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Monday, September 23, 2019

A Wild And Unremarkable Thing by Jen Castlenberry (reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Order A Wild and Unremarkable Thing HERE (US) and HERE (UK)


OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jen Castleberry is a bestselling author who resides in Virginia Beach with her husband and pets. Her background is in Communications and Animal Welfare. All of her pets are named after superheroes!

OFFICIAL BLURB: Cayda has spent her entire life training to slay a Fire Scale. Now the time has come to leave her dragon-ravaged village behind, march into the Summer Alps, and reap the rewards of a Champion. But the road between poverty and prosperity is rife with beasts, betrayals, and baser temptations. Sensible Cayda soon discovers she’s not the only Champion with her eye on the prize, or the only one wearing a disguise.

A Wild and Unremarkable Thing pits girl against dragon in a stunning blend of Greek mythology and medieval lore. Don’t miss the thrilling novella that readers are calling poetic, enchanting, and a must-read for fans of fantasy!

FORMAT/INFO: A Wild and Unremarkable Thing is 238 pages divided over 49 chapters. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format. It was published by The Parliament House on December 7, 2017.

CLASSIFICATION: Fantasy, New Adult

ANALYSIS:
"Small of stature, gentle of heart…You might write your own story, Cody. But men will write stories about you too."
An unfortunate girl masking as a boy seeking to uphold her duty. An orphan favored by royalty seeking purpose. A mysterious man seeking the gift of uncertainty. The Emerging is upon us, and it carries promises of glory and a brighter tomorrow for those skilled – and lucky – enough to survive until the rising dawn.

A Wild and Unremarkable Thing is an elegantly crafted novella penned by author Jen Castleberry, and is an incredible account of obligation and perseverance. With heightened focus on the prosperity of kindness and togetherness, this tale of desperation, longing, and defying the norm is one that took me by surprise in the best way possible. Despite its length, it’s notably developed and refined, and packs quite a punch. It’s been a while since a book has made me pause just to admire the beauty of a line spoken or an event unraveled, and I only wish I could experience this magical story for the first time all over again.

The writing is simply stunning. A gorgeous, poetic, and almost singsong prose makes it feel as though we’ve stumbled upon a tale being told, rather than a book being read. The use of third-person present tense allows readers to share in the festivities, completely immersing us in a mystical world full of beasts and shadow and hope. Charming morsels pepper the pages, and even seemingly insignificant instances, such as the gifting of a bar of soap, are done with such poise and heart.
She unwraps the soap – a slick, softly cut bar. She holds it in cupped palms beneath her chin like an injured bird. It smells of spruce and leather – like Penn.
My note for this passage: “I love this book”. A whimsical prologue primes the structure of the story well, and we’re soon introduced to short, bursting chapters of alternating points of view, which keep the pace moving quickly and allow us to experience events unfold from every angle. Diverse characters are surprisingly complex and easy to love (or hate). The sensual, blossoming romance is tastefully executed and utterly captivating.
She calls it violent and magnificent. Penn says that it’s perfect.
The concept of this story is rather straightforward – slay the beast, earn the winnings, and save the family – however, there is nothing rudimentary about how Castleberry composes this dazzling narrative. The worldbuilding is superb as settings, customs, and legends are colorfully expressed with attention to the most minute of details. You can smell the pine on the mountain breeze, and feel the excitement of the flowing crowds as the first Fire Scales take to star-strewn skies. I can’t even begin to express how handsomely this book is illustrated – just go read it.

As with others, I did feel the ending was a bit rushed, and would’ve like to spend more time in this beautiful place with these beautiful people. I can only hope this isn’t the last we see of this striking world Castleberry has created. A Wild and Unremarkable Thing, which I would characterize as a modern fairytale, is a book that I feel anyone with a love for tales of danger and tender romance will appreciate and savor. I’m excited and immensely looking forward to seeing where we’re taken next.

Note: A huge thank you to The Parliament House for a complementary copy of this book.
Thursday, September 19, 2019

Interview with Michael J. Fletcher (interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Smoke and Stone over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag.

Bragging isn’t really my thing. I mean, sure, I’m totally fucking awesome, but everyone already knows that.

Let’s gloss over the past. Small towns. Goats. Chickens. University. Alcohol and hallucinogenics. Guitarist in a metal band. Audio-engineer. Hey, I wanna write a book. Write a dark and cynical fantasy and sell it to a Big-5 publisher. HUGE FLOP! Get told that no one wants dark and cynical fantasy anymore. Keep writing dark and cynical fantasy because that’s me and I’m a dumbass.

Sweet. That was less painful than expected.

When and why have you decided to become an author?

I always wanted to be an author, but it seemed like a lot of effort. One day, while my future-wife was planning our wedding, I realized I’d either have to help out or find some stupidly huge project that would keep me too busy to look at table arrangements. Boom! I wrote a book! Amazing what the right incentive will do for you.

After that, it was all downhill. I became addicted to reviews, to seeing people’s reactions to the mad stories I played out in my head. And oh my gods the money! Like, what am I supposed to do with all these phat stax? One man can only own so many Bugatti Veyrons before it becomes silly.

