1. Please tell us about The Company of Death. What's it's premise?
It’s high-concept, so…strap in. In the near-future, the zombie apocalypse apocalypses, and civilization falls. The vampires who have always secretly lived among humanity make themselves known to the world and offer protection for humans in nomadic communes in exchange for keeping them as blood slaves. In America, an organization called the Life Preservation Initiative believes that if humans are complacent slaves in communes, they will never work toward eliminating the zombie threat, so LPI task force teams are dispatched across the country to destroy the communes and liberate the humans as phase one of taking back the world from Undeath.
Meanwhile, the Grim Reaper, Death himself, isn’t doing so well; so many people are un-dying that hardly anyone left in the world is dying anymore. Greater Cosmic Powers are displeased with his performance, and when he fails to take LPI operative, Emily Campbell’s life, it is the last straw, and he is stripped of his powers. This means no one in the world can ever die again, only un-die, and Undeath will never be defeated. Humanity is doomed.
Due to Death’s intervention, Emily becomes the first talking, thinking zombie, and is stranded alone with him in the middle of the Mojave. She offers to help him get his powers back if he’ll help her cross the country to New York where she can get a cure to turn her human again. A buddy road trip ensues. Also, there are robots.
2. Could you tell us a bit about its protagonist, Emily? What makes her tick?
She is a 25 year old disaster bi from Southern California. When the zombie outbreak happened two years prior, she was living with her parents, mired in student loan debt and working a thankless IT job. She greatly admired her father, who was a happy-go-lucky but crooked used car salesman, often emulating his strategic methods of dealing with people and ironic sense of humor. She had an antagonistic relationship with her mother, who she often felt she had to take responsibility for. Her mother pressured Emily to believe her value came from how men saw her, pushing her to be “pretty” to be considered desirable.
As a result, Emily developed a complex of desperately needing complete control over her own body at all times, which, combined with her confusion about her biromantic asexual orientation as she grew up, led her to have trouble developing and keeping relationships. All of these issues manifest in an intense disgust for vampires when she learns how they use humans as blood slaves, and a judgmental attitude toward any humans who willingly choose that way of life. She eagerly joins the LPI, wanting to destroy the vampires and save the world from undeath. She has a lot of flaws and room to grow, and makes a big step toward becoming a better person by the end of Book 1.
3. The world has been taken over by vampires and zombies. How did that happen?
I know exactly how it happened, but I’m not sure the information will ever be revealed in the book. I’m not a fan of information exposition dumps in books that don’t emerge organically out of the interactions between the characters or to drive the plot. And no moment happens in books 2 or 3 where the History of How It All Began wound up fitting in. Both of those books are still in the editing phase, though, so there’s a chance it could be added in. I could insert a character who doesn’t know how it happened needing another character to tell them the story, but that’s often a terribly contrived form of information delivery. If I’m advised by my editor to include the backstory, I’d rather just slip in hints about the outbreak here and there so that the reader has to piece the whole thing together themselves.
Either way, though, I don’t think it’s actually important for the reader to know. It doesn’t matter exactly how it happened; what matters is how people deal with it. Obviously, I understand readers WANT to know because they’re curious, but that seems like a bonus feature special content sort of thing to me, not something that necessarily belongs in the text itself (Unless, of course, my publisher’s editor decides otherwise). I suppose this is a long way of saying that answering this question might be a spoiler, so I’m not going to tell you right now. But here’s one hint: It’s the vampires’ fault.
There is a line in Book 1 that does give you the information that vampires and zombies have “always existed,” but it wasn’t until two years prior to the book’s start that the zombies suddenly were able to take over the world. It’s also shown in Book 1 that the zombie outbreak was the reason the vampires revealed themselves to humanity in order to assist their mutual survival. To ease your frustration though, I will tell you that there is a “story time” scene in Book 2 where the characters do hear an origin of how the first zombie came to be in ancient history.
4. Death is a major character in this book. What inspired you to include them?
He is the whole reason this book exists. When I came up with the idea for the story, it was because I wanted a book that featured the Grim Reaper as a main character that wasn’t a comedy or parody, and I couldn’t think of any. One where he was the One and Only Death in existence, not one of several reapers in his world, or a human who had become Death somehow.
And also one where he was the classic skeleton in a cloak with a scythe, not some biblical-esque angel or other form of presentation. I came up with the story for my trilogy in 2010, and at that time, I could not find a single existing non-comedic novel that had this kind of Death as a main character. So I started thinking, if I were to write a story for this guy, what might that look like? What could happen to him that would be an interesting adventure? And the whole rest of the premise of the world and plot and other characters rolled out of that.
