his complexity took months to develop into a real persona. 

Then, it was using Brennan to tell Calem’s story at first, while doing it in such a way as to also give him his own spotlight. Using one character to tell the story of two, from the omnipotent writing perspective, is something I am quite proud of as it takes, in my opinion, quite a lot of craft.

One thing I did do was I kept detailed notes of each character, everything about them, even their habits, and I had personality charts drawn up and stuck to my wall in from of my machine of all the characters and I had their personal values listed out, their motivations, even a bit of origin stories for each of them. I had that on my wall for over six years, and that was to ensure I was always writing them truthfully, developing them and their arcs in believable ways that the reader could follow and empathize with, and making sure they were distinct.

The mythology and world history in The Hummingbird’s Tear is amazing. What came first in your series: the world or the characters? 

The characters. 

I still have the first drafts of all three books, partly to remind myself just how wildly different the stories were before I finally settled on what needed to be told and picked which parts of all the versions to pull into the final book to tell their stories.

I started with Calem, the idea of writing a book about a character with no voice; how do you tell someone’s story when they can’t tell it themselves? I sat down and started writing. I didn’t really dwell on too much more than that, I knew it would be a fantasy story because all my really good short stories up to that point had been fantasy and that is my favorite genre. I was expecting it to be one book, I had no intention of writing three, but by the time I was halfway through writing it I had lived the whole thing out in my head and knew that it was too big, too vast, and too complex to be a single book. I wanted to do justice to all the characters I had created and that meant giving them a story worth telling.

The Barclan series has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

It is Epic but perhaps more 80s Epic than today’s Epic. What I mean is, there is a style of Epic fantasy which is giving time to establishing the world in which the characters share their story. It’s a style which I love, and I write what I love to read so my books have a definite type of pacing.

I don’t borrow from real world mythology or start with frantic bloodthirsty battles to shock and hook the reader; for no reason other than those tools aren’t what I’ve chosen for my story. I know they are all the rage at the moment and very popular, so I’m maybe doing myself no service by going against that current, but the heart wants to write what the heart wants to read I suppose.

I’ve created my own world, my own creation mythology, the Gods, the magic system, the geography, all of it, it took all in, maybe two years to craft it all as I was writing and rewriting The Hummingbird’s Tear, and all that had to be woven through the series. I have about 1,000 pages of content I wrote and created as I was building the world, my own archive if you will.

So, Epic because all the kingdoms are created and unique and have their own beliefs and customs and cultures and that finds its way into the story to enrich it. I move my characters across the kingdoms so I can bring the world to life. I have them comment on and have the Gods and mythology impact their lives, so it brings context to everything I’ve decided to include form the prologue all the way through. And I start each prologue with a little more of the mythology and world building, so the timeframe for the story is literally, since the world was created, so even the timescales are epic.

I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?

They are different, but it’s an almost irrelevant difference and one that doesn’t, I think, give or take anything away from the genre and a distinction that doesn’t’ mean much to a reader or would have a large impact on their book choice. That sounds like a bit of a pretentious assumption on my part, but what I mean is, the differences are fairly limited, and fantasy readers tend to be open minded so the difference I don’t think is important and the two can work together.

If so, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

High Fantasy is set in an imaginary place, and Low Fantasy, is an alternate version of a real place. So, because Barclan isn’t real, it fits into High Fantasy. I think that is the basic difference but while that’d be my answer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, google probably knows more than me.

As for the Epic part, that falls to the scale. Epic fantasy in my understanding is on a grand scale, the story is set across multiple geographies and characters must travel or are set in distinct locations doing ‘things’ that advance the plot. Think questing stories.

I tend to think of the Barclan books as Epic High Fantasy because you start in one part of the kingdom, but you’ll go to towns, cities, a mine in the mountains, the bottom of the ocean, high mountains, and a desert to name but a few.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

I’ve always lived ‘somewhere else’ in my mind in part thanks to my dad who was a sailor and would tell me the most amazing made-up stories when he would come back from being at sea. He is an amazing storyteller and was never tight with his sea monsters, his outlandish characters, or his embellishments. But what used to keep me hooked, was how believable it all was. 

