Had a great time at ConCarolinas yesterday. I was especially glad to meet Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh on the Battlestar Galactica reboot). What a wonderful, generous man. He was so giving of his time to everyone. I also met some famous and semi-famous authors, and it’s always kinda weird meeting them; putting a real human being behind the books.
I’m excited to interview Jacob Cooper, author of the Amazon and Audible bestselling Circle of Reign. Jacob, welcome to the show and congratulations on your recent award. I understand Circle of Reign won Gold for Fantasy in the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY). Congratulations! And you can purchase the book here on Amazon.
Davis: Circle of Reign is your 1st published novel, but before we get to it, are there any poorly written books you have stashed away in your attic or basement? Books so awful that were someone to read them, they’d likely burn out their eyes? In other words, when did you realize you wanted to write and were you like the rest of us peons and slaved over 1,000,000 words, which you then had to promptly throw away before you figured out this thing called writing?
Jacob: Actually, I guess I might be a strange case. I didn’t grow up as this voracious reader like some in my family or my wife. I only read when school made me. As an adult, I read a lot of business books at first. Leadership, teamwork, sales, financial/economics. Eventually, my brain needed a break, so I’d read (who am I kidding, I’m an audiobook junkie…so I’d listen) to the occasional thriller. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I read my first fantasy book. That was Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Eragon followed pretty quickly and then the series that actually got me into writing, Mistborn. Within a month of finishing Mistborn (and becoming a convert to Michael Kramer’ voice) I started writing Circle of Reign. I remember being so blown away by escaping into another world…the experience was unlike any other book or series with Mistborn. I suddenly saw what other people saw when reading fantasy. That other world that you get sucked into…it was so addicting.
I’ve always wanted to emulate things that inspire me. It’s always been like with music, business, whatever. If I hear a song that really moves me, I try to compose a song in that vein. I guess it’s my way of applauding that work that has inspired me.
All that said, I didn’t get real serious about Circle of Reign until about 3 years into it. I’d just occasionally write when I had time (or insomnia). It was just kind of a creative outlet for me for a time. It’s still kind of hard for me to believe I’m an author now.
Davis: So let me get this straight. This is your first book, and you hit it out of the park. Sigh. Moving on. Circle of Reign begins with a bang, and the world of the Dying Lands is pretty inventive. In a sense, the world almost seems alive as it eases through a cycle of birth/death and presumably rebirth. This is sorta like Hinduism when it comes to the soul. So what’s the underlying story for the Dying Lands? How long has it been percolating in your noggin?
Jacob: That element of Våleira, the cycling (dying/rebirth) of lands came to me a few years into writing. When it finally hit, it was such a neat concept to me. If you imagine a world where you know that your land will someday die and force your entire nation to move on, you’ve got a pretty neat backdrop for history of the world and cultures of people. The dying of your home land might take decades, the signs manifesting slowly, or it could be very abrupt. When your lands die, you only have three choices: 1. stay and try to survive as long as you can, but you know you’ll eventually die off; 2. Explore and try to find new, fertile land that is currently uninhabited; 3. Invade. Similarly, if your lands are currently not cycling, you know without a doubt that you will face invasions. The very fabric of that world is unique. Though to the people of Våleira the cycling is just part of life, the bigger question is really, Why do the lands actually cycle? What’s behind it? And, what if the lands stopped being reborn?
Davis: I imagine we’ll get some of the answers to those questions in your next book and in some of the short stories you’ve been working on as well. At least we better. Shakes fist.
Reign and Hedron are obviously close being brother and sister, and they’ve witnessed awful tragedies. Yet, they’re relatively well-balanced and quite likeable. In fact, most every one of your characters are likeable. Given the trend in the past decade toward grimdark-and the events that occur in Circle of Reign are certainly grim and dark-what made you push toward likeable, relatable characters vs. the gray antiheroes that populate many a fat fantasy at ye’ olde Barnes and Noble?
