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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Bios:

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

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

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Ryan Howse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless the villain is a bear.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

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

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

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

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

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






The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people.

Dranko is a priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.

None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.

What starts with a simple scouting mission soon spirals into something more far-reaching and sinister. The heroes will contest with dream warriors, evil cultists, sentient gemstones, and a devious yet infuriatingly polite gentleman with a perfect mustache, on their way to a desperate encounter with the unstoppable: The Ventifact Colossus. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It’s available for purchase now.

One of the things I love about fantasy is that you can take a commonality – like a group of unlikely heroes – and make it something new and different. In The Ventifact Colossus, author Dorian Hart created a world that is full of adventure and heart. Brace yourselves, folks: this is going to be a rave.

Where should I start? First of all, the characters were fabulous. The book opens with Dranko, a priest-turned-thief who just happens to also be part human, part goblin. He’s bristly, but a good guy underneath a tough exterior. You can tell he’s been kicked around by life a bit. He finds himself with an unexpected new employer: a wizard who has gathered a ragtag group of possible-heroes. Dranko ends up traveling with several others, each with their own personality and struggles, in an attempt to prevent a very bad thing (no spoilers from me). However, as much as I loved the storyline, it was the well-written characters that won me over.

There is a three-way tie for my favorite characters. Yes, I know that’s a bit ridiculous, but I can’t narrow it down more than that. I thought Dranko was fascinating and had hidden depth. Every time I thought I figured him out, a new facet of his personality would be revealed. I also loved the kindly older woman, Mrs. Horn. She was so sweet, but had a steel backbone. She wasn’t a fighter, like some of the others, nor was she a healer, but her role was vital to the group nonetheless. And Ernie! Oh, how I loved that character! He was a jumble of low self-esteem and a huge heart. Watching his character grow and evolve was so much fun!

I love how interconnected everything was. One thing would have ramifications for others that I never saw coming. It was never done just for convenience though, and the world never felt small. On the contrary, the world was vast and felt Tolkien-esqe (ish?) in that I knew there were things left undiscovered and yet to be experienced. I’m very excited to be continuing the story in book two.

Perhaps my favorite thing about The Ventifact Colossus is its underlying theme of hope and the goodness of people. Don’t get me wrong: the stakes are high, and the author definitely loves making the reader emotional (I’m still salty about a particular scene), but the pages didn’t scream, “Doooommmm!” at me every time I opened the book.

This is the sort of book that reminds me why fantasy is my favorite genre. Come for the adventure, stay for the amazing characters. I highly recommend this one.

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

image credit: Amazon

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

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

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

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

About M.D. Presley:

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

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an interview with Luke Tarzian

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Characters one-hundred percent.”

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

May Day by Josie Jaffrey- The Write Reads Blog Tour

If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective.
Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.
When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.
To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die.
Body bags on standby.

May Day is the first book in Josie Jaffrey’s Seekers series, an urban fantasy series set in Oxford, England. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the Write Reads for allowing me to be a part of this book blog tour. This book is available for purchase now.

I don’t read a ton of books in this particular sub-genre, but I had heard so many good things about this author that I was excited to grab this book and open it up.

Before getting into the thick of it, let me give a headsup: author Josie Jaffrey kindly provided a content warning at the back of her book. I didn’t think to look in the back of the book, so I didn’t know what exactly I was getting into, content-wise. Totally my fault. However, the content warning is there, and I think that is incredibly awesome of her to provide it.

May Day was full of vampiric fun. Start with a vampire detective (I’m thinking more “enforcer” than detective, since she was more concerned about keeping vampire existence secret) who takes on a search for a blood-sucking murderer, and add in a fair amount of relationship drama, and you’ve got the bare bones. I’m not personally a huge fan of the romance aspect of the book, but the rest of it was enjoyable enough that I was able to take my crotchety attitude toward literary romantic entanglements and set it aside.

The mystery itself was my favorite part. It was creative and had layers I didn’t expect. Also, there was a good amount of blood-sucking politics, which I really enjoyed. The plot moved a little slowly at times, which I loved. It gave the set-up and politics the time it needed to be explored and fully developed.