As a child I was surrounded by books of all types at home and was never told whether a book is for adults or children, so as young as seven I can remember trying to read Lord of the Rings because our copy had the most amazing book cover and so I was curious, but it was too much for me at the time but I knew I’d come back to it. I was also reading things like The Faraway Tree, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Worst Witch, and the Narnia books so I’ve always gravitated toward the ‘other’ places, that feel comfortable.

We used to have a rickety old typewriter in the house, you know the type that you break your fingers hitting the hold metal letters that strike a ribbon and barely print the word? Well, that was what I started on, aged about eight, thinking that although I loved reading these stories, I had some pretty good ones of my own in my head and so it started.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.

I am neither, or am I both? Put it this way, I try to be a plotter, and I plot, but when I sit down to write the plot, it’s as if the very act itself of plotting means I can’t use those ideas anymore and I just write.

I try to take a planned and methodical approach to it, but it’s a waste of time for me honestly. I do it in the hopes it means I will finish a book quicker, but no. A story takes as long to write as it wants, I have little control.

I sit, start writing, and entirely zone out and when I am finished have no concrete memory of the process of writing, and have written something completely unplanned.

The last third of The Hunchback’s Sigh was written in one night. I sat down about 7pm, looked up just after 5am the next morning, realized I had finished writing the book, and the series, and then had something to eat and got ready for a day at work.

That’s a lot of words to say, pantser.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance books are fantastic and Raistlin is one of the most well developed characters I’ve ever loved. The books are so cleverly written to be effortlessly accessible and enjoyable to anyone.

David Eddings, his Belgariad books are some of the best I’ve ever read and I reread to this day.

Melanie Rawn, I adore her pacing and her style of writing captivates my imagination.

Janny Wurts, because everything.

And Raymond Feist, for writing the books I have been reading and coming back to my whole life.

What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?

This sounds so bad but, I don’t think anyone truly inspired me.  I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer because that’s how I wanted to tell stories.

But if there was one person who really pushed me, believed in me, and told me every day that I can do it, it’s my best friend Maddy who has read every piece of writing I’ve ever done and to this day never skips a chance to talk about the books. 

Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?

I am working on a collection of short stories set in Barclan, but not centered on any of the main characters from the three books. They pop up but as peripheral characters and only for a second.

For example, in the second book I write about a place called Phenly, and there are a few stories set there.

A story about what happens in a silver mine which weaves into the back story of the man who raised Calem and Brennan.

And I’m introducing some new places and new characters as a tie in to the next book in the series which I am writing at the same time which will take place about a year after the events that end The Hunchback’s Sigh but is not a direct continuation of the story. So I am branching out in the Barclan world and will be moving into stories set in the other kingdoms, specifically Vaden to the north.

And when I am not in the mood to work on either of those, Cotta’s backstory is a self-indulgent story I am writing just for me.

Purchase Links:
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh

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 me 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 Matthew Samuels

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.

Today I have the privilege of chatting with Matthew Samuels, author of the excellent urban fantasy, Small Places.

Hi Matthew! Thank you for being willing to talk about urban fantasy!

My pleasure! Thank you for having me on your site 😊

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

I’m Matthew Samuels, and I write sci-fi and fantasy; I’m the author of the solarpunk / hopepunk exploration books Parasites and Dusk, and urban fantasy title Small Places, which is about a guy who meets a cranky old witch, who is investigating the source of highly irregular weather in the UK. I live in London, UK.  

Small Places is interesting in that the main character, Jamie, is dealing with adversity in his “real life” which is sort of echoed in the adversity in the fantasy element. How did you go about keeping that balance between the two kinds of struggles?

Despite the challenges that writing urban fantasy presents, it does also lend you a hand, because you can reflect on how regular people would act if confronted by these things. So yes, Jamie meets some fantastical creatures and a witch, but his mum is also very sick and there’s a girl he likes in town, and these things are always going to creep into your mind, however all-consuming the other stuff is. Sometimes – like in real life – one of these things takes up more brain space than others, and other times, things get completely pushed to one side and Jamie feels guilty for forgetting about it. I’m not quite sure if there’s a trick to keeping this balance; it’s really just about trying to keep it believable, given everything that’s going on! A good editor definitely helps – my partner read Small Places quite carefully, and some parts of the book changed quite a lot afterwards. 

