Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Luke Tarzian

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

I’m so happy to have somehow coerced Luke Tarzian into joining me for another talk. This time, he tackles grimdark.

Hi, Luke. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat a little bit about the grittier side of fantasy!

Hi Jodie. Thank you for having me!

First, would you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your work?

Sure. During the day I work full time as a paralegal for a special education law firm. At night, I moonlight as a long-suffering New York Knicks fan, an annoyingly thrilled Phoenix Suns fan, a freelance cover artist, and book designer. I guess I also write too. That seems pretty relevant. 

As far as my work is concerned, I write dark psychological fantasy with enough twists and turns to make your head spin. A lot of what I write deals pretty heavily with mental illness, grief, loss, death, and the like.

You’ve described your books as “grimdark adjacent”. Can you expand a little on that?

Sure. There are varying definitions of grimdark, but the most general I’ve seen involve some combination of amoral, nihilistic, cynical, gritty, and/or bleak settings and characters. Depending on who you ask, it’s also hyper violent, blood and gore to the absolute max. In that case, maybe that’s a commentary on real life. I’m not sure. 

As far my own work is concerned, I feel like I utilize a lot of similar tropes—grey characters, bleak settings, “fuck” as the wonderful multipurpose tool it is, death—with the caveat being I do so in order to highly the possibility of hope, however slim it may be. I think that latter part ties into a lot of what my books are influenced by, chiefly my own battles with mental illness, grief, and the like and that struggle to hold onto whatever ray of light I can. I wouldn’t call my protagonists heroes in any sense, nor would I refer to the antagonists as villains. Rather, they’re all people with their own scars, virtues, and moral faults trying to do what they think is right or good, even if that tends to make things worse. 

There are many misconceptions about grimdark out there, and even some disagreement on what grimdark is. How would you describe grimdark?

At this point, I’m really not sure. Like I said previously, there are so many different definitions that I don’t think you can simply limit it to one. To me, personally, the best representation of grimdark is the Gears of War games. War, hopelessness, ultra-violence, and characters fighting to survive, some of who eventually lose to the will to carry on. It still has tinges of hope, but it’s a dying world. Ultimately, I think that’s what grimdark examines—dying hope in a dying world and how that affects the characters.

What draws you to the darker side of fantasy (I feel like I’m talking about The Force and definitely need better wording)?

I’ve always liked darker things, for lack of a better phrase. I think with dark fantasy in particular it’s always been a more “accepted” approach to examining the human condition in extremes that other genres might shy from. As someone fascinated by psychology and who deals with a lot internally, it obviously appeals.

Is your writing ever influenced by things that are happening in the “real world”?

Not so much the real world as my own personal experiences. Vultures is a very grief-tinged book, the rough draft of which I finished shortly after my mother died. The World Breaker Requiem takes that to the extreme. I’ve mentioned several times, but I refer to it as my catharsis novel even though it put me on the edge of a mental breakdown and almost sent me back to therapy.

I know we’ve discussed your writing in terms of being a way to talk about grief and mental illness. It makes your writing both raw and very, very powerful. Do you think fantasy is uniquely capable of creating a safe platform for dealing with some of the more difficult things that life chucks at us?

This ties into a lot of what I’ve said already, so obviously my answer is yes. And I think the darker the fantasy, the more one can explore. I think dark fantasy is uniquely equipped to tackle mental health, especially when you factor in overcoming challenges. In the darkest night, the faintest light is blinding.

If someone asked you to build them a “to be read” list, what are some books that would have to be on it?

I’m going to do this on the assumption this is for general recommendations, but I’ll start with some grimdark fantasy to keep with the theme:

  • Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar
  • The Obsidian Psalm by Clayton Snyder
  • The Empires of Dust trilogy by Anna Smith Spark
  • Norylska Groans by Clayton Snyder and Michael Fletcher 
  • The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
  • Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn
  • Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn
  • The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss 
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman 
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • The Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin
  • The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I could add so much more to this list, but I wanted to recommend books that have been formative to the way I write, whether fiction or nonfiction. 

Thank you so much for having me!

About the author:

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

Purchase links:

The World Maker Parable

The World Breaker Requiem

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Rob J. Hayes

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

I’m excited to talk a little bit with prolific author Rob J. Hayes.

Will you talk a little bit about yourself and your work?

Hi! My name is Rob. I’m a British fantasy and science fiction author. I’m self published. I’ve been in the game for about 9 years now and have released over 15 books so far, which continues to surprise me because I can never name them all without cheating and looking them up.

My debut trilogy, The Ties that Bind, is largely considered quite firmly in the Grimdark category. Which checks out given it largely focuses around witch hunters, one of who burns a family alive in the very first chapter.

And my The War Eternal series is kind of a weird mash-up between Grimdark and YA, with a protagonist who was pretty much conditioned to be a ruthless magic wielding soldier for an empire. She also starts the first book as a prisoner of war in an underground Pit where the inmates are running the show. It’s pretty grim.

The fourth book in The War Eternal series is soon to be released. What were some struggles with writing this series?

This series has been a massive struggle throughout. The main character, Eska, is an angry, vengeful young woman who is stubborn to a fault. She regularly makes bad choices, and especially in the first book she’s very much an impetuous teenager. She also suffers from depression and anxiety and has suicidal thoughts. To say she’s been tough at times is an understatement.

It’s also been a big struggle to fall back into her voice when beginning each book. She’s got such a big personality and a distinctive voice that getting it right, and also changing it slightly from book to book has been hard. I’ve never had quite so many false starts and big deletions of entire sections.

In fact, when I first wrote book 2, The Lessons Never Learned, it was an absolute mess. I was in a bad place in my own life, and a lot of the listlessness I was feeling bled out into Eska. It resulted in a book where a previously headstrong character full of agency, kinda milled around and let herself be dragged along by the plot for a whole book. It was crap. I knew it was crap and my early readers confirmed it. So I scrapped the whole thing and rewrote it. Ironically, I learned a lot of lessons from writing that book twice.

