Author Interview: Ashley Chappell

AshleyChappellAshley Chappell is the author of the young adult fantasy Dreams of Chaos series (Alice WillTilt, and A God of Gods). She is also the author of the irreverent paranormal romp Of War and Taters, a satire set in the fictional deep south.

Upcoming releases include The Hotting, a Dreams of Chaos spinoff adventure for younger readers; The Rimguard, a new adult urban fantasy; and The Harrows, a gritty adventure in which Hell is a job for life. Or rather, a job for the afterlife.

Ms. Chappell currently resides in Huntsville, AL. When not writing, reviewing, or burying her nose in one of her well-worn Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman novels, she can be found sailing with her husband on their boat ‘Dupracity’ (Fans of Kurt Vonnegut will want to ask her what that means).


Alice WillFourteen-year-old Trotter was still just trying to get the hang of the demi-godding business when the apocalypse began. In a world where the gods have withdrawn from humanity, leaving mortals bitter toward magic, she finds herself constantly torn between her human and goddess sides. When the world begins to fade away and she becomes the prime suspect, her search to find the cause and prove her innocence ends up revolving around a mysterious little girl named Alice. Then Trotter discovers that not all of the gods had been as distant as they seemed… Now, with everyone against her and the gods fighting amongst themselves, Trotter is on her own to save her world and stop a vengeful god from using Alice to destroy everything.

TiltTwo years ago Trotter saved her world and the entire pantheon of Realm from a dark god. Unfortunately, gratitude didn’t stop the gods from banning her from Realm when she refused to declare her dominion as a goddess. Now even her lonely refuge in Aevum is destroyed as something violently tilts the world away from the sun, plunging it into permanent night. Once again on her own to save her home, Trotter uncovers a hidden world forgotten by the gods that faces a similar fate. Unable to turn to Realm for help, Trotter will be forced to finally choose a dominion that will let her save both worlds, even if it means losing one forever. However, throughout her journey she is unaware that the terrifying darkness growing within her means another dominion has already chosen her…

AGodofGods_smAfter stripping Trotter away from the Noevans, the race of people she’d sworn to protect, Chaos forced her into the mythical role of the God of Gods. It is now her job to bring Death to all Creation. But something else is planning to use Trotter’s dominion over Death to alter the ending Chaos chose…
The gods of Realm, terrified of Trotter’s new power, are manipulated into making a deal with devils from their ancient past. After thousands of years of imprisonment, however, the Undreams will stop at nothing to exact revenge on the gods and turn the universe back into a nightmare without end.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyMy 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. Your Dreams of Chaos series is a young adult fantasy that centers on Trotter, a young girl “torn between her human and goddess sides.” Tell us about Trotter and her story.

Trotter is right at the age of puberty when teens mature mentally so much faster than emotionally, and is driven by a combination of the two that makes her responses and decisions as a character much more unpredictable. She is exceptionally bright and fiercely independent, having been largely on her own for so long already, but she struggles with a dark side born of feelings of abandonment, a lack of identity, and a resentment for the powers that she can’t control. Specifically, that itchy smiting finger that keeps making her life so much harder. She’s torn between worlds and angry at both, but when it comes to facing up to playing the role of heroine, she finds that her life as a human has made her love her world desperately and gives her the strength she needs to be the goddess that she needs to be.

Q. So far you’ve given us Alice Will and Tilt in this series. What more do you have in store for readers in the Dreams of Chaos world?

Well, it’s funny you should ask that! I have “A God of Gods: Dreams of Chaos Book 3” coming releasing October 24, 2017 followed by “A Mother of Gods: Dreams of Chaos Book 4” in Spring of 2019. The Dreams of Chaos series was originally planned to be a trilogy, but with the story arc spanning three realms and over 40 primary characters, it was too much to stuff into three books without making the last one almost 1,000 pages. So my trilogy became a tetralogy and now I just have to hope people don’t think that’s a kind of fish

Q. Do you find it more fun to write heroes or villains? Why?

My personal favorite – the Anti-hero. Part of this may stem from my preference for writing humor and satire even within my fantasy series, but a character that might fall on the Chaotic Good-Neutral end of the scale has so much more potential and versatility (especially for comedic interplay). Their development can so often be unexpected and feel so much more relatable. Think characters like Tyler Durden from Fight Club, Rincewind from the Discworld series, Artemis Fowl, Dexter, Severus Snape even

Q. What do you like most about Trotter? What do you like least about her?

Believe it or not, I actually designed Trotter to be somewhat hard to like for the first part of the series. That darkness and resentment in her makes her far more cynical, untrusting, and much more likely to expect the worst from everyone. It makes it harder to like her or feel sympathy for her sometimes, but for anyone who’s ever been a teenager, however, her feelings aren’t unrelatable. What I do like about her and what I tried to instill in her character is a resiliency and an unwillingness to accept injustice when she knows she can make a difference. She may be more negative and expect the worst from people, but she’ll fight to the death to protect them

Q. Why did you choose to write fantasy? What draws you to that genre?

I honestly can’t remember a time that I’ve ever not loved science fiction and fantasy. There was always something magical to me about using fantastical creatures and worlds and using them as a mirror for our own societal issues and paradigms. Sometimes it’s far easier to convey ideals through this kind of medium where you would otherwise be criticized for being overly moralistic in others. But also…. Dragons.

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

I think a part of the uniqueness of the overall story arc isn’t fully revealed until later in the series. It begins with a bit of a chosen one theme, but the reader finds out by the end of Book 2 that Trotter’s tale is actually more of an “anti-chosen one” story. And I can’t give more information than that without spoilers 😉

Q. Readers may not realize that writers do lots of research, even for fantasy stories, before they complete a book. What kind of research did you do for this series?

