Ginger Nuts of Horror
Hello folks Stephen Zimmer has popped over for a chat. Born in Denver, Colorado, Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning fantasy author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Stephen has two series being published through Seventh Star Press. One is the epic fantasy Fires in Eden Series (which includes Crown of Vengeance, the winner of a 2010 Pluto Award for Best Novel). The series stands at two titles with the third being released in late spring 2012. The other is an epic-scale urban fantasy series, The Rising Dawn Saga. This series stands at three titles, with the fourth scheduled for release in winter of 2012/2013. Both series are now affiliated with two growing collections of eBook short stories. The Chronicles of Ave short stories are set in the world revealed in the Fires in Eden Series, while the Annals of the Rising Dawn short stories are set in the world of the Rising Dawn Saga.
Hi Stephen, how are things with you? And thank you for taking the time to stop by here on your Blog Tour.
Thank you very much Jim! I've been looking forward to this interview for awhile, ever since I learned I was going to have the opportunity, as you give one of the best author interviews in the blogging world. Absolutely loved the ones you did with some of my fellow Seventh Star Press authors, from the inimitable Shrews, to that wise sage, David Blalock.
Things are going well, here on the cusp of the release of Spirit of Fire. It is always exciting when a new book is coming out, but it is also a very, very busy time with all of the promotional activities that accompany it. I'm hanging in there with all of it, though, as I always do everything I can to support my work.
How is the tour going?
The tour is just getting underway now, but the preparation for it is pretty extensive. Doing 51 events on a 48 day straight schedule. I'm visiting all kinds of blogs, based all around the world, and the tour is going to have quite a variety of activities, including the incorporation of video on a few of the stops. I think those that check out the events will find them very interesting, or at least I hope they will! hahaha
Could you give the readers some background information about yourself?
I'm not the fanciest sort of individual. What you see is what you get! I love red meat and hard rock/metal music, feel most comfortable in casual attire like jeans, and I believe in giving everything you set out to do your absolute best effort. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate a range of things, but my personal style is easy going, with a live-and-let-live outlook, blended with an old-school type work ethic.
My formal degree is in Visual Communications, but my roots as a writer really go back to being a tiny child listening to his dad's improvised “Land of the Lost”-style bedtime stories starring the members of our family and an assortment of dinosaurs! Hahaha The path to fantasy literature began when my mother read me The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy around the age of seven, with the next profound step occurring in the form of a Chronicles of Narnia paperback set that introduced me to the noble Reepicheep!
I have experience in working in everything from cancer research labs to gyms and television stations, as well as some time spent working around independent music, from booking and promoting live shows to trying to develop an indie label. While not everything I've done has gone as well as I hoped, and I've been through some major disappointments, I've always gleaned something from every experience that has helped me as a writer. I have also been fortunate to get to know a wide variety of individuals during these life episodes, and looking back I can see that I was blessed with a wealth of character studies, from street-tough punk rockers to politicians and highly successful business types with much more formal styles, who have all given me insights into various characters that have emerged in my tales.
My first love is epic fantasy, but I absolutely love other areas of speculative fiction, such as urban fantasy, horror, and, more recently, steampunk. I even have some things sketched out for a massive space opera that I would like to tackle when I have the time to do it justice.
Hopefully, that gives you a little idea about me, and where I am coming from!
So what is the appeal of genre fiction to you, and in particular fantasy?
I think genre fiction gives an author the greatest of challenges, because it calls upon an author to gain a reader's belief, or at least a firm suspension of disbelief, in dealing with things that the reader (at least most that I am aware of, haha!) have no personal experience with. I love to bring things of the imagination to life and explore other worlds, and genre fiction gives you the freedom to do that without any boundaries.
It also allows you to craft stories that work on multiple levels in a very effective way. For example, my stories can be read for pure entertainment, or they can present some ideas that are food for thought. Readers can make of the stories what they want, and the layers are there to be explored for different types of readers.
Can you remember what planted the seeds of love for genre fiction?
