Interview with Jeffrey L. Kohanek

Jeffrey L. Kohanek

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Describe the story that led to your first published work

I have always had a desire to create, and fulfilled that need in various ways over the years including, drawing, painting, home remodeling, or building things. About five years ago, my kids were nearing the end of high school, and I found myself with spare time I had previously lacked. That was when I decided to capitalize on the creative writing courses I had taken years earlier, and I began to write. There were various concepts already in my head including a unique rune-based magic system, a controlling government, and other details begging to be included in an epic story. A year later, I had a draft for what would become The Buried Symbol. It was raw and bloated but six months of revisions and editing got me to the stage where it could be published.

From the start, the story was intended to contain overarching plot that would result in a trilogy. In fact, I had the second book of The Runes of Issalia series written before the first book was even released. Less than a year after that, the series was complete, and I knew I wanted to be an author for the rest of my life.

Who were your biggest influences in the Fantasy Genre and how did they impact your Issalia books?

I have read nothing but epic fantasy since the mid-1980s. As a result, I have hundreds and hundreds of stories recorded in my head, bits and pieces spectacular worlds crafted by dozens of talented authors. The first series I truly loved was The Belgariad by David Eddings. That and Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist are both influences as are newer authors such as Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. My Issalia books all focus on protagonists is their late teens and include the same coming of age elements you will find in the books by that list of authors. In addition, my approach toward magic is very similar to Sanderson’s, a defined system with limitations. In my Issalia books, numerous POV characters are magic users and, as such, the reader is directly exposed to the secrets of said magic.

As a side note, my favorite fantasy is the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. It is a major influence to my latest books in the Fate of Wizardoms series. Readers familiar with Wheel of Time can expect a similar tone but with far faster pacing, no braid-pulling, and a main character whose traits mimic Mat Cauthon far more than those of Rand Al’Thor. It has been a blast to write something that incorporates nearly as much humor as action.

Has your work outside of writing impacted your series? Specifically the magic system.

While I was an Honors English student in college, my degree was in engineering. As a result, I tend to detail my magic systems more than more authors, fashioning them into a form of science for the gifted. In addition, I include inventions, gadgets, and enchanted objects, always paying attention to physics and logic so the execution remains believable. I often receive reader comments on how much they enjoy the inventions and the way magic is used to enhance them.

What did you set out to accomplish when you wrote your first two series Runes/Wardens of Issalia. What did you hope readers would get out of the books?

Since those books are coming of age epic fantasy, I wanted to use them as a positive influence toward teen readers. The first series tackles themes around prejudice and inclusion. Wardens of Issalia, my later series, includes a main character who is disabled. As a result, it gives readers an inside perspective on what it is like to be bullied, ridiculed, or made to feel useless due to a physical trait. That character happens to be brilliant, his creations and discoveries critical to the story told and the Wardens’ success. With the fun, adventurous nature of my books, readers often absorb these themes without even realizing it. If I can instill just a tiny bit more compassion into the world, I will have made it a better place.

Talk a bit about your experience with self publishing. You seem to be one of the lucky ones that has found a system that works. What’s your secret?

I find myself somewhere in the middle, more successful than some but with a long way to go before I reach my goals. I don’t know if there is any secret. More experienced authors than myself say you should work hard, create quality stories readers want to experience, and to keep on producing. Volume is the key. Along with that, great covers are must, editors and proofers are a must, and you have to advertise to get your books noticed. I spend a lot on ads and promos every month but as long as I make 2x-4x of what I spend, it’s worth it.

How much of yourself do you put in to your characters? And if you do incorporate personal character traits, which characters do you think reflect them the most and why?

Funny, but I modeled Brock, the central protagonist from my first series, after myself. I actually receive reader complaints that he is too nice..From that feedback, I learned that readers prefer characters who are more troubled. Apparently, his own situation as an outcast is not enough. There are certainly slices of me in other characters, particular those with a snarky sense of humor, but each is their own unique soul. I am merely the person who slips into them and views the world through their eyes for short periods as I tell their story..

Your new Wizardoms series is a huge progression. What made you decide on such a creative departure?

Unlike my Issalia books, Fate of Wizardoms is targeted solidly toward adult readers. As a result, I am able to be a bit more adventurous with my writing and the themes in the story. I had eight published novels by the time I began the first Wizardoms book. That added experience helped me grow as a writer. While I had always been a good storyteller, but I needed more development as a writer and that improvement shows in this new series. The reviews alone confirm it. Every one of my books averages 4 stars or better, but this series has been at a whole new level.

How important is reader interaction to you? How do you enjoy connecting with fans/readers?

To be honest, I spend way too much time on Facebook interacting with readers when I should be writing instead. I also reply personally to each and every email. I value readers tremendously and I enjoy talking about books, mine and others I have read. I have even had author/signing tables at various cons and book festivals. I never make money at them and they are time consuming, but I enjoy meeting and chatting with the readers who stop by to see me.

What have you read recently I’m the Fantasy genre that you can recommend?

I am all about modern takes on classic epic fantasy. While I had a run at reading grimdark a few years back, I prefer stories with engaging, likable characters embarking on amazing, magic-filled adventures. Sure, we need dark moments, challenges, loss, and other dark things to occur but give me happy ending every time. The Keeper Chronicles by JA Andrews along with Chaos and Immortality by Eric T. Knight both fall into this category and are series I have read this year.

What can we look forward to from you in 2020?

Temple of the Oracle, the third book in my Fate of Wizardoms series releases on January 28th. Beyond that, I have at least three more books planned in the series, all releasing by next August. What comes next? Time will tell.

You’re about to partake in a charity giveaway event in support of Worldbuilders. How did you get involved with the organization, and why should readers support them?

I discovered Worldbuilders three years ago through Reddit. At the time, it seemed like a good cause so I donated. The following spring, I was signing books at Wondercon and Patrick Rothfuss was there as well, just a few tables away. I struck up a conversation with him about Worldbuilders and how it was intended to support deserving charities that might not get as much exposure as others. Yes, I support things like Susan G. Komen and St. Judes, which are both great, but everyone knows about them and they get a ton of attention while others go unnoticed. That, along with the whole ‘geeks for a cause’ mantra was good enough for me. I have been a fan ever since.

What piece of advice would you offer to new and aspiring writers?

Write. The more you write, the better you get. When you have something written, share it with others. Does it count to write a novel if nobody reads it? If you choose to publish, for God’s sake, have it edited. Also know, you must have a great cover to get others to try out your book. It is money well spent.


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Twitter: @JLkohanek

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One Response to Interview with Jeffrey L. Kohanek

  1. Jeff Kohanek says:

    Thanks for the great review. I enjoy talking about my books and fantasy in general, with readers, other authors, and anyone who is a fan of the genre.

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