You’re a hybrid author at the moment. It seems self-publishing wasn’t your first choice but here we are. What do you like about being a hybrid? What’s cool about self-publishing and what’s not so cool about it?

Traditional publishing requires a great deal of patience and the strength of character not to fall prey to crushing depression while waiting on rejections. I have neither.

Even if you do manage to sell a novel, it won’t see print for another year to two years. The whole machine moves at a glacial pace.

Self-publishing is very different. You can have your insane crayon scribbles published and for sale a day after you complete them. I mean, you shouldn’t, but you can.

My favourite part of self-publishing is the control. I hire the artist and typographer. I choose the cover. I decide what editor to work with. I do the internal layout for the print version. I write the back-cover copy. If the book doesn’t look amazing, it’s all my fault.

The downside is that I also have to pay all those folks. It’s a hefty outlay of funds on what is, let’s face it, a terrible risk.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? Or has your (relative) success in traditional publishing helped you to gain faithful readers who don’t care how you publish books as long as you do it?

Beyond Redemption (Harper Voyager, 2015) earned me a small but dedicated fan-base. Without those folks, I’d be an utter unknown. I am crap at promoting because it doesn’t interest me. I want to write books, not be a publicist/promoter.

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer?

I was lucky enough to find a truly brutal editor early on. She gutted my first book. I learned a lot. Some folks are born talented. The rest of us work hard at it. Keep writing. Keep trying to get better. Listen to your editor. Try to make different mistakes each time. Stop trying to write someone else’s book. Tell your story the way you think it should be told. Find your voice by not searching for your voice. Shut off your brain and sit the fuck down and write the fucking book. Don’t talk about it until AFTER it’s written.

Woops. Rant.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you.



I have a day job and a wife and an eight-year-old daughter and so I write wherever and whenever I can. I write in the morning before work. I write during breaks at work. I write at the dining room table. Sometimes I even get to write in my office, though that’s pretty rare. Pop in some earbuds, crank the death metal, and I’m good to go.

Each book has its own process, so in a way, I can’t answer that question; they’re all different. City of Sacrifice started with two ideas: bending reality with hallucinations, and a caste system based on the divides of the real world.

I tend not to do a tone of work defining characters beyond some basic physical characteristics and maybe a vague idea of what kind of person they are. They form as I write. Then, after the book is written and I know exactly who they are, I go back and fix everything so it looks like I planned it all. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.


Do you give yourself mini-deadlines (e.g. must have chapters x-y written by January 1st) or do you progress with an ultimate deadline in mind?

I used to do this, but have now decided that writing must be fun. I write when I feel like it. I take days or even weeks away. I don’t have a deadline and so there’s no stress. I’ll finish it when I finish it.

Once the book is written and edited, deadlines become a thing. For City of Sacrifice I’m releasing it November 1st to give everyone plenty of time. The artist is working on the cover. Reviewers have early review copies and months to get to it. But that deadline was chosen knowing I could release the book tomorrow if I wanted. Zero stress.



What was your initial inspiration for City of Sacrifice series?

Years ago I read Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Reality (and a couple of the follow-up books). I loved the philosophy inherent in Don Jaun’s teachings, but I also loved the magical aspect, sorcery through narcotics. I always thought it would make a great magic system.

Please, tell our readers what do your characters have to overcome in Smoke and Stone? What challenges did you set before them?

Fuck no. Read the book.

What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

The City of Sacrifice series is a trilogy. Book one was written in about three months. I knew the story and how I wanted the first book to end. The first draft had four POV characters. It was too many and diluted the story. I picked two characters and did a complete rewrite.

That’s pretty much par for the course for me.

The real challenge came when I started writing book two, Ash and Bone. I had nothing planned, no ending for the series. For the past couple of months, I’ve been planning the last two novels. This is a first, as I’ve always been a Pantser. Gotta say, I’m liking it. I know how book two ends, and have the conclusion for the entire series planned. Can’t wait to get there!

Smoke and Stone is an engaging and dark book with plenty of twisted reveals and cool ideas. Tell us about magic systems (both Crystal Magic and the one that uses hallucinogenic substances). Which one is more powerful? Which one would you rather master?

Why had one magic system when you can have two?!

Actually, I’m not going to answer this because the whole fun with magic systems is learning them as you read. Talking about them would ruin that.

Another thing that impressed me was the way religion and holy books (Book of Bastion and The Loa Book of The Invisibles) twist people’s minds and give them an excuse to commit atrocities. Not unlike in real life. Any comment or is it too political? 

Too political? The entire city of Bastion was planned out as political commentary.

The cool thing with writing a book is realizing you don’t matter. The book isn’t about what the writer thinks it’s about, it’s about what the reader gains. And so City of Sacrifice definitely comments on religion and politics, but what I think it says is irrelevant.


And now the question I’m afraid to ask and hear the answer to. The fact that we’re on different continents gives me at least some sense of safety. So, the main characters in any book are commonly considered a reflection of the author. Is this true in any of your books? If yes, should Canada start to evacuate?

Aspects of my personality find their way into a great many characters. No one character is me. I’m a little of Stehlen’s fear of relationships. I am some of Bedekt’s insistence that he is sane. I have Wichtig’s need to be the greatest. I cling to my tribe like Nuru clings to her friends, and I understand Efra’s selfishness.

