Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus (FSF): Ok so let’s do this. So when did you know you wanted to be a writer, and tell us a bit of the journey that led to the publication of Shadows of a Dream.
SL Harby (SH): The first time I can remember wanting to be a writer was in the late summer of 1980. I was a small, skinny kid attending summer camp for the first time.
Some of the older boys were playing a game off to the side. I timidly walked up and asked what they were doing. It turned out they were playing Dungeons and Dragons. After one afternoon, I had found a life long passion.
I began by playing but very quickly started telling my own stories. Writing was a natural extension of that.
Shadows of a Dream grew directly out of my love of and experience with being a life long gamer.
I lived through the demonic panic of the early 1980’s and learned first hand what it was to be different from those around me. At its root, Shadows is a story about finding acceptance for yourself, within yourself.
FSF: So tell our audience a bit about the novel, and why it should be their next click.
SH: My favorite description of Shadows of a Dream is ‘Neverending Story all grown up’. I think it is a very appropriate description of the work in very broad strokes. It follows a life long gamer as he comes to the realization that his life has not turned out as he had planned or even expected. Stricken with the malaise that haunts a great deal of us as everyday life creeps up on us, forcing compromise after compromise in the name of security and a lack of conflict. Struck by tragedy for the second time in his life, Stephen realizes that the world of the game … the world of his dreams is in actuality, a real place in which a reflection of himself exists and lives a life that he can only dream of. As Stephen and his reflection draw closer, they must solve the mystery of their friends’ deaths before they join them in the grave.
FSF: Awesome. Now when you wrote the story? Did you write with an audience in mind or were you writing for yourself, hopeful that readers would come along for the ride?
SH: That is an interesting question. When I began writing it, the story that became Shadows of a Dream was done more as an exercise to exorcise my own demons and deal with a dissatisfaction with my own life. It grew organically into the novel as I continued to write. One of my literary heroes, Steven Brust told me ‘Write the book you want to read’. Taking that wisdom to heart, I made every attempt to write a book for myself first and foremost. Readers are very discerning and I think they can feel the love an author puts into their work and, yes, want to be carried along for the ride.
FSF: So that leads nicely into this question. How much of the characterization in the novel is based on yourself or people in your personal life?
SH: I think that all good fiction has a basis, no matter how small, in fact. Characters and situations read as more genuine when the author has had experience with them. As I mentioned, I found myself in a situation similar to Stephen’s at a particularly dark part of my life. Of course, I did not have a Taerh to escape to nor a reflection / mentor that he has in Hollis, but I found myself in a relationship that bears a striking similarity to Stephen’s with his wife, Roni. His gaming group, while not based wholly on specific people I have played with over my forty plus years of tabletop RPG’s, there are pieces of a good deal of them in the people he plays with.
FSF: So you’ve mentioned D&D, which I have unfortunately not participated in yet despite being invited to quite a few campaigns since I’ve been in this business. What authors are influences on your writing? What other media (films, tv etc.) have influenced your work?
SH: As an only child, I had a great deal of ‘independent’ time growing up and spent a great deal of it with what I consider the masters of modern fantasy. I cut my literary teeth on such giants as Fritz Leiber, JRR Tolkien, Robert E Howard and Edgar Boroughs. Growing up in the 80’s, which I believe was a golden age for sci-fi / fantasy, I also found myself reading works such as Thieves’ World, Glen Cook’s Black Company and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. I also was positively addicted to the ‘sword and sorcery’ movies of the time: Dragonslayer, Beast Master, Conan the Barbarian, Legend, Lady Hawke and Krull. In a time before Game of Thrones, there was not a great deal of TV shows that obviously embraced the fantasy author within me but I tried to pull ideas from anything I could. Although neither sci-fi or fantasy, shows such as Magnum PI, the A-Team and Knight Rider were examples of how to write hero characters that were rooted in their humanity. I even drew inspiration from Different Strokes and SIlver Spoons for their exploration of character driven relationships.
