Category Archives: Interview

Interview with A. E. Marling

Today we have an interview with  A. E. Marling.  He is the author the best selling “Brood of Bones” a very unique epic fantasty.  This enthralling mystery has a complex and well detailed world and it comes highly recommended.
MD: This world is so original it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s start with this world’s religious/supernatural elements? Can you briefly describe the role Enchantress’, the Bright Palms, Feasters, and any other devotes of gods/goddesses in this world?

Briefly describe? No, I can’t.
I will say the Bright Palms disbelieve in all gods and hold nothing sacred except the heroic labors of the common man. That they also shun wealth puts them at odds with the enchantresses, who require jewels and gold for their craft. The Bright Palms also object to dread illusionists stalking the night, the Feasters.

MD: A lot of little details not often described in most fictions (such as clothes and jewelry and other accessories) seem to have a supreme importance in the book? Was this a conscious decision due to the personality of the main protagonist, or where their other reasons involved?

Jewels are the cogs and gears on which the protagonist’s magic turns. She also carves them as a hobby, and they’re a solace and a distraction for her in a life made difficult by her condition of chronic sleepiness. Enchantress Hiresha feels ashamed that she sleeps more than she lives, and to her, the gowns she wears are shields against potential scorn.

MD: This book is written from one main perspective and still maintains several fully fleshed out ‘background’ characters. Was there a specific influence or reason you preferred the novel to be from the perspective of one characters? Was there any issues stemming from those limitations?

In Brood of Bones the protagonist searches for the sorcerer responsible for wronging the women of her city, drawing power from their unnatural pregnancies. The story is a mystery, and in that genre, first person is the norm. Perhaps you could call Brood of Bones the Dresden Files in a dress. In many dresses, to be precise.

MD: With the exception of Jenny most people seem unaware of their weaknesses, and sometimes strengths. Is this a reaction to the lack of this in many books, or was it an unconscious decision or is there another motivation behind it?

A spoonful of realism helps the fantasy go down, and in real life, people rarely admit to their own weaknesses.

MD: Was there any specific inspiration for this book? Was all of it an attempt not to be similar to other fantasy novels, as the plot, world, and characters are very unique? Did you create the world as a whole first, or did little parts of it come to you at different times?

Enchantress Hiresha, the protagonist in my story, must succeed in spite of her disease of sleepiness, which we might call Idiopathic Hypersomnia. Once I had crafted her character I chose a plot that I felt would most test her. I threw her into the situation that would most upset her, the worst thing that could happen to her, because I respect her as a character. Strange, she has not thanked me for it.

MD: What is your background as a writer? Have you written anything in the past or are you inspired by any particular writers or styles or other media?

I wrote my first fantasy novella after my freshman year in high school. In college, I found nothing gave me a greater urge to write than science lectures, and I sat through a lot of ‘em. I have yet to repent my fascination with fantasy and am intrigued by its grip on the human imagination.
I am inspired by Sir Terry Pratchett, Brandon Sanderson, Oscar Wilde, and PG Wodehouse.

MD: You delved right into events, with little explanation of the world or its characters. This means the reader has to keep up to understand what is happening or the importance of events, but gets rid of using clunky or artificial devices for explaining the world too. Was that the main reason for this style, or what other reasons (or reactions to other novels) were behind telling the story this way?

I respect the intelligence of my readers, and I assume they’re as impatient as I am to delve to the glittering vein of a story’s plot. I don’t feel the need to burden the narrative with every last facet of a fantasy world, and I trust readers to gather what they need to know based on the interactions between characters and the protagonist’s worries and musings.

MD: Are you planning other books with any of these characters? If not, why, if so, how connected will it be to the events of this book?

I have written two more stories set in the Lands of Loam, and one will feature Enchantress Hiresha as well as the Lord of the Feast. The other is a YA novel with an antihero protagonist. The former at least will be published this year. Currently I’m machinating novels beyond those.


MD: That’s all for this today!  Next blog: the new cover!


Interview with Dave Meek

Today’s interview is with Dave Meek, author of Stalker Squadron a modern or slightly future techno thriller.  He is a member of the Genre Underground, and he has some great real world experience to bring to his exciting novels!

MD: There was a lot of precise military details, from tech to chain of command in this book.  What is your military background?

Dave:  I spent eight years as a naval flight officer.  I was a flight navigator and an airborne communications officer with over 2,000 flight hours.  That’s a lot for one tour with a squadron, but that was the nature of the work.  My first assignment was a unique squadron that flies highly classified missions.  Most of what we did was strategically, rather than tactically, oriented.  After that assignment, I rotated to an anti-submarine warfare training center, which was very different from my squadron.  It was there that I worked with ex-military contractors.  In short, I pretty much lived the foundation of what I used for the military material in the book.

MD: How much of the details in this book were from personal experience, how much was researched, and how much was fabricated?

Dave: What I find most interesting about the story’s technology is that it holds up so well.  I originally wrote the story in 1998, back when drones were basically remote-controlled post-war aircraft used for target practice for fighter pilot training and weapons testing.  At that time, people were just starting to suggest using drones for spying or carrying weapons.