Jack is the main character. She’s a newer vampire and is the youngest member of the Oxford Seekers (the detective-ish agency) and she’s a bit prickly. I never could decide if I liked her or if she annoyed me. I’m thinking it was a mixture of both, which makes her a complicated character. I’m a fan of complicated characters as a general rule, so I guess I like that I wasn’t sure I liked her?

I really wasn’t a fan of the whole complicated love thing, but I never am. It wasn’t done poorly or anything, it just isn’t my trope. However, if you enjoy complicated relationships, you’ll like this one. It’s done well.

May Day is a great addition to the urban fantasy/mystery genre. If you like vampires or urban fantasy, you’ll love this book.

If you enjoy vampire fantasy, or urban fantasy in general, you’ll enjoy this book. I’d stake my life on it (I’m so punny)!

Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with Nicole Mainardi

A Curse of Thorns by Nicole Mainardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

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

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

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

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

Author Bio:

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

Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with L.A. Wasielewski

Amazon.com: The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny (The Alchemist Trilogy ...
Today, I have the pleasure to interview L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy. Thank you for taking some time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Alchemist trilogy?

“The Alchemist Trilogy is the story of Ryris Bren, a talented alchemist with a secret—he possesses the power of magic. It’s not something you can learn by studying, you need to be born with it. In his world, being able to use magic is viewed as a curse, and you’re taught from birth to hide it—or risk being hunted and killed. Maybe by magic hunters, maybe by vindictive citizens. He has a family heirloom, an amulet, that keeps the magic hunters away. At least, that’s what his Gran told him, and he’s been conditioned never to take it off. Ryris decides he wants to spread his wings, gain some independence, and expand the family businessand he convinces his father to allow him to open another shop in the capital city, Keld, far away. One day, after his move, he decides to go to a northern town to harvest a special ingredient from mountain caves, and his life changes forever. (This is where I’ll stop…because I’m obviously sassy and don’t want to ruin book secrets…hehe) Life changes, the world changes, and he realizes he’s been a part of whatever is happening since even before his birth. Alchemy! Forbidden Magic! Necromancy! Shape-shifting! Monsters! Giants! Ghosts! Swordfights! Violence! Sass! Snark! …and pie!

These books are adult dark fantasy, not recommended for readers under 16 or so, just because of dark adult themes, violence, blood, gore, drug use, and some implied hanky-panky. There are also several planned side-projects, one of which is with test readers right now and will be released after Book3 comes out in 2021. The Alchemist: Dawn of Destiny (Book1) and The Alchemist: Dark Horizon (Book2) are available now in paperback and e-book, and free on Kindle Unlimited.”

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


“I started writing fanfiction in high school—but I didn’t know that fanfic was actually a thing. I loved the game Phantasy Star IV (just dated myself, I guess!), and decided to write a story about it while “paying attention” in my 12th grade economics class. It was posted (briefly) on a website, but it’s gone now and will never see the light of day again. EVER. That’s how bad it was. But…the passion to write never left me. College happened, marriage happened, kid happened. As a stay-at-home mom, I needed an outlet for some creativity, and I decided to give fanfiction a try again. This time it was Final Fantasy VIII. Some of my best and dearest writing friendships blossomed from that time. I wrote Final Fantasy VIII, Star Trek AOS (New Films), Final Fantasy XV, and Fallout fanfic. (I still do even now…it’s a great way to distract myself if I get blocked, plus it’s just fun!) Writing fanfic was a great way to hone my skill, learn to edit properly, and really challenge myself.

As far as writing original fantasy? I had always LOVED reading fantasy books. My gateway series was The Darksword Trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I then moved on to their DeathGate Cycle and Dragonlance. Margaret Weis is, by far, my absolute favorite author, and she’s definitely been an inspiration. Two girls from Wisconsin, writing about magic! I also enjoyed the Swords series by Fred Saberhagen. I was always drawn to traditional epic fantasy—medieval settings, dragons, magic, swords and sorcery, etc. So, when my (then) 7 y/o son wanted me to come up with a story for a game he wanted to make and write a strategy guide for—I tapped into my love of old-school fantasy to create an idea for him. He wanted it to be a fantasy-type game and I came up with a story about a magical princess in crystal armor in a cave. That small kernel would eventually become The Alchemist Trilogy. I wrote a small story for him and realized, hey, this is surprisingly good! I bet this could be a book! I was working part-time in retail, not really contributing to the family income or anything, and my husband (bless him!) said if I was really serious about writing a book, I could quit the job. You can just guess what I chose! That was Summer 2015, and the first book in The Alchemist Trilogy was released three years later.”

