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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Interview with Dorian Hart, author of The Ventifact Colossus & Giveaway

Order The Ventifact Colossus HERE.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. The fourth book, The Infinite Tower, should be out in February or March of 2021. 

In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock. 

Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures. He also spends time torturing his piano, playing the sport of pickleball, losing at board games, making terrible dad jokes, and trembling beneath the shadow of his towering TBR. 

Book info: Self-published by the author in 2016, The Ventifact Colossus is the first book in The Heroes of Spira series. The series will be completed soon - the fourth book,  The Infinite Tower, will publish in 2021.

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Length: 343 (Print Length)


Thank you for agreeing to this Q&A. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m Dorian Hart, a middle-aged husband and a father of two teenage girls living north of Boston. My creative writing degree from Wesleyan led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, during which I worked mostly on games you probably haven’t heard of (Ultima Underworld 2, System Shock, System Shock 2, Thief, Terra Nova, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, Card Hunter) and one you probably have (BioShock). Now I’m a stay-at-home dad and living the dream of my 10-year-old self, which was to write fantasy novels. I’m currently working on a five book epic fantasy series called The Heroes of Spira, of which three books are published, the fourth should be out in early 2021, and the fifth and final volume is well underway.

When I’m not writing, parenting, and house-wrangling, I enjoy hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire, playing the sport of Pickleball, torturing our piano, playing games of various sorts, reading lots of SFF, and pretending to ignore the onslaught of mail from the AARP now that I’m on the far side of 50.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

If by “current favorite writers” you mean “authors who are still publishing books in 2020,” (as opposed to “authors whose books I’m currently reading”), my non-exhaustive short list would include Alix E. Harrow, Josiah Bancroft, Adrian Tchaikovsky, David Mitchell, Joe Abercrombie, Mike Shel, Nicholas Eames, and Claire North. My greatest influencers would mostly include the authors of my childhood: J.R.R.Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, C.S.Lewis, and Raymond E. Feist chief among them.

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? 

My journey as a writer has been a long, slow, and steady march. There’s a notion, variously ascribed to several authors, that a writer’s first million words are garbage, but you have to write them in order to reach a plateau of competency. When I look back on my writing life, I think I’m pretty close to those milestones— both the words and the competency.

I’ve been writing short stories since I was a wee lad. In tenth grade, I wrote my first (piece of a) fantasy novel. Our class had an entirely open-ended writing assignment that we had a couple of months to work on, so I decided to write as much of a fantasy story as I could. My two protagonists—a burly fighter and a scrawny wizard—found themselves in one seemingly un-survivable scrape after another. I typed the whole thing on an ACTUAL WORD PROCESSOR, which in 1985 was a great big deal, and painstakingly printed the final copy out from my Apple IIe via a dot-matrix printer. I was intensely proud of it, and was hoping for all sorts of flabbergasted praise from my English teacher. Alas, Mrs. H was notoriously lazy, and the sum total of her marks upon my hundred pages of lovingly-crafted prose was “99/100. Good job” on the cover page. I’m fairly certain she didn’t read it; I think she figured I was a decent writer for a 10th grader, and dear god that was a lot of pages of schlocky fantasy, so 99/100 sounded about right.

In my senior year of high school I wrote an excessive number of short stories, hoping to win my high school’s writing prize using a scattershot strategy. (Surely if I submitted enough pieces, one would win just by chance!) The longest of these was a first-person present tense non-fiction account of what it had been like acting in my first play. I had never written anything like it before, but I was inspired by a piece my father had written that had been published in a local newspaper. Like most things I wrote before I turned 30, I imagined it a work of startling genius while I was writing it, but on review it stands the test of time in much the same way Bernie Sanders would stand up to Mike Tyson.

In college I majored in creative writing, and my senior thesis was an (again unfinished) fantasy novel about a college student who accidentally acquires unwanted magical powers. It was blatantly autobiographic, cringingly self-indulgent, and marginally better-written than my high school story had been.

A few years ago I was invited to write an interactive novella for the excellent choose-your-own-adventure publisher Choice of Games. Over about 15 months I wrote Choice of the Star Captain, a humorous science fiction romp, of which I was (and still am) quite proud. It was a combined writing and light coding exercise, but despite that my career had been in game design, I think I naturally emphasized the “writing” part over the “game” part.

A year after that I wrote a 40k word non-fiction humor book centered around a few years of Facebook posts about my kids. I called it Status Update Parent, and maybe someday I’ll polish it up and publish it, but for now it’ll have to wait in line behind my fantasy novels.

Finally—and this is where the most sizable chunk of my million words comes from—I wrote a fictionalized account of a long-running D&D campaign which I ran for about fifteen years. Those campaign journals would wind up as the foundation for The Heroes of Spira, of which The Ventifact Colossus is the first of five volumes.