What were some victories?

Getting book 2 right the second time round for sure. I think one of the biggest victories for me is just creating something I am really very proud of. Eska is a very tough character, and a lot of the things I’ve put her through over the course of the series have been demanding. But I feel I’ve created a character who is, while maybe not the most likable, quite compelling and a bit of a force of nature. The fact that so many readers have said they resonated with her has really been a big victory in that sense. I hope I continue that sense of resonance in Sins of the Mother. Eska is a bit (a lot) older with even more hangups and issues, so finding the right voice for grumpy old woman Eska was both fun and another little victory.

There are many misconceptions and disagreements regarding the definition of grimdark. How would you define grimdark?

I think Grimdark is mostly about contrast. When the whole world is covered in shit, it makes the gems sparkle that much brighter. It’s about hope and love and loyalty, and how they are found in humanity even when the whole world says they shouldn’t be. It’s that contrast between the very worst and the very best that allows good Grimdark to shine a spotlight on relevant issues and the way people overcome them.

Lawrence’s Broken Empire is about how even the most evil of men can make sacrifices to save and protect others. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption is about the loyalty of comrades even when they occasionally (often) hate each other. Abercrombie’s First Law is about bad people fighting their inner demons and doing the right thing even when there’s no hope of winning.

I know a lot of people will happily tell me I’m wrong, but I think Grimdark has got to the point where it means something different to everyone. It’s existed for too long without a set definition so everyone takes their own version of it, just like everyone takes their own messages from the books they read.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions?

Mostly because of the popular ones. It’s all about blood and hyper violence and sexual assault. I think Grimdark often contains those things because one of the hallmarks of the genre is that the books don’t shy away from subjects that are often seen as controversial. They shine a light on them and usually in a way that doesn’t praise or fetishise them but reveals them for the horrific truths they are. When you look at Grimdark on the surface level it can certainly seem that those controversial topics are what the genre is about. But often if you think about why those things are being used the way they are instead of just how they are being used, it often leads to a whole different level of interpretation.

What draws you to writing darker, grittier books?

I like characters who feel real. I hate to use the word realism or realistic in discussions about Grimdark because I feel the words have been overused to the point where most people just roll their eyes at them. But I’m not talking about ‘realistic’ settings or actions. I like characters to feel like real people. And I personally find that a lot easier to do in darker settings. My characters swear, drink, fuck, fuck up. To me that’s more real. I guess I just feel that when you can utilize the full scope of humanity without watering down any of it, it gives you more options and variety.

Also, I grew up watching 80s films and some of that shit was DARK!

Do real-world events ever find their way into your books in some form?

Definitely, though usually in a more abstract form, I guess. During the early stages of the pandemic when we were all locked in our homes and it felt like the world was going to end by deadly disease, I wrote a novel called Guns of the Twelfth (currently unpublished). It’s a book where humanity is living on the edge, all but wiped out by hostile forest. People live in locked down cities where most never venture past the walls. And there are things living in the forest that ‘take’ people and turn them into monsters. I was a bit too close to it when writing it, but I look at Guns of the Twelfth now and it was definitely influenced by the pandemic.

Would you say that writing darker, grittier fantasy is uniquely situated to exploring difficult themes?

No. I think the majority of themes, difficult or not, can be explored regardless of setting. It can sometimes make it easier, and it often makes more sense to explore some difficult themes via darker settings, but we are limited only by our imaginations. People don’t often see X-men as a dark, gritty setting, but it has been used to explore segregation, genocide, assault, suicide, and so many more I can’t begin to name them all. And this is all in the 90’s era kids cartoon version of X-men. I’ve never even read the comics.

Which authors are on your must-read list?

Ahhh! So many. 

I always start with Robin Hobb because her Fitz books are some of the most influential to me as an author. 

Mark Lawrence because of the kernels of philosophy he includes and somehow manages to make sound so quotable. 

Fonda Lee has rocketed up on my list because her vision for the Greenbone saga is so unique, and, like Hobb, she is a master at making characters feel like real people. 

Chris Wooding because his writing style is that perfect blend of humour and action and emotion that just hits me.

Dyrk Ashton because he just breaks rules and somehow makes it work, and I still don’t know how he does it.

ML Wang because… well, just read Sword of Kaigen and tell me it’s not a modern day fantasy masterpiece. 

I could go on. I have a lot of must read authors. Which is probably why my tbr shelf is an entire bookcase these days.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to mention?

I have quite a few exciting things on the horizon. It’s a busy year for me. To start with Sins of the Mother (Book 4 of The War Eternal is coming May 3rd!). And book 5 (Death’s Beating Heart) is coming December of this year. There’s also hardback versions of all The War Eternal books. I’m also planning a special edition hardcover of Never Die along with some very fancy interior art by Felix Ortiz himself.

What else? I have a sci-fantasy progression novel releasing this year probably around the summer months. It’s called Titan Hoppers and early readers have said it’s like SpaceHulk (Warhammer 40k) meets Cradle. Which I consider a very favourable comparison.

About the Author:

Rob J. Hayes has been a student, a banker, a marine research assistant, a chef, and a keyboard monkey more times than he cares to count. But eventually his love of fantasy and reading drew him to the life of a writer. He’s the author of the Amazon Best Selling The Heresy Within, the SPFBO-winning piratical swashbuckler Where Loyalties Lie, and the critically acclaimed Never Die.

Where to purchase:

The Heresy Within

Where Loyalties Lie

Never Die

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Fighters and Barbarians (Repost)

This is a repost, because I loved it so much. This was originally published in February of 2021.

There used to a be a bit of a “these people are weird” attitude toward people who enjoyed roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was pretty funny to hear it coming from readers of fantasy (or any genre, really: you’d be surprised at the similarities that can be found). I’m assuming some of the judgement came from a place of discomfort at older kids and adults using their imaginations. I’m honestly not sure. Fortunately, D&D, and other roleplaying games are becoming much more accepted, which is great because playing can be pretty stinking fun.