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

“Honestly? A little of both. With The Alchemist Trilogy, (as seen above) it was the story first (as tiny of a kernel as it was…that original idea blossomed into so much more) and then the characters. Poor Ryris didn’t even have a name in the outline for a very long time. When I’m working on outlining a project, dialogue tends to come to me in chunks, and I weave it into order within the story I’m working on in my mind. I craft the scene/chapter around the dialogue. Then I can fill in the missing pieces with more plot/story and link it all together into one cohesive arc. “

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

“Ryris suffers from anxiety, which I definitely struggle with. I think it helped me flesh him out more, make him relatable. When he’s having a bad day, I know how to help him on the page. And vice-versa, I know how it feels to be anxious and/or panicky, and I think sharing those feelings with him allows me to better represent it in the books. It’s like, “I get it, dude. I feel ya.”

There’s also a secondary character that makes their first appearance in Dark Horizon (Book 2) that is absolutely a sassy, snarky mix of me and one of my dearest friends, Paige. I’ve told her many times that this particular character was written pretty much to entertain her.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“Character? Definitely Lyrax. But for the life of me, I can’t pinpoint why. I LOVE writing horrible, terrible, malicious characters. But for some reason, this guy was just never living up to his potential in terms of just how awful he could be. My husband (who is the most brutally honest and incredible editor/CP I could ever ask for) was the one who really took to him. He just “felt” his voice, you know? Once we started working together on Lyrax, he came to life in a way I never imagined possible. And that, as they say, is that. He’s menacing, devious, manipulative, and a total creep…and he’s perfect.

As far as “part” of any books, I’d have to say the entire 3rd volume in the series. From the beginning, I KNEW this one was going to be tough. It was the least outlined of the three (I heavily outline everything), so I knew I was already going in at a disadvantage. Then, all these new ideas came to me and my husband, and, while they were fantastic, really threw a wrench in what I had planned. (It worked out in the end and this book is going to be fab, but at that moment, I felt really defeated and discouraged.) Then, to really smack me in the face, I was hit with massive writer’s block. It got to the point where I was so disillusioned with the whole project that I hated it. I never wanted to look at it again. And I knew that’s when something had to change. So, I took a break—a long one. Like, months. And, slowly, ideas started to come about how to work with what needed to be done. In January 2020, I had my a-ha moment, sat, and re-outlined the whole damn thing over the course of two days (from a certain point in the story—the beginning was totally fine and didn’t need to be tweaked, really) and was ready to go. I gave myself six weeks to finish the book. I had a deadline on myself, because I wanted to have it ready for January 2021 to debut at a local fantasy and gaming convention that I exhibit at every year and needed to make time for several drafts/editing/test readers/more editing/finalization. I buckled down and finished the draft with a few days to spare. That was March 3rd, 2020. And then—COVID-19 hit. Anxiety was skyrocketing, my child was no longer at school all day, and we were all cooped up in the house. My motivation—and energy—to write was utterly destroyed. As my publishing deadline of XMAS 2020 continued to encroach, my will to write was still nonexistent, and I was more and more certain I wouldn’t be attending the convention in January 2021 because of the virus. (That’s still up in the air at this point.) I knew something had to give. So, I removed my publishing deadline. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It didn’t help my motivation much, but just knowing that I didn’t HAVE TO get it done by a certain date was a relief. No matter how much I wanted to write, most of the time, I was too anxious, stressed, or depressed to do so. And when I did get a tiny spark of motivation, I was interrupted by the child, or he wanted me to entertain him. (Mom life, right?) It literally wasn’t until this last weekend (August 14th-15th) that I had a massive breakthrough. I had been planning on adding more content to the 1st draft and had been struggling with getting one of my new outlined ideas in chapter form. And—just like that—it hit me. I wrote two chapters in two days and made more progress in those days than I had in over eight weeks. I’m hopeful now that I can keep this motivation and “mojo” going and plug on! Book3 (as yet still untitled because titles are the bane of my existence) will hopefully be released mid-2021.”

