An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Joshua Gillingham

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

The Norosi Troll:

Artist Credit: Antonio J. Manzenedo

About the author:

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

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

To Purchase:

The Gatewatch
The Gatewatch Audiobook
The Everspring

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Sean Gibson

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

MINOTAUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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

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

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring J.E. Hannaford

There are always books that have amazing creatures in them that I would love to see featured in TTRPs. This month, some awesome authors have kindly joined me to give their creatures the TTRPG treatment. I’m excited to have J.E. Hannaford, author of the Black Hind’s Wake series, share more about her Leathergill Siren, found in The Skin (Black Hind’s Wake book 1).

About the author:

J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own. She lives in Suffolk, UK, and pines for the coast and mountains of Wales. A love of nature and the ocean washes through the pages of J E Hannaford’s stories and pours out of the characters who live in it. Her debut series is The Black Hind’s Wake Duology.

You can find her here: https://linktr.ee/jehannaford

To purchase The Skin:
Amazon

An Interview with Author CM Kerley

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

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

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

Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?

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

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

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

What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?

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

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

What are some successes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The characters. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

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

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

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

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

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

Janny Wurts, because everything.

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

What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring N.C. Koussis

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

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

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

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

Thank you for having me!

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

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

Will you talk a little about The Kiln of Empire?

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

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

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

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

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?

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

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

How do you balance the historical with the fantastical?

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

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

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

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?

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

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?

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

What are some of its strengths?

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

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

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

Who are some of your go-to authors?

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

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

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


About the author:

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

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring G.E. Newbegin

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

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

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

 

No worries – glad to!

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

How would you define urban fantasy?

 

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

 

What drew you to writing urban fantasy?

 

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

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

 

What were some obstacles to writing Pyramidion?

 

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

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

 

What were some successes?

 

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

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

 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

 

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

Where to purchase:

Pyramidion

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

Will you talk a little bit about Fear and Fury?

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

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

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

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

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

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

I wanted a world that had cell phones.

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

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

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

What are some strengths in this subgenre?

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

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

Purchase links:

http://mybook.to/FearandFury

http://mybook.to/TormentandTarnish

http://mybook.to/ScornandSorrow

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Peter Hartog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I sprinkled magic on top of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some struggles with writing urban fantasy?

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

What are some strengths to this subgenre?

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

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

Who are your go-to authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Peter Hartog:

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

Website: peterhartog.com

Twitter: @althazyr

LinkedIn: Peter Hartog

Books:

mybook.to/BloodlinesEBook

mybook.to/PiecesOfEight

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Matthew Samuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What drew you to writing urban fantasy?

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

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

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

What are some obstacles to writing urban fantasy?

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

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

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

What is the best thing about writing urban fantasy?

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

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

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

Who are some of your go-to authors?

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

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

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

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

Thank you 😊

To Purchase Small Places:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you introduce yourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some successes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you more pantsers or plotters?

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

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

About the authors:

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

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