FSF: Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?
SH: Whatchu talkin’ about, indeed!
FSF: But seriously, what makes a great Fantasy novel to you? What do you look for in a Fantasy read, and have you read any great indie Fantasy that you can recommend?
SH: As counter intuitive as it sounds, I think a great fantasy novel has to start with reality. Every compelling story starts with the characters. They have to be relatable or the reader can’t invest in them, and through them the story. When I read a work of fantasy (or any work, really), I look for characters that are three dimensional: Protagonists that are as fallible as they are heroic and villains that are more than mustache twirling foils for ‘the good guy’. Everyone, bad guys included, is the hero in their own story, no matter how twisted their sense of reality is. As for indie fantasy, I read Lost Clans of Lydania by Alin SIlverwood and absolutely loved it.
FSF: How important is reader interaction to you? And how do you best enjoy networking with fans/readers?
SH: Reader interaction is extremely important to me, as I believe it should be to all authors. As creators, it is all too easy to be pulled into a spiral of destruction and self doubt by our own creations. Fans allow us to find a proverbial port in that particular storm. They keep us grounded, often keeping us grounded while also encouraging us to continue the struggle. Not all feedback is positive, nor should it be. As easy as it is to be swept away by doubt, we are just as easily tempted by the siren call of our own vision. Fans help us hold our center and focus on the work. As much of a cop out as it is, I love to interact with my fans however I can. Social media helps us access such a wide range of readers and experience the opinion of the masses, but there is nothing I enjoy more than a one on one private message or email from someone who appreciates the story I am telling or finds that something I have written has touched them in some way.
FSF: What takes up your time when you aren’t writing?
SH: Fortunately for me, I was able to escape my toxic relationship and met a wonderful woman who has since made me the luckiest man in the world by becoming my wife. Through her, I have rediscovered the joy of travel (not during Covid, of course), good food and the simple happiness of quiet nights together. We adopted the most bad ass rescue dog, Tallulah and enjoy taking her to the dog park or into nature. Actually, in 2019 we combined the two and took what I refer to as ‘the great dog park tour’ as we traveled to North Carolina via every dog park between New Jersey and Charlotte, NC. I still play D&D with a group that I have been with for almost twenty years as well as a lot of reading.
FSF: What can readers look forward to from you in 2021 and beyond?
SH: I am currently writing the sequel to Shadows of a Dream, Shadows of the Heart. I hope to have it available for release in late 2021 or early 2022. In addition, I release short fiction centered around my works on my website: www.ReadSLHarby.com. I would like to tell stories that help flesh out the characters and the world in general but perhaps were not important to the narrative in my books. I also conduct creator interviews and book reviews as well. I hope to finish the meta plot of my Well of Shadows trilogy with Shadows of Betrayal in 2023. After that, I have some ideas for expansion of the world, but also have some ideas for other works that have been floating around in my brain for a while. We will have to see what happens after Stephen’s journey comes to an end.
FSF: So only a couple more questions, this one going a bit off topic, but if you could do anything to change the world what would it be?
SH: I mourn the fact that people tend to focus so intently on the things that separate us, make us different rather than the those that we have in common and bring us together. I think if I could change one thing, it would be to show people that these similarities are stronger than our differences. It take more energy to fight than it does to understand.
FSF: I totally agree, and sticking with changing the world, what one piece of advice would you offer to new and aspiring authors?
SH: Write. Write a thousand words or a single paragraph. Only through putting proverbial pen to paper can you refine your art. The great white desert that is the empty page becomes less daunting once you have scarred it with your words. If you didn’t write yesterday … or the day or week before, let it go. Today is a new day. Forgive yourself and write in the present. What happened yesterday is gone, nothing can be done about it now. Tomorrow is beyond the horizon and unknown. The only thing you can do is write today, so take advantage and do it!