As for why I wanted a story about him in the first place… he is my favorite character concept of all time, and I adore stories that follow a “Death and the Maiden” motif. For instance: The Phantom of the Opera, my greatest love. Characters like the Phantom--or many of our favorite vampires, or even just the dark brooding gentlemen in all those other Gothic tales we love--they’re all just reinterpretations of that Death character representation. So of course I wanted to go for the Big One that inspired them all.
5. Are the vampires sexy or horrible in this world? Why do them that way?
I would say neither. They aren’t monstrous to look at like some more gruesome iterations of vampires (though there is no mistaking them for human), but they aren’t supernaturally alluring, either. Any sex appeal they have is due to their individual personalities, not any special vampire abilities. The fact that they are powerful and immortal is certainly seductive to many humans in this world, but that has nothing to do with how they look. I didn’t intentionally choose to do them this neutral way, but perhaps it came about because I am an asexual person who isn’t sexually attracted to anyone, so it wasn’t natural for me to write my vampires as intentionally sexy?
As a society, though, the vampires are presented as the antagonistic force in the book because of the way they use and abuse what’s left of humankind after the zombie outbreak, and that’s pretty horrible, attitude-wise at least. They are opportunistic and selfish, prioritizing their own need for blood and survival over what’s best for the rest of the world. There are only a few vampire exceptions who don’t subscribe to the widespread vampire way of life. These few are the ones willing to sacrifice their comfort and power in order to actively attempt to end the zombie threat. Vampire vs vampire conflict has always been one of the most interesting storytelling tropes to me.
6. What inspired you to do a zombie apocalypse novel?
When I was trying to think up an interesting story for Death as a character to have an adventure in, the idea of him combating Undeath seemed like the perfect fit. What would be the absolute worst situation for Death to face? The end of dying, right? So if everyone in the world was un-dying, he’d be screwed.
Also, I’ve always had a huge aversion to zombies. I absolutely hated watching zombie movies. Zombies are so freaking scary and gross and horrible. They never stop, they just keep coming and coming and coming and they’ll get you eventually no matter how hard you fight; if the world is overrun by them, there’s ultimately no getting away. As a person with anxiety, it’s like my absolute worst nightmare. And they say write what scares you, right?
7. Could you tell us a bit about the secondary characters?
There are five central characters in the book, and three of them have point of view sections with the narration switching between them, but as the protagonist, Emily gets the largest portion. As her traveling companion, Death is mostly presented through her point of view.
The others two POV characters are the people who join up on her and Death’s road trip along the way. Someone once compared their traveling group dynamic to Wizard of Oz, and now I can’t unsee it. Scott is a 23 year old human dude, and Leif is a 450ish year old vampire dude (who looks 23ish). The fifth character is Scott’s traveling companion, Carol, a gynoid (which just means female-presenting android).
As a young middle class straight white man from SoCal, Scott’s lived his whole life in a sheltered privileged bubble. The zombie apocalypse thrusts him into a harsh reality where he is having to learn to question his priorities and outlook on the way he’s lived and interacted with people. He starts the book a bit behind the adjustment curve of the rest of the population because he’s been protected in a robotics plant until four days before the story starts. He’s an introverted academic who was used to thinking he was the smartest person in the room, looking down on most other people (including his own girlfriend), but is now suddenly in a situation where he finds himself useless in ways that most matter. He’s one of those young people who always subconsciously thought himself immortal until he needs to rely on others (mostly Carol) to preserve his life. In this five-man-band, he is the token mortal.
Carol is a robot that was modified by Scott’s sister from a military android model. The original model was developed as a super soldier and zombie killer, but were ultimately ineffective against the zombies. Carol still has many of the weapons and features from the battle android, but possesses an illegal AI that gives her a full range of human emotions and free will. Scott’s sister also rebuilt her body to be more aesthetically attractive in a feminine way and eliminated some of the features and functions that made her less-human. In my mind, she looks like a stockier version of a mix between the androids in the 2004 I Robot movie and the Svedka robot. She and Scott were left behind when his sister and her team flew to New York, and they are trying to cross the country to rejoin them.
Leif is one of those vampires I mentioned above who are the few exceptions to the general vampire society. He wants to put an end to the system most vampires follow where they treat humans like cattle. But his motivations for doing this are somewhat selfish; he wants the glory of being the one to save humanity (because he has Issues, which get revealed more in Books 2 and 3, but it’s shown in Book 1 that he has a frustrating pattern of feeling like a failure). Even though ending the vampire’s system is also Emily’s goal, Leif would rather use her and her friends in harmful ways to be the sole hero than work together with them. They don’t know this, though, and he spends the book trying to earn their trust for his own gain. He’s also pretty sassy and is probably my favorite character in the whole thing despite appearing the least. He’s the most fun to write because his voice is so distinctive; even though he has his dark moments, he’s such a jovial personality. He also (like most of my vampires) is bi. So are Death and Carol technically, for that matter. Or pan, to be more precise. Actually, pretty much every major character in this trilogy wound up being queer in some way except for Scott.