Jacob: I guess I wanted to have characters that I liked. There are some characters that have a bit of gray to them (Hedron as far as his ambivalence to his family name; Aiden with his past; and Tyjil just might have motives he thinks to be noble), but by a large they are definitely either good or bad. But, think about it: It’s the end of the world. The conflicts of good vs. evil are culminating to what appears to be a final battle. The world itself is almost completely dead as the Lumenatis fades. Wouldn’t sides be very clear at that point? That’s what struck me as the case as the plot developed over the years.
Davis: I don’t know. I think we share the same desire for relatable, likeable characters (which is what I tend to write as well). However, I do know of stories where even with the world’s end breathing down everyone’s necks, people behave like selfish assholes. I’m looking at you BSG. I enjoy those kind of stories if they’re told well, but I don’t generally revisit them.
Jacob: Circle of Reign is dark. There’s also glimmers of bright light. Some of it is gruesome, but it’s a bit removed from your typical grim-dark fantasy on that note. Altar of Influence, the prequel the The Dying Lands Chronicle, also deals with a couple heavy themes, but I don’t feel that the books couldn’t be read by a mature teenager. I’d just say that the books are full of action and with that comes violence. But that’s also what Circle of Reign and Altar of Influence have been most praised for, the battle scenes and sequences.
Davis: I haven’t read your short stories yet, but I’ll get to the battle scenes later in the interview. But getting back to characters-and please pardon me if the answers are in the short stories-two of my favorites were Holden and Ryall? I’m expecting great things from those two young men. And is there some deeper point you’re discussing with those two? They are literally questing for hidden knowledge in dark, secret places. And we all know how that story usually ends.
Jacob: I’ll be honest, it felt like a completely new book when those two entered the scene. They added a bit of needed comic relief but also depth to the mysteries. When you have civilizations that migrate to new lands every several hundred years, history tends to get muddled and lost. And what if you’re unsuccessful in finding new land, either because you can’t find any or your invasion fails? That civilization is wiped out and lost with little to nothing being known about it. After all, it’s not like you have international trade and commerce if you’re trying to keep your location secret to avoid invasions, right? Okay, Holden and Ryall. They are not in either of the short stories (The Red Grove and the-soon-to-be-released Remnants and Shadows). However, Song of Night, book 2 in The Dying Lands Chronicle, has quite a bit of them. I think what they will discover gives a lot of exposition to the world, who the Ancients were, the Lumenatis, and, perhaps most importantly, Those Not Remembered, a race that supposedly pre-dated the Ancients and from which all the people of Våleira purportedly descend.
I have 8 siblings, so writing Holden and Ryall wasn’t tough at all. Their prank war…well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination. Those two characters are named after one of my nephews, Holden Ryall. My sister found those two names are family names by doing some genealogy.
Davis: The Borathein are your sly nod to the horselord/nomad trope. They even live on a kind of plain. Then you’ve got the Alysaar. I must know (and you better not say, ‘get used to disappointment’-gratuitous Princess Bride reference) if that’s a play on Allosaur. And the way they bond and look and fly reminded of those flying creatures in Avatar, the James Cameron movie. So first, are the Borathein, in fact, horselords and are the Alysaars flying Allosaurs?
Jacob: You might be somewhat disappointed with my answer. I don’t envision them like the flying creatures in Avatar at all, nor did I even think about the horselord/nomad tope. To me, the entire world is semi-nomadic. And the Alysaar…I tried to stay away from the dragon trope as well, but really liked the idea of a flying mount. I think the Borathein were more inspired by my affinity toward Viking history than anything. Always have been fascinated with that culture and wanted to have a nod toward that, I suppose.
Davis: Ack! No horselords?! But then how will you introduce the noble savage archetype? And how he becomes best buds with the noble Knight archetype?
Just kidding there. Just a bit of alluding to the late, great David Eddings and his use of archetypes.