As I briefly mentioned, there are similarities between books and roleplaying games. Both require the use of imagination to fill in pictures, both allow for a suspension of disbelief, and both take us to new and unusual places, constrained only by the author (or Dungeon Master).


A ‘character class’ is a profession or set of skills that help differentiate different types of characters in roleplaying. I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to give their thoughts on D&D classes in books and they answered in a big way! In fact, what I originally thought of as a single post has become a few, each post focusing on two or three of the main character classes. While I have each writer’s link attached to their amazing contribution, please make sure to check out a more detailed introduction to each of them at the bottom of the post. I’ve also included my own ideas here and there, as well as some loose definitions of each character class. Enjoy!

FIGHTER: This is pretty self-explanatory, but also has a lot of room for creativity. A warlord, knight, or rich person’s bodyguard are all different types of fighters. A fighter has a ton of skill with a weapon, and functions as a pretty good meat shield (can you tell I’ve used the fighter in that capacity before?).

Behind the Pages gives examples of fighters in fantasy: “

“Atae from Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A. Nix. To the Kaji warriors, being a halfbreed means being weak. Atae refuses to back down and engages in rigorous combat training to stay at the top of her warrior class. Strength and skill in battle are revered among the Kaji, and Atae will do everything in her power to become a true warrior. Trained in both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, Atae will cut down her foes without a second thought.”

“Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews: Kate was raised to be a weapon. Forced into fighting pits from a young age, it was hit the ground running or die trying. Any weapon in her hands is lethal, though she prefers her sword. When she unleashes a combination of magic and blade, she is a near unstoppable force.”

“I gave him a smile. I was aiming for sweet, but he turned a shade paler and scooted a bit farther from me. Note to self: work more on sweet and less on psycho-killer.” – Ilona Andrews, Magic Strikes

Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series says: “Here, there is a lot to choose from in Fantasy. I think this is the class most well represented. So I will keep this one short: Boromir [from The Lord of the Rings]. Aside from the fact that he is the character from the Fellowship that needs more love, he is a classical fighter. Knows all sort of weapons, can improvise during a fight, has the Con [constitution] of an Ent (I mean, how many arrows did he take before falling?). He even trains Merry and Pippin. Had he lived to amend for his sole mistake, he would have been Aragorn’s second hand.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub shares an opinion: For me, when I think of the D&D fighter class, my mind immediately goes to Clay “Slowhand” Cooper from Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. He’s a used-to-be-impressive warrior, a member of an elite mercenary group. He has major fighting skills-or at least, he used to. He and his friends come out of retirement for one last impressive feat-one that may get them killed.

“Clay pushed his body off him and mumbled another apology – because, enemy or not, when you hit a man in the nuts with a magic hammer the least you could say was sorry.”– Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld

Barbarian: the simplest way I can think of to describe a barbarian is as a fighter with anger issues. They thrive on violence and chaotic battles (although they may not always crave them). Their anger can give them a berserker state of mind: think an overdose of adrenalin allowing someone to do the nigh impossible.

Ryan Howse, author, reviewer for Grimdark Magazine and contributor for Before We Go Blog, weighs in: “For gamers, barbarians are often some of the most memorable and dynamic characters played. They tend to be chaotic (in earlier editions, being a lawful barbarian was against the rules) and their ignorance of civilized customs provides some obvious comedic fodder.

But barbarians are not fools. They just don’t care about civilization. People who are fools don’t survive the wilds—especially fantasy versions of the wilds, with all the strange new monsters and dangerous terrain that implies.

Fafhrd, from Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, is an iconic barbarian. He’s the bruiser of the duo, and the tank. He’s a massive man from an ice-covered land, and he mostly wants to spend his adventuring loot on women and ale.

The greatest part about these stories is that while they’re classics of the genre, they feel closer to a real tabletop game than even the best tie-in fiction.

In the first chronological story of Fafhrd, he straps rockets to his boots to make a jump down a hill. That feels absolutely like something out of an all-night gaming session where the barbarian has a ridiculous plan and rolls just well enough to make it work.

There’s also a story where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser die, and end up dealing with Death Itself, which again feels like a DM trying to keep the campaign going after a TPK [total party kill]. (They get better.)”

 “And even when we serve, we make the rules. We bow to no man’s ultimate command, dance to no wizard’s drumming, join no mob, hark to no wildering hate-call. When we draw sword, it’s for ourselves alone.”– Fritz Leiber, Sword in the Mist

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub chimes in: I see Beowulf as the ultimate barbarian. He fights Grendel with near-supernatural strength (Grendel definitely meets his match), and several other feats of strength are boasted about throughout the epic poem. He feels no fear and isn’t big on laying traps or making battle plans. Any character that divests a monster of its arm without using a weapon to do it lands in the “berserker” category for me.

Meet the contributors:

Behind the Pages 
is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one is titled The Withered King. The sequel is titled The Cursed Titans.

Ryan Howse is a literary jack-of-all-trades. The author of several books, he also reviews for Grimdark Magazine and is a regular addition to BeforeWeGoBlog. I honestly have no idea how he found the time to contribute to my post, but I’m excited that he did!

March of the Sequels- Interview with Rob Edwards

Today I am grateful to be talking about sequels with author Rob Edwards. His book, The Crossover Paradox, which is a sequel to The Ascension Machine, is available now. You can find my review here.

Thank you for joining me! Will you talk a little about your series and its upcoming sequel?

Thanks for having me back! Sure thing. The Justice Academy series follows teenage grifter Grey through his studies at the eponymous college for alien superheroes. It’s a scifi superhero adventure about found family, identity, truth and proper maintenance of your grapnel gun.

I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy. The Ascension Machine is about Grey, alone, learning to work with others. Book two, The Crossover Paradox, is about unlikely team-ups. Book three… is yet to be written, but there’s a progression we’re following, for sure.

Bad things happen to and around Grey, but at its heart the series is (I hope), fun, light-hearted and exciting.

Do you find that most readers will continue to read the series?