I love books featuring alchemists! What caused you to give your character that profession?

“Ryris was originally a scholar of history, to be honest! He was going to go off to the university to accept a teaching position and had this book from his childhood that was full of fantastical tales that sent him on a path of exploration. The story in the book contained what some viewed as possible history (Ryris) and what most viewed as fairytales (pretty much everyone else). He was determined to prove it—and the faculty advised him not to meddle. His classes were, in part, going to be about this history/fairytale. This was how he would have still ended up in the situation where he’d encounter [that life-changing event], but I realized he’d be having to lug this damn book around wherever he went! That idea went out the door super quick. I also felt like having him be a scholar kept him tethered too much and didn’t give him room to spread his wings. So, he needed a new profession. The decision to make him an alchemist was an a-ha moment. I play a lot of Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim, and always loved the alchemy aspect. When I envisioned what Ryris’ world looked like in my mind, it had an Elder Scrolls-type feel to it. So, making him an alchemist was a no-brainer. It allowed me to give him a lot of opportunities for adventure, and I could come up with all sorts of incredible potions, ingredients, and effects of said potions. I can’t imagine him as anything else now. Alchemy is in his blood—and I guess it always was. I just had to realize that! And, thinking back, this book series would have exploded on the launchpad had I kept him as a scholar. Alchemy has such an important role for so many reasons in this trilogy. There literally would be no story without it. Man, am I glad I made the decision to pluck him from his original profession! Best choice ever!”

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

“It’s easiest for me to write snarky, sassy characters. Sometimes that’s the hero, sometimes that’s the villain. I always want my books to have a good element of humor, especially since they tend to be pretty dark in a lot of places. Gotta liven it up sometimes! A well-placed smartass remark almost always does the trick!

I do tend to be quite mean to my characters—both physically and emotionally—so writing the villain is fun because I can come up with all kinds of ways to hurt people. Wow, that makes me sound like a horrible person! (…and I don’t care…hehe)”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“Before COVID-19, I had a routine. Drop my kid at school, pick up dinner ingredients at the store, come home and make coffee, and write. Mornings always seemed like my most productive time. For the longest time, I needed absolute quiet—no music, no tv, nothing. But, especially with the 3rd book, I started to use Pandora to help me find a mood. Book3 was written to a lot of E.S Posthumus, Moody Blues, ELO, Toto, and Jethro Tull!

Now, with everyone in the house and no real time to myself, it’s less about finding my zone, and more about stealing any moment I can get. Usually, it’s when the kid is engrossed in a video game, but even then, he’s constantly talking to me so it’s hard to work. And, after bedtime, I’m usually too tired to try and write! So, these last five months have been challenging.”

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

“Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Forging the Darksword. It was the first fantasy book I ever read and started my love of fantasy novels. The concept of magic was uniquely approached in this series, and I instantly loved it. My copy is an original (bought it at Waldenbooks back in the day!), and is so old and worn, that the cover is taped on and the pages are yellowed and brittle! It’s definitely well-loved. I tend to re-read it (and the other Darksword books) once every couple of years.”

LA pic   Author Bio:

L.A. Wasielewski is a gamer, nerd, baseball fan (even though the Brewers make it very difficult sometimes), and mom. When she’s not writing, she’s blasting feral ghouls and super mutants in the wastelands, baking and cooking, and generally being a smart-ass. She’s very proud of the fact that she has survived several years with two drum kits in the house—and still has most of her hearing intact.

You can find L.A. Wasielewski here:

 

 

 

 


The First of Shadows (Riven Realm #1)- The Write Reads on Tour

How do you kill a shadow?

As a raging storm descends on the Blasted Coast, the crippled young rigger, Caleb Rusk, meets a wounded stranger on the open road. Little does he know that the encounter will pull him into a conflict that threatens everything he holds dear—and change the course of his life forever. With help from a hammer-wielding mercenary, a drifter girl with a heritage of magic, and an eccentric sky pirate, Caleb must find a way to escape the clutches of a shape-stealing demon that refuses to die.