I have to return back to one of my earlier answers here, with the credit going to my mother in reading me The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit aloud, a segment about every evening when I was about seven. I think she had as much fun reading them to me as I had fun listening to them, and it was something that I really looked forward to every day. I could close my eyes and see the words of J.R.R. Tolkien come alive, which is what I was blown away by what an amazing job Peter Jackson did with the films. Without question, this is when my genre fiction seed was planted, in the fertile ground of epic fantasy, and it was given sunlight and water when I received the Chronicles of Narnia boxed set of softcovers not long after.
Bevriedak, one of the Elder from Dream of Legends
Genre fiction is still looked down upon by many people, why do you think this is?
It is really strange isn't it? Because all fiction is, in essence, a form of fantasy in that all of it is rooted in the imagination. I have never understood why in the world some literati-types look down on genre fiction when it lays down once of the highest writing challenges imaginable when it comes to suspension of disbelief. The very things that they tend not to like, such as otherworld settings and fantastical beings, are huge writing challenges in and of themselves since readers don't have a direct experience they can draw off of.
Genre fiction, because of its distance from the world most of us know, also allows it to tackle some weighty subjects through symbolism, metaphors, and allegory in a way that is more palatable to a large percentage of readers than a straightforward portrayal would be. There is tremendous value to genre fiction that is often overlooked by many in the literary community. Perhaps they just need to exercise their imaginations a little more often, and their eyes might open to realms of compelling, thought-provoking literature out there that they have long overlooked.
If you give any book or film to one of these naysayers, in an attempt to change their opinion, what would you give them?
Probably hand them a copy of the Iliad, or the Odyssey, two of the oldest works in western literature, to remind them that the earliest roots of storytelling involved tales of the mythic and fantastical. At the time they were rendered, I suppose you could say these were either the epic fantasy or urban fantasy of those days! LOL
Why writing? Surely there must be easier ways to satisfy your creative urges?
Unlike filmmaking, I don't have to worry about budgets in telling my stories when writing! hahaha The battles can be massive, and the environments exotic. It is nice when you don't have creative parameters defined by financial limits.
Truly, writing offers the most creative freedom, and not just in relation to financial considerations. Most other mediums such as filmmaking and video game development are collaborative mediums, while writing allows you to really put forward your own vision of a story idea.
In that sense, writing really does offer the most fulfilling personal creative experience. It allows me to immerse into a story and tell what I see, and I love going on these interior journeys. It takes a while to craft a large novel, but the journey is fun, as I enjoy writing the stories immensely. I hope some of the enjoyment that I experience in the process is conveyed to the reader.
How would you describe your writing style?
I would describe my writing style as cinematic and immersive. My style is not one that makes for a light beach read, but instead beckons to the reader to plunge in and peel off layers, look around each corner, and allow seeds to grow and come to a full harvest. If the reader gives it their attention, I feel strongly that there are big rewards to be had within these novels in terms of the reading experience.
For most of my writing, especially my novels, I employ multiple character threads. Like changing a camera angle in a film production, this style allow me to show the reader the story from multiple perspectives. I can go anywhere I want to, from a cosmic view to a very intimate, interior view within a particular character. As I see the story within my mind's eye as I write it, almost like transcribing when I am doing a first manuscript, strive to convey a clear visual image to the reader in terms of settings and descriptions. I love to take a broad view of a spectacular scene like a large battle or introduction to a new land, in a way similar to how an epic movie would unveil something of a grand nature.
And on a similar note, which authors would you say have been the biggest influences on your own writing?
There have been many who have had influences on me, from the aforementioned J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, to many others since, such as Guy Gavriel Kay, Glen Cook, Clive Barker, Sir Walter Scott, Robert E. Howard, and George R.R. Martin. Reading is invaluable to helping you become a better writer, and reading the works of the aforementioned authors and others has been very good for my development as a writer along the way.
a Fenraren sky steed, which are used by the
Midragardans from Dream of Legends
And how does an author use these influences to create their own voice rather than having their writing becoming a homage to the influences?
