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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The King's Ranger Spotlight Interview with A.C. Cobble (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order The King's Ranger over HERE (USA)HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Quill
Read the Cartographer Series Cover Reveal Q&A with AC Cobble

Today we have the pleasure of hosting AC Cobble.  AC is launching a new series and we are honoured to reveal the covers for books 1 & 2 of the King's Ranger series. AC talks about what inspired him to write this new series and why the eponymous character on the cover resembles a certain author...

Q] Hi AC, welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. how have you been amidst these troubled times?

ACC: Hi Mihir, thanks for having me! It’s a crazy world out there, but luckily the COVID impact on my family has been minimal. I already work from home, people still read books during a pandemic, and my wife stays home with our three young kids (boys, 2-7). We have an easier situation than many others are facing. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to concentrate with the kids around All Of The Time, but we’re so fortunate overall that I cannot complain (j/k, I do).

With the protests, I’m a white male who grew up in a well-off household, so more than anything it’s a time for me to listen and reflect. There are been so many powerful, educational — and disturbing — stories that have come out. And while it’s best for those like me to listen and understand, one thing that has stuck with me is that it’s not all about good guys and bad guys. Most of us are not the bad guys, but how many of us are the good guys? For me, I’ve always felt I wasn’t the problem, it was the bad guys who are the problem, but I’m beginning to understand that mindset, the inertia it causes among so many people, IS part of the problem. We’re discussing within our family how we can actively be some of the good guys.

Q] You have an exciting new series coming up. Can you tell us what it’s about?

ACC: Yes, I do have a new series coming on September 1st called The King’s Ranger. It’s a traditional fantasy that’s going to have the same flavor as my Benjamin Ashwood series (though not coming of age), but it will have new characters, a new magic system, and be set in an entirely new world. Think clean fantasy with plenty of mystery, journeys, magic, and sword fights. This is a classic small party embarks on an adventure that spirals into a kingdom-spanning epic conflict sort of story. I’m still working on writing a decent blurb…

Q] Let’s talk about your inspirations for The King’s Ranger series. You had mentioned that it’s similar to the action-adventure feel of your Benjamin Ashwood while also being different (not coming-of-age). Can you tell us more about these influences?

ACC: Both Benjamin Ashwood and The King’s Ranger owe a lot of their roots to the 90’s era fantasy I grew up reading. Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Tad Williams, and all of the Terry’s. The King’s Ranger in particular also draws from the feel of a good D&D campaign. We’ve got a bestiary full of monsters, a party of adventurers with a span of talents, and a looming threat that sooner or later, we know they’re going to have to face. I had a lot of fun creating a unique magic system from scratch, but some of the other standard archetypes like the titular ranger, a fighter, and a thief will feel familiar.

Q] Let’s talk about the gorgeous cover for The King’s Ranger, this is another ace from the team of Felix Ortiz and Shawn King. What was your input for them and what was your initial reaction when you saw the finished version?

ACC: I’d worked with Shawn King before on my Cartographer series, and we’d developed a great relationship through that project. I knew I could send him my ideas, and he’d work with them and kick me back something better than I ever conceived. I knew on this project I’d also want more custom illustration, so adding Felix Ortiz to the team was an easy decision. He and Shawn work together often, and for years now I’ve seen covers by Felix that blew my mind. Both of them were my first choices when it came to illustration and design!

For TKR, I sent Felix a really terrible, hilarious stickman sketch of what I was thinking, and he faithfully turned that into the cover for Book 1. It’s very much as I envisioned, and I was blown away when I saw it. Shawn’s design perfectly captured the classic fantasy feel I wanted. Any accusation that the ranger looks as if Felix and I had a baby is totally baseless! On Book 2, I handed in my sketch, Felix made some mockups that I think he was a little uncertain on, and then Shawn shot them down as soon as he saw it ;)

The cover for Book 2 was primarily driven by Shawn and Felix, and has nothing to do with my original idea. I couldn’t be happier about that. That’s the value of working with pros, they’re unafraid of voicing their opinions, and I trust they’ll steer me toward a better product in the end.

Q] Let’s talk about the world that you are creating for this saga. It seems to be medieval in origin but that would be too simplistic. Can you talk to us about the world that the King’s Ranger is set in? What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

ACC: The King’s Ranger is set in a fairly typical medieval fantasy setting, and it will span the breadth of a single kingdom by the end of the series. We start on the eastern fringe, in a small village where our titular ranger lives. He’s responsible for the safety of the village and monitoring the wilderness beyond. As is always the case, he’s drawn into a broader conflict by the arrival of the youths in the village. As he investigates their origin, and is eventually pressured to assist them, we move out into the wider world.

The kingdom is ruled by a tyrannical, necromancer king, whose line rose to power two-hundred years prior during a great war. The king cares for little except ensuring the succession of his line, which has always been determined by pitting three sons against each other every 25 or so years. It’s a last man standing competition, and to the victor go the spoils. The princes spend their lives plotting against each other, building power, hiring assassins, raising armies, and making alliances. When they feel the tug, and the Investiture begins.

There is intrigue and surprises to be revealed, but I hope it’s not too large a spoiler to say our ranger and his party are soon drawn toward the conflict.

