Hey James, how’s life? How’s our new reality treating you?
Things are going great. I work from home, so this new reality isn’t much different for me.
Congratulations on completing the secret of the Jewels series. How does it feel to now have 10 books out in the world? Did you expect to be so prolific and what’s your secret?
It feels really great to have ten books out. A real thrill to see them on my bookshelf, too.
I knew when I started writing that I could be prolific. I’ve always been a fast typer and so long as I’ve thought of the scene I’m about to write, the broad beats, I find that my writing can flow fast. I can get about 2500 words written in an hour.
When you started writing Secret of the Jewels, what was your intent with the series?
To tell a faster paced fantasy series. One that starts with action right away. I wanted to limit my POVs to two characters and tell a focused story about my leads, Ōbhin and Avena.
Why did you decide to break away from your hugely epic The Storm Below world for something brand new?
As much as I love The Storm Below, the books are more slow builds, especially the early ones. They go to some action-packed places, but especially Above the Storm takes a lot of time to get into that. I wanted to still write epic fantasy but one that might appeal to the modern reader.
You bring a lot of intense emotion to your Fantasy work and your characters are highly believable and multi-dimensional despite the fantastical settings. When you create characters like Ōbhin , Ary, Chaylene, and Avena, what do you hope to convey to the reader in your characters and how much of your character development is based on people in your real life, and yourself?
I like my characters to first and foremost feel like real people. I want them to have strengths and flaws, and to have bad and good ideas. My antagonists always have their reasons that make sense to them. I want their backgrounds to inform their decisions.
I also like to explore different issues. The Storm Below is the contrast between the romanticization of soldiers and war to the reality that they face and why war is something that should only be entered when necessary.
Secret of the Jewels is about a number of things from the idea of the worth of human beings, charity, guilt of misdeeds, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Your world building is always extensive. How much research do you put in to your work while creating worlds? Do you enjoy the process of world building?
I enjoy thinking about world building and drawing my maps. I flesh out my magic systems and the governments and how the society works. Putting the details down and typing them out I find tedious and a chore. I tend to do focused world building. Deep, where my characters will be and shallow for the rest of the world. I’ll have a big map and there will be places on there that I barely have any information on, perhaps just enough to drop a reference to them to make the world feel more alive.
You write what I would call literary Fantasy, or at the very least, far from your typical beach read. What influences, both in Fantasy, but more specifically outside the genre have helped to shape your writing style?
The biggest influence on my writing style is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. From the way he handled character POVs to how he had such a different type of fantasy than what I had been reading before. I had been reading Eddings and Brooks and Tolkein, of course, when I found Jordan. When I started writing, I found myself emulating that style.
As for characters, R. Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse Metaseries is influential. Of making flawed characters though I don’t go grimdark like he does. He also explores how our culture and beliefs shape our actions through the concept of The Darkness that Comes Before. How we often do things without understanding why we do them. It’s just the way things have been done.
I rather wish I could come up with evocative names for strange things the way Frank Herbert does. In the Dune series, he would name items and would give little information but their names were so imaginative that you could picture something.
While I do read outside of Fantasy, nothing I’ve read has ever really stayed with me the way fantasy does. Dan Simmons has some great stuff and Tom Clancy can make the technical aspect of his stories fascinating to read.
You manage to work romance in to your work in a way that is genuinely emotional and real and it never feels forced. What are your thoughts on romance in Fantasy in general and how do you approach it?
I like characters to get together but I’m really not a fan of the will they won’t they, or love triangles. I like writing characters in relationships more than the courtship, to be honest. Courtships are all about hormones and passion but keeping a relationship going requires work and sacrifice. It requires the characters to give and take.
That’s interesting to write for me. You can see it in Time’s Prison which goes through the twenty-year relationship of a couple form their first meeting to some of the travails of their marriage. It’s why I started Ary and Chaylene in a relationship and let the story be about whether or not they should stay together and why they are together.
