Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Bjørn Larssen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the best thing about writing comedic fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for having me!

About the author:

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

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

Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner (‘Storytellers’)

2020 Stabby Award Nominee (‘Children’)

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

Social media

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

To Purchase:

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

Collected:
https://bjornlarssen.com/author

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that will leave you in stitches (or leave you bursting stitches- maybe don’t read comedic fantasy right after a surgery). I’m grateful to be chatting with Andi Ewington, coauthor of Campaigns and Companions.

Hi, Andi! Thank you for stopping by to chat about comedic fantasy! 

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

I’m Andi Ewington, a writer (of sorts) based in Surrey. I’m probably better known for writing graphic novels having worked on comics such as Forty-Five45, Freeway Fighter, Just Cause 3, Dark Souls 2, Vikings, Sunflower and S6X. But recently, I’ve moved away from the panel-by-panel medium to release Campaigns & Companions, which is a step towards traditional book publishing.

In Campaigns and Companions, you show a love of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as an uncanny understanding of how pets of all sorts act). What was the genesis of Campaigns and Companions?

It sprang from a funny meme of a cat playing Dungeons & Dragons I happened across while doomscrolling through Twitter. It immediately had me roaring with laughter and ignited my imagination; I decided to switch my Twitter focus away from complaints about the daily grind of commuting and embrace pets in funny roleplaying game scenarios to the full. After that, I curated a colossal thread that went viral and quickly realised this could make a really fun book. I brought Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi to the project, and we all pitched it to Rebellion Publishing (who gave it the thumbs up).

What was your process in bringing that humor to life?

For me, it’s looking at the stereotypical traits that pets have and trying to put a roleplaying twist on it. For example, dogs LOVE chasing after balls—so what would be the equivalent ‘ball’ in a fantasy world? My brain usually settles on a suitably humorous answer—like a fireball. Now, we have a highly amusing scenario of a dog chasing after a fireball. From that idea, I create dialogue to fit the scene and complete the joke. It then goes to Calum, who illustrates a beautiful image that captures it all to perfection.

Do you have any pets?

Growing up, I always had cats and dogs, but it has never quite been the right time with my own family. My wife is a childminder, so it’s pretty tough to have anything with babies and toddlers running around the house too. She’s looking to change career in 2022, so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get our first dog to join our family—I know the kids are desperate for one!

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Remembering that humour is subjective, and what I find funny won’t always be funny to other people—accepting that is okay. I tend to focus on the idea and stay true to it. The other thing is knowing when to give up on a joke—sometimes you have an image or gif that just doesn’t spark anything; if that happens, I stop and give up trying to make something humorous out of it. I like my jokes to be explosive and immediate—if I’m not feeling it, I usually cut it.

What are some triumphs?

Having Campaigns & Companions published is a huge triumph, especially when someone takes the time to get in touch. Hearing how the jokes made them laugh is a superb feeling that’s hard to beat. Receiving pictures of the book with a cherished pet is fantastic and something that never grows old. Seeing the reviews and the book’s popularity also gives me a real buzz. Beyond this, I think seeing a posted tweet suddenly go further than my intended audience is a huge win!

How do you get into the ‘zone’, so to speak?

I will paraphrase Bruce Banner here and say—that’s my secret, Jodie… I’m always in the zone. In all seriousness, my brain is wired to constantly search for the funny in everything (just ask my long-suffering family). Honestly, I find it really hard to switch off (which comes with its own problems, especially at funerals).

I’ve had the privilege of reading some of your next project, which is both clever and hilarious. Will you talk about it a little bit?

Sure! My next project is called ‘The Hero Interviews’, a full-on 160,000-word novel that follows the adventures of Elburn Barr, a Loremaster who is trying to find out what it’s like to be a ‘hero’ (and his missing ‘heroic’ brother at the same time). Elburn is travelling the realm, interviewing a smorgasbord of characters from fireball-loving Wizards who accidentally incinerated the rest of their adventuring party to stoic Paladins who are desperate to unleash a flurry of swearwords. I like to think of it as the Dungeons & Dragons world that has gone through a high spin cycle before being let loose. There’s almost limitless potential for fun where the rules are ripped up and merged with contemporary situations to create something that should be familiar to everyone.

Thank you so much, Andi!

Andi has graciously allowed me to share the first interview from ‘The Hero Interviews’ below. It had me rolling on the floor. Enjoy!

Interview 1:

Dorn (Human Barbarian)

Whisper the word ‘Barbarian’, and I’d wager your imagination would instantly picture a rage-filled, muscle-bound warrior clad only in a fur loincloth fuelled by a love of spleen removal whilst drinking the nearest tavern dry. You can imagine my disappointment as I sit opposite a muscle-shy, pasty-looking individual; ‘Dorn’ is the latest ‘hero’ to step out of the Heroes Guild, a polite man who seems eager to make a name for himself within the adventuring sphere. We’ve agreed to meet at Dorn’s local tavern, the Spit & Spear, a favourite watering hole of heroes, situated in the lively city of Tronte, a settlement plagued by wannabe-adventurers hoping to be spotted by one of the Heroes Guild’s numerous ‘Scouts’.

The Spit & Spear is mercifully quiet, although I suspect the evening is still too young to attract the hardened drinker questing for the only elixir that matters in their life. The only other patrons of note are a nearby Dwarven Fighter working his way through a flagon-orgy, and a Paladin, who seems to be regaling the barmaid with his tales of adventure. The young lady is so enraptured by the Holy Warrior’s words she’s failed to notice both the Barbarian and I have been without a drink for some considerable time.
 

Me: “Thanks for meeting me—”

Dorn: “My pleasure, it’s not every day I get interviewed by a bona fide Loremaster—I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get accustomed to…”

Me: “Accustomed to?”

Dorn grins proudly as he turns the collar of his jerkin over; I catch sight of a flash of silver—a badge sits snugly underneath, I can just make out a sword hilt etched into the circle design neatly bisecting a large ‘H’ and ‘G’.

Dorn: “I’m now officially a hero. Finally, I can follow in the footsteps of the greats, like Arin Darkblade1 and Gilva Flamebeard2!”

Me: “Erm… I guess congratulations are in order?”


 1Renowned for being the meanest adventurer in the entire realm—and I don’t mean in the ‘never buys a round of drinks’ kind of way, although I suspect he’s never bought a round of drinks in his life either. No, Arin is an eye-patch wearing hero who has completed more quests and despatched more monsters than any adventurer in living memory.

2Gilva Flamebeard is a legendary Dwarven Cleric who has stepped back from adventuring to become a hermit. As her name suggests, she sports a fiery red beard, which, by all accounts, contrasts sharply with an unusually calm demeanour for a Dwarf. Whether her given Dwarven clan name really is Flamebeard or not has been debated and argued in every tavern at some point or another.


Dorn: “Thanks! To be honest, I’m still in shock; I have to punch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

Me: “Don’t you mean pinch?”

Dorn: “Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch3.”

Me: “Got it—”

As if to emphasise the point, the Barbarian hits himself fully in the face—he shakes his head and looks around as if he’s just woken up.

Dorn: “Nope, it’s still real!”

Me: “You okay?”

Dorn: “Nothing a drink won’t sort out—”

The Barbarian waves trying to catch the eye of the barmaid stood behind the bar—without success.

Me: “Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look how I’d imagine a Barbarian would look.”

Dorn: “Really? What were you expecting?”

Me: “Erm…”

Dorn: “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I were wearing a fur loincloth?”

My cheeks flush red in embarrassment.

Dorn: “Sorry to dispel that particular myth, but the truth is adventuring can get awfully cold. While I’m sure it has its place, a fur loincloth is impractical on so many levels4. If you want to survive on a quest, you need to be wearing layers, lots of layers—and I don’t mean armour either.”

Me: “Forgive me, I was just expected a bit more flesh on show5.”


3Not strictly true, some Rogues have been known to punch, although I’m sure they’d prefer not to let their opponent know it was incoming. While ‘some’ Barbarians have a bad reputation of unwanted pinching, usually of barmaids’ behinds.

4I guess on a frozen adventure, the loins would be nice and warm, while the rest of the Barbarian’s extremities would undoubtedly be frozen solid—still, a warm groin is something not to be sniffed at (quite literally).

5Just to be clear, and as much as this may appear to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to encourage the Barbarian into stripping for me here.


The Barbarian gives me the strangest of looks.

Dorn: “Are you okay? Fighting while wearing just a tight-fitting loincloth is… is a little bit weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “I thought that’s the whole point of being a Barbarian? Attacking your enemies half-naked while lost in a furious battle-rage6?”

Dorn: “You’ve been hanging around with the wrong type of people if you think that’s how Barbarians dress these days.”

Me: “I’m only going by the legendary warriors from days of yore.”


I point to the wall of hero paintings on the far wall, several of which are of muscle-mountains wearing only the tiniest fur loincloths.7

Dorn: “Ha! Those old Barbarians are so out of touch with the modern Barbarians of today. Nobody wears fur loincloths anymore—anyway, I prefer to leave my family jewels to the imagination, if it’s all the same to you…”

He tries to catch the barmaid’s eye but misses once again—the Barbarian thumps the table in frustration.

Dorn: “Balls!”

I feel the need to quickly change the subject away from the Barbarian’s nether regions.

Me: “Did you always want to be a Barbarian?”

The anger-prone warrior laughs at the absurdity of my question.

Dorn: “Me? No—never in my wildest dreams! I actually thought I was going to become a Wizard.”

Me: “A Wizard?

