Author Interview

An Interview With Author Guido Henkel

Today I was privileged to conduct an interview with Guido Henke, autor of the Jason Dark Ghost Hunter series and “The Curse of Kali.” Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Henkel.

I love the supernatural element in these books and even more, the unusual, non-European elements you utilize. I’m assuming that you used the popular, well known setting of Victorian/Holmesian England to help ground your readers, but what compelled you to introduce the foreign supernatural elements?

As I am writing my stories, I always try to find interesting angles to familiar themes. Sometimes I end up giving the monsters abilities that are often overlooked, sometimes I simply pick a setting that is different from what you’d expect, and sometimes I will just make things up for the fun of it.

The hopping vampires in “Curse of Kali,” and even more prominently in “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” are a result of that approach. I didn’t want to write yet another vampire story. I had covered that territory with “Theater of Vampires” and felt that if I do vampires they needed to be unexpected. I am a big fan of the whole Fantasia/Wuxia movie genre out of Hong Kong, and while I was looking for a good angle on vampires, theJiang Shi – or hopping vampires – came to my mind. Clearly they were exotic enough to create a very different vampire story.

So, ultimately, it is really my desire to get away from overused stereotypes and clichés. While I love to use a gothic mood and atmosphere, and will often fall back on familiar imagery in the settings to evoke these emotions in the reader, when it comes to the bad guys and the stories themselves, I try to stay away from the off-the-shelf recipes.

Speaking as someone who gets easily tired by the “off-the-shelf recipes,” I appreciate your approach. Do you plan on taking Jason Dark and Siu Lin to other locations?

I have thought about making them travel and having an adventure play on an island with Voodoo and all that. I have also thought of sending them to Hong Kong so that Siu Lin could go back to her home country for a visit. The problem for me is that traveling these distances during the Victorian time period took ages. It wasn’t a matter of sitting in an airplane and getting off a few hours later on the other side of the world. Traveling to China took months in those days. The problem that I encounter as a storyteller is that I have to accommodate for these long time lapses on the one hand while also explaining why my characters would even go through the painful tribulations of such a travel and how they could even afford to do these trips. How can they just up and leave for six months?

Still, the idea is very intriguing, of course, and I have no doubt it will be a plot device I will use in the future. For the time being I limit myself to the British Isles.

I definitely understand the time constraints required by traveling in historical fiction. I’m a comic book reader among other things and found myself wondering if D.C.’s character of Jason Blood had anything to do with the creation of Jason Dark. (Just curious, but would love to know the story if there is a connection.)

No, it had no impact at all. As a matter of fact, I am not at all familiar with Jason Blood. I am not a comic book reader – with the exception of Asterix, Lucky Luke and TinTin books. So, no, that character was no influence.

What was an influence was the German dime novel character “John Sinclair,” however. It is a series that I grew up with and devoured as a child, and it sort of spawned the idea of me creating my own dime novel horror series. As an homage to that series I named my character Jason Dark in reference to the pen name of the author who has been writing the John Sinclair series for the past thirty-some years.

I had not heard of this series, so I guess both of us have new reading material to find now. LOL I know you’re a video game designer and I assume there’s some cross-pollination that goes on between your books and your games. How do you see the two working together, either now or in
the future?

I think there’s always cross pollination when someone works in a variety of creative areas. I am also a musician and it all washes together in one way or another. I always have had ideas for stories while developing games and vice versa. While I am writing I often think, “Hey, this would make a good game.” I make mental notes of it, naturally, but most of the time it is more something in the back of my head that unconsciously affects what I’m doing.

In the end it always comes down to the same thing. One day I will have an idea and it will set my mind aflame. When that happens I usually can’t let go of it. It will follow me for days and it simply will not go away. That is the moment I realize that this is the project I will have to do next because I won’t be able to get excited about anything else. It truly comes out of a passion.

Yes, it’s practically impossible to keep your attention narrowed for the necessary length of time without passion to help you focus. How do you divide your time between these two task masters?

