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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Drifting Isle Chronicles Multi-Author Interview with Charlotte E. English, Meilin Miranda and Joseph Robert Lewis (Interviewed by Robert Thompson and Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Black Mercury HERE
Order The Kaiser Affair HERE
Order The Machine God HERE
Read Melissa's Review of The Kaiser Affair
Read Qwill's Review of Black Mercury
Read FBC's Review of The Machine God
Read The Drifting Isle Chronicles - A new way to tell new stories ( A guest post by Joseph R. Lewis)
Read When Collaborating, Say Yes! (A guest post by Meilin Miranda)
Read On Machines And Talking Birds (A guest post by Charlotte E. English)
Read The Kaiser Affair - A fantasy thriller and travelogue to The Drifting Isle Chronicles (A guest post by Joseph R. Lewis)

The Drifting Isle Chronicles is a project that I have been fascinated by since I first heard of its inception. I happened to know Joe Lewis only and so I wished to know know more about his fellow chroniclers. With that in mind, I requested all three of them if they could share some time amid their busy schedules for this interview. To my surprise and happiness, all three of them responded promptly and so, read ahead to find out how this project came together, how each author wrote their book and much more. Lastly my thanks to our chief editor Robert Thompson for his help with most of the questions.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey in the completion of this fascinating project? 

CE: Thank you for having me! My authorish name is Charlotte E. English, I am the author of Black Mercury from the Drifting Isle Chronicles project. I started writing (many years ago) because I have always loved reading; it’s the entertainment I received from other people’s stories that encouraged me to write my own.

The Drifting Isle Chronicles has been unlike anything I’ve ever done to date, both in terms of the story I’ve written and the processes involved. Taking on a group project has forced me out of my comfort zone a little, and really stretched me as a writer (in a good way!).

MM: I'm MeiLin Miranda and I've been a professional writer most of my adult life, though in nonfiction. I always wanted to write fiction, but I was too afraid, to be honest. A bad workshop experience in my youth convinced me I wasn't cut out for it. A near-death experience seven years ago changed my mind; it was now or never.

Part of me didn't want to accept Joe's challenge. I'd never collaborated before. But now I've done it, I'm going to miss having others to bounce ideas off! Luckily, we all intend to keep writing Drifting Isle novels, so I'll be talking to these guys for a while to come. Heck, we're already talking together about our next DIC books. Joe and I have stories in semi-active development, and Charlotte's starting to kick ideas around.

JRL: I'm Joe Lewis, writer of historical and urban fantasy. I first set out to write a novel when I was 11 and I finally succeeded 14 short years later. Mostly, I love to live inside my own head where I can have all manners of adventures in the safety of my own skull. Everything fascinates me - science, history, mythology, tragedy, relationships, the future and the past, and so on. But I also care about the relationship between stories and reality, the way stories shape our language and culture, and I want to tell stories that have a positive impact on people and society, in whatever small way I can.

The Drifting Isle Chronicles was the result of my desire to create a shared-world collaborative series, and it evolved very organically as the writing team worked together. I personally found it fun and new, and I'm hoping to be a part of the series for a long time.

Q] With each of you releasing your own book set in the shared world. Could you each tell us a bit more about your book and what readers can expect from each of them? 

CE: I’ve just said that Black Mercury is unlike anything else I’ve done, which is largely true, but there are a few features in common with my other books: namely a focus on quirky characters, not all of whom are human. Besides that, Black Mercury is a rollicking adventure, heavily influenced by our particular brand of steampunk technology; there are chases and dark plots, kidnappings and rescues and all manner of heroics. Quite this much chaotic action is a little unusual for me.

MM: The Machine God is about grief, betrayal, healing and both the joy and terror of discovery. My main character, Professor Oladel Adewole, has suffered both personally and professionally; the much-younger sister he was raising has died, and he's been denied tenure at his home university, a victim of academic politics. He takes a job, partly of necessity, on the continent to the far north of his tropical home.

At the University of Eisenstadt, Adewole doesn't fit in. He's an anthropologist in an institution full of engineers, a coffee drinker in a city of tea drinkers, a man whose national dish is a spicy chicken stew stuck in a place where you don't eat poultry because birds are people--they're sentient beings.

But there's this island floating over the city, an island Adewole has studied from afar since childhood. Academically, he's specialized in world mythology surrounding the island, and so his self-imposed exile isn't entirely without its solace.