I really loved the divided attention and subsequent feelings of guilt that Jamie experiences in Small Places. It’s such a completely human reaction. Do you feel that urban fantasy allows for a deeper exploration of the human condition?

Yes and no – I don’t think it’s unique to urban fantasy. Some of my favourite reflections on the human condition come from sci-fi books like the Rama series by Arthur C Clarke and the Galactic Mileu set by Julian May, but I also love what Charles de Lint has to say about absolution, forgiveness and dealing with difficult circumstances in life, in an urban fantasy setting. I do think that sometimes genres outside of low fantasy can get sucked into the ‘we’re in a supernatural setting, so we should focus on heroes and adventure and all this amazing stuff’ but if the Marvel Universe has shown us anything, it’s that adventures are more satisfying and believable when they’re about ‘real people dealing with issues who happen to be superheroes, rather than superheroes just being superheroes, which I think is where some of the DC films come unraveled. Urban fantasy is in a good place to start these reflections because you’re dealing with regular folk from day one, rather than people who regularly leap tall buildings and zap aliens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exclusive! 

Small Places is an urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

In my mind, urban fantasy is a section of low fantasy, which takes place in ‘our’ world. Urban fantasy is distinct from the likes of Harry Potter only because it takes place in urban environments, rather than separate places like Hogwarts (or in the countryside!).  

What drew you to writing urban fantasy?

One of the first fantasy novels I read growing up was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the idea that there could be something fantastical just around the corner was an absolutely magical prospect to me. After I’d read it, I spent quite a lot of time poking into old wardrobes or opening doors several times hoping that there’d be something back there! As a teenager I watched the BBC adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, absolutely rapt for much the same reason (I don’t think it’s aged well, but the book is obviously fantastic) and then discovered Clive Barker’s Weaveworld as an adult, not to mention Charles de Lint, Erin Morgenstern and Laurell K Hamilton. 

Perhaps more to the point, urban fantasy stretches your mind in a way that other genres don’t, because of the possible believability (more on this later!) – after all, there are weird, wonderful and beautiful things in the regular world. I used to spend quite a lot of time in a club called Shunt, which was a performing arts club underneath London Bridge Station, with just the strangest selection of artwork and things to explore. There’s also the Vaults under Waterloo, and experiential events like Secret Cinema. I’m quite a big fan of urbex photography (in particular, RomanyWG’s work), which continues to be an inspiration for any long-forgotten places that I’m writing about. 

When you put all of this together, urban fantasy has the ability to conspire in your mind and whisper ‘what if…?’ in the dark hours of the night.  And I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember (I still have some of my early works which I’d describe as either ‘loving fanfic’ or ‘hideous and derivative’ depending on my mood) and with inspirations like that, how could I not want to write in the genre?

What are some obstacles to writing urban fantasy?

Believability is key. When you’re blending the real world and a fantastical world, there’s the question of ‘why haven’t they been detected’? The memory charms in Harry Potter are a bit of a quick fix around this, but in Small Places, we have very well hidden and virtually inaccessible faerie realms. The first rule of the faerie is often ‘stay out of the way, but in an urban setting that’s much, much harder. Books like the Rivers of London series bypass this by simply having the magical world ‘out’, whereas in Neverwhere it hides much more carefully, and has people fall between the cracks and vanish if they do pick up on it, which is a slightly terrifying prospect.

I agree with you on that! The idea of a person just disappearing mysteriously if they pick up on the “other” hidden in plain sight is definitely a scary one. Did it take some time to decide how your faerie realms would exist in conjunction with the real-world setting?

Yes, it was a tricky one because – especially in very urban settings like London – it’s hard to do anything completely out of sight! Neverwhere gets around this very neatly by having people just ignore the things that are uncomfortable to them (which we all do sometimes) but it was hard working up a mechanism that would be secure, unlikely to be triggered by accident, and also relatively easy to conceal. The ‘fantastical combination lock’ idea eventually appealed because it seemed to tick a number of those boxes all at once, whilst still giving some narrative flexibility. 