I usually don’t. I practically stopped making games the day I started writing “Demon’s Night,” the first of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. I was a little bored with doing games and wanted to try something new. I loved the experience and ever since, my books have been my main focus that I have devoted all my efforts to.

Every time I think about games these days, it is more in terms of something I could use to further the reach of the Jason Dark books. Like some kind of a promotional tool, almost. But to be honest, I can’t get excited about games all that much these days. The games industry has changed so much over the years, and not for the better, so that I have very little inclination to become active in it at this point.

I can’t even get excited about the major games that are being released these days. To me they are virtually all repetitive dribble, the same old unimaginative, testosterone-fueled, sophomoric stuff we did 25 years ago. The difference is that I’ve gotten a lot older and I really do not care all that much for the themes or the visual presentations of today’s games. Most of the time I just shake my head and wonder what they’ve been thinking when they made the game. There are only so many first-person shooters one can play… or at least that’s how I feel, especially when they all look, sound and feel the exact same for the past ten years.

I can certainly understand burnout. I think most of us can. So far, I see you’ve had Jason face off against vampires, mummies, ghosts, demonic forces, and a wide variety of undead. I loved the hopping vampires from China in The Curse of Kali. What other unusual, non-European supernatural enemies might we find Jason fighting?

I wish I could tell you. Really, but I don’t even know. The Jason Dark mysteries are not planned ahead, really, as a series. I finish one story, set it aside and then ask myself, What am I going to write about next?

At that stage I will dig through ideas – I keep a Writer’s Journal and constantly jot down ideas and tidbits – and see what stands out. Sometimes one of those ideas will get me excited, but more often, in fact, something completely different will pop into my head and I will start fleshing it out.

It is highly unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll hear a line of lyrics from a song and it will spawn an image in my head, and I instantly have a key scene for a story in my mind. Sometimes it is something someone says. You know, just a few words, that lead me to a different association and leads me down a line of thoughts that ends up with some exciting idea. Occasionally, it is a book or a movie.

The other day I was in Vegas and one of the slot machine themes triggered a story idea. Sadly it is a vampire story and I don’t want to do another vampire book just yet, but nonetheless, it was a really exciting story with an interesting angle, I think. So it shows you how just about anything can serve as an inspiration for me.

I have just finished “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” recently and right now I am in the process of trying to find another story idea that really gets me going. I haven’t really found one yet, but I know, it could happen anytime. Who knows, maybe tonight, while I lie awake, trying to go to sleep, something may spark my imagination. If that idea should happen to revolve around some obscure Peruvian myth, all the better. If it revolves around hopping vampires, cool. I am really game for anything, as long as I find a way to rationally explain how these events could take place in Jason Dark’s universe.

The wonderful thing about London is the British Museum – they have so many artifacts from all over the word, any one of which might suddenly come to life…. Hee hee. When I read “Curse of Kali” I noticed that the hopping vampires served more as bookends to the story than actual parts of the story. Can you tell me more about that?

I knew that I wanted to bring Fu Man Chu back in some fashion. He appeared in “From a Watery Grave” already and I had set it up in such a way that it was clear he would want revenge eventually. In “Curse of Kali” I am finally setting those wheels into motion. However, I did not want to jump right into it and thought it would be nice to foreshadow his reappearance, build some anticipation before delivering a story that focuses completely on the conflict between the ghost hunters and Fu Man Chu. So I wrote the hopping vampire scenes in “Curse of Kali.”
As I mentioned earlier, however, I do not plan the series ahead a whole lot, and one of the interesting side effects of that was that I had absolutely no idea what to do in terms of a story for Fu Man Chu’s revenge. All I knew was that I wanted to call the book “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” because I felt it was an exceedingly cool title.

So after finishing “Curse of Kali” I was completely clueless how to go about writing “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” and for months I just could not make heads or tails of it. I had painted myself in a corner. Finally, around Halloween, I had this idea how to make it all work, and the pieces fell into place. It set my imagination ablaze. I sat down and wrote the story, and interestingly enough, it was the fastest I had ever written a Jason Dark story, and to top it off, it also turned out to be the longest one to date.