Dorn: “I know, it’s really odd—but I was convinced to switch my focus to the Barbarian class rather than follow a wizardry one. Besides, Wizards are generally frowned upon at the Heroes Guild.”


 6A rage brought on by discovering that someone had just stolen their clothes.

7At least I ‘hoped’ they were wearing loincloths. From where I was sitting it could be mistaken for loin hair.


Me: “Frowned upon—I thought the Heroes Guild would welcome Wizards with open arms8?”

Dorn: “Seems there’s a long-running rivalry between the Heroes Guild and the Wizards Guild—in truth, they hate each other, but recently they’ve begrudgingly agreed on an uneasy peace…”

Me: “How did the feud come about?”

Dorn: “I don’t think the Wizards Guild liked it when the Heroes Guild started recruiting Wizards to their cause—it resulted in the Battle of the Blind Bowman.”

Me: “I’ve never heard of this battle?”

Dorn: “That’s because it happened one fateful afternoon in the middle of a tavern—The Blind Bowman9.”

Me: “They had a battle in a tavern?”

Dorn: “I think I may have oversold the ‘battle’ part of this story—it was more of a untidy brawl with an lot of pushing and accusatory pointing.”

Me: “Who won?”

Dorn: “Nobody, when the dust settled The Blind Bowman was no more—the entire place had either been burnt down by a spell or smashed into tiny pieces by the fist. The warring guilds realised their mistake when they couldn’t order another round of drinks—and immediately held emergency talks in the ashes of the former privy. The Heroes Guild agreed they would not add any more Wizards to their numbers; in exchange, the Wizards Guild agreed to help them recruit more non-Wizard heroes to their ranks.”

Me: “So Wizards only come from the Wizards Guild?”

Dorn: “Officially—yes.”

Me: “Unofficially?”


 8As long as they had been patted down for any concealed Fireballs first.

 9Named after a legendary blind archer who could hit any Goblin with unerring accuracy, a remarkable feat rendered useless if no actual Goblins were around to shoot in the first place.

 10I bet my family’s estate it was a fireball.


Dorn: “I’ve seen a few robe-wearing, book reading types walking around the Heroes Guild—but they could be Loremasters, I suppose11.”

Me: “How does a Loremaster join the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “If you get us a couple more ales, I’ll put to good word in for you12.”

I laugh at the boldness of the Barbarian.

Me: “Fair enough—so the Heroes Guild made you a Barbarian instead? I mean no offence by this, but you don’t look the angry-warrior type. Why do you think they wanted you to become a Barbarian?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Dorn: “Isn’t it obvious?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Me: “Not really…”

Dorn: “They want me to revamp a Barbarian’s stereotypical image, usher in a new age of warriors who don’t go around smashing up taverns just because they’re a bit angry about poor bar service. They want me to be the face of tomorrow’s Barbarian—a thoughtful, calm Barbarian who has a bit of a sensitive side too.”

The Barbarian flexes an arm muscle. I can’t quite see it, but I don’t want to ruin Dorn’s moment.

Me: “Impressive!13

Dorn: “Yup, I’m the first in a new wave of approachable Barbarians; less rage—more brains.”

Me: “The thinking man’s warrior14?”

The young hero slams the table with his hand before pointing at me excitedly.


11 I seriously doubt any of my profession would be interested in joining the Heroes Guild—the closest a Loremaster usually gets to danger is drinking a hot cup of tea too quickly and burning the roof of their mouth. 

12If we could ‘actually’ get any service that is—the barmaid still hadn’t managed to drag herself away from the Paladin’s vicinity; if I were the Landlord I’d be asking some serious questions about her work ethic.

 13It always pays to tell a Barbarian what they want to hear—even if your whole being is screaming at you to do otherwise.

14Although I suspect Paladins will feel as if they have something to say about this.


Dorn: “The Barbarian with a heart of gold!”

Me: “Catchy. So, have you been on any adventures yet?”

Dorn: “Only the training dungeons. They’re pretty tough and can hurt if you’re not careful—I mean, really hurt. I passed with flying colours, of course. Even resisted sitting on that bloody trapped throne too, unlike the Ranger I was with.”

Me: “What happened to the Ranger?”

Dorn: “He insisted on sitting down and got his backside frozen to it as a consequence.”

Me: “That’s terrible.”

Dorn: “I know, took me ages to pull him free from it—when I finally did he had a huge hole ripped in his breeches.”

Me: “That must have been a bit awkward—?”

Dorn: “Yeah, I had to keep him behind me for the remainder of the adventure—there are some things not even a Barbarian should have to bare witness to.15

The Barbarian looks again for the barmaid, but she’s too still busy, lost in her Paladin-filled daze to notice him—I sense Dorn clenching and unclenching his fists as he slowly boils with anger.

Me: “How did you first get involved with the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “I was spotted.”

Me: “Spotted?”

Dorn: “Yes, you know, seen—in this place actually, which is ironic if you think about it.”

Me: “Why’s that?”

The Barbarian grinds his teeth and throws imaginary daggers in the Paladin’s direction.

Dorn: “Because I can’t seem to be seen right now, can I?! SERVICE!!


15Bare indeed!


The Barbarian shouts at the top of his voice, but he is still ignored by the barmaid currently draped over the Holy Warrior.

Me: “Who spotted you?”

Dorn: “A representative of the Heroes Guild—a Scout.”

Me: “Where were you sat?“

I look around the bar try to picture an excitable and nervous Dorn standing around waiting to be spotted by the Heroes Guild Scout.

Dorn: “Here!”

Me: “Here?”

I point to the table we’re currently sat at.

Dorn: “Well, not here exactly, more like over there.”

The Barbarian motions to a table next to us, occupied by a Dwarven Fighter polishing off his tenth flagon of ale—judging by the nine empty flagons sat in front of him17.

I find myself staring at the inebriated Dwarf as he spills more beer on the table than into his mouth.

Dorn: “That’s not the Scout, just in case you were wondering.”

I nod and turn my attention back to the Barbarian.

Me: “How did you find out about this place?”

Dorn: “I heard about the Spit & Spear from a friend. He told me the Heroes Guild Scouts frequented it—and if I wanted to be spotted, I could do a lot worse than hang around the tavern.”

Me: “What happens if you’re lucky enough to be spotted?”

Dorn: “If a Scout thinks you have potential to join the Heroes Guild, they employ a test—”

Me: “Test? What sort of test? Written18?”


16To be fair the Paladin seems to be happily encouraging this.

17I have no idea how this Dwarf has managed to get served not once, but ten times—it is a miraculous feat that should be compared to dragon slaying with only one arm…

18Which would be an overly cruel thing to do to a would-be Barbarian.


Dorn: “No—practical. Sometimes it’s a stolen purse, other times it’s a spontaneous bar-fight—whatever it is, it is always designed to test a specific attribute.”

Me: “What attribute did they test of yours?”

Dorn: “Why, my strength, of course19. Anyway, it so happened that I had struck up a conversation with the very Scout who had taken a keen interest in me.”

Me: “What are the odds? So, what did you two talk about?”
Dorn: “Oh, this and that—he seemed especially interested in my family’s estate on the far side of the Evergreen Forest. That seemed to give him confidence I had the right stuff to join the Guild. He even said he saw in me the potential to be one of the realm’s greatest heroes!”

Me: “What did you say to that?”

Dorn: “It was Bardic music to my ears20—everything I wanted was being promised to me. But at the same time, I had to make an impromptu call to the privy, so I excused myself for a moment to tend to my pressing need. When I returned, I found this brute of a Half-Orc sat at my table, drinking my ale!”

Me: “Who was he? What did you do?”

Dorn: “A stranger, it seemed, who wanted a free drink. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to mention this, but—”

Me: “Go on…”

Dorn: “I barely hit him. I guess I didn’t realise I possessed such strength!”

Me: “You hit him?”
Dorn: “I knocked him straight out of my seat and across the tavern—which immediately started a mass brawl with some Gnomes21 sat at the table in the corner. Once I had dealt with the Gnomes, the impressed Scout clapped me on the back and signed me up, there and then!”

Me: “And that’s when you became a Barbarian?”


19Of course…

20This depends greatly on the Bard doing the ‘singing’ in the first place, of course.

21As much as this sounds unimpressive, fighting something that stands at waist height is fraught with danger for any tall combatants.


Dorn: “He said I was a natural—that I had untapped raw power in my fists!”

Me: “—And you believed him?”

Dorn: “Why wouldn’t I? I had just seen what I could do with my own eyes! But I still held a strong desire to be a Wizard…”

Me: “I guess he explained the problem with being a Wizard?”

Dorn: “Indeed he did—we had a good chat about it, and I agreed to give up my dream of wielding magic in favour of wielding an oversized axe22. Anyway, Barbarians have better perks in the long run. Sure, there’s a clause in the contract, but the Scout said that it was just a standard—”

Me: “Wait a moment—a clause? What clause?

Dorn: “He promised me it was all just legal mumbo-jumbo—the Scout called it a ‘Death in Service’ clause. If you want to join the Heroes Guild, you have to sign the clause—no exceptions.”

Me: “What does the clause do?”

Dorn: “For me? —Nothing… but for the Heroes Guild—they end up owning my family’s estate in the event of my death.”

Me: “That sounds a tad unfair.”

Dorn: “Apparently, it’s standard stuff that every hero signs—it won’t ever happen, not to me. The Scout explained that there’s a sizeable risk in retrieving a hero’s fallen body from a failed quest, not to mention all the funeral arrangements and lost equipment, some of which are magical and very expensive—the Death in Service clause covers for all damage or any loss to property. It’s pretty thoughtful, if you think about it.”