I really like Efra and her grey morality leaning toward blackish. Would you consider giving us a glimpse of her thinking process?

Efra… She knows there is something wrong with her. She knows she is not like other people, that she can do things most would hesitate to even consider. But she’s not crazy, and she’s not stupid. She sees the advantages of working with people but also understands the inherent weakness on relying on others.

Morality is a weird invention. It’s something applied to our decisions and actions after the fact. I don’t write about morality or with morality in mind. The only thing that matters is that the characters are true to themselves. There is no black and white, good and evil. All people are shades of grey.


You’ve created an intriguing, quite complex world with unique creatures, beliefs, and magic. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work?

What? I’m supposed to put thought into that stuff? Nah. I’d rather assume that the reader will be smart enough to figure things out. And if they can’t, it’s probably because I failed them as a writer. My one goal is to avoid info-dumps. Sprinkle the information the reader needs throughout the story. Feed it to ‘em slow. Tease them with hints.

Would you say that City of Sacrifice series follows tropes or kicks them?

Not a fucking clue. Is it wholly original and totally unlike anything anyone has ever read in the history of the world? Nope. And so I guess there’s some tropiness in there. Is it about a grumpy old axe-man, a thief, and a swaggering Swordsman? Nope. I think all this talk of tropes is a handy way for people to ignore or discount books without actually putting any real thought into them.

I have a story I want to tell, and then I tell that story. If someone sees tropes, cool.

What can we expect after Smoke and Stone? What’s your publishing Schedule for 2019/2020?

The dates are all approximate, and subject to change, but here goes…

November, 2019: Smoke and Stone (City of Sacrifice #1)
February, 2020: The Millennial Manifesto
June, 2020: Black Stone Heart (The Obsidian Path #1)
September, 2020: Ash and Bone (City of Sacrifice #2)
Early 2021: She Dreams in Blood (The Obsidian Path #2)

After that, it’s a little more up in the air. I’ll try and release at least one book a year until the two series are finished.

The City of Sacrifice series will be three books, as will The Obsidian Path.

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about?

Have fun. Stay sane. Sell enough books to pay for the art and editing of the next book. Tell engaging stories that, if I get really lucky, resonate with a reader or two.

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer?

Stormbringer. Catch-22. Snowcrash. All for very different reasons. The first is literally genre-defining. The second is a brilliant and brutal social commentary. The ideas of the third opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre fiction.

Let’s settle this once and for all - will you ever give the pants back to Dyrk Ashton?

No. Not ever. They are mine. In a way, they always were. He was just wearing my pants that he bought for me but hadn’t yet thought to hand over.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Michael! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts.








Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)



Official Author Website
Order A Little Hatred over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)


OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joe Abercrombie is a freelance film editor, who works on documentaries and live music events. He lives and works in Bath. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: Introducing a cast of unforgettable new characters, A Little Hatred is the start of a brand new trilogy set in the world of the First Law which will have you gripped from the very start . . .

War. Politics. Revolution.

FORMAT/INFO: A Little Hatred is 480 pages long divided over 40 numbered chapters and is the first entry in the Age of Madness series. The book, published in September 2019 by Orbit, is currently available in all formats. Cover design for the US cover is by Lauren Panepinto with the artwork by Sam Weber while the UK cover design is by Tomás Almeida. 

OVERVIEW: Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he’s a hell of a writer. The First Law trilogy captivated me from the first page of The Blade Itself with fascinating characters, a great intrigue and thrilling unpredictability. A Little Hatred takes place 30 years after the events of Heroes.

The Northmen are invading the Union. The industrialization has been gaining momentum for a while. Business-savvy individuals make fortunes at the cost of unprivileged masses.  Savine dan Glokta, the ruthless daughter of the feared chief inquisitor, controls large chunks of industry and excels at parlor games. Her secret lover, Prince Orso, doesn’t lack charm or charisma but prefers spending his life inebriated in brothels than doing something of any worth.

In the North a hotheaded warrior, Leo dan Brock (known as the young lion) tries to stop the Northmen and dreams about beating their leader, a psychopathic Stour Nightfall (knows as A Great Wolf), in the Circle. Both Stour and Leo consider Bloody-Nine as a role model, go figure. Dogman’s daughter, Rikke, gifted with Long Eye foresees troubles on all fronts and she’s right. It’s Abercrombie’s world after all and his view of life is dark. Lord Grimdark’s trademark black humor and wit make the story enjoyable and addictive but when you look past them, you’ll witness another tragedy developing right before your eyes. 

While A Little Hatred is character-driven and character-focused, things do happen. Plots and subplots converge, but without strong and distinct voices of the POV characters, they would seem generic. Battles, morally ambiguous characters, twisted magic - we’ve seen it before. Abercrombie’s characterization skills, brilliant inner monologues of his characters and sparky dialogue make it unique and unforgettable. He destroys his characters with perfect timing and no scruples. 

I consider Sand dan Glokta the best character in modern fantasy. His daughter, Savine, has the potential to follow in his footsteps. Like her father, she’s morally gray. She’s intelligent, manipulative, well-educated, and brilliant. She’ll do anything to get on top. Nothing and no one can stop her. Except for the harsh reality she’s never experienced before. Raised in a wealthy home, wearing clothes worth more than yearly wages of most people, she considers herself more powerful and strong than she really is. Her brutal clash with the reality will leave you dazed and confused. Fast-paced, violent scenes presenting the insurrection in the Valbeck boil with rage and are among the best I’ve read this year in any book. 