This series actually wasn’t as research intensive as some of my other works, but it did lead me on an oddball collection of Google searches. For instance: “What really happens in a tsunami” and “What do drowned corpses smell like” were two searches from the same day. As always – writers should never have their search history too accessible

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

Oh, that’s an easy one! Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman were my primary influencers for the air of absurdity and utter irreverence that pervades this series. Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan were strong influences on the creation of a mythos and centralized conflict that spanned eons and was driven by actors on both mortal and immortal realms reaching even beyond the gods and into Chaos.

Q. What was your favorite scene to write?

Hard to say across the series. But if I were to narrow it down, my favorite scenes involve interactions between my favorite characters. Any scene featuring the Erwins/Pratts, Ursula the Bear Goddess, or Ali and Andi (coming in Books 3&4) were usually scenes that had me the giddiest.

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

Fight scenes. Any and every fight scene. This is something that I agonize over for AGES every time.

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

Surprisingly, when I first started thinking about this series, Trotter wasn’t even the main character. It developed through a combination of brainstorming activities that included fake conversations with characters, what roles would have the greatest impacts in their lives, who they would interact with… etc. It was a very organic process.

Q. Tell us about your other books. Do you plan to write primarily YA in future or branch out into other genres?

I do love YA, but I expect my future works to be 50/50 YA vs. Adult. Not for any reason other than that’s just how my ideas have developed. My next work outside of this series is more of a “New Adult” age range and is also an urban fantasy.

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 dabbled for give or take 25 years 😉 It was never a question for me that it was what I wanted to do. I just didn’t focus on truly making the time for it until around 2009.

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?

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with editing. There’s something supremely satisfying about perfecting your project, but at the same time it can be so hard to finally say ENOUGH and call it ready. I have to step back for a long while until after I have feedback from all my betas just so I can come at it fresh again.

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?

For now 😉 I work at NASA by day which does at least give me plenty of fodder for stories.

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

I like to keep myself busy! In addition to my own novels, I’ve also joined the writing team on the Blood Crow Stories Podcast for Season 2 “Blackchapel.” If you haven’t checked it out, I totally suggest it for any horror enthusiasts. And of course I read every spare second I have, but we also spend a lot of time out on our property that we named the Hundred Acre Wood. We’re working to build our off-grid dream in a micro-modern homestead that we’re naming the Minimum Falcon.

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

It will sound cliché, but it’s tried and true. Don’t give up. Keep writing, keep networking, and keep querying.

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

Oh yes… that we make any money at it! This is quite definitely a labor of love.

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

Inconsistent characters or ill-defined primary conflicts. If characters suddenly start acting contrary to their development, I’ll usually get bored quickly. The same if the conflict seems to be a moving target. If I can’t define what the MCs are trying to overcome or figure out, then why am I reading their story?

Contact Information:

Author Name: Ashley Chappell

Blog: http://www.ashleychappellbooks.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AshleyChappellAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AshleyNChappell

Book Links: Amazon.com

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Author Interview: Philip Ligon

Philip_Ligon

Philip Ligon’s love of fantasy began in earnest when he tried to read The Sword of Shannara for a book report in high school. Though he had to choose a different book for the report, he was forever hooked on epic adventures, quests, and fantastic realms. He proceeded to read every Terry Brooks book he could find, and soon discovered the works of Raymond Feist, Michael Moorcock, and threw in a heavy dose of Orson Scott Card, to name a few. He has received numerous awards for his works, including being a multi-year finalist in the Paul Gillette Writing Contest and a finalist in Colorado Gold. This Strange Engine was a finalist in the 2015 Zebulon writing contest and a quarterfinalist in the 2014 ABNA.

The first two books in his Steampunk series are This Strange Engine and This Mysterious Engine.


Strange EngineThief. Pauper. Magic addict. Alexander Asherton, Ash to his friends, has reached the low point of his life. A once promising future with the Church of England has given way to a clandestine organization which tracks and collects magical items. They provide the elixirs that keep Ash alive, and in exchange he uses the power the elixirs grant to ‘acquire’ what they desire. If he succeeds, he lives. If he fails, he dies. The arrangement is simple enough… until his latest assignment becomes personal: recover an item in the possession of his former wife, Aimee. Ash’s world becomes even darker and stranger as he is drawn into a past he had hoped to leave behind.

Mysterious EngineLove. Betrayal. Revenge. Problems are growing worse for Ash. To save Sheela, the woman he loves, he had no choice but to betray her greatest secret. As a result, she was taken prisoner by Duke Schaever, the man who controls the flow of magic into the English Empire. Although Ash has tried to rescue Sheela, failure after failure has made him desperate enough to accept a new mission from his employers that will strike Duke Schaever at the most personal of levels – by kidnapping Lady Elizabeth Stewart, the Duke’s betrothed. It is an assignment fraught with danger, and as Ash moves closer to his goal, he is pulled deeper into the Duke’s world – a place that reveals the abominations of magic and science, that gives rise to new enemies, and where Ash learns exactly what motivates the Duke. The discoveries test friendships, love, and loyalties, even as it forces Ash to question what it means to live. And what it means to die.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyMy 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’ve taken steampunk to a whole new level with this series! Please tell us briefly about the steampunk genre.

Steampunk is an interesting genre because it has been with us for a long time – from the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to Michael Moorcock – yet has begun to really come into its own in the last 10 years or so.  I like to describe it as the Industrial Revolution on steroids, where steam-powered technology advances to the point where it is the primary source of energy.  And it powers everything from lights to airships to robots.  The setting is typically associated with the Victorian era, though many writers have expanded it to different time periods and to different parts of the world.

Q. Tell us about your book series and why you chose to write steampunk.

The Engine Series follows the (mis)adventures of Alexander Asherton who tries to piece together a broken life.  It takes place in 1860s England, in a town called Campden, which serves as a crossroads of science and magic, due to a portal – the Gateway – having been opened there.  The Gateway leads to a mysterious world full of elves, dwarves, orcs, dragons, gnomes, and other magical creatures.  The introduction of magic to a world with advanced steam technology creates new opportunities for those willing to exploit the possibilities of strange, new powers.  One such person is Duke Schaever, who is determined to combine science and magic for his own ends.  Unfortunately for Ash, he is drawn into the Duke’s schemes…and what he discovers are secrets far darker than anything he could have imagined.