Q] Tell us more of the eponymous ranger? Who is he? Which king does he serve? Whom did you model him on?

ACC: The ranger serves the king reluctantly. He has a bit of a mysterious past, as all rangers must, but I will share that he was previously in the king’s service in another capacity. He took the position as ranger at the fringe of the realm to be as far from the king as he could get.

Of all rangers in pop culture, he’s closest to Aragorn, but there’s a lot of me in him as well! The ranger, Rew, shares some of my name, my age, and many of my characteristics. He’s an introvert who just wants to handle his business and be left alone. He’s also very good with a sword and sneaking through the woods at night, uh, just like me…

Q] Who are some of the series’ other major characters? In your post on FB, you had mentioned that there would be a quest & a found family feel to the story. Tell us more about this facet of the story?

ACC: The main party through the first book is led by our ranger, Rew, and an apprentice ranger, Jon. Rew is pressured into this adventure by a kindly innkeeper and empath, Anne. They’re shepherding two young nobles, Raif, a fighter, and Cinda, a budding spellcaster, to their father and safety. They’re joined by a young thief named Zaine, who helped the younglings escape from their father’s rival prior to the beginning of our story.

The family dynamic comes into play because as I mentioned, the ranger shares a lot of characteristics with me, and the empath Anne shares much with my wife. They’re saddled with three youths, and we have three children. See where this is going? Early on, Anne pressures Rew to help the youths, and as the series continues, he feels more and more responsibility to protect them, train them, and get them through this epic conflict that is brewing. This is far from an autobiography, but I drew inspiration from my own family dynamic. Unfortunately for our ranger, he’s got a lot more adventure ahead of him than sitting at home and writing books.

Q] I love that you have highlighted the action oriented feel of 90s fantasy for this new series. How are you trying to avoid the pitfalls & outdated tropes for that era?

ACC: Haha, maybe I’m confessing to a crime here, but for me it’s not so much “avoid the tropes” as “modernize and make my own”. My books do include some familiar concepts, but I like to think in a way that will be fresh and exciting for readers. The best example from the 90’s is the farm boy who gets swept up by mysterious strangers on a journey. He follows along until he finds out he’s the son of the king, is the chosen one, or whatever. We’ve all read that trope plenty of times because the idea of going out into the big world on an adventure is real — even fantasy fans move out of mom’s basement! But very few of us are secretly the son of a king or the heir to a powerful strain of magic.

When I take my influences from those books, I try to twist the tropes in a way that fits my current perception of the world and puts a new spin on a universal experience. In my Benjamin Ashwood series, Ben is a Regular Joe who gets pulled into the adventure, and he represents all of us. In The King’s Ranger, our hero Rew is dragged onto the journey by the na├»ve young guns, which is all I can say without spoilers. The trope was/is popular because it is an experience we all go through, but I hope I can write it from a different angle in a way that feels fresh and exciting to modern readers.

Q] How tricky is it to find the right balance between action (magical & personal battles) and horror (with monsters, etc.) aspects of the story?

ACC: Balance is a really difficult part of writing a book, and for me at least, it’s the aspect I’m least confident about. When I outline, I try to alternate the pacing, include internal and external conflict, and make sure there’s variety. Once I have a draft, I go through end to end several times trying to feel out that balance. I compare it to spinning a pottery wheel. I’m going over and over again on the clay, smoothing out the bumps. A lot of authors at this point use Beta Readers to give a temperature check on balance and pace, but I tend to avoid other human input. I’ve only had one beta reader who’s done about half my books, and on this current series I have no one! Maybe that’s silly, and maybe that’s why I do more revision rounds than other authors, but it’s the only way I can get confident enough to publish.

On The King’s Ranger, I’m also trying out technology, and so far I’m pleased with the results. Authors AI has an interesting report that can help address a few of these difficulties (Full disclosure, I have a very tiny financial interest in this company.) At the end of the day though, balance is all about the feel I get when I read the story over several times. I know it has too much action if I’m worn out reading it, or worse, if I get bored or need a nap! Until I get a better way, it’s several rounds of re-reading: blood, sweat, and tears.


Pre-order The King's Ranger over HERE (USA)HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A ranger’s duty. The rotten heart of a king. Rebellion spilled from the blood of family.

Rew, the king’s ranger, accepted a role on the far edge of the realm to avoid the morass of intrigue and betrayal that bleeds from the heart of the kingdom. His only desire is to shoulder the burden he’s taken, to protect the village of Eastwatch, and to monitor the wilderness beyond.

When three youths are arrested for petty theft in the village and beg for his help, Rew’s oldest friend insists he take responsibility for them. By ties stronger than steel, Rew is forced onto a path he knows leads to chaos and death. Through a resurgence of monsters summoned in ages prior, war between the royal line, and back-stabbing treachery, the king’s ranger will battle to grant the youths a life he never had a chance of.

But as they venture farther from the wilderness he calls home, Rew can feel the magical pull at the center of the kingdom, demanding he return to face his past and his family’s terrible legacy. Only he knows the secret of the king, and the risk it poses to the entire realm.



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