In 1998, I had just finished a contract as technical writer for Intel Corporation, so I had a good understanding of leading-edge computer technology, the direction of development, and the future potential.  I also did considerable research into military aviation technology in addition to my own military experience.  Combined, what I learned was that by the time we see the “leading edge” technology, it’s actually old tech and nearly obsolete.  The pipeline that we don’t see is already full.  What we consider “leading edge” is often 5-10 years old.

So what I did with the story was to ask not, “What’s next?” but, “What’s after that?”  Basically, I assumed “what’s next” had happened and used that vantage point to better see what was after that.  I tried to imagine what was actually just entering the pipeline.  Based on what we’re seeing now, I think I hit the mark.

The downside was that when I finally got an agent in 2000 and shopped the story around, no one would pick it up.  We got several responses that the story was “science fiction” rather than techno-thriller or action-adventure.  My agent asked if we should rebrand it as science fiction, but I know science fiction well enough to know this story isn’t true science fiction, nor could I make it so.  Now, if one keeps up with this sort of thing, you’ll see that we are preparing to deploy drones that are almost at the level of the Stalkers in my story.

As for the people and places, I researched just about everything, and used my research as a foundation for fabrication.  So the technology was 90 percent research and 10 percent fabricated, which consisted mostly of how I combined separate technologies into a new whole.  As for the rest, it’s roughly 40 percent research and 60 percent fabrication.  Most of the fabrication comes from assembling something new from a variety of separate parts.

MD: Kate is a very original protagonist for a techno thriller, and very three dimensional.  What where you influences for her as a character (literary, real life, anything else)?

Dave: First of all, thanks for the compliment!  As a writer, it’s always a joy to hear that a reader has enjoyed a story and its characters.

Now, to answer your question, Kate’s character was influenced by everything you mentioned and more.  Frankly, I find a lot of “strong” women characters to be guys in drag.  But a woman doesn’t need to act like a guy to be strong.  In fact, the strong women I’ve known have all been strong in a very female sort of way.  I’m talking about women who have raised four or five kids on their own after being widowed.  I grew up near quite a few families like that during the time of the Vietnam War.  I also read stories written by women.  There’s even a little Sigourney Weaver thrown into Kate.

MD: All of the characters in this book have their own goals and drives, and most can even clash with their allies and friends.  As a reader, I loved this and it drove the plot in interesting directions.  Was it a conscious decision to do this, and as a writer did you let the plot change based on the individual drives?  Or where these goals each people had created when you made the characters for the specific point of reaching certain places in your plot?

Dave: I’ve been on a lot of teams and projects in the military, the private sector, and the public sector.  The reality is that people have shared goals and their own goals, and sometimes those different goals clash.  I wanted that sort of realism in my story.

I was very careful to ensure that each side, the good guys and the bad guys, had their own goals and drives that often clashed.  At the same time, the good guys’ differences were all focused in the same direction, and the bad guys’ differences were all focused on separate directions.

MD: For a very Political based book (as anything dealing with the White House and interactions with other countries is) you definitely stayed away from having the characters be from specific parties or even overall espousing specific political views.  Was this done intentionally to make the book itself be non-political?  Was it so that politics would not get in the way of the story or other reasons?

Dave: Politics is a very hot topic, especially these days, and emotions often run high. As a writer, I want my books to have as wide an appeal as possible.  On the other hand, Stalker Squadron deals with a conspiracy against the president of the United   States, and things don’t get much more political than that.  I felt I owed my readers a story that people from all parts of the political spectrum could enjoy.  So I tried to distill the common elements at both ends of the political extremes, which is basically, “grab power, push it to the max, and don’t compromise.”  That’s an oversimplification, of course, but the idea was to present things in a way that everyone relates to without being offensive to anyone.  It’s a tightrope walk.

MD: Your Chapters contained multiple character, time, and location viewpoints (separated by when and where each scene took place).  Taking this into account, what did you use to define when you wanted a new chapter to start?

Dave: I treated each chapter as a separate, small story within the larger story.  I felt that, within reason, each chapter had to be somewhat self-contained.  It wasn’t always easy to define the limits, and of course each chapter needed linkage to the rest of the story.  But this approach helped the story build step-by-step.  I also took advantage of chapter breaks to control the pace and build suspense.

MD: What is you writing experience/background?  Have you written anything before?

Dave: My interest in writing started when I was 14.  I enjoyed reading stories and watching stories told in movies and TV shows.  At some point, I realized someone had to tell those stories, and I was awed by the idea that a person could take the vaporous images in his mind, put them on paper, and have the same images appear in another person’s mind.  At that time, I tried writing short stories simply by writing the events as I imagined them.

In college, I took a class in which the entire semester was spent reading and analyzing Homer’s Odyssey.  It was then that I was introduced to the structure of story telling and the power of symbolism.  Good storytelling is more than stitching together a bunch of events.

Since leaving the Navy, I worked for 11 years as a technical writer, mostly in the computer industry for companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, as well as with state government entities.  On the side, I’ve written a bunch of short stories, some of which I consider to be fairly good.  I’ve also written two novel-length stories, one of which was a 900-page monster.  Neither of those is worthy of publishing, but they honed my ability to write structured, consistent stories that hold a reader’s attention.  Stalker Squadron was the first story in which I did those things while simultaneously my writing began to come fluidly, without being forced.  (Well, mostly.)