Time will tell! This is my first foray into a sequel novel. I know a lot of people have been excited for book two to arrive, and I hope that converts into sales. If I had to guess… I think it’s inevitable you lose a percentage of readers for subsequent books in the series. The aim is to keep the retention level up.

I think received wisdom is that the arrival of book two will have a positive impact on sales of the first book in the series, at least.

Why do you think that is?

I think book buying habits have changed over the last few years. A writer friend of mine made a good point to me a while back, she said the number of people who stumble across book two of a series first has dropped dramatically. 

There are still people who find interesting books by browsing their local bookstore’s shelves, of course, and might gamble on a sequel that catches their eye. But so many book sales come from on-line stores now, particularly for independent books. Love it or hate it, buying books on-line makes it super easy to find the first book in a series. Even if you do stumble across book two of a series first, book one is usually only a click away. 

Book two raises the profile of the series as a whole, but most people will want to start from the start.

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Yes and no. On one level, sitting down to write book two, I already had a pretty clear idea who my characters are, what their voices sound like to me, what they want from life. I’m starting from a very different place than at the start of The Ascension Machine, but that’s true for my characters too. Grey’s found family is, well, found. There would be no point telling that story again. For The Crossover Paradox the question became what next? For Grey the problem is no longer not having a place to belong, and has become the consequences of having people around that rely upon him. It’s new ground for him, and it’s what keeps it interesting for me. Grey is still growing, still changing, and there are new discoveries (and a backslide or two) for him to deal with in the sequel.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

The main problem I had is that my cast was already so big! Adding a new set of characters into the mix was quite a daunting task. Still, the principle that each book of the series is set during a new year at the Justice Academy let me think back to the start of my second year at university (a long time ago, into the last millennium!). We were a close-knit group of friends in my first year, but as new students arrived, some of those relationships shifted, different priorities emerged, some brought us closer together, some took us further apart. It’s just life, and that’s what I wanted to capture in The Crossover Paradox.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

Well, I get to cheat a little. The galaxy in my series has thousands of populated worlds, so if I’m having problems with some established worldbuilding, I can just shift the action to another world. No, but so far, it’s not been a problem for me. The main beats of the trilogy have been in my head since before I wrote the first word of The Ascension Machine, and as long as I’m sticking to that path, I’m happy to adapt and work around. There are certain places, people and organizations that I mentioned in book one because I knew I’d need them in later books, so it’s fun to start paying them off in The Crossover Paradox. And to plant a few more things for book three of course.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Not really. I did have a couple of moments of the opposite, where I realised I’d already written something in the first book that I could totally steal and use in the second.

Not quite what you were asking but there were a few things in book two that did give me pause for another reason.

For example, the main tower of the Justice Academy. When I came to describe some scenes in book two, I found my notes were not as detailed as I’d hoped. I had to scour book one again to find any references to its entry hall to make sure I didn’t contradict anything. And then I found myself starting a spreadsheet to note what was on various floors so I could keep details straight in this book and the next. 

I do love a good spreadsheet.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Gosh. I’m not sure that’s for me to judge. You tell me! 

I will say I felt I was writing more confidently this time. I’d proved I could start and finish a whole novel already, so doing it again was less daunting. I’d like to think I’d learned some lessons too. One bad habit my developmental editor had to drum out of me in book one, was not to undercut my own stakes. I’d like to think that people didn’t see much of that in the finished product of The Ascension Machine because my editors helped me with it. And won’t see it in The Crossover Paradox because I’ve learned my lesson. Certainly, my editors and beta readers didn’t highlight it as a problem this time around.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

I thank you for the suggestion that I plan things! Actually, in this case, I did have at least a concept in my head for the whole trilogy before I started. I think calling it a plan would be overstating it somewhat, but I knew my direction of travel at least. I also know that Grey is a con artist and habitual liar and that the books are told first person, so, there’s that.

I’m actually somewhat intimidated by writing book three because it needs to pay off things I’ve been dropping hints about since the very first line of book one. There are a couple of moments that don’t make sense in the first two books until you get later revelations. Most people won’t spot them, but they make me happy knowing they are there. And that much planning of this series was completely necessary. There are probably other parts which don’t make sense because they just don’t make sense, of course. But if we all pretend that’s me playing mind games, that would be nice.

Still, outside of the metaplot, I do tend to just bumble around seeing what happens in the book I’m currently writing.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Not often. Twice in the first book, once in the second. In The Ascension Machine, I had one character surprise me by existing. Lucy, also known as Sky Diamond, was not in my original concept of the series, but she turned up during the editorial process of The Ascension Machine, and now she’s a really important part of the story. The revelation that one of my cast was a librarian before coming to the Academy – which written like that doesn’t feel like much of a revelation, but really helped me understand the character better – surprised me. In The Crossover Paradox, there is a moment near the end of the book that surprised me. I won’t say what, for obvious reasons. I will say I’m not talking about the very end of the book, that’s been part of the story since day one.

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

Oh, the trauma I had about this! I went back and forth on this question so many times. Also, how much of a recap of book one is needed in book two for people who haven’t read the first one in a hot minute? How much do I need to describe what a Welatak looks like again?

Where I’ve come down is that the book is readable as a standalone, you do get a complete story in there, but some aspects will have more weight if you’re coming from book one.

I’ve tried to keep the story in each book as a separate thing. Book one is a story about a long con. It’s a heist, with all that brings with it. Book two is a murder mystery, or at least happily wears the trappings of one. Book three is… not written yet.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Let’s say I’ll be scouring other March of the Sequels interviews for suggestions. Do all the things you did for book one, though hopefully you have some contacts you can speak with this time around.

I guess, remind people that book one exists (that’s The Ascension Machine, available now!) on the run-up to book two’s release. And then remind people that book two is coming. (It’s called The Crossover Paradox).

March of the Sequels: Interview with Ricardo Victoria

March is a month-long celebration of great sequels, organized by the great blog, Sue’s Musings. Today I’m happy to be able to talk with Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series. Both book one titled The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans, are available now.