Me: “I see—what else did the Scout say?”

Dorn: “He said he had never seen such a natural athlete—the complete hero he called me! Said he wanted to send me on a category five23 adventure after I had completed all my training dungeons!”

Me: “What’s a category five adventure?”


 22The weapon of choice for any self-respecting Barbarian—closely followed by a heavy fist…

23I’m not sure what this means, but the fact there are four categories before it cannot be a good thing.


Dorn: “Only a quest meant for the hardiest of adventurers—certain death assured24!”

Me: “Aren’t you worried? You might, you know—die?
Dorn: “Nah, you’re talking to the realm’s next greatest Barbarian25, I laugh in the face of death—”

Laughter breaks out from the barmaid sits in the Paladin’s lap; Dorn suddenly kicks back from the table and stands with purpose and drive.

Dorn: “Although the Guild’s next greatest Barbarian is STILL thirsty. Time I finally got that drink—wait here, I’ll be right back.”
I watch as Dorn the Barbarian storms over to the Paladin and the barmaid to make his displeasure known. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of the approaching Battle of theSpit & Spear, I decide to leave this interview post-haste26.


 24See, I was right!

25The realm’s last greatest Barbarian was Thrull the Bitter, who expired after a fight with a group of drunken Gnomes and ended up ironically bitten in the groin and bleeding to death—perhaps not quite the glorious way he had imagined moving on to the Great Beyond.

 26I did leave a polite note explaining my sudden departure, blaming it on a sudden urge to drink elsewhere—specifically, a place with good bar service and less chance of seeing spilt blood…

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

I’m so excited to be able to talk about D&D with author Rob Edwards today! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book, The Ascension Machine?

It’s a science fiction superhero novel, in which a young grifter impersonates a guy and in the process winds up enrolled at a college for alien superheroes. Grey, as he starts calling himself, stays for the novelty, but despite himself finds friends, and a place he belongs. It’s all based on his lie, so to stay at the Justice Academy Grey has to keep lying, even to his new friends. Things escalate, the team end up fighting gangsters and aliens, and investigate strange goings on. It’s an adventure romp with a large cast of characters all dealing with the difficult adjustment of starting college… with super powers.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

In 1983 I was about 12 or 13, and I came across an advert in some comic books which I became kind of obsessed with. A party of adventurers explore a dungeon, battle a monster then encounter some green slime. I cannot tell you for why, but when the elf rogue shouts “Look out, it’s dripping!” I knew I had to play this game.

I got the “Red Box” Basic set for my next birthday, and never looked back. I’ve played or run every edition of D&D since, as well as many many other systems. 

Here’s the list of some of the games I’ve played in the order of them occurring to me: GURPS, DC Heroes, TORG, Amber Diceless, Golden Heroes, Marvel, Mutants and Masterminds, Hero, Star Wars d6, Star Wars d20, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Ghostbusters, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Spycraft, Fantasycraft, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP, Doctor Who, Song of Ice and Fire, Babylon Project, Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Arcanis, Seventh Sea, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Judge Dredd, TMNT… plus a few more for one shots that I’m probably forgetting).

Oh, my greatest Geek pride (as it says in my bio): back when Wizards of the Coast had the Star Wars license and were running the Living Force campaign for convention play, I got to write seven modules for the campaign, meaning someone somewhere at Lucasfilm (probably an intern) read something I wrote in the Star Wars universe and said “OK”. Meaning that, until Disney bought Star Wars, I was briefly, obscurely, canon. 

Anyway, this answer is far too long. Suffice to say I’m almost always the DM these days, which I love, but my rare chances to play are solid gold for me.

That sounds like my husband. He always ends up being a DM. After a less-than -successful attempt on my part several years ago ( I failed to communicate to my players exactly what kind of campaign I was trying to run, which did not go well), I’m still working up my courage to try again. I might give it another go in a decade or so. 

As DM, do you feel like your writing affects how you tell the story? Did your experience with gaming play into your writing at all?

Interesting question. Firstly, I think over time I’ve come to realise that my writing and my DMing, at least for home brew things, come from a very similar place, creatively. I’ve found the more I’m writing, the less I have in the tank for coming up with my own worlds and plotlines for games. And vice versa. As a result, since taking my writing more seriously, I’ve tended to stick to prewritten adventures. Perhaps not as engaging as creating my own world, but still a lot of fun.

I’d say my experience gaming has absolutely everything to do with my writing. I’ve always been a writer, always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember, but for the best part of four decades, I honed my skills as a storyteller on all my many players. Sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. When I started writing professionally, I had all of that foundation to build on. A sense of how much foreshadowing is too much. A sense of when the story needs a kick from an action beat. Why world building is important and how too much can be a distraction and suck the pace out of a scene. All of my instinct for that comes from my gaming. (Also reading so very very much in my youth).

That said, I have a D&D campaign world that I’ve run different groups in for…. Wow, is it twenty years now? … There’s a story to be told there, there’s a novel, possibly a trilogy in it. But actually writing the book of the campaign(s)… I’ve tried starting a few times but so far it has totally stumped me.

Wow, twenty years is a huge accomplishment! I bet the world development for that campaign is incredible. Do the characters being played change as the players do, or does each player bring a new facet to the same characters?

Most of the active world building happened for the first campaign — that was a lot — and the original sequel campaign. Those campaigns had the same players, playing different characters two decades apart in the campaign timeline. Since then, I’ve run three variations on the original campaign, always with different characters, always bringing new wrinkles to the way the world works. New characters bring new focus, it’s interesting to see NPCs (non-player characters) who were hugely significant in the original run fading into the background or  taking very different actions and suffering very different fates in later playthroughs. By the same token, NPCs who barely got a name in the original version get the spotlight in later runs.

The most recent version of the campaign fell apart at about the time the pandemic hit. I’ve since decided it’s time to retire that campaign world and start something fresh. Though in this campaign, I’m trying to be a little more improvisational about it all, because I don’t want it to suck the energy out of my writing.

If anyone is super interested, you can get a hint of what some of the setting was like in my short story Virtue’s Blade in the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Magic and Destiny. It’s a new story not taken directly from any specific adventure in that world, but does give a flavour of some of the world building for that campaign. (Or listen to me read it on my podcast here: Episode 39: Virtue’s Pirate · StorycastRob (spotify.com))

You mentioned using your time as DM (Dungeon Master, for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo) to hone your storytelling skills, and how that helped with pacing and foreshadowing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Ascension Machine was that the pacing was never too rushed, nor was it too slow. Your practice definitely made perfect!

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Grey was an interesting character in that, while he was conning everyone, at his heart he had a strong moral compass. Is that sort of “alignment” your go-to when gaming? And dovetailing off of that, do you have a favorite character class? Or do you prefer to shake things up when creating your own character (obviously, prewritten adventures are a little different)?

Oh yeah. I know people can get very excited by evil campaigns or characters, but they don’t really interest me. I’m always the good guy in games as a player, if I ever feel the urge to be evil, I have my DMing for that!

As for character classes, I like my characters to be skilled and versatile. They don’t need to be The Best, but I do prefer competence. In pursuit of it, I’ve dabbled in just about every class over the years, but my big go-tos are Sorcerer, Fighter, Bard. My least travelled are probably Druid and Cleric. My current obsession is Artificer, and I think I might actually get to play one soon.

Grey in The Ascension Machine could absolutely be one of my characters in a game. I’ve played plenty of rogues, swindlers and con artists in all sorts of settings, from Jack “Ace” King, a gambler in a Wild West game, to Agent Duchess, my Spycraft “Face” character. In The Ascension Machine, Grey’s plan on Bantus (no details, read the book!) was basically something I pulled in-character for a D&D game one time. 

 I am almost obsessively honest in the real world, so these characters are pure escapism!

Ah, you claim you’re obsessively honest. Perhaps that is what a dishonest person would say? 😉 I must say, I’ve never played an artificer. I bet it would be a blast, though. What would you say to someone who is curious about playing ttrpgs, but has never played before?

Give it a go! The hobby isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it for yourself. Oh there are plenty of YouTube shows and let’s plays out there that you can watch to get a sense of how things work (Including our own DragonLance play, right Jodie?) but really you have to play it to be sure. Just, try and find a good DM, they really do make all the difference. If someone is asking me, I might well offer to run a session, if we can find some more players.

But if you’re asking how would I describe ttrpgs to somebody…? The grand description is that it’s cooperative improvised storytelling (with dice). It’s “Let’s Pretend” for grown-ups and kids  (with dice).

Any other description can be contradicted (and even the dice thing, one of my favourite games is Amber, a diceless system based on Roger Zelazny’s books). 

Because, yes, it can be an epic tale of heroes battling monsters, saving the world and getting loot (with dice), if that’s the story your group wants to tell. But it could equally be a disturbing tale of standing against unspeakable horrors where only madness and death awaits (with dice), or a political intrigue with backstabbing (and dice), or… whatever else you need it to be.

It is such a versatile hobby. As long as you can find a group of people who want to tell the same kind of story you do, it can be whatever you want it to be. Usually with dice.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rowena Andrews and Jonathan Nevair

This week I’ve been talking to authors about ttrpgs and great books. Many authors play and I’ve loved learning more about why. Today I’m sharing a conversation between authors Jonathan Nevair and Rowena Andrews.

*Goblins have been evicted*


Rowena: Hello! How are you doing this afternoon?

