Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The 'Pprentices, the Puppets, the Pirates and the Potboiler

Ask me what sort of books I like to read.

Go ahead, ask. I’m giving you permission. We don’t have to do some big interview thing. I know you’re curious and I want to share, so go ahead and ask.

Of course, if it's a really good book, I may not even
feel worth of holding it with my hands.
You: Hi, Brad! What sort of books do you like to read?

Me: Hi, Reader! Thanks for asking! The answer is good books. That’s what I like to read. Seriously, if a book is bad, I probably won’t enjoy it. But if it’s good? I honestly don’t care about the plot or the genre; I enjoy reading good books!

It’s possible that this is a bit on the subjective side. I don’t read all genres equally. I don’t read erotica, for instance, and I rarely read Norwegian graphic novels, what with not speaking Norwegian and all. I usually don’t tend toward full-blown romances, although I enjoy romance in books if it’s well done. I would even argue that Nick Hornby, one of my all-time favorite authors, tends to write romance for guys. At least, his books often have a lot of romance in them, but all from a male perspective—and not those lumberjack type that women go for either, but real guys like me. Oh, and I would probably classify Frank Peretti’s most recent novel, Illusion, a romance as much as it is anything else, and I greatly enjoyed that book (as I tend to do with Peretti).

My point is that I honestly can’t tell if I’m going to like a book simply based on the genre. I like to branch out and, as a writer, I think that it’s beneficial for me to read a wide range of authors and genres. I think it’s beneficial for all of us to branch out at least a bit, I think. It makes us more well-rounded and maybe even  a bit better to deal with the myriad of different types of people we encounter in life.

Still, if you were to corner me at a Schlotzsky’s and demand to know whether I enjoyed reading steampunk literary tribute novels, I probably wouldn’t start jumping on a coach and start yelling about my love for the
This should clear up any confusion.
books to Oprah.

But I need to be true to my philosophy, you recall, and I just literally said two paragraphs ago that I can’t tell if I’m going to like a book based on the genre. Based on the cover? Absolutely. But not the genre.

And, honestly, steampunk literary tribute novel is a pretty weird niche little genre, isn’t it? I don’t even think it gets its own bookcase at Barnes and Noble. If I asked you whether you read steampunk literary tribute novels, you’d probably say no, adding perhaps that you haven’t even heard of steampunk literary tribute novels and possibly looking about for a police officer in case the strange bearded author started to get violent.

But here’s the thing: I only get violent with authors I interview. And, even then, it’s only the threat of violence.

Oh, and here’s the other thing: I understand if you’ve never heard of a steampunk literary tribute novel before. But if you let that little fact stop you from reading the book I just finished, your world will be a little less rich than it could have been.

Longtime visitors to this blog have heard of this obscure little book category before, as one of my favorite interviews ever featured the author of such a story, Sophronia Belle Lyon. We spoke at that time about the first steampunk literary tribute novel I had ever heard of, much less read. It was called A Dodge, a Twist and a Tobacconist and I genuinely enjoyed it. The story brought together a slew of characters from authors as varied as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and others to fight crime and shut down a human trafficking ring run by a mysterious figure somewhere in the shadows. Even though I’ll sheepishly admit that I hadn’t read all the classic novels that inspired the book, the great writing, exciting plot and well-developed characters drew me in and kept me hooked. I had a few minor quibbles that tempered my enjoyment of the book a bit, but I was eagerly awaiting the sequel, and Ms. Lyon knew it.

This is...not the cover to The 'Pprentices,
the Puppets and the Pirate.
This is
just an original working title that
the author was once considering and
I really loved it and this is my
blog so it's here again!
Well, the sequel is here. It’s called The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirates and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sophronia Belle Lyon is a master storyteller who excels at her craft. I don’t care whether you think a steampunk literary tribute novel would be your cup of tea or not; you should read this book because it is a great story, well told and full of adventure, romance and intrigue.

I read a lot. I read a lot because I love reading, but also because I’m a writer and it’s very important for writers to read and because I’m a blogger who likes to interview authors and talk about books here. I have never, in my professional career, officially endorsed another book before. I’m endorsing this one. Let’s throw the Christ, Fiction and Video Games Book Club stamp on this baby and throw it back into the pond and see how quickly it tops the New York Times bestseller list. This is one of those times in my life where it would be convenient to be Oprah.