8. Would you say this is horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or a kind of mix?
Definitely a cross-genre mix of all of the above. I usually call it a “near-future apocalyptic dark fantasy.” It has so many horror elements, but I don’t know that it counts as A Horror Novel, because I think the definition of horror is that it scares you. My book has some horrific and tense moments, but the point of it is not to scare you, and I wouldn’t say it’s a scary book overall.
It’s a monster mash, and I wanted to include all my favorite things, so I have the paranormal monsters (zombies, vampires), the fantastical monsters (personifications of cosmic elements, horsemen of the apocalypse), and the sci-fi monsters (sentient robots). Of course, these are all monsters with feeeeeelings, and the main ones are all ostensibly good monsters. So if a monster is friendly, does that still make them horror? I’m shrugging as much as you are.
9. How has the fan response been so far?
Pretty great! It was the best-selling release of all time from my publisher, Falstaff Books. I’m just happy people are taking a chance on a book that’s so weird and niche. A lot of people who watch my Vampire Reviews webseries have picked up a copy just because they know me and want to support. But so many of those who have read it mention how they also love the monster mash concept and can relate so much to the characters. People have even made fanart, which is the absolute best thing, and I can now die a happy author!
10. What can we expect from you next as a writer? Do you have any goals?
Books 2 and 3 in this trilogy are in the pipeline and set to be released from Falstaff Books. I’m also working on revisions to an unrelated contemporary novel I wrote last year about a YouTuber dealing with online harassment. After that, I have a couple novels that have been fully outlined for ages that I just need the time to write. One is a scifi about robots with feelings and the other is a vampire murder mystery.
One author's opinion, at least. So, eight seasons have wrapped up on the world's most successful fantasy project with the possible exception of The Lord of the Rings. Given that I am actually calling it a split decision between those two things, that's a pretty much statement right there. Game of Thrones is everywhere and completed the story George R.R. Martin may never finish. Indeed, now that we've seen what is probably an approximation of his ending--he may end up like Stephen King and wonder if his fans would appreciate it [I'm referring to the controversial ending to the Dark Tower].
We have a wonderful interview with Megan Mackie, author of The Finder of the Lucky Devil series with new book Death and the Crone.
Tell us about Death and the Crone?
This book is a spinoff story from my main series, The Lucky Devil. It is a side story about a character I introduce in the second book of the series, The Saint of Liars, named Elias, a mysterious wizard who is the cousin of the main character, Rune Leveau.
Who are the two leads and what are they like?
The story is from Margaret’s point of view. Contrary to the convention, she is an old woman in her 60s, homeless and entirely undesirable by anyone in the world. The story follows her point of view. Because of her status in life, she is also feisty and takes no crap from anyone. Elias by contrast is an easy-going, accepting, while being young-looking and beautiful and it drives Margaret crazy, because she can’t figure him out or what he wants from her.
Why did you choose to make the main character an older woman?
The whole idea for the book came about when I was wondering why every book that has a immortal guy of some type in it, they are always going for someone between the ages of 16-25. Why would they want someone who is just starting life, when they themselves have lived so much of it.
Why did you choose to make her homeless?
I needed Margaret to be someone who came from a situation that it would be quickly understood why she would say yes to Elias’s proposition. Having nothing to lose allowed me to jump right in to the story.
What can you tell us about the setting?
The story takes place in the same world as my main series, which is an alternate Chicago where magic and technology are in competition with each other. This is a world where magic has always existed, including magical creatures who have normal, mundane jobs, such as a centaur actuary or a mermaid dog groomer. Technology and cyber enhancements are the new thing that is wowing this society.
How does this relate to your Finder of the Lucky Devil series?
Elias is very connected to the main story and going forward Margaret will appear in the main books as well.
What is the secret to writing a good urban fantasy romance?
Each of the characters needs to grow and develop from their relationship, the idea of better together than apart. But just to tell a good story in general, you need the relationship to state some sort of opinion, it has to mean something that you want to get across from these to characters being together. It’s the opinion you’re conveying that can makes the story truly unique, even if you have all the elements from the billions of stories that have come before it.
Do you have any criticisms of the genre?
I do think that UF is getting stuck in the same stories, badass women and beast-like men going on personal journey’s of badassery, which to be fair I do enjoy, but there’s been a lot of the same stories and the same journeys. I’ve been asking questions of this genre, like can a heroine be badass and unsure of herself too? What does she need to learn about herself? Can she simply be small and quiet, can she be vulnerable, can she be the smartest person in the room and undermine herself because she doesn’t know to trust that. Real questions that I wrestle with, can that be seen as heroic. Can just having a good, honest heart be enough?
What are the attractive and disturbing parts of Elias a.k.a Death?
