Author Interview: Declan Finn

Declan_FinnDeclan Finn is the NYC-based author of books ranging from thrillers to urban fantasy to SciFi, including the 2016 Dragon Award Nominated Novel for Best horror, Honor at Stake. He is known for his strong fight scenes and his romance novels are sexy without being dirty, providing enough sexual tension to curl toes. He hosts the Catholic Geek Radio show, and can be found wherever someone is starting trouble. He also writes thrillers, video game reviews, and works for several blogs.

His thriller A Pius Man has recently been re-released through Silver Empire Publishing.


A_Pius_Man

In A Pius Man, six unlikely heroes must work together to unravel a web of intrigue and murder that entwines one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century. Was Pius XII a Nazi collaborator who deliberately let millions of Jews die? Has the Vatican covered up the truth for more than 60 years? Or has someone perpetrated a decades-long smear campaign? And what will happen to six strangers trying to finally bring the truth to light?

As the head of Vatican security, Giovanni Figlia must protect a new, African Pope who courts controversy every other day. The Pope’s latest project is to make Pius XII, “Hitler’s Pope,” a saint. Things haven’t gotten better since the Pope employed American mercenary Sean Ryan. Then a body fell onto the Vatican doorstep.

Mercenaries, spies, beautiful women, international intrigue and ancient secrets – The Pius Trilogy has it all!


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyAlso published by Silver Empire, my novel Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is an historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. Click here to read an excerpt.
An invading Persian warrior becomes obsessed with Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world pulls him deeper into layers of mysteries as its sly princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden?
Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Q. You’re an accomplished writer, having published novels in several genres. Tell us about The Pius Trilogy and why you chose to write that story.

A Pius Man is what happens when you anger a historian whose family Christmas movie was Die Hard.

The Pius Trilogy was started by my reading a novel that was chalked full of bad history. This isn’t new for me, since I’m a historian – reading novels with bad history is a daily occurrence for me. Usually, it’s not so bad that it takes me out of the story. However, at the time, I had just completed months of research into Pope Pius XII, and his papacy during World War II. The history in this book was just so unbearable, I checked the back of the book to see the sources cited. The sad thing is, I knew the sources, so I knew that his sources told him something different than the book was saying.

That was the point where I decided that, heck, if certain losers can get away with mediocre novels, filled with blatant lies and dubious sources, then I could put together a good novel with actual history. And thus, The Pius Trilogy. I had free reign to slip in facts between the bullets.

Q. The Pius Trilogy was originally published a few years ago. Why did you decide to re-publish it now with Silver Empire?

When I originally self-published the trilogy, it was because I knew I had to keep moving or go crazy. You see, I originally had an agent. It was just my luck that I procured said agent the month that book companies were laying off people by the tens of thousands – a month. And that isn’t even a slight exaggeration.

After two years of negligible progress, I knew I had to self publish the books, or tear my hair out. And I edited and polished the novels until I couldn’t read them anymore. I either had to edit them or spike the entire series.

You can look over the earlier versions of the series, and it wasn’t the best it could be. The covers needed work, and were eventually replaced by my friend Dawn Witzke when she went into the cover business. But it needed professional editing, and I’m a cheap bastard. And I couldn’t go back and edit it myself, otherwise I would have just rewritten it, and reset the whole process.

With Silver Empire, they were interested, and I saw the potential to have the book perfected, and then reach a wider audience.

Q. This novel has been compared to Dan Brown’s thrillers featuring the character Robert Langdon. How is your hero/protagonist like Langdon? How does he differ?

Ah, we’re going there, are we? It has been brought to my attention that slamming a competing author, especially if they’re selling well, is probably a bad idea.

But, since you twisted my arm: If I ever wrote a character as two-dimensional as Langdon, I would insist on being put in an asylum. He is a talking head, meant purely to provide exposition. Good God, his adversaries are usually crazy and / or mutilated in some way (Highlighted in his second and third novels), and half the men I know personally could have overpowered any of them. Langdon has no ability to fight, and barely has the ability to run, if I recall correctly.  He has no backstory, no personality, and don’t even get me started on the end to Inferno.

If I wrote a character that inhuman, just kill me.

My characters are typically colorful, varied, and with enough character backstory and biographies to fill a novella. One character, Sean AP Ryan, is a gun fighter and … mildly insane. I have a collection of spies, who range from a James Bond type to a George Smiley – one leaves a trail of destruction, and the other one is the little man who wasn’t there. I have academics who are cops, characters born from all over the world who might as well be the Avengers. Heck, I have a cast of heroes more international than the team that took out Dracula.

Oh, yeah, and unlike Langdon, my characters provide footnotes for the history they use.

Q. What makes A Pius Man better than anything Dan Brown wrote?

Wow. We’re really going to go there, are we? Okay.

  • Real history, real footnotes.
  • Actual threats and genuine dangers.
  • Good guys who are good people.
  • Bad guys who are not misunderstood, but evil. (When the most sympathetic character in your novel is the albino assassin, you’re doing it wrong)
  • A plot that makes sense (Really? Genealogies that go back 2000 years? The Mormons aren’t that good.)
  • Heroes with personalities.
  • No stupid puzzles that could be solved by 5-year-olds. (Really? The last password was “Apple”?)
  • An actual grasp of world politics, Catholic Theology, and history

Is that enough of a start?

Q. What’s different or unique about your story from other thrillers?

To start with, my cast of characters is about the size of the Fellowship of the Ring.

You could say that the politics is there like in a Brad Thor or Vince Flynn novel. You could say that the technical toys and history fueling the main plot is reminiscent of James Rollins. You could even suggest that the “Discover something and get shot at” is a formula out of 24 or Robert Ludlum.

Though I do dare you to find a novel that tackles that much at once, while getting the history and world politics correct, and making all of the characters engaging. Most of the authors I just named can do some of what I’ve described, but not all. You might think that’s boasting, but again, these three books were developed over the course of ten years. If they weren’t awesome, I’d be in trouble.

Q. What kind of research did you do for this story?

For the history, I used everything from newspapers on microfiche to archived papal records, to memoirs, personal interviews, and even a TIME magazine article.  The last was a matter of looking up non lethal weapon technology; the article led me to DARPA research papers posted on the internet.

I went through the gun range, took knife fighting courses, got to level three of five for Krav Maga, and had long conversations with a marine about warfare and if flash bangs could kill somebody if set off at close range.

I was busy.

Q. What was your favorite scene to write?

I have two. One was a scene on the Spanish Steps, with an armored SUV. And the part where I blew up Leonardo da Vinci airport.

Heh.  “Sean, what are you doing with that fuel truck.”

… You had to be there.

Q. What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

Making the history readable. There’s a lot to cover, and the first draft of the novel literally had footnotes. I used a history paper for dialogue. Trust me when I say that a lot of editing effort was spent making that into easy, casual dialogue, and not the talking heads I wanted to avoid.

Q. What inspired you to write this story with these characters?

I wanted a variety of characters to look at the historical problem from different ways. This resulted in collecting an Irish Catholic Cop, an American Jewish Secret Service Agent, a Mossad spy, a German spy, several Catholic priests, and several people who don’t care, but have to solve the problem, lest they get killed.

Q. You also write romance, urban fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Do you have a favorite genre to write? Tell us briefly about your other books.

I write what I read, and I read everything. I don’t really have a favorite.

My nonfiction book, For All Their Wars are Merry, is about IRA songs and the history behind them.

My Dragon Award nominated series, Love at First Bite, is one part urban fantasy, and one part paranormal romance. It’s my revenge on … everyone who screws up the vampire mythos.

