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!