Elias is charming, sweet and fairly unflappable, but he’s also disconnected from life, just cruising along in it, jumping from relationship to relationship. I don’t want to go into too much about why he’s called Death, but he is definitely avoiding something.
How has reception been for the Finder of the Lucky Devil series?
Very good. Most people who give the books a chance, love them and it is fun to hear from my fans about details and ideas that the got from the books.. The trick is just getting people to crack the covers. Most are often very surprised and it has been a thrill when they come back for the next books.
Any advice for indie writers?
You have to write a book that you like to read. Your taste in story is the only one that really matters.
What can we expect from you next?
There will be another spin-off book publishing soon that follows another character that disappeared into the mist from the first book and that story is about what happened to her. After that the audiobook version of Finder of the Lucky Devil should be out and I am currently working hard on the official third book of the main series.
Thanks for your time!
Welcome to the Round Table for TALES OF THE AL-AZIF by myself, Matthew Davenport, David Niall Wilson, David Hambling, and David J. West. This is a discussion between the authors about what they thought while writing the book, what inspired them, and what they thought about everyone else's contributions.
"A lie doesn't become truth, wrong doesn't become right & evil doesn't become good, just because it's accepted by a majority."
Regarding the recent allegations against Ed McDonald, author of Blackwing: BookNest.eu has seen irrefutable evidence that the allegations against Ed McDonald have been falsified.
We are now aware that Ed McDonald has been targeted for online harassment and abuse, and there is also irrefutable evidence of this. The evidence proves beyond all doubt that one or two individuals have utilised multiple social accounts with the express purpose of spreading malicious rhetoric against Ed McDonald, and making it appear that 'reports' are coming from numerous sources, where in fact they all come from a single source. This source has never met Ed McDonald.
It is now very clear that Ed McDonald has been exposed to a long and malicious campaign by someone who has abused the trust and confidence of people, over and over.
In light of this, it is asked that members of the Fantasy community:
*Do not name the individuals behind the allegations - even if you suspect who they are. The individuals do not deserve any further attention. Their names have not been mentioned here on purpose.
*Do not pursue the individual(s) behind the allegations. Do not cause them any distress. Doing so may impact pending legal action.
*Welcome Ed McDonald as a member of the community. Any further harassment will not be tolerated.
To prevent gossip, the following overview has been provided to summarise these events:
*A number of social media accounts across multiple platforms have been linked to either one, or at most two, individuals behind the allegations.
*These accounts use different personas (including names, real world locations and background information).
*These accounts have pretended to be different individuals to spread falsified allegations in open and closed groups, and in private chats.
*These accounts have made comments in support of posts made by each other, as well as shares and likes.
*At least one account is in a position of authority in a public internet forum. This authority was abused throughout this case, and ultimately Ed McDonald was banned from the forum after he tried to defend himself against the allegations.
Hot damn I’ve been itching to get my hands on Anna Smith-Spark’s third book The House of Sacrifice since I fell in love with Marith and Thalia in The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying. This swirling epic of broken characters and bloodshed, of healing and ruin, of dragons and conquest and battle told in Smith Spark’s truly unique voice just grabs you by the throat and drags you in.
To help support Anna’s release, we’re running a big ol’ giveaway. Get on board and get involved and help us kick this book off into space.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself. You're an author and reviewer of Lovecraft fiction on Tor's website, correct?
I’m the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, Winter Tide and Deep Roots. I also write short stories, some Lovecraftian and others… really not. My latest, “The Word of Flesh and Soul,” is about a woman trying to get a graduate degree in the Language That Drives Men Mad, dealing with departmental politics and body horror. It’s up on Tor.com, which is where most of my stuff ends up lately.
The Lovecraft Reread is a collaboration with Anne M. Pillsworth, who writes Lovecraftian YA. We started with Lovecraft’s own stories, and have expanded to cover weird fiction from the 1890s through about last week. Following Jo Walton’s distinction, a review analyses what people might like or dislike about a story, while a reread is more about personal reactions. So sometimes we’re doing something that looks suspiciously like a review, and sometimes my personal reaction is a mini-story from the point of view of a shoggoth. We talk about the things that are problematic, but we also get very squeeful about our favorite tropes, and count how many times the word “cyclopean” shows up in each story.
2. Can you describe your relationship with H.P. Lovecraft's fiction and creatures/characters?
We have screaming, pot-hurling fights that end in passionate make-up fiction.
3. How did you come up with the concept of the Innsmouth Legacy series?
I came to Lovecraft sideways: my college friends played call of Cthulhu, had plush elder gods, read the Illuminatus Trilogy. So I knew all the jokes and references, and eventually decided I should read the original stories. My wife started reading a “Best of” collection aloud while I made dinner every night. We’d comment on the stories as we went through them, snarking about the language and speculating about the cosmic histories. I’d known going in that Lovecraft was a bigot, but I hadn’t realized the full scope of it. For a lot of stories it was just another thing we made fun of—the “degenerate Dutch,” really?—but “Shadow Over Innsmouth” left me open-mouthed. I thought I knew the whole story by osmosis, but no. It starts with the government raiding Innsmouth and sending everyone to concentration camps. And it starts with the premise that this is a good thing.