Some chapters come with a heavy dose of graphic descriptions of violence, and that’s something potential readers should know. The author doesn’t hold back but you already know this, right? And I sincerely hope you don’t expect a happy romance, do you? Because if you do, I have bad news. You have to be realistic about these things.

Abercrombie juggles multiple plotlines and points of view with gusto. Each arc is thrilling and memorable. They start to overlap near the end but you need to remember A Little Hatred doesn’t work as a standalone - a lot of what happens is really just structural work for what comes later. But is this really an issue when it’s so addictive to read? I don’t think so.  

A Little Hatred is full of adventure, thrills, and twists and turns. With fully realized and fascinating characters that keep the story moving, I just couldn’t put id down. If you loved First Law trilogy prepare for a feast and enter The Age of Madness.









Monday, September 16, 2019

Kickstarter Exclusive: Dyrk Ashton interviews Graham Austin-King


Official Kickstarter Page

Today we are glad to present a conversational interview between Dyrk Ashton & Graham Austin-King. Both are SPFBO veterans and beloved over here at Fantasy Book Critic. Graham has launched a kickstarter for re-edit and re-release of the Riven Wyrde Saga (his dark fantasy debut trilogy).

I’ve backed it already and I implore you to check it out and back it at whatever level you can. So go ahead and checkout Dyrk’s conversation with Graham:
Dyrk: Hi Graham! Thank you for joining me for this interview for Fantasy Book Critic!
Graham: Thanks, this should be fun. You ARE wearing pants, right?
Dyrk: Umm...
Graham: Oh jeez, it's going to Worldcon all over again
Dyrk: You wish
Graham: Shhh
Dyrk: Anyway! I’m very excited about your Kickstarter for your Riven Wyrde Saga series of books. What inspired you to want to do the Kickstarter?
Graham: Mostly I think it's because you grow as a writer. I wrote the first of those books during 2013. I think I've improved a lot since then in terms of my writing. I've also learnt a lot about self-publishing and what to look for in terms of cover artists, editors, so on and so forth.

Myke Cole said once that when people ask him what he writes he tends to steer them away from his first book. It had reached that point with me.

This trilogy is sort of an entry point into my writing and I just felt it could be better.

Also, Michael Fletcher edited it and missed out all of the words with an E
Dyrk: I know exactly what you mean. I see the Kickstarter is actually entitled "Riven Wyrde re-edit." What exactly do you plan to do?
Graham: Okay so the project is much more than just a re-edit. There are going to be new covers, a new map, a complete re-edit and proofread. I'm going to produce hardbacks for the first time. There's a whole pile of fun rewards in the Kickstarter, plus I have some funky ideas for stretch goals if we get to that point
Dyrk: That's very cool! From a writing standpoint, can you talk a bit about what kinds of things you want to change?

(I've already backed it because I want those signed hardbacks, by the way )
Graham: There's a lot of really dull structural things that need changing. My chapters, for example. In the first book (when I was a baby-writer and also an idiot) I decided I needed a set length for each chapter. These came in at a staggeringly long 5000 words. That's just too long for a chapter.

There are some points in there where I'd like to move things around, just tighten the book and prose up in general. There's even a point in there where one of the female characters looks into a mirror and thinks about how her life turned out. Clichés like that have got to go. That's almost as bad as your female protagonist discovering she has powers and a mysterious uncle... oh, wait...
Dyrk: That sounds great... HEY!
Graham: oops
Dyrk: From now on, you may no longer wear Rob Hayes's hat!
Graham: IT'S MY HAT
Dyrk: NOT ANYMORE IT ISN'T.

From what I understand, putting together a Kickstarter is a lot of work. Can you tell us a little about the process?
Graham: It's been a steep learning curve, that's for sure. Kickstarter is pretty cool in the way it's set up in that that's designed to protect the backers. When someone chooses to back my project, for example. the money doesn't leave their account until the project funds. That way, if I don't reach my target figure then nobody misses out.

I've had to go through and explain exactly what the project is supposed to achieve, right down to the painfully awful video I had to shoot of myself that took way too many takes.
Dyrk: You looked and sounded pretty good to me. Almost makes me believe your real.
Graham: I've gone through the various risks of the project, but thankfully there aren't many. My books are already written. My editor is the editor of Cohesion Books, my cover artist is someone I've used already, and all of the production platforms, with the exception of the supplier’s box for the boxed set, are people I've used before.

Oh, I'm not real. I might be Ben Galley. It gets confusing after a while. I might be Rob Hayes. I honestly have no idea.
Dyrk: No one knows it, but I'm actually Scott Oden and Michael R. Fletcher. So are you.
Graham: This would explain a lot
Dyrk: For anyone considering doing a Kickstarter (like me), any wisdom?
Graham: Start working on it earlier than I did? Certainly, I think you need to start your promotion work long before the project actually launches. You only have a limited time to reach your target figure and that time flies past very quickly.
Dyrk: Good advice, thanks!

