Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: Shadowless by Randall Mcnally

Banner Credit: Anca Antoci

For Self-published Authors Appreciation Week, it is only fitting that I repost a review of one of the most uniquely-written fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure to read. My review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.

Grim and fascinating, Shadowless is a masterpiece told in shades of gray. It is a fantasy of the epic variety, one with incredible world building.

Every now and then, in the Northern Realms, a child will be born without a shadow. These children are half-human/half-gods, a concept that is very reminiscent of Greek mythology. They each have a bit of their godly father’s power. Where the book goes from here, though, is completely unique. See, a god’s offspring can be used as a vessel to gather more power, which the gods harvest in the most brutal of ways. These Shadowless are hunted. Their killers are soldiers, priests, even the gods themselves. How do you survive when even the gods want you dead?

Shadowless unfolds in a very unusual way: each chapter follows a different character and is almost a short story. Eventually these individual threads form a tapestry, rich in detail and creativity. The Shadowless are gathered together by a mysterious figure, with a common goal: ensure their safety by any means necessary.

Each character is fully formed and developed, adding their own one-of-a-kind perspective. In fact, every character’s story could easily be made into a separate novel, complete and incredibly interesting. Rarely is there that much detail in a book with multiple points of view. It was impressive, to say the least.

Another point in the book’s favor is that the reader doesn’t have to wait long to understand what being Shadowless means: an explanation is given in the very first part. It helped to know a little bit more early on, as there were so many characters that trying to figure things out without much detail would have detracted from the story.

I loved each character (oh-and did I mention that here there be dragons?). However, where author Randall McNally truly shines is in his ability to paint vivid pictures of a grim world, one filled with darkness, but not quite hopeless. That tiny shred of hope–call it a refusal to lay down and give up–lends extra layers to a book that is already extremely nuanced.

This is a longer book, but I flew through it, sucked into both the story and the world. Shadowless is a perfect book for fans of large, sweeping fantasies. Any book that contains complex histories, secrets to be discovered, and meddling gods is one that I’ll happily disappear into.

Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Roland- Self-published Authors Appreciation Week

Surprise! It’s Self-published Authors Appreciation Week! I’m starting off with a review of Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland.

Villains aren’t born, they’re made.

Witt was an ordinary NPC—a non-player character in a video game. As a kobold skald, he sang songs to empower heroes before they entered the local dungeons.

Every day was a fresh start. Every day Witt woke with no memory of his previous encounters with all those so-called heroes. And every day he forgot the countless beatings and deaths he took at the hands of the murder hobos he valiantly buffed.

But when all of those memories suddenly come flooding back, he only wants one thing:

Revenge. (taken from Amazon)

This book was a delight. At the beginning, it seemed a little like Groundhog Day, showing the loop that our kobold friend is stuck in. Witt, our main character (and the kobold in question), spends his day singing his songs to buff the adventurers that come his way, making them stronger in battle. He goes home, goes to sleep, then repeats the day again. One day something happens that jogs his memory: often these adventurers kill NPCs such as himself just for giggles. He respawns the next day and repeats the same situation, over and over. With this revelation, Witt decides to get revenge. Thus, the path to villainy begins, as the once NPC becomes a full-blown character, and master of his own destiny.

Path to Villainy could have been simply a goofy little tale, good for a laugh and not much else. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this book took the concept of a revenge-hungry character and turned it into something new and different. I have to say, the fact that the main character is a kobold added a little something to the tale. Witt is a wonderful character, and watching him slowly turn from helpful little plot device to an angry, violent little soon-to-be master villain was so much fun!

This is LitRPG at its finest. The length was perfect: short enough that the concept didn’t get old, but long enough to make it a complete story. Path to Villainy was immensely entertaining, and a great book for both fans of LitRPG and online games such as WoW.