My influences are just a part of me, and not something I dwell upon. I think people can glimpse certain influences at one moment or another in any writer's work, but I never set out consciously to write a scene or a character according to one of those influences, if that makes sense.
When I write I think of the story alone, and do not think of another author or book in a conscious way. If I am writing a fight scene, I write it as I imagine it within my mind's eye, and do not turn my thoughts towards one of R.A. Salvatore's brilliant sword fights using his dark elf hero Drizzt. If I am writing a vision of the Abyss, I describe what I envision, and I do not turn my mind towards John Milton's work, even if Paradise Lost had a profound impact on me.
There might be a reflection of an influence that can be seen in an author's work, but the important thing is that authors tell the story that is in their mind, the way they see it, and not how they think another author would approach it. Once you start doing that, then I think you are in danger of losing your voice and having it become an homage.
How easy is writing for you? Can you just sit down and write, or do you have to fight every sentence onto the page?
I have not had great trouble with writer's block, thankfully, and perhaps it has something to do with my multi-threaded style of writing. When doing a first draft, I always move with a thread that I have a good vibe for on a given session, and do not try to force myself to come up with something. If that means that a word count is lesser on a given day, then that's the way it goes. Sometimes the flow goes extremely well and I can crank out a 10,000 word-plus session. I suppose I “go with the flow” in a sense, and it has turned out very well in helping me to avoid running into a mental brick wall during a session.
And how do you actually go about writing? Do you plot, or do you freeflow?
My approach is kind of a hybrid between the two. I do not believe in boxing myself in by putting too many outline boundaries in place. But I also feel that there is a real need to know the general direction and structure of a story when you are tackling something like epic fantasy, especially in the context of a larger series.
With my style, I always leave room for new characters and plot threads to emerge during the process of writing a new novel, but I always know the overall direction I am headed in. I have goals I want to achieve in a given novel. I had a clear vision of the destination when I began both of my series, and while both have had some wonderful things crop up as each volume is fully developed, I have moved things nicely along the path that I set out upon.
Writing fantasy must through up a lot more challenges than writing say a big monster horror novel. For instance you not only have character developments to deal with, you also have to create a whole new world. Do you enjoy these challenges, and do you have any strategies to deal with them?
I feel every area of speculative fiction has its own unique challenges, but when it comes to fantasy, world-building is undoubtedly one of the crucial aspects of developing a good novel and series. I love bringing a new world to life, and thinking through all of the things that go into it, from the geography, to its flora, fauna, history, cultures, and everything else involved. My main strategy is to make sure I address my inventive cultures or elements in ways that mirror a culture or element based upon something from our own world and history.
If I have given the same attention to the detail and foundation of the inventive elements, like the Trogens and their land and culture in my Fires in Eden series, as I did to the things based on something from our world, like the Midragardans from the same series, then I feel I have done it the right justice. Always making sure I have thought through my inventive elements comprehensively gives me a better chance of having the reader feel an organic, vivid sense of reality with both the fully inventive culture and one with historical foundations.
Dragol, from the Spirit of Fire
Could you tell us about some of these elements?
Sure, and I will use the Trogens as an example of what I mean by having a comprehensive approach in thinking about a fully inventive culture and race of beings.
The Trogens are a brawny, tall race of beings that have a dog-like facial appearance, more specifically to the form of breeds such as pit bulls. They live in a mountainous region to the north of Kiruva, culminating in long stretches of cliff faces. With the rugged mountain environment and their stronger physical nature, they have developed a very tough warrior culture.
Their strength allows them to fashion and use some particularly devastating weapons, such as their longblades, which are single-edged weapons with longer, heavier blades that can deliver the force of a broad axe. They also have scythens, which are two-handed weapons that are about equally divided in length between haft and the long, curving, heavy blade.
They are organized into a series of clans, associated with a representative animal. Some examples are the Mountain Bear Clan, the Thunder Wolf Clan, the Sea Wolf Clan, the Forest Wolverine Clan, the Blood Boar Clan, among others. The representative animals for the clans represent strong characteristics well-suited to surviving in harsher environments or times.