As far as why I chose to write steampunk, I have to say it is primarily because the genre offers many futuristic ideas set in historical settings with alternate timelines and histories…there are lots of possibilities to be explored and lots of stories begging to be put onto paper.

Q. Alexander Asherton is a complicated, driven character. What do you like most—and least—about him?

Ash, as his friends call him, has a lot of admirable qualities.  He wants to do the right thing.  He has a special fondness for those in need, especially women and children.  He is fiercely loyal to his friends.  At the same time, he struggles with life.  Yet he tends to be obsessive, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.  He wants to see the good in people even when they prove over and over again that they are anything but.  And he is hard on himself for his past mistakes.

Q. Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about your story’s villains?

The villains are driven, determined, and know what they want.  They will stop at nothing, and will let no one get in there way.  Of course, that begs another question – why are they so driven?  For that answer, well…you have to read the books!

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

This series is different because it is not a pure steampunk work.  In fact, it contains a lot of fantasy elements, and magic plays an essential role in everything that happens.  Part of the overall story is about the implications of what happens when technology and magic are merged.  Good things?  Bad things?  A little bit of both?

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

Being set in the time that it’s in, I had to do a lot of research on the Victorian era.  What type of clothing did they wear?  How did the language differ?  What terms did they use?  What was life like in that time?  Those are just some of the questions I had to answer…and I learned a lot more about Victorian dress and socially acceptable etiquette than I ever thought I would know!

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

Being a story set in Victorian England, and being a fan of his work, I would say Charles Dickens had a bit of influence on the series.  His works capture so much of the essence of the era – from the social structure to the political influences to the language.

Q. What was your favorite scene to write?

In both books, there are so many scenes I enjoyed writing, it’s hard to choose!  But for the first book, I’ll go with the Duke’s Ball.  It was fun trying to describe the other-worldly nature of the grand event.  Here is a man who is known for his extravagances and this is the one time of the year that he goes above and beyond anything else, and puts it on display for the entire town to see.  For the second book, I’ll go with the finale at Chen’s Dragon Theatre.  I won’t go into detail on it, lest I give too much away…but there are vital decisions that Ash must make against a backdrop of very dangerous magic and science.

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

The hardest part of both books has been the language – how to keep the tone and formality of the Victorian era while writing with a modern style.  There is a balance between the two that demanded a lot of attention.

Q. Do you have plans for more books in this series? Are you interested in expanding into other genres?

I’m currently working on the third book, so yes, there will be at least one more.  Beyond that?  We’ll see.  There could be more stories left to be told with the characters.

I’m definitely going to expand to other genres, particularly Fantasy.  Considering there is so much Fantasy in the Engine series, though, that might not necessarily count as expanding into another genre.

And while it’s not a genre per se, I’m also wrapping up work on a middle-grade Steampunk book.  There are definite differences in writing for an adult audience and a middle-grade audience.

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’ve been at this writing stuff a long time…over twenty years.  Throughout that time, I queried countless agents and editors, and attended various conventions where I met agents and editors, all in the hopes of attracting attention.  Along the way, something funny happened…self-publishing really evolved into a viable option.  It really got to the point where I could spend more years continuing the query and submission process, or I could do it myself.  So I decided to give it a try.

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?

Editing is a love-hate relationship.  Ernest Hemingway said it best: ‘The only kind of writing is rewriting.’  There is a lot of truth in that.  Writing the first draft can be a journey of discovery that is fun and enthralling.  Yet rewriting – what I’m calling editing in this context – is where the author really gets to shape the story and the characters.  It’s not always fun to work through your book for the fifth, or sixth, or seventh time, but it must be done if you want to make the book as good as it can be.  It’s a lot like the sculptor shaping and smoothing and polishing until a statue is finished.

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?

My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering (and maybe that’s where the interest in Steampunk really comes from), so I work as an engineer during the day.

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

I enjoy watching movies and reading.

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

Unless you are a rare writer who becomes published almost from the start, you have to have perseverance more than anything else.  You also need a willingness to learn and grow as a writer.

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

Writing is tough.  Filling up page after page of white with all of these words can take a long time.  And it is lonely work.

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

Bad writing and bad characters, though those often go together.  By bad characters, I mean ones who are not believable or are undeveloped or are unsympathetic.

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

This is another tough question.  There are so, so many good books.  Since I’ve already mentioned Dickens, I’ll have to go with Great Expectations (Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is a close second).  Pip and Estella are such dynamic characters.  And the fact that Pip works so hard to make something of himself so he can prove his worth to the girl he’s loved since the first time they met brings a quiet desperation to the entire story that grips the reader.  It’s Dickens at his best.

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

MASH.  The show is full of different characters and a cast that goes through so many changes.  One episode will make you laugh until you cry.  The next will make you cry because it’s sad.  There is such a variety of stories for such a small setting.  I never get tired of watching the show.

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

Casablanca.  Action, adventure, romance, bravery, deceit…what more do you need in a movie?  It’s a great story with even greater actors giving some of their best performances.

If there’s a theme in these answers to favorite book and TV show and movie…it’s all about the characters.  They are the heart and soul of everything that happens.  And that’s something that any writer should keep in mind.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Philip Ligon

Blog: www.philipligon.com

Goodreads: <https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15283152.Philip_Ligon

Book Links: This Strange Engine   This Mysterious Engine

Author Interview: Morgon Newquist

Morgon_NewquistMorgon Newquist started life by causing an international incident in Central America, and has been marching to the beat of her own drummer ever since. She grew up in the Rocket City—Huntsville, Alabama. After a stint at the University of Georgia to study Latin, she has returned to the place of her upbringing where she wrangles two dogs, a cat, and four children daily. She is an avid fan of fantasy, science fiction, gaming of all types and other nerdy pursuits.