Most important question yet. Is it true that Australian author Alicia Wanstall-Burke is actually a quokka?
Graham: I... I...

I can neither confirm nor deny that she is a quokka

I have no clear recollection of that, sir...

Ummm...
Dyrk: It is true! I knew it!
Graham: ...
Dyrk: Tell us more about the Kickstarter. What kind of stretch goals and/or rewards will you be having, or have already introduced?
Graham: There's pretty much something for everyone ranging from £1 to £100. I have everything from HD cover art to use a screen backgrounds, to signed hardback books. There are some limited rewards in there where I'll use your name in a book and kill you off in a gruesome fashion (just in the book though, honest). There's another where I'll critique your writing. Or you could just get eBook versions of the reworked trilogy.

As far as stretch goals go, you'll have to wait and see. If we go far enough then we can look at getting a new version of the audiobooks, possibly limited-edition leather-bound hardbacks, we shall see
Dyrk: Those sounds awesome! Not sure I believe you about the whole killing people in a gruesome manner but only in the book thing though...
Graham: I told you, I've stopped doing that.
Dyrk: Well that's good to hear. *Calls police quietly as interview continues*

Thanks for joining me for this interview, Graham! It's been a great pleasure. Best of luck on the Kickstarter. I've backed it myself because I really need those signed hardbacks. Yes, I said 'need.'
Graham: No blood this time though.T


The Riven Wyrde Relaunch Kickstarter runs until October 10thCheck it out HERE.



About Dyrk Ashton: Dyrk Ashton is a writer, educator, filmmaker and former actor active in storytelling and media making. Born and raised in the Ohio, he spent his formative years in the American Midwest wherein he got a BFA, Masters & PhD in the field of filmmaking & Movie studies. Dyrk loves the outdoors and even more the genre of speculative fiction. He currently resides in Ohio, but the fantasy landscape is the place he calls his true home. Paternus was his debut.



About Graham Austin-King: Graham Austin-King was born in England. From a young age, his interests ran from fantasy novels to computers and tabletop gaming. Having previously worked in the fields of journalism, international relations, and law, he found himself returning to his love of fantasy and creating rich worlds. He has finished his debut fantasy trilogy focusing on the Fae and decided to do something different with his next work. He currently lives in the south of England after living in the northern part of the country and Canada.

NOTE: Author Rob Hayes picture courtesy of himself. Jumping Quokka image courtesy of Cambojones Instagram.
Friday, September 13, 2019

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Rumble In Woodhollow + Q&A with Jonathan Pembroke (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Pre-order Rumble In Woodhollow over HERE

Today we are extremely excited to exclusively present the cover for Jonathan Pembroke's sophomore effort Rumble In Woodhollow. This is a start of a new series for him and quite a departure from his debut which was a post-apocalyptic fantasy western. Also Jonathan was gracious enough to answer some questions about the book, the world and characters within. 

So with further ado, here's Jonathan and checkout the stunning cover for Rumble In Woodhollow by Jessica Dueck below:

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Jonathan. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past? .

JP: Thanks, for having me, Mihir. I really think I was inspired to start telling my own stories when I was around eight, when I read C. S. Lewis for the first time. Around the same time I saw the movie Dragonslayer and that was it, I was done. The fantasy motif captivated me and I never looked back. My imagination took over and I started telling stories right then. Sadly, life happened. I had a whole career in the military come and go, got married, raised and booted a kid from the house (and now have an adorable granddaughter too). I didn’t take time to develop or practice writing skills until I was older. Lost opportunities, right? With my wife’s encouragement, I began making a serious effort around fifteen years ago and haven’t looked back. A hundred short stories and a few bad novels later (most of which will never see the light of day), here we are. My first published novel, Pilgrimage To Skara, was a finalist in SPFBO 3, where it received...ahem...mixed reviews

I went for self-publishing for a few reasons—the main one being that it feels very hard to break into conventional publishing. I tried for a bit. After a lot of failures, I rationalized that I could sit and wait for a break or get out and try to make something happen. The entry into SPFBO was just one excursion but the experience and community has been invaluable. Even if I manage traditional publication, I don’t think I will give up the self-publishing route altogether. It’s tons of work but tons of fun and I’ve enjoyed the experience too much to walk away from it. .

Not much else to tell about me. I live in northeastern Arizona (in the southwestern US, for our friends overseas) on a good-sized acreage where I can’t really bother anyone with my ramblings. Aside from reading and writing, I like to garden and do some gaming. I spent twenty years in the US military as a meteorologist...and before you ask, yes, it’s going to rain today (somewhere in the world, at least). .


Q] I loved the striking imagery in the cover art for Rumble In Woodhollow (The Holly Sisters #1). What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it? .

JP: The cover artist is a very talented lady by the name of Jessica Dueck and she was great to work with. My main idea was to depict Sydney, the story’s protagonist, nervously glancing over her shoulder as one of her adversaries approaches. Jessica ran with that concept and I think she did a phenomenal job. The mood and lighting are perfect and I believe the look on Sydney’s face captures the feeling that’s she’s in trouble. You can see more of Jessica’s work at the website StarsColdNight.

Q] Could you tell us about the inception of Rumble In Woodhollow & vis-à-vis The Holly Sisters Series and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for it? .