Self-published fantasy authors: an interview with Dorian Hart

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

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

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

Who are the Heroes of Spira? They are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author Bio:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

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

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

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

About the author:

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

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Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhwillison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Bios:

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

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

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image credit: Amazon

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

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

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

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

About M.D. Presley:

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

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an interview with Luke Tarzian

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Characters one-hundred percent.”

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

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

What was the hardest character or part to write? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Self-published Fantasy Authors: an Interview with Marcus Lee

I’m so excited to be joined by Marcus Lee, author of Kings and Daemons. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about Kings and Daemons?

“Well, Kings and Daemons is my first published book. It is also the first in a trilogy called ‘The gifted and the cursed.’

It seems that for different people it is many different things, for some, it is dark fantasy, for others high fantasy, or even fantasy romance.

I have tried to craft a story in a genre that is littered with magic and powers without limits, whereby those who are gifted by the gods are also cursed, and thus it adds balance. There are no omnipotent characters, and I’d like to think everyone is fallible, vulnerable and torn about many of the choices they have to make that are often forced upon them. We see guilt, love, jealousy, betrayal, greed, ambition, sacrifice, and so much more from many different characters.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil the plot for possible readers. Yet, if someone wants more flesh added to the bones, I can only point them to your own review, or that of many other amazing bloggers who wrote novellas singing praises of the plot. These can be found linked to my review page on the website http://www.marcusleebooks.com.”

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

“I grew up reading fantasy from an early age. Anyone who knows me or followed the recent blog tour will likely be familiar with my tales of reading Homer the Illiad and Oddysey around the age of seven. Thereafter it was tales of greek heroes, mythology, then moving into mainstream fantasy was a mere step away. Being such an avid reader (I did branch into sci-fi here and there) it was only natural that if I were to write, it would be fantasy through and through. Saying that, I a half-finished sci-fi standalone book that I might go back to one day… so never say never.

I’ve written so many short stories and poetry throughout the years, but a beautiful woman who had a hugely positive impact on my life was the main inspiration for me picking up a quill and putting it to parchment. My son was also an important reason, for I wanted to leave him a legacy that lived on, and we have agreed to start a family tradition whereby every father writes a book or books for their children.”

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

“For me, the characters come first. I so wanted people to love every character I created or loved to hate them. If you can get readers to invest emotion in the characters, then the plot follows easily, and it matters less what the characters do, as long as it is them doing it. Of course, I wanted the plot to keep readers on the edge of the seat, constantly pulling them along, wanting to read ‘just one more chapter’ so don’t think I ignored that at all.”

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

“All the handsome, witty ones! … if only. Seriously though, many of the characters and a lot of the emotions are from personal experience or from people I know. I would like to think I am a warrior without peer like Kalas, or a bit of a rogue like Taran, but I think I would be doing their characters a disservice if they were supposed to be like me… However, Taran is a bit of a romantic.. and I can’t help but admit to being one myself.. so perhaps him, if any.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“I think for me some of the most enjoyable, but difficult parts to write, were the backstories of the characters, both primary and secondary without it being an info dump or burdensome on the reader. For me, these were important parts of the worldbuilding, and gave readers an understanding into the motives behind actions, or to help the reader understand how they became, who they became. People in this world are not born evil, events shaped them, and I wanted the reader to not be treated as a fool with just glib portrayals. What I have liked about so many reviews is that readers had so many favourite characters based a lot on understanding their historic journeys.”

Your book took a darker tone, without crossing the line into completely hopeless. How were you able to write positivity into a negative world?

“If you think book one took a darker tone, sadly (spoiler alert) there is much more to come. Yet, life and writing is about finding balance. For me, Maya’s gift was the key, showing that spark of hope on the darkest of nights. Sometimes that is all it takes, one small spark to start a fire that burns with a brightness that can be seen from the heavens.”


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

“That’s a tough question, especially as in my books I try and have the propensity for both good and heinous deeds in every character, with the exception of perhaps Maya. I enjoyed writing the stories for all my characters equally, even crafting backstories for the secondary characters was a joy irrespective of their leaning toward light or darkness. So, I’ll sit on the fence on this one.”

Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

“I knew the plot in my head from start to finish, but never wrote it down, so I guess I am more a pantser (which by the way I had to google) .. I already have my next trilogy in my head, but as I’ll be working on this project for a while yet, who knows maybe I’ll jot some notes down … maybe.”

What do you do to get “in the zone”?

“I really do need ‘peace and quiet’ from others around me and also from other ‘things’ that need attention. So, if I have a must-do list, there would be no point trying to write. Once all those things are out of the way I can turn on some familiar music that suits the mood of what I am trying to write.”

What’s your next goal?

“I have two main goals.

  1. To continue with polishing ‘Tristan’s Folly’ the second book in the series. It was going to be ready for release in August, yet I had some new ideas which involved a ‘little’ rewrite. So it is delayed by about a month, maybe a touch more. ‘The end of dreams’ book three, is already written as well, so it’s just editing, editing, editing, proofreading, beta reading etc. to get them ready.
  2. I also really want to engage with readers who have enjoyed the book. It isn’t just because I want to grow my fanbase, although that would be lovely, it is because of the inspiration positive feedback gives me. Reading a good review, or receiving a message saying someone liked the book, is like a legal drug, I get so high and become enthused and creative. Even negative critique makes me strive to be better, as long as it is delivered nicely.

There’s a reason I am open to DM’s on Twitter and have my email up on my website, so if anyone wants to reach out, I would love them to do so.”

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

“In which case, Kings and Daemons! In some ways, anything you put so much time, love and life into, will be so close to your heart that it is hard not to feel that way. Who knows, once more books are out I’ll have another favourite.

However, it would be horribly narcissistic to just say my own and not give credit to others, so, I think it would have to be ‘Lion of Macedon’ by David Gemmel. I love historical fantasy, and greek mythology is my favourite, so it fits perfectly.”

Self-Published Fantasy Authors: an interview with author Jesse Nolan Bailey

The Jealousy of Jalice (A Disaster of Dokojin Book 1) by [Jesse Nolan Bailey]

Today, I’m excited to hear from Jesse Nolan Bailey, author of The Jealousy of Jalice. Thank you so much for taking a bit of time to chat with me!

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

The book is an adult dark fantasy featuring female protagonists (anti-heroines), demons, and plenty of bleak moments. It begins with two women enacting a scheme to overthrow a tyrant chief by first kidnapping his wife. Annilasia whisks Jalice off into a forest infested with beasts and demonic entities, while Delilee remains behind to spy on the chief. Yet a dangerous event from Jalice’s past threatens to undo their schemes.

It’s a book that caters to readers who want that spooky, creepy vibe in their fantasy stories, almost horror at times, but still maintains a tale that explores what it means to be human and all the emotions that come with that.

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

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction. If there’s aliens, ghosts, or dragons involved, count me in. Some of my favorite childhood series were The Magic Treehouse series, any Star Wars EU books, and The Bailey School Kids series. My obsession with fantastical tales only grew from there, and from a young age I knew I wanted to be a fantasy author.

Fantasy uses other-worldly settings and characters to draw in the reader, and provides a form of escape for a lot of people. Yet, I also found that, with a lot of fantasy, it speaks on real-life issues and emotions. I was a shy kid, and books helped me digest the real world around me while still hooking me with those fantastical elements. Books also taught me the power that words held, and how stories could be incredibly influential.

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

Both. Honestly, it’s usually a scene. I listen to instrumental movie scores to get inspired, and often times inspiration strikes when I envision a character in a specific setting or involved in some pivotal act. Almost like a movie trailer. I get bits and pieces that seem intriguing to me, and they slowly come together as I get to outlining the story further.