MD: Are there plans to do more books with any of these characters?  Or do you prefer to write self-contained books?  Either way, why?

Dave: I always start by envisioning a self-contained book.  I find this approach helps me focus on the story at hand; otherwise, I’d get distracted too easily.  Also, although the idea of a series or spin-off always hovers around in the background, I figure that if the original story succeeds, those considerations will take care of themselves.  If the story doesn’t succeed, a series or spin-off probably won’t succeed either, so there’s little point in my thinking about it too soon.

Now that Stalker Squadron is done, I have plans for a spin-off with Major Eckland and his team facing off against terrorists.  I find the storyline very timely and intriguing, and I’ve made extensive notes.  However, I’m currently working on another story that suddenly grabbed my imagination and won’t let go.  But Eckland’s time in the limelight will come next.

MD: What writers or other media have influenced your writing?

Dave: Number one is Homer’s Odyssey, which is perhaps the greatest story every told.  It spans the entirety of human experience and psychology.  Our technology and mores have changed since Homer’s day, but basic human qualities have not.  The next greatest influence is Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.  It’s nearly a handbook on human psychology and behavior, although it’s definitely skewed toward the darker side of the human psyche.  After that, there are a number of influences, but none that particularly strong, except perhaps an ever-present but somewhat mild Hemingway influence.

MD: What is your next book and how far through into it are you?

Dave: I just started chapter 7 of my next book, and it’s a complete departure from Stalker Squadron.  It’s a fantasy about a secret society living within our society.  It’s a worldwide yet extraordinarily small society.  They have special powers, of course, but they aren’t strong enough to survive discovery by society at large.  An internal power struggle threatens this secret society and the outcome of that struggle will have consequences for them and the rest of us.

For a variety of reasons, I’m very excited about this next book.  First, M. Todd Gallowglas is helping me with it, and he’s an amazingly talented and creative writer.  I have some characters, and he has others that conflict with them.  It all makes for some very challenging but exciting writing.  Also, every story contains a “special world” in which the characters operate, and every special world has its own rules.

For example, the special world of Stalker Squadron was that of military pilots, computer experts, high technology, and politics.  The characters had to behave and react according to the inherent rules of that world.  It was a fun story to write.  But it was somewhat limiting too.  They couldn’t violate the rules of physics and aviation, the limitations of technology, and the realities of politics.

With this new story, we have created an entirely new society with its own rules of behavior.  Their powers have special rules as well.  It’s challenging but fun to see how we can manipulate these rules to achieve interesting effects.  And for me, the most fun is seeing how I can push the rules to the limit, to reach logical results that surprise the reader and yet are entirely consistent with the special world.  And I’m finding the story telling is so fluid that it’s completely unforced.  I can’t wait to see what readers think of it.

Interview with Christopher Kellen

Today’s Interview is with Christopher Kellen, the author many books, including the highly popular “The Arbiter Codex.”  I conducted this interview after reading Elegy, and it is not necessary to have read the novel to enjoy the Interview.

MD:      Central to your entire novel is the concept of manna.  It drives everything about the plot and characters of this world.  Can you please describe it, and the things that make it a unique magic/energy source in contrast to things it may be compared to?

Christopher: There are many fantasy stories and worlds that deal with some kind of life force, some central source of energy that wizards or others can draw from. When I began writing ELEGY, my central hypothesis was: what if that life force was actually deadly to everyone it touched? What if it drove them mad, turned them into monsters, outright destroyed them?


After I solidified that idea in my head, I realized that if the good side of the life force (which I decided to call ‘manna’) was deadly, then the bad side must be even worse. If it also had a bad side, there must be someone who was immune to the deadly power.


As of my latest Arbiter Codex book, LEGACY, more about the source of the manna, where it came from and just why it’s so deadly have been revealed, but I’ll avoid going into more detail to avoid spoilers.


MD:        The title of the series is The  Arbiter Codex.  Could explain the roles of Arbiters in this world?

Christopher: Corrupted manna (that is, the ‘bad’ side I mentioned above) creates monsters. It turns normal things into hideous versions of themselves, and has actually nurtured strains of monsters going back generations that have become separate species.


The Arbiter’s job is to hunt down the places where the life force has become snarled. Normally, it flows like a river, but if someone exerts too much force on it, or if someone attempts to hoard it, the power spoils and becomes corrupted. This usually results in a great many terrible things: walking corpses, horrific monsters, and otherwise rational people gone insane. The Arbiters, working from their Tower, seek out those places, destroy the monsters, and return things to normal.


MD:     The Arbiters have a few unique pieces of equipment and the way they interact with manna.  Can you let us know of the heart blade, the manna blade and other things the Arbiters use to carry out their duty?

Christopher: I’ve dreamed about a crystalline sword for a long time. I have story fragments going back ten years or more that feature this particular concept, but none of them worked until I started writing ELEGY. There is heavy color symbolism featured in The Arbiter Codex, and the glow of the crystal manna swords represented it perfectly. It allows them to be instantly recognized, for no normal person could carry the power of the manna so closely to them.