Jonathan: Great now that I am back from Philly, lol – thanks for moving back the meeting. Do we need to roll initiative? (lol)

Rowena: We could – but I usually roll really bad initiative so I think it’s an auto-win on your side

Jonathan: Ha! OK, well thanks for being flexible. I am ready to talk writing/D&D!


Rowena: Awesome, and thank you for agreeing to this and technically being my guinea pig as this is my first author interview/chat.

Jonathan: For real? I  would have thought you’d done them before. I feel special. 🙂


Rowena: Yep, I was too new before to brave doing one. But, D&D is always great to talk about and you were my first thought when Jodie approached me to help out with the series.

Jonathan: It’s funny because I had already come across moments of “crossover” – usually how writing fiction novels has helped my D&D, especially as a DM.


Rowena: Is that in terms of worldbuilding? Or building the narrative in general?

Jonathan: Both. For one, after learning more about story building and narrative structures I definitely began to build things in a D&D campaign when I was the Dungeon Master. I became aware of how much more exciting and invested I could get players to be in an adventure when I put in plot points (the typical ones like the hook, inciting incident, pinch points, etc.) – and thinking about some classic character tropes and using them to create roles for NPCs that went beyond just being something to fight or an obstacle.

And definitely with worldbuilding too – thinking about multisensory descriptions when describing settings in a campaign – I have this informal “rule” to comb through each written chapter in a book I write and ensure there are at least two of the five (six? lol) senses in every scene – if possible. That got me thinking about my verbal descriptions of settings as a DM. And I could really see the way players came to life in terms of immersion. 

Rowena: That’s really interesting – especially about the sensory details. It’s certainly something I like to come across in D&D (although I think we’re driving our DM up the wall asking if we can smell things at the moment in one group – as two of us have enhanced senses of smell due to becoming werebears). Do you find yourself, having to adjust the level of details? I know when I DM I have to try and keep things flexible because players will go off the beaten path – whereas obviously, characters in a book are a little more obedient.

Jonathan: Oh definitely – I totally get what you are saying. You need to be so careful when you are the DM – it’s so funny, isn’t it? You will mention something in passing that is basically irrelevant and then the party is fixated and convinced it is a vital aspect of the quest! It can be very funny, and then there is the way I used to be more of an “on the rails” DM and would have to figure out how to steer them back in the trajectory I wanted them to go, but over my time playing I have definitely become more of a sandboxer. But yes, it’s easier to control those things in fiction, right? But I do think that pacing is relevant here – in both writing and D&D. Don’t you? 

Rowena: Absolutely. Although much harder to control again in D&D – although I have found that for things like fight scenes, for example, using D&D esque timing can help work out the beats. 

Jonathan: Oh that is interesting. I can see how that would work for sure. I think for me to there is a way that some moments are like “catching your breath” in chapters and scenes and then others rush forward because you have the foundation of the world/space/setting to go on, then another new place and the cycles continues (and they get to short or long rest lol). But I do think of writing scenes and chapters like that – like an ebb and flow, a wave crashing in and then retreating to give players and readers time to catch their breath and experience what just happened and how it relates to what will come next. Does that make sense?

Rowena: Yes, especially with the emotional moments and close calls. (Also I love the idea of those moments being short and long rests, as well as the ebb and flow). It’s also those moments where you can play with some of the details that aren’t necessarily relevant to the plot, but just to live in the world.

Jonathan: TOTALLY! Those are some of the best moments where the PCs can RP and be able to perform their personalities, quirks, habits. As a player I love that – it might even be more exciting for me than the melee, etc. By the way, speaking of plot points and ebb and flow – I did something at the end of Forge of Fury recently as DM that was an example of one of those literary plot points – the resolution. I think for a while I was “ending” campaigns right after the Boss fight, like “OK you did, and we’re done.” And then I realized that in fiction writing and narrative you need closure, that moment to exhale and be able to have the character and NPCs demonstrate what they have learned from their adventure and experiences. What I did (this is really funny) is, I had just re-watched Star Wars Ep. 4 for the millionth time and that last scene when they are given the medals… I had the party return to a village near the Forge after completing their tasks and the villagers had a celebration waiting and had the town wizard erect a monument in the town square with their figures lol!!! They arrived to trumpets and pomp and they freaking LOVED it! They still bring it up – I realized that was a great crossover that really helped round out the campaign.

Rowena: That sounds amazing!! I’ve not actually reached the end of a campaign yet, but I would definitely want an ending like that. I love that it was inspired by Star Wars too. And, I agree that it is tempting to end it after the boss fight, but that quiet moment at the end (or trumpet filled) is so important.

Jonathan: Yes, and it can even be quieter, like the four hobbits at the Green Dragon raising a pint after it’s all over… that kinda thing. 

Rowena: That scene is perfect.

Jonathan: You know I am a huge fan lol. The interesting thing is as a science fiction writer, as opposed to a fantasy writer, the “crossovers” are a bit different – more abstract in certain ways since it is a different kind of world from D&D – sure other RPGs are scifi, etc. but I only play D&D and it’s interesting, but one way D&D has helped me is, when I DM I keep a post-it note above my computer that says “What is your PC doing?” and it reminds me to make sure all players are engaged and remaining active – and I kept it there when I wrote Jati’s Wager (which has a large cast of characters on a heist team) – kinda like a D&D party, and it really helped me to “not forget” about some of them but be sure to mention (even if just in passing) what they are doing while others are in the narrative spotlight.

Rowena: Oh, that is an excellent idea. I know in bigger groups that can be an issue, but I hadn’t thought about how that then applies to characters. 

Jonathan: I can’t remember if my friend, Steve, who plays in my group – or Matt Coville, recommended that (I really like his videos btw).

Rowena: I need to check his stuff out. I’ve actually just read the first of his books recently.

Jonathan: Oh wow, I didn’t know he had books out. He is a very engaged (fast talking!) tuber for sure! 

Rowena: I need to look that up. I watch far too many D&D videos.

Jonathan: And buy too many dice. 🙂

Rowena: There is no such thing!

Jonathan: HA!!!

You know there’s also the “other” side too – and I have not thought about it before, but the whole “being a bad DM” or “bad PC” in some way and what those traits and actions are – but there is probably a lot to learn there about storytelling too. Like, not hogging the story, avoiding being a hobo – like how you might have gratuitous violence in a book that doesn’t have much of a purpose – no one should ever experience violence or combat unless it is absolutely necessary and no other option is left (at least in my stories) – I like the idea of thinking about how morality can fit into D&D with alignments. I’ve gotten pretty into sticking to RP’ing my PCs based on alignment. It’s a fun way to put restrictions on yourself “in-game” and really does match some of the ways I might say “well so-and-so” in this book would never do that so they can’t…. Does that make sense?

Rowena: Yes, it does. It’s interesting because none of my campaigns are particularly strict about the alignments – I tend to use them loosely, but I wouldn’t as a rule go out of my way to break them either (I tend towards chaotic – in D&D and in life). But, I like your idea about how ‘being a bad DM / PC’ could relate more generally into storytelling, and I very much agree that violence should only be when absolutely necessary.

Jonathan: Chaotic good is my favorite alignment lol. There’s a really cool website I found with lengthy descriptions of each of them that I ate up – got me super into it. Just a few weeks ago my current PC, Lutharian, a High Elf fighter/druid – made a bold move attacking a drow that had threatened her – the DM was shocked and actually asked me – “what is your alignment?” Because it didn’t seem to fit, but the chaotic was in there lol… but also – and this brings up something I think is a really cool crossover – there is backstory! In both D&D PCs and in worldbuilding in fiction. I am HUGE on writing back histories of my PCs in D&D. My friend Steve encourages this and it is so cool – because by doing it I built up a past where Lutharian had fought in two wars with the dwarves, one against the Drow, where they had killed her leader. She had a history of pain and anger against them and so it made sense for her to seek violent retribution like that – very cool moment. And I think about how much backstory you write for a novel right? Like I wrote pages and pages of events and history in the Wind Tide Universe from the First and Second Spans (the ages in that world) and also about events and cultures “outside” the story’s frame in the book. But you need it and then you can cherry-pick from it when needed and it really helps justify people’s attitudes, behaviors, fears, hatreds, etc. Do you write backstory for PCs? Or for your books?


Rowena: Firstly, I love how you included that for your character – and those moments where PCs act on something that not everyone in the party might know are fantastic, and usually great for the party as a whole – whether they go well or not. I do write backstories – I’ve been a little light with my PCs – one didn’t have a lot of memory due to ending up in the Feywilds as a child, so my DM has gone wild with that one – which is interesting in a different way. But, for my book, I have documents full of historical events between the two main countries, and then individually, and files on all the characters with notes on random interactions that I might never use but feed into them.

It really is so helpful. I never thought about how much crossover there is but it’s a lot.

Do you think playing/DMing D&D (and I’m assuming you played before you became a writer – correct me if I’m wrong) was one of the reasons for getting into storytelling and becoming a writer?

Jonathan: Hmm.. well, I played when I was younger, but that was back when 1st/2nd edition was out. Yes, I am THAT old!!!! But then I stopped by my mid-teens and only started again during COVID. So really writing came before D&D for me. I worked with someone at Moore College who is a Game arts Professor and we have become friends. He was hounding me for years to get back into D&D, and it wasn’t until COVID that I did. So writing first, then D&D. BUT – I will say that my desire to DM is definitely driven and inspired by being a writer and storyteller – 100%!