They have an ongoing conflict with the Elves that live in a larger island not too far off the northwestern shoreline of Trogen lands. The Elves, one of the first races of Ave, were already well-developed as a culture when the Trogens came to inhabit their lands. The Elves used these advantages to suppress the Trogens, relentlessly making certain that the Trogens are unable to erect permanent fortifications, build sea vessels, and other things that would allow the Trogens to resist the Elves more strongly. When the Elves discovered an area on the northwestern edge of Trogen lands that was abundant in resources, both mineral and sea life, the Elves occupied the area, took a slave population of Trogens, and build a huge wall fortification that protects the land side. The Elves are relentless in their raids on Trogen lands, and the raids are designed to keep the Trogen Clans weakened.
This longstanding conflict with the Elves has heavily influenced the development of Trogen Culture. Their villages are simple in design, made from the abundant timber of the area, and fast to erect. Their attire is more straightforward, derived from hides with a need for being tough and enduring. They are more of a hunter and gatherer type of culture, as the Elven persecution has prevented them from cultivating the land to any significant degree. Yet the need for constant hunting has also helped Trogen warriors to hone their skills in many areas, including tracking and concealment, which has been beneficial to their survival against the Elves.
The Trogens have tamed the flying Harraks to counter the Elves on their own sky steeds, and also tamed a type of creature called an Amnoros, kind of like a bigger kind of Mountain Goat, that the Trogens can ride into tough to reach places like the cliff faces on their northern coast line.
All of this has forged a kind of honor code among the Trogens that is put sorely to the test in the Fires in Eden series, when they agree to assist the Unifier’s wars in return for help in ending the Elven oppression once and for all.
They have their own heroes and legends, and have a monotheistic type of religion, though it is one where the deity they see as the creator rewards things of the warrior ethos such as courage and loyalty. Their view of Heaven, translated into our language as Elysium, would not be a place a Viking warrior would mind going.
For the sake of brevity, I will keep the description at that, as there is a lengthy history to the Trogens and many more details about their culture, but you can see how their environment, their history, and even their physical nature has forged the kind of warrior race that they are. It is reflected in the nature of their clans, the weapons they use, their religion, and the dwellings they construct. It is also what has driven them to use certain types of animals to help in their ongoing tribulations. They have a thorough history, cultural style, and beliefs that would match up with a similar description of the Midragardans, who are inspired by the Vikings of our world. My vision of the Trogens is very comprehensive, and I think this has been conveyed well to the readers, as the Trogens are often mentioned as one of the readers’ favorites in Ave.
How much time do you go put into developing your worlds? Do you ever start writing the novel before you have fully developed the world?
I recently wrote an entire blog post about the fact that I did a full overhaul of the first titles of each of my series because I realized I had not given the worlds enough depth and foundation. I came to understand the great importance of developing the full substance of the world during that time.
The things you think of and research do not always make it into the text directly, but they are present in your mind as you develop the story and they give you new angles and considerations that end up adding a whole lot of richness to the story. Whenever I dive into another series, I intend to have a solid vision of the world it is set in from the outset. If I had done that with the Fires in Eden and Rising Dawn Saga from the beginning, I could have had the books presented for consideration by an editor years earlier.
How important is it to you to create unique qualities in your worlds?
It is very important, and I have worked to have a balance between things that will be more familiar with fantasy readers, alongside things that are uncommon or unique. In the Fires in Eden Series I have my Trogens and subterranean-dwelling Unguhur, but I also have the Viking-like Midragardans and the Norman-like Avanorans. I have my six-legged Firakens in the depths of the forests of the Five Realms, but I also have the sabre-tooth tiger-like Licanthers, trained by the rat-like Atagar, the latter two of whom can be found in the land of Yanith. I have Wizards and dragons present in Ave, but the reader will find out that both entail more than a few twists.