The heartblade came out of a need to explain more about how the Arbiter’s world works. I debated heavily on just what it was that allowed the Arbiter to be immune to the power of the manna. Originally, the plan was for them to have been exposed to the power in small doses starting at a very young age, but that didn’t provide enough of the ‘hopeless world’ feeling that I wanted. Instead, I turned them into addicts; the heartblade is a tiny, needle-like blade that recharges itself over time (from a specific place, not from the manna as a whole) that must be driven into the Arbiter’s heart. It both recharges them and re-ups their immunity to the manna’s deadly influence. Without it, they would die.


MD:       The Pulp influences on your novels is very visible.  Let us know why you love this style of writing, and ways you incorporated it into your novel.

Christopher: I wrote ELEGY in 2008, for National Novel Writing Month. At the time, I had just finished a two-year stint as a graphic designer and formatter for a small press that was working with public domain properties like Tarzan, John Carter, and Lovecraft. During the process, I had learned a lot about the old pulp stories, and got introduced to Howard for the first time. I can’t really describe how immediately and thoroughly Howard’s work spoke to me. Around that time I was also introduced to Karl Edward Wagner, whose Kane stories I also count among my biggest influences, and I also discovered the work of Andrzej Sapkowski, the modern-day pulp writer of The Witcher.


From the moment I began writing, I imagined D’Arden Tal as a combination between Geralt of Rivia (the Witcher himself) and Solomon Kane – a religious zealot who is also an outsider, thought of with suspicion even though he is the only one who can save them.


Reading the pulp stories has led me to where I belong, I think. I’ve grown tired of stories where a ‘farmer’s boy’ finds some magic MacGuffin and saves the world from an overbearing evil. I like it when my characters are already competent before entering the story, when they’re already world-weary or at the top of their game. They face down some horrific evil, and they may change, or they may not. Conan took the crown of Aquilonia, but it never changed him. Wagner’s Kane was an immortal who never changed, no matter what he went through – he was always a magnificent bastard. Those are my favorite characters, and that’s what I’ve been striving for.


MD:      The novel moves along at a very steady pace that makes it hard to put down.  Is there anything specific you did to keep it that way, such as cut things out after your wrote it, make a conscious decision to not write anything that does not directly move the narrative along, etc?

Christopher: Well, I’m definitely glad that you feel that way!


Actually, ELEGY is sort of an interesting beast, because when I wrote it, I struggled for every word; and not in an angsty, ‘it-has-to-be-perfect’ way. For many years, it was very difficult for me to write any work, because they always came up short on the word count. I’d write what I felt was a complete short story and it would be 1,100 words. I’d try for a novel and get 13,000. Thankfully, this has now changed, but at the time it was very difficult.


Honestly, the reason that ELEGY is so tight is because every bit of plot was necessary to keep my words coming to hit the 50,000 goal for NaNoWriMo. In fact, in its first incarnation, ELEGY ended at precisely  50,000 words. I cleaned up a lot of the NaNo-isms and revised it so that it all flows together much more solidly now (and changed the ending significantly, which seems to be a theme for me) and it turned into a very tight, fast-paced (but short) novel.


MD:       Are all your novels set in the same world?  If not where else are they set in, and if so how do they tie together?

Christopher: Ever since I was very young, I’ve dreamed of having a world in which I could set multiple stories, at multiple times, in many different places. A world that I could explore, with characters that I loved.


At last, I think I’ve found that place, although I never expected it to come from where it did. When I wrote ELEGY, it was never supposed to have a sequel. It was just a discarded NaNo project. When I started revising it for submission to a now-defunct webzine, I began to realize that there was more potential in it than I had originally thought. It took a lot of thinking, but I finally decided that I would call the world “Eisengoth” and give it a heavily-Germanic influence.


Right now, I have three series set in this world of mine: The Arbiter Codex, The Elements of Sorcery (book 2 launched July 20, 2012), and Tales of Eisengoth.


The core story is found in the Arbiter Codex. The Elements of Sorcery is exploring the history of one of the secondary characters, the sorcerer Edar Moncrief. The Tales of Eisengoth contain other stories about the world, the characters, and their history.


MD:        The instant feeling a lot of people get when reading your novel is “Conan meets Star Wars.”  How would you describe your series in your own words, and how much of the above description seems true to you?

Christopher: I don’t disagree with that assessment, although the quasi-religious wanderer is inspired less by the Jedi than it is by Solomon Kane. The crystal swords certainly do evoke the idea of the lightsaber, which wasn’t entirely unintentional. I mean, come on. There’s pretty much nothing more awesome than a lightsaber!


Really, though, I like to think of my work as a spiritual aspirant to the great pulp work that has been mostly forgotten. People don’t think of Conan when they think of fantasy (a string of miserable adaptation attempts to bring it into the modern consciousness doesn’t help), they think of Tolkien, and Dragonlance, and Harry Potter (high fantasy, Dungeons-and-Dragons-derived-high-fantasy, and modern fantasy respectively).  I want to bring the idea of heroic fantasy back to life in my work: Howard, with modern sensibilities; and Lovecraft, with just the terrifying monsters, and without the horrifying racism.


MD:       What is your background with writing?  Any formal training, influences, or early projects you did that drive how you write?

