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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

SPFBO Interview: Robert H. Fleming


Order The Fall of Erlon over here

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

Thanks for having me! I’m Robert, a writer from North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh, NC and went to college at UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!). I now live in Charlotte with my wife and our 7-month-old daughter (plus a quirky, fun-loving Staffordshire Terrier). When not writing my military fantasy stories, I enjoy cheering on the Carolina Panthers and the UNC Tar Heels. I also play marathon games of Settlers of Catan that my friends and I take way too seriously, bake sourdough bread and focaccia, and explore new craft beer releases around Charlotte and Asheville. My newest hobby, of course, is watching my daughter grow up (she’s almost crawling now!).

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

I’m a management consultant working at a big global firm. I mainly work with our US banking clients.

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

I haven’t finished the full series yet, but I love the first few books in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series so I have to say Erikson. The influence of his epic battle scenes, along with those from Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company, hopefully really shows through in my own storytelling.

My other current favorite is Will Wight’s Cradle series, although that world is quite different from anything I write.

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?

I always remember enjoying the fiction writing assignments given in grade school. I usually received good grades from teachers and I won a small contest in high school for a short story. I was a Creative Writing minor (while majoring in Economics) in college and won another short story contest but got a consulting job straight out of school and entered the business world. I kept up writing though and eventually worked my way up to full length novels in my spare time (writing every morning before starting my real job). The Fall of Erlon was the fourth completed fantasy manuscript I wrote and hopefully shows the culmination of many long years figuring out how to tell the best story.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

Fast-paced, action-oriented. I love all tropes in the epic fantasy genre, but the part I enjoy writing the most is the large-scale, climactic battle sequence. I want to put the reader directly in the action and take them through all the twists and turns as the fate of a world hangs in the balance and all the parts of a story come together for a climax.

What made you decide to self-publish The Fall of Erlon as opposed to traditional publishing?

I loved the flexibility self-publishing allowed and settled on that path when The Fall of Erlon was just a tiny idea growing in my head. I listen to a few of the big self-publishing podcasts (Joanna Penn, The Self-Publishing Show, etc) and was originally drawn to the level of control and ease of getting my stories out there. I’d love for this hobby to turn into a career and be able to write fulltime in the future, but at the moment publishing part-time myself allows me to get my stories out to readers in the most efficient way possible.

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

Similar to what I stated above, the flexibility and control as an author is remarkable and freeing. It took a long time to learn the ins and outs of Amazon and the publishing world, but I’m glad I live in a time where I can create a story and get it out in the world all on my own (with the help of plenty of freelance editors, beta-readers, and cover designers, of course!).

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on?

There are certainly some marketing advantages of going with a big publisher. There’s also the ability to get into brick and mortar bookstores. For now, I’m happy with selling on Amazon though.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience?

My readership has been slowly growing since Fall was published a little over a year ago. I’ve taken some online courses on Facebook and Amazon ads and those have helped get the word out there, but the uptick has been slow. I expected this and I’m trying my best to be patient while I finish out the rest of the series (telling the story is the most important task at the moment). With that said, my small group of readers have been great so far and I’ve enjoyed interacting with them as more and more find the stories.

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

I frequent r/fantasy and have tried to read many of the previous contest books that caught my eye. I figured Fall was a good fit for the contest and thought it was a great avenue to receive feedback on the story and my writing from accomplished book bloggers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the story would make the finals (it still doesn’t seem real).

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

I’m not sure, kiss my wife and daughter and run around the house screaming?

But seriously, it would be a huge honor. I’m watching the other finalists announcements and I look forward to reading all of them and interacting with the other authors over the next few months. Best of luck to everyone!

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

As an empire collapses and war rages between ancient enemies, can the continent’s last heroes save it from destruction? Or will a twist in the tide of the empire's last war awaken an evil far greater than the enemy's blade?

What was your initial inspiration for The Fall of Erlon? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

The story was inspired by Napoleonic-era Europe, specifically the collapse of the French empire after Napoleon lost power. I wanted to tell the story of the remaining generals and leaders as an empire fell and show the struggle to survive and find victory in a hopeless war.

The “flintlock fantasy” setting was an additional benefit and I had fun with the different kinds of fantasy battles gunpowder weapons can create.

I worked on the story from February 2018 through publication in September 2019. The initial idea was in my head long before that start date, and evolved as I added more countries and people and history to the world. It was a fun ride to see everything take shape into the final form.

If you had to describe The Fall of Erlon in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Action-packed, expansive, engrossing

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Four! Books two and three are out now (Gods of Gunpowder and Empire of War, respectively) with Book #4 coming in January 2021!

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

Elisa Lannes is the only daughter of the fallen Emperor of Erlon. As the empire’s enemies descend on her home, she must escape and find a way to fight for her survival and the fate of her people.

She is joined by her father’s remaining generals and warriors, all mustering their last effort to save the empire from falling into enemy hands.

Oh, and her antagonists are a Horde of filed-tooth southern barbarians who ride vicious wolverines into battle!

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Fall of Erlon? 

The amazing art was created by Andrew and Rebecca at Design for Writers (https://www.designforwriters.com/). I believe they also designed a finalist from last year, Virginia McClain’s Blade’s Edge.

For Fall, I wanted to show a particular scene in the first part of the story, where Elisa is standing on a hill and looking at her home being sacked by foreign factions. I gave a few comp-covers to Andrew and he ran with it from there. It couldn’t have turned out any better (and the sequel covers are incredible too!).

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Where do you get the inspiration for the battles portrayed in your books? Are they based on anything in real-life history?

Yes, a few of them are based on real events, or at least heavily influenced by actual historical battles. Most styles of fighting and the order of the battle throughout this series are based on studying Napoleonic France. If I’m not reading a fantasy story, I have a history non-fiction book in my hand – Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts was a huge influence for this series. Hopefully that shows through in my writing and makes things seem more authentic and real.

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

The characters and the various factions they fight for. Each has a rich history and I’m excited for anyone who gets to read the tale. I’m also eager to see how people like the sprawling battles and fight scenes within the pages. Flintlock fantasy allows for some unique combat and warfare not usually seen in more “classic” fantasy settings. The battles I wrote for this saga are the types of action I enjoy reading, so I hope readers do as well.

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

This was tough, but let’s go with: 

“Elisa Lannes, Princess of Erlon, hauled the dead stag down the road.”

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Book #3 in the series, Empire of War, was released back in August. Book 4 should be released in January 2021. I’m editing the manuscript now and will hopefully finish over the holidays.

That’s the final book in this saga (at least for now). I’ve already been world building for my next series, which will be set in a fantasy world based on ancient Rome, but where the generals of the various armies fight on the backs of flying griffons! I’m hoping I can get Book One out by the summer of 2021.

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? 

Again, thank you for having me. I’m excited (and nervous) for the rest of the competition.

I’ll close by adding my website (roberthfleming.com) in case any readers are interested. Everyone can find all the books and bit more about the series on the site, as well as a free, introductory prequel novella to the saga (by signing up to my author newsletter with this link: Prequel Novella).

Best of luck to the other finalists and I hope all the bloggers and readers enjoy diving into our various fantasy worlds!


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