What is the best thing about writing urban fantasy?

It’s really the same thing: believability. If you’re writing something fantastical that’s also set in the real world, there’s a small chance that a question worms into your brain – as Morpheus says in The Matrix, ‘like a splinter in your mind’. That question is ‘what if there is something else?’ and I think that’s both terrifying and wonderful to consider at the same time. The other (non-low fantasy) genres are great escapism, but urban / low fantasy can just feel a bit more real. I’ve walked past the spot in London where Richard meets the Marquis de Carabas for the first time in Neverwhere, and I love that flicker of slightly disquieting recognition that you get, that feeling of ‘well, maybe?’ that sticks around no matter how old you get.

You also write science fiction (books one and two in The Navigator series are available now). Are there similarities between how you write for those two genres? Or are they completely dissimilar? 

There are definitely common elements in terms of the need for good plotting and characters, but with sci-fi, you have a lot more flexibility because you set the rules. Being able to create entire planets, space stations and alien creatures gives you a lot more wiggle room than being stuck on earth in a contemporary setting!

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Where to start? 😊 As well as the guys I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a huge fan of Iain M Banks, Jacqueline Carey, Julian May, Steph Swainston, Jay Kristoff, David Wong, Becky Chambers, Brandon Sanderson and Laini Taylor. I’ll also read outside SFF, and am a big Tana French and Stephen King fan.

Do you have anything interesting coming up that you’d like to talk about?

 I’ve just published the second book in the Navigator (Sci-Fi) series, and was hoping to continue my other long-suffering urban fantasy title, Wild Court, which takes a fantastical look at the decline of empathy in society, and is two-thirds written, but my brain has refused. Instead, I’ve been spending time planning out a high fantasy title exploring the war between heaven, hell and mankind, featuring a devious demonic heroine with a disability who teams up with a captured warlock’s apprentice in an effort to escape from hell. I’d done some planning on it a while ago, but had a sudden realization about the MC, then things started to fall into place, and before I knew it, I’d written four thousand words of plan. There’s still a fair bit to do, but I scribbled down the opening line “When I was growing up, I had six brothers and sisters; by the time I was 16, I’d murdered three of them” and knew it was something I really wanted to explore more.

That’s a killer line, in multiple senses of the word. I’m excited!

Thank you 😊

To Purchase Small Places:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dusk-Matthew-Samuels/dp/B09XSZPLWK/
US: https://www.amazon.com/Dusk-Matthew-Samuels/dp/B09XSZPLWK

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Holly Tinsley

Image Credit: Beth Tabler

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 and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark! Today, I’m privileged to talk with Holly Tinsley, author of We Men of Ash and Shadow.

Thank you for joining me, Holly!

Will you talk a little about your work?

I’m a writer of grimdark, gas lamp low fantasy – so readers can expect plenty of shady, morally grey characters in my books. My first novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was released in 2020 and is now a SPFBO7 Finalist, something for which I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful. The follow-up, The Hand that Casts the Bone, is due out very soon, and the audiobook is currently in production, so I am very excited about that. Outside of grimdark, I write full time for a living and spend a lot of time blogging about popular culture and games. 

What were some of the obstacles to writing We Men of Ash and Shadow?

There were definitely aspects of the story and the characters that I wanted to make sure I got right. It felt crucial to understand who the characters were, as people, before I started thinking about their stories or their situations. When you write about trauma or pain, you have to be sure you are not using that as a vehicle to develop who the characters are. The character, in my opinion, has to come first. We Men of Ash and Shadow features people displaced by war, sex workers, a character suffering dementia, people who have been through trauma and grief. I reached out to some people and learnt what I could of their experiences in similar situations. Some of what I wrote comes from my experience of PTSD. I did a lot of learning and research. Obstacle is really the wrong word because that opportunity to hear other people’s perspectives was so meaningful, and it was a privilege to be allowed to hear and better understand their voices.