Morgon has worked as a freelance writer off and on since 2007, and written for video game mythologies, table top RpGs, online game guides, and blogs as well as her own short works. She has several published short stories and is currently working on several novels. Her current focus is an ongoing saga of sword and sorcery short stories called The School of Spells and War. The first novella, Down The Dragon Hole, is highly rated and continues to introduce many new fans to the series.


DownDragonHoleAlis was a quiet librarian at the campus library of the School of Spells & Magic—that is, until the sword wielding buffoon Cahan had the audacity to battle a dragon in her library! Now she’s following him off on some foolhardy adventure. As they try to save the university from the mysterious Formless, she fights an equally important battle—to maintain her self-respect! The School of Spells & War is an ongoing collection of old fashioned sword-and-sorcery adventure stories following a wizard and warrior duo as they gallivant across the continent of Thillon. Good-humored, powerful warrior Cahan and intelligent, skilled wizard Alis work together to serve their university, the school of spells and war, by battling dragons, investigating plots against the king, hunting witches, and dealing with the ongoing threat of the ancient and mysterious Formless.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyMy 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. Dragons! Magic! Swordplay! Tell us about your amazing series and why you chose to write it as shorter stories rather than novels.

As you’ve already stated, my current series is a Sword-and-Sorcery short collection, sort of like the serials of old. It follows the wizard Alis and the warrior Cahan as they have various encounters in the world of Thillon. It’s very DiscWorld-esque, and probably a little reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons.

It kind of became a series sort of by accident; the first novella, Down The Dragon Hole, was written for a short story anthology. The first iteration of the story was a lot more serious and a lot less fun. Then when I rewrote it, I realized I enjoyed the characters and the setting and didn’t want to stop. Digital distribution makes it much easier to release shorts now, so that obstacle was removed. It also meant I could write whatever story came into my head at the length it needed to be, instead of having to figure out how to make it hit a certain length.

Q. Alis and Cahan were sort of thrown together, very suspicious of each other at the beginning. How does their relationship evolve through the series?

Well, I can’t tell you too much of that, because I want it to stay a surprise! But they definitely grow from strangers to a sort of coworker relationship, which then evolves into a real and lasting friendship. As to whether it goes any farther than that, you’ll have to wait and see 😉

Q. What do you like most—and least—about Cahan? About Alis?

What I like most about both characters is the actually the same trait, but each of them is one side of a coin. Cahan is confident – he’s a little older, more experienced, and knows his own skills. Alis is younger, a little anxious, unsure, and still learning. So many stories, in their quest to have a strong female lead, seem to forget that everyone starts out nervous and uncertain and grows. I really wanted to have that arc for Alis – the shy, bookish type finding her legs in the world outside the library.

Least favorite traits of them both stem from the same traits, actually. Cahan can be a little arrogant, sometimes dismissive. Pride is his greatest sin, and is something he struggles with. He also likes to box off the small number of mishaps or tragedies in his life and pretend like they don’t exist. Alis, conversely, doubts herself too much sometimes, and can also be a little self-centered and whiny.

Q. Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about your stories’ villains?

Well, there are several, a few of which move in and out of stories. But many of them only appear once, in a monster-of-the-week sort of format, which short stories lend themselves to. The Formless are the background, overarching villain in the series. They’re a shadowy mass that have no bodies of their own, and seek to steal them from living things. The first book has a dragon in it. We’ll see giant spiders, golems, treasure guardians…magical beings have long been lost in Thillon, but suddenly they’re making an appearance again, so we’ll see a lot of them. One story that I hope to release by the end of the year has the villain that killed Cahan’s brother in it.

Q. What’s different or unique about these stories from other sword-and- sorcery works?

It’s pretty much your standard sword-and-sorcery work, to be honest. That’s what I set out to make it, to be a throwback to the old type of stories you used to see. I think my series villain is interesting and unique, and I want Alis and Cahan to be more than archetypes. I’m trying to take some cues from the Pulp Revolution for the structure and tone, so it will be different than a lot of things currently published, but not from older stories.

Q. What kind of research did you do for these stories?

Since it is in a fantasy world, not a lot. I did some research on what needed to happen for a saw mill to blow up in one of the upcoming stories, but most of it all is coming from me. I have a lot of world notes so I can keep up with everything.

Q. Which works and authors would you say influenced your work? How?

For the School of Spells and War specifically, it is definitely influenced by Terry Pratchett. I wanted to go for the same fun, tongue-in-cheek tone present in his books while perhaps making them a little less silly. The wizards of the school were directly inspired by the wizards of the Unseen University.

Q. What is your favorite type of scene to write?

Characters are always what interest me, so important character scenes tend to be my favorite to write. I like the emotional ones! Sometimes I like action scenes too, but those take a lot of work and plotting.

Q. What type of scene is the most difficult for you to write?

Info-dump and/or connecting scenes. How do I show and not tell? Am I going on too long? How much do I need before just skipping to a new scene? That’s mostly what I struggle with.

Q. What inspired you to write these stories and these characters?

I wrote the first story for Silver Empire’s first anthology, which had the theme of manly courage. Cahan is obviously the character that was meant to fulfill that theme. Then it just kind of came together from there, once I decided I wanted to put a little bit of a twist on the normal knight vs. dragon story.

Q. What are your plans for this series? Are you interested in expanding into other genres?

I currently have a 46 story plan that covers the entire Formless arch, and that can change at any time. The great thing about this format is that I can just write a little story and send it out if I am inspired. I hope to have published a couple more stories by the end of the year, and then round them up into an anthology.