Thank you for joining me!

Thank you for having me again on your blog. I even brought my own coffee mug this time.

Smart! Coffee is the stuff of life. Will you talk a little about your series, particularly the sequel?

Ah! The most difficult question you can ask a writer. Quoting myself, in general Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. 

Each book has several POV, but each one has a main POV, which is centered on one of my main 3 characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, which grants them special superhuman abilities. The first book centered about Fionn learning to accept his past, learning to move on and recognizing that he was getting a 2nd chance at life, while saving the world and mentoring a new generation of heroes. The second focus around the consequences for all characters after the events of the first book, and in particular the struggles with depression that Alex undergoes and that were exacerbated by the past events. So while he tries to save a city from a villainous monster, he pushes himself beyond what’s healthy and there are consequences of that. The way things happen on the book set in motion larger events for the next two. Apologies for being a bit vague, but I’m trying to keep this spoiler free.

Do you find that it is difficult for readers to continue a series? Why do you think that is?

Kinda, there are several factors at play that can make a reader stop following a saga. Finances are one, not everybody can afford to keep buying books from a really long series (although Public Libraries are a godsend in that case. Sidenote: support your local Library if you have one). Other is interest, the longer a series grow, if the readers feel there is no real sense of progression, that things are stalling, padded, then they are more likely to drop it. 

And then there is the elephant in the room: authors that take so long between books –if they ever release the next one- that readers feel like they will never see the end of a story, especially when the author is a well-known pantser. I mean, I’m not going to attack a fellow author for taking so long between books, because that can happen for multiple reasons (although I find that less defensible if they are full-time authors, as those who has a day job have to juggle a lot of things in order to write and yet they manage to do it). And we all are well acquainted with Gaiman’s comment of “Martin is not your bitch”, regarding readers’ entitlement. Regardless, I don’t blame readers from dropping incomplete series that don’t seem to make progress for the next release. My beta reader for example, refuses to buy any new book by certain famous author, because he hasn’t finished his main series and the last book came out almost a decade ago. I can understand that feeling. It’s like never being able to watch Avenger Endgame and get closure for the Infinity saga because Marvel decides to produce another X-Men movie without finishing the saga first.

Finally, is the daunting task of tackling a large series from the start, moreover when the books are doorstoppers. It’s kinda like asking an anime fan to watch One Piece from the start, with 1000+ episodes to go. And One Piece has no filler episode, all are relevant to the plot!

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Oh yes. The sequel allows you to build upon the previously shown aspects, dwell more on what makes them tick. Especially since the first book of a series is often an introductory book to a large plot so we get at times a cursory glimpse at who the character is. Sequels allow you to explore that, to even change the main POV to see how things are perceived by them.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

It’s like introducing a new friend to your old friend group, or like adding a new player to your ongoing-for-years D&D campaign.  It’s far from impossible, but the new character has to adjust to the already establishes dynamic –unless it is introduced to disrupt said dynamic- there are inside jokes, shorthands, shared experiences to which the new character has to be introduced. But since the reader is in a way already part of that already established group, you need to be careful with not repeating much information that has been already given.

That makes perfect sense! Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

It depends, if you are like me, someone who enjoys worldbuidling but has the memory of a shrimp for most things, yes it can be hard to keep track of your own continuity and timeline. There are times when I wish Tempest Blades had its own fan wikia, it would make my life easier. No, really, I need one. Please!

Leaving that aside, sequels are a godsend for worldbuilders because they allow you to showcase more of your fictional world, to come up with more and more interesting details, or simply rescue stuff you had to cut from the previous one due space and flow.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Have I? I’m staring at a couple of them as we speak, cursing at myself from the past. I’m planning to solve them through unreliable narrators and self-deprecating jokes. Thankfully my editor and my beta reader are really helpful with those things and have advised me on how to use them to enhance the original plot.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Yes. As I get to better know my characters and my world, I can focus more on the finer details of the plot. Also, I feel like I write with more fluidity and with better grasp of the subtleties of the language, which in my case I hope is more noticeable given than I’m writing in my second language.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

A bit of both. Tempest Blades is my first series so I can’t about entire series in plural. For this one I had a long arc –just the general ideas, not a full plan with details- but decided to take one bit that could work as a single book write it, and see if it got published and if it worked. Once my publisher got onboard with the idea of a series, I took the next bit of that general idea and wrote the second book, with the idea that if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t leave many open threads. Then the discussion for a third book came and by then I realized that a) I don’t want to spend my whole life dedicated to a single series in particular and b) I want to finish this one in a reasonable time so this time I did planned most of the final two books ahead, so once I finish writing the 3rd, I take a brief break and start writing 4th right away. This time I even did a chapter break for each one of those two.

Side note, originally I was going to finish the series in 3 books, totaling 5. But I decided to merge two of them as I didn’t feel I had enough ideas for 5 long books, or that the story could be expanded that much.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Yeah, in big ways *stares at Sid*. But that’s part of the fun of this. I even discovered things I have never ever considered about the lives of 2 of my characters previous to the books that actually make sense on how they act around each other, and more about the personal life of a third one. And then there is Sid that has this knack to find ways to interject himself in the plot that is not his.

 Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

My approach with this series at least is to emulate the MCU model: each book is a standalone, but at the same time is part of a larger plot, with the final book probably being the only one that can’t be a standalone but still can be read if you have the basic grasp of what’s going on.

Originally, I wanted to make something like Sir Terry Pratchett did with Discworld, but I’m nowhere as good as a writer as he was.

Do parts of your books ever reflect what is going on either in your life or in the world at the time of writing?

Some bits, yes. When it comes to real world events, yes there is some inspiration drawn from there. But when it comes to stuff from my life, they come from previous experiences or my long term dealings with some issues, such as depression.

The way you tackled mental illness is one of the things I really enjoyed about The Cursed Titans.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

To be honest, not really, I’m learning this on the way. I guess draw on the aspects that readers liked of the first one to amp the next one.

About the author:

Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer with a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis in sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pets, working works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university. He writes mainly science fantasy.