My favorite character from the first book in the series, Oliver Twist, is front and center for this one (I might also point out that I really love Dickens and so I felt a certain affinity toward Twist from his original story as well). Everybody’s favorite orphan (with all apologies to Annie) has grown to be a master inventor, and there are indications that his old mentor may be involved in the trafficking from the first book—and worse. This is a story about rebirth, redemption and the fact that no one is beyond the love of God.

For me, reading The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirates was a bit like taking a creative writing course. It was a delight to see how all the different pieces of the story fit together, and I took great joy in joining Twist and his teammates through their well-crafted story in the same way you might love listening to an album where the songs build on and enhance each other or seeing how a masterful television show tells its story on many different levels throughout the seasons.
Of course, it goes without saying that
Oprah endorses all of my books AND
Sophronia's books. It goes without saying
because it's not true...but that's just a detail.

Another of my favorite authors is JK Rowling, in part because I love how many different story elements she brought full-circle throughout the series, how a minor detail in the first Harry Potter book could recur in a brilliant, unexpected way in the sixth or seventh. Sorry if I’ve lost some of you. There was so much of this going on in the Harry Potter books that it didn’t all work, but when it did? I love that stuff, and it’s why Jo Rowling is one of my all-time favorite storytellers. Plotwise, Sophronia Belle Lyon’s Alexander Legacy series has absolutely nothing to do with Rowling’s fantasy novels. But you strip away all the detail, all the twists and risks and successes, and what you have in both cases are natural born storytellers, weaving tales full of memorable characters. Lyon could release a novella about Oliver Twist and Phoebe Moore-Campbell making a BLT sandwich and I’d write it because I know it would be a fine example of storycraft, just as millions would rush out and buy Harry Potter and the Trip to Costco were it to be released.

You can buy Death Eaters in bulk here!
Like I said, I love great stories. In The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirates, Sophronia Belle Lyon gives us a great story. I heartily recommend it. I realize I may be setting the bar of expectations unreasonably high, and that’s not my intention, but if you sit down with this book, sit back and let it entertain and tell its tale, I can’t imagine you being disappointed.

I don’t care if you join the legions of steampunk literary tribute novel fans or not. But I do think you should become a fan of Ms. Lyon. I don’t think she’ll let you down.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Slayer, the Sphinx and the Adam Bolander Interview

The Slayer is on the left and the sphinx is
on the right. In case you wondered.

I keep asking myself why I was surprised that I enjoyed The Slayer and the Sphinx as much as I did. Were my expectations low? I had no reason for them to be. In any case, I really enjoyed the book. Author Adam Bolander, whom I had the privilege of sitting down with for a chat recently, did a nice job. The book was exciting, I liked the characters instantly and got sucked into the fictional world that the author created.

The story begins with one of the most promising young Slayers, Porter, doing what he does best: killing a legendary creature called a Mythic. The Slayers are horrible racists, out to purge all nonhumans from the world. Porter is soon sent to slaughter a family of sphinxes, including young Sarah, but something goes wrong. Sarah transports herself away from the danger but accidentally takes Porter, who now has amnesia, with her. All of a sudden, these two mortal enemies (even if Porter doesn’t know it), find themselves teamed up to survive. This story is their journey.

Like I said, I genuinely enjoyed it. It was a quick, easy read and lots of fun. I think that, in particular, fans of the Percy Jackson series would really have a blast. Teens and adults who like a lot of action and adventure could do a lot worse, that’s for sure.

Now, the version of The Slayer and the Sphinx that is currently available is actually an updated edition. The first printing was about half the length, but now this book is split into two consecutive parts, Book One: Destinies Collide and Book Two: The Historian’s Tower. I am very glad that I got my hands on the book after the addition because it would have really annoyed me to have a copy that only contained the first half. Not only would that be a very short novel, but it didn’t have any sort of an ending. It simply stopped in the middle of the story. Things are a bit better with The Historian’s Tower included, since that part centers around the tower itself as a major set piece and the adventurers leave it behind at the end, but the author still doesn’t seem to have much interest in closing this section of the journey in any real way. I understand that this is the first book in a planned trilogy, but I’m of the opinion that, when you release a book to the public, it should have a clear beginning, middle and end even if it’s part of a series that has its own story beats. This book doesn’t do a great job providing a clear ending for this part of the story, so it seems kind of arbitrary when the book just ends in the middle.
Speaking of things that have no
discernible purpose...