When black mercury makes flight to the island possible, Adewole goes up as part of the government's military survey. Once there, his scholarship leads him to discover a forbidden magic, and the heartbreaking story behind the island's rising a thousand years ago--a story that paradoxically helps him heal both personally and professionally.

JRL: My book is The Kaiser Affair, a crime thriller about a pair of married detectives chasing a cunning thief all over the city of Eisenstadt and up to the flying island of Inselmond. It's fast, exciting, funny, and sexy, and it introduces readers to many of the locations and characters featured throughout the series. Readers should definitely read mine first, and then buy a copy for a friend, and then talk about it online, especially on Friendster.

Q] For some authors, it’s easier writing their follow-up novel. For others, it’s more difficult. What has it been like for each of you compared to writing your individual books? Have you done anything differently this time around? 

CE: This project was definitely more difficult, and it was certainly necessary to change my regular methods. The biggest problem was a relative lack of freedom, compared to a completely independent book; I couldn’t always use the ideas I came up with, because they sometimes conflicted with aspects of the other stories.

But this was a good thing, in the end, as it forced me to be more creative with my ideas and to think in different ways. That’s one of the things I was particularly hoping for when I got involved.

MM: Obviously the most different part was the collaboration. Apart from that, The Machine God is the shortest but most action-packed novel I've ever written; it's less than half the size of my usual phone book. A lot is stuffed into its 200-odd pages.

JRL: I wrote this book almost exactly the same as any other book. The only difference this time was that I often needed to consult with my team about new ideas, rather than simply do whatever I wanted at the spur of the moment. But I felt that the team often contributed ideas and perspectives that pushed me as a writer to experiment and evolve in new ways. So the talking was new, but the writing was familiar.

Q] Since this is a shared world, obviously it’s quite a different writing experience. In this regards what did you think was the most challenging part about writing your individual novels? What about the easiest or most rewarding?

CE: For me, the most challenging part was coming up with a stand-alone adventure that would overlap sufficiently with the other books. We needed our initial titles to be self-contained, but also to tell different parts of the same story - the first flight to the Drifting Isle - and that required a lot of communication and co-ordination. It was well worth the effort, though; seeing everything come together was really thrilling and the outcome is, I think, something to be proud of.

MM: The most challenging part is making sure everything "squares up," that we've kept the world consistent. We went over things obsessively while writing, but when we read each other's final books we still had issues to resolve.

The most rewarding part was having three other people to work with. One of us would say, "Hey, what do you think of this?" Another would say, "Yes!" and add another aspect. A third would say, "Wait, that raises a problem," and the fourth would come up with the solution. All four of us have been in one or the other of those positions. It sounds chaotic, and it kinda was, but in a way it was also easier. The world came together much faster than I expected it would.

JRL: I didn't find any aspect of the project to be uniquely difficult. There were extra steps, of course. Discussions, votes, etc. But we all had the same goals, professional attitudes, and compatible personalities, so the process went fairly smoothly for us. The hardest part was probably reining in our collective creativity and egos to stop discussing new ideas and start making decisions we would have to live with. But we did it, and everyone seems pretty happy with the result.

Q] Joe in your book The Kaiser Affair, one of the protagonists Arjuna Rana shares his name and archery talents with another great mythical hero. Could you tell us about this connection and why you chose to name your hero Arjuna? 

JRL: I collect stories, especially mythical ones, with the hope of eventually using them in my books. I've been sitting on the Indian epic of The Mahabharata for months now, and I thought I might weave it into the DIC a little bit. So I made my detective Bettina's husband a faint copy of the legendary hero Arjuna, who defeated many monsters and armies with his superhuman archery in the Kurukshetra War.

At one point in the hero's life, he went on a long journey in exile, and I chose to use a similar story to explain why my Arjuna had come to Eisenstadt from the nation of Dumastra. When my next book, The Shadow Gambit, comes out, I'll be diving even deeper into that mythology, blending the epic of The Mahabharata with the fantasy of the Drifting Isle world.

Q] Each of your individual novels can be described as fantasy, but they all offer very different reading experiences. The Other Earth series combines alternate history with the supernatural and steampunk elements. An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom focuses on Religion, Gods and magic as an everyday occurrence of life. And The Draykon series and The Malykant Mysteries are alternate world fantasy novels, Was it a conscious effort on your part to try and write a fantasy novel that offered something unique? 

CE: Yes and no. I think the most unique part about our project is our world: we’ve combined a lot of traditional steampunk/fantasy elements in new ways, and thrown a great variety of things into the mix. But I don’t think we consciously tried to achieve that: it was the inevitable outcome of pouring the assorted ideas of five different people into the pot and mixing them up. Great fun it was, too.