It Was Only on Stun! and Set to Kill are my comedy murder mysteries at scifi conventions. Chronologically, they actually bookend The Pius Trilogy, but only if one is following certain characters from one book to another. When I say they’re comedy mysteries, well, let’s say the lead is not a member of Fandom, yet he’s plunged right into it. And since I’m a nerd who enjoys conventions, I can guarantee that the lead has to adapt to Fandom, not vice versa.

Codename: Winterborn and Codename: UnSub is my take on post-cataclysmic worlds. Most people call them post-apocalyptic, but once the apocalypse hit, there is not “after.” It follows a spy in a post-World War III Earth, from a story of revenge to being thrust into a nightmare that is a far more realistic dystopia than usual.

Q. What made you decide to get serious about writing? How long were you “dabbling” before you felt the time was right to publish your work?

I spent less time “dabbling” and more time following “the right path.” You might know it from traditional publishing. Step one, get an agent. That took two-three years. One agent dropped after 18 months (long story). My second agent lasted about two years before I gave up on traditional publishing.

Had I had more friends in indie publishing earlier, my writing career would be further along.

Q. A lot of writers seem to despise the editing process. Do you like it or hate it? How do you approach the task of editing?

The real problem of editing is that every author thinks they got it right the first time. It’s actually easiest if an author waits a few months, and then rereads their manuscript. At that point, we all read the work and wonder “What was I thinking? Was I on something? Am I a complete idiot?”

But editing becomes a problem for me after the first few passes in short order. After a while, it becomes an exercise in frustration, and makes me just want to set the whole thing on fire.

Q. Most of us authors don’t make enough money from writing – yet – to pay the bills. Do you have a job other than writing?

Writing is my job. And selling my writing. You want to talk about a part that writers hate? Marketing.

Q. When you aren’t crafting amazing stories, what do you do for fun?

Writing isn’t fun?

I read, when I have the time. But I literally write from nine to five every day. And if I’m not writing a book, I’m trying to sell books. I’m occasionally allowed some television and some video games. TV is fun because I rewrite the episodes, and see which ending I like better. The TV shows that surprise me are the ones that last the longest.

Q. What advice do you have for writers who want to become published authors?

If they WANT to be professional authors: DON’T.  Do. Not. Period. It is unforgiving, ungrateful, and punishing. Spend months pumping out a story, and the first question a fan will ask is “That was fun, when’s the next one?”

If you have to be a professional author, go all in. If you’re the person who has to write to get the voices in your head to go away, and you must have a notebook by your bedside to keep track of the fever dreams that keep you up at night … then go ahead and write.

Q. Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?

They think it’s easy. The man on the street can say “Oh, I have a great idea for a book, I just need the time.” Trust me when I say that finding time is bad enough. But as an author– perhaps Orson Scott Card—once said, the first million words are just practice. You don’t just decide to be a writer and then pound out a bestseller – or even a good book.

And “good ideas?” Good ideas are a dime a dozen. The execution? That matters. Creating the work matters. Putting in the effort matters.

Pro-tip, if you ever walk up to a writer and say “Your job is so easy, any idiot can do that,” remember to duck.

Q. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?

  • Prose that is unnecessarily dense. I read for fun, not to practice parsing sentences.
  • Oversexed books: on the page, sex is boring. Give me a plot or characters. Pick one.
  • Nothing happens. I’ve read books where the first 100 pages stay in one place and don’t move.

Q. What’s your all-time favorite book? Why?

Vertical Run, by Joseph Garber. It is a nonstop thrill ride that had great character as well as solid action.

Q. What’s your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Babylon 5. It was a war story, a romance, and a space opera, with the best drawn characters on television.

Q. What’s your all-time favorite movie? Why?

Die Hard. I literally rewatch it every year, and still find something new in it.

Q. Where is one place you’d like to visit that you haven’t been before? Why?

The Vatican. It would help me do some of the later fight scenes better.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Declan Finn

Blog: declanfinn.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Declan.Finn.Author

Twitter: @DeclanFinnBooks

Book Links:

A Pius Man: amzn.to/2s5Mtc4

Honor at Stake: http://amzn.to/211yOyp

Murphy’s Law of Vampires: http://amzn.to/2egVsna

Love and Let Bite: http://amzn.to/2jCkgpK

Good to the Last Drop: http://amzn.to/2whihhz

It was only on Stun: http://amzn.to/2aaTEKT

Set to Kill: http://amzn.to/2e7tkzR

Sad Puppies Bite Back: http://amzn.to/2czhQE9

Codename: Winterborn: http://tinyurl.com/m69tt8y

Codename: UnSubhttp://amzn.to/2eONNh9

For All Their Wars Are Merry: http://amzn.to/2bAUO0G

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Win a Kindle Plus 15 eBooks!

FantasyGiveaway

Enter to win a new Kindle eReader, PLUS fifteen (15) fantasy eBooks.

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Echo of the High Kings by Kal Spriggs.

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Who’s Afraid of the Dark? by Russell Newquist

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Scales: A Mermaid Tale by Pauline Creeden

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Fallen Emrys: Niawen’s Story by Lisa Rector

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Playing With Magic by Carrie L. Wells

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From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings by Heather Hayden

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Entries accepted until September 18, 2017.

Author Interview: Russell Newquist

russellRussell Newquist is a Viking disguised as a software engineer. Equipped with a BA in Philosophy and an MS in Computer Science, he spends a lot of time building really cool software. Because he enjoys a good martial arts workout with friends, he is also the owner and head instructor of a thriving dojo. As if that weren’t enough, he started the publishing company Silver Empire where he is the editor-in-chief and one of the published authors. On top of all that, he’s a husband and father to four small children.

His first novel is War Demons, an action-packed, unputdownable Urban Fantasy.


War-Demons-Cover-smDriven by vengeance, Michael Alexander enlisted in the Army the day after 9/11. Five years later, disillusioned and broken by the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan, Michael returns home to Georgia seeking to begin a new life. But he didn’t come alone. Something evil followed him, and it’s leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

The police are powerless. The Army has written Michael off. Left to face down a malevolent creature first encountered in the mountains of Afghanistan, he’ll rely on his training, a homeless prophet, and estranged family members from a love lost…

But none of them expected the dragon.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySilver Empire published my novel, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, an historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. Click here to read an excerpt.
An invading Persian warrior becomes obsessed with Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world pulls him deeper into layers of mysteries as its sly princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden?
Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Q. Congratulations on publishing your first novel! Tell us about the book and why you decided to write urban fantasy.

Thank you, Susan!

Well, this book kind of grew organically into what it eventually became. I had a few scenes in my head that I started with. The prologue was the first bit I wrote. Then what is now chapter two. I kind of had the character in mind at first – a soldier returning home after he’s had some really harrowing experiences. The normal war type experiences, but also supernatural stuff.

Then it kind of grew into something. And then I had 20% of a book… but I didn’t really know what it was about. But I also knew that if I threw it out and started another project, I’d never have a book. I needed to finish one.

At the same time, I’ve had this character in my head that I knew I had to write about eventually. His name is Peter Bishop, and he’s been in a few short stories already. He’s heavily influenced by the Michael Carpenter character from Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series. And I kept telling myself, “Just finish this book and then you can get to Peter.”

Then one day I realized that, quite by accident, this book was a Peter book. In fact, it’s his origin story. It didn’t start that way at all. But I got to a certain point and just realized that I needed the character to fill a certain role in the story. And bam, it all came into place.

Q. Your protagonist Michael Alexander is a fascinating character. What do you like most—and least—about him?

Well, as a character what I really like is that I did manage to convey what I wanted to with him. He’s coming home from war and he’s been through hell – the kind a normal soldier goes through, and some supernatural stuff… and even a few personal events that he doesn’t fully understand himself at the beginning.