My other quibble with the book (have you ever noticed that flaws of books you enjoy seem  more pronounced that those of books you’re indifferent toward—or is that just me?) really didn’t bother me much while reading it, but has pestered me as I’ve thought about the book since. You’ll see some of this in our interview but I felt like thinking too much about certain aspects of this world sort of fall apart if you poke them at all. The Historian’s Tower itself is one such example. It’s a secret tower in the middle of nowhere that  most people don’t believe exists. It’s full of historians who are willing to give their life to protect the histories they spend all of their time chronicling, but it’s difficult to see why. I got to ask the author about it, and you can read our exchange below, but I honestly didn’t buy his explanation. If that sort of thing bothers you, you might want to steer clear; however, if you’d like a fun, action-packed read that you don’t need to think about too much, this is a great choice. I certainly intend to read the sequels!

And I’m glad Adam joined me today to be poked and prodded a bit. You can find more about him at his author page.

Brad: Thanks for hanging out today, Adam. I enjoyed reading your book and I’m glad we’ve got the chance to talk about it now. Let’s begin by you telling us a bit about yourself. How long have you been writing? Why did you become an author?

Adam: Hey, Brad!  Thanks for having me here.  That’s a bit of a two sided question.  Technically, I could say that I started writing when I was about seven or eight.  I saw the commercials for the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie on TV and desperately wanted to go see it.  Living in a very Christian
Then there was the scene where Terry Traxter's
ginger and ghost shared that tender smooch.
household, though, my parents had strictly forbidden any and all contact with Harry Potter (which is ironic, because now it is my mother’s favorite story of all time!).  So, what was I to do?  I began writing my own blatant ripoff called “Terry Traxter and the secret of the Dragon’s Nose.”  All I had to work with was what I could see on the commercials, though, so my story tended to go something like, “Terry took two steps and fought a giant.  He took another step and fought a knight.  Then he turned around and fought a giant snake.”  Yes, may that wad of filth fester for all eternity in whatever godforsaken landfill that old computer ended up in.

"The Winter King had better ho-ho-hide!"
Though there were several other attempts to write stories after that, I never really started taking the whole thing seriously until my junior year of high school, when I made a spur of the moment decision to write a story instead of paying attention in agriculture class.  It was a story about an orphan boy who was taken by Santa Claus to the North Pole to help him fight a war against the Winter King.  I can’t exactly say what it was that was different that time, but I became hooked and I’ve been writing stories ever since.  While it wasn’t very good, as most writers’ first attempts are, that story still holds a special place in my heart, and I’d like to revisit it again sometime.

Brad: Stories that have all the depth of a movie trailer? So you evolved from Dan Brown? Nevermind. So tell us about the world where The Slayer and the Sphinx takes place.

Adam: The Slayer and the Sphinx takes place in our world.  On the surface, everything is exactly as we know it, but if you were to know what to look for, you’d begin to see signs that we are not alone.  There is another society living alongside us, made up of almost every mythical creature and fairy tale monster we’ve ever heard of.  They’ve always been there, living in secret, never revealing themselves for fear of the Slayers that hunt them down and purge the world of nonhuman blood.  It’s similar to the worlds of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.

No offense to Porter, but he is not
the most attractive Slayer out there.
Brad: I’ve started keeping an eye out and I actually found a giant sphinx! It’s in Egypt! And it’s made of stone! And it’s missing a nose! So I guess you’re right. Now, what can you tell me about Porter? Is he of any relation to Buffy, the most famous Slayer of all time?

Adam: Haha, no, no relation to Buffy.  To be honest, I’ve never seen an episode of her show.  I actually don’t think that anyone really inspired Porter.  Not directly, at least.  I pretty much made him from scratch.  He starts out as the mean, battle-hardened Slayer, but I think it’s who he becomes that’s so much more interesting.  In a time when all of our heroes seem to have to be strong lone wolves, it’s been refreshing to write one who is weak and vulnerable, genuinely needing the guidance and support of another character while still keeping the bravery and strength that defines what makes a hero.
Honestly, he's not the second most
attractive Slayer either. It's a pretty
long list.