MM: My goal going in was selfish. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer to do something outside my comfort zone. I said "yes" as much as possible; even when I wanted to say "no," I didn't unless it was an insurmountable obstacle for me. In some ways this is familiar territory; Victorian, though non-steampunk, analogues are my usual setting. But this is more adventure-oriented than most of my work, which tends toward political intrigue.

JRL: Personally, I was hoping that the series would be something new for me. Far-future science fiction, or Tolkien-esque high fantasy. I was looking for an excuse to break out of my mold. But we ended up very close to my wheelhouse with this new steampunky fantasy world, so I took the opportunity to try a little more humor and romance, which seems to have worked out well. Who would have thought laughter and sex were so popular?

Q] Cover art is a very important aspect for all fantasy stories. In this regards, you have a single artist drawing all the covers to get a uniform look, which is really smart. How do you all choose Elsa Kroese? What were your thoughts during the decision process? 

CE: Elsa is my preferred artist. When it came time to choose, nominations were made (of course I nominated Elsa), and we had a vote. I had complete confidence in making that nomination, because in addition to being a fantastic artist she is reliable and very easy to work with - all very important attributes.

MM: Elsa is Charlotte's usual artist. We chose a different artist at first, but he had to bow out for personal reasons. Elsa saved the day, and gave us absolutely stunning covers to boot. I will definitely be using her for future DIC projects.

JRL: Originally, we had hired a different artist, but he was pulled away by family business. So we ran a whirlwind search for a new artist, talked to lots of folks from around the world, debated art styles extensively, and ended up agreeing that Elsa was the perfect choice. My only goal was to have some art with drama, excitement, and atmosphere, and I think she pulled it off in spades.

Q] I noticed that one of the founding chroniclers Charlotte English has been involved with Elsa Kroese in the Spindrift Webcomic Project. Could you (Charlotte) tell us more about it, as to how the inception occurred? How did you & Elsa meet and decide to collaborate and more about the series itself? 

CE: Meeting Elsa was one of those serendipitous things that sometimes happen in life. We met because our respective partners went to school together; we began collaborating on Spindrift because Elsa needed a writer and I happened to be one. It’s fortunate for us both that we’ve turned out to be a great partnership: we get along really well, freely share ideas and we’re both very dedicated to our projects.

The story of Spindrift is mostly Elsa’s, though I’ve tossed a lot of ideas into the project over time. It’s about a mixed race heroine, Morwenna, and the trouble she faces when clashes occur between her mother’s people and her father’s. We’ve completed the prologue and most of chapter one so far (which are free to read online). It’s a long process with a lot of hard work involved, but it’s been hugely rewarding.

Q] After finishing your respective books in the DIC project, what do you hope to write next (in the DIC world as well your individual books)? Do you see yourself trying out different genres? Different formats? 

CE: I’m always interested in trying new things! That’s the main reason I signed up for this project. I’m planning to do another DIC book next year (though what exactly that will be about has yet to come together). I’m working on another stand-alone novel at the moment - a fairytale fantasy set in the English Regency, which will be my first fantasy/historical fiction crossover. After that I have more titles in my Malykant Mysteries series to write, plus a follow-up series to the Draykon books as well.

MM: In the DIC world, I'm working on a novel called "Songbird," based on work by our fifth collaborator Coral Moore, who was instrumental in the world's initial formation but who had to drop out. I'm also working on a short story tentatively titled "The Bug Merchant" about the trade in angler bug shells. Sounds boring but it features smugglers, cops and various ne'er-do-wells both on the island and Down Below.

In my own series, I'm working on the third book in the Intimate History series. "The Machine God" pushed it back, so that book is going to be later than I'd hoped. Such is the publishing life. I'm also working on a History novella/short story collection called "Whithorse" that is a Kickstarter reward from last year! I only recently got a handle on the dang thing, and I'm hoping to have it out in the next two months.

JRL: I'll be releasing my first high fantasy book The Falcon Prince this summer (hooray!) but then I'll be coming right back again in the fall with my second DIC novel, The Shadow Gambit, which will feature my detectives Bettina and Arjuna on another bizarre case, this time taking them to the country of Dumastra. Looking ahead, I plan to write many more books set in different centuries and cultures around the world, so fans of my past work should have a few good reasons to stick around. *coughSamuraicoughAtlantiscough*

Ouch. All that fake coughing is rough!