Meanwhile, in the capital of Taralius, a string of inexplicable deaths have captured the attention of the Ember Throne. Second Corporal Avendor Tarcoth is tasked with uncovering the truth behind a danger that could threaten the very fabric of the Realm. To assist him, the Queen enlists the aid of the sage, Tiberius Alaran. But the blind old man has secrets of his own—and allegiances that extend beyond the Ember Throne. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads on Tour for allowing me to be a part of this book blog tour. The First of Shadows is available now.

I love that the timing of this book tour just happens to coincide with a month-long celebration of self-published fantasy. The First of Shadows is sitting happily on my list of the best fantasy I’ve read in quite a while and I’ve been on a fantasy kick for the last…always.

Deck Matthews created an excellent fantasy adventure. His characters were all fantastic, each unique and interesting. Caleb was a perfect main character: he wasn’t incredibly fast or strong. He was just in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time).

I loved the magic in this world! There were multiple sorts, but I was particularly impressed by the totems, which are kind of like brands or tattoos that can form into an animal companion. I am probably explaining that horribly, so I’ll just say: it’s very, very cool.

There were so many things that were well done in this novella! There is an air of tension that runs throughout, making each scene a little more heightened. The characters are fully developed and each one contributes something to the story-line. Matthews does everything with purpose and confidence. I was immediately sucked in and happily engrossed.

Since this is a novella, it takes very little time to read. That means everyone should ignore life for a little bit and go read this book. Do it now! I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with T.K.P. Sternberg

I’m excited to talk to T.K.P. Sternberg, author of The Singing Gold, today. Thanks for taking time to answer my questions!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Singing Gold?

“The Singing Gold is the first in a series of maybe four or five novels following the reluctant adventures and tribulations of a poor family living on the very borders of a deep, wild forest. As a fantasy novel, I am sure it is not very typical. My heroes get pulled into something complicated and dangerous not from some urge to save the world or because they are fated to. They are much more already in a precarious situation, which makes it hard for them to say no or to back off when trouble comes knocking. It was important to me that my characters felt like real human beings living in a very real world, fantastic as it is. I love both fantasy and history with a passion, and with a highly critical mind.

            When I started writing, the one thing I wanted to avoid was tropes and stereotypes. As a matter of fact, I am quiet the stereotypical hater of stereotypes. This goes for the motivations and emotional life of my characters, for the world they inhabit, and for the events and accidents turning their everyday existence fraught enough to validate writing a book about them. If I would guess, I would say that The Singing Gold will be best enjoyed by people who have read a lot of speculative fiction and who wish for something a bit refreshing. For readers new to the genre, I admit that I might not be the best start, as I do my best to withhold at least the cheap and easy rewards that the genre promises.”

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

“I’m a Swede who grew up in the 80’s loving table top RPGs and whatever Fantasy was available at that time. Back then, there was a lot of negative pressure from the mainstream, labelling SFF as just for kids or as trash, and sometimes even as dangerous. But I loved my roleplaying games. I usually ended up being the DM, and after a few years I realized that one of the greatest joys was in the actual writing of the adventures and worlds I prepared for our sessions. I guess that is when I started writing. Whatever the format, be it trying your hand at fiction, bantering and gossiping with friends, or making up a scenario for a game, the urge for telling stories is age old and probably in our genes. I was lucky enough to discover it early on, but unfortunate enough to allow myself to be swayed from what I had started with so much playfulness and joy.

            As I slowly emerged from my teenage years and started studying, among other things a very nice one-year creative writing course at a community college, I was steadily herded towards more ‘serious’ subjects by everyone around me. Since I couldn’t imagine giving up on being playful, I choose to go into Fine Arts instead. I had to find a study place abroad though (again, much too playful and childish for the severe Nordic taste) so I ended up at Goldsmith’s College in London, which turned out to be an amazing couple of years that taught me an endless amount of giving and receiving criticism, of thinking constructively about art, of writing and discussing. Goldsmith’s was above all a place where you learned to think as an artist, and I have found this skill highly transferable and useful.