I definitely would like to expand into other genres. My other project right now is a superhero novel called Serenity City that I am super (hah!) excited about. Whenever I’m not working on Spells and War, I’m working on that. It’s currently about a quarter of the way done.

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?

This might be a bit of a long answer! I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I actually still have a little pink notebook with a note from my grandmother in the front of it, dated in 1996, saying “it was for me to write my stories in”. And then I was supposed to bring the notebook with me when I went to visit them, so she could read the stories.

I wrote stories through elementary school (including a 40 page Star Trek novel with my own characters) and then once I hit middle and high school I kept writing. It was mostly fan fiction, which is still out in the ether of the internet. I had designs on being an author, but various adults in my life chased me away from it as a career because of how little money writers made. I also got several very (I, feel, at least) unnecessarily cruel rejections for my short stories, and decided that I’d keep it all to myself. So for a while it was just a hobby.

I actually wrote short stories and world building info for a Greek gaming company in my early years of college. I was paid a salary and everything, one that wasn’t too shabby for the type of work I was doing. Then when that ended because of downsizing, it went to the backburner because of school. I kept writing – I did a couple years of NaNoWriMo in there.

In 2014, I decided that I wanted to make one of my goals for the year to publish something. I went to work on one of my old novels, but when the end of the year rolled around, it wasn’t done. So I pulled out one of my old shorts, edited it, and threw it up on Amazon on December 31st before midnight. And that’s also when Silver Empire started. Russell decided if I was going to start publishing things, why not go in on it together? And I’ve been writing seriously since then.

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?

I like to edit, actually. Sometimes I feel like my eyeballs are going to fall out of my head from staring at things so long, but I like the tweaking process. It makes it easy for me to really see and feel the work I’ve done, and it’s satisfying. I usually do several passes to clean up my wording, the text flow, that kind of thing – but not a lot of major work – and then send it off for notes. I don’t want to put too much time into it if there are big changes that need to be made in plot order or pacing. After I get all the notes back I really delve into it, from tightening up the plot to checking for grammatical, spelling, and story errors.

Q. Tell us about your publisher.

Well, my publisher is my husband and I! We run Silver Empire, and as I mentioned in a previous answer, we started it when I wanted to publish my short story. And we’ve been working on it ever since. I enjoy it. We’d like to be known as an independent publisher that really treats its authors’ right.

The upside to being my own publisher is that I can basically write whatever I want and know it has a place, but the reality also is that I’ve got to think about what makes the most business sense to write. Which is why instead of starting a new series after Serenity City is done I’m already plotting out sequels to it.

Q. You have a husband and four small children. Without a Harry Potter-style time turner, how do find time to write?

Well, the honest answer is that I don’t write a lot. That’s one of the reasons the School of Spells and War is a collection of novellas and short stories. I can’t pour a lot of time into it. But now that summer is over, we’re working into a schedule again, and I basically have a couple nights a week that I write. I’ll do it sometimes during the day, but usually I’m being interrupted too much to focus. I’m making the effort to get some regular time in, though, and now that I don’t run my wedding videography business anymore, even more time is opening up for me.

I’ve basically accepted that for now my output isn’t going to be huge, and that my progress may be slow, and that’s ok. Someday everyone will be older and I’ll be able to do more :).

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

I like to game, both video and board gaming. I enjoy reading, though I don’t get to do as much of that as I used to. I spend a lot of my free time writing just because I enjoy it. I also watch a lot of Netflix.

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

My biggest bit of advice is to write. Productivity is huge in the current market, and at the same time, the only way you get better is by actually writing. Don’t agonize over editing too much, don’t wait for someone else – just write, get it out there, and keep going.

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

Oh, I could write about that for paragraphs and paragraphs. I think the biggest one is how little money most authors make. I mean, everyone knows authors are poor, right? It’s a constant joke. But I don’t think most members of the public realize it is as low as it actually is. In conjunction with that, how few books most authors sell as well.

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

Lots of info-dump done in a boring way. In this age of self-publishing, when a book doesn’t have at least a minimum level of editing. I don’t really like message fiction – stories that put “teaching you a lesson” or preaching to you above the actual story. I don’t mind meaning in books, or even some politics, but I don’t like being beat with a brick about how I should think.

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

This is a hard question. I have a list….I can give you a list! There are the standard ones, like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. I recently (finally) read Dune and loved it. Some other favorites are Iron Chamber of Memory by John C. Wright, Deerskin and Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, the Dresden Files, and a whole lot more. Characters are super important to me, so if you can write a good story with exceptional characters, I’ll latch onto it.

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

That’s a good question. I watch a lot of TV, and have many shows I enjoy. I think it is a toss up between Babylon 5 and Pushing Daisies. Babylon 5 is deep and layered, and I adore the fact that it had a plan that it more or less stuck to. The show has a real ending, with real closure, and in an age where producers want to keep cash cows going until they die, it’s refreshing.

Pushing Daisies never really caught on – it’s not even on streaming right now – and then the writers strike effectively killed it, but I love it anyway. It is bright, beautiful, over-the-top, touching, and more than a little ridiculous. If you’ve never watched it I’d suggest it. It’s a very unique show, with a distinctive style. The stories are very human and very bittersweet despite their absurdity, and I love the writing.

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

This is another hard question. Secondhand Lions has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Other favorites include The Dark Knight, V for Vendetta, Captain America: Civil War, The Prestige, and Moulin Rouge. Characters are another huge portion of why I like those movies.

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

Rome. I would love to go to Rome. I speak Latin and studied classical culture in college, so it would be amazing to go there. I’m also Catholic, so the chance to go to Vatican City and the heart of my faith would be great too. All the good Italian food doesn’t hurt either.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Morgon Newquist

Book Links: Morgon Newquist’s books are available on Amazon.com

Author Interview: Amanda Orneck

AmandaOrneckBorn in Fountain Valley, CA, raised in a small town called Montrose, CA, Amanda Orneck has never stayed in one place for long – until now. She currently calls Huntsville, AL home, where she spends her days writing, gaming, and loving her family to pieces.