When I go back and look at everything from Star Captain onward, I can see the quality of my writing finally shedding most of the skin of mediocrity that had covered it lo those twenty-odd years. I can watch myself discover my voice at last, and learn how to narrate, describe and entertain all at the same time. Of course, even a million words isn’t sufficient to perfect one’s art; no single lifetime is that long. But for me, at least, the key to moving from “hack” to “at least half-way decent” was perseverance.

How would you describe the plot of The Ventifact Colossus if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

An old wizard summons up a group of mismatched, overmatched, but generally well-meaning strangers to help him save his kingdom. They discover the world’s troubles are like an onion, where peeling back each layer reveals larger, more mysterious plots underneath.

How did you come up with the title The Ventifact Colossus? 

“The Ventifact Colossus” is the name of a [spoiler redacted] that makes an appearance late in the book. In hindsight, it’s kind of a crappy book title, in that it’s hard to pronounce and spell, but I’ve been fascinated by the word “ventifact” ever since I read it on a Magic card a few decades ago.

How does it tie with the plot of the book?

The appearance of the Ventifact Colossus coincides with both a ritual and a prophecy, but beyond that I can’t provide additional details without revealing a massive spoiler. Sorry!

What inspired you to write this story? Was there one “lightbulb moment” when the concept for this book popped into your head or did it develop over time?

I know the answer to this question may scare away about 60% of my potential readership, but it can’t be helped. The bones of the series, of which The Ventifact Colossus is the opening salvo, came from a D&D campaign I ran continually for over 15 years. I used to post “session reports” on a prominent D&D message board and amassed a following of several hundred readers. Many of them regularly exhorted me to turn the story content into novels, a suggestion which I stridently resisted for many years. There are all sorts of problems with translating a TTRPG experience into books, about which I wrote at length in an article posted here

It helped that I ran the game as a heavily plotted interactive story more than a freewheeling sandbox, a conceit my players happily bought into. And I used the plot and characters of the game as source material and a vague sort of roadmap for the books, and not as anything dogmatic. My books do have an unapologetic “D&D” feel about them, but I don’t mind, and I hope readers don’t either. One of my favorite blogger review quotes is:

“While some D&D-inspired novels struggle to be anything but a D&D campaign transcript, The Ventifact Colossus rises above the inspiration and proves to be an entertaining and satisfying story with a whole lot of heart.”

If you had to describe The Ventifact Colossus in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Magic-laden. Quest-rific. Hopeful.

Would you say that The Ventifact Colossus follows tropes or kicks them?

On the one hand, yes, tropes, certainly. I mean, the book literally starts with a mysterious wizard gathering a bunch of strangers in his tower and sending them on a quest! On the other hand, the first POV character is a part-goblin ex-priest, now a street thief, who got kicked out of his church for such pranks as gluing the chaplain’s hat to his head and accidentally setting the outhouse on fire. Pretty sure that one’s not a trope.

A recent blogger review of The Ventifact Colossus included this: “I would definitely recommend it to any fantasy fans who want to see some traditional tropes played out and twisted on their heads!”

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

The Heroes of Spira has a magic system which is somewhere in the vague middle ground between hard and soft.  I postulate that the air is saturated with aether, and arcanists manipulate the aether to create magical effects.  How wizardy types do this can vary. Some use D&D-ish spell formulas, some use a purely mathematical framework of equations and diagrams, and others use runestones. And one of the main characters, Kibi, has an affinity for stone-shaping whose source is different but ultimately related.  I do my best to keep it all consistent, and there are limitations that prevent magic-use from devolving to deus ex machina levels, but I’m not rigidly dogmatic about it. And godly “magic” is another beast entirely.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Ventifact Colossus’s protagonists/antagonists?

If you’ll excuse me re-using material, here’s how I answered that question for a recent interview I did with the excellent Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub.

The Heroes of Spira, a.k.a. “Horn’s Company,” are:

Dranko Blackhope, a priest-turned-pickpocket, kicked out of his church for excessive pranksterism and his irreverent mouth. Being part goblin does not help his reputation.
Ysabel Horn, an elderly farmer’s widow with a practical streak. She’s understandably confused about being chosen to help save the world.

Ernest Roundhill, a baker’s son sorely lacking in self-confidence. He’s wondering why there’s a hundreds-of-years-old statue of himself buried under his neighbor’s tavern.
Aravia Telmir, a brilliant but arrogant wizard’s apprentice who really misses her cat.
Grey Wolf, a hard-bitten mercenary who’s not very happy about having been effectively kidnapped by a wizard.

Morningstar of Ell, a priestess of the goddess of night. She’s not allowed to walk outdoors in daylight, which could complicate her inclusion in this motley group.

