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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with Steven Montano (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Soulrazor
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Crown Of Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Witch's Eye
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Scars
Read Steven Montano's guest post on Cross-genre writing

I’ve come across many authors that have trail-blazed their way across the indie scene. One of them is Steven Montano who is rapidly intriguing readers with his debut series The Blood Skies chronicles that mixes vampires, a post-apocalyptic scenario, dark fantasy, military-SF settings and fantastic characters to top it off. Since discovering his debut last year, I’ve read all of his long form releases until now and so I thought it would be great to have him over and introduce him and his ideas to our wonderful readers. So without further adieu, I present Steven Montano

Q] Steven, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in an interview. To begin with, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us what set you on the wordsmith path?

SM: Hi! My name is Steven Montano, author of The Blood Skies series and City of Scars. I’ve been writing for about twenty years, starting off with Dungeons & Dragons game supplements and moving into self-published novels about two years ago. I like coffee. (That has no bearing on the question; it’s just something I like to throw out there.)

Q] How did you get started in writing? What were the types of books that helped get you hooked on to reading and thereby set you on this path as well?

SM: I was really drawn into writing in high school, when I was reading a lot of Stephen King. While I credit Mr. King for getting me interested in writing, it wasn’t until I discovered Clive Barker and Tanith Lee that I truly fell in love with the idea of crafting beautiful, dark stories. Their prose really enamored me with the written word, and I started writing as a hobby shortly thereafter. I still haven’t stopped. =D

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 Blood Skies Series?

SM: Darkness lined with hope. That’s probably the best way to describe my writing. My worlds are bleak, grim and violent, populated by really horrible monsters and evil villains who challenge my heroes and push them to their utmost limits. My characters go through an awful lot of hardship, but what keeps them moving forward is their drive, determination, and loyalty to something greater to themselves, whether that be a person, an ideal, or their family or friends.

As for the pitch for “Blood Skies”? Dystopian military dark epic fantasy. With real vampires!

Q] The Blood Skies series is currently five books strong along with a couple of short stories and a prequel novella. What are your plans for the series ahead? How many books more to go? Can you give us a rough idea of what’s to come?

SM: There will be nine Blood Skies books altogether. Book six (Chain of Shadows, due out this fall) will more or less wrap up the “trying to get home” storyline that started back in Book three, and also sets things up for a slight shift in the overall narrative. The new storyline will occupy the final three books:
- Vampire Down,
- The Ending Dream,
- Darker Sunset

It’s difficult for me to discuss too much of what’s happening with the story, except to say that Book six involves Cross and what’s left of the team exploring a foreign land, while Books seven through nine will involve a most unexpected turning point in the war.

Q] Even though your debut series embraces a number of fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize and which ones not to?

SM: I think tropes are a useful element for storytelling. One of the best things I learned in college (I actually majored in Creative Writing…go figure) was learning to be highly aware of genre conventions and tropes, not so much to outright avoid them (as some do) or to follow them religiously (which even more do) but so you can use them as tools.

Tropes come saddled with certain story expectations – we know the young hero will rescue the princess, that the old man helping him is more than he seems, etc. It’s not always vital to stray from those expectations, but it can be fun to toy with them. It’s a fine balance, however, between twisting expectations and making your readers feel like they’re being cheated, so you have to tread carefully.

Q] The Blood Skies series also has a high character mortality rate. I’m sure you must have gotten quite a few angry emails from your readers about some of them. Aren’t you worried that you’ll run out of characters to write about?

SM: Not at all, because I manage to keep coming up with new ones. ;D Again, this is another balancing act. I want the dangers of Blood Skies to feel very real, and one of the realities of war is that people die, especially the people we don’t want to. I don’t want my readers to just assume that every likable character I present is automatically a Red Shirt, but I also want to keep that sense of danger palatable, as I think it keeps the audience more invested. (And yes, I got my share of angry e-mails regarding certain character expirations, especially from Book 4…)

Q] Your most recent book was City Of Scars (book one of The Skullborn trilogy) . Was there a precise spark of inspiration that lead to the creation of The Skullborn trilogy? And how long have you been working on this series and has it evolved any from its original conceptual form?

SM: The Skullborn trilogy (and the two trilogies to follow, forming yet another nine-book series, only this one will be presented in smaller pieces) is actually quite old. I wrote the original drafts of the first trilogy by longhand when my family first relocated from Colorado to Washington; that was about 11 years ago. I’m completely rewriting it now (my stuff was pretty horrible back then…hell, it wasn’t even all that great two years ago, so you can imagine how stuff from 2002 must read), and it’s been fun re-living the story. It’s been so long since I originally scribed it I can barely remember what happened.