I feel there is a nice balance that offers originality and freshness while also providing some accessibility and comfort to an avid genre reader. I do not shy away from the iconic, but I also want to introduce some new things into the mix along the way.
How do you come up with all these wonderful names?
Naming is a very fun process, and if the culture involved is more historical in nature, I will try to keep consistent with the naming style. For example, characters in the Saxan world have names derived from the Anglo-Saxons they are based on, such as Aethelstan and Wulfstan. The same for the people of the Onan tribe, who are based on the Onondaga of the Iroquois Confederation of the Five Nations period, such as Deganawida and Ayenwatha.
For fully inventive cultures, like the Trogens, I try to develop names that have a sound that to me would fit in their culture. Dragol, Framorg, Goras, are all strong-sounding names, for a strong race of beings like the Trogens are.
Other times, I will have fun with words from other languages, such as with the Unguhur, which is derived from the German word for “monster”. Trogen derives from the Swedish word for “loyal” or “faithful”.
So, ultimately, there is a mix of sources that I use to generate the various names.
At what point of the writing process do you start fleshing out the characters?
From the beginning, or before they are introduced if the series is already underway and they are a new addition to it. I think it is extremely important to have a rounded grasp of a character when you write a scene, so you know how they will react, what they will be thinking, and the ways they will interact with other characters and their environment. I may not reveal everything about a character to the reader for awhile, but as an author I really need to have a more thorough grasp from my end.
And how would you say the characters develop the plot, and how much does the plot develop the characters?
One of the more interesting things of working in an epic-scale story with an ensemble cast is that you have both dynamics present and contributing to the overall character and plot development.
The plot itself, which involves many of the characters discovering a much bigger and more complex reality than they ever imagined, is quite an engine for driving character development. The plot puts the characters into situations that they have never faced before, and introduces things that the characters, for the most part, had no belief in before, whether it is the ensemble of modern day characters finding themselves in another entire world in the Fires in Eden series, or characters coming to grips with a mind-boggling supernatural reality right under the surface of everything in the Rising Dawn Saga. With the very foundations of their senses of reality being shaken to the core, the characters cannot remain static in their progression. In this sense, the plot strongly drives the character development.
In another sense, many of the characters, by the virtue of the types of characters they are, serve to deepen the plot, expand it, and catalyze more sub plots. An example of this is Dagian Underwood in the Rising Dawn Saga, whose position as a major industry figure and deep involvement with dark magical arts spurs many interesting tendrils in the plot and subplots. The kind of character she is has spawned some very interesting scenes for the reader, and helped to direct the threads that she is involved with.
Book 1 of The Rising Dawn Saga
So let’s start talking about some of your books. Can you tell us about your Rising Dawn Saga?
The Rising Dawn Saga is not the easiest series to classify. I call it epic-scale urban fantasy, as it has the true scale of an epic fantasy, but it is set in the modern day. It is a blend of many things, including doses of military thrillers, science fiction, mystery, and much more, as it weaves a tale that involves the physical world and supernatural realms. It has tones of both the dystopian and apocalyptic.
A number of characters that are going about their daily lives are pulled into a course of events that pits them against others who are part of a cabal of elites laboring to bring a comprehensive global order to fruition, one that they can manage rigidly and guide in ways that serve their own ambitions and interests. All of this is set against the backdrop of an ongoing cosmic war that sees powerful beings of light and darkness locked in a ferocious struggle that spans non-physical and physical realities.
I often like to say that regular listeners of Coast to Coast Am can really connect to this one, as it has that weird and wonderful blend of elements, such as supernatural encounters, mythical creatures, shadow government elements driven by conspiring elites, secret orders and societies, and quite a lot more. For an urban fantasy novel, it does involve a heavier degree of world-building as many scenes and characters are based in supernatural realms, and it is important to me to establish how those worlds “work”, as scenes involving them are side by side with scenes set in a physical world like ours.
There are currently three books in the series, with The Exodus Gate, The Storm Guardians, and The Seventh Throne. I am projecting around seven books in the Rising Dawn Saga when it is complete.