Back to your book, Jacob. The ending of Circle of Reign encompassed the last 1/3 of the book and was basically non-stop action, but it had meaning. It wasn’t simply a thrill ride but was instead simply thrilling. Do you plan on keeping up that page-churning pace for book 2 or will you slow things down a bit?
Jacob: What? A 1,000 page battle? Me? [awkward silence].
Davis: Then I guess we’ll just have to accept character development in lieu of Michael Bayesque explosions. Hmm. A book where the action is a means to develop the characters? Who ever heard of such a thing!?
You have an audiobook version of Circle of Reign narrated by Michael Kramer, which is quite the coup. How did that come about?
Jacob: I looked him up on Facebook and contacted him. It was that simple. He did in a pre-read to kind of screen the book, and ended up enthusiastically agreeing after that. In fact, it was quite a confidence booster to me as a first time author to have him say that he “had to apply the Sanderson rule, which is, don’t start reading late at night because you’ll be up until 3 am.” It was really a highlight to work with him and John McElroy as the producer. He has an ability to bring stories to life that I simply love.
Davis: That’s it? That was your great secret? Again sigh.
Ok. I’ll fess up. I already knew what you’d done, and I actually tried to steal the idea. Then I ran into Michael’s agent and learned his hourly rate. Good God! It would be near 5 figgers (that’s figures for you non-southerners) for him to narrate my first book. But then again, aren’t you putting your own voice to narration now? What is it about narration that interests you?
Jacob: I’m an audiobook junkie. Did a radio show for many years and really loved it. Have some background in music production as well so I decided to try and put all that together. I have 3 projects going currently and have really enjoyed it so far.
Part of it probably also came from how I edit my stories. I narrate them all the way through several times. For some reason, speaking my stories out loud and hearing them brings new ideas and points out weaknesses to me. Maybe that’s a bit odd, but I’m an auditory learner without question. Circle of Reign is 20 hours long in audio and I narrated it all the way through 3 times as I was editing it. Helped tremendously for me. The same for Altar of Influence and I’m sure will be the same for Song of Night. Kramer will continue to do the official narration, however. Mine are just for editing purposes 🙂
Davis: You mean to say that you narrated 60 hours for Circle of Reign? Gulp. Moving on. You’re very much into the act of creating given your accomplisments as a musician. I find it interesting how often writers love music. Why do you suppose that is or at least in your case?
Jacob: Creative outlet. They are closely related, for sure. And the music I love is story driven. Progressive rock, for example. More complicated musical movements, the entire album is usually a story. In short, it’s epic. I am not surprised at all that many authors are also musicians.
Davis: Speaking of music, what do you listen to when writing? Do you have any albums available?
Jacob: I throw on the Lord of the Rings Pandora station a lot. The concept of “friction” in my books (one of the magic systems) was loosely inspired by the song “Fix me” by 10 Years. Movie soundtracks tend to do well for me in general. Film Scoring was my declared degree when I attended Berklee College of Music back in the day.
Davis: And now, a final question, and this is the hardest because it’s a test of your knowledge of biology and physics. Who would win in a battle between Superman and Batman?
Jacob: Unless Batman finds a huge quarry of kryptonite, Superman. Without a doubt.
Davis: That is correct! Well done, sir!
I’m glad to see these arrests, and hopefully, it will only be the start. I’d like to see these guilty men impoverished and imprisoned for what they have done. But it’s not because I care about the money they stole or with which they were bribed. It’s because of five thousand young men. According to the Qataris, five thousand men will have died in order to build these sports complexes and hotels. And given that this is the official number, the true number will likely be much higher.
Just think about that for a moment. Five thousand men from the very poorest countries; young and willing to work, were killed. Their deaths are considered acceptable losses. Five thousand men dead in a desert for a soccer tournament. Five thousand sacrifices so greedy, evil fuckers could make a dime.
It’s simply too awful to fathom.