JP: It actually came from me watching the movie Gangs of New York. I got it in my head that an all-out brawl for control of a city’s organized crime—but with mystical races duking it out instead of rival human factions—would be fun to write. That was the nucleus of the idea. I wrote a short story focusing solely on the actual confrontation, but the idea stayed with me. Then, when I started digging into the foundations of the characters and wider world around them, I realized I had a much bigger and more interesting story. 

The fallout from the gang war and subsequent events will be outlined in the next two volumes of The Holly Sisters. I have one trilogy solidified and am putting together the plot for a second trilogy with the same characters. Well, the ones who survive. .

Q] This book and series seems to have quite an enigmatic mix of crime gangs, assassins, faeries, family troubles and a whole bunch of quirky weird stuff. What lead you to mix all of these elements into the story? .

JP: It was kind of a natural outgrowth of the original concept. Once I had the skeleton of the story, I kept asking myself, “What if?”:
- What if you find out that your older sister Marla—to whom you haven’t spoken in years—leads a criminal gang of faeries?  
- What if you found out a rival gang of leprechauns was leaning on your sister’s gang? 
- What would your aunt, who had raised you since your parents died, think of you running off to get involved in trouble? 
- What if something you did—or at least something you think you did—drew the attention of a sinister group you only thought was a rumor? 
- What if you found that in charge of the whole mess was a...well, you get the idea. .

I’m a weirdo, so letting my imagination run wild generally does in these strange combinations. If you think the mix is eclectic now, you should see the ideas I ultimately discarded! .

Q] The main character seems to be of Faerie heritage. Will the story be focusing more about this heritage and did you draw your inspirations from the Celtic Fae legends? .

JP: Not really. It’s not derivative of the Tuatha De Dannan stories. I don’t mention the Seelie Court or Unseelie Court, though now that I think about it, I am tempted to do it in a sarcastic manner. The faeries of this world are just more of a generalized concept one might expect from generic fairy tales: human-shaped, winged, a little magical (and in this setting, human-sized). They aren’t mischievous imps playing tricks on the unsuspecting. The gang members are ale-swilling foul-mouthed crooks, most of whom have a wide hedonistic streak. I didn’t want to make a direct connection to any mythology, for any of the characters. About the closest I came was with some of the naming conventions; the leprechauns, for example, lean heavily on Gaelic names. But everyone in the story speaks in colloquial terms, not in accented brogue. Other races in the setting draw inspiration from other mythologies but no direct parallels. .

Sydney’s particular heritage is one source of her angst. The faeries of Sylvan Valley are organized in clans, identified by their wing color. Faeries born without clan colors are usually called “unaffiliated” and are sometimes treated poorly by clan faeries—anything from antipathy to outright banishment. Sydney’s wing colors were random due to circumstances of her birth, despite her lineage coming from the Holly Clan, and that creates its own set of problems for her. .


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

JP: Most of the initial series will take place in the city of Woodhollow, which is not nearly a nice and pleasant as it sounds. Set on the Woodrush River, Woodhollow is the central city of the realm, kind of at the nexus of the homelands of the faeries, different degrees of elves, dwarves, gnomes, trow, vilas, dryads and goblins. It’s an industrial hub and is overrun with vice and corruption, though the ruling lord’s ogre and drake Enforcers keep trouble under control. The area seen outside Woodhollow is forests and farmland and mostly unremarkable. Thus far. .

Everyone likes to talk magic systems. I tried to keep mine simple in this world. Only a few of the races can access magic and they all need a conduit. For the faeries, it means eating dried albino mushroom, which gives them a charge, like a short-lived battery, they can use to alter reality around them very briefly. If unused, the charge fades after a short time. Other races have similar vectors. Some have very minor magical talents that are little more than magic tricks. Then there are, of course, old and immense beings with powerful magical talents that require no special actions to access. .

As for major characters, besides Sydney, her older sister Marla features prominently. Compared to Sydney’s introspective and somewhat philosophical personality, Marla is loud, brash, confident, and skilled in a fight. I think the two play off each other well. Lila is Marla’s secretary and keeps the gang’s records. She’s a smart-alec who becomes Sydney’s best friend. Markus and Dana, lieutenants in the gang, have important roles as does a gang member named Vivian and she’s….well, she’s interesting. Members of rival and allied gangs, and Crol, the too-smart chief constable of the Enforcers—acting on behalf of Lord Burnside, the city’s ruler—also get a lot of page time. .

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 Holly Sisters Series? .

JP: My stories tend to get dark and cynical, which is amusing to me, since I am kind of a romantic at heart. I like writing damaged (whether mildly or in a major way) protagonists who have to come to grips with their shortcomings and self-doubts. I have a habit of weaving a lot of plot threads together and dropping clues that don’t become significant until much later—maybe not even until the next book. I also prefer a tight POV. I know multiple POVs are in vogue and I’ve read quite a few books with head-hopping that I enjoyed. But for myself, I like to stay in the head of one or two characters. With one exception at the very end of the book, Rumble is all told from Sydney’s perspective. Hopefully, that will give the reader a good idea of what’s happening in this young lady’s thoughts. .