Amanda received her Creative Writing degree from the University of Southern California, learning her craft at the feet of David St. John, Aimee Bender and Carol Muske-Dukes. While at USC, she received the Middleton Creative Writing Fellowship for excellence in poetry.

For seven years she honed her writing craft as a video game journalist, writing for GamePro, WoW Insider, GameGeex, and a handful of other outlets. In 2014 Amanda left the world of blogging behind to focus on her first love, fiction. Shadow of the Owl is her first novel, and she is currently in production on a cyberpunk novel entitled Deus Hex Machina.


Shadow_OwlIn a kingdom populated with nomadic elves and human colonists, pampered princess Mylena lives a charmed life. Her world is thrown into turmoil however, the night her mother loses her throne, her kingdom and her life. Forced to flee the castle, Mylena must live in secret amongst the peasants of a small elven settlement, tending to her wounded father and eking out a living as an apothecary. As she does, a new sort of life rises from the ashes of her old one, a life that includes the kindling of romance with a young elven boy named Fionn. Mylena falls in love with her new life among the peasants, and prepares to spend her days treating illnesses and hiding who she really is.

Until the day the usurper’s minions find her and rip that life to shreds.

Now Mylena’s running from not only the evil sorcerer who wants her dragged back to the castle in chains, but also from those who want her to step into her mother’s position and retake her family’s kingdom. The once pampered princess must choose: Leave behind the simple life she’s come to love and rise up to save her people from tyranny, or stay hidden and watch it all burn down around her.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyMy 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. Shadow of the Owl is a wonderful fantasy set in a world with humans, elves, sorcerers, and magic. Tell us about the story and its main characters.

Shadow of the Owl is a traditional fantasy novel in the vein of Lord of the Rings and Sword of Shannara. Mylena, the main character, is an exiled princess I think a lot of people would identify with. She’s struggling with growing up in a kingdom under siege, living in secret with her father in a village in the forest. The culture of the world is a bit unique in that the original inhabitants of Shadowhaven were a race of shamanistic elves, each of them born with one type of elemental magic. Add to that a group of colonizing humans who built a society with these elves, and you have a melting pot of a kingdom that is very much in its infancy. Mylena sort of represents this mixture, being half human and half pixie (the race of her mother).

Q. Do you find it more fun to write heroes or villains? Why?

I’ve never been a fan of villains. I used to do my best to write without them, but stories get boring without antagonists, don’t they? I have always rooted for the hero, and I find their stories more compelling to write.

Q. What do you like most about your Princess Mylena? What do you like least about her?

Mylena is incredibly strong willed, and I love that about her. Writing her character I often tried to make her do things in scenes and she just would flat out refuse. “I was raised in a castle, in comfort and luxury, I would never do that!” she would announced. It made writing her incredibly challenging and incredibly fun. I don’t like the selfish streak she has though. She’s the sort of person that thinks of herself first — I guess that comes from being raised as the heir to the throne. She learns to get a bit better on that score along the way, I’m happy to say.

Q. Why did you choose to write fantasy? What draws you to that genre?

I grew up on fantasy. My father was a huge sci-fi and fantasy reader, and one of the first books I remember him reading me was Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. I also think an unhealthy fixation with Disney princesses added to that, come to think of it.

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

Mostly I think that I’ve got a unique bunch of people adventuring together. Aside from Mylena Saebariela, you have the orphan Chiave, who’s the only human with a magical ability in the realm, Warrek, the Captain of the Guard who comes home after duty out of the country to find his best friend the king is gone, and I can’t forget Joppa — she’s sharing memories with her dead twin brother.

Q. Readers may not realize that writers do lots of research, even for fantasy stories, before they complete a book. What kind of research did you do for this story?

I did a lot of research into medieval combat and herbology, specially about American plants and how they can be used for medicinal purposes.

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

Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, most definitely.

Q. What was your favorite scene to write?

Definitely the swamp scene. You’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll probably agree that it’s the best.

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

Since I started writing this novel when I was a child, combat was by far the hardest thing for me to grasp, so much so that I put down the manuscript for years until I “grew up” enough to be able to tackle those parts of the book.

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

I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, honestly. As I said, I began writing it when I was twelve, so who knows where the first spark came from.

Q. Do you have plans for more books in this series?

I do. Most likely two more books in the main series and if there is reader interest, Joppa might get a book of her own.

Q. Do you plan to ever write in a different genre?

I do write in science fiction as well. My current project, which I am doing the final edit on with my publisher, is a cyberpunk novel set in dystopic future California. It’s entitled Deus Hex Machina and sort of answers the question “What if worship of technology went too far?”

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 had sat on SotO for so long I honestly forgot about it. Then a friend published a book on Amazon, and since I was looking for work suggested I write some short stories and publish them as a way to get some income. I started planning some, then remembered I had a novel almost done, and the rest is history.

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?

Oh I love editing, but I spent many years as an online editor for various websites. I really love the process of taking raw writing and polishing it. I’m editing DHM right now, and it’s a ton of fun to be able to check off scenes as “fixed.” I use a lot of spreadsheets when editing (I also use them a fair bit when writing), to keep me organized and on track.

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?

No, I used to write for a variety of video game websites, but I realized when that work dried up that I was chafing to get back to fiction, so this is my only gig now.

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

I love reading (but I suppose that’s part of the craft, isn’t it?) and playing video games, watching movies and TV shows with great stories. Basically, anyway I can consume stories, I do it.

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

Make a plan. Deciding which avenue for publishing you want to pursue is a huge step, and once you focus on self-publishing or finding an agent, it will help you focus your energy in the right places. Once you have a book you are proud of, make sure to get as many eyes on it as possible. Honest feedback is the greatest gift your friends can give you, and it’s even better if its from someone who doesn’t care about your feelings. Write a lot, read a lot, and never feel guilty for reading a book instead of doing something else. It’s research for your craft!

