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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cover Reveal and Author Q&A with Christopher Mitchell (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Read FROM THE ASHES for FREE over HERE (US) & HERE (UK) 

Today we are glad to have debutant author Christopher Mitchell over as he showcases the amazing cover for his prequel novella, sheds light about the world and the titles of his MAGELANDS SAGA as well as the experience of writing over three-quarters of a million words before releasing any of his books.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

CM: Writing goes back a long way. With a group of friends I used to write comic strips and magazines when I was in Primary School (about US Grade 6 or 7), then throughout High School I plotted and planned in minute detail a series of novels that I never actually got round to starting. I also wrote a handful of Dungeons & Dragons-style adventures that my little sister and a few friends used to play a lot (I still have them in a box somewhere, I think…).

I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, followed by another when I was twenty. I remember being downhearted at receiving a rejection from the only publisher to whom I submitted my second novel (I hadn’t bothered with the first). Seems silly now, to have been put off by the opinion of a single person, but my writer’s ego was highly fragile at that stage. I planned a third novel, based on a large number of POV characters, swearing, fighting and taking drugs, all in a Scottish accent, but then Irvine Welsh’s magnificent Trainspotting came out I was utterly deflated. It was so good, and my efforts seemed so paltry in comparison, that this combined with the solitary rejection was enough to put an end to my hopes of becoming a writer.

I got on with reading instead, then studying part-time for a Masters Degree in Greek Tragedy. I travelled and lived abroad for a few years, then came home, got married, had four children, and stayed well clear of creative writing for many years. My interest in writing was re-ignited when, with a friend, I co-wrote the background story for a science fiction computer game. The game didn’t end up being released, but I had a lot of fun with the world-building.

Q] I loved the cover for FROM THE ASHES. What were your main pointers for your cover artist & designer as you all went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it? 

CM: I’m so pleased that you liked the cover. My reaction to seeing it for the first time was to basically sit staring at it with my mouth open like an idiot. Ironically, when we first commissioned Irina French, it was due to her awesome skills in map-making and graphic design, rather than as a figure-artist. I wrote FROM THE ASHES last, after I’d finished the series, and asked Irina for a portrait of Keira the Fire Mage for the cover, and took a photo of my wife posing to represent the stance I was thinking about, so that the fire would be the central focus, followed by Keira’s expression as she gazed at the flames.


For Keira’s character, I sent Irina the opening couple of pages of FROM THE ASHES, and the rest was up to her. Oh, I also asked for a star in the background, which will be a recurring theme for all of the covers. For the typography, Deranged Doctor Design was a great fit – they have tonnes of experience in working on Fantasy covers and we liked what they had previously done.

Q] Many congratulations on the bronze medal for the cover art of FROM THE ASHES in the inaugural Cover design awards. I feel you were against some tough competition but Irina French & the Deranged Doctor Design folks combination nabbed you the pedestal. What were your thoughts when you entered the contest versus when it ended?

CM: My wife mentioned to me that she had heard of the competition, run by Stuart Bache of Books Covered and we thought it was worth a try, but then I pretty much forgot about it. It was only when it had been shortlisted that I started to get excited. I mean, I knew it was a great cover, and I was so pleased for Irina, but it still felt a little overwhelming, to have nothing out and published, and already the cover was attracting attention. Then, when it came third it was the most amazing feeling. I’d been watching out for the results on Twitter, and saw them before my wife did. Scrolling down the webpage on my phone, seeing first the winner, then second prize, and finally FROM THE ASHES was almost an out-of-body experience!

Q] Could you tell us about the inception of The Magelands Series and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for this saga?

CM: My wife was the main reason I began the Magelands. For years she had been asking me when I was going to write a book, and I kept putting her off. In my thirties I would say ‘I’ll start when I’m forty’, but quite clearly this approach wasn’t going to last forever, and so I eventually began to note down a few ideas. In October 2015, I thought up the overall story arc for the series in a couple of nights, then spent the next three months intensively world-building and planning, writing notebooks filled with the background to the peoples and places of the Magelands.


Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Magelands Series is set in and some of the series’ major characters? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?  

CM: For the Magelands, once I had the story arc fixed in my head, I decided on a random approach to world-building. I knew that I needed five peoples, each inhabiting the point of a star, and distributed attributes to each in a random manner: geography, climate, origin of people, mage powers, political systems, almost like creating characters in a role-playing game – rolling the dice and watching what came out the other end. In this way, complex cultures and societies began to arise naturally.