You recently completed two co-written satirical fantasy novellas, The Alehouse Wars and The Alehouse Rebellion, as well as a full length novel The Cider of Legend with Michael Evan. What was that experience like working as a co-writer and specifically writing in that genre?
It was an interesting process. When I first got the outline of The Alehouse Wars, my thought was this is some crazy stuff. I didn’t realize just what I had agreed to collaborate on. But then I read through it and I had some ideas. So I had my co-writer’s outline to follow (the story is all his) but I had the freedom to develop the characters and write the various beats of the story.
Michael was very supportive of most of my changes although he did disagree on a few of them. I think I surprised him with my ideas. He was always thrilled to get my chapters and was supportive of it. All in all, it was a great experience, which led to a sequel and the standalone novel.
As for The Cider of Legend, it’s the third satirical fantasy story we co-wrote. It’s about a plague that prompts two sidewinders to go on a quest to find the mythical Cider of Legend.
The stakes were a lot higher in Cider than the two Alehouse novellas. The story had a more immediate feel about. A visceral necessity that the Alehouse Wars and Rebellion lacked. While Cider of Legend was still a satirical story, the dimensions of it just felt so much larger while at the same time, the first person perspective limited the scope to just Mik’hai’s version of the story. That made it far more personal, too.
It was a strange contradition of greater stakes and deeper focus that, I think, makes it a more impactful read than the previous two stories.
Your cover artist is exceptional. Give them a shout out and let us know what is most important to you about a great cover. What are you looking for when signing off on covers?
My covers are produced by Steam Power Studios. Jade and her partner do great work and I am rather happy with them.
I am looking for a cover that evokes the spirit of the book if not necessarily accurately displays the contents. It’s a marketing pitch to let the people know about what the book is about. To entice readers. Your cover is your first hook to get a reader interested, so it should be great.
Talk a bit about what will be happening for you in the new year in terms of new releases? Can you talk a bit about what you’ve got coming up?
I’ll be re-launching Secret of the Jewels with Fallbrandt Press followed quickly by my third fantasy series, What Masks Hide. This is a companion series to Secret of the Jewels. They are parallel stories that while, are each independent of the other, they compliment each other. Ōbhin and Foonauri, the heroine of What Masks Hide, are ex-lovers and the fallout of their relationship informs both their characters‘ actions in their series.
You won’t get spoiled on either series by reading the other, but you will appreciate them more. You will see the characters in a different light, learn more about some of the central conflicts of the greater meta-series of the Jewelchine Universe.
In What Masks Hide, Foonauri, an exiled noblewoman, is finding her life as nothing more than a pretty woman on a powerful man’s arm unfulfilling. Pursuing material comforts has left her empty after what happened between her and Ōbhin. She gets the opportunity to make a difference by being a thief.
She gets an offer to join the Cracked Gems, a group of thieves who steal from those who the law have failed to deal with. They work in the shadows and break the rules to make the world a better place. Will Foonauri find what she needs as Jade, or is it just the start to mend her shattered heart?
Later in 2021, I hope to have out No One’s Tale, a trilogy that is a sequel to both What Masks Hide and Secret of the Jewels. It will follow an antagonist character from both series who is now trying to find new purpose in their life in the aftermath of Secret of the Jewels’ finale. Expect Ōbhin and Avena to make an appearance in this series.
I might also have a new fantasy series out set in its own world called Shadow of the Dragon. It’s going to be an epic fantasy quest series involving traveling around the world , as Euddan and Vounee search for a way to free Vounee from a curse and how the fate of their world might very well hinge on what they do.
It’ll be about what being a hero is (versus what the stories make it seem), what love is (versus stories), and the consequences of child abuse and the scars it can leave.
Do you enjoy networking with readers and if so, what’s your favorite method of doing so?
I do enjoy networking with my readers. It’s a lot of fun. I have a Facebook group called Fantastic Worlds of the Imagination. We play games, have discussions, and share awesome fantasy pics! I preview my books and share art work in progress.