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

Publishing today has changed so much, but even before the shift to a more indie-available paradigm, writing has always been seen as easy — after all, everyone can write. We do it every day, so therefore what authors do isn’t really all that valuable. I have recently come to own my role as an artist, and am proud to speak up in defense of writing as an art form. No, it’s not easy. Yes, anyone can type words on a page, but the crafting of characters, structuring pleasing plots and rousing scenes, describing details in such a way that the reader is captivated, none of that is easy. Writing is one of the hardest things I do, and though I often wonder why I pour so much of myself into this endeavor, I can’t stop. It’s who I am.

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

Oh, great question. My biggest issue with a book is a protagonist with all the tools. If your character has every key to every locked door, how is that interesting to read? If however, they encounter locks that not only bar their way, but fill the room with water every time you try to pick them, then we get to learn something about the character by how they react to the impossible. Give me struggle, and you will own my interest. Sure I want a hero to win the day, but I want to see them sweat a bit on the way.

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

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It won my heart with its magical realism, and nothing has been able to capture the joy of spontaneously appearing butterflies since (although I did try myself).

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

Oh, that’s a toss up between Gilmore Girls and Firefly. Both of those shows gave us amazing characters that were witty and delightful. There’s definitely a bit of River Tam in Joppa.

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

State and Main. I love movies about writers, and there is something so charming about this movie.

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

Only one? That’s cruel. I would say Japan is at the top of my list because I’ve traveled Europe a couple of times, but I haven’t yet visited Asia.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Amanda Orneck

Blog: ImmersiveCursive.com

Facebook: officialamandaorneck

Twitter: @amandorneck

Goodreads: amandaorneck

Book Links: books.pronoun.com/amandaorneck

Shadow of the Owl: Amazon.com  Barnes and Noble.com

Deus Hex Machina: Inkshares.com

Author Interview: Judd Vowell

JuddVowell_highJudd Vowell lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and son. When he’s not reading, he enjoys playing guitar and writing songs. The Overthrown trilogy novels are his first. Book One is The Great Dark and Book Two is The Resurrected.

In Overthrown, Judd Vowell creates a strangely familiar world, in a future that feels as close as tomorrow. He weaves two dynamic stories together flawlessly; one of a collapsing society brought on by hacker terrorists, the other of a family’s unlikely fight for survival in the newly dismal landscape.


Overthrown_lgThe Great Dark  Ever since the Great Dark pushed the world into chaos, Gordon’s singular focus has been keeping his family alive. But survival is growing tougher by the day, just like the cancerous tumor wrapping itself around his wife Meg’s spine. He knows that Meg won’t survive without the medicine that’s in a distant and deserted city, out in the darkness filled with fearless wild animals and bands of violent outliers. The only allies Gordon can enlist to help him are his 15-year-old twins, Jessica and Henry. The three of them soon find themselves in the midst of a new war against the hackers who destroyed the world’s technological infrastructure and rebuilt it for their own design. Gordon begins to realize that his children may be the only hope that civilization has left.

The Resurrected  The first battle for America’s liberation from ANTI- is over, and the rebels known as Lefty were fortunate to survive it. Jessica and Henry are two unlikely heroes involved in the rebellion against cyber-terrorists who pulled the Great Dark curtain over the world. Now they’re separated, Jessica imprisoned against her wounded will by the ANTs, and Henry back home to help his diseased mother Meg heal. The burgeoning war will bring them together again, but will it be soon enough to save them both?


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyMy 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. Overthrown is a dystopian science fiction thriller trilogy in which cyberterrorists have plunged the world into darkness. Dystopian themes have been very popular lately. What’s different or unique about your story?

It’s a good question because you’re right, this is a popular genre, so I decided to address exactly that in the first chapter. My narrator actually acknowledges the “post-apocalyptic obsession” we have as a society. But Overthrown is different because it’s based in reality, nothing supernatural. This is a story that could actually happen, although I hope it never does.

Q. Gordon, Meg, and their twins Jessica and Henry are a family trying to survive the chaos. Tell us about them and how they are drawn into the war against the hackers.

Meg is fighting cancer when the lights go out, and a year into the darkness her husband Gordon and their kids are forced into facing the dangerous outside world if they want to keep her alive. She is running out of medicine, which means they have to travel to the hospital complex a hundred miles away to get more. On this journey, they are pulled into the new rebellion against the cyberterrorists who have caused The Great Dark.

Q. The teenage twins are central characters. What do you like most about Henry? About Jessica? 

Even though they are twins, the have very separate and distinct strengths. Jessica is athletic and a natural leader, while Henry is clever and thoughtful. In this way, they actually complement each other, and help each other survive the darkness.

Q. This trilogy is epic in scope. What inspired you to write this story with these characters? 

The original inspiration came in 2011, when the devastating April tornadoes moved through Alabama. My wife and I lived through the four-day blackout that followed with a brand-new infant at home who needed oxygen. We had backup tanks for my son, but that experience planted the seed. Combine that with the rise of international hacker groups like Anonymous, and the story began to write itself.

Q. Every thriller has to have its villains. What motivates the bad guys in this story? 

The true motivations of ANTI-‘s leader Salvador Sebastian may not be that obvious, and that’s intentional. He holds a specific hatred for modern-day governments and monetary controls, but the real reasons won’t be revealed until book three in the trilogy.

Q. Readers often don’t realize that writers do lots of research, even for speculative and fantasy stories, before they complete a book. What kind of research did you do for this story?

I had to research computer-hacking a good bit. That’s something I didn’t know much about, and it’s central to the story. Also, some of the villians backstories, like Salvador. He originally comes from Cuba, so it was interesting to learn about that culture.

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

Nothing too direct. But I would say stories like Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Q. What was your favorite scene or section to write?