What a gut kick to learn that she’s passed away. Her books were so influential in the entire fantasy landscape, and I wish more people knew about her books, especially the Paradys novels and the Tales from the Flat Earth. She could write creepy mood and evocative setting like no one else and incorporate horrific takes on modern fairy tales. I loved Heartbeast, which was about a werewolf, but it was absolutely not urban fantasy. It was Victorian horror. But then there were some fun children stories. One I especially liked was set in India. Then there was Cyrion, a heroic warrior who was unlike Conan in that he was very cerebral in how he dished out his violence. He mainly won his battles through guile. I could go on and on about her books and stories.
There are ongoing discussions on some websites about female fantasy authors that should be more widely read. There aren’t many that should be higher on the list than Tanith Lee. I hope people will go out and rediscover her works.
Rest in peace to a wonderful author and my heartfelt condolences to those she left behind.
Here’s an article about the type of writer she was.
Spoiler alert. If you haven’t read A Warrior’s Knowledge, don’t read any further. This is the first page of the prologue from Book 3, tentatively titled A Warrior’s Penance. And this is what the edit of the first draft looks like.
When I was younger there were writers who implied that they would write a book, and basically, all it would take would be some tweaking of their first draft, and BOOM! They were ready to publish. Then I’d read my work and feel completely inadequate given the crappy quality my own first drafts. Later, I discovered that those authors who claimed to only do a few revisions were likely lying. Don’t know why, but I never forgot that feeling of incompetence they managed to inspire in a younger me. So I thought I’d post something more typical of my work, and hopefully if there’s anyone out there thinking they can’t write worth a lick because their first drafts aren’t up to snuff, this will ease your mind. Notice all the red.
It’s hard work writing a book so it resembles the story in my head.
Just found out A Warrior’s Path was a finalist for the 2015 International Book Awards for Fantasy! Absolutely over-joyed! So happy.
Today marks a momentous occasion for me: I get to interview my first author. Andrew Leon Hudson was kind enough to talk to me a little about his recently released short story collection, Dark Matters: Aftermaths.
Hi Andrew. Aftermath isn’t the first short story collection you have that deals with the apocalypse. Why do you think that people have such a fascination with the ending of the world?
I think one side of it is, we have a destructive streak. Give two little kids Lego and ask them to build a tower, they’ll probably fight for the chance to be the one who smashes it when they’re done – if it doesn’t happen before they’ve finished even. But destruction is no fun if you don’t get to witness it, to look on from a safe distance and enjoy the noise, then eavesdrop on the wailing and gnashing of teeth that follows.
The other side is the appeal of a fresh start. The slate has been wiped clean, the survivors have won the chance to pick through the Lego and build something new. That sounds nice, although the urge behind it is probably not all that healthy either! The world (well, the rich world at least) has become largely safe and sanitised, so the frontier, DIY-or-die mentality has been diluted to no more than a hobby for most people. Maybe we imagine the end of the world is going to be the ultimate reality TV challenge…
Q. Care to tell us what inspired you to write these particular stories?
I’ve read post-apoc fiction off and on for years. I remember one pulpy series that I liked as an early teen – a Mad Max-style American hero fighting through the wasteland with his giant, monosyllabic side-kick – but the title and author’s name I’ve long since forgotten. There are several British authors whose post-apocalyptic novels were popular when I was growing up, like John Christopher and John Wyndham, but probably my favourite example is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. Whenever I think about it I always want to read it again. It’s not at all like my stories in Aftermaths though!
Q. Whenever I read or watch a post-apocalyptic tale, I’m always struck by the hopelessness of the situation. I often think to myself how much better it would be not to survive the apocalypse. I always wonder what’s the point of just living if there isn’t a purpose as well. So, what about Hugo in The Diminishing Returns? What impels him forward? Does him have a plan or does he simply hope to eke out another day’s existence?
To be honest, when I wrote the story I didn’t worry too much about the broader sweep of the world. There’s a lot of pre-existing context out there for a certain kind of post-apoc narrative – much like zombie apocalypses, where readers are so familiar with the basic rules that new stories are really just adding bits of new detail to an environment they already feel like they know.