And yet at the same time, he’s still fundamentally a decent guy. Not just a decent guy, a good man.

The parts I like least about him are more how I’d react to him as a person if I knew him. He’s kind of an asshole sometimes – only sometimes, really. But it comes out. And that’s actually mostly a result of him being broken, so it’s forgivable. But it’s not always fun.

Q. As the War Demons cover suggests, Michael Alexander has come back from war facing a difficult adjustment to civilian life. This story is infused with elements of horror and the supernatural. Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about your story’s bad guys?

Michael faces several threats throughout the story. He’s the sole survivor of a helicopter crash – except originally he wasn’t the sole survivor. He and a comrade survived, and had to fight a demonic creature in a cave. Michael made it. His friend didn’t.

Then the thing followed him home.

The demon is a ser na demon, from Tibetan culture. Why was there a Tibetan demon in a cave in Pakistan? Well, that’s a mystery that’s not fully resolved yet. The sequels will follow up on that exact thing.

As the blurb says, later on a dragon shows up. That was kind of fun because it’s not quite a typical dragon. It’s a Peluda dragon, although our hero doesn’t know that yet. He just knows that it’s furry. But that plays a big role in the novella I’m currently writing that’s somewhat of a sequel but not quite. The working title for that one is “Vigil” and it follows Peter instead of Michael, and it’s been crazy fun to write.

Q. If this is not a series of true events that you have chosen to disguise as fiction, what kind of research did you do for this story?

You caught me. I’m actually a dragon slayer. 🙂  No, it’s not autobiographical. If only my life were that exciting!

The ser na demon I stumbled across by accident. I was sitting in the audience of a panel at DragonCon on “Eastern Demons” one year with my book 10% done. A man named Kyl T. Cobb gave a really great presentation, although somewhat more dry and academic than the usual DragonCon fare. And he got to the slide on the ser na and I leaned over to my wife and said, “That’s it! That’s the thing in the cave!”

My wife is also the one who sent me the info about the Peluda dragon. She stumbled across it and it helped me make the dragon different and not just more of the same.

As for the location, I lived in Athens, Georgia for four years and went to classes on the UGA campus. So most of that is from memory, enhanced by Google Maps. And I picked the Sigma Chi frat house (which no longer exists, but did at the time of my story) because supposedly all that stuff I described in the basement was actually there for fraternity initiations. Go figure.

Michael’s aversion to school is 100% autobiographical, but every reader probably already guessed that.

One other aspect of Michael’s history is also, unfortunately, based on reality – but thankfully, not my own. I played World of Warcraft for a long time with a man who had joined the Army on September 12th because his fiance died in the attacks. He was more than a bit troubled, but a really, really good guy. He was also the best tank on our server, straight up.

To the best of my knowledge, he has only fought metaphorical demons and not the literal kind. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I pray for him all the time.

Q. What’s different or unique about your story from other urban fantasies?

Well, one thing I’ve done is that I’ve gone a bit old school. Modern UF tends to take a very syncretic approach to magic, trying to blend everything from every culture together. I’ve returned to the roots of titles like “Dracula” (which some might consider to be among the first UF), and I take a decidedly Christian theological view. But the book isn’t out to proselytize or convert anyone. It just takes it for granted.

For example, it’s specifically noted in the book that humans don’t have the power to kill demons. We can fight them, we can expel them, we can exorcise them. We can even win. But we can’t kill them. Why? Because demons, in the Christian view, are fallen angels. And angels are a “higher” power. Only the power of the Lord can kill them. And yes, that might be a plot point.

Another aspect that is more minor in this book but will play a big role later with some already established characters is the corrupting nature of magic. In the Christian worldview, magic is always and everywhere evil, even if it’s used for the best of intentions. And because of that, it brings a heavy cost. There’s one character in this book who has used some serious magic. The price will be coming due in the sequels.

Some people will really like that. Some readers will immediately decide they don’t want to read it because of the religious aspects. Others will be on the fence. That’s OK. You can’t write for everyone.

Q. Which works and authors would you say influenced the book?

Jim Butcher is the heaviest influence by far. Peter Bishop largely exists because I wanted to write about a character like Michael Carpenter but I knew that was never going to happen. Along the way, the character evolved a lot, though, and became truly my own. But there’s a huge influence there.

Larry Correia is another big influence on this book, in more ways than one. This book is far more action-heavy than most of Butcher’s books, and that’s got a lot to do with Correia’s influence.

Some of my readers may find it odd that Jonathan Maberry is another big influence. He’s another martial artist like myself, and I find his style of writing action to be a lot closer to mine. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him several times and actually discuss martial arts with him. He had a laugh because I brought a copy of an old jujitsu book he wrote to DragonCon for a signing one year. Everyone else in line had his zombie books or one of his technothrillers. I’m just weird that way!

Q. What was your favorite scene to write?

The car chase scene. That entire chapter came out in a white heat in probably two hours, maybe less. I had an absolute blast writing it, and I still love it every time I read it. It’s completely absurd, but it worked really well in context. And it gave me a great running gag for the characters from here on out. You will never, ever see Peter get anywhere near a car with Michael without bringing it up. Ever.

Q. What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

The entire second half!

Seriously, action scenes are hard to write. They take a lot of work – and having some knowledge on the subject actually makes it worse, not better, because you want to have at least some semblance of believability to them. But the problem is this: real fights are short. Very short. Especially when they involve lethal weapons. But short isn’t interesting to readers at all. So trying to lengthen it out without making it totally silly is really tough.

Q. I was privileged to read an early version of War Demons, and it’s a great, pulse-pounding start to a series. Can you give us a hint of what we can expect in the next books?

Well, if you’ve read the ending of War Demons then you know that Michael and Peter (who is almost but not quite a co-protagonist) go their separate ways at the end. And I’ve got two follow-up projects going on next.

The first is a novella tentatively titled Vigil. It follows Peter down his path. The first draft is about 90% done now, so it should be out by the end of the year. This one came about because I heard one particular rock song and took the lyrics far too literally. And it’s also been in my head for a while, so I’m glad to get it out. But basically, Peter Bishop, Knight of the Sword of the Archangel Michael, has to rescue a damsel from a dragon. Under a church. In France. During the Easter Vigil mass. It’s insane, but fun.

The second project is the actual direct sequel to War Demons. Again, if you’ve read the end of that book, you know that Michael has entered a brand new world – a world that will introduce him to many rich, powerful connected people. This book is going to be about that world, how depraved it is, and how Michael reacts to that and deals with it. It’s tentatively titled Spirit Cooking, and if you know what that is, it’ll give you a decent idea of what the book’s about. If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it at work. And prepare to be horrified. There’s a reason Michael needs to take on that kind of evil.

The outline for that book is almost done, so I should be able to hit the ground running on it as soon as I finish Vigil. My goal is to have it out in early 2018. I’m busy enough that I probably won’t make that. But I have a much better idea both of what I’m doing and of where I’m going than I did with War Demons, so it should go much faster.

Q. War Demons also gives us Peter Bishop’s personal history. I’ve enjoyed reading that character in several of your short stories. Tell us about him and if you have plans for more Peter Bishop adventures too.

Well, obviously, there’s Vigil as I mentioned above. The current series, centered on Michael, is a trilogy, with a definite ending. I know pretty well where that’s going. I’ve also got plans for a fourteen book series starring Peter. I had originally planned to interleave them – hitting the first Peter book next, then coming back to the Michael books.

