Little White Hands by Mark Cushen-Storytellers on Tour

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war.

Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

Thank you to Storytellers on Tour and the author for allowing me to join the book tour for Little White Hands. This book is available for purchase now.

For those of us who are fantasy readers, there’s that moment of wonder and anticipation when we get swept up into a new world for the first time. It’s one of the many great things about fantasy: that excitement that comes with the beginning of a new adventure. That excitement is just waiting for the reader who opens Little White Hands.

Garlan “Little White Hands” is a wonderful main character. He is a dreamer whose aspirations of knighthood seem destined to fail. He is, after all, only a kitchen hand. One of the things I loved about him is that, despite having the adventure he dreams of delivered to him, Garlan understands that there are dangers that come with it. It isn’t a game. He takes his role seriously and does his best no matter what. His interactions with others show that at his heart he is a good person, the sort of person who should be the hero in a book like this.

Garlan happens to receive the last words from a dying man- a call that sets off a quest to save everyone from an endless winter. As he journeys, he battles monstrous foes and learns about the world, and about himself. He is joined by others who help along the way. I loved Trickster, in particular. And, of course, there’s Oldface. What an incredibly creative idea for a companion!

It only took half a chapter before I was completely invested. Seeing as this book would be enjoyed by older elementary and middle grade children, a half chapter of setup is perfect. Any more than that, and there’s the risk of loss of interest from some of the more impatient readers. There was never a danger of that, as the story moved at a steady pace, with character development and further backstory coming along throughout the rest of the story.

The world was beautifully realized and utterly unique. Everything was described perfectly, with words that seemed deliberately placed to invite the imagination. Little White Hands is a great read for any older elementary/middle grader, and would be a great place to start when introducing younger readers to the wonders of the fantasy genre.

I hope this is the first of many books by this author.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55880021-little-white-hands 
Amazon: http://mybook.to/LittleWhiteHands

About the author:

Mark Cushen has loved the fantasy genre since he accidentally stumbled onto Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion masterpiece, “Jason and the Argonauts”, while channel-hopping one Christmas-time Saturday afternoon, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8.

Ever since then he has been obsessed with stories of sword-wielding heroes battling monsters in fantastical lands, and is now attempting to create his own. Little White Hands is the first of (hopefully) many.

Website: https://www.markcushen.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarkCushen87 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mcushen87/ 
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/mcushen87

Kings and Daemons by Marcus Lee- Write Reads Blog Tour

A tale of conquest, dark kings, and daemonic heroes. A spellbinding story that will enchant you with its plot of ambition, love, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption. Over fifty years have passed since Daleth the seemingly immortal Witch-King and his army conquered the Ember Kingdom.Now, with the once fertile lands and its enslaved people dying around him, the Witch-King, driven by his insatiable thirst for eternal youth, prepares his forces to march on the prosperous neighbouring Freestates. It will be the beginnings of a conquest that could destroy nations, bringing death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.Then, when a peasant huntress whose rare gift was concealed from birth is exposed, it sets in motion a chain of events that could alter the destiny of generations to come.

Thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to take part in the blog tour for Kings and Daemons, book one in The Gifted and the Cursed series. The full series is available now, including a newly released audiobook.

Wowza, Kings and Daemons was fantastic! This book felt very old-school fantasy to me – and I loved it! It had so many of the elements that I love to see in fantasy. A group of characters to follow? Check. Inner conflict to match the external struggles? Check. Fantastical creatures? Check (daemons: need I say more). A terrifying Big Bad who is deliciously evil? Check.

Despite having these well-known and well-loved fantasy building blocks, this book is in no way a copy of other works. It is wholly original and incredibly creative. The characters were fantastic. I loved them all, but at the moment my favorite is Kalas. I reserve the right to change my mind, however. Each character has so much going on that not only provides fascinating backstories, but explains their personalities and the choices they make.

The world is grim and bleak, but not enough so that it killed my reading mojo. I know that sentence makes next to no sense, but sometimes a world is too dark for me to enjoy -this wasn’t the case here. The shades of despair in this book were nuanced and offset by the sheer waves of stick-to-itness that the characters possessed. Here was a group who had taken their hits and were still kicking. I love characters like that!

The pacing was fabulous. The story started moving and never stopped. I was immediately drawn in and I stayed enthralled from beginning to end. Everything unfolded with perfect timing and nothing felt forced. There was no dreaded info-dump. It was obvious that the author knew exactly what story he wanted to tell and confidently went about doing it.