Tor Bladebearer, a young nobleman’s son and talented swordsman who thinks being picked to help save Spira is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

Kibilhathur Bimson, a shy craftsman who insists his ability to speak with stones isn’t real magic. It’s just something he does.

How did you select the names of your characters?

For better or worse, the names of the protagonists are the same as they were in the tabletop game source material—which is to say, my players chose them. For all of the others, I mostly just ruminate on various fantasy-sounding names until I hit upon one that seems to fit the character. I do have one little secret, which is that the last names of obscure professional athletes can be a good source of fantasy names. Really!

Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book?

The cover art is an original painting by the inimitable Gareth Hinds, a graphic novelist of high repute, best known for his retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad, along with a variety of Shakespearian works. I had the good fortune to work with Gareth for many years in the video game industry, and have been delighted with his cover art for the Heroes of Spira.

Our process, boiled down is: Gareth reads the book, then offers ideas for a number of possible covers. He sketches out around a dozen, and together we narrow it down to two or three for more serious treatments. From those we pick our favorite, and he works his magic.

The cover of The Ventifact Colossus shows an ensemble cast of fantasy characters, so readers will have a decent idea of what they’re getting into. The obelisks in the background are The Seven Mirrors, which play an important plot-role in multiple books.

What was your proofreading/editing process?

Step 1: Finish a first draft. I buck convention and edit as I go, often going back to clean up or change things, so my finished first drafts are usually clean. Pretty clean. Clean-ish. Er, not horror shows?
Step 2: Spend a couple of months further cleaning/fixing/rewriting/editing the draft.
Step 3: Send the draft to my awesome army of beta readers who collectively serve as a developmental edit team.
Step 4: Make lots and lots and lots of changes based on reader feedback.
Step 5: Send the much-improved book to my editor for a combo of line and copy edits. For the first three books, this has been the sharp and knowledgeable Abigail Mieko Vargus.
Step 6: Receive edits. Quail at the quantities of red ink. Fix a thousand broken things.
Step 7: Send edited draft to my crack squad of volunteer proofreaders, who regularly save me from great embarrassment. (I’ve received many compliments on how typo-free my books are, especially for self-pub, and I know those compliments are secretly meant for my proofreaders.)
Step 8: Format for e-book and print, order and review print proof, close eyes, scrunch face, click “publish.”

Have you written it with a particular audience in mind? Who’ll enjoy it? 

I get asked about my target audience quite a bit, and my go-to answer is: I’m going for the inverse Harry Potter. The Harry Potter books are written for kids, but with the expectation that adults will enjoy them. My books are written for adults, but with the expectation that kids will enjoy them. There’s little that a 13-year-old with a good vocabulary couldn’t handle. 

In terms of tone, my books are optimistic and generally light-hearted. Not that bad things don’t ever happen to the characters, but if you find yourself looking for a break from grimdark antiheroes,  my books could be just the antidote you want.

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

Leaving aside the obvious “What exactly is the Ventifact Colossus?” I’m excited for readers to discover which members of Horn’s Company are their favorites.

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

(Cheating by using three sentences instead of one.)

“Her books beckoned, but the notion of a magical talking gemstone was intriguing. She reached out to take the gem from Kibi, but it hopped from his hand to the floor like a cricket aware it was about to be captured. The two of them stared, startled and fascinated, as it rolled across the floor toward the foyer.”

How many books have you planned for the series? 

The Heroes of Spira is 99.9% likely to be five books, which has been my plan from the start. As I look at my outline for the final installment, I’d say there’s a tiny chance I’ll end up splitting it into two books. But even if that happens, I’ll release them in rapid succession. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2021/2022? 

My publishing schedule for the next couple of years is:  The Infinite Tower (book 4) is finished and should be out in March. If my writing speed holds, the final book should be out in late 2022.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Parting thoughts? Sure! I’ll leave readers with this: There is a ton of great self-published fantasy out there. I love touting some of the gems I’ve discovered, so allow me to suggest this non-exhaustive list of self-pubbed titles I’ve enjoyed:

The Iconoclasts trilogy, by Mike Shel
The Chasing Graves trilogy, by Ben Galley
The Half-Killed, by Quenby Olson
Orconomics and Son of a Liche, by J. Zachary Pike
The Paternus trilogy, by Dyrk Ashton
Danse Macabre, by Laura Hughes
The Kings of Paradise, by Richard Nell
Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights, by Liam Perrin

NOTE: Many thanks to Justine, Timy & the Storytellers On Tours for giving us an opportunity to take part in this tour. Here's the tour's full schedule.


Storytellers On Tour are hosting a tour-wide giveaway, and invite you to take part! Prize: The Heroes of Spira Paperback Book Bundle by Dorian Hart – One (1) bundle of three (3) paperbacks – US & CA Only.

Starts: February 21st, 2021 at 12:00am EST

Ends: February 28th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

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