At its core, The Holly Sisters is a young faerie’s journey to find her place in the world and figure out what she wants in life. And maybe bust a few heads, drink a few beers, and break a few hearts along the way. .

Q] You will be releasing Rumble In Woodhollow in October. Could you give us a progress report on book two and outline your plans for the series as a whole? .

JP: Yes, 7th October is the release date. Pre-order for the Kindle version is live and I’ll have the paperback version available right about the same time. .

I’m over halfway through the first draft of the second book (The Mauler), which I should finish before the end of the year. I’m targeting release for late summer/early fall of 2020. I have a plot outline for book three and it will follow on in late 2021 sometime. Not sure past there, though I would like to write some more with these characters. .

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

JP: In a word, fun. I tried to write an action story with a little bit of humor, a little bit of suspense, and a little bit of intrigue and plotting. With luck, it will all blend together well. Even though Rumble contains plenty of violence, loads of swearing, and a bit of sex (implied and discussed, not shown), this isn’t a grimdark series. It’s more of a character-centric adventure story, that doesn’t take itself super-seriously. Writing about these faeries was a greatly satisfying and I hope readers fall in love with the characters as much as I did and want to read more about them. .

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

JP: Nothing other than: thanks for reading and I hope you check out Rumble and enjoy it. If you loved it (or hated it) hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and lemme know.


Pre-order Rumble In Woodhollow over HERE

Official Book Blurb: Sydney was bored--bored with mixing potions in her aunt's alchemy shop and bored of life in the faery homeland of Sylvan Valley. So when her sister Marla sends her a letter and asks Sydney to bring some family documents to the crime-ridden city of Woodhollow, Sydney leaps at the chance--only to discover Marla in charge of one of the criminal syndicates competing for control of the Woodhollow underworld.

Before she knows it, Sydney finds herself embroiled in a gang war and must maneuver her way through the plots of rival thugs, ogre peacekeepers, and the semi-immortal ruler of the city. And through it all, she learns she has drawn the attention of a mysterious order of assassins...who want Sydney for some sinister purpose of their own.

NOTE: Gangs Of New York poster by Lee Bermejo.
Thursday, September 12, 2019

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with Levi Jacobs (Interviewed by David Stewart)



Order Beggar's Rebellion over HERE
FBC's Review of Beggar's Rebellion is right HERE

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, and congratulations on advancing in FBC's pool of books! 

LJ] Thank you! I was happy to land in FBC's section of the SPFBO, and even happier to advance! 

Q] Maybe you could start off by giving us some background - where you're from, who are your influences, what do you do when you aren't writing epic fantasy?  


LJ] I grew up in a succession of small North Dakota towns, and I think the lack of cultural variety or events  pushed my overactive brain to add variety through imagination. Then when I discovered Lord of the Rings, around third grade, it was all done, and the next decade was a happy wander through the literary imaginations of all the 80s and 90s fantasy icons: David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan...  especially Jordan just because he wrote so much, and in such epic scope. I'm currently rereading the Wheel of Time and recognizing how much his writing has been an influence on mine. The biggest influence, though, is probably his fantastic successor, but more on that later...

When I'm not writing, I'm a lover of a few things: bicycle riding (mostly towing my year-and-a-half-year-old in a trailer, these days), board game playing (especially Agricola, Dominion, and MTG), food cooking (especially Thai + Indian), and time spent with friends and family. I also love to make things with my hands--most recently transforming a 1940s garage into a writing studio, complete with massive bookshelves and a wood-burning stove. I'm also a regular meditator and enjoy a walk in the wilderness.



Q] How long have you been working on the Resonant Saga? Is this your first series? What inspired your initial thoughts?

LJ] Beggar's Rebellion took me three years to really finish; I probably wrote 300,000 words to come up with the final 110K. There was a lot of painful revision and darling-killing that happened in that process, but as a result the two follow-up books, Pauper's Empire and Apostate's Pilgrimage, only took about three months each. The Resonant Saga is sort of my first series... I wrote two series-starters before it, but didn't give myself permission to keep writing them because I didn't think they were good enough. With Beggar's Rebellion I decided to push through it instead of starting over. Plus the concepts behind it resonated deeper with me than the other two books (one of which you can find on Amazon, under a pen name...). 

About the inspiration, I've always thought science fiction was best suited to exploring possible futures and the ramifications of technology, and fantasy better equipped to look at human nature and the impacts of our strange minds on nature, writ large in the form of magic systems. With the Resonant Saga I started out wanting to interrogate the limiting stories many of us tell ourselves, the things holding us back from owning our own power. I also wanted to do something different from the typical fantasy stories of the Chosen One/Chosen People, in which for unexplained reasons a few people have magical powers. To me magic has always made the most sense as a different set of natural laws, so it seems like anyone should be able to do it. That's a harder story to tell, because if everyone's throwing fireballs all the time the worldbuilding gets a little more complex... but I liked the challenge. Basically, I wanted the magic system to be an externalized metaphor for the power we can grasp in this world when we overcome the limiting we've accepted and actually do the things we've always wanted to--in my case, drop out of grad school and start writing. 

Q] How do you feel about comparisons to Brandon Sanderson? 