The world was incredibly well-developed. The history was fascinating, (spoiler alert ) it is explored even more in future installments. In case you can’t tell, this is my long-winded way of saying Kings and Daemons was fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Writing hasn’t always been a serious hobby for me … but it has always been there, lurking in the shadows, serving me well when called upon.

As I look back over the years, I realise I was guilty of writing many short stories, as well as poetry, and I’d like to think, that even if they were never intended to be published, they were nonetheless warmly received by the intended recipients.

Then in 2019, I was inspired to write not just a short story, or poetry, but a book. Then, suddenly, one book turned into a trilogy and a labour of love, and it was a love I wanted to share with the world.

So, here we are. The pandemic that put my career in sport on hold also gave me the opportunity to lavish time on my alternative hobby, and now I’ve started, I don’t intend to stop.

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.

My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours.
He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”

There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?

Book Spotlight: 2120 by Aithal


Americans today face a toxic mix of COVID-19, a polarized political environment, a sometimes-violent racial upheaval, and climate-change induced natural disasters. And when you add severe constraints to man’s natural urges for exploring new lands and experiences, not to mention flights of fantasy into the future, we are truly in a downward inflection point of US history.  

2120 takes on all of America’s enormous challenges with aplomb, and offers a cohesive vision of the future that addresses the underlying causes of mega-issues ranging from human hubris towards our environment, to parochial interests driving US politics. 2120 makes the flights of fantasy into the future seem all too real, as the audience vicariously lives the future through vibrantly developed and thoroughly believable characters who humanize experiences despite owing their origins to other galaxies.  

Strap on your intellectual seat belts and plan for a binge read through “2120” as it prepares for the 2020 election season and humanity’s challenges in the upcoming decade.

This has been quite the year. Right now, in the U.S., the presidential election is almost upon us. What happens when 2020 meets the sci-fi genre? I have yet to read this book, but this looks like a fascinating and thought-provoking twist on a year fraught with upheaval. I’ve chatted a bit with author Aithal, and after I spoke with him about doing a book spotlight, he also asked me to pass along an important message: “None of us will be around in 2120…but it’s very crucial for the current generation to know how their decision can impact the future.”

About Aithal: I’m the author of four science fiction books. Well, I’d not really call them science fiction as I think it may disappoint science fiction fans if they are expecting hard-core books in that genre. It’s more of ‘political science fiction’. It’s a dystopian look at our future (environmentally) if we stay on our path. They involve space-travel and take a deep-dive into political psychology.

It’s a journey into space and back to future Earth that spans across these books.
 
To know more about his work, visit www.thegalaxyseries.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/thegalaxyseriesbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorgalaxy
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thegalaxyseries/
 
YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9ZnpfnmfvY Featured on The David Pakman Show


Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation Book #1) by Phillip Blackwater

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

This is a strong offering from a new voice in fantasy. Phillip Blackwater takes the familiar things we all know and like about fantasy, and gives them new life and a creative turn.

I must say, I love a good quest. And when that quest means great character development? Even better. The book opens on a fight scene, and the action continues throughout. Sometimes frequent fight scenes come at the expense of the characters, but author Phillip Blackwater has still been able to create characters that are three dimensional. My favorite part of the book is quite possibly the Faceless Reaper: I won’t say anything more, because half of the fun with this character is in the telling.

The world is great and the story moves along at a good pace. The writing could use a little polishing here and there, but overall it was a blast to read. This is a fantastic debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey


Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.

She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself. (taken from Amazon)

Ivy Gamble is the ordinary twin. She grew up dealing with her mother’s slow decline in health, while her twin was off at a school for mages. Tabitha-the magic twin-seemed to have all the skill, while Ivy was just an average teen. Fast forward to adulthood: the two estranged twins have followed very different paths. Tabitha teaches at a mage school. And Ivy? She has just been hired to solve a mystery there.

This book has several oblique references to Harry Potter. There is a Chosen One (the italics and capitalization are necessary), an incredibly unique take on a pensieve, and prophecies. The similarities were just noticeable enough for me to appreciate them, but far from actually defining the story at all.

In fact, the book itself is much more mature and goes in directions I would never have expected. Here is the part where I issue a heads up: abortion is one of the themes of this book. While not the main plotline by any means, it is brought up multiple times. This book is most definitely intended for adults, despite the Potter-esque odds and ends.