For some obscure reason, if you put characters in concentration camps, I’m likely to assume they’re the good guys.
4. Can you tell us about the novels in the series (Litany of the Earth, Winter's Tide, and Deep Roots)?
The series follows Aphra Marsh, one of the last survivors of the Deep One internment camps, as she tries to rebuild her life. “The Litany of Earth” is the first piece, a novelette that’s available for free on (you guessed it) Tor.com. It takes place shortly after she’s gotten out and is living with a Japanese-American family who essentially adopted her when they arrived in the camp during World War II. A federal agent asks for her help investigating a cult, and she agrees largely because she wants to be around people who worship her gods again. But the cultists don’t necessarily have a great understanding of what magic can and can’t do…
In Winter Tide, Aphra goes to Massachusetts to try and reclaim Innsmouth’s books from the library at Miskatonic University. Along the way she gathers found family, connects with some very old blood family, and tries to track down a body-shifting Russian spy who may or may not exist.
Deep Roots brings Aphra and her friends to New York looking for long-lost cousins, and puts them in conflict with the alien Mi-Go.
The series as a whole plays with the whole set of assumptions behind cosmic horror. It’s not a “nice” version of Lovecraft’s world—the universe is still an unimaginably vast, uncaring place, full of forces that may destroy you and your civilization without even noticing. But it’s a version where those terrifying forces include other humans, where everyone (including the abominations) has their own goals and perspectives, and where the protagonists react to the uncaring universe with something more thoughtful than either xenophobia or nihilism.
5. Please describe Aphra Marsh for us. What makes her tick?
Aphra lost most of her family-on-land in the internment camp, and she’s driven by the desire to preserve her remaining family, and to build a new community to replace the one she’s lost. She has a very strong sense of duty as the surviving “eldest on land,” and sometimes wants to protect people even when they don’t want to be protected—her brother Caleb, for example, often has very different ideas about what his own duty entails. They were both raised in the worship of the elder gods, but he lost his faith in the camp while she still gets a lot of comfort from it.
She’s very rewarding to write because she has a Thing about turning her back on antagonists—it feels dangerous, so she’s constantly running toward danger because she thinks it’s the safest option. She’s also very willing to stand up to authorities even when she respects them, and has no compunctions about telling a centuries-old Deep One elder or a billion-year-old librarian that she thinks they’ve got the wrong end of the stick. She’s very serious about everything, though, so I have to surround her with people who’ll fill in the snark gap.
6. H.P. Lovecraft is both a hugely influential author and someone with problematic elements in his work. Do you think he's still relevant? If so, how do we deal with these contradictions?
So many problematic elements. I find him fascinating because his bigotry is so deeply embedded in everything he wrote, even the good stuff that’s rightfully influential.
Alas, the bigotry doesn’t make his work less relevant these days. But it does increase the challenge of engaging with his work. You can certainly use Lovecraftian tropes without that engagement, and many people have done that to good effect. But because his fears are so deeply embedded in those tropes, it’s hard to leverage their full visceral power without facing down the prejudices that originally birthed them. I like turning his ideas inside out and using them to understand the horror not of the things he was afraid of, but of his fear. For a lot of us, other humans’ fear is one of the biggest existential threats out there. Lovecraft was terrified of New Yorkers walking down the street speaking languages he didn’t understand; I’m terrified of what people do when they find different cultures threatening.
7. Why do you like Deep Ones so much versus, say, ghouls or Mi-Go?
I honestly love all these species and sub-species that Lovecraft came up with—his worldbuilding is so intriguing and I always want to fill in the gaps and turn the perspective upside down. The Deep Ones work as a focus because the raid—the fact that they’re hurt so badly—provides a great starting point for plot and characterization.
Ghouls and Mi-Go both feature prominently in Deep Roots. The Mi-Go basically encapsulated Lovecraft’s terror of multicultural society. In “Whisperer in Darkness” they describe themselves as cosmopolitan, which is still a word that gets used to insult urban communities. The fear behind that story is that if you hang around with people of other cultures then everything that makes your culture special will vanish, and everything that makes you able to go out and act on the world—you might as well be a brain in a jar! Which is of course bullshit. But the Mi-Go also offer a genuinely terrifying trade-off, where you can see the universe and learn all its secrets, at the cost of having any ability to take action on your own. Aphra is very in touch with her own body and very attached to specific places, so they make a good foil for her. I also loved writing the interactions among the brain-in-jar people, who have sort of online meeting-of-minds relationships with each other in the midst of this alien situation.