I also knew I needed six major point-of-view characters; one from each star-point, except Kellach Brigdomin, which got two. Keira, the main character in FROM THE ASHES, is from there. She is a point-of-view character in Books 2 and 4, and is present through a major portion of Book 3. In Book 1, although her character plays a major role in events, Keira only makes a couple of small (you could say guest) appearances.

The fantasy of the series comes from the mage-powers possessed by each of the five peoples:
– Fire,
– Vision,
– Life,
– Flow,
– Stone.

For example, Kellach Brigdomin mages have power over fire. They believe it comes from Pyre, their god who resides in the slumbering volcano at the far end of the peninsula. Keira is a thrower, meaning she can control fire through her will, but there are also sparkers, who can ignite fire from nothing. Mages are pretty rare in the Magelands though, with only a small fraction of the populations lucky (or cursed) enough to have these powers.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the The Magelands Series and the Tales from the Magelands prequels?

CM: I write adventure stories, taking the reader out of the world they know and placing them somewhere extraordinary, though with feelings and motivations that they will hopefully connect with. I think one of the main reasons stories exist is so that people can imagine themselves in all kinds of wonderful, or scary, situations, and due to that belief, my books are centred on the characters. World-changing events may be occurring, but the focus stays on the characters at all times; their relationships and desires, and their strengths and flaws.

As far as I know, many writers hate writing the copy or blurb for their own work, and I admit that I’m no exception. Since my overall story arc contains a massive spoiler for the series, I have had to be careful not to give anything away, but still try to create a pitch that will pull people in. A hair-pulling experience.

So here goes: "Read the Magelands! Epic Fantasy Adventure! Sex (ok, it’s off-page and quite romantic but that doesn’t sound so good!), drugs, violence and mages! Caution – Strong Language, wielded by Strong Women."


Q] You have released the prequel novella FROM THE ASHES recently. Could you give us a progress report on THE QUEEN'S EXECUTIONER (The Mageland series #1), book 2 and outline your plans for the series as a whole? 

CM: The text of the entire series is complete and ready to go. It will be released in early summer 2019 in a rapid-release cycle, at least for the four main books of the series. As a fantasy fan myself, I always like a whole series to be out, and decided not to delay in between releases. The four main books of the series are:
Book 1 – THE QUEEN'S EXECUTIONER,
Book 2 – THE SEVERED CITY,
Book 3 – NEEDS OF THE EMPIRE,
Book 4 – SACRIFICE.

After they’re out, the two other prequels (or ‘origin stories’) will be released. Drafting on the last book in the series finished in May 2018, and since then the series has undergone editing and proofing.

I can also reveal that Irina French has delivered the cover for THE QUEEN'S EXECUTIONER, and it’s insanely beautiful, and even better than FROM THE ASHES. Currently, she is working on the cover for THE SEVERED CITY, which I can’t wait to see!

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration? 

CM: As far as my characters go, I think I’m inspired by daily life, like snatches of conversation overheard on the bus to work each morning, and the experience of travelling and working abroad, and then bringing up four small children. My wife kept me on track, gently pointing out whenever a character was behaving or speaking in a way that didn’t feel right.

Q] So what can readers expect from your debut book/series and what should they be looking forward to according to you? 

CM: If you like Keira, then expect plenty more of her! But not in Book 1 – THE QUEEN'S EXECUTIONER, which introduces a new set of situations and characters, and is based mostly in the Rahain Republic, the nation that has invaded her country in FROM THE ASHES. There will be enslaved Kellach Brigdomin, a renegade Holdings Vision Mage, political rivalries and in-fighting among the Rahain, and a great migration of the Rakanese people, which upsets the balance of power in the Magelands, and sets off the events of the rest of the series.

Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers? 

CM: The whole experience of writing the 800,000 words of the Magelands series is up there with the other best times of my life: getting married, witnessing the birth of our children, and going on a whisky pilgrimage to the Isle of Islay. Now that it’s done, I’m actively planning my next series, which I hope to start drafting in the New Year. While I’m doing that, I’ll also be preparing for the release of the Magelands, when my words will be exposed for all to see – an exhilarating, but also terrifying thought. Characters such as Keira feel almost like children to me now, be kind to them out there!

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