Inspiration for the tale came from a setting idea I had for a post-apocalyptic high fantasy world (think Mad Max with swords and sorcery instead of guns and cars). As a student of history (I minored in European History in college), I decided to tone down the post-apocalyptic element and instead craft a world that was recovering from a major war. This allowed me to use some of the standard conventions for high fantasy, but seen through the lens of a place recovering from conflict.

Q] I thoroughly enjoyed the world setting that you have developed for The Skullborn trilogy. In my review I’ve described the world as “The Wire meets The Lord Of The Rings as written by Glen Cook!” How did you come up with this strange, war-torn world and what were your inspirations for it (if any)?

SM: I love that description, by the way. Inspirations for the world of Malzaria come from all over, many of them from my old Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran in college. In terms of tone, scope and story there are bits of C.S. Friedman, John Marco, Stephen Erickson and Robert Jordan to be found in Malzaria, as well as well as a healthy dose of George R.R. Martin. (Conversely, the world of Blood Skies derives from a healthy mix of China Mieville, J.V. Jones and John Meaney.)

Q] On Amazon, I noticed that there are few books listed under your bibliography that aren’t connected to any of your current works. Can you tell us about “Black Ice Well”, “Fane Of The Witch King” & “Hellstone Deep”? When did you write them? What are they about?

SM: Blasts from my past. ;D All three of those works are Dungeons & Dragons adventures produced by third party publishers. A lot of how I learned to use description and present stories came from running role-playing games, and a few bits and pieces from those adventures have worked their way into the novels (not surprising, since like Malzaria those adventures were all based on my campaign world).

Q] A facet of your writing that I noticed about your books is that you wax eloquently about the landscapes within the storylines. Also you invoke a lot of colors amid your imagery to convey the grim nature of the settings. What gives?

SM: I think I’m a hippy. ;D To me, part of what makes fantasy is the depiction of the landscape, whether that’s flowing rivers and valleys or skies filled with poison smoke. I try to make the readers feel like they’ve been transported to another world, and physical description is a big part of that.

I’m honestly not sure what’s up the colors. I was a Goth in college and wore nothing but black up until a few years ago, so maybe that’s just my writer’s mind trying to put all of that behind me. ;D

Q] What are your plans for the future? What’s next for you in terms of other new projects?

SM: I’ve got tons of things in the works. Chain of Shadows is in the editing stage, and I’m working on the re-write of Path of Bones (Book two of The Skullborn Trilogy). Because the Blood Skies series shifts gears a bit after Book six. I may though take some time to finish up the Skullborn Trilogy before I return for the final three books of my first series.

I’ll continue working on my second horror novel, Blood Angel Rising (which I’m presenting right now in eight sentence chunks every Saturday through Weekend Writing Warriors), and, as I mentioned earlier, the Skullborn Trilogy is actually just the first in three trilogies telling the story of Malzaria. Hand-written draft versions exist for seven of the remaining books, so I’ve got plenty of re-writing to do.

Q] On your blog, you review Indie titles that have impressed you, from time to time. In that regard, I’ve picked up some excellent recommendations courtesy of your thoughts. So are there any new books/writers that you would like to highlight or give a shout out to?

SM: That’s mean to make me pick and choose, Mihir! (Shakes fist.) Sadly, I haven’t been reading nearly as much Indie work lately as I should, partially because I’ve been woefully behind on my reading all around. Regardless, I have a huge Indie TBR list. Bruce Blake’s “Blood of the King” is remarkable, and I can’t wait to finish that trilogy. I’m eagerly awaiting Candice Bundy’s “The Dream Sifter”. Jen Kirchner is working on the follow-up to “The Fourth Channel”. And if Alan Edwards doesn’t finish writing The Northreach Saga I’m going to hunt him down with a pitchfork.

Q] Since your indie debut in 2011, you have published six books and three novella/shorts at a prodigious rate. As a writer, what are your aspirations? Conversely where do you see yourself in a decade from now?

SM: I’d like to someday be able to write novels for a living as a self-published author. It’s a tall order, I know, and one that only a few have had true success with, but that’s the dream. In 10 years I see myself doing that. Or resting comfortably in a padded cell. Either way, I’m good.

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

SM: Just to thank you for having me, Mihir, and to all of the readers who’ve taken a chance buying my books, given me feedback and left reviews. I’m humbled every time anyone reads my work, and I just want my fans (it feels weird saying that, by the way) to know how grateful I am for their support. =D

NOTE: Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.


Danielle Young said...

This is an awesome review! Steven Montano is the whole reason I read a lot of the fantasy books that I do. Before Steven Montano and the Blood Skies series I read mostly YA Fantasy, but now I like the darker and edger stuff.

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