Ghouls are just fun. How many allies will tell you, “It’s dangerous out there, take this,” and hand you a random fingerbone?
8. Does it bother you Aphra Marsh tends to be portrayed as conventionally attractive on the covers of your books or would you prefer her to look more like the Deep Ones of Lovecraft's writings? Or are you arguing the narrator's prejudices may have made him think worse of the Deep One's looks?
I would love to get an illustration of Aphra as she looks in my head—I tend to think that Lovecraft’s narrator described them accurately, albeit rudely. But then, people of the air look pretty creepy to people of the water, with their tiny eyes and necks that look like they’ll snap if they turn their heads too fast.
However, I do in fact respect the desire of my publisher and cover artist (the brilliant John Jude Palencar) not to use a portrait of someone whose face is basically in the uncanny valley, given that the failure mode (and possibly the success mode) is that it looks like Palencar has forgotten how to draw faces, and then we don’t sell any books.
It does exasperate me that whenever I search for “Innsmouth look” as a visual reference, the men look about right and the women look like pin-up models with bulgy eyes. I’d like, just once, a good picture of a pre-metamorphosis female Deep One that isn’t all about the sexy.
9. How do you handle the Cthulhu Mythos in your world? Are they just misunderstood aliens or are they flawed in their own way? Or is it just the Deep Ones are as human as humanity?
The Deep Ones are as human as any person of the air, and as prone to grace and horror as anyone else. (The people of the rock—the K’n-yan—have gone down a particularly toxic road in terms of culture and power sources, and are more prone to horror than some. Of course, that never happens anywhere else…)
Lovecraft’s gods—when he wrote about Them, They were the big scary thing, and so They were real and solid (or gaseous, in some cases) and very interventionist. Since I’m writing from the point of view of Their worshippers, the scary thing is that They’re just as distant, and just as unlikely to protect Their chosen people from destruction, as any other pantheon humans have worshipped.
10. Who are your next favorite characters after Aphra?
Really, I love all of them. The ones who fill the “snark gap” I mentioned above are particularly fun to write. The Yith possessing Professor Trumbull is constantly impatient with humans for being too slow or too focused on trivialities, and she was also convenient because every time I realized I’d screwed up my historical research, I could just let her talk about DNA or whatever else hadn’t been discovered yet. Time travelers are great; I really missed having one in the second book. But then I got to write Shelean. Shelean is culturally a mad scientist, so even when she’s saying something very sensible, she sounds like she’s about to break out into maniacal laughter.
11. Do you have any other Neo-Lovecraftian authors you'd recommend the work of (you've certainly read enough)?
I was completely blown away by Sonya Taaffe’s “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts,” which is far and away my favorite modern take on the Deep Ones. That’s in Dreams From the Witch House, which is an absolutely brilliant anthology. I love Livia Llewelyn’s stuff as well: visceral and terrifying and not the least bit safe for work. I also highly recommend Sarah Monette’s Kyle Murchison Booth stories, which add deep psychological realism to the standard Lovecraftian protagonist, and the Lovecraftian space operas that she writes with Elizabeth Bear.
12. What would you like readers to take from your books?
Normally my answer to this type of question would be that if I must tell readers what they should be getting, I’ve failed as an author. But in general, I’d like readers to take from my books the worth of looking at perspectives other than their own—and the fact that some types of willful ignorance and bigotry are wrong regardless of perspective. I also want to share a sort of hope, a willingness to act in the face of an uncaring universe and uncaring fellow humanity, without having to claim that the universe is on our side in order to act.
13. What can we expect from you next?
Imperfect Commentaries, my first short story collection, is coming from Lethe Press in July. It’s got all my Neo-Lovecraftian stuff, including my very first published story which was about why the elder gods want to eat the world. Plus miscellaneous deleted scenes, poems, and secret story origins.
I’m currently working on a near-future science fiction novel tentatively titled The Fifth Power, about the people finally solving climate change having to deal with a crisis they’re completely unprepared for—the arrival of aliens who want to rescue humanity from Earth, by force if necessary. It has very little in common with the Innsmouth Legacy books except for lots of queer found family, an obsession with water, snarky aliens, and a serious hopepunk aesthetic. So basically the same except that it takes place 70 years in the future instead of 70 years in the past, and everyone is Jewish instead of Aeonist. If all goes well and I manage to meet my deadlines, that should be out sometime in 2020.
Thank you for your answers!
February 21st marks the release of Master of Sorrows, the debut novel of Justin Call. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy which I devoured in less than two days, and I'm confident that it will prove to be one of the greatest debuts of the year. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to take part in Justin's blog tour and post a review today to celebrate the release, but life got in the way, so I asked Justin to answer two simple questions instead (let's call it a super-mini-interview). Rest assured though, a review of Master of Sorrows will soon be posted on BookNest, so keep an eye open for that! But for now, let's see what Justin had to say:
Hello Justin, and welcome aboard! Master of Sorrows has one of the most unique and surprising plots I've read in the last couple of years. What exactly inspired your novel?