Brad: You have the unmitigated gall to throw around the term Slayer without ever even watching Buffy?! You’d better start mitigating that gall of yours, boy! But what about Sarah? Why did you choose a sphinx? I don’t think she asks a single riddle in the book.

Adam: Well, I can honestly say that Sarah is most likely the least original part of my story.  I wanted to use a creature that was semi-human, but not in the typical way. We’ve got so many stories nowadays about werewolves, vampires, angels, and demons that I thought it would be cool to try something that didn’t naturally look human.  I was stumped for a while, but then I stumbled across an awesome webcomic called Skin Deep, drawn by the amazing Kory Bing, that had a very similar premise to my story, minus the Slayers, and it featured a sphinx as the main character.  A sphinx…well known, but not commonly used, with an interesting history and several attributes that could easily be used in a story.  Nobody will notice if I just swipe that one little idea… right?

Brad: But—what about the riddles? How can a sphinx not ask riddles!? She could be all like, “Riddle me this, Porter...!” Ah well. Missed opportunity. I know you’ve covered these, but can you identify any other influences—other books, film, TV, music, rock operas, whatever—that inspired you in the writing of The Slayer and the Sphinx?

Adam: I think the two biggest contributors to The Slayer and the Sphinx were Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.  As I’ve said before, the worlds they take place in are very similar.  Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven
The orchestra helped him orchestrate scenes!
Get it?!
series was also quite influential, giving me ideas as to how mythical creatures could exist in our present day world. And as for music, I can attribute that to Two Steps From Hell, my favorite orchestra!  Their songs have helped me orchestrate so many scenes that I almost feel I should pay them royalties…Yeah, I’ll expect the bills morning, okay?

Brad: I mentioned earlier how I thought fans of young Perseus Jackson would enjoy this book, so that  makes sense, although I don’t feel like it’s derivative at all. When I first saw the original book cover, with art by Kory Bing, the webcomic artist you mentioned earlier, I thought the book was likely aimed toward middle schoolers or tweens. However, some might argue that, with decapitations and stuff, the book may be too violent for them. Who do you consider to be your ideal reader?

The new cover design is much grittier.
Adam: When I first started The Slayer and the Sphinx, I believed it would be appropriate for all ages, similar to (again) Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  I thought it was serious enough to warrant older readers, but tame enough to be okay for younger ones as well.  I began to change my mind when I started getting reviews stating that people thought the story was too violent and dark for their children.  Besides that, I’ve been noticing that the farther I get in the story, the more explicitly violent it becomes.  At the point I’m on right now in the sequel, I can’t help but agree that the story is no longer appropriate for young readers.  Now I would place it firmly in the YA category, appropriate for 14 years or older.  While never gory, it does have its fair share of decapitations and other means of violent death.  And to reflect this, I am currently
having an artist draw me a new cover for it, one that looks less childish and more mature.

Brad: I’ve always said that there aren’t enough decapitations in children’s literature. It rarely happens in Winnie the Pooh, even when Owl totally deserves it. As Sarah and Porter get thrown together, they begin making their way toward a sanctuary for Mythics where they will be safe. If there are areas of safety like this, why do Mythics live anywhere else?

Adam: Because the Sanctuaries are a double edged sword.  They provide safety from the Slayers and the privacy needed to be themselves, but they also cut the Mythics off from the real world.  If one lives in a Sanctuary, there is little to no opportunity to leave.  That’s why some Mythics have deemed it worthwhile to live their lives in the human world, despite the risks.  Just because a prison protects you from outside threats
It's just like Disney World!
doesn’t mean that it’s not still a prison.

Brad: So why not make the sanctuaries nicer? Do they get all that much out of being in the real world? It doesn’t seem like Sarah, for instance, has a lot of interaction with humans as it is.