Q] Nowadays, it’s very common to see novels adapted into movies, comic books, TV shows, and even video games! Just for fun, how would you like to see your respective novels adapted? 

CE: It’s always fun to imagine adaptations. I think that the books could make a great set of graphic novels, and as a gamer I’d love to see a series of video games set in the DIC world. I think that the variety inherent in the DIC world opens up so many possibilities for adaptations into just about any format - its great strength is its flexibility.

MM: I would love to see a DIC television series. You could run all the story lines concurrently in "real time," as events happen, since we have overlapping stories. I'll be seeking auditions at ACX for the audiobook version of "The Machine God" later this week, and the team is also in tentative discussions with an RPG designer on a DIC tabletop game.

JRL: Well, my book hinges on the banter and general naughtiness of my married detectives, so I think we'd all like to see The Kaiser Affair in the flesh. I mean, in live action! I also think the world of the Drifting Isle Chronicles would lend itself well to a role-playing or mystery game, either for the computer or tabletop.

Q] I’m always interested in seeing what other people are reading. So what books have recently impressed you the most, what are you currently reading, and what titles are you most looking forward to? 

CE: I’ve just finished reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician series, which was fantastic, and right now I’m reading A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (steeping myself in Regency stuff!). I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s long-running Harry Dresden series, so I’m looking forward to the next installment.

MM: My bias toward 19th century literature is on display: my current book is Anthony Trollope's "The Way We Live Now," which I'm re-reading with a Trollope study group. On deck I have "Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler (who to my shame I haven't read), "Leviathan Wakes," and Stephen Toulouse's "Buddy's Eye." I may also have another run at N. Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," and may re-read his "The Diamond Age" with my 15-year-old daughter if I can talk her into it. It's one of my favorite books.

What's impressed me the most recently: Saladin Ahmed's "Throne of the Crescent Moon," which was just fabulous. I hear he's got the sequel well under way, and I'm really looking forward to it.

JRL: I'm currently reading the Meji books by Milton Davis. It's an epic fantasy series in an African setting centering on estranged twin brothers, a conquering warrior and a mystic healer, and their adventures and conflicts over several decades. Excellent stuff!

Q] Thank you for taking the time to join us today, is there anything else you’d like to add? What can we expect in the future from you?

CE: Lots more books! I’ve also got plans to work with Elsa on a number of art-related projects to support my existing (and future) titles. I’d love to do audiobooks someday, too, though that’s for later.

MM: More books! And audiobooks, read by me and others. I'm still trying to get a decent home studio set up to record the History books myself; I recently discovered my Mac Mini hates my microphone, so I need to find a solution to that problem before I can record anything.

Thanks for having us, Mihir!

JRL: As I mentioned, you can expect plenty more from me in the realm of historical fantasy. If there's any particular time or place you'd like to see appear in a fantasy novel, shoot me an email or tweet at me. I'd love to chat about it (although the odds are fair that I'm already planning to write whatever it is you're thinking about, so I encourage you to be as obscure as possible in your suggestions... no, even more obscure than what you're thinking now).


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born in the historic city of Lincoln, UK, Charlotte now lives in the heart of windmill country in the Netherlands. She has a degree in Heritage, and her interests include books, crafts, cooking and social history. She likes to write whimsical, colourful tales full of character and humour.


AUTHOR INFORMATION: MeiLin Miranda came back from the dead to write books. In 2006, she suffered a cardiac arrest and realized it was high time to get on with writing fiction after 30-plus years of professional nonfiction writing. Her main series is the fantasy epic saga An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom, and she is a co-creator of the shared steampunk fantasy series The Drifting Isle Chronicles. Her influences include Ursula K. LeGuin, Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, Georgette Heyer, MFK Fisher and Neil Gaiman.

She can't seem to get away from writing stories set in the 19th century (or something like it) no matter what she does. MeiLin lives in Portland, OR with a husband, two kids, two cats, a floppy dog and far, far too much yarn.


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joseph Robert Lewis was curious about world mythology since a tender age and so he then decided to write stories in which history, mythology, and fantasy would collide in unpredictable ways. He also likes writing about heroines that his daughters can respect and admire. Joe was born in Annapolis and went to the University of Maryland to study ancient novels, morality plays, and Viking poetry. He graduated with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Maryland with his family, a needy cat, and a zombie fish.

NOTE: Author pictures courtesy of the authors themselves. Spindrift prologue artwork courtesy of Elsa Kroese.



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