The inspiration for this novel (and the rest of the book series) arose from a single question: ‘What if the hero was the reincarnation of an evil God?’ I liked the concept of writing a coming-of-age story from the villain’s perspective, of seeing the character grow from a naïve adolescent and then evolve into a full-blown baddie.
Except that real people rarely see themselves as villains. Real people believe they are the heroes of their own stories and tend to vilify those whose world views clash with their own. This is fine for real life, but subjective morality complicates storytelling. Many fantasy novels avoid these complications by making their protagonist an obvious hero and their antagonist an obvious villain . . . but I feel such attempts are dishonest to the narrative. Other fantasy novels address this challenge by inverting expectations. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, there are few truly heroic characters; instead, the world is painted in grey and characters regularly shift between being antagonists and protagonists. The villains at times possess unsung virtues while the heroes are burdened by damning vices, cruelty, or weakness. This resonates more with normal life, I feel, yet it also carries a nihilism that I find to be both false and destructive. There is good in the world, just as there is also evil. Likewise, I believe there is a divine influence in our lives (whether we acknowledge it or not) and that our lives are filled with meaning and purpose. In that sense, we are all heroes (or potential heroes) but not all of us are active protagonists in our stories.
Which brings me back to my first question: ‘What if the prophesied hero was the reincarnation of an evil God?’ Or, if I remove the subjective morality tags, ‘What happens when a protagonist is given two conflicting moral narratives?’ Further, ‘Does he embrace one and reject the other?’ Probably. In fact, I’d say it’s inevitable. The twist, though, comes when the protagonist discovers he once served the opposing narrative (and he is now on the opposite side of that narrative). In such a story, the hero would probably develop empathy toward his previous incarnation . . . but would that change his heroic path? Answering that question is the inspiration for my novel. My goal then is to write a coming-of-age story that follows the tropes of the epic fantasy genre but to also subvert those tropes by presenting a protagonist who could be either a hero or a villain. Time will tell if I get it right.
Time will tell indeed. One last question for you -we wouldn't want to tire you with this last-moment interview-. Who are your favourite authors and why?
David Eddings (because he was the first fantasy author I read and because I love how Gods, men, and prophecy influence each other in his stories); Robert Jordan (because of the depth and breadth of what he contributed to the genre); Brandon Sanderson (because of everything he’s taught me via reading his stories, listening to his lectures and podcasts, and studying his writing methodology and magic systems); R.A. Salvatore (because the strangeness of Menzoberranzan’s dark elf culture gave me something to aspire to); Edward W. Robertson (because reading Dante Galand’s story showed me how to make an anti-heroic necromancer still seem heroic); Patrick Rothfuss (because his stories are uniquely beautiful and worth aspiring to). I would also give a second nod to Sanderson and Rothfuss because their writing styles and outputs are so different, yet I frequently find similarities between their writing and my own, which gives me two good measuring sticks for guiding me as I find my own voice, style, and preferred writing practices.
Outside of authors who have personally influenced my writing, some of my favorite contemporary authors (beyond those noted above) are Ed McDonald, Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, and Peter V. Brett. They've all built fantastically detailed worlds with their own unique magic systems, and they've all managed to suck me in with their writing to the point that I've read several of their books (in some cases, all the books they've written thus far).
Master of Sorrows is out on February 21, 2019. You can pre-order it HERE.
Michael ‘sits’ down for an interview with Brian Lee Durfee, author of the upcoming epic fantasy, The Blackest Heart.
Fantastic news, folks! We've got an interview with M.L. Spencer about her awesome finale to the RHENWARS SAGA. I've reviewed every book in the series and loved them all.
So tell us about the RHENWARS SAGA. What's it about?
The Rhenwars Saga is about an overpowered mage--the last of his kind--who is tasked with the job of defending a Western-type society called the Rhen from an invasion of an “Enemy” horde from the Northern “Black Lands”, an intentionally Mordor-esque region on the map. The mage, Darien Lauchlin, commits terrible atrocities in order to defend his homeland. But then, in a turn of events, he is taken to the Black Lands, where he discovers the Enemy are a people living in perpetual darkness, who will die without a means of escape. Darien switches sides and soon begins using his appalling power to help the Black Landers invade the Western nations he had formally sworn to protect, committing more atrocities in the process.
What is the set up in DARKFALL?
By the time we get to Darkfall, we have seen Darien’s character go through a tremendous transformation from hero to a haunted man driven by desperation. He has now become a demon, tasked with fighting for the other side against his former allies. This has caused him tremendous mental anguish. However, Darien has now resolved this inner struggle, and he is committed 100% to his new cause.