The characters in Magic for Liars are well-developed and incredibly nuanced. Every action made perfect sense for each character, not because the characters were one dimensional, but because the author knew them so well. I felt like I could sit down and have conversations with any of them. Ivy’s internal dialogue was fascinating because it felt like she began to discover who she was while I was also learning the same things about her. She was a lost person struggling to figure herself out.

The mystery itself was tantalizing and complex enough that I didn’t expect how it all panned out at all. Honestly, though, the mystery ended up not being the important part of the book. It all begins and ends with relationships. The important themes in this books are love, loss, self-discovery and acceptance.

The ending both satisfied and upset me (I can feel both emotions at the same time: I’m complicated like that). It ended on a sad note, but the hopeful kind of sad. Magic for Liars is much more complex and thought-provoking than any “school for magic” book has the right to be.

Ostensibly about a very normal P.I. trying to solve a murder in a backdrop that is far from normal, this book manages to be much more than just a mystery. It will not be for everyone, but if you want a good introspective book with a dash of magic, then I suggest picking this one up.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Dorian Hart

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

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

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

Who are the Heroes of Spira? They are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author Bio:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

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

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

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

About the author:

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

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

Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19933553.D_H_Willison

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhwillison

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DH-Willison-102010801194018/

Liebster Award

First and foremost, let me give a huge thank you to I’m All Booked Up for nominating me for this award!

RULES:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and give a link to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions asked of you.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers.
  4. Ask ‘your nominees’ 11 questions.
  5. Notify your nominees once you have uploaded your post.

What genre of books can you not live without?

I dabble in other genres, but I’m a fantasy girl through and through. Bonus points if the fantasy book has dragons.

You’re packing for a week’s vacation and can only pack books you already own: which three do you bring? 

I’m going to start right off by cheating. Isn’t that awesome of me? Instead of taking three books, I’m picking two books and a trilogy. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you won’t be remotely surprised by my choices of: The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, The Night Circus, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Which of your favorite books would you like to see become a Netflix series? 

Absolutely none of them, unless I’m casting, writing the script, and directing. If I love a book, I want it to be left alone. I’m persnickety like that.

What was the last book series you binged? 

I honestly couldn’t say. Usually what happens is I get a book, I love the book, then realize the sequel isn’t out yet. I read multiple books at once, though, so my reading habits are all kinds of wonky.

If you could only have three apps on your phone for blogging, which ones would you pick?

The only blogging apps that I have on my phone are WordPress and Twitter.

 What is your dream literary-inspired Halloween costume? 

I don’t dress up for Halloween all that often, but I did dress as a rêveur from The Night Circus one year. I suppose going as Raistlin from Dragons of Spring Dawning could be fun.

If you could be anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I’d love to visit anyplace that has autumn leaves right now. The leaves don’t change color where I currently live, and I really miss the beautiful reds and golds.

Which book character do you relate to most?

I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Just kidding. I think I’m more of a conglomeration of many characters that I’ve read over the years.

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate?

I drink coffee at breakfast, right before bed (it doesn’t keep me awake at night, I think I’ve built up an immunity), and sometimes in the middle of the afternoon. Hmmm…I’m not drinking too much coffee, am I?

Do you want to publish a novel one day?

There’s always been an author niggle at the back of my brain, but I really don’t have any ideas. If I get an idea that I feel needs to come out, I’ll write then. Whether it would be any good is a completely different question.

Which author would you most like to have dinner with?

I think having dinner with Alexander Dumas would be absolutely fascinating. He has a history, his dad was an interesting person in his own right, and if Dumas spoke the way he wrote, it would be an engrossing meal.

My Questions:

  1. What’s your go-to genre?
  2. What is a book or series that you’re forever singing the praises of?
  3. What do you love about blogging?
  4. Are there any books that you read specifically at a certain time of year?
  5. What’s the best book you read in 2019?
  6. What non-bookish thing do you do for fun?
  7. Which author would you like to have dinner with?
  8. What was your favorite book when you were a child?
  9. What book character do you most relate to?
  10. What is your favorite reading spot?
  11. What new or upcoming release are you most excited for?

My nominations:

The Orang-utan Librarian
Way Too Fantasy
Stephen Writes
Becky’s Book Blog
Mani’s Book Corner
Leah’s Books
One Book More
The Geekish Brunette
My Heart is Booked Blog
Novel Lives
Kerri McBookNerd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Bios:

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

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