Now that’s a tough question. If I had to choose, I would say the battle that takes place near the end of the book, where Jessica and Henry’s characters truly take shape. It sets the rest of the trilogy in motion.

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

A lot of the foundation for this book was based in actual experiences for me and my family. Some of that was tough, but it was also therapeutic.

Q. In Book Two, new characters are introduced and we learn more about the terrorists. What can we expect in Book Three, and when will it be available?

Book Three, with a working title of The Reckoning, will be the decisive battle between good and evil, with the rebellion getting their world back from ANTI-, or Salvador keeping hold of his new society. I’m pushing for a Spring 2018 release.

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

I’ve been a musician for most of my life, and I’ve written songs since I was a teenager. So I guess that could be considered dabbling. Believe it or not, Overthrown was the first full-length novel I’ve ever written.

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? 

I have a select group of “early readers” I use, and I trust their opinions and criticisms. One is a fellow author, and one is my sister, who has her doctorate in English. So I would say my editing team is strong. Any good writer needs another set of eyes. Editing, in my opinion, is essential to the process, so I don’t hate it at all.

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? 

Yes, I am General Manager at Carriage Chevrolet in Fayetteville, Tennessee. Selling cars and writing books…what a combo, huh?

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

I play guitar, spend time with my family, and travel.

Q. What advice do you have for writers who want to become published authors? Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public? 

What’s that saying? Practice, practice, practice…it’s true. Just commit to writing at least some every day. My number was one hour. And I still try and do that. I write one hour a day. Your imagination is like a muscle…you have to keep it in shape.

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

Poor grammar, unless it’s intentional.

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

That is tough. It seems to change often. I just like good fiction, really. East of Eden, No Country for Old Men, Life of Pi, and so on. Too many whys to say.

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

Even tougher. Because there has been so much good TV lately. Homeland, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad. But I can still watch a Seinfeld and laugh out loud.

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

Hands-down The Shining, even though Stephen King supposedly hates Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of his book. I don’t know why. It’s visually stunning, with so much horrific imagery that is confusing at the same time. And Jack Nicholson is completely terrifying. I’m getting chills just thinking about that typewriter scene.

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

After creating my villain’s backstory, I think I’d have to say Cuba. It’s intriguing to me that it’s been “off-limits” for so long even though it’s so geographically close. And in a way, it’s stuck 60 years in the past. It would be like walking back in time.

Contact Information:

Author Name: Judd Vowell

Facebook: JuddVowellAuthor

Twitter: @JuddVowell

Goodreads: Judd Vowell

Find Judd Vowell’s books on Amazon.com

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…”

Trovants: Living Rocks

trovants-living-stonesRomania has more than its share of creepy things that seem to be alive but aren’t. Take, for instance, the “living” rocks that grow and move. These Romanian curiosities are called trovants and can sometimes resemble gigantic fossilized dinosaur turds. They’ve been around far longer than old Vlad Dracula, but they don’t bite and you can visit them in daylight. Less creepy than mythical vampires, sure, but these things actually exist.


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.


StarTrekHorta1Being who I am (and being as old as I am), when I first read about trovants my thoughts zoomed straight to some classic sci-fi creatures. Who remembers the Horta from the Star Trek TOS episode “Devil in the Dark,” that poor misunderstood mother who was only trying to protect her perfectly round egg nodules? Thank goodness Spock realized he needed to mind-meld with her.

StarTrekRockMonsterIn another Star Trek TOS episode entitled “The Savage Curtain,” Earth’s Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan’s Surak are conjured up by a gravelly-voiced pile of boulders trying to understand the concepts of good and evil. The rocky alien also produced some bad guys, including Genghis Khan, and initiated a fight to the death between factions. This episode is right up there with “Spock’s Brain” in many ways.

GalaxyQuestRockMonsterBut the best one is, hands-down, the rock monster from Galaxy Quest. It consisted of scattered rocks and boulders that it could pull together at will. Captain Peter Quincy Taggert (Tim Allen) loses his shirt while dodging and diving to get away from it in one of the best sci-fi comedies spoofs of all time.

Trovant1Trovants aren’t that mobile and are (most likely? as far as we know?) not sentient. They are rocks, geologic formations. How does a rock grow much less move? Some theories advanced over the years have speculated that trovants are alien artifacts, or that they are responding to and interacting with weird magnetism, or that there are unexplained energy vortexes in the local area.

Trovanti-ReserveTrovanti Museum Natural Reserve is located in southern Romania among the sand quarries of the Vâlcea district near the village of Costeşti. The trovants there range from a few grams to several tons, with the largest reaching a height of 10 meters.

Trovanti-Museum-Natural-ReserveConsisting of cemented sand and mineral salts, when a trovant is cut in half you can see “age rings” like you find when you cut down a tree. These rocks started out as a hard stone core with a shell formed around it made of sand. Trovants can only form in areas with highly porous sand accumulations and sandstone deposits that are cemented by waters rich in calcium carbonate. Locals have always known, and geologists have confirmed, that trovants grow after heavy rains when they absorb the rain’s minerals. The minerals combine with chemicals already present in the stone that later creates a reaction and pressure inside. The pressure makes the rock grow from the center outward and sometimes produces lumps and bumps. This process takes a very long time, and it only occurs in areas with a type of porous sand consisting of a certain chemical composition that receives the right amount of rainfall carrying the right mineral mix. It’s quite a complex recipe.

trovants-costestiThe chemical processes at work on the stones cause them to bulge and form lumpy protrusions. When a bulge grows large enough, the force of gravity may cause it to drop off the parent stone. The baby trovant continues to grow, absorbing minerals through rain water, potentially producing its own lumps that will one day separate from it—and the cycle continues.

These things grow, and move, and reproduce like eerie rock monsters that should only exist in science fiction. What else do geologists know that they aren’t telling us?