Can you tell us about Darien and Kyel?
Kyel Archer was Darien’s acolyte, who has become the mage Darien had always wanted to be. Of the two, he is the more traditional hero-type character. He sees both sides of the war as equally human and deserving of protection, while Darien swings from 100% support of one side to 100% support of the other. In Darkfall, Kyel stands against Darien and resists him as much as he is able, while keeping his oaths, morals, and integrity intact—which is no easy thing to do.
Who are the villains in the book?
There really are no true villains in the Rhenwars Saga, at least none that exist in that state permanently. Villains become allies and protagonists become antagonists fluidly throughout the course of the series. The main “villain” in Darkfall is Zavier Renquist, an ancient mage whose goal is the protection of magic. He wants to go about doing this by releasing the equivalent of Iblis (think of Satan-but-not-really) from the Netherworld. To most people, this solution sounds worse than the problem. But not to Renquist, who sees magic as worth any price.
How did you subvert traditional fantasy expectations?
The first book in the series is written to resemble a very typical Lord of the Rings setup, where you have the beautiful Western civilization filled with white people who are resisting an invading horde of evil creatures from some dark area on a map (these creatures being evil because, well, evil.) You have all the typical fantasy tropes: a dashing, powerful hero with a broken heart. His noble fellow-adventurer who trails after him like a faithful puppy-dog. And the beautiful love interest who remains steadfastly by his side through it all. This should end as expected, right? Boy falls for girl and they share a never-ending true love. Our hero repulses the invading horde with the help of his faithful Samwise-type friend. Good triumphs and Evil is vanquished. And they all live happily ever after in the Great White West.
Nope. Not in this world.
It turns out the invading horde are very human, with a very real and dire problem. They are not white, but brown. They are not invaders, but refugees. Not evil, just desperate. Our Western society is not as good and pure as we thought, but rather barbaric and sanctimonious. Our hero is a damaged man capable of atrocity. Romances devolve into betrayal and heartbreak. Friends and allies become enemies, oaths and loyalties are shattered, and there is no Happily Ever After for anyone. The Rhenwars Saga de-fantasizes the fantastic and brings it crashing into reality.
Can you describe the Westerners and the Darklanders?
The people of the Rhen are the typical people we are used to meeting when we open a fantasy novel. The Rhen resembles Western Europe, filled with kingdoms, towns, temples, and all the usual trappings.
The people of Malikar (The Black Lands) are based on a Middle Eastern society, both Bedouin in the outlying areas and the Ottoman Sultanate in the northern region. They have a strict code of honor, a rich culture that has adapted to the lightless conditions they have been forced to suffer, and are highly disciplined.
What were you going for in your epic? Themes and ideas behind it?
The Rhenwars Saga is an allegory for the modern-day relationship between the West and the Middle East. Rhenwars was conceived after 9/11, when I was still trying to wrap my mind around why anyone would want to fly an aircraft into a building (or three). So I started trying to understand the conflict between the West and the Middle East from both sides of the War on Terrorism. After learning a bit about the area’s history with the West, cultural climate, religious perspectives, etc., I was able to get a better understanding of both sides of the picture, and how each side believes they are morally justified in employing sometimes atrocious tactics in order to advance their political agendas. It’s really a very fascinating topic, how two sides can view themselves as justified and morally righteous, while labelling the other side as malevolent and morally bankrupt. It all comes down to a perspective shift.
How has response been to the books?
Mixed. I get a lot of reviews on Book One complaining that it is very generic. Unfortunately, some people don’t go on to Book 2, where you find out the “point” of the entire series. With the launch of my Box Set, more people are reading through, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I’m getting a lot of fantastic feedback from readers who say they love the direction the Saga goes in, and that it is wonderfully different from any fantasy series they’ve ever read before. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over it.
Any advice for self-publishers?
Advertise your book. And do so in ways that get you the best return for your advertising dollar. Above all, don’t try to sell your book to other authors. Sell it to readers.
Is it true there's a collection available and on sale?
Yes! The entire Rhenwars Saga is available as a box set for only $0.99 right now, which is a steal!
What's next for you?
Right now, I am committed to helping a fellow author who passed away finish his series, so I will be helping to ghostwrite that over the next several months. After that… Well, that’s where it gets complicated. I had a new series in a different world planned, world-built, and ready to go. But then I started getting a lot of feedback from my readers that they really wanted another Rhenwars series. So I am now writing a spinoff series that takes place roughly 20 years after the Rhenwars Saga.
Can you recommend any other authors and their work?
Absolutely! I love the works of C.T. Phipps, Richard Nell, Eric T. Knight, JA Andrews, Jesse Teller, Frank Dorrian, Rob Hayes, and Sean Hinn.
Pick up your copy of the series here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KLXCH5X/