            So now I make my living as a conceptual sculptor, crafting weird and beautiful objects for the wealthy, and sometimes as a tinkerer, craftsman or whatever needs be to get the money in. I live in Berlin since about a decade now, enjoying the closest thing you get to the Paris of la belle Epoque in this globalized hyper-economy of ours. I started clawing back writing and making it entirely mine a couple of years ago. Looking back on it now, I am grateful for having taken such a roundabout detour to it, past a lot of struggles and joys in another art form. It has helped me get straight to the core of what I want to do. And to enjoy it in a relaxed way.”

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

“I only start thinking seriously about a story when I get a good idea for a premiss. These come a bit as and when they want to. I am one of those people who could have vouched for the existence of the Muses had I not been such a thorough non-believer in anything. They do speak to me however, and when and what they want to.

            Next comes some of the characters, the main people this premiss revolves around, and a few basic plotlines. I then slowly digest the main ingredients for a while, working on something entirely different and preferably for quite some time. If they survive this ordeal and come out the other side, they are worth taking a closer look at. And surprisingly enough, they always seem to have gained in weight by then. By this stage I start taking notes, still while working on something different. I very seldom sit down and plot. Instead, I wait for the story to whisper to me while my frontal cortex is occupied with something ‘important’, and thus forgets to intervene and mess everything up. When I feel that I have a good first look at the main characters, and know roughly where they are standing and in what direction I want to send them off, I simply start writing. I never have more than at the tops a quarter of the story ready in my head before I start. But I also wouldn’t start with just a cool character and a setting.

            I am very much a believer in letting the characters and the world guide you along. My job is to throw things in the way of the characters and then observe how they deal with it. This all sounds a bit esoteric, but is in fact the opposite. If I would give a rational explanation to it, it would run something like so:

            Anything can happen in a story as long as it is consistent with the story itself. When the story starts out, few things are set down, so the freedom but also the insecurity is great. As you go along and write what happens and what your characters do, you get more and more materials to reference your new ideas against. When you think of a way for your protagonist to get past an obstacle, you can check this against what you already know. Would Stig punch the guy and push past? Hardly. As I have written him up to now, he is much to careful for that and would find another way. Merely what you have written down is not enough to make these judgement calls, of course. You have to temper it with your own experience of the world, with what you know and feel about how people act and think. If you lack empathy, you will never be able to write great character driven stories. Also, if you lack curiosity, you will find it hard to describe anyone outside of your own narrow life. But there is always research where experience fails.

            I follow my own rule about internal consistency and honesty to my characters and world with stubborn determination. There are many examples of where my story took a completely different turn than I had thought, simply because I learned some new facts that threw off my plans. This is a good thing. Accepting outer borders and limits helps creativity push further, not the other way around (as I would have thought as a younger man, before all my years in the Arts). I will mention just one instance, to give a feeling of what it can concretely mean while writing.

            At one point fairly early on in the story, a physically weak character sees the threat of a much stronger one approaching. She is holding something small and valuable in her hand which she fears might be taken from her. In the spur of the moment she feeds it to a cow she is herding. I thought this a rather nifty idea for protecting your valuables. The potential bully would now have to drag the whole cow along would he want to get her treasure. And she would only have to keep an eye on the cow’s droppings for a while to get it back. Then I quickly researched how the innards of cows function, to get a good guess of how long my heroine would had to wait, and… Well, anyone with farming expertise will be smiling now. Others will have to read the book to find out. Anyhow, this is an example of how I am more than happy to be forced to rewrite my entire story as long as this makes it more true. Forcing through an idea you just had, no matter how brilliant it is, against the will of your own writing is never a good thing. Listening to where your characters and world wants you to take them is the key to deep and believable writing.”

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

“I drew on a lot of my own experiences to create the main character Stig. He is not necessarily like me in that he is much more shy and hesitant, but in other respects he is. Stig is under constant pressure to provide for his family. As an often struggling artist, this is something I know a lot about. I wanted to integrate the boring part of poverty, that incessant weight of never being able to relax, of never having a backup or a surplus, into how my characters navigate the world. It was important to me that the main motivation be not how to achieve some lofty goals of incredible powers or of fulfilling your destiny, but rather the mundane and very common of making ends meet in a hostile environment. Admittedly, I have turned up the stress level some notches to make for a more dramatic story, but the basic focus is not of achieving but of making do.