What were some victories?

I’ve probably answered this question with the last one! Every time someone identifies with a character or tells me I’ve done them justice, I feel like I’ve done what I wanted in terms of making sure they are as authentic as possible. I hadn’t set out to write a particular type of book, but I knew the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to explore the darker aspects of the world through the eyes of one person whose experiences have begun to wear on them and another in the early stages of setting their foundations in the world. I wanted to know where those two might find common ground and what their relationship might look like set against difficulty and struggle. I felt I achieved that with Vanguard and Carmen – so that was a victory for me.

We Men of Ash and Shadow has been described as “a Grimdark gas lamp novel”. Grimdark seems to be one of those subgenres that is surrounded by misconceptions. How would you explain or define it?

I think I’ve come to accept there isn’t one definition for what grimdark is. These days the crossover between grimdark, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and other subgenres has become blurred, so one person’s idea of what fits into each category is different from another. If I had to explain it to someone, the best I could come up with is that grimdark is like shining an ultraviolet light on human nature. It brings what is hidden to view and forces us to recognize the parts of our world that are often darker, dirtier, and less palatable. It doesn’t mean the rest of the picture is suddenly somehow nullified or that it becomes any less important.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions regarding grimdark?

This is a difficult question to answer because grimdark tends to poke a finger at particular subjects, which for some, are akin to real and painful wounds. There is a difference between what people think grimdark is and what are, or what should be, the intentions behind it. I don’t find any value in writing solely for shock or gore. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in writing about shocking things to be had. And therein, I think, is where a lot of the misconception lies. As writers, we tread a thin line between including particular subjects in a way that has a purpose and using them gratuitously. Writing about painful or darker themes doesn’t automatically make a book ‘torture porn’. But using those themes irresponsibly makes for poorer writing and a poorer perception of the genre. I don’t know any writer, grimdark or otherwise, whose intention is to damage – rather it is to evaluate and understand. Maybe that doesn’t explain why there are misconceptions so much as what they are. In truth, the why is far more complicated and not something I feel articulate or intelligent enough to define.

What draws you to grimdark as a writer?

I am, and always have been, fascinated by history, society, people, and psychology. Good grimdark allows for the raw and unapologetic examination and analysis of these subjects. Whether pure fiction or derived from actual events grimdark dissects and explores causation, effect and consequence. I’m not someone who looks to books for escapism, more catharsis, and for me, grimdark provides that. How we process emotion – grief, loneliness, anger, etc. is deeply personal. For me, I need to be able to lay those things out as raw and naked as I possibly can, so that I can stand back and look them in the eye because that has become my way of better understanding them. Grimdark allows me to do that through fiction. The funny thing is, I had no idea what grimdark was when I wrote the book. I just wrote the story I wanted to tell, so there was never any intention to specifically create something grimdark.

Do real world events ever affect your writing?

In a sense, yes, they do, but I think it’s vital to be careful to distinguish between how real-world events affect your writing and how they affect you as a person. I think it’s only natural that the world around us affects how we tell stories, both on a local and a global level. For me, the important thing is to allow time and distance from whatever is happening so that if I do want to use it in my writing, I’ve had the opportunity to understand and process those feelings. We all go through times when we are angry, sad, or frustrated with the world and how it is. If I were to allow my feelings to affect how I write as I felt them at the time, my writing would be reactive rather than reflective, and that isn’t what I want. I think there is a dangerous misconception that hard times breed better writers. What they do is give us new layers and perspectives, whether for good or bad. So later, as we become better able to carry those experiences, we can bring that understanding to our writing in a more valuable way.

Would you say that fantasy (and grimdark in particular) is particularly well situated to examining some of the harder things in life?

I think grimdark brings opportunity to explore the harder things in life, which both works against and in favour for the genre. There are certain expectations of the sorts of subjects grimdark addresses, whether or not they are well suited to a particular book depends on the strength of the writing and the justification for it. The ‘harder things in life’ covers a very broad spectrum – it goes beyond just throwing in a bunch of battle scenes or bloody violence. I think fantasy lends itself well to examining consequences and hard questions.