His first novel, Tempest Blades: The Withered King, was released in August 2019 by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing. The sequel, Tempest Blades: Cursed Titans was released in July  2021. He is currently working on the third book of the saga. He has a number of stories published by Inklings Press, and other indie outlets, and has collaborated with the horror podcast The Wicked Library.

His short story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, jointly written with Brent A. Harris, was nominated for a Sidewise Award for short-form alternative history. He co-authored a chapter (No elf is an island. Understanding worldbuilding through system thinking) for the book “Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, currently nominated for the BSFA.

You can find out more at his website, http://ricardovictoriau.com, or follow him on Twitter, @Winged_Leo

Purchase Links:

Amazon: The Tempest Blades

Publisher’s Site: The Tempest Blades

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

Each month this year, I’ll have a week where I focus on a different subgenre of fantasy. Last month’s Fantasy Focus was comedic fantasy. This month I’m shining a spotlight on romantic fantasy, a subgenre that I don’t know much about. Thankfully, Dan Fitzgerald, author of the Weirdwater Confluence, is here to help!

Effing the Ineffable: Intimate Discourse in Romantic Fiction

Every so often, the discourse surrounding sex scenes in books gets my blood boiling. I’m not talking about folks who say they don’t like to read them, or that they skim them or skip them. That’s absolutely fine and wonderful. There are many excellent reasons why readers may prefer not to read explicit material, and no one needs to explain why it’s not their jam. People can like what they like.

I’m talking about something else: the idea that sex scenes are “empty titillation.” That they add no value to a book. That they “must advance the plot or characterization” or they should be cut. I would agree that sex scenes must show us something about the characters, but there’s this assumption that they generally don’t, which grates my cheese to the point that I’m writing this mini essay. In fantasy particularly, where readers often embrace all manner of horrific violence, why do scenes of intimate sharing cause such strong negative reactions? We seldom question the narrative value of graphic fight scenes or pulse-pounding chases, but sex scenes are somehow seen as extraneous?

Books tell stories and reveal character in a variety of ways, using different forms of discourse. We have narration, where we see descriptions of the world, often filtered through one or more character’s perceptions. What the writer decides to show and how they choose to show it communicates something important. Dialogue between characters shows us something entirely different, pure verbal communication, but often with little peeks at what’s behind their words, shown directly through revealing their thoughts, or indirectly through their gestures and actions as they speak. Gestures and actions can do a lot of narrative work even in the absence of dialogue; body language is just as expressive as spoken language. And body language in a public setting can be very different from what happens when two (or more) characters come together in an intimate setting, which is what has brought me to the keyboard today.

No one disputes that interior monologue or narrative voice play an important role in building character and story. The narrative value of dialogue speaks for itself, pun intended. And who doesn’t love the way the smallest gesture shows us a world of nuance that a thousand words of interior monologue could not capture? These forms of discourse are relatively easy to grasp, though they may be challenging to write effectively. But intimate physical discourse is seldom seen as such. We have this idea that what happens in the bedroom, or the couch, or on a pile of straw in an abandoned dragon’s lair, is somehow less of a means of communication than the others. Or perhaps we see it as communication but have been trained not to study it too closely, for fear of feeling voyeuristic or vulgar.

The way characters act and communicate in public can be very different from what they do in intimate spaces, or it can be quite similar. In either case, it shows us something important that hints at larger truths about them. Do they make the first move? Do they show confidence? Hesitation? Do they struggle with their inhibitions, or do they cut loose once free of prying eyes? Do they seek their own pleasure first, or that of their partners? Do they tease, dominate, submit, withhold, give in? Every moment of a good intimate scene reveals something about a character and their relation to others.

It is true that many of the things described above can be shown to some extent in non-intimate scenes, but there is something unique about what happens when two (or more) people exist in a space that is uniquely theirs. How fast and how fully can they strip away the expectations and roles society casts them into? Do they find freedom in this private universe to be someone they can’t be in the confines of the world at large? The way they move together, the way they express, with their bodies, the conflicting tensions and desires swirling inside them, all of it is discourse. It is communication beyond words of things that cannot be expressed verbally.

Sex scenes are a way of effing the ineffable.

It’s fine if you don’t like to read or write them. It’s fine if you hate them. Just don’t say they add no value to a story.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

Links Buy my books in any format: Dan Fitzgerald — Shadow Spark Publishing
Twitter: Dan Fitzgerald (@DanFitzWrites) / Twitter (writing and bookish stuff—this is my home)
Instagram: Dan Fitzgerald (@danfitzwrites) • Instagram photos and videos (nature photography and bookish posts—this is my playground)
Website: Dan Fitzgerald (danfitzwrites.com) (Find out more about my books, plus there’s a blog)

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring D.H. Willison

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, that subgenre that reminds a person that not everything in life is horrible. D.H. Willison, author of several comedic fantasy novels, discusses humor in fantasy.

Hello! I’m D.H. Willison, and I love writing (and reading) humorous fantasy. Why? In contrast to real life, you never have to be funny on cue. Which I rarely am. Also you can edit. A lot.

Something many people may not realize about humorous fantasy is that there are different styles. In the before times, were you ever in a movie theater, broke out laughing, and realized you were the only one? I had a horribly embarrassing situation when I was on a long flight while sitting next to a rather elegant and proper individual. Who was very nice–we had a great conversation. Then as I was watching a film, I broke out laughing. And it was… well… not a particularly sophisticated scene I was laughing at. The individual in question was mortified. But I couldn’t stop laughing. Welcome to my life.

The point is, not everyone finds the same things funny, so as you learn about the various authors who feature comedic/humorous fantasy during this event, keep in mind that even within this admittedly very niche genre, there may be some that work for you, while others do not.

So what’s my style? Extreme and often outlandish situations, coupled with a diverse cast of characters. My world of Arvia is populated by giant mythical monsters, while my human characters are frequently marginally competent at best. Some of the mythic monsters are POV characters with vastly different perspectives and cultures than human norms. So you’ll find a lot of “throwing wildly different characters into a strange scene, and letting the sparks fly.”