Rowena: That’s interesting! I really want to get some of the books for the older editions because I’m curious to see how much they’ve changed. I was the same way round – writing before D&D – but I’ve moved more into the writing since playing.

Jonathan: OMG some of those old books bring back such a flood of memories – someone posted a picture on Twitter recently of Fiend Folio and I was hit by such a rush of images from my early teens – you should check them out online. So different from what is coming out today with WoTC. The other thing is obviously we played in-person back then, at a table with the classic multi-page folded DM screen (LOVED THOSE!!!) and dice (your favorite lol) and we had figures we’d bought and painted, made drawings of our PCs, and had those classic character sheets. I do miss that because now I play on Roll 20 with people who are both nearby and far away. I really like aspects of Roll 20 a lot but I do miss the “brick and mortar” game. I know you play with Peter (another blogger/reviewer) – do you play in person or online?

Rowena: Online. Both my groups are online, but even if we didn’t have Covid it would be online because of distance. In my Sunday group, we have players across the UK and one in the Netherlands, so weekly games would be a problem. Although once we can travel more easily, we’re planning a weekend in the highlands to play in person for the first time. And the same for the group I’m in with Peter, a couple of the guys live close to one another,  but the rest of us are scattered.

Jonathan: Highlands + D&D = perfection. 

Rowena: It does. I think we plan to try and get minis made as well if only for that weekend.

Jonathan: Do you have a favorite class?

Rowena: Cleric is fast becoming my favourite, although boy is it stressful when multiple people are going down and you only have limited spell slots. I’m also a fan of Wild-Magic Sorcerer just because I love being an agent of chaos. What about you?

Jonathan: That is funny because as you were typing about the Cleric I knew you were going to say that! For me? I tend to be drawn to characters that have an ability to mix elements of combat/magic. I REALLY enjoyed playing a bard not too long ago. I know it gets a bad go of it from some folks, but I loved the RP potential of it. Probably the bard or maybe something in the tank area. I am playing a fighter/druid and really like that – I am BIG of Fey elements too. 

Rowena: Bards are great (Peter played one in a recent two-shot we did and I know he really enjoyed it – he’s a Barbarian in our main campaign). I like the blend of magic/combat too, which Clerics are okay at.  What about the different races? Do you have a favourite?

Jonathan: I definitely lean to elves, halflings, gnomes. What can I say, I am a forest child lol. 🙂

You? (I play with someone who always is like a Tiefling, or something like that – satyr, it’s interesting how our personalities point us to things). 

Rowena: Tieflings are one of my favourites. My first character Niamh is a tiefling, and I will always have a soft spot for her for so many reasons (also I like having the horns and tail – not sure what that says about me). I also really like Dragonborn which is what my Cleric is. I’m also a huge fan of humans – just because it’s sometimes nice to have that point of normality amongst the chaos that is D&D (although not having darkvision sucks – this is a downside to Dragonborn as well)

Jonathan: My brother is playing a Dragorn monk in our current campaign and it is such as badass. We have gone from level 1 to level 14 now and it’s just out of control what he can do… We are hoping to take these characters all the way to 20. None of us have ever done that. OK – so since you named your favorite I will give you mine: Rumpletum Evergreen (aka “Rum Tum”) – a forest gnome bard. I chose to have him only speak in rhyme – which was INSANE and so much fun for about 5 sessions – and then I was struggling! So I had him “lose” his ability to rhyme lol and then it came back after their triumphant victory over the big bad at the end of the second campaign lol. So much fun to play such a small physical character with such big charisma and performative presence – there was a little bit of Tasslehof in him! (from Dragons of Autumn Twilight).

Rowena: Oh my god, that would have been amazing to witness – but I don’t blame you for ‘losing’ the rhyming ability. I loved Tasslehof. I did a read-along of the first book with Peter this year – my first time reading it – and we’re going to review it…at some point. Level 20 characters are insane – you think a level 14 monk is bad, wait until level 20. We did a Battle Royale recently with Level 20 characters – and there’s just so many abilities that they have!

Jonathan: I can’t even imagine!

Rowena: Did you say you were going to be playing a Paladin soon as well?

Jonathan: Oh yes – I am very excited. I already built him – backstory and all. He’s ready to go. “Trusty Jack” is his name and he will be an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. I am very excited, as I have never played one before. I’ve been working on my RP voice and personality while on walks with my dog lol (hope no one is out there listening to me lol). I am going for bold, loud, and just slightly overbearing with him. I’m very excited because like the bard there is that mix of combat/magic and I’m also interested in the way the oath brings in that element of alignment/morality we talked about. One thing that my friend Steve has really taught me is to embrace character flaws in D&D, whether they are ability score based or just personality – and I love it. I used to think of it as a “deficiency” but now I realize it makes a PC all the more real but also more interesting to RP. So much fun and I need to read the new book that came out, Paladin Unbound! 

Rowena: Yes! It’s a great book. I really want to play a Paladin at some point, not sure what Oath I would go for though – although vengeance is very interesting. Character flaws are so much fun to play with too.

Jonathan: We have a dwarf paladin in our current party who has a Dex problem, lol – he has fallen down SO many things and tripped and exposed us during stealth so many times it is fantastic!

Rowena: My sorcerer is weak as hell, so anything that requires strength is just doomed to failure. Our group is now called ‘The Fellowship of the Glowing Potato’ because she tried to throw it into a cave to light the way, rolled a Nat 1 and instead hit the Ranger in her one good eye. I have never lived it down.

Jonathan: OMG that is what makes D&D so amazing. That is hilariously awesome. 

Do you think we have enough content?

Rowena: Absolutely – and I think it’s almost as chaotic as D&D. And you’ve brought up some fantastic points about the crossovers (I may be making notes from this as I plunge back into editing shortly).

Jonathan: I never have a chance to talk D&D this in-depth. It is so much fun! Even just sharing our PCs, etc. 🙂

Rowena: I agree, although always feel free to shout at me on Twitter about anything D&D related!

Jonathan: I will! If you need to do any follow up for this lemme know! Thanks for asking me this was SUPER fun!!! And guess what? Tonight is my D&D night!!!!


Rowena: You are very welcome, thank you for taking the time to come and chat. And that is awesome! D&D nights are the best nights of the week.

So, I guess just as a final wrap up. Obviously, you have Jati’s Wager coming out next month (and I still can’t get over that cover!!) and then what does the future hold for you writing wise? 

(D&D will always be chaos)

Jonathan: I know, that cover right? I love it. So, Wind Tide is a series, and as of now, a trilogy. The third book will release on Nov. 18th. Title: No Song, But Silence  So that is my immediate writing future plans. Once that book releases I intend to write a stand-alone novel. Not entirely sure yet what it will be but I have been getting pulled to the lure of cyberpunk lately. I think because the Wind Tide universe is very “natural” in many ways in its settings I am feeling ready for some tech-based settings and stories – plus I love the aesthetics of cyberpunk. But we will see – I am writing No Song, But Silence now!

Rowena: I love that title!! And can’t wait to pick up the rest of Wind Tide. Cyberpunk is fantastic, the aesthetics are a lot of fun and if you go that road I can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

Jonathan: Thanks! I can’t wait for your novella which will be out about the same time! Wahoo!

Rowena: It will. I’m still in slight disbelief that I’m actually doing it lol. 

Jonathan: Well, I can’t wait to read it. OK – I will sign off (Cricket wants a walk so I guess I get to practice my “Trusty Jack” voice lol). Talk to you soon!

Rowena: Thanks again, and may the dice be kind to you tonight. Talk to you soon!


About Jonathan Nevair:

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Jonathan Nevair is a science fiction writer and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction. Jonathan grew up on Long Island, NY but now resides in southeast Pennsylvania with his wife and rambunctious mountain feist, Cricket.

Author Links

Website:  https://www.jonathannevair.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JNevairInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/jnevair/

Jati’s Wager (Wind Tide #2) 

Published: August 18, 2021

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58579886-jati-s-wager

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B099QM63SQ
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B099QM63SQ/

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About Rowena Andrews:

Rowena Andrews spent her childhood searching for Dragons and talking to animals and started turning that into words when she was bored in class. She wrote her first book at fourteen and while it lives forever in the bottom of the sock drawer, the encouragement from her English Teacher meant the writing bug took hold and never went away.

Rowena has a BSc in Geography and a PG Diploma in Coastal and Maritime Societies and Cultures. She moved to Scotland for University, fell in love with the place and never left, and now lives and works on the east Fife coast.

When she’s not writing or reading, she’s hoarding dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons, and submitting to the whims of a demanding cat and dog duo.

Author Links:

Blog: https://beneathathousandskies.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_M__Andrews

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Fate belongs to the Gods. They Weave it. Sing it. Harvest it.

Ravyn was born between life and death, free of the weave of fate. She dreams of distant places and grand deeds far from the eyes of the Gods that she refuses to believe in.

Eleyn is thrice-sworn to the Gods, marked for death and cursed with the knowledge that the Gods are stirring and what that will mean for the world she will leave behind. Unless she can change things, and that means twisting the weave of fate.

But fate is a dangerous thing, especially when it is stolen from the Gods.

Published: 30th November, 2021

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58311508-the-ravyn-s-words 
Preorder Link: mybook.to/TheRavynsWords

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Geoff Habiger

This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub I’m talking about the connection between table top role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and great authors. Today I’m happy to feature some thoughts on the subject from author Geoff Habiger.