Christopher: The only training I have is the thousands of books and stories that I’ve read. I’ve never formally studied the writing process, but I started reading very young, and I’ve never stopped.  I was also very fortunate to get brought into my parents’ D&D group at the tender age of 6, and when my Dungeon Master moved away, I became the DM for my group of friends at about age 12. That started me on the world-building process, and to this day I absolutely love gaming and collaborative storytelling.


Unfortunately, there’s also a downside to that last part: the tropes and methods of role-playing are so deeply ingrained in my consciousness that I often have to struggle against those instincts in order to write!


I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2005, and it was mostly just a way to have some fun during the month of November, since I kind of liked to write (but I would never finish anything that I started). Doing NaNo was really the propulsion that led me toward where I am now, and I would never have done that without my then-girlfriend (now my wife) telling me that I should.


All of those things combined, plus a healthy love for the methods of storytelling, some of Holly Lisle’s no-nonsense writing techniques, a deep desire to communicate, and a lot of encouragement are really what keeps me going.


MD:       Do you have any dream projects you would want to work on? This could include original takes on existing properties, genres you have not written in before, etc.

Christopher: Well, I wrote a science-fiction short story (available as Dutiful Daughter) which I need to turn into a full-blown novel at some point. That’s definitely on the horizon.


I’ve never been overall too comfortable working in other peoples’ worlds or with their characters; I’ve always preferred to work with my own. Still, as a creative exercise a few months ago I re-structured the plot of the video game Mass Effect 3 to fit my sensibilities, and that was a lot of fun as a thought experiment.


Right now, my dream is really to keep learning and growing; to try out different genres and different kinds of stories, and to keep improving my methods. If something else should come up along the way, I’ll take a look at it.


I’d also like to (at some point) do a collaboration with another author. I think working on story genesis with another person would be a lot of fun!


MD:     Do you have any novels coming up?  If so let us know more about them.

Christopher: Well, I just released Sorcerer’s Crime, which is Lesson II of the Elements of Sorcery, on July 20. Right now I’m back in the planning and initial drafting phase for a project which I’m tentatively describing as a ‘steampunk/fantasy political thriller’, which will be significantly different than anything I’ve done before.  Since it’s just in the initial phases, it’s hard to say when(or if, frankly) it might be done.


My short-range plans (next 6 months or so) also include the next entry in the Elements of Sorcery (since short fiction is much easier to write, edit and publish), and then I’ll get started on Book Three of the Arbiter Codex. Farther out than that… who knows?

Interview with Robert Eaton writer of “The Hero Always Wins”

Today I will be posting and interview with Rober Eaton, the author of “The Hero Always Wins.”  He is another member of the Genre Underground, and his first novel is both dark fantasy and comedic at the same time, and a very enthralling read.

Here is the interview:

 MD: The world seems to be an interesting mix of seemingly familiar concepts (heroes, fire wielding bad guys, orders of knights with magic swords, etc) with original spins on them (exactly how the heroes work and the warlocks, etc).  Are there any specific inspirations for this world and how it works, or was all of it an original world from the ground up designed to feel like a familiar type of tale?

Robert: As you’ve pointed out, the world of The Hero Always Wins is inspired by a number of traditional fantasy elements.  I love Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the like, and wanted my book to have some of that feel.  However, I think my world has a lot of original elements as well.

One aspect that is unique to the world of The Hero Always Wins is that the scale is much smaller than many other fantasy worlds.  I didn’t want armies of millions where a single hero could hardly have an impact without god-like powers.  Instead, I created world that could be travelled by horse in a matter of a few weeks, and large cities have populations in the thousands.  A few hundred warriors constitute a sizeable army, and individuals can really turn the tide in battle.

MD: Tell us more about how the heroes (and the Leorht) work, and what makes them different from typical tales.  Any world information you want to give, either that can be gleaned from the books, or that you had thought of but not necessarily spelled out in the book.

Robert: I love tales of magic, but one thing that always bothers me in fantasy is when a hero has too much power.  So often I see fantasy series go off the rails because the hero is nearly invincible and only complicated loopholes can challenge him.  To this end, I wanted to create a magic system that gave my heroes power, but kept them vulnerable as well.

Generally, my heroes have a very well defined set of abilities.  Those that follow Leorht, for example, have the ability to wield properties of light.  The move with a heightened sense of speed, and can summon limited amounts of electricity to aid them in battle.  Beyond that, they are as human as any other warrior on the battlefield.

MD:  Without going into spoilers, I will say I enjoy how as the book goes on, the reader cannot necessarily know where things are going with characters, even though at the beginning it seems to be very typical of its genre.  This makes me wonder, did you know an overall outline before you wrote, including the twists, or did the twists come to you as you wrote.  What is your process in general when writing in terms of you the author knowing the plot?

Robert: Most if not all of my plot twists are planned well in advance.  I always develop an outline before I start the actual writing.  At the core of my outline are a series of plot events which form the critical path from beginning to end.  I also throw in specific lines of dialogue, bits of imagery, side plots, and other “cool” ideas I have that I want to work in.  From there, I start writing, and ad lib the details of each chapter as I go.  Sometimes the journey leads to changes in the original outline, but generally the major plot elements go unchanged.

MD:    Your structure is a more typical chapter based structure, but I have noticed many modern idioms and phrases in the chapter titles.  Was this a conscious decision to add some “tongue in cheek” elements to the story or a more unconsciously motivated decision?