For business reasons, I’ve decided to finish this series first. But the timelines will still be interwoven as originally planned. The first Peter book is tentatively titled Unholy Vows. The story takes place with Peter’s wedding as a backdrop, and it fits in between War Demons and Spirit Cooking. The outline for that one is coming together very nicely as well, and I’m actually kind of chomping at the bit to write it. It’ll be introducing some very fun new characters.

Why fourteen books? Well, there’s a method to my madness. 😉

I also have a very good idea of where that series is going overall, including an idea of the ending so clear that I could write the last couple of chapters immediately if I chose to. Very little would change. I’ve got about 6000 words of plot notes for the entire series so far. I expect that to grow quite a bit over time.

I’ve also got another Peter short story in the works for our upcoming Stairs in the Woods anthology. It involves a park ranger and a Boy Scout troop, and the fae again.

Q. You are the editor-in-chief of Silver Empire Publishing and your wife Morgon is also a writer. Why did you decide to become an indie publisher? What genres do you publish?

Well, the general idea behind becoming a publisher rather than just self-publishing was one of scale. Making money in any business is largely a factor of scaling up. In the modern economy, scaling up helps in a ton of different ways.

Most obviously, selling more products means more revenue. And selling more books largely means publishing more books. And since I can only write so fast myself, publishing more books means getting more people involved.

Then there’s also the factor of reaching fans. If I have five authors with small fan bases, but we can work together, we can turn those five fan bases into one substantially larger fan base. We get one giant e-mail list instead of five small ones, and so on.

But there are a ton of other factors, too. Advertising is cheaper in bulk. Covers can be cheaper if you work a deal with an artist to pay him for five covers instead of one. Web hosting is cheaper if we only need one server. Etc.

But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my experience in other businesses has taught me that going alone is very seldom the best way to do anything. My dojo wouldn’t be half what it is without the wonderful assistant instructors I’ve got.

We’re focused on heroic, wondrous adventure stories. Which is kind of vague. 😉 For the next 12-24 months, we’re focused on the subgenres we’ve already got: urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, historical fantasy/sci-fi, and political/religious thrillers. We’re also seriously considering an expansion into space opera in the near future. We want to expand beyond that, but probably won’t do so for a while for business reasons.

Q. You published a couple of anthologies of short fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as my novel Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key before you published your own full-length novel. How did that happen? Wouldn’t most authors want to publish their own work first?

Most authors might, but I’m a businessman first and an author second. For many reasons, it made sense to publish other stuff first. The anthologies were a great way for us to reach out to other authors and make connections, and that process has really paid off.

And sometimes good opportunities drop in your lap, like when someone randomly approaches you with a really interesting sword-and-science novel! We have a very definite plan for Silver Empire’s growth and future, but you also have to be ready to react when good luck comes your way. We got lucky with The Origin Key, so we seized the opportunity.

Q. What advice do you have for authors who are trying to decide if they should a) go the traditional route with an agent, b) self-publish, or c) connect with a small, indie publisher?

This is a very, very individual decision and you should make it very carefully with no illusions.

Traditional publishing (the agent route) is not a dead option, but it’s becoming more and more so every year. It’s probably your biggest chance at “winning the lottery” and really making it big. But a big chance is still a crappy chance. It’s also really only got about three channels: no deal at all, a deal but you’re really not making much, or JK Rowling. The mid-levels are especially drying up these days, because all the big publishing marketing dollars are going to keep their big names alive.

Also, beware: the traditional publishing business model absolutely depends on physical bookstores. And the vast majority of brick-and-mortar sales these days are coming from two places: Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. Wal-Mart only sells a handful of books. If you’re not one of the absolute top blockbusters, you’re out. And Barnes & Noble has been flirting with bankruptcy for the last year or so. They’re struggling hard right now. The day B&N goes down, my guess is that at least two of the big five publishers go down with it. (Don’t ask me which two – I have no idea.)

So it’s the path with probably the highest possible payout, but even if you get a good deal it’s by no means a “safe” route anymore.

There are some really interesting things going on in indie publishing right now. I can’t even keep up with 10% of it. The royalty percentages are usually better, and there are a number of indie publishing houses on the rise.

However, you’re still taking a risk with indie publishers (even us). Indie publishers are small businesses without a huge resource pool behind them. They can fold in a heartbeat. And selling books is tough – so you might be excited to have that book deal, but have no sales behind it.

And that’s the honest ones! Be careful! I can’t stress that enough. Since getting into this business I’ve heard some real horror stories from other authors about “publishers.” My simple advice is this: if they’re charging you money, they’re not a publisher no matter what they call themselves. They’re a publishing service. The distinction matters. An honest publisher might not sell many of your books, but they’ll at least treat you fair and do the things that a publisher should be doing: get you a cover, get you in Amazon, etc.

Self publishing has a lot of pros and cons these days. I know a few folks doing very well self published (including one writing pair that had a $28,000 month with one particular novel). But if you’re self publishing, you basically have to learn the entirety of the business yourself. You’re on your own, which carries its own risk. It’s your money on the line for the cover, etc.

On the other hand, the risk can be pretty small. Even with a good cover and a good editor, you can get a novel out for under $1500. Maybe a lot less. That’s a number that most of us wouldn’t like to lose, but we could live with it.

So it really depends on a few things. What amount – and what kind – of risk are you willing and able to tolerate? And how much of the work are you willing and able to do yourself – or pay someone else to do out of your own pocket? The answer to those two questions is going to point you in the right direction.

Q. Tell us about Lyonesse, your short story subscription service.

Frankly we’re doing everything we can to save the dying market of short fiction. We’ve adopted a bit of a new business model that kind of resembles NetFlix or Kindle Unlimited. For the crazy low price of $6.99 a year, you get 52 science fiction and fantasy adventure short stories – one every week. You also get an extensive back catalog of short stories. They’re all in convenient formats, all DRM free, and no advertising.

It’s a pretty killer deal, and folks are absolutely raving about what we’ve done so far. The service as a whole is pretty slick in how it’s put together. But it’s really the stories that make it, and we’ve had some very interesting ones. My personal favorite so far is by Hugo Award nominee Cheah Kai Wai, but we’ve also got some really amazing stories by some authors you’ve probably never heard of.

Q. Are you open to submissions right now? What kinds of stories do you look for?

Well, we have to put out 52+ stories per year for Lyonesse, so we’re always looking for submissions for that. We’re really looking for stuff that highlights heroism and adventure, but we’ve slipped in a few other things as well, when they’re good enough.

On the novel side, we’re a little more tightly focused. We’re currently actively seeking a space opera or military sci-fi novel. Other than that, we’re really focused on the four genres we already have a toe-hold in: urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, historical fantasy and religious thrillers. And we have a strong preference for works that are the beginning of a series. It’s OK if future books aren’t written yet. But the blunt reality is that series are where the money is made in this business.

Q. How do you define success in indie publishing?

Living in a house made of gold bars?

Kidding aside, I have a really great day job. So for me, generating a nice side income to supplement that is really great. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Q. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?

The same things I’m not really interested in publishing right now, honestly. There’s a heavy modern and post-modern trend toward deconstruction, darkness, and nihilism.

Deconstruction can be interesting, but our culture has reached the point where deconstruction is almost the main thing we do. Sooner or later you run out of interesting things to deconstruct. You have to start constructing again. I’ve had a handful of books recommended to me that I’d probably enjoy if I read them, but these days I can’t muster enough interest to read yet another deconstruction.