When Jodie mentioned she was looking for authors to share their experiences with gaming and writing I jumped at the chance because gaming – especially TTRPG gaming – has been a big part of my life and an influence for my writing since I was in the 5th grade (many, many yahren ago). In that time, I have played innumerable RPG starting with D&D from the days of the Big Red Box up through 4th edition (I’ve not played 5th ed. yet). Other RPGs I have played include: Rolemaster, Pathfinder, Paranoia, Timemaster, GURPs, Traveller, Star Wars (West End Games version), Mutants and Masterminds, and several home brew systems. RPGs allowed me to spend time with my friends, explore new worlds, and helped fuel my imagination and creativity. I’d spend hours (days sometimes) creating dungeons, making characters, and building new worlds to play in. Based on this background it seems only natural that I became a writer.

Though it wasn’t as natural as you’d think. My path to being a writer took a detour through writing for RPGs. Around the time that Wizards released the 3rd edition of D&D and the open gaming license was created, my best friend (and now co-author, Coy Kissee) and I decided to start our own game company and create material for the D&D OGL system. Thus, Tangent Games was born and the creation of our Ados: Land of Strife campaign setting. For several years we created a new world to explore, our own monster manual (Brixbrix’s Field Guide to the Creatures of Ados), rules for a new religion (out of 20+ in the pantheon) (Jute: Faith of Creation), and an adventure module (Temple of the Forgotten God). Not to mention a ton of game supplements. We created alternate rules for using languages in D&D (Ars Lingua) and rules for creating detailed descriptions of gemstones (Gemerator), and we created supplements to get more mileage from alchemy (Better Damage Through Alchemistry) and how to harness magic from gems (Mineral Magic series) plus several others. 

All of this experience in RPG writing gave me a good foundation to move into writing fiction. There are many similarities between the two, and a few differences. The biggest difference being that most RPG writing is instructional – you are writing the rules for playing the game. Your writing must be clear and concise and must convey the rules to the reader so that they can understand and play (and hopefully enjoy) the game. But that sort of writing doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The goal is to explain how to play the game and there is less importance on plot and story, and practically no character development (even when you are rolling up your character!). At the same time, RPG writing does allow plenty of chances for worldbuilding, and when writing an adventure, you do need to understand plot and story, though this process is very different from a traditional novel because you will never understand the actual motives of the main characters you are writing for – the players (and their player characters) that are playing the game. It is like writing an open-ended choose your adventure story where you have no idea who the main character is, what they can do, or even if they are motivated to complete the adventure as you envision it. 

In addition to the foundation from RPGs my experiences as a gamer, game master (GM), and designer helped when I began our actual writing career, especially with our fantasy series the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. As I developed the basic premise for this series – in a world of magic and monsters, how do the police solve crimes – I wondered where to set the story. I knew we wanted a “classic” fantasy setting, reminiscent of the RPG experience I had loved playing in, and I realized that we already had a great setting in our Ados: Land of Strife campaign world. But I didn’t want to write LitRPG so we couldn’t just drop a story into our RPG world. But Ados gave us the world into which we could play with much of the worldbuilding already done. There is a direct line of influence from our RPG experiences to what goes into our stories from how the world functions to how our characters act and react to any given situation. Our RPG experiences dictate our fight scenes, how magic works in our world, and how to pace our stories. It’s even gotten to the point where we make fun of the RPG experience – especially around adventurers – in our stories. (Note for anybody who’s not yet read our books, Reva *hates* adventurers.)

In the end, I don’t know if I would have become a writer if I hadn’t been a gamer first. The characters we played, the worlds we created, and the stories we got to tell during those caffeine-fueled, all-night game sessions, all became the fodder for me to be the writer I am today. 

Where to find us online:

Website: https://www.habigerkissee.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HabigerKisseeAuthors/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TangentGeoff

Our Books: Wrath of the Fury Blade (book 1) and Joy of the Widow’s Tears (book 2) can be found on our website (https://www.habigerkissee.com/books) where you will find links to buy from indie booksellers or corporate behemoths. Book 3 in our series: Fear the Minister’s Justice, will be out (hopefully) in 2022. 

About the author:

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.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Zack Argyle

I am so excited to be talking Dungeons and Dragons with Zack Argyle, author of the Threadlight series. He’s an incredibly talented writer, as well as a fan of D&D.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! Will you talk a bit about the Threadlight trilogy?

Of course! I wrote this series as something I would enjoy reading. It takes inspiration from some of my favorite authors: Anthony Ryan, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Brian Staveley, but also takes the theme of family, which is important to me, and brings that to the forefront.

The story originated while thinking about the parents of the chosen one. If they knew when the child was a baby that it was key to saving the world, what would they be willing to do to keep that child safe? But also, what if they failed? Chrys Valerian is a father who will burn the world to protect his family.

When did you start playing ttrpgs?

I joined Pinterest as a software engineer in 2015 and shortly after found out that they had a few D&D groups. One of them had two of my teammates, and they invited me to join. None of us work there anymore, but I do still play with those two teammates who invited me, even though we all live in different states! That group is the three of us and our wives, currently running the Ghosts of Saltmarsh 5e campaign.

Has gaming inspired you in any way?

Being a dungeon master is what gave me the confidence to go all-in on this years-long storytelling adventure! There was a particular moment that I’ll never forget.

Each of the players provided me with backstories at the start of the campaign which I used to weave into the greater arc of Storm King’s Thunder. One night, on the streets of Gauntlgrym, the party had just defeated a powerful foe when a high level member of the Zhentarim faction—their greatest enemy throughout the campaign—appeared. The man dropped to a knee in front of one of the players, then bowed and whispered, “First Lord.” The players gasped. Those two words changed everything in the campaign. It changed the player dynamics, the plot focus, and the tone of the story.

Since you weren’t there, it probably seems like nothing. But in that moment, I knew that I could write a compelling story. I knew that I could take complex arcs and weave them together to create moments of awe. Shortly after, I started seriously writing Voice of War.

As someone who has been on the player end of a moment like that, I absolutely get it. My husband once ran a campaign in which he wrote separate visions for each player of how their character would die (if the visions were correct). They ranged from sweet and satisfying to violent or completely unexpected. Mouths dropped open. One player teared up. It was such a cool moment! 


On the opposite side of that, has publishing books made you more confident in your gaming?

It’s actually quite interesting. As a character, I do think it has helped me be more confident in creating and role-playing more complex, interesting characters. On the other hand, there is an added pressure now when I am the dungeon master for the story to be great! Which is a lot of pressure for something that’s supposed to be fun! The same goes for writing. If you publish a book that people love, there is a lot of pressure to make the next book better. If you succeed, the pressure is compounded for the third book. In a way, it’s given me a bit of empathy toward Patrick Rothfuss. With the acclaim of his first two books, I’m sure he’s freaking out about ending the series well. Same goes for popular TTRPG personalities, like Matthew Mercer (Critical Role) or Griffin McElroy (Adventure Zone). The pressure on their shoulders as DMs is insanely high.

I never would have thought of it that way, but that makes perfect sense. Although, when it comes to the next book in your series, I really don’t think you need to worry. 🙂

Are there any parts in your books that are a direct result of a D&D campaign?

I’ve reused a lot of names between campaigns and the Threadlight series. My first D&D character was Sir Atticus Endin, which led to the Great Lord Malachus Endin. There were also characters named Alverax and Corian. But none of the plot points have yet to be taken from a campaign.

I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?

If you enjoy being a dungeon master, which requires a ton of hard work, worldbuilding, juggling of complex scenarios, as well as a wild degree of creativity, then you almost certainly enjoy writing. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so many fantasy authors love TTRPGs!

What are some similarities and differences?

Extensive worldbuilding, characterization, magic-filled fights, and mysteries are all quintessential building blocks of both.

Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?

True role-playing—I believe—does help your writing, because it forces you to learn how to think and make decisions based on the perspective of another person. If you can learn to put yourself into the mind of a character that does not think or act like you, then you will be that much better of a writer.

What do you love about gaming?

For me, it’s the camaraderie. I love being in a situation where people can let down their defenses, where they can be silly, creative, dorky, anything. Mix that in with moments of unpredictable, collectively-inspired storytelling, and it’s just wonderful fun.

I totally agree! I love that you mention the storytelling being collectively-inspired, because it is such a group event. You could take the exact same campaign and play it with two separate groups and the stories would end up being two completely different stories. Do you have a favorite character class, or do you like to mix it up?

Definitely love variety! I’ve played a Gnome Barbarian (Corian), Changeling Sorcerer (Alucard), Tabaxi Rogue (Boots), Human Paladin (Atticus), and Vedalken Druid (Keltrovac). My two current characters are a Firbolg Wizard (Marsh) and an Eladrin Rogue (Rael). I have no shame, so I’ve also done different character voices for each one.

Oh, kudos for the firbolg! I actually had to look that one up. I have yet to do the voices for my character myself (I’m working up to it). The amount of creativity that can be put into making a character is one of my favorite things about D&D. The sky (and the DM’s final word) is the limit! 

What first drew you to writing?

I’ve always loved storytelling. Despite having a degree in electrical engineering, I actually started out my college career in Journalism. Fifteen years later, the itch to write never left me. Mix that in with my love of learning and trying new things, as well as an unhealthy dose of stubborn tenacity, and here I am with a full-time hobby job.

Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?