At the moment there are three books in the series, are these a linked series, or can the reader jump in and read them singly?
My series should be read in order to get the most of out of the reading experience. There is a good reason for this, as my first books in a series are very foundational, and I begin to plant seeds that come to maturity in later installments. I have heard from readers who have read The Storm Guardians and enjoyed it without having read The Exodus Gate, but I really think to appreciate all the things that are set up, developed, and realized, a reader should start with the first title and proceed from there.
Who would you say the books are aimed at?
The Rising Dawn Saga has demonstrated a broad spectrum of appeal, from fantasy to urban fantasy audiences, and even military thriller and horror audiences. It is a real blend of genres in many ways. I have heard from readers that can't stand fantasy, and tend to only read hard science fiction, who have enjoyed the Rising Dawn Saga. I believe the series cuts across several genres and offers a rewarding reading experience to a large number of reader-types.
When you started writing the series, was it your intention to try and create a cross genre novel, or do you think the cross genre popularity was in the hands of the gods?
As a reader who loved epic fantasy, I wanted to write a modern day story with that kind of scale, depth, and ensemble of characters. Essentially, the goal was to have a true epic fantasy scale of story set within modern times. Inevitably, drawing in technology, the supernatural, and other elements, it became a cross-genre series very naturally. At the time that I conceived this story there weren’t nearly as many cross-genre novels as there are now, but I am certainly pleased that the literary world has embraced cross-genre stories so much more than when I was starting out on this path.
Book 1 of The Fires of Eden
You also have a second series, The Fires In Eden, is this a totally separate series?
Yes, the Fires in Eden series is entirely different. It is epic fantasy, as opposed to the modern day/urban fantasy type setting of the Rising Dawn Saga. It involves no common characters or storylines.
And how would you say it differs to The Rising Dawn series?
The stories themselves are very different in nature. The dynamics are as well, in that a group of characters from the modern world find themselves taken into an entirely new world in the Fires in Eden series, whereas a number of main characters in the Rising Sawn Saga discover incredible aspects about their own world that they had never experienced, or even thought existed before.
The Rising Dawn Saga unquestionably has a heavier supernatural element. The Fires in Eden series does involve the supernatural, but not nearly to the same degree.
The main ensembles of characters involved within each series are also very different, in terms of the backgrounds, life experience, and other aspects of the characters. Whether they tilt more heroic or villainous, characters in the two series reflect a wide variety and range that keeps the two series very distinct from each other.
Which series would you say has been the most fun to write?
The ideas for both of them emerged during a similar time period in the earlier 1990's, and both of them demanded to be written with equivalent force, so I can honestly say I have tremendous fun with each new book I work on in either series. Writing them in a leapfrog style has proven to be a nice boon, as I am very invigorated and fresh when I come back to one of the series after finishing a title in the other. As each one is distinctive, they each have unique aspects that appeal to me, and challenge me as a writer.
Your latest book, and the reason you are doing this blog tour is Spirit if Fire. Is this a stand alone novel, or does it fit into either of your series?
This is the third book of the Fires in Eden series, and like my Rising Dawn Saga titles it really does need to be read in sequence to be fully enjoyed. I am the kind of writer who is always setting things in place for what I call “payoffs” at later points in the series, and sometimes I'll be carefully, and sometimes quietly, setting up something big over the course of a couple books before making a large “payoff” to the reader. To fully appreciate these setups and payoffs, the books really do need to be read in sequence.
So what’s the book about?
I have to be careful to avoid some spoilers for those that haven't read the first two books. Hahaha!
A war is well underway at this point of the series, with two lands being invaded by a common enemy. These are the lands that the individuals from our world found themselves in back in Crown of Vengeance.
The reason for the presence of the otherworlders is explained more fully, even as they are spread farther apart from each other in events that will allow the reader to explore Avalos, where the Unifier resides, and Midragard, a land that is home to a very Viking-like culture of people.