(Clapping my hands in anticipation.) Is it available yet?

“Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” is currently undergoing the final edits and it should become available by the end of January.

Thanks again, Mr. Henkel. “Kali” was a great fun read and I look forward to reading your other books. You can find more about the Jason Dark series at either the website: www.jasondarkseries.com, or the blog: www.guidohenkel.com.

A somewhat belated Happy New Years to everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

An Interview with Scott Oden: Author of Lion of Cairo

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Photo Credit: (c) Marcia DeFiore

Many thanks to Scott Oden for speaking with me today. If you read my review on Monday, you know Scott Oden is the author of “The Lion of Cairo.” He’s also written “Men of Bronze” and “Memnon,” both of which are historical. “Lion of Cairo” is an historical fantasy.
1.       Your opening scene in “Lion of Cairo” is the fight where Assad wins a special weapon. I can’t talk much about Assad without discussing this knife, so I hope you forgive the spoiler to the readers. Where did you get the idea of a djinn-possessed knife? (If that is, in fact, what’s within the blade.)
Assad’s knife — and ‘knife’ is something of a misnomer: the salawar, or Khyber knife, is roughly the same length as the Roman gladius — was inspired by Michal Moorcock’s devilish sword, Stormbringer, and the One Ring from Tolkien.  It’s not a djinn in the blade, precisely, but something a bit more sinister.  I hope to delve deeper into the blade’s history in the sequel to The Lion of Cairo, called The Damascene Blade.
Woo hoo!
2.       This is the first novel of yours I’ve read, but on your blog you cross back and forth between Orc-strewn fantasy and history. Is this your first foray into historical fantasy? Will there be other stories in this or other settings?
This is my first journey into fantasy, historical or otherwise.  My first two books, Men of Bronze (2005) and Memnon (2006) were straight-up historical fiction, but I’ve always had a desire to write sword-and-sorcery in the vein of Robert E. Howard.  That’s how Lion was brought into being: to answer the question of “how can I make Assassins cool?”  The setting of The Lion of Cairo is only quasi-historical.  It draws on three distinct time periods: Egypt of the Pharaohs, the early Fatimid Caliphate, and the Mameluke period.  There are a handful of historical figures (Shirkuh, his nephew Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and King Amalric of Jerusalem), though I’ve distorted them somewhat by depicting them as seen through the lens of the 1930s pulps.  Everything else is pure fantasy.
The Lion of Cairo is the first in a trilogy that will chronicle the fight between the indomitable Emir of the Knife, Assad, and his nemesis, the necromancer Ibn Sharr.  And there’s going to be a novel about Orcs in the near future!

 
3.       Assuming there will be other stories, will the reader ever see other fantasy elements creep in?
The sequels to The Lion of Cairo will have a great many fantasy elements: dark gods, ancient Egyptian magic, Medieval sorcery, djinn . . . everything you’d expect from a sword-and-sorcery tale infused with an Arabian Nights aesthetic.  The Orc novel, which I’m plotting as we speak, is going to take a mythological look at everyone’s favorite foot soldiers of evil. 