LJ] Ha! Flattered. Flattered that it would even come up. I am unabashedly a student of the informal school for fantasy writers that Brandon has made with his publicly available podcasts, YouTube lectures, and essays on writing. When I came back to fantasy in my 20s, after a decade or so spent not reading much, his were the first books that really caught me, and I've admittedly been under his sway since. He's actually the reason I'm rereading the Wheel of Time, because it bothers me that he has three giant epic series-ending novels I haven't read, even if it means rereading Jordan from Eye of the World on. It's a journey through my roots, I suppose. 

Q] How did you find your cover artist? 

LJ] For the afore-mentioned pen name book I'd used a site called 99designs, and you can get great work on there, but it's mostly photo-bashed stuff, based in digital images and made with manipulation. To me the best epic fantasy books have always had illustrations on their covers, actual hand-painted works of art, and I knew I wouldn't find that from cover designers. So I took a long sojourn through DeviantArt, finding artists whose work I loved, then messaging them to see if they'd do some commissioned pieces I could turn into covers. I was tickled when Mateusz Michalski wrote back, and blown away by the painting he made for Beggar's Rebellion (and the next two books). It was no surprise when his cover was chosen as part of the SPFBO's cover contest, and I hope it gets Mateusz some recognition. He's a very talented man, and though I don't doubt his prices will go up and availability down, as I write this I'm guessing he'd still be interested in doing some epic covers for up and coming writers. 

Q] Why did you decide to enter the SPFBO? Had you ever entered before?

LJ] This is my first time. I entered for visibility: indie publishing these days is like treading water in a sea crowded with other authors, all of us waving our hands wildly to catch the attention of readers circling so far overhead we kind of all blend into the scenery. Quality can be hard to see from that high up, especially as good covers and design work and editing become more accessible. SPFBO is ultimately about the strength of the writing, so I think it's a useful shorthand for readers looking for something outside the mainstream but not willing to wade through kindle samples to find it. Previous years of the SPFBO have certainly lead me to some books I've loved. So my hope is that the contest puts some sand under my feet, and I can stick a little further out from the crowd as I wave my hands and shout at the flocks of readers flying past.  

Q] Beggar's Rebellion is full of political turmoil and class warfare. Is this something you've always thought about, or have events in our own world inspired you?  

LJ] Both. Economic inequality has always bothered me, and was a focus for a lot of activism that I did in my twenties, from protests to nonprofits to living in Uganda, trying to understanding poverty on a personal level. Exploring political and economic conflict is something fantasy is good at, at least secondary world stuff, because we come at it with no expectations or allegiances. Sometimes one side is obviously evil (see Tolkien), but other times the depiction is more nuanced, and hopefully in wading through the gray areas alongside the main characters we get a better sense of what being on different sides of these conflicts can be like. That's why it was important to me to have viewpoint characters from both sides of the conflict in Beggar's Rebellion, and as the series progresses and more 'sides' show up to the fight, I want to keep giving them all equal representation. I don't write with some current topic in mind (though I used to, inspired by pre-Sanderson author crush Paolo Bacigalupi) and I don't have a point to make; the personal and ideological conflicts in my stories seem to come up by themselves, and I end up feeling like I've learned as much from my characters as that my life or opinions have been embossed onto them. 

Q] The notion of "imaginary friends" talking to one even into adulthood is never something I've read about in fantasy, and I think your take on it is brilliant in its intrigue and scope. How did this idea originate?  

LJ] Thank you! Without naming names, I have a good friend who told me about hearing voices when he was younger. My first reaction was, "That's nutty." Then, partially through practicing meditation, I started to realize this was more common: people talking to themselves, my mind rehearsing or rerunning conversations with people not present, and ultimately the negative messages we internalize from society about not being smart or attractive or whatever enough (and thus, usually, that we should buy a thing that will fix it). I wanted to explore that internal conflict, and the power in overcoming it, in a more literal way--thus the internal voices and the powers tied to them.

Q] Where is the Resonant Saga heading? Is it a trilogy and done, or is that a world you want to revisit for a while to come? 

LJ] It's more than a trilogy. When I started writing, I thought I needed to write short stories to get published, and they always read like novels. Then when I started writing novels, the ideas in them always felt bigger than a  book could hold. So I've accepted it: I'm a series writer. The Resonant Saga is likely to be seven books or more, with some spinoff novellas (there's one already, for free at my website) and maybe even spinoff series. As to where it's heading, well, I have some general ideas, but that would be spoilers. Let's just say that it's going to be epic. 

Q] What would you do if you won the SPFBO? Would you like to write full time? And if so, do you see yourself staying in SFF, or would you branch out? 

LJ] Writing full time is absolutely 100% my dream and goal. If winning the SPFBO did that for me, I would dance and sing and generally make a fool of myself for an extended period--then sit down and keep writing. SF/F has always been my love, and though I could see a few experimental things in other genres, I think the speculative will always be my home. 

Q] What attracts you to the SFF genre? 

LJ] Its remarkable blend of escapism and allegory. Getting hit with loveable, oh-so-human characters in strange environments that give us new perspective. Epic storylines. Stand up and cheer moments. Getting so lost in fictional worlds I forget the one I'm in. And now as a writer, the challenge of taking those experiences and making them new, to tickle the fancies of another generation of readers. 

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