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Mark Lawrence is my go-to recommendation for anyone who wants to dive straight into grimdark. In my opinion, he’s the master of the genre, and I’ve found very few writers who can even come close to what he achieves with a single sentence. “I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.” – Prince of Thorns. The first time I read those words, they burnt themselves onto my brain, and I’ve yet to find anything to which I’ve had such an emotional reaction. 

I like to read as many independent authors as I can. There’s a wealth of talent out there, and one I’m reading at the moment is PL Stuart. His second book, the follow-up to A Drowned Kingdom, is out soon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a preview copy. What I enjoy about PL’s work is the ambition in it. I don’t know any other current author with the capacity to imagine worlds on such a massive scale. There is so much detail, so much thought saturating every single page. You’re not just getting a book – you’re getting an epic.

Do you have anything upcoming that you’d like to talk about?

The second book in my series is coming out soon; I’ll be updating any information on my Twitter. As I mentioned earlier, the audiobook is currently in production. I’m really happy to be working with RJ Bayley again, who did the narration for We Men of Ash and Shadow. He did a fantastic job of bringing the first part of the story to life.  I’m hoping to collaborate on a horror project over the next twelve months as well, though that is very much in the earliest stages of planning at the moment.

About the Author:

HL Tinsley is the pen name of professional blogger and creative writer Holly Tinsley.

Based in the UK, she is a published author of Fantasy, Gothic Horror and Grimdark fiction as well as a regular contributor to gaming, TTRPG and pop culture websites and blogs. Her debut novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was published in 2020 and is an SPFBO7 finalist. The follow up, The Hand That Casts The Bone is due for release on April 21st 2022. 

To purchase We Men of Ash and Shadow: Amazon

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Claire Buss

This week I’m discussing Comedic Fantasy on my blog. I’m delighted to be able to talk with Claire Buss, author of several books, including the comedic fantasy titled The Rose Thief. Thank you so much for being willing to chat about comedic fantasy with me!

You’re so welcome – thanks for having me!

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

I’m an avid reader, mum to monsters and fantastic procrastinator. I used to write a lot when I was younger, but when I hit 18ish and struck out on my first attempt at adulting, I stopped and didn’t pick it up again until about 7 years ago, just after I had my little boy. I accidentally fell into a writing workshop and unknowingly entered a book I hadn’t yet written into a book competition. That was the start of my writing journey. My first book, The Gaia Effect, was a hopeful dystopian set about 200 years in the future with a strong female leading cast. I began the book with a waking up scene. Fight me. Then I wrote the first book in my humorous fantasy world, The Rose Thief. Then I released several books of short stories, poetry and 10-minute plays plus some flash fiction collections and more poetry books. I went back and finished the hopeful dystopian trilogy, then went back and wrote some more humorous fantasy. I laugh in the face of genre. But I am firmly in the humorous fantasy camp. For now.

Will you describe the premise of The Rose Thief?

The Rose Thief is the first novel in my humorous fantasy world. Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher has a problem. Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses. But that’s not the worst of it. In his infinite wisdom and grace, the Emperor magically imbued his red rose with love so if it was ever removed from the Imperial Rose Gardens then love would be lost, to everyone, forever. It’s up to Ned and his band of motley catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day. But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be, neither is the Emperor. Ned and his team will have to go on a quest defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?

What inspired you to write humorous fantasy?

I have a natural humour in my writing which often comes out in my observation of people and especially through their interaction in dialogue. I am a huge Pratchett fan and also love Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adamas and Piers Anthony. I devoured these books as well as other typical fantasy books when I was an awkward teenager, so I think they’re in my bones now. It’s not a conscious ‘oh I must write funny’, it just kinda happens.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Definitely overthinking ‘is this funny’ and also over-using a particular gimmick. It’s usually only funny the first two times, three at a max. Another thing to be wary of is to not give your character enough substance for more heavier themes because you’ve been too focused on making them funny. They need to have layers. Like an ogre. Sorry onion. Also writer’s imposter syndrome which I think every writer suffers from. The book first starts out as an amazing idea but soon becomes a pile of poo before you can grudgingly accept that it might have slight merit as you wait for the first reader review.