Darkness is good in fiction – to a point. You need darkness to emphasize the light, and Lord knows I’ve got enough of that exact thing going on in War Demons. But when darkness is all you have, or when the darkness is so deep that it swallows the light, then what’s the point? It’s not entertaining anymore, it’s just depraved. I had a place for a certain degree of that in my teens. I think most of us go through a phase where we kind of need to stare into the abyss. But I’ve been through that phase and I’m not really interested anymore. From a publishing perspective, I feel like there are plenty of outlets for that these days. I want to put out something that builds the world up, not stuff that tears it down.

Even on its own terms, Nihilism is pointless. Our modern culture has rejected the religion of our forefathers. Well, OK. I’m not going to sit here and try to convert everybody back. But we also haven’t replaced it with anything meaningful. And when you remove that religion without a strong replacement, you leave a void. If nothing else fills it, nihilism will. And it’s creeping into our culture everywhere. Again, it’s literally pointless. It’s a waste of my time as a reader and as a publisher. The meaning and depth doesn’t have to agree with my worldview. In fact, I like having my worldview challenged. But put some actual meaning into it.

Note that this doesn’t mean that I want to read, write, or publish a bunch of message fiction. I hate that crap, too. And it doesn’t mean that every story has to be “deep.” But if a story is pretending to be deep and it’s “great message” is, when distilled down, simply nihilism, then I’m out.

Q. What’s your all-time favorite book? Why?

The Lord of the Rings, hands down. I’ve read it at least two dozen times. For a long time I read it once a year. These days I’m too busy… but it may be about time to dig it out again.

Why? Largely because it’s a tale that showcases the best in humanity. And it’s a great example about using darkness to emphasize the light. In the real world, the worst situations are what bring out the absolute best in people. The best literature reflects that. Tolkien creates a world where real evil highlights true heroism. And one of the great things about the book is the way it shows almost every kind of heroism, not just one kind. From the simple, “I’ll stand by my friend through thick and thin,” of Samwise Gamgee to the sacrifice of personal power of Farimir to the battle prowess of Aragorn, it really hits on everything and on every level. It’s powerful stuff.

Q. What’s your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Babylon 5, and again it’s an easy one. Having a single story line that spans dozens or even hundreds of episodes is common in Anime, but it’s completely non-existent in live action television – except for Babylon 5. I’m not talking about a season-long story arc, where there’s a new story every season. That’s really common now (and a huge improvement over how TV used to be). I mean one story line that spans 5 years and 110 episodes of TV.

On top of that, the show was extremely well written and it happens to be sci-fi, which is one of my favorite genres. So what’s not to love?

Q. What’s your all-time favorite movie? Why?

This one’s tougher, and I’m going to have to go with more than one because there are several films in different genres that I love equally but for very different reasons.

In the action realm, I absolutely love The Dark Knight. It’s not just the best superhero movie, it’s one of the best movies of all time. It’s got great characters, portrayed well, put in impossible situations, and the ending is painful. And yet it’s not nihilistic at all, because the painful ending is also full of hope and heroic sacrifice. On top of that, it has that wonderful moment on the boats where you see the amazing heroism of ordinary people. Put all that together with one of the tightest scripts I’ve ever seen and you have a true masterpiece.

In romantic comedy, there’s nothing that tops The Princess Bride. It’s a chick flick made for guys, and it somehow manages to pull of both. And not in a minor way, either – it pulls off both flawlessly. It’s got action, adventure, pirates, and true love. The story is simple – fairy tale simple – and yet powerfully moving. Which is exactly what the best fairy tales do, as well. And it’s absolutely hilarious, all at the same time. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen that film, and it never gets old.

In drama, I’d have to go with Secondhand Lions. It’s a coming of age story that’s actually in many ways reminiscent of The Princess Bride, and yet it’s a completely different film at the same time. It’s another story that really highlights heroism at all levels – very big and extremely small all at the same time. The only problem with the film is that I’m still waiting to here the rest of the “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech. What they included is one of the best speeches ever told in any human tongue, but I’m very bothered that I haven’t heard the rest. I’m not sure I know everything I need to know!

Q. If you were a superhero (and I’m not saying you aren’t), what is your superpower? What is your superhero name?

Apparently my superhero name is “Tai Pan” and it was chosen for me by some fellow writers. I’m not entirely sure what superpower they’re trying to claim that I have with that and I don’t fully get it, either. But who am I to argue?

Q. I’ve heard you say that “sleep is for the weak.” Honestly, though, how do you find the time to do so many things so well?

Well, I say that as a joke, but one thing is that I really don’t sleep as much as I should. I’ve always had trouble sleeping. I made a conscious decision in my early 20s that if I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t going to simply lie in bed not sleeping, either. So now when I can’t sleep, I get up and do something productive. Or, more often, when I know I won’t be able to sleep yet if I lie down (and most of the time I can tell), I just stay up and keep working.

I also get bored easily. Really bored, really easily. And when I get bored, I get depressed. So staying busy is mostly just self preservation. It bugs my wife sometimes that I spend so much time working.

And speaking of that last, I get an awful lot of support from my family, and my wife Morgon in particular. What the outside world sees as my productivity is often really a combination of the two of us. I’m just the face we present to the public.

Q. Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?

Yeah, people think it’s all fun and games, that words just magically appear on the paper, and that you make a ton of money. It looks like the best job in the world, right? No boss, no hours, just make up stories and stuff.

But the reality is that it’s very hard work, especially if you actually want to make any money at it. The words don’t write themselves. And beyond the actual writing part, there’s a lot of marketing and business work that goes into it – even if you have a publisher behind you. And for most authors, the pay is absolutely terrible. The number of authors in the US who make a full time living at it is depressingly small.

But on the other hand, it’s the best job in the world because there’s no boss, no hours, and you just make up stories and stuff.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Russell Newquist

Blog: http://russellnewquist.com/

Facebook: https://facebook.com/rnewquist

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rnewquist

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13656278.Russell_S_Newquist

Book Links:

Lyonesse Short Fiction: https://lyonesse.silverempire.org/

Dwarka: India’s Atlantis

Move over Atlantis, we need to make room for the lost city of Dwarka.

dwaraka-recreationWhen Plato wrote about a utopian island kingdom as an allegorical tale, he had no idea that our modern pop culture would become riddled with references to the “lost continent of Atlantis” thousands of years later. The idea that Atlantis might have been a real place that collapsed into the sea at the height of its power and influence has captured the modern imagination—and kept it in a chokehold for generations.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is an historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. Click here to read an excerpt.
An invading Persian warrior becomes obsessed with Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world pulls him deeper into layers of mysteries as its sly princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden?
Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Krishna1Another legendary city known for its lavish architecture and utopian lifestyle is Dwarka, translated as “Gateway to Heaven” in Sanskrit. According to the ancient Hindu Mahabharata texts, Dwarka was founded by Krishna, the blue Hindu god of compassion, tenderness, and love. The city is described as having 900,000 royal palaces, all made of crystal and silver and decorated with emeralds. It featured an elaborate system of boulevards, roads, market places, assembly houses, and temples. The ancient texts describe how the evil King Salva declared war and attacked Dwarka with a flying machine using lightning-like energy weapons. Lord Krishna counterattacked, firing his weapons described as arrows “roaring like thunder and shining like the rays of the sun.” Their devastating battle left most of the city in ruins.

dwarka_underwater-compressorUntil recently the very existence of Dwarka was thought by many to be merely legend. In 2001 the Indian government recovered materials from an underwater archaeological site in the Gulf of Khambhat. Pottery, sections of walls, beads, sculpture, and human bones and teeth from the site were carbon dated and found to be nearly 9,500 years old. Marine archaeologists have mapped sandstone walls, street grids, and remains of a busy and important seaport at 70 feet under water.