4.       I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes and you mention RPGs (Role Playing Games to the uninitiated reader) on your blog. Do you use RPG modules to help you in world-creation?  If so, how does it help you, or do you do it for fun?
I rarely use RPG sessions for anything but a fun way to interact with friends and participate in a shared fantasy experience.  I’m no great shakes as a world-builder, which is why I tend to pillage history for my plots, settings, etc.  I discovered early on that a place-name like “Thebes” or “Alexandria” comes with a pre-existing sense of weight, of gravitas that’s hard to manufacture.  Tolkien was able to perform the same feat with his secondary world creation through his implementation of exhaustive histories; REH did it by plundering historical sources. 
One thing I’d love to do inside the framework of a RPG is to create a rigorously historical ancient Greek simulation — characters would portray Athenian citizens during that city’s Golden Age, navigate the morass of politics, back-stabbing, and double-crossing to make a name for themselves.  I’m reticent to undertake the project, however, because it has such a narrow focus and no fantastical elements.
5.       What sparks your creativity and keeps you going? 
I find endless inspiration in the overlooked corners of history. I believe as Robert E. Howard believed: there’s enough blood and thunder on every page of history to fill a lifetime’s worth of novels.  There is nothing quite so fulfilling to me as pouring over the works of ancient authors like Herodotus or Plutarch and finding a phrase or situation that piques my interest – that gets the creative juices flowing.  Even my fantasy has its genesis in the pages of history.

As to what keeps me going . . . it is the sometimes Quixotic desire to see what’s around the next bend, over the next hill, or on the next page.  I can’t imagine NOT writing . . .

Thanks so much to Mr. Oden for this look inside his head and the creation of “Lion of Cairo.” If you’re interested in a free copy of “Lion of Cairo,” please leave a comment here. I will have a drawing on Sunday evening and it will be open world-wide.

An Interview with Bo Caldwell, author of City of Tranquil Light

I’m delighted to say I was allowed to interview Bo Caldwell, author of “City of Tranquil Light.”
1. I know you based the novel on the experiences of your relatives, but I noticed you also referred to other missional memoirs like “The Small Woman,” so I wondered throughout the novel if you used true events that were related to you. If so, what events were real? 
It’s very hard to go back and recall exactly what was fictional and what was true.  That said, even when I made up characters and events, I worked at keeping them true in spirit to what happened to the missionaries I read about.  For example, the threat of bandits was very  real, and although I made up “my” bandit, he was based on individuals I read about.
2.  What suggestions would you give to those interested in entering the missions field?
I really don’t feel that I’m an expert on missionaries or the mission field — I would only say what I would say to anyone about pursuing such a demanding commitment:  to do all they can to be sure that God is calling them to the work, and  not their egos or pride.
3. Have you done any other books on this topic or in this setting?
My first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was based on the life of an uncle of mine, who lived much of his life in Shanghai.  The novel takes place in Shanghai and Los Angeles from 1937 to 1961, and in that respect, it’s a prequel to City of Tranquil Light, though it’s not based on the same characters.
4. If you had one hope to express for this book, what might it be? 
If you mean one hope about what comes from the book, I would say that it would mean a great deal to me if the book gave people hope — hope that joy is always possible, even after great loss, and even late in life.  I believe that it’s always possible that the best is yet to come.
Thanks so much for the inspiration and joy I received from your book, Ms. Caldwell and for the opportunity to chat.

Interview with Jeannie Lin

Today, we’re talking with Jeannie Lin, author of “Butterfly Swords.” Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my ten thousand question interview! (For the REST of this interview, go to the Historical Novel Review site!)


I’ve read in a recent interview (http://sosaloha.blogspot.com/2010/10/super-tuesday-ocotber-5-celebrates.html) that you became a teacher and a writer because of your mom’s influence.  I’m assuming she also influenced your interest in Asian settings, but why the Tang Dynasty?

J.L:The very first exposure I got to the Tang Dynasty was through a Hong Kong series about Wu Zetian (Empress Wu) and then a sequel about her daughter, Princess Tai Ping. The series portrayed these women both as human and legend. I became fascinated with what it would take to be a woman of power in these times. The more I studied about the period, the more fascinated I became with the art, accomplishments, and social nuances of the time.

What research resources did you find most helpful? Library, Internet, travel, personal contacts?

J.L:All of the above. Though I’ve only traveled to China once and it was long before I realized I’d be writing a book. My dream is to go and take a Silk Road tour some day. I have books and books and books. (see picture) The internet, of course, has been fabulous. In recent years, more has been published about the Tang Dynasty. I’ve also made numerous connections with sword practitioners, travel writers, and other China history enthusiasts like yourself.