Here’s an example. In this scene, Rinloh, a 35’ tall harpy, tries so very hard to make small talk with a pair of human villagers after mistaking their donkey for a light snack.


I see that I managed to surprise the two humans that were with this creature. A female human with long black hair in a single braid down her back, and an off-white cotton dress, has her back against the nearby willow tree, while the male, with light-brown hair and a maroon tunic, is on his back staring up at me. Oops. I might have accidentally knocked him over. But fortunately it looks like I didn’t hurt him.

“Please don’t kill our donkey,” the young male squeaks.

“A donkey? Is that what these things are called? Hmm… OK, but it looks far too large for you to eat. And why do you have it tied to the box? To keep it from getting away?”

“I… no… you see…”

The young male doesn’t seem very coherent, so maybe I’ll talk to the female human. Hmm. This “donkey” shouldn’t be able to get very far tied to the box, as long as I break off these pesky wheels to prevent it from rolling. I put it down, and can chase it again later if need be. I hop closer to the female, to see if she is able to talk any better than that male. Hey! This is the perfect time for me to practice speaking “human.” Darin told me all about the funny human greetings and customs and such. If I do it right, maybe she will be friendly and want to play with me! Let’s see if I can remember. He said it was considered rude to speak to someone if you are too far away. And when introducing yourself, it was best to tell them your name, and something about yourself.

I hop over to the willow tree that the female human has her back against, lean over so that my face is about at her level, and say in my friendliest voice, “Hi, I’m Rinloh, and I’m looking for something to eat.”

She just stares back at me with a strange look of terror in her eyes. Hmm. Maybe I didn’t remember the introduction correctly. Or perhaps I’m not close enough and I’m being rude. I need to think like a human. I had my face at the correct distance if we were both big, so let me lean in farther so that my face is about one of her arm’s lengths away. There, that’s the right distance for a human—she should feel more comfortable now!

She’s still just sitting there shaking and won’t respond. What am I doing wrong? Wait! She’s female. Darin said that human females like it if you compliment them. Maybe she’ll want to be friends with me if I compliment her.

“You look good!” I say, with a wide, friendly grin.

She starts crying. Now I feel bad. It’s hard to believe that Darin would be wrong about human greetings. Maybe they do it differently in this village.


That was just a misunderstanding, but one of the joys for me is if I’m able to blend a subtle social commentary, or get readers to look at things from a different perspective. The thing about fantasy humor is that it’s often not just about the humor. It’s about something else too. And it’s the incorporation of that something else that’s both rewarding and challenging. I often touch on themes of empathy, how people treat others, especially people (or creatures) they consider “lesser beings.”

A lot of things on my world are specifically designed to subvert some of the common fantasy tropes. Arvia is a dangerous world full of strange creatures, gnomes, elves, cat people, talking rodents, and all sorts of mythical creatures that are almost exclusively larger than humans. But many are not mindless beasts–they belong to whole societies of monsters, have their own issues and insecurities. So diplomacy and understanding tend to go a lot further than swords and fireballs. And there the fun begins.

Which brings me to one of the big challenges: striking the right balance between humor, and all of the other things that go into one of my stories. Have I made a scene too outlandish? Diminished the impact of a dramatic moment? But most importantly, are the characters still being themselves: conveying genuine emotions is my highest goal–I need them to feel like living, breathing people (or harpies, or mermen) with unique desires, fears, insecurities. And any humor should enhance this.

So, if I’m not able to be funny on cue, how do I go about it? Sometimes I have an idea for a scene or chapter that’s hilarious on the first draft, but a lot of my ideas trickle in after I let a work stew for a while. I tend to have a long edit cycle, and frequently come up with a new (and amusing) way to look at a particular situation. And finally, I love Easter eggs, references to characters in other media and other fun little details that perhaps not every reader would get at a first glance. Look closely, and you’ll find references to everything from classic mythology, to modern SFF, manga, and games both video and table top. Such as the LOTR quip in the map below (from Hazelhearth Hires Heroes).

Will my humorous fantasies tickle your funny bone? All of my books are heavily character-driven, with witty banter, and quite a bit of adventuring.

Hazelhearth Hires Heroes (hardcover here) is more of a classic tale of adventure with themes of trust, loyalty and found family. What, and for whom would you risk your life? Would they do the same for you? Does it matter?

The Tales of Arvia series (hardcovers here) is more relationship driven, or as one reviewer put it, “a quirky, strange, yet beautiful friendship and the exploration of the way we can be different, and yet still understand and love one another.” There are two books in the series, with a third being drafted.

And if you’re on the fence, why not take a free test drive. The first three chapters (no cliffhangers, promise!) of Love, Death, or Mermaid? are available here. This novella is a shorter adventure, featuring the search for lost pirate treasure, a not-so-little mermaid, and a cute, sweet romance.

Wishing everybody a brighter 2022!

About the author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.

He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.

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

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

What are some triumphs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

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




The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- What You May Have Missed

I was joined by several excellent authors, to talk about any possible connections between great fantasy writing and table top roleplaying games. I’ve gathered the posts here, so you can easily find any that you may have missed.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs

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

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

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dorian Hart

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

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

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

TTRPGs that are Based on Books

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

I’ve been talking about table-top roleplaying games with authors over the last few days. Today I’m joined by Ricardo Victoria, author of the Tempest Blades series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about D&D with me!

First, will you tell me a bit about The Tempest Blades series?

The Tempest Blades series is a story in progress (2 books published, 2-3 more to go, plus a few short stories) about this legendary hero Fionn, who after his final battle during the Great War found himself awakening 100 years later and  after a few years of adjustment is asked to return to the role of hero to stop an evil from his past. In the way, he is joined by a new band of heroes: Gaby, Alex, Sam (who is Fionn’s great granddaughter and adoptive daughter), Fionn’s best friend Harland and Sid the Samoharo (later joined by Kasumi the demonhunter, Joshua, a mysterious man and Yokoyawa, Sid’s cousin). And Fionn finds himself in the role of mentor to this new band, preparing them for the challenges that they will face from now on. Every action has a consequence both in the large scale of the world they live in, and in a personal level, which is reflected in the second book with the fallout of the first adventure and the toll in the mental health of Alex. All towards saving the world from looming menaces from beyond the physical realm.