Dwarka-Gulf-of-Cambay-India-1024x576What has been investigated so far corresponds closely to descriptions of Dwarka in the Mahabharata. Many semicircular, rectangular, and square stone structures, as well as stone anchors have been documented, indicating a thriving overseas trade coming through this port city on the west coast of India. Scientists believe the area was submerged as ice caps melted at the end of the last ice age nine to ten thousand years ago.

DwarkaMapExplorations of the Dwarka site are challenging long-held scientific beliefs. For instance, mainstream science holds that ancient Indian culture goes back some four to five thousand years. Yet these ruins are at least nine thousand years old, dating back to a time when the area submerged under water. The city must have existed before the flooding by centuries—if not by millennia—for it to have grown and expanded to become the bustling seaport that it became.

DwarkaNow that these remains have been discovered under water, there is evidence that the legendary Dwarka did exist. It was a real city populated with living citizens suggesting that Indian civilization may be twice as old as scientists have believed. Whether or not it was also the dwelling place of lord Krishna and his aerial battle with king Salva was an historical occurrence is still a matter of some debate.

But what if further scientific study proves that this submerged city is without doubt the same Dwarka as the one described in the Mahabharata? And that the battle between Krishna and King Salva was an historic fact and it was fought with futuristic, high-tech weapons? We might start paying more attention to the ancient alien theorists. We should definitely start reading more history.
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The Origin Key Only $0.99 + Free Excerpt!

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, the first book in my sword-and-science fantasy adventure series, is discounted to only $0.99 through June 1st! It’s for anyone who  enjoys history with a dash of fantasy interwoven with compelling mystery. This sweeping adventure chronicles a warrior’s quest for vengeance in an isolated Himalayan kingdom. Confounded by a sly princess desperate to keep her people’s ancient secrets hidden, he must recover a deadly device called the Origin Key before a murderer can use it to conquer and destroy.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key


Get your e-book copy of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key for only $0.99 – but hurry, this price is only good through June 1st!

On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.


Like to sample before you purchase?
Try this excerpt! This chapter takes place near the beginning of the book. It tells how Prince Rasteem and Princess Laneffri first meet, neither realizing the other’s true identity.

Mounted troops rode into the valley and squads on foot went door to door inside the massive wall in a meticulous search.

As comfortable in the saddle as he was leading infantry on foot, Rasteem sat astride Kurush, a glossy reddish-brown stallion with black mane and tail. Handlers from the king’s stables had said he was too high-spirited to be a suitable war horse, just like army officers had believed Rasteem was too reckless and temperamental to become a good soldier. Rasteem and Kurush proved them all wrong.

When he was younger, Rasteem’s outbursts often eclipsed his brother Zardegerd’s. Time and tragedy molded Rasteem into a composed and prudent leader who channeled his uncontrollable temper into ferocity in battle. He had turned his impatience into thoughtful awareness.

Most of the time.

Rasteem rode at a slow trot across a somewhat desolate corner of the kingdom. Kamran was on horseback beside him as they approached another dwelling. The other side of the valley was a bright patchwork of trees, verdant fields, and orchards. Farms there were nourished by fresh flowing water from canals and irrigation trenches. This corner of the kingdom was home to scattered goat and sheep herders. Their livestock grazed on the scant vegetation in the rocky hills. Streams and smaller brooks brought water from the valley’s winding river, but shade was scarce.

At the first dwelling they visited, an old man and woman cringed and wailed while two soldiers kept them corralled with drawn swords and menacing expressions. Rasteem and Kamran went inside, watching as soldiers rifled through the two-room, thatch-roofed hut. What they found inside surprised Rasteem. He ordered his men to be quick and thorough, respectful of the peasants’ meager possessions.

He saw flagstone floors instead of hard, packed earth. There were stacks of glazed ceramic dishes and metal serving utensils, not crude wooden bowls and spoons. Cupboards and chests stored clothing and belongings. The outbuildings were also neat and tidy. Stalls and fodder for the animals, feed for chickens pecking at the hard ground, stacks of raw wool, and farm tools didn’t interest the prince.

The soldiers found nothing suspicious in the hut or the outbuilding. They headed for the next dwelling and found the same type of clean, orderly home. The shrill cries of a woman and two young boys accompanied the search there. To Rasteem’s relief, the third house they visited was empty, long abandoned.

He decided to split his squad and send the men in pairs so they could search faster. He and Kamran headed for the next nearest cottage. They were back in their saddles when a loud rumbling came from the boy’s direction. Rasteem looked at him.

“I’m hungry.” Kamran complained. “I should have raided the larder at that first house.”

Rasteem chuckled. “That bottomless pit of a stomach will betray you one day when you need stealth and silence—like it did on our last hunt. Remember?”

“I would have killed that panther! It would have been my second, one more than Tujee.” Kamran and Zardegerd’s second son were friendly rivals, always trying to surpass each other. Tujee had gone into battle once, but Kamran had earned bragging rights by killing an enemy in his first experience with war. If Tujee hadn’t sprained his ankle during Rasteem’s training session, he would have been in Dodrazeb with Zardegerd and Kamran would have stayed in Argakest.

Kamran became thoughtful. “Why is Uncle Zardegerd convinced Chudreev the Viper is from here? Why doesn’t he listen to you?”

“Because the only Chudreev we could discover, the only one anyone had ever heard of is the king of this valley.”

“But… it was you… you’re better…,” Kamran stammered. “You tracked Grandfather’s attackers and found Dodrazeb.”

Rasteem blew out a long, slow breath. “Zardegerd commands the army while Father cannot. We take our orders from him.” His eyes narrowed. “Zardegerd will be the King of Kings one day, sitting on the Throne of Light—I only offer advice. It is our place to be warriors always loyal to the rightful king.”

“I know—I don’t mean—it’s just that—” Rasteem waited for Kamran’s thoughts to catch up to his mouth. “He usually listens to you.”

“He’s right about one thing. We must find and dispatch the murderers’ leader. We can’t tolerate incursions into the Empire that threaten the king’s life.”

“So the most likely explanation is that this Chudreev is the one.” Kamran was still curious. “Why do you think it might not be him?”

“These Dodrazebbians are not warlike, weren’t prepared for our assault. They don’t dress like the marauders who attacked Father, and they use different weapons. The vandals are shorter and darker, more like the nomads who plague the Empire’s northern provinces.”

Kamran paid sober attention to the lesson. “You didn’t expect to find Chudreev Pranaga here even before our attack?”

“I thought we might find a king named Chudreev—just not one stupid enough to orchestrate an attack on Father,” Rasteem explained. “I’m not convinced the Chudreev of Dodrazeb is the right one. But Zardegerd is. So here we are.”

Brilliant sunshine beat down on them. Rasteem and Kamran slowed their horses to a walk as they neared the next deserted-looking cottage. The back of the dwelling and the dilapidated outbuilding next to it abutted a steep, rocky outcropping dotted with brambles and sparse tufts of vegetation. Its thatched roof needed repair. A crooked door dangled from a loose hinge.

A broad, shallow stream flowed past a cluster of trees near the house and meandered beyond it. The trees beckoned passersby to enjoy a respite from the heat and dust. Sunlight poured through the branches onto the cool water, making the ripples sparkle.

“It looks empty,” Rasteem observed. “We should keep going.”

“Uncle, aren’t you thirsty?” Kamran asked.

“Roasting inside your armor?” A sly grin tipped up one corner of Rasteem’s mouth.

“Well…” Kamran tried to wipe sweat from his brow, hindered by his helmet.

“All right, then. The horses will be grateful for a drink as well.” Rasteem dismounted and led Kurush to the stream. Alert and watchful, Kamran waited as he had been trained before taking a turn at the water’s edge.