            In a way, Stig is the least colourful of the characters in the book. I feel that this is right since he is very much a pair of eyes we can experience the world through. Given his extraordinary abilities of observation, tagging along gives us access to much more than simply the medieval everyday. He is also very calm and balanced, even if he makes some rash decisions. These don’t stem from his personality, however, but much more from the dire circumstances he finds himself in.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

” It was tricky to flesh out the whole family as distinct and unique characters, as the trouble hitting them pushed in the same direction. The eldest daughter Klara was easy enough, since she embarks on her own escapades early on, but the mother and younger kids simply didn’t get enough specific resistance from the plot do emerge as fully drawn personalities yet. I plan for this to change in the second instalment, as much of the story focus will shift to Liv and how she will have to deal with the fallout of Stig’s failure. As I write almost no backstory, I need things to happen to my protagonists for them to emerge from the fog and become clear.”

I felt immediately drawn into the setting. What did it take to make it seem so complete and rich in historical detail?

“The Singing Gold is written against a very detailed background. The premise for my world is to take the real medieval Europe instead of inventing a quasi-Europe with vaguely disguised countries and regions. But to then populate it with all the beasts and beings from  my favourite mythologies, and the magic and mystery too. And to make it all work in a consistent and believable way.

            Writing within a historically realistic setting and being strict about it is a way for me to set up a framework against which I can bounce my creativity. If I know the world my characters inhabit, it is easier for me to figure out how they should act to solve their problems. Of course it means that I can’t often fall back on the first idea I get, but instead the result feels more solid. I hope. My protagonists didn’t move about on a blank piece of paper slowly filling it out to become a map as they trundled along, but rather started in the middle (not in the lower corner near the coast, as Diana Wynne-Jones so poignantly remark) of one that was there waiting for them.

            This goes for all the small details as well. Meaning, Stig never pulls something from his pockets, since they didn’t have pockets in the 13th century, and Klara ties her tunic together with a string, since neither did they have buttons. And none of the houses is made of huge blocks of stone, since even the king of Svitjod lived in a log house (or rather, in log houses) and only churches had started being built in stone. And no rich lord thunders past in his elaborately decorated coach with liveried servants hanging on to its back, since there were no roads around decent enough that one could drive such a carriage on, at least not in Svitjod. Which despite the perhaps initial doubt made it easier to write and not harder.

            To reach this kind of certainty in my story world, I had to do an inordinate amount of research. Or rather, I did, even if it might not have been all that necessary. Partly it was a way to delay the inevitability of having to start writing, I have to admit, but partly it was to give me a very secure base to stand on. As I continue writing, I am sure I will be more precise and economical with my research, but for The Singing Gold I went a bit overboard.

            It’s also amazing just how much you are able to research when you use the real world for your story. Not only Google Maps is available for you to zoom in on every topographic detail you want, but other resources are even more astonishing. I have to mention here ‘Fornsök’ on the website of Riksantikvarieämbetet (raa.se), the Swedish Archiver General. It has a clickable and zoomable map of Sweden with every single archaeological find marked out. You can search and filter for a number of different categories, or simply get very, very close to the area your protagonists are about to enter to see if there is something interesting there to include in the story. Clicking on the small icons on the map gives you access to photographs and notations done by the field archaeologist responsible for investigating that particular find. That’s how I got the beginning of the anecdote on Vendela and her mound. Vendela’s mound is really there by the way. As is Ottar’s mound, and all the old boat graves around the church. I never visited Vendel in person, but the majestic seven mounds next to the church of Old Upsala, I managed to see.

            Standing on top of the largest mound, the one where Illugi performs his improvised spell to alleviate Stig, while looking down on the old stone church was a truly magical moment. The 11th century church is small. It’s what you would expect from a large village perhaps, not from an entire bishopric. And the huge mounds dwarf it in volume if not in height. A moment like this where I could feel history under the soles of my feet helped me get a perspective on all the history I had read. It helped me decide what interpretations of the finds I would go with. For interpret one must. In history there are precious few facts, but an abundance of traces and relics. How one chooses to read the signs is very much up to you, and says a lot about you. This vagueness is fantastical too. It allows for imagination to happen. The traces of our real lived history provides at best a skeleton which I as an author can dress with my own views, ideas and speculation.”