Bottom line, Tempest Blades is a story about getting a second opportunity, finding redemption and your place in the world amidst action packed adventures that actually read like a ttrpg campaing! I have to note that I’m writing each book as self-contained, even if they are in the same continuity, so readers get a whole story in each book along a larger arc. Again, kinda like a ttrpg campaign, composed of smaller adventures all linked together.

Now that I think of… basically I’m writing my ideal ttrpg with me playing all the roles and the DM.

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

I always wanted to play since I saw the D&D cartoon as a kid, but never had the access to the books or with whom to play until I got to college. There I got my copies of the three core books of D&D 3e. and a few of a system called BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouths, which is basically a system to play anime style adventures). Then my best friend, who already had his D&D group at the time, started to run a game at college with his classmates and I sorta, kinda ‘forced’ my way to join the group at their second adventure. And we kept playing for the next three years. Sometimes to give him a rest as DM I ran games in Stars Wars D20, or BESM, or another player ran his homebrew Saint Seiya game. We also played D20 modern, where our DM adapted the first Resident Evil game. It was awesome.

Then when I moved to UK for my Ph.D. I joined the Roleplay and Wargames Society, as a way to practice my English in an informal setting and to meet friends (and this incidentally got me to know the guys with whom we created Inklings Press, but that’s another story). There I played D&D, Exhalted and Bureau 13, and ran a few sessions of an improvised BESM game.

I haven’t played since I came back to Mexico since a) my best friend passed away, so his group simply disbanded and b) the downside of being an adult with responsibilities is that finding the time and someone play with. But I’m trying to create a new group with a  friend and his nephew and in the meantime I get my fix for ttrpg listening to a couple of live roleplay podcasts: The Dark Dice and Dumbgeons & Dragons, while I plan how to develop a ttrpg (or at least the setting for an established system) based on Tempest Blades.

Does your gaming experience have an effect on your writing?

I have come to realize that both follow the same kind of structured improvisation. I might have an overall plot I want to follow with a given story I’m working on, but how I go from the start to the end (and to the key scenes I have I mind) tends to be somewhat improvisational, just like in a game. The advantage of having a good grasp of who my characters are and how they tend to act allows me to improvise on the way to a key scene. Like the relationship between players and DM. Of course in this case my players are still me so there is nothing 100% unexpected about how things happen. Also I tend to world build my stories the same way I do for my games, creating the world as I’m needing it. And of course there is the fact that Fionn evolved from my first D&D character. On a more personal note, after my best friend suddenly passed away a few years ago, and with permission of the other players from the college group, I incorporated a few of his locations and characters into the world of Tempest Blades as a way to remember him and a homage. Fionn’s character arc was in part inspired by the plans we both had at the time of his passing to restart the campaign as I was ‘promoted’ to co-DM and was helping him with the world building and the plot of the campaign. Also Alex’s constant mentions in The Cursed Titans to a deceased friend are references to that personal event, because that’s the kind of things that remain with you, years after.

That absolutely stays with a person and I think it is a wonderful, very personal way to pay homage to your friend.

What would you say is your favorite thing about ttrpgs?

I love that for a couple of hours, you can be another person, with a different history and in a different world, able to have the adventures you won’t ever have in real life, just with the help of a set of dice, some pencils and paper and through the sheer power of imagination. For a moment you can be the hero (or the villain if you want), leave behind all the worries and weights on our shoulders and be as free as you imagined you would be when a kid. For me, that and the friendships you make through the game are what makes them truly special.

Yes, I agree that the camaraderie really is something special. And, as a reader, it’s already pretty obvious that I’m a big fan of escapism! 

What would you say to someone who has never played a ttrpg , but is curious about it?

The best way to learn about them is playing them. That said, nowadays ttrpg is not the niche hobby it was 20 years ago when I was in college, it has even been showcased in some tv shows like in Community (which I believe is the most “accurate” depiction so far). It has become more accessible and there are more resources to learn about them: facebook groups, your local hobby store, youtube videos, podcasts. Personally, if you are still curious about them but don’t want to commit to play just yet, you can listen to actual play podcasts of which I confess I’m a big fan and there are several good ones. My personal favorites by far are The Dark Dice (which is a D&D horror themed game that includes in its second season Jeff Goldblum. Yes, that Jeff), and Dumbgeons & Dragons, (a more traditional story of adventure but the chemistry between players is off the chart and their comments are hilarious. It’s my go to show to listen when I’m feeling down and it always manages me to cheer me up). Or if you are more visually inclined, check some of the gaming sessions by Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated (from the guys of Penny Arcade, which also from time to time featured Wil Wheaton) in YouTube. Many games as well offer free or really cheap starter kits on their website or Amazon, like the D&D starter set, so you can get a sense of how it works. 

Word of advice though: don’t believe that D&D is the beginning and the end of the hobby. There are tons of companies, games, settings to choose from: L5R for samurais/ninja, BESM/Anime 5e for anime inspired games, the White Wolf books for your supernatural or mythological inclined. Bureau 13 for those more into the X-Files/Supernatural kind of Stories. Basic Fantasy for a really simple game to play. Call of Cthulhu for classic cosmic horror or Cthulhutech for SF cosmic horror. There are as many settings as fiction subgenres there are, and within them, different settings to play with and within different price ranges for your needs.

But really, the only things you need to play are pencil, paper, a set of dice, friends and above all, a lot of imagination. No need for expensive hardware or software, just what your mind can create.

About the Author:

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. You can find both The Withered King and The Cursed Titans (books one and two) now.

To purchase The Withered King:

Amazon

To purchase The Cursed Titans:

Amazon