Rasteem knelt, dipped his cupped hand into the stream, and drank a handful of water. He plunged his head beneath the ripples, savoring its bracing coolness. He stood up and flicked wet hair away from his face with a satisfied sigh. Surveying the small house again, he shifted his gaze upward to check the sun’s position. “Come on, boy! Be quick.”

Kamran pulled off his helmet to immerse his sweaty head in the water and enjoyed several greedy gulps. When he was done, he threw his head back and shook his dripping curls. “I wish it was deep enough to—”

Rasteem grabbed his arm and turned him to face the small cottage. “Listen to me, say nothing,” he whispered.

Kamran nodded, wondering why his uncle didn’t want to be overheard by the trees.

“Do you see smoke coming from the chimney?” Rasteem asked.

Kamran squinted at the distant thatched roof and shook his head. The horses took a long drink while the soldiers appeared to be engaged in casual conversation.

“Pay attention. I can smell the fire someone has started in there.”

Kamran sniffed the air and detected a faint aroma that might have been a campfire while he studied the sky above the small dwelling. He watched a few faint gray wisps emerge from its chimney and disperse on the breeze. A small, steadier column of smoke soon diminished to intermittent wisps that faded away. “I see it now!”

Rasteem seized the opportunity to emphasize the importance of strategy. “Does that hovel look inhabited?”

“No,” Kamran whispered.

“Then why is someone lighting a fire? Do you still see smoke?”

“No. They must have put the fire out—someone is hiding in there!” Kamran hissed. “And… and they’ve seen us, but they don’t know if we’ve seen them.”

Rasteem smiled. “Here’s our plan. We will ride toward the place as if we intend to search it. When we get closer, I’ll say it appears to be empty and we should move on. Follow me riding past it and stop when I stop. Understand?”

Baffled, Kamran asked, “Why don’t we just drag them out?”

“If they’ve seen us, they’re prepared for an attack.”

“If they think they haven’t been discovered, their guard will be down.” Excited, Kamran almost forgot to lower his voice.

“Exactly.” His uncle’s approval was worth everything to Kamran.

Rasteem didn’t share his conclusion that only one or two men were hiding, a valuable lesson for Kamran with little risk of injury. He didn’t expect the occupants to put up much of a fight.

Kamran jammed his helmet back on and they mounted their horses. Rasteem led them toward the little dwelling at a trot, stopping on the hard-packed earth outside it. Light did not penetrate beyond the broken dangling door into pitch-black darkness.

“It’s another empty one,” Rasteem announced. He gave the place a bored glance. “I’m ready to get back to camp.”

They rode around the steep hill behind the ramshackle old cottage. They dismounted, approached the barren hillock, and peered around it. There was no sign of activity.

Rasteem whispered, “Stay several paces behind me. When I go through the door, wait outside. If anyone gets past me, stop them.” Kamran’s eyes glittered with excitement.

Rasteem drew his shamshir and took a deep breath. He sprinted toward the side of the hut, confident he could take the occupants by surprise. He knew Kamran could be adept at stealth, appearing from nowhere to defeat his cousins in mock battles.

He signaled Kamran. With a burst of speed, he hurtled toward the doorway. The boy followed, sword drawn, hanging back as ordered. Rasteem tore the rickety door from its one loose hinge and launched himself through it with a roar.

Rasteem surveyed the dark interior as his cry swelled. Trying to take in every detail at once, he missed one crucial item: a thin rope stretched across the doorway at ankle height.

The trip wire sent Rasteem crashing toward the floor. A shrill scream echoing inside his skull, he twisted and tried to roll onto his back before hitting the dusty flagstones. Something heavy hit him, sending a jolt of pain through his right shoulder blade. The force knocked him forward onto his stomach and sent his sword flying out of his hand.

Angry at failing to anticipate the trap, Rasteem let loose another roar and flipped onto his back. He could just make out a dark, solid shadow framed in the open doorway. Fearing for Kamran’s safety, he kicked out one foot and tripped his adversary. As the shadow started to fall, he sprang up and grabbed for its throat. When sharp teeth clamped onto his outstretched hand he roared again in pain. Something hard struck the back of his head with an explosive crack and enough force to make sparks dance before his eyes.

With deep pain radiating from his thumb and a throbbing lump on his head, Rasteem saw the shadow dissolve into sunlight streaming through the doorway.

He shook his head to clear his vision and heard a gasp. Instinct advising him to duck, he avoided another wallop from a heavy weapon. Rasteem pounced toward the sound and heard Kamran shout outside the hovel. Blaming himself for endangering the boy, unsteady on his feet, the warrior groped in the dark.

Rasteem made contact with a warm body. He closed his fingers around a hank of hair, twisted it, and pulled his assailant toward him. They struggled, high-pitched screams overlapping his grunts. Something heavy clanked against the flagstones. Holding tight to the flailing whirlwind, Rasteem pushed it toward the door. He wanted to continue the fight in sunlight so he could see what had happened to Kamran.

He crossed the threshold onto the hard-baked earth outside. He didn’t see the boy. What he did see made him loosen his grip on his prisoner.

“A woman!

She preyed on his surprise and wrenched free. She swung around to run away, her long, thick braid of black hair whipping. Rasteem seized the braid with one hand and jerked, bringing her to a dead stop. She screamed again. He grabbed her with his other hand and pulled her to his chest, pinning her hands at her sides. He wrapped the braid several times around his hand and forced her to look up at him. As she wrestled to escape, he saw a mark on her skin behind her left ear resembling a coiled snake. Putting the discovery aside for later, he began an interrogation.

“Who are you? Why are you hiding?” He intended to get answers—by force if necessary. He eyed his captive, trying to understand how a mere woman could have come so close to besting him.

Her long, loose plain muslin tunic and ill-fitting trousers were dirty, the embroidered slippers on her feet tattered and muddy. Under streaks of grime and soot, her face twisted into a snarl, exposing pearl-white teeth. Rasteem had no desire to feel how sharp they were.

“Barbarian devil!” she hissed. The metal scales on Rasteem’s armor tore at the thin fabric of her tunic, pressing into her flesh as she writhed.

“Kamran!” He yelled, trying to look in all directions at once. He spotted the boy’s shamshir in the dirt between the hovel and its dilapidated shed. Cold dread returned.

“How many of you are there?” He jerked the braid still wound around his hand. She cried out again and stared at him with raw hatred, her dark eyes glistening. He felt her heart beating against her ribs, sure it was more from struggling against him than from fear. Rasteem had the feeling she was every bit as dangerous as any lion he had ever cornered in a hunt.

“What will you do with Dodrazeb now?” she demanded.

Astonished by her insolence, he scowled. “The same thing I’ll do with you—whatever I please.” Looking for any sign of Kamran, Rasteem spat out, “If he is harmed, I swear I will—”

“You will what?” A sneer twisted her mouth. Before Rasteem could decide her punishment, they both heard a loud groan. It came from somewhere near the small ramshackle outbuilding.

“Kamran!” Rasteem pulled the woman with him toward the sound.

A helmet rose from behind a pile of debris crowned by a broken stool. Vulnerable without his sword—it still rested where he had dropped it in the hovel—Rasteem braced for another attack until Kamran’s face was visible beneath the helmet. Rubbing the back of his neck, the boy came to his feet.

Kamran took a halting step toward Rasteem and his prisoner. “I wasn’t expecting a wo–”

“Behind you!” Rasteem saw movement in the shed.

The second of distraction was all the prisoner needed. She yanked her braid from his hand and pushed against his chest to get away.