There was a moment in one of our campaigns where the party really grew attached to one of their traveling companions, a hill giant named Moog. One session, Moog had been captured and was going to be killed, mostly as a way for me to simplify the campaign. The sorcerer in the group said “No!” and rushed to save her. I only allowed it because he said he had a spell called Tree Stride that allowed him to move one mile per minute through the forest. He got to the hideout, blasted the captors, and then quickly fell to the floor dead. While rolling for death saves, he rolled a nat 20, got up, and killed the captors, saving their friend. It was already an epic moment that became even better when we realized that he’d mistaken the spell, and he did not actually have Tree Stride—he couldn’t, it was too high level. The sorcerer and Moog became best friends after that, and we still laugh about the wonderful mistake.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?

Do it! Find a group you can feel comfortable with, and just have fun. Play a character that acts just like you would if it helps, then, when you’re ready, try a new character that is wildly different. The friendships you make and the fun you’ll have outweigh any of the fear of getting started. Make it happen!

About the author:

Author Interview: Charles K. Jordan

Ta’Lin’s undead legions threatened to unravel everything until the combined might of Five Kingdoms adjusted to the nature of their foe and rallied to a tenuous stalemate.

Against the backdrop of a deadlocked war, life continues while the embers of well-laid schemes kindle into an inferno that will raze the continent so that it can be reborn.

Gaiaus, a well-connected Maximus of the highly-respected Oliverus family, is offered everything he could have hoped for but can’t help but wonder if promises made will be delivered. Never one to sit back and hope for the best, he bides his time, waiting for more palatable opportunities to present themselves.

Arcanus, the spoiled scion of the waning Dragonsbane family, disagrees with his father’s decision to send him far away to apprentice under a ruthless mentor from an infamous family after the details of his murder came to light.

Kir’Lor’s lavish lifestyle on the Consul of Five comes to an abrupt end when his father strips him of his political duties and reassigns him to the frontlines. Skeptical and unsatisfied with his new role, his options are expanded when a dangerous opportunity arises from an unlikely source.

A continent in crisis holds its collective breath as the threads of fate are woven into a new future.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Charles K. Jordan, author of Scourge of the Five Kingdoms.

Thank you for chatting with me!

First, will you tell me a little about Scourge of the Five Kingdoms?

To answer this question, I think it would be best to explain what exactly Scourge of the Five Kingdoms is and isn’t. The backdrop of the story is a decade-long war, but it is not a war story. There is a clear threat to the continent from the war, but there is no predestined hero to stop it. There is a lot of political intrigue and maneuvering, but it is not strictly a political thriller. The characters are developed already, so it is not a progression story. These characters have their goals, and many are at the zenith of their prowess. I almost hate to use the term, but it is, in a way, a throwback fantasy in the sense that the story does not focus on a hero, a journey, or an ancient artifact or prophecy. Several sapient races live on the continent in a tenuous peace despite their differences. Because of that, Scourge of the Five Kingdoms has a diverse, large ensemble cast. Also, magic is a common occurrence among the denizens and is treated like any other commodity. 

Scourge of the Five Kingdoms is part one of a six-book series with novellas and further works in the same world coming later. It is a mature series because it does contain content such as violence, alcohol, recreational vices, and non-graphic sexual encounters. If I were to suggest an appropriate age, I would feel comfortable saying 16 years and up would be apt.

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

I enjoyed fantasy as a kid. It started first with RPG games, but what made me a fantasy fan for life was the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The series got me through some difficult times in my life. As I got older, I realized that getting to know those characters as well as I did, was just as influential for me as the actual story was.

Scourge of the Five Kingdoms seems rife with political maneuvering and backstabbing. What were some challenges to writing these complexities?

Making sure that characters behaved the way they would act and are not just taking actions for the sake of moving the plot. There were many times when I would stop writing and think to myself that this character wouldn’t do what I had plotted, and I would have to work out what moves that character would make. It broke lots of initial plot points while writing, but it made the story feel so much more organic, so it was well worth the trouble.

When working on your book, what came first for you: the plot or the characters?

Definitely the characters because their personal goals and quirks are what drive the plot. I wanted to create a story that was moved by the characters instead of the other way around. Even though, as I said before, they ruined my plans more times than I wish to remember.


What was the hardest part or character to write?

The hardest part of writing this series, especially the first book, was that I wanted a large cast. Keeping track of what characters knew, who they met, what they promised, what they were planning long and short-term was challenging at first. It took a lot of notes to make sure I kept it all on target.

Do you have a favorite character in your novel?

Ah, that is a difficult question. I am going to cheat and pick three characters. One, I enjoy the antics of Arcanus Dragonsbane. He is a tough character to like because he is a scumbag, but he is a great character to watch. He is a man of noble blood who has no understanding of how the world outside of his pampered bubble works and expects to be above the law. He is the mold of how I think nobles of a fantasy world would be. Two, Kir’Lor because his story deals a lot with his relationship with his father, Ang’Lor. I think it is a relatable tale for many. The last is Ta’Lin, the story’s main antagonist, who ties most of the characters together. He has some witty interactions with some characters. He is also the driving force behind the conspiracy threatening the Five Kingdoms. 

I feel the character relationships are so vital that interactions and chemistry between certain characters are characters themselves.

That’s an excellent point regarding character relationships! I often feel like a good interaction between characters can say a lot more about who each character really is than pages of explanation can. How do you go about developing that dialogue and the interactions between your characters?

As the characters feel each other out, you start to see bits of their personalities that you couldn’t plot before those interactions began. Again, I try to let my characters shine. That means not allowing myself to make characters interact in a way they ordinarily wouldn’t for the sake of advancing the plot or making things easier on myself as the writer. I also believe that some people click and some don’t, and trust often needs to be earned, and I try to bring that to life through my characters’ interactions. 

To answer your question more directly when characters meet for the first time, I ask myself several questions. Would these characters click? Why or why not? How comfortable are they around each other? What are their goals at the moment? Do they think the other characters can help their goals? And do they have any other issues such as prejudices, stereotypes, bad experiences with the characters’ backgrounds? And whatever else I feel would make a critical impact on their first impression. It seems like a lot, maybe it is a lot, but I think it produces terrific, natural-feeling interactions between the cast.

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

One of the main ideas of the series is that almost everyone is a shade of gray. Most of the characters are horrible to some degree, so I would say it is probably easier for me to write a villainous or near-villainous character. There is one character that is the closest to an absolute “hero.” His name is Fortexxt Bynder. He was a challenge to write because he was such a change from the other characters in the world. However, with that being said, writing him was fun to write because of his moral compass.

I’m always curious: what is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own)?

I would have to say The Great Hunt, again, by Robert Jordan. To me, it is a near-perfect fantasy novel. It has an incredible balance of action and world-building, and even though you know the main heroes are not going to perish, it feels dangerous for them.

But my real hope is that someday, some author will say Scourge of the Five Kingdoms or some other book in the series is their favorite and inspired them to create as other authors inspired me.

Where to purchase Scourge of the Five Kingdoms:
Amazon

About the author:

Charles K. Jordan Bio
Charles K. Jordan was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He attended
university in his home state, as well, where he studied Information Technology. After
graduating, he decided to move abroad to experience more than what he had seen in
the United States. He found his way to Japan in 2003, and since then, he has called
Japan home.
Charles K. Jordan was always drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure. When he was a
young child, the first novel he read was Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by
Deborah and James Howe, and from that point, he was hooked. Since then, he has
found inspiration and heroes from various writers in all forms of media. Some of his
heroes include Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Quentin Tarantino,
Terence Winter, Garth Ennis, and Glen Cook, just to name a few. Ever since that
fateful day that led him to pick up Bunnicula, he knew his calling in life would be to
create and hopefully contribute to someone’s growth and dreams.
Charles K. Jordan vowed to himself that no matter what happened in his life. He
would never stop dreaming, writing, and creating.

Judging a Book by its Cover: an interview with artist Natasha Overttun

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Lately I’ve been thinking about judging books by their covers. We all do it a little bit. A good cover catches the eye and makes us curious about the book. I thought it might be time to feature some great book artists, starting with the excellent Natasha Overttun. You can find her work on the covers of the Terra Nova books by D. Ellis Overttun. If you’d like to contact either of them for interviews, you can find them on Twitter @neoverttun. In a fun twist, author D. Ellis Overttun interviews Natasha Overttun (a husband-wife duo: how cool is that!). The author’s questions are in bold.

@WS_BOOKCLUB, a while back, you floated the idea of doing a Q&A with Natasha. What a great concept! We thought an interesting twist might be if I did the Q. This Q&A will focus on the evolution of Natasha’s work and skills. It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

First of all, could you please give us some opening comments?

(singing) I’m so exited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a shower song…

I’m so exited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a Pointer Sisters’ song…

Apart from being thrilled, I’m so proud that a blogger like Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would want to hear what I have to say. At first, I was a little surprised and scared…`

As I recall, I had to talk you into it.

Yes, I’m not used to being out there. But, as time passed, I got more comfortable with it. You know its just like Bob Wiley says: “Baby steps, baby steps.”

I think it was Dr. Leo Marvin.

No, I’m sure it was Bob.

We’ll Wiki after the Q&A. Anyway, how did you first get involved with visual arts?

When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books…

Let’s skip a head a bit…

Oh…well, more than a little while ago, I took an introductory art course at the local community college. One of the projects we did involved collages. Each of us brought in a magazine and were told to cut out pictures or shapes we found interesting. We put them all together on some of the desks in the front row. The exercise was to assemble a cut and paste collage.

I had absolutely no idea what to do. So, I hung back and watched the feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. My first attempt was a fireplace surrounded by flames, lights and candles suspended in the air. I was so proud of myself! The teacher came by. She gave it a look that was more than just a glance. So, I thought, “Yesss! She likes it!” But it was really one of those howcanIputit looks. “It’s hanging,” she said. “That’s right,” I replied. Then, I realized she meant that something was missing. A few people had gathered around for her critique. “Where is a rock to crawl under when you need one?” I thought.