Adam: The sanctuaries are rather nice. As you'll find out in the second book, they're basically like human towns, except they're full of Mythics. The thing that makes them prisons isn't the fact that they're rotten places (because they're not), it's the fact that they can't leave.  Not because they're not allowed to, but because the fear the Slayers have over them is so overpowering.  After all, all they need to do is force one captured Mythic to talk and the entire Sanctuary would be doomed.

Brad: Now let me point out that, at the beginning of this book, Sarah is on her own because her parents go off to a Sanctuary to do business, and of course they intend to leave when they are done. The second half of the book centers around the Historian’s Tower, which most of the world considers to be mythical and which very few have access to. The historians believe it’s important to remember the past—every single detail of every moment!—to learn from it and not to repeat its mistakes. However, the historians are far too busy chronicling the present and recent past to study the past and very few people know about the tower so...who does this benefit exactly? What’s the point?

Adam: As Father Lucius said, they don’t discourage visitors, but they don’t encourage them either.  The last thing they want is for the tower to become a tourist hotspot.  If a traveler is crafty enough to discover the tower on their own, they are welcome and all the information inside is theirs to discover.

"So you want me to give you detailed instructions
so you can do precisely what I told you not
to do? Okay! Sounds fun!"
Brad: Hmmmm. Honestly, it all seems weak to me, especially when someone mentions that the historians are willing to give their lives for their closely-guarded research! But I do have one more question about the Historian’s Tower. The lead historian, Father Lucius, happily gives Sarah all the information she needs to illicitly gain access to the Keeper’s Fire without his permission. Did you intentionally set out to write the biggest idiot in the world—maybe drawing an ironic comparison between book knowledge and genuine
intelligence—or did he just turn out that way?

Adam: I don’t think he’s an idiot at all.  He gave her the password, that’s true, but in the end, would she have ever discovered the secret if not for Albie Koob?  Lucius’ scheme was to put the truth right in front of people, because that’s the last place they’ll think to look for it.  If you’re searching for the series of words that will open the door to almost infinite knowledge, how many people will think to say, “A turkey pickled in olive juice, a flying cucumber plant, and a quarter the size of Kentucky?”

Brad: No, she wouldn’t have learned anything without the help of Albie Koob—but Lucius pointed her in his direction! If he honestly did not intend for her to access the forbidden information on her own, then I still must contend he’s a bit of an idiot...and, given that she does indeed access that info in the book, the evidence is on my side! But let’s move away from the book and take a look at you, Sir. What do you perceive to be your greatest strength as an author? Your greatest weakness?

Adam: My greatest strength?  Everything!  Just kidding.  Honestly, I think it’s the way I put detail into my stories.  I don’t do a huge amount of world building before beginning the story (I prefer to do it as I go) because my focus is on the characters.  What’s going on in their heads?  Their hearts?  What do they think of the other characters?  How do they feel?  My goal is to make you feel a connection with the characters.  The world they’re in comes second.  The detail is also apparent in my fight scenes.  While lots of authors will gloss over parts of the battle to make it seem longer, my fights tend to be short simply because I provide a moment by moment description of what’s going on.  I don’t want the reader to just know they’re fighting, I want them to see the fight!  My main way of doing this is to ask myself, “How would I describe a fight scene in The Matrix?”  That’s the kind of detail I want in my fights.  Because of this, people have often told me that my fight scenes are like reading a comic book.

Every time a chipmunk ran by outside while
we were talking, Adam stopped to bark at it
for six or seven minutes.
As for my greatest weakness, it's definitely how easily distracted I am.  A lot of my writer friends complain about how hard it is for them to come up with new ideas to write, but I'm the exact opposite.  I can pluck awesome story ideas from thin air at almost any time.  The problem with this, though, is that it makes it very hard for me to focus on any one story.  I'll start one, get a few chapters in, and then suddenly have an even BETTER idea!  I'll abandon the first idea in favor of the second one, and then the process just repeats itself.  I'll tell people about my ideas all the time, but I always make sure they understand that the only time, and I do mean the ONLY time, you can be sure that I'll finish a story is if it's the sequel to a story I already have out.