However, I think that surviving after some terrible disaster will be much like surviving generally – the “little” things will be as important as the “big”. As you suggest, without something adding quality of life, quantity of it might not be much comfort. Having food and shelter and protection and the like might keep you alive, but you’ll still need a reason to go on living, like companionship for example. But companionship risks hurt, betrayal, loss… all the familiar threats and opportunities we face in the real world, just with the added possibility of cannibalism!
Q. Cannibalism is certainly brutal, and the end of The Diminishing Returns is quite brutal as well. What were you hoping to convey with such a savage finale?
The cliché would be it’s a dog-eat-dog world, but I was looking for something that felt a bit more like justice being done. Hugo makes some choices, does some things to ensure the survival of his “family” that are, perhaps, ethically questionable. The resolution is simply another turning of that same wheel.
Q. I see. The wheel turns but there are no beginnings or endings…hold on. That’s a different story. So let’s move on to the other story, The Seeding. This is an absolutely fascinating story. There are so many questions left without resolution by the end, questions I want answered. Do you plan on returning to this world and fleshing it out further?
I’m glad you enjoyed it! A continuation isn’t out of the question – I like post-apocalyptic stories, obviously, so although these two aren’t explicitly connected there’s no reason why I couldn’t connect and expand on them. I’ve not got anything specific lined up and waiting at the moment, however.
Q. The main character, Nathaniel Ruggier, is arrogant, smug, and rather foolish. So what about him? Do you think he has the fortitude to survive the catastrophe?
I’m not sure survival is on the cards – or if it is, not a very pleasant one! He’s had an easy life in a difficult world, and that tends to make a man dangerously soft… If I do write another story in this place I’ll be sure to revisit him in very different circumstances, but whether that means he’s a pile of bleached bones next to someone else’s suddenly bigger farm, who knows?
Q. Of course, with Ruggier’s attitude and wealth, it made me wonder why the other farmers waited so long to challenge him.
My thinking here was that fortune and misfortune are fickle things. Some people are just lucky, that’s why resentment can fester amongst those who aren’t – but that doesn’t always mean that the lucky individual is cheating. I got some good land, yours isn’t so fertile; weather conditions favour mine, but your farm is poorly positioned… that’s annoying but plausible, and if you’re not a vengeful soul the chances are you’ll try to make the most of your lot and leave me to mine. Plus, how can anyone control the rain? That’s just crazy talk! Get back to your crops, crazy man…
However, we know Rugier isn’t a fair player, and the fact that he needs help to game the local system leaves him vulnerable, one way or another. In this case the question is, does he give enough back that the community is better off benefiting him at his neighbours’ unwitting expense? My guess is, No, and it seems likely his neighbours would agree if they found out.
Q. In some ways, The Seeding reads like post-apocalyptic tale but in others, it reads simply like the clash of nobility. How do you see this world you created?
I’d not considered it that way, although I understand what you mean. I aimed for the kind of regressed society that often crops up in post-apocalyptic stories, and Rugier was always intended to be a wealthy landowner, so that side of things is there. Not that there seems anything very noble about the traditional nobility, of course: the indentured servant, master-serf dynamic seems little different to literal slavery from the modern point of view. The rival landowners could be lesser nobles, and I guess Argabrite is something of a settled knight, protecting their little kingdom.
Q. Now some questions about you. What is your favorite novel that few other people have read?
I don’t really know how frequently it is read, but my instant answer is “Q”, by Luther Blissett. It’s a literary thriller set in reformation Europe about a young protestant student who joins one doomed revolutionary movement after another, battling the might of the Catholic church in vain, and comes to suspect that there is also a Papal spy moving between the rebel groups, secretly working to bring them down… it’s fantastic. It’s also written by four anarchist Italians whose pseudonym is taken from an English football (okay, soccer) player from the 1980s. Nothing about all that is boring.
Q. I’ve never read “Q” or even heard of it, so I suppose there goes another onto the “To be read pile”. Sigh. When you write, do you outline the story first? Or does it simply come out as it needs to?