 

That was the best idea I had, and I now looked through the cutouts on the front desks that had been picked clean. This is what I came up with…

Lips

I was a little more than embarrassed when it came to present at the front of the class. What I put together didn’t look like anything. Oh, where’s that rock?

To my surprise, it drew rave reviews. Who knew?

That course gave me an appreciation for things like balance, composition and perspective. More than that though, my fellow classmates encouraged my small successes. That gave me confidence.

How did you become involved with the Terra Nova series?

You finished the first version of Universe: Awakening in May 2017. I remember you were on the kdp site rushing to publish. Then, it asked you for a cover. I’ll never forget the look on your face. It was: I need a cover? AHHH! Neither of us had any idea what to do. An anxious read of the help notes said we could use a jpeg. Great! But a jpeg of what?

Then, you came up with the idea that we would take a picture of something. So, I got my iPhone, and we frantically scoured our suite for something suitable. You finally decided on one of the patterns from a pot. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, and it was uploaded. It was too small. At the time, we had no idea how to resize an image. My niece is a graphic artist. So, she did it. Uploaded! Publish? No, we had to deal with text: Which font? What size? What color? I gained a real appreciation for your wordsmithing that day. Your string of invectives was colorful and creative. But not “Like wiping your ass with silk” to quote the Merovingian. That said, you finally slapped something together.

Lorna from On the Shelf Reviews (@ljwrites85) gave you some very constructive feedback. It went something like (and I paraphrase) “…perhaps, you could do something with the cover”. You have many faults but not being able to take a hint is not one of them.

Yes, I remember. So, I casually hinted…

Implored…

Asked if you had any suggestions.

Yes, and the result was the second cover.

Before (You) After (Me)

20170829 Universe eBook Cover (120 x 192) 20190330 Universe (2nd ed) - Cover (120 x 192 72 DPI)

How have you gone from collages to covers?

It’s been an evolution. To promote the book, you started a blogsite called “Author’s Cut” where you would write posts about Universe. I read somewhere that it’s good to break up text with visuals, to prevent reader fatigue. When I made the suggestion, I got the job.

I had no idea how to go about actually creating visuals. I was lucky to bump into a site called “Pixabay”. It’s a very popular site that has millions of images available without running into copywrite issues. I started out with find, cut, paste. It was primitive, but it was something. Then, I found some freeware called “Photoscape”, and I was able to do things like add text, crop, superimpose, stuff like that. When it came time for the Universe cover makeover, I was ready.

What’s happened since then?

You found that maintaining a social media presence, writing and publishing were too timeconsuming. So, you vacated SM, and I took over. I started on Twitter last year.

How has that gone?

Very well. I think it has increased SM awareness for your writing in a way you never could. If I say, “Hey! My hubby’s great. Read his stuff”, people say, “What a supportive wife.” If you echo the same sentiment, you’re a braggart.

True, very true. How did you start doing visuals on Twitter?

It started with the header, and it took me to another level. I found that, while Photoscape is great, you can’t edit after you’ve saved and exited the program. I found that Word gave that to me. People trained in graphic arts would probably snub their noses at it, but it was a quick fix that was easy to learn. My first headers were the covers of your first two books plus some Pixabay jpegs.

20190309 TWTR Header (750 x 250)

That looks like the first version of the Genesis cover.

That’s right. When I did it, I thought that it was ok, but something was missing. It kept bugging me, so, finally, I did a makeover. Tada!

20200108 Genesis - Cover (120 x 192)

Yes, it has a certain pop to it.

After that, I noticed that a lot of people have a pinned tweet. I suggested to approach bloggers to do guest posts that I could then pin. I had found that there is a heavy emphasis on visuals on Twitter, so I suggested that I do something to accompany the post that I could attach to the tweet to catch people’s attention. As each post came online, I swapped the pic for the one from Pixabay in my header. Here’s what it eventually looked like.

20191114 TWTR Header (700 x 250)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, but it’s mostly due to the blogging community who has been very receptive and supportive of our creative efforts.

Have there been any recent developments in your bag of tricks?

Yes, I recently came across a program called GIMP. It’s a real graphic arts program. I’ve only been using it selectively for certain effects because it’s quite involved. For example, in the visual below…

Exodus Final

The breaking apart of the sphere and the beam of light were done in GIMP.

I also started using the gif feature in Photoscape. Most notably, in the recent Prophecy cover reveal. Thank you from the both of us, once again, to Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub for giving it a spot on your blog.

Well, I think we have gone on long enough, any final comments?

More of a question really. I know that one of the characters in the series is named after me. However, she is a blonde with a bob cut. I am not a blonde and have never worn my hair that way. Where did she come from?

Uh…this is your interview, not mine. We should discuss this later.

Yes, we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Author Fiona West

Finishing up my weekly series on mental health and literature is author Fiona West. Thank you so much for contributing!

First, can you tell me a bit about your book?

The Semi-Royal is about a woman who’s under immense pressure, being both a princess third in line to the throne and a widely-renowned doctor. She’s in denial about a lot of things, her attraction to her brother’s best friend being one, and it’s the story of her slowly coming to accept and make peace with herself and her body.

One of things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between a woman’s mind and her body. One of the things that frustrates Rhodie is that her body isn’t really under her control…as a doctor, she knows a lot about the body in general, but an event in her past has caused her to lose faith in her body. And I think that’s a connection we don’t talk about enough: a lot of mental suffering is caused by worrying about our bodies and what they look like. I know as someone with a chronic illness, it’s really impacted my relationship with my body. I hated it. I hated that it didn’t do what I wanted it to, I hated that it didn’t do what other people’s bodies did. And over time, I had to learn to see it differently: that a flare wasn’t my body failing me, it was just part of a complicated situation. My body is still keeping me alive, my heart’s still pumping, my lungs are still taking in air. And when I shifted my focus from what my body couldn’t do to what it could, my mental health improved tremendously. I had to learn to re-interpret symptom flares as communication from my body instead of a betrayal. In a word, I had to learn compassion for my own body. I still fail at it plenty, but it’s something I’m working toward, and it’s something I wanted to write about. Mental health is a journey. And even though it’s fiction, Rhodie’s story reflects that. It was a really difficult balance to give her enough progress that we felt her story was resolved and still portray that it was an ongoing struggle for her.

Do your characters go to counseling?

For Rhodie, counseling was necessary. Several members of her family and her boyfriend all try to talk to her about her disordered eating, but she’s so deep in denial that she really can’t believe it until she talks to a professional. She valued his authority. And more than that, I think what she really needed was an outside voice. Someone who wasn’t going to remind her of her royal responsibilities and how this might look to the press. Just someone to come at an issue from another angle, one we can’t get to on our own. In the book, Rhodie likens the experience to one of those paintings that looks like an old woman to some people and a young woman at a mirror to others. That’s what counseling has been to me: just a different perspective on my own life. And it did help her. It gave her a way to move forward in repairing her relationship with her body. It was slow, of course, but so many good things in life are.

Have you had any experience with counseling? How has it affected you?
I still remember when I was about fourteen, I was going through my mother’s planner looking for a phone number (remember when people had paper planners? Good times.). On her calendar, she’d written ‘counseling’ on the month’s agenda. Being helplessly curious, I paged back: she’d been going for months. When I asked her about it, she gently told me that the counselor was helping her and my dad work through some things in their marriage and that it was nothing to worry about. That it was, in fact, proof that they were going to make it. (Spoiler alert: they’re celebrating 45 years in May.)
That’s the shift we need to make as a culture: throwing away the idea that counseling is a busted bucket for a sinking ship and instead see it as the personal flotation device that we keep with us, just in case. When I went on a cruise, we all stood around in the bar, doing the drill about what to do if there’s an emergency. But we didn’t throw our life vests overboard after that. Those devices are good for all kinds of things: kids who can’t swim, snorkeling trips, a cushion for your butt on a hard bench. We kept them in their designated spot in our cabins, close at hand. That’s how I want us to think about counseling: a tool for the right situation. I’ve met with a counselor once: sometimes, once was enough. It got me through that storm, helped me get my boat rightside up again. I’ve met with other counselors for several months: those issues were deeper. Sometimes, a hug from a friend or a listening ear was enough. Sometimes, just a good jungle yell and a cry was enough. But it’s silly that we still talk about counseling in hushed tones instead of getting on the roof and letting everyone know how much it helped. Let me start: it helped me, and while I can’t speak for others, I think it’s something worth trying, even before it’s an “emergency.” Do a drill: try it on and see how it feels.

As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

What’s saddest to me in literature is when poor mental health is depicted as some kind of moral failing by a degenerate soul. There are so many factors that go into our mental health, but one of the most poignant ones is the story of leaded gas. In his article, “How Lead Caused America’s Violent Crime Epidemic,” Alex Knapp writes that “every country studied has shown [a] strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit….decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for ‘emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.’” If we’re demonizing people for needing help or writing them off as “crazy,” we may never help them identify the other underlying causes, such as environmental toxins, that might be affecting their health. This is just one example, but it indisputably shows why we need to think more deeply about it as a culture, which is why I’m grateful to Jodie for starting the conversation here. (You rock, Jodie.)

Fiona West is the author of The Semi-Royal, among other books. Look for her work on Amazon.

Image result for semi-royal by fiona west