Robert: Modern idioms and tongue in cheek phrases are central to my writing.  When I first started writing, I tried to mimic typical fantasy influences from mythology.  However it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t care about mythology.  Instead, I drew on those cultural elements that are near and dear to my heart: pop culture.  So my books, though set in a “traditional” fantasy setting, are chock full of references to sports, music, and modern slang.

As for some of the “tongue in cheek” elements, I love a good pun.  Some people may find it corny, but there is a playful cleverness to puns that amuses me.  I also like to mix in elements of satire, which I think goes hand-in-hand with the cheekiness.

Basically, I live in 21st century America.  Just because my head is in the fantasy world doesn’t mean my feet don’t touch the ground around me!

MD:    Tell us more what got you into writing this book.  Are there any specific trials or stories in your own life that occurred from writing this?

Robert: Honestly, this book is influenced by video games as much as anything else.  I grew up on Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and the Legend of Zelda.  I love heroes like Kratos from God of War, and villains like Arthas from Warcraft.  I started writing partially because video game stories got in my head and I couldn’t get them out.  Does that mean my books would make a good game?  I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.

MD:    What is your background/training as a writer, or any prior experiences in writing?

Robert: I don’t really have any formal training in writing.  I do have two Ivy League degrees, and took a few writing classes along the way, but never majored in English, Creative Writing, or anything like that.  I owe most of my writing ability to genetics and my high school English teachers.  I always did very well in writing throughout school, and I had a few teachers along the way who really helped me understand how to channel my ability into a decent story.

MD:     What would you say you focus on as a writer; themes, plot, or characterization? If it’s a combination of these, let us know which you feel you focus on the most, and why?

Robert: Definitely characterization.  I love my characters, and have a vision for them from cradle to grave.  I don’t generally have characters who managed to live boring lives as simple farmers or blacksmiths until the age of eighteen.  Instead, my characters have colorful backgrounds chock full of adventures that happened before my book begins.  My writing, however, concentrates on what I consider to be the main adventure of a character’s life, the adventure that leads them to ultimate glory or ultimate demise.

My characters have real emotions and real motivations.  They are driven by the same things that drive us all: love, greed, fear, and duty.  In the end, every one of them is doing what they think is right, either for their nation, their loved ones, or themselves.

MD:    What makes you the rock and roll star of fantasy writing?

Robert: Rock and roll has always been central to my life.  I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, watching glam rock and metal morph into grunge and rock-rap.  I always identified with the wild, lustful, and dark undertones in rock music, and I carry those undertones into my writing.  In my mind, every one of my characters looks like someone you could find at a music festival.  Some are on stage, some are carrying equipment, some head-banging in the audience, and some are selling weed behind the porta-potties.  They’re all there though.

MD:   Finally is there anything you would like to tell us about your upcoming book?

Robert: The last question is actually a good segue.  My upcoming book, the sequel to The Hero Always Wins, takes the rock and roll from backstage to center stage.  Music is part of the plot, and one of the settings is a fantasy version of the Sunset Strip circa the mid-80s.

All your favorite characters are back, with the action picking up right where the first book left off.  The mood is darker, the battles bloodier, and the plot twists crazier.  It’s taken a little longer than I’d hoped, but the book is finally coming out this fall, and I couldn’t be more excited.  If you loved The Hero Always Wins, stay tuned; the sequel is going to rock your world!

This concludes the Interview

As for my regular readers it looks like “Mandatory Paradise” is winning completely in the poll for the name for the new standalone Fantasy Thriller Epic Novel!  With the name decided we will be moving soon onto the next stages of getting that novel out.

Interview with M. Todd Gallowglas

Today’s blog will be a little different than normal.  I have an interview with one of the other Genre Underground authors, M. Todd Galloglas (here is a link to the first book in his Tears of Rage story which will be on sale during the Winds of Change promotion!) Let me know how you feel on interviews, and if you would like more from the other talented authors of the Genre Underground.

And now … the interview!

1)Tell us more of your background, how you started in Indie Publishing. Was there any specific events or occurrences that pushed you towards Indie Publishing?

I actually resisted the indie book thing for a couple of years. I was in a writers group, and one of the guys in the group mentioned this new online publishing thing. The dream of a “real” publishing deal had been beaten into my head by all the traditionalists, especially as I regularly attended conventions and conferences in my quest for that publication deal. This may have been in 2007/2008 – maybe earlier.

Flash forward a couple of years. I have a degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing. The plan was for me to go into teaching English while waiting for that elusive “book deal.” That plan wasn’t working out so well. The teaching thing wasn’t panning out in the current economy, and I was back to storytelling at Renaissance Faires to help pay the bills. Within a few days of each other, my wife and several friends send me links to a couple articles about some person names Amanda Hawking and how many ebooks she was selling.

One of my performer buddies had this story he’d written that he shared with me about zombies invading a Renaissance Faire. The story was pretty entertaining and funny, but the writing had some issues. We talked about fixing it up, putting it on Amazon, promoting it at our shows, and sit back and watch what happened. We sold over a hundred copies that first month. Not a lot at $.99 a copy, especially splitting it, but enough for each of us to eat a decent dinner together at a fair after the royalty check came in from Amazon.