About how long did it take to write “Butterfly Swords” from your initial idea through research, writing, polishing, etc?    (And for additional points to help those of us still dreaming, how much time passed between your agent’s representation offer and publication?)
J.L: Butterfly Swords took I’d say about a year to write, including all the polishing and such. It was a finished manuscript after three months, but there were many rounds of revisions after that. Once my agent offered, it was sort of in end game. I had the Golden Heart nomination and editors were reading. My agent offered in April of 2009 and I sold July 2009. 

This is something I like to ask just about every writer I talk to because I find the varied responses fascinating: Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.           
             J.L: I start out by plot-dreaming. (Hey, that’s the first time I’ve used that word.) Like right now, I’m    
            spinning ideas about two characters in my head. It’s a Romeo and Juliet type story where they  
            actually had to get married.  But their families are still at war with each other. So since they do start
            the care 
for each other, it actually keeps them apart because they know their respective families will
            try to exploit that. So I’m stirring ideas around. I see how they meet, I see some conflicted moments
            they have. I see vague shadows of the other characters.
There’s no plot there yet, but eventually I’ll sit down and do a general outline. Twenty-four chapters, three scenes each. Ha! Writers never say anything that concrete, do they? I’ll write the first three to five chapters without pressure. Then I’ll set aside two weeks and Fast Draft through most of the rest of the book. Then I slow down a bit at the end again. With this process, it takes me about two to three months to complete a manuscript. But then I revise like crazy. Writing is revising for me.   
Obviously you have “Butterfly Swords,” and “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I read in one of your other interviews that you do have other stories in this mileu. Are you working on them now? (Pleasepleaseplease.)
            J.L: The two other manuscripts are actually contracted and finished, except for editorial revisions.              
            There are also two more short stories coming. One is complete and one is in progress. 
If not, what are you planning for your next book?
J.L: Well, there’s that Romeo and Juliet story. There’s also a paranormal series in the works. Fingers crossed.

In addition to your writing, you are an author of several blogs and participate in several writing groups. How do you balance your writing with other pursuits?
             J.L:From my teaching and professional experience, I’ve learned how to schedule things in. I also type
             REALLY fast. After all that, I ask myself, “How much do you want this?”
J

You’ve been all over the place marketing Butterfly Swords , do you have any fun marketing suggestions that have worked well?
J.L: Fun suggestion…keep it fun for you! Remember that you are writing a book that most likely people similar to you will want to read. So I just dug inside myself – if I was my own super fan, what sort of things would make me excited about this book? For me it was the nostalgia of wuxia, the promise of romance and adventure. And the swords. If you see the launch celebration prizes, they’re all based on the ultimate geekery that went into Butterfly Swords.  
You mentioned in other reviews and a recent newsletter that Butterfly Swords will only be available in stores through the end of this month. After that, we’ll be ordering copies through Amazon. Why is that?
J.L: The reason the book only has one month in bookstores is that it’s part of a category line: Harlequin Historical. These books have multiple releases a month and are only in the bookstores for one month before they’re moved off to make room for the new month. 

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been pushing so hard for this month. Afterward, the book can only be ordered online.


So, if you want a free copy of Jeannie Lin’s book, please leave a comment either here or on the Historical Novel Review site. If you want to enter into Jeannie’s competitions, please got to her site for the launch celebration rules.


Addendum: If you haven’t read Jeannie’s prequel novelette to “Butterfly Swords,” you can buy “The Taming of Mei Lin” wherever e-books are sold: Amazon, Kobo, Harlequin. Stay tuned! The winner of our giveaway will be announced this evening.

An Interview with Guy Gavriel Kay

I conducted the following interview with Mr. Kay via email and am indebted to his generous response to my ten thousand questions! I’ve divided his answers between this blog and the Historical Novel Review site, so that both blogs provide you with a fascinating insight into this amazing author’s writing and a chance to win a free copy of “Under Heaven.”