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

Most certainly, yes. Well-written characters evolve from a writer being able to tap into the character’s mindset and emotions. Doing so requires the writer to dig deep, and in my personal experience, it’s meant I’ve had to sit and mull over my own emotions and memories. Even villains are written this way. I think we view villains as ‘other’ or ‘inhuman’, but its usually their actions that fit those terms—their emotions, on the other hand, probably are more relatable than people would initially admit. Jealousy, anger, selfishness: we all experience these. It’s just our story-villains take those emotions and take extraordinary action on them that the average person wouldn’t. Or, at the very least, they take exaggerated actions.

Basically, yes, I think each of my main characters reflects different parts of me. Jalice is naïve and perpetuates a false innocence when really she is in denial of her past sins. Annilasia starts with a righteous anger over the state of her world, but this righteous anger quickly devolves into self-righteous pride and an uncontrollable temper. The villain, Hydrim, is stuck in a mindset of control and power with an unwillingness to examine his motivations and vulnerabilities that fuel that mindset.

I’ve been there—each of those mindsets. I think we all have in different moments of our lives.

What was the hardest character or part to write?

This is going to sound kind of silly, but honestly, for me its how a character looks. Finding unique and interesting ways to flesh out how a character looks and what they wear is difficult. My mindset if usually ‘get to the story, get to the magic, who cares what they look like?’ That, of course, isn’t going to fly with my readers, so I had to spend time learning how and when to describe a character’s looks.

I’ve heard this book being described as darker in tone? Would you agree?

Absolutely. That was my intention. This is certainly fantasy: there’s magic, there’s monsters, there’s swords and arrows. But this isn’t The Chronicles of Narnia by any means. My characters are incredibly flawed (i.e. not exactly noble for the most part), and the world they live in is harsh. Deformed monsters lurk in the bleak forest, and demon-like entities stalk the astral realms. Blood and screams infest the pages of this book.

Yet this wasn’t for the sake of shock value. I felt the darker setting was appropriate given the underlying themes I sought to explore. The personal betrayals and delusional mindsets are reflected in the world my characters inhabit.

What were some obstacles and joys of writing a bleaker world?

I worried that readers seeking fantasy would be put off by the horror elements. It felt like a risk. Fantasy typically features a noble and hopeful vibe, and although that still exists within this story, the bleaker world definitely swallows that up at times. From initial reactions though, readers seem to be enjoying this surprising genre-blend.

I enjoyed writing the horror elements. Horror evokes deep-rooted emotions that every human experiences: fear and dread. I think embedding those in with the fantasy setting helps accentuate the themes I was exploring. My characters get to interact with magic and swords while confronting their worst fears and the horrific effects of some of their decisions.

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

Easier? Probably the hero, though I use the term ‘hero’ very loosely whenever TJOJ is involved in the discussion. My protagonists aren’t heroes in the traditional definition. They’re just not evil enough to be considered villains. Villainous characters can be tough to write because they can easily become a caricature or cliché.

More fun? I think they both offer fun elements. Heroes get to save the day, but I honestly get the most enjoyment forcing my heroes to confront their flaws. Heroes are only as strong as their greatest vulnerabilities and their courage to face those alongside the monsters. Villains, on the other hand, are fun to write because (at least for me) it’s a sort of cathartic examination of the darker experiences of humanity. Perhaps that sounds troubling, but we all must at some point examine the seeds of darkness within ourselves. Writing villains allows an almost therapeutic outlet for that.

How do you “get in the writing zone”?

Music is a quick way to jump-start inspiration. So I listen to an instrumental song that fits the scene I’m attempting to dive into. Usually, sugar and caffeine are involved as well. I’m an author—the job description demands I be addicted to either coffee or tea. I’ve chosen coffee (easier to excuse the copious amounts of sugar I combine with it. Can’t get away with that as much with tea).

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

That’s a tough question. I think the book that has stuck with me the most is The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I haven’t even finished the series it belongs to (got half way through the series twice, but never have the momentum to get past that midway point). Yet, I really enjoy Jordan’s style of writing and the characters he created. Alongside Patrick Rothfuss, Jordan is who I hope to emulate someday with my writing style.