There is a great tension from the start, as the tribes of the Five Realms are being steadily driven towards the edge of their homeland, while the Saxan lines out on the Plains of Athelney are wearing thin, and they are all that stands between a rapacious, massive army formed from three powerful realms and the Saxan heartland.
At this point in the series, the story is being told through the eyes of many native inhabitants of Ave, as well as the individuals that came from our world. From the Trogen warrior Dragol, to the wise sachem Deganawida of the Onan tribe, to Aethelstan, a Saxan thane, there are several threads that give the readers a great perspective on the events in Ave.
In addition, there are a few new characters of significance that are introduced in this book, especially in the scenes involving Midragard and Avalos.
It is a very action-heavy book, and I believe strongly that readers will find the pace to move along very nicely. There are many twists and turns, and more than a few big revelations, and the ending of this book is very powerful and emotional, tied intimately with the title itself.
How difficult was it to tell the story from all these viewpoints?
For me, there really is no difficulty. I have to keep an eye out on the timelines a little as everything progresses, but it interests me greatly to view the story from the various perspectives. I can foreshadow things in one story thread that apply more directly to another, and I can also provide more information to the reader viewing similar events from multiple perspectives. So in addition to it being simply fun, this style does offer a lot of options and utility in developing the story.
Do you use these viewpoints to bend the truth of the story, where each viewpoint is considered the truth from their perspective?
I do keep the tones of each thread consistent with the character it involves, so the way Dragol sees things might be very different from the tribal people such as Deganawida or Ayenwatha, whose people have been greatly harmed by forces that have included Trogen warriors. The outlook of the Unifier Himself is revealed in such a manner, as the Unifier certainly believes His part in the war against Palladium is very justified.
Do you know how the series will end?
I knew how the series would end before I started writing the beginning. I think it is very important in writing a series to know your destination, and in the cases of both of my series, I had vivid conceptions of the ends right from the outset. I can assure you that the ends of both series will be very powerful and spectacular in nature, well-suited to concluding all the threads and arcs of the various characters. No loose strings to be found when all is said and done!
Your books have all been published by Seventh Star Press, how did you come to be involved with them?
I was the first author, and was at the genesis of it all with my editor, Amanda DeBord, after she had a dinner meeting with me following the reading of a few chapters of the manuscript that become The Exodus Gate. Amanda wanted to work with it, and Matthew Perry was agreeable to do artwork and layouts, and the seeds were planted at that point for the launch of a new press that has since grown to involve 4 editors, 8 authors, and 2 artists at the moment, along with a great, supportive group of individuals around it.
What do you think Seventh Star Press offers that other small presses don’t?
Each press has its own approach and identity, as I have come to appreciate the longer I have been around the publishing world. With us, we have always sought to develop a very familial environment where each author is supported as much as possible along the way.
We offer a home where they will find promotional support, artistic support, editorial support, and an environment filled with individuals, including the other authors, who will be pro-active in helping them advance on their author journey. They come to know the other authors, the editors, and the artists, as well as many members of our Seventh Star Saints street team, and even bloggers that regularly cover our titles. This kind of chemistry is very healthy in enduring the difficult challenges that an author faces in such a fast-changing and often unpredictable publishing environment pervading the entire industry.
I believe that SSP offers its authors a true win-win environment. We are not going to throw a boatload of titles against the wall and see what sticks. If an author has been brought aboard SSP, it means that we believe in them and what they are doing to the fullest extent. As such we are going to work hard to find a way to help each author succeed, and put out the best title that we can with each new release. It does not matter if the cultivation takes a longer time or a shorter time, we will be there for each and every member of our group.
In addition to the environment and support structure, I also believe we have developed a wonderful artistic collaboration with the artists that do our covers and illustrations for the novels. Matthew Perry and Bonnie Wasson are developing a superb body of artwork associated with our titles, and this is something that I know the authors have loved, as well as the readers.
I never realised until I started doing some background research on you that as well as writing, you have also made a couple of films. How did you get into the film making business?
Filmmaking is another great storytelling medium, and my inspiration for movie-making owes more to franchises like Star Wars than anything else. As with books, I am drawn to the ensemble cast, epic-scale type of story.