I flip-flop between the options. Sometimes I’ll get an idea and wing it, sometimes I’ll plan it out. But when I plan, I usually fade the detail as I get closer to the end. That way, when I start the actual writing I’ve got the foundations solidly built but I’ve also left myself room to be creative on the fly. I used to write the end of stories quite early, but I’m trying to stop that since it forces me to head towards a destination that might not fit any more by the time I return.
Q. So you kind of have the same attitude toward outlining that I do: it happens the way it happens. But in terms of characters, how do you develop them? For instance, going back to Ruggier in The Seeding, how did you come up with him?
Generally I treat creating characters the same was as I do stories, a flexible combination of winging it and planning. In this case it was pretty easy, because everything filtered down from the main concept: I needed a selfish, untrustworthy farmer-landowner, which is a nice, clear thumbnail for a short story protagonist. Picking good names is usually harder, but I like all the names in that story. I wish I could remember how I came up with them!
Q. For names, I usually choose a real name, change a few letters, and there you go! I hate those unpronounceable names with 5 syllables and …. wait. My real name is like that. Whoops! Anyway, in terms of the types of stories you like to write, you’ve got several short story collections. Is this your preferred medium or do you see yourself returning to novels? Or would you rather try your pen at poetry?
Poetry I don’t do, but I am a rhyme writer! Short stories are lots of fun, so on that side I’ve started writing shorter and shorter pieces. I learned about “Drabbles” recently – 100 word stories – and they are an interesting challenge. I’m going to try my hand at “CreepyPastas” too (call them “internet rumour horror stories”) but limiting myself to no more than 500 words apiece.
On the other hand, longer stories give you more space to do interesting things. I’ve completed one novel (briefly published, but now unavailable unfortunately) and this year I self-published my first novella, a weird western coming-of-age story called Given Names. I’ll certainly write more novels, but I’d like to do more things in the grey area between short and long too.
Q. We’ll you’re braver than I to try any poetry. I’m terrified my stuff will just come across as purple prose. So what stories do you have planned for the future?
Lots. I want to write at least three more weird westerns, two short stories and one novella, to add to my self-publishing activities this year. I’ve been developing some YA fantasy and scifi projects, and I have an incomplete novel that I really ought to pick up and finish some day.
I’ve also got to revise my vanished novel – that’s probably the thing I’m most troubled by. For various reasons, I’ll have to do a lot to it before it can go back into the world. Every time I make a start is like banging my head against a brick wall!
Q. I understand the headbanging part, although I prefer the floor. Now for a final question, and the most difficult one of all. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman (this is a test of your knowledge of physics and biology)
I don’t know that it would come down to the hard sciences. An unscrupulous Superman would basically be undefeatable, but since he isn’t, that at least gives Batman a chance (I’m presuming yours isn’t the indestructible embodiment of justice model of Superman, of course).
I think the best thing would be for you to ask me again next year…
Ha ha! Well, I guess we’ll all find out the answer to that question next summer. Or at least how well the writers understand simple physics and biology. Thanks for the interview Andrew and best of luck!
If this works out-and that’s a big if-I’ll be dancing like Carlton Banks at Christmas.
There was once a huge part of me that felt like I wouldn’t be a real author unless my books were published by a big firm from NYC and sold in bookstores throughout the country. It was an elitist sort of validation, and right now, I don’t need it.
I’m ecstatic by how well my books have been received and how many people have loved the characters and the story. That should be validation enough, and it is, but still, I would love to see the books in a store. Not because it would mean I’ve arrived as an author, which is really pretty silly, but because it would just be another avenue for people to discover my books.
I write because I have to-the stories want out-but I also don’t want the words to die in the void; to simply sit on my computer with no one to have ever read them.
There’s so much to be written on this topic of why people write and why they publish, but Aidan Moher, whose blog, A Dribble of Ink, won a Hugo last year, says it all with this post: Why I’m self-publishing my book.