As the woman made her move, a screaming girl in threadbare, dirty clothes burst out of the shed, hands clamped around a rusty pitchfork raised over her head. Rasteem grabbed his prisoner’s arm before she could escape and Kamran avoided the pitchfork’s sharp tines at the last moment. He sprang aside, tripped over an old bucket, and fell face-first on the ground.

Rasteem’s prisoner pulled her right leg back and kicked hard, smashing her knee into his crotch. His face contorted, he let her go and grabbed his groin, reeling, unable to make a coherent sound. Eyes rolling up into his head, he dropped to his knees and fell over sideways.

The woman bolted toward the girl, shouting in a language the soldiers didn’t understand. She dragged her accomplice into the shed without looking back. Kamran scrambled to his feet and recovered his shamshir, intending to give chase. Then he saw his uncle writhing in the dirt.

Rasteem screwed his eyes shut and managed a ragged breath. Incapacitated by the unbearable, radiating pain from the woman’s blow, he tried not to whimper.

Kamran ran to his side. “Uncle! Where are you injured? What did she do to you?” The boy’s alarm escalated when Rasteem moaned instead of answering.

“Was it a dagger?” Panicked, Kamran searched for an unseen wound. “Rasteem! What can I do? How can I help you?”

Rasteem managed a tortured whisper. “… let them get away…”

Did In Search Of… Beget Expedition Unknown?

My tastes in entertainment have matured as TV’s efforts to sensationalize myths and tell titillating tales have evolved. Still, nothing prompts my imagination quite like ancient unsolved riddles, a big factor in my decision to write historical fantasy novels.

GPRWaWGHjRSMMbwIt’s fun to speculate that there are bizarre truths behind mysterious stories. From Sasquatch to ESP to UFOs, I’ve always been a fan of weird stuff. Give it a paranormal twist—throw in some vampires or poltergeists—and I’m riveted. Package it all as a quasi-documentary/semi-reality TV show with Leonard Nimoy as host, and you have one of my favorites from the 1970s. The incredibly popular In Search Of… presented speculation and conjecture as possible explanations for enduring mysteries such as the identify of Jack the Ripper or the truth about the lost continent of Atlantis.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


8066bf599bbddaa4481542b5d4effb8cIn Search Of… was informative, fun, and nerdy, providing some ambiguous answers and leaving the door open for other (more plausible) explanations. It was lightweight entertainment, but it turned me on to some real enduring mysteries: Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, the Nazca Plains, the mystery of Roanoke Colony, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and so much more.

expedition-unknown-josh-gates-nazca-peru-005.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Today I am an avid fan of Josh Gates and his series Expedition Unknown. Gates, a scholar with an appetite for exotic food and amazing adventures, is a man-mountain of globe-trotting curiosity. He’s an archaeologist with an infectious enthusiasm for the bizarre who seeks the truth about ancient and historical mysteries. To get at the real story behind whatever myth or legend he’s investigating, Gates employs scientific research methods presented as heart-pounding adventures filmed around the world.

josh-gates-on-location-21.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Expedition Unknown has taken Gates to some of the most remote and dangerous locations on the planet. Indiana Jones would be impressed by his ability to access and explain never-before-seen artifacts while getting into some precarious circumstances. On each mission, Gates interacts with the people and shares impressions of the culture he’s visiting. He also indulges in the local cuisine, a segment that should come with a warning for the squeamish.

TEXU302H_Attila-the-hun_251287_912112.1457498.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Combining elements of travelogue with lessons in history and sociology, Gates takes the viewer on a journey of discovery filled with humor. Turn him loose in a tourist souvenir shop and he becomes a stand-up comedian. Put an obstacle in his path and he entertains viewers (and his camera crew) with groan-worthy one-liners.

Gates peels away the thin veneer of supposition, superstition, and sensationalism to reveal the solid truth at the core of legends and mysteries. Mostly, though, he makes history fun and accessible through investigating both familiar and little-known unsolved puzzles. What a marvelous way to exploit television’s ability to entertain and teach at the same time.

Sources

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/expedition-unknown/articles/meet-josh-gates

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_Gates

https://www.facebook.com/joshgatesofficial/

http://www.therobotsvoice.com/2009/01/the_10_most_awesome_in_search_of_episodes.php

https://willmckinley.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/in-search-of-leonard-nimoys-1970s-reality-show/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Search_of…_(TV_series)

 

Colossal Statue Buried Under Modern City Streets

03_ramses_discovery_egypt.ngsversion.1489150803646.adapt.1190.1Ever think about the people who lived in your neighborhood thousands of years ago? Their culture was vastly different from ours, yet humans through the ages have been remarkably the same in many ways. They worked hard to feed and clothe their families. They looked to their leaders for protection from potentially hostile forces. They prayed for peace and prosperity. They engaged with their neighbors in communal events and sometimes in heated disputes. They toiled under the same sun and slept under the same moon as we do. They did all of this without the technological innovations we take for granted, with different belief systems, and with no idea how our world would evolve into what is has become today.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


GettyImages-650389812-EA team of Egyptian and German archaeologists recently uncovered a 26-foot-tall statue of an ancient Egyptian ruler beneath the streets of Cairo. The find was made in a congested working-class area that was built over the ancient city of Heliopolis, the center of worship for the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. Heliopolis is currently located about 49–66 feet below the streets of Cairo suburbs. During the Middle Ages, the ruins of Heliopolis were massively scavenged for building materials, and the city was eventually buried under sprawling new developments.

untitledThey first thought it was Pharaoh Ramses II, also known in Greek as Ozymandias or Ramses the Great, who ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 B.C.E. He is believed by many to be the pharaoh who had that little run-in with Moses involving some plagues and a mass exodus from Egypt. In 2006, archaeologists digging under a Cairo marketplace discovered one of the largest sun temples ever found that contained statues of Ramses II weighing as much as five tons. One of them showed the pharaoh seated and wearing a leopard’s skin, leading researchers to believe that he might have been a high priest of Ra.

RamsesStatueLuxorAs more pieces of the colossal statue were recovered, closer examination revealed more clues. Egyptian antiquities officials believe it may be Psamtik I, who ruled Egypt from 664 to 610 BC. Psamtik is notable for uniting all of Egypt and freeing it from Assyrian control within the first ten years of his reign. An inscription and other characteristics indicate that the artifact comes from Egypt’s Late Period and may be the largest statue from that era ever discovered.

The quartzite statue was submerged in groundwater in a dig that had begun in 2012 and was about to be concluded. The area had been almost completely investigated and archaeologists were quite surprised when it was found. Pulling the pieces of the statue from the pit where it was mired in mud wasn’t easy. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry asked for assistance from the army and used a forklift truck to extract it. The significant discovery is being hailed as one of the most important ever. The statue’s pieces were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir for restoration and exhibition.

So think about the monuments we are building. In a few thousand years, after civilizations more advanced than ours have come and gone, someone might dig up remnants of what we leave behind. I wonder how perplexed they’ll be, trying to figure us out.

Sources:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ancient/massive-incredibly-detailed-statue-of-ramses-ii-found-beneath-cairo-neighborhood/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/egypt-pharaoh-ramses-statue-discovered-cairo/

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/ramses-ii-statue-found-cairo

http://www.archaeology.org/news/5384-170317-cairo-psammetich-colossus

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/world/middleeast/egypt-pharaoh-statue-ramses.html?_r=0

http://observer.com/2017/03/archaeologists-discover-3000-year-old-statue-pharaoh-ramses-ii-egypt/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/10/africa/ramses-ii-ozymandias-statue-cairo/

http://www.history.com/news/stunning-statue-discovered-in-egyptian-mud-pit-may-depict-ramses-ii