1. This is your first foray away from Europe and a Christianity-based world and out of all of China’s massive history, you chose the Tang Dynasty during the An-Lushan rebellion (circa 763) as your focus. Why did you choose this time and place?

I truly never know what a next book will be when I finish one. I am wide open at that time. With The Sarantine Mosaic, I ended up researching that world because three reviews of Lions of Al-Rassan (the previous book) made reference to my ‘Byzantine’ characters and plotting … so I took it as a ‘sign’ to learn more about Byzantium! As I said … wide open.

With Under Heaven, I originally approached it with an idea for a ‘Silk Road book’ but gradually as I read, and corresponded with people, the Tang period began to impose itself on me – the combination of high drama, brilliant figures, flux and chaos, dazzling wealth, and themes that ‘worked’ for me made it ultimately feel like a place I’d want to spend three years. One academic I know wrote me after, ‘I always knew you would do the Tang.’ I wrote back, ‘I’m glad at least one of us did.’

2. Were there any other times in China’s history that appealed to you and do you plan on visiting them?

Absolutely: there were and are other deeply compelling periods. This is a history over two millennia with overwhelming richness for a writer. But as to visiting in the future: see previous answer. I truly never know.

3. Language barriers must have been a challenge when conducting research. What other challenges did you face writing “Under Heaven” that were unique to this book?

Interesting query. Every book has its own issues that confront me, from trying to make sure the names aren’t daunting to looking for legitimate ways to explore the role and scope of women (something I am always engaged by). Language tends not to be a serious barrier, given how much scholarship is available in English. It did enter as I tried (very hard) to come to terms with the staggering achievement that is Tang Dynasty poetry … but so many translators and scholars have felt the same fascination that I did have guides and signposts there.

4. Your characters tend to have depths of intelligence and humor hard to find in many genre novels. How do you approach character development?

It honestly isn’t a grand plan or anything like that. As I have often said, those of us working carefully tend to write the books we’d enjoy if someone else wrote them. I like reading about intelligent, witty characters, and try to invest my own with those traits – when it feels appropriate. I also have my share of flat-out chowderheads, I think. May I give you Pronobius Tilliticus from the Mosaic (Still one of my own favourite character names. I think Dickens would have approved!).

5. Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.

In general (and I stress that!) I start with period and place and theme. From these I start finding characters and at that point the nucleus of a plot usually emerges. I don’t outline, I do not tend to know my ending (except, at times, in the broadest sense). The writing is legitimately a journey of discovery for me. But this is purely offered as my way of doing things, not as a prescription for anyone else.

6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing?

The constant, chronic, inherent inability to say exactly what I want to say. To make it work perfectly. I don’t know a serious writer who doesn’t feel that, mind you.

7. Can you share any advice which may help others get past similar problems?

Ultimately, an acceptance of one’s built-in imperfection as a human being and artist. But not to allow this to become an excuse for taking the easy route through a problem in the work. We mustn’t indulge in obsessive-compulsive desire for uttermost perfection, but we need to chase it some way.

8. What sparks your creativity and keeps you working?

Right now (and probably for some years) it seems to be the journey that each book represents. I learn so much with each novel, about the past, about today, about myself. This is fiercely challenging at times, but also deeply enriching.

9. Have you ever started writing a novel you couldn’t finish?

I’m one of those who can say ‘no’ to that … but at the same time I don’t think that writers who have unfinished manuscripts in a drawer or hard drive file have ‘failed’ because of that. Those pages or pixels very often produce something important down the road, in unexpected ways.
That’s a comforting thought!

10. You’ve written eleven novels of historical fantasy (and one book of poetry) and I’m curious if you’ve ever considered a different or additional genre? For instance, an historical mystery with or without fantastical elements.

Of course I have. One considers almost everything at some point or another (often when dodging the burden of getting back to a difficult chapter!). I may yet surface with a book of seafood recipes for you. Or a baseball novel. I’d enjoy that.
Many thanks again to Mr. Kay for the generous response to my many questions!