What are some triumphs?

Having strangers read my books and love them because they love the characters and they thought it was funny and because it reminds them of Pratchett. It’s such an accolade. And getting the feedback that they can’t wait for the next one is a real kick up the butt to actually get on with writing the next one. Did I mention procrastination?

Oh, I am well acquainted with procrastination. How do you get in the writing “zone”, so to speak?

Ugh. I try not to lean too heavily on the idea of a zone. I have kids. There is always a crisis waiting to happen, currently happening or having just messily happened so there’s always something that needs doing, cleaning, fixing, disinfecting etc and then they want to eat. Kids eat all the time. It’s annoying. Mostly because I can’t do that if I want to avoid looking like a bowling ball. Anyway, back to procrastination…

Usually I stick a pair of headphones on and listen to music way louder than you’re supposed to. Did I mention I have kids? They are also loud. I find mini outlines help though I am by no means a planner. It’s literally a case of hmm, what could happen here and then I type a few lines to help guide the writing flow. I always type those in caps just like I always type XXX when I can’t remember the name of a character or place OR the character or place doesn’t yet have a name. Naming is hard. Then I just go. I’m lucky that I type fast. I can rock out 1000-1500 words in 30-40 minutes provided I don’t let myself get distracted. I can’t guarantee that those words will be awesome but it’s first draft so, it’s okay.

There are days though when I just know that words won’t come so I don’t even bother. It becomes an upsetting experience that leads to more blank page and more procrastination. There are other days when I can type through Fortnite on the TV and train YouTube videos on one screen and My Little Pony on another, all blaring out and me with no headphones on because I just had this really good idea.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Sara Douglass, Robin Hobb, Becky Thomas, Ben Aaronovitch, Frances Hardinge, Robert Jordon, Neil Gaiman, T.W.M Ashford, A.J. Hackwith, N.K. Jemisin, Matt Haig, Gail Carriger, Genevieve Cogman, Karen MacRae, Rachel Caine, Ursula Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Jasper Fforde, Piers Anthony, Douglas Coupland, Douglas Adams, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks er… I’d better stop there, hadn’t I?

I have a website clairebuss.co.uk and I lurk on various social media sites:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/grasshopper2407

Instagram: www.instagram.com/grasshopper2407

TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@grasshopper2407

Facebook: www.facebook.com/busswriter

Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/BussBookStop

As for my books, I am wide so you can buy them from your favourite book retailer – even real life ones that you walk into although you’ll have to order them in. Still exciting though.

The Rose Thief – www.books2read.com/u/bQaxw6 

The Silk Thief – www.books2read.com/u/49NJMM 

The Bone Thief – www.books2read.com/u/3LRkgD 

The Interspecies Poker Tournament – www.books2read.com/u/m2Vk0R 

**FREE** Ye Olde Magic Shoppe – www.books2read.com/u/4XXPw1 But if you’re Amazon loud and proud then you can find me and all my books here: www.tinyurl.com/ClaireBussBooks

About the author:

Claire Buss is an award-winning multi-genre author and poet. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of marketing and administrative roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and expert procrastinator Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. Since then, Claire has published seventeen novels and poetry collections and had her short fiction published in six anthologies. The Gaia Effect won the Uncaged Book Reviews Raven Award for Favourite Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel in 2017 and the first book in her humorous fantasy series, The Rose Thief, won in 2019. Working with Pen to Print, Claire delivers regular Book Surgeries offering marketing help and advice to new and established authors. In 2019 Claire was part of the original team involved in creating and establishing Write On! Magazine and continues to support, work and promote the magazine in her role as Deputy Editor, a different kind of Lois who champions new writers and helps them share their creativity. Claire continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Bjørn Larssen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the best thing about writing comedic fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for having me!

About the author:

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

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

Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner (‘Storytellers’)

2020 Stabby Award Nominee (‘Children’)

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

Social media

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

To Purchase:

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

Collected:
https://bjornlarssen.com/author

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

What are some triumphs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

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