Brad: You know writers who have a difficult time coming up with ideas? Wow. Are you sure you don’t mean clowns or veterinarians or something? Most of the writers I know have too many ideas like you! Now permit me to take a moment to address my beloved readers. Readers, I first became aware of Adam’s existence through a Facebook community of independent Christian authors. So I’m outing him here as a follower of Jesus Christ, even though The Slayer and the Sphinx is not a Christian book (although there isn’t any profanity or Slayer/Sphinx sex). Adam, do you feel any responsibility as a believer to explore spiritual themes in your work at all? Are there themes in this book that subtly point to God? Talk to us about what connection your faith has to your writing, if any.

Adam: I’m not a big fan of putting an obvious Christian message in my stories.  I did that in my previous story, Legends of the Saloli, and ended up beating the reader over the head with it.  I’m a firm believer that every story has a message, and that your beliefs and ideals will make themselves known throughout it.  There’s no need to meditate beforehand on how you’re going to incorporate [Christian message 1] and [Bible message 2] into your story, just let the story tell itself.

Brad: Yikes! Well, don’t read any of my books. You won’t like them! What are you working on right now? Give us details! Hold on, actually. If I know Adam, there will be about five thousand answers here. What about if you tell us what you’re working for that you intend to publish, and maybe also throw in your favorite
These are Adam's works-in-progress.
extra project and how your readers can experience it?

Adam: Haha, you’re right!  I’ve got so many ideas that I am working on/want to work on that we’d be here until the Second Coming if you had me explain them all.  Well, first and foremost I am working on The Convict and the Captive, the second book in the Slayer/Sphinx Trilogy.  I’m not entirely sure where I’ll go after that story is complete, but for now I am also working on a new venture with my new website, The Happy Hat Dump, where I plan on uploading novellas and short stories that people can read and enjoy for free. 

Brad: Ah yes, The Happy Hat Dump. For all your jovial headgear needs. Adam, I’m sure you recognize these individuals on either side of me. This is Shadow on my left and Drake Mortoph on my right. Both, as you know, are master assassins, two of the most powerful Slayers to ever walk the earth. The reason they’re here, of course, is that I have convinced them that you are a Mythic, and have shown them your writings of their own lives as proof. But they will not attack unless I give the order, and I will not give the order unless you refuse to name for me your favorite book as a reader. Of course, you’ll also have to tell  me why.

Picture: Not a Redwall clone.
Adam: Well, permit me a few moments to think about this question.  Hmm...I’d have to say M.I. McAllister’s series, The Mistmantle Chronicles.  Not too many people have heard about them, and half of those that have heard of them write them off as nothing more than a Redwall clone—which is a crying shame, because I think McAllister did a much better job than Brian Jacques did.

Brad: Hence the stories about squirrels, huh? Oh crap! Where did Shadow go? He likes to disappear. Better tell me your favorite author really quickly before he kills you! Sorry about that!

Adam: Dang It, Brad!  I can’t trust you with anything, can I?  Okay, I’d better talk fast. My favorite author has got to be Ted Dekker.  My life has never been moved by a Christian author’s books like it has for his.  Not to mention that his stories are AWESOME.  They all tie in together the same way that all the DC or Marvel comics take place in the same universe, and that takes talent, man!  Yeah, Team Dekker forever!

Brad: You know, I’ve tried out Dekker twice, always thinking he would be my kind of author, and I’ve never been able to get into any of his stories. I don’t know why. Oh well. Glad you enjoy him! And hey. Look at that. You’re still alive (for now). Perfect time for a final question. If readers check out The Slayer and the Sphinx—which I did genuinely enjoy!—and want to support you as a self-published author, how can they best do that?

Adam: The very best thing anyone can do for me is tell people about The Slayer and the Sphinx.  Show them the book, tell them why you liked it, where they can buy it, lend them your copy, whatever it takes—just make sure EVERYONE you know who might enjoy the story hears about it!

And there you go. Me, Brad, again. Hi, guys. Interview’s over and Adam would like you to rush out and scream about his book from the rooftops.

Seriously, though, I recommend the book. It’s a little secret of mine that I sometimes schedule these interviews because I want to read the books and it’s easier to make the time for it if I’m doing it for the blog. Then it’s official writer work, I mean. So thanks for joining me on my latest journey to read something that interested me! And feel free to support Adam by picking up a copy of his book and lending it to all your friends!