I was hooked. I had a bunch of work sitting in my documents folder from school and before. I had a medium where I could get it out to people. With my storytelling show, I had a great platform to launch a book career. And now here I am a year later, international bestseller, forming a group of like-minded indie genre writers, and living the dream.

2) In your current series Tears of Rage you have a very dynamic pantheon. This is not a normal good vs. evil pantheon, but there are many different personalities and alliances. Tell us more about your pantheon, both influences and a few details of the key players for our readers.

I’m not a big fan of good vs. evil. Most religions aren’t like that. People aren’t like that. I had so many false starts and hiccups and such when I started Tears of Rage, that I’m not really sure where I decided that the gods would be getting involved, but once I made that choice, I realized they all had to be something more than good vs evil. If we look back on our own mythology, we see stuff like this all the time. Hera was a nasty bitch, but her husband was a cheating bastard, so it’s kind of understandable. I’d also been reading a bunch of fantasy where the bad gods were the BAD god. EVIIIIIL for the sake of being EVIIIIIIL. *yawn* How terribly uninteresting.

Anyway, I thought, what if I make my protagonists the side that’s stuck between Light and Dark. Grandfather Shadow was born. I came up with a sort of creation myth for him (Which you can read a part of that in the prologue to Once We Were Like Wolves). And the pantheon grew pretty quickly after that.

As for divine movers and shakers in the books, right now, we’ve got Grandfather Shadow who is just been freed from a thousand year prison; Yrgaeshkil, goddess of lies and mother of Daemyns, she’s also married to Old Uncle Night, the god of death; and Kahddria, the goddess of Winds.  Others pop up now and then, but these are the deities that pop up on stage most frequently so far. Four of the five greater gods are still imprisoned, but don’t count on them staying that way for long.

3) Your book flow is rather unique, having various sections with its own chapters in it rather than just a standard three act separation or all the chapters in a row.  Tell us more about how you got the idea for this, and why you prefer this setup for this series?

I’m not the only writer who does this. Steven King uses this technique in some of his books, most notably The Dark Tower series. I like the form. I’m not going to use it for everything I write, but I really enjoy it for the Tears of Rage books. I don’t use it for Halloween Jack and the Devil’s Gate or my upcoming books Spellpunk and Team Red Hand series. But I’m probably going to use something like this for Dead Weight. Wow, did I digress.

I’ve been sitting here thinking of how I got the idea for this and why I prefer it, and really the only thing I can come up with is: I thought it was a cool idea so I tried it. I knew I was taking a risk, especially with the opening sections of First Chosen. That’s not the way most people are used to having stories unfold. I think if I hadn’t read Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this. In the original draft of Julianna’s storyline, the book opens with Grandfather Shadow being freed from his prison and the events that led up to that I planned to seed in throughout the narrative of the series. It was a strong opening, but didn’t sit right with me. I felt the reader actually needed to go through those events that take place over the course of twenty-one years; however, giving the reader those years in the tradition setup, prologue, chapter one, chapter two, etc… wasn’t going to work. Luckily, it seems to have paid off. I’d urge other writers caution before trying something this experimental. Make sure you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and be ready for it to fail miserably.

4)Are there any particular real world inspirations for the cultures in the book?  I can detect some Italian influence on some of the mortal names but I was curious if there were other inspirations?

I draw a lot from real-world cultures, and not just Italian. I’ve draw inspiration from all over the world.

The four great Houses of the Kingdom are based very loosely on cultures from Earth, and the political structure is based sort of on the Chinese Game Mah Jongg. I took the importance of numbers from Asian cultures and assigned each of the deities a sacred number, and used that to influence the great House that worshiped that particular god or goddess.

As for names… One of the greatest investments I’ve ever made as a writer was in purchasing a massive baby name book. It has over 30,000 names, categorized by culture. Any time I need a name, I go to that book and flip through it. Can’t recommend enough for other writers get something like that.

5)The language and naming of the gods, what inspired them?

Well, Grandfather Shadow’s language was first. I actually invented it before I started working on Tears of Rage. I’m a huge role-playing game nut. I used to go to this big live action role playing event (no, not the one Jim Butcher does) a couple times a year. In this, every wizard, priest, cleric, magic user, etc… had to have a spell book, with all their spells written in it. If another player got their hands on the spell book, they could steal all of your spells…IF they could read the book. I created Galad’laman, the language of Grandfather Shadow, as a way to keep my spells safe. It was a mix of Gaelic, Finnish, and Tolkienian elvish, though 99% of the elvish influence has been weeded out. I stopped going to those LARP events almost 15 years ago, but I had my notes and such on the language, so when I sat down to write Tears of rage and I was looking for something new and interesting to do with the magic, I opened my old spell book and notes.

Looking back, I wish I’d come up with something different. I have a plethora of gods, half a dozen of them at least have their own languages. The biggest pain in the but I have writing these books is translating the damn and bloody miracles out of English and into whatever language as character is using to speak Miracles. I am so dreading the massive battle at the end of book 4 The Fires of Night.

6)You are releasing the books in a format that seems tailored for ebooks, slightly shorter but in rapid releases. Was this because of the ebook medium, or are there other reasons for this?