I began to get more serious after college about filmmaking, and did some short films and documentary work in addition to working in commercial production. It wasn't until the early 2000's that the opportunity finally came to do a feature, Shadows Light.
While low budget, it was a great experience and I feel that we achieved some solid production value. The industry changed dramatically when we were shopping for a distributor, as brick and mortar chains were closing up rapidly and things like NetFlix and RedBox were emerging as the new primary source for movie rental. Unfortunately, this change savaged the mid-range independent distribution channels that had been in place with the store chains, and it hit at a really bad time for us as we were in the midst of shopping an independent feature for DVD distribution. For me that was a very difficult time, as during the same period I lost my father as well.
Since then, my focus has been on shorter length projects, but I hope to ramp up another feature in the near future when we can get the kind of resources necessary to position it for today's distribution environment.
You’ve made two films so far Shadows Light and The Sirens. Will you be making any more in the future?
I do have another as a director on my professional list of projects, Swordbearer, which is medieval fantasy and based upon a part of H. David Blalock's novel Ascendant. David wrote the adaptation and I participated as a producer and director. The production company for the project was Cineline Productions, who are currently doing a lot of work on the west coast. We showcased Swordbearer at many genre conventions in 2011, and hope to have it available for download and DVD by mid-summer. Short films are much harder to make viable commercially than a feature film, and this one is 22 minutes long, but it does have some really nice production value and we want people outside of the convention circuit to be able to see it easily if they want to.
I hope to be doing a genre short film within the coming year, and also have a Viking-age, dark fantasy screenplay that I feel would make an action-packed feature. To do it right and make it viable for the ways films are distributed today will require a modest budget, not just to achieve the right production value, but to have a few recognizable names in the cast that distribution channels would find attractive.
How did the experience of making these compare to that of writing? Did you enjoy sharing your artistic ideas with others?
The writing approaches to novels and short stories if vastly different from screenwriting. A writer who works in both realms must understand that a screenplay is a blueprint that will be used by others, and added to, and taken away from, on the road to a finished production.
It is not the end product, in the same way that a book or short story is. As long as the writer understands the very different natures of the two worlds, I feel that they can find the collaborative nature of film very enjoyable. I certainly have enjoyed working with many fantastic individuals on my film projects, such as the guys from Cineline Productions, Matthew Perry and Sven Granlund, and Nathan Day, who was my First Assistant Director on my last two film projects, Dave Workman, a highly talented SFX artist and also a guy with a great producer mindset, and many more fantastic individuals. I hope we all can work together again very soon, as it is a great deal of fun to work with a team on a creative endeavor.
How did it feel having your artistic vision, shaped and moulded by others?
In film, it is an expected part of the process, and the collaborative medium that it is must be appreciated fully. It cannot be approached like a novel or short story, and the best films are ones where the director does not micromanage and allows each person to do what they have been brought into a given project to do.
It is important for a director to convey a vision, but the talent of individuals in all of the involved departments must be given room to breathe. Actors, cinematographers, art departments, costuming, special effects teams, and all manner of creatively imbued elements of a film production are going to make contributions to the final product, to one degree or another.
A director certainly doesn't want to see the vision veer off course, but the real wisdom comes in knowing that others are going to strengthen and enhance a film project in ways that not even a director necessarily sees at the in full clarity at the outset. Work to build a good team around you, and trust that team to do what they are capable of doing. In filmmaking, the end result will be much better with that type of outlook.
Stephen, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of your blog tour. Do you have any final words for the readers?
Thank you for the honor of participating in one of your fantastic interviews, and I would like to thank the readers for reading it! I do love to hear from readers, and try to make myself as accessible as possible, do do not hesitate to drop me an email or message if you have a question or want to discuss something about the books. I am extremely dedicated to my readers, and if you come aboard my wild journey you can look forward to much more in the future.
Stephen's books can be purchased online wherever good books are sold. Here are a couple of purchasing links.
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