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


“I find side characters more fun and easy to write than main characters. Since they don’t have to carry the weight of the story forwards, but most often try to get in its way, it allows for freer creation. As for villain and heroes, I think and hope that I have complicated things a bit more than that. I don’t believe in the simple good vs evil dichotomy in real life, so neither do I want it in my fiction. Sure, there are a lot of people out there with truly vicious and caustic behaviours, opinions and beliefs, but none of them are beyond empathy. If someone is a human being, a good author should be able to imagine how it feels to be that person, to live that life and make those decisions.

            The two parts that were most fun to write in The Singing Gold both were kind of rascals: Illugi and Valgeir. One very sophisticated and arrogant, the other charmingly natural and unabashedly selfish. Giving voice to someone not hampered by social norms and morals can, of course, be such a relief and is probably why so many writers love their ‘villains’. I hope it will be even more fun when we get to the non-human opposition in the next book. When we get to know the dwarves better, and start getting real cosy with the creatures of the forest. Because even beasts can’t be merely one dimensional killing machines. That would be boring.”

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

“Writing comes easiest in the morning. For the promise of an undisturbed writing session, I have no trouble getting up at 5. My biggest problem, with a toddler at home and a wife with a busy work-schedule, is finding time to write at all. I am sure this is the boring reality for many writers and other artists. I usually solve this by working frantically at all my other duties until I have a clear slate of a few weeks ahead with at least a couple of free hours each day. That way I can get into writing properly and let it flow, until I have to wrap up for a while and abide the next possible bout.”

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

“I don’t have any books as my all time favourites. I like or don’t like what I read at the moment. This even goes for the heroes of my youth, maybe because I found Fantasy through roleplaying games and not through, for example, Tolkien. When I read Tolkien the first time, I had already gamed with halflings and dwarves and elves.

            What I really enjoy as an adult are authors who manage to surprise me, and at the same time be in total control of their craft. I am very sensitive to inconsistencies and to when the illusion is broken, for example by a vampire behaving like some insecure high-school kid, or by the squire arguing class-identity with his knight. Some writers I have enjoyed very much recently are Angela Boord, Joe Abercrombie, Octavia Butler, Rob J. Hayes, Naomi Novik… All very different but with a distinct and confident style.”

Author Bio:

I’m a Swedish guy who grew up in the 80’s, loving table top RPGs and whatever Fantasy was available at the time. Back then, there was a lot of negative pressure from the mainstream labelling SFF as trash or as just for kids. Sometimes even as dangerous. As I started studying, among other things a very nice one-year creative writing course at a community college, I was steadily herded towards more ‘serious’ subjects by everyone around me. As I couldn’t imagine giving up on being playful, I choose to go into Fine Arts instead of continuing to fight orcs and write sagas. I had to find a study place abroad though (again, much too playful and childish for the severe Nordic taste) so I ended up at Goldsmith’s College in London, which turned out to be an amazing couple of years that taught me endless amounts about giving and receiving criticism, thinking constructively about art, writing and discussing… but not much craft. That was never what Goldsmith’s was about. It is not place where you learn to paint or sculpt as an artist, but a place where you learn to think as one, and I have found this skill highly transferable and useful.

            Since fifteen years, I make my living as a conceptual sculptor, crafting weird and beautiful objects for the wealthy, and sometimes as a tinkerer, craftsman or whatever needs be to get the money in. I have been living in Berlin for about a decade, enjoying the closest thing to the Paris of la belle Epoque that you get in this globalized hyper-economy of ours, I guess. I started clawing back writing and making it entirely mine a couple of years ago. Looking back at it now, I am grateful for having taken such a roundabout way back to it, past a lot of struggles and joys in another art form. It has helped me get straight to the core of what I want to do. And to enjoy it in a relaxed way.

            I am married and have a three year old daughter. I speak English to my wife, Swedish to my daughter and the family back in Stockholm, and German or English to friends and colleagues. English is very much the Lingua Franca of the art world, but it is often so badly mishandled that I sometimes wonder if it shouldn’t be re-named Globish instead, at least as a dialect.

I can be contacted through my website http://tkpsternberg.com/

and my book can be found on Amazon at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07T984K3B

or Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54670943-the-singing-gold