I think it’s ironic that people think of my books as shorter. At one point, a novel was classified as any book over forty thousand words in length. First Chosen clocks in at just over 60,000 words, and Once We Were Like Wolves is just over 83,000. Arms of the Storm is currently 123,810. (It’ll be different once I get it back from my beta readers and editors.)  Thirty or forty years ago in publishing, these books would have been on the massive side of books, if publishable at all. Now days, even Arms of the Storm is tiny compared to what some people are publishing in fantasy.

So, that being said, you can thank three men for my publication schedule and the size of my books: Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, and Steven Erikson. These three gentlemen are likely the kings of the door-stopper fantasies (though Brandon Sanderson is catching up), and I’ve been following each ones’ huge fantasy epic since pretty much day one. I was a couple of books behind when I got to Ericson’s Gardens of the Moon, but I caught up quickly. When it came time to put out Tears of Rage, I had fourteen hundred pages of a manuscript I called Once We Were Like Wolves, the first chronicle of Tears of Rage. Quite a mouthful, even if just reading in. Oh, AND, I wasn’t even finished with that story. Which with my “I’m going to get a traditional publishing deal” mindset, I felt was okay. After all, those other three guys did it.

By the time I decided to go indie, I realized something: only one of those three guys is putting out books on a regular basis. The other two are taking years and years, sometime even a decade between when we see some of our favorite characters. As a reader, that really ticked me off. Erikson managed to put out all ten of his door stoppers in 11 years, 10 months, 14 days. That’s pretty impressive, considering half of them are over 350,000 words. And I’ve never heard anyone really complain, “When’s that next Steven Erikson book coming out?” At least not seriously. I wanted to be that kind of writer. The one problem is that I can’t do a Steven Erikson level of production, at least not yet. So, my readers get my Tears of Rage books in smaller doses, but they get them a little more regularly. For the Halloween Jack books, they have to wait for October to roll around again.

7)Tell us more about the Genre Underground, both what inspired you to start this, and where you see it heading.

Wow. That’s quite a doozie of a question. I’ll do my best to answer it.

I’ve been a member of several Indie writer groups. While they had some people writing fantasy and science fiction, no one in those organizations was really active in the fan community. I’ve been going to conventions and such since I was eighteen. I’ve grown up as a fan of genre literature. As I writer, I write the books I wish someone else would write so I could read them. With these other Indie writer promotion groups, while I learned a lot about marketing and such, I felt they really didn’t understand the community I’m trying to reach as a writer, mostly because they didn’t grow up in it the same way I did. I also felt they were a bit too much of “if you have a pulse, you should buy my book.” Growing up in the community, I understand that’s not how fantasy and science fiction really work. Not everyone is going to groove on my stuff. I’m okay with that. I’m not a big Terry Pratchett, China Miéville, or Robert Heilein fan, but tell that to anyone who is a fan of any of those three, and the reactions are usually awesome. On the other side of the coin, I’ve seen Terry Pratchett almost cause a riot one year at the World Science Fiction convention when he announced, “I don’t like Tolkien and think he’s overrated.” So, with all that experience under my belt, I’m building the Genre Underground, trying to keep the readers firmly in my head, because I’m a reader, I write for readers, and I really want to make those people who are allowing me the privilege of living my dream the focus of my movement.

As for where do I think the GU is going? We’ll see. I’m already blown away by the interest and support we’re getting. Once we’re on the other side of the Winds of Change promotion, I’ll have a sit down with the other guys I invited into the GU and see how the whole thing went over with the readers and where we all want to go from here. Sure, The Genre Underground is my brain child, but I also don’t want it to become the M Todd Gallowglas show. If it weren’t for A.E. Marling, Christopher Kellen, and R.C. Murphy, the Genre Underground might never have been anything but a dream in my mind. Then we brought Robert Eaton, M.D. Kenning, and Dave Meek into the fold, and we’re getting on toward escape velocity. More writers have expressed interest in joining up. If they bring the same initiative, drive, and dedication to our mission statement, anything is possible.

8)Are there any particular influences on your works in general?  Is it all fantasy fiction, or are there other inspirations at well?

I’ve read lots of Fantasy and a bit of Science Fiction, some Horror. Yes. All of that has influenced me and my writing to the point where my storytelling brain just requires some sense of the fantastic to work. Heck, I don’t even do Science Fiction well.

That being said: Read outside the genres.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am without having read: Hemmingway, Tim O’Brien, Flannery O’Conner, J.D. Salinger, Jeffry Eugenides, and many others. Everyone should read these writers and more. They should also read stuff they don’t think they’ll like. I learned my biggest lesson on keeping my world internally consistent from being forced to read Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” about a bajillion times while taking those few required lit classes while getting my BA in Creative Writing. The story has a huge gaping inconsistency in it. Took me only three reads to get it, and then I ripped it apart in every class I’ve ever had it in since.

I’ll leave with this challenge: Go read the story. If you read the story and catch the gaping inconsistency in the world Walker tries to create but fails, email me at, and I’ll give you a gift copy of Arms of the Storm book 3 in Tears of Rage before it hits Amazon.

Thanks for having me as a guest. And thanks to everyone who stopped by and who supports all the Genre Underground writers.

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