Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

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  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

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The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

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That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

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Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

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  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day 🙂 I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

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  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts 🙂 And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

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  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? 🙂 I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.

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Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Luther M. Siler

This is the inaugural edition of a new feature: author/blogger interviews. Today I’m chatting with Sourcerer contributor Luther M. Siler, author of The Benevolence Archives and Skylights. Luther has graciously agreed to conduct the next interview.

1. You’ve just released The Sanctum of the Sphere, volume two of The Benevolence Archives. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?cover_Luther_sanctum

I read an interview with Brian K. Vaughan, writer of the excellent comic book sci-fi series SAGA, right after George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney. Vaughan made a point that resonated with me immediately: instead of getting mad at Lucas for doing what he wanted with what was, after all, kinda HIS stuff, why not channel that energy into making up our own stories? I don’t know that he specifically used SW as inspiration, but the question that ended up leading to the series was “What would happen if Han and Chewie just took off after getting Luke to Yavin?” Some fiddling and, boom. Benevolence Archives.

2. What geeky goodness do you have planned for us next on the fiction front?

My next book– at least tentatively– will be a nonfiction book about teaching called Searching for Malumba. I foresee that coming out late fall or early winter 2015. If it comes out. I’ve tried to write it before and failed.  After that, probably the sequel to Skylights, and wrapped around that will be some more Benevolence Archives short stories. My plan is for the third BA book to be another short story collection, although release for that is unlikely until 2016 at this point.

3. Do you see yourself ever expanding your fiction beyond sci-fi?

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Absolutely. There are a few short stories on my blog that are pure fantasy, and I’ve even got one published that’s got no science fiction elements to it. My first love is fantasy, and truth be told I read MUCH more fantasy than I do science fiction. I dabble in horror from time to time as well.

Then again, I also like to blur genres. My sci-fi has gnomes and ogres in it so if I write a fantasy novel there will probably be an alien invasion halfway through.

In fact, that’s mine. You can’t have it.

4. Our friendship began with a few conversations about blogging and e-publishing, and you’ve been successful at both. Do you have any Jedi wisdom on book production or marketing to share with those of us who are thinking of jumping into the publishing game?

Shamelessly steal ideas from people who seem to be doing things right. Interestingly, that’s my most common piece of advice for teachers as well. It works for both of my careers!

5. Why did you get into blogging? Was it to give your writing & publishing a boost, or, is there a more serendipitous origin story?

I need to write, as you may have noticed; my logorrhea appears to be exceptional even among bloggers. Writing fiction is really, REALLY hard. Writing nonfiction is not. Thus: blogging. My first blog was over at Xanga, and lasted five years or so; it came about when a classmate in my grad school program suggested a bunch of us start them and a year later I was the last man standing. I’ve had an active blog for most of the last eleven years.

6. You do book reviews from time-to-time. In your own opinion, what is the best review you’ve done so far?

I actually think I’m bad at reviews, to be honest. That said, I’m good at hating stuff, and my review of the movie Snowpiercer has several times more hits than anything else I’ve ever written at infinitefreetime. It’s actually the first Google result if you search for “Snowpiercer terrible.” No joke. Book reviews? I really enjoyed reviewing Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emporer, mostly because my review says “This is good, read it, ignore the rest of the review” and then complains for like 1000 words.

7. What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done on Twitter?cover_luther_skylights

I recently got into a minor kerfluffle– or perhaps a debate, if we wanna get highfalutin’ about it– with a published author about self-promotion by independent authors (context here) and she actually ended up positively retweeting the article and we had a brief conversation about it. Halfway through that conversation James S.A. Corey jumps in to say he could never cut it as an independent writer and he can’t believe how hard I seem to work to sell my books.

James S.A. Corey (well, he’s two guys, technically, but only one of them runs the Twitter feed) has a goddamn TV deal and has written several books that I like A LOT, and I somehow managed to NOT insist that he take free copies of my books and read them and make me famous. This may have been a mistake.

And I may have peed a little.

8. What’s your all-time favorite science fiction story? All-time favorite character?

Character? Chewbacca. Story? If I don’t include Star Wars, which isn’t pure sci-fi anyway, it’d have to be The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My publishing company isn’t called Prostetnic Publications for nothing.

9. Would you share with us a little about the first piece of creative writing you ever attempted?

Fifth grade, straight D&D dungeon crawl. I remember stealing the verbal component to spells directly from Dragonlance — the phrase “Ast Tasarak Sinuralan Krynawi” has been burned into my brain for a very long time– only in my story it was the words for a fireball, not a sleep spell.

I suspect it was not a very good story.

10. Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Because I am a grown-ass man with a beard and I will cry RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF YOU if you don’t. Do you want me crying? Nobody wants to see a crying fat man. So save us all some trouble and go download my stupid little book.

cover_Luther_BA111. If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artifact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

The Infinity Gauntlet. Pretty sure I can do whatever else comes to mind once I have that. 🙂

Luther blogs at infinitefreetime.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nfinitefreetime