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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with Jon Auerbach (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Guild Of Tokens over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Jon. 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?

JA: Thanks for having me! I have been writing in one form or another since middle school, but most of it was for newspapers (I covered a dozen or so of my college’s sports teams and wrote a bi-weekly column). What really kickstarted my fiction writing was coming across a flash fiction challenge about seven years ago. The challenge was writing a 1000-word story based on a random trope on I got “battle couple” and wrote a story about a husband-wife assassin team who met and fell in love at assassin school. Over the next several months, I wrote more flash stories about that couple, along with some other one-off premises (a time-traveling steward of Avalon, a pair of brothers searching for their father and the city of Atlantis, boy-girl twins who accidentally travel to an alternate earth populated by elves, dwarves, and the descendants of a lost British colony). My plan was to build each of these stories out into their own books, but I never got very far.

Then one night I was walking home after seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past and came up with an idea for a sci-fi short story. This was in the wake of Hugh Howey uploading the first section of Wool to Amazon and having it go gangbusters. I didn’t think that something similar would happen to my story, but I thought it would be a good way to learn about self-publishing, so I revised the story several times, created a cover, and then sent it out into the world. It felt good to finish a project and immediately get it in the hands of readers, so I continued learning more about self-publishing while I worked on what eventually became Guild of Tokens.

Q] Your debut book has a very interesting premise Jon which combines urban fantasy as well as urban scavenger hunts. What lead to the inception of this story?

JA: It was a bit of happenstance. I was at work one morning and a premise just popped into my head:

"What if, buried somewhere in the too-numerous-to-count categories of Craigslist, there was a section called Quests?"

What followed was one of those rare writer moments where the words just started flowing out of my brain, and in the span of an hour, I had a 1000-word short in which our as-yet unnamed protagonist traverses New York City completing odd Quests in exchange for wooden tokens. I kept coming back to this idea over the next several months, writing out random scenes, but it took a while before it all gelled together into a cohesive story anchored by an actual character.

Q] Your book has a darker and grittier take on urban fantasy, plus there are no vampires. What would made you write this story in such a fashion & why no vampires?

JA: My exposure to urban fantasy is mostly through Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (one of the first fantasy books I read as an adult) and American Gods. I really connected with the “hidden world just out of sight” aspect of those books and wanted to write a story where there was this lurking magic out there that maybe you could find in real life if you looked hard enough. I’m drawn more to the myths and legends-subgenre of urban fantasy, hence the absence of vampires and other paranormal fixtures from the series.

Q] What can readers expect from this book and series?

JA: As you said, it’s a different take on urban fantasy. You’re not going to have super-powerful wizards just blasting spells at each other in alleyways. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting magical items or weapons. There are things like a sword which fits in any bag, or gum that when chewed sobers a drunk person instantaneously, or an ink that compels the reader to follow the written instructions. But there’s a rational explanation for all this. Magic is a natural resource. Like oil and gas and minerals. It’s found in nature and the earth. And like those things, it needs to be extracted and refined. And also like robber barons or industrialists with other natural resources, the people who discovered magic are the ones who kept it a secret and monopolized it and gotten rich off it by using it for their own profit. And they spawned these families who have passed down the secret and who still control it (maybe as part of a secret Guild of some sort). But, there’s a problem. Just like every other natural resource, magic is being depleted.

This is the present state of affairs that Jen, the main character, finds herself caught up in. The first book is an introduction to the world and the Quests, and the eponymous Guild is lurking off-page for most of the book. But in book two, Guild of Magic, it becomes front and center. Whereas in Guild of Tokens, the main conflicts are mostly personal, in Guild of Magic, the conflict spreads to the Guild itself, and then as the series progresses, that will spiral out into great conflicts with the other magical forces in this world.

Q] How many volumes do you think you would require to complete the Guild series?

JA: So I have a grand plan that involves writing several different series (some using the premises from my original flash stories I mentioned earlier), each revolving around a different mythos/magic and the characters from each series will all team up Avengers-style in a crossover series with a world-spanning conflict. Obviously, I’m still at the beginning stages, as I’m only on book two of my first series. But I’m hoping to wrap up a big arc in book three of the Guild of Tokens series and then either start the next series or do a spin-off series with one of the characters from Guild.

Q] David Gemmell had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as “Rick’s Bar characters” and described them in the following way:

When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them ‘Rick’s Bar characters,’ from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all.

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

JA: That definitely resonates with me and how I wrote Guild of Tokens. The main character, Jen, I would describe as being tough to write; the book is first-person, so in early drafts it felt like there was too much of my personality creeping in. So I made a conscious effort to reign that back and to let her own voice come through, but it’s much harder. Especially because there’s stuff that Jen is only learning about herself and her own history as the books progress and so she can’t draw on that yet because she doesn’t know it! Contrast that with Beatrice, who becomes Jen’s morally gray mentor about a third of the way through the first book. Originally, she was a one-note shrieking villain, but then I decided to have her be a foil to Jen and wrote a short story prequel to flesh out some of her backstory. Maybe it was writing in third-person point of view, but for whatever reason, that story and the two that followed were more in the “easy” vein as Gemmell calls it, and I find it smoother writing Beatrice.

Q] Let’s talk about what triggered your love for fantasy. You happen to mention in the acknowledgements section that it was the 1977 Hobbit film which blew your mind. Can you talk a bit more about how and why it blew your mind?

JA: I’d say it was the music. When Gandalf first appears at the crest of the hill overlooking Bilbo’s hole, and then the dwarves appear behind him and start singing, it immediately drew me in. And John Huston as the voice of Gandalf was spot-on casting.

It was the perfect self-contained adventure story, and only later did I learn that it was actually part of a larger story! I remember I came home from college one winter break to find out that my parents had thrown out the original video cassette, but fortunately I reacquired the film on DVD and digital and plan on showing it to my kids.

Q] Conversely with regards to younger self, how did you as an adult find the Peter Jackson LOTR trilogy?

JA: I loved that trilogy as well! I was furious when The Two Towers lost Best Picture at the Oscars to Chicago. Those movies also had amazing music, so much so that I went to back-to-back-to-back performances of the trilogy accompanied by a live symphony orchestra a few years back. S0meday I hope I’m able to write a scene that would be well-paired with Forth Eorlingas.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions. What would like to pass on to your fans both old and new?

JA: Thank you for having me! For those of you waiting on book two, I’m hoping for a productive writing summer that will allow for an early fall release. And for those of you who are new to the series, I’ve got a number of different entry points, especially if you are an audiobook listener. I’ve been releasing the short story prequels as podcast episodes over the past 2.5 months. The last part just went live last week and this week I’m releasing the prologue and the first chapter of the main book. You can find out more at

This was part of the Guild Of Tokens blog tour organized by Storytellers On Tour. My thanks to Justine and Timy for letting Fantasy Book Critic be a part of it. You can check out the rest of the stops over here.

Official Book Blurb: All Jen Jacobs has achieved in life is loneliness. So when she stumbles across a real-life game of epic quests on the streets of New York, she jumps at the chance for some excitement and gold tokens. Little does she know that the items she strives to collect hold a darker purpose…

After a particularly harrowing quest pairs her up with Beatrice Taylor, a no-nonsense and ambitious mentor, Jen hopes she’s on the path to becoming a big-time player. But as she dives deeper into the game’s hidden agenda, she realizes Beatrice has her sights set on the Guild, the centuries-old organization that runs the Questing game. And the quests Jen loves are about to put both of them in grave danger.

Will Jen survive the game before powerful forces cut her real life short?


Jon said...

Thanks for the interview Mihir!

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