17 February, 2015

#Interview with Stephen Merlino, #Author of The Jack of Souls

Author Stephen Merlino lives in Seattle, WA, where he writes, plays, and teaches high school English. He lives with the world's most talented and desirable woman, two equally fabulous children, and three attack chickens. Stephen is the winner of the 2014 PNWA Award for Fantasy, and the SWW Award for Fantasy.  He recently launched The Jack of Souls, first in a series of fantasy novels available on Amazon in ebook, paper, and hardback.

Find him at: stephenmerlino.com

Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
When I experienced great stories as a kid. I think we are all wired for story, but maybe some of us are wired to experience them more deeply than others--sort of the way maths can “speak” to some, but not to others. (With regard to maths, I am one of the “others”; it might as well be binary code to me, or the sound a fax machine makes.) But stories resonate deeply with me. And with a very good story, I become one of the strings of the instrument, so it thrums through my whole being. 
Also, part of the experience of reading story is the deep immersion and concentration of the act. It’s a form of meditation, a loss of self in something greater. And that is also what happens for me in writing. 

What inspires you to write?
What inspires me to write is the question, “What if…?” 
What if there was a world where…
What if there was a girl who… And what if something horrible happened to her and she had to..
Those questions summon visions of people and places and troubles and the story starts to coalesce around them. And as I write, more “What ifs” emerge and add to the story, and it takes on a life of its own. 

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
Stephen King talks about stories beginning when he sees a specific character and setting in his mind. He then gives the character a problem, and watches them spring to action to fix the problem. From then on out it’s like following a string through long grass—never sure where it’s going, but pretty sure of the direction. 
That’s definitely the way I experience writing. For The Jack of Souls, I saw a young man on the edge of a frontier, stuck in a place he didn’t want to be. I saw a girl who ran to the frontier to escape a bad place. 
I knew I wanted them together, but I also knew them as very different from each other. He is a trickster rogue. She is an honorable knight. So something greater than themselves had to unite them. 
For that I imagined a queen like Shakespeare’s Queen Elizabeth—alone, resented by many who wanted a warlike king on the throne—who teeters on the bring of civil and foreign war. When her immortal enemies invade the frontier with a plot to unseat her, the rogue and knight must unite in her defense, or lose everything they ever loved. 
Plus, I love Shakespeare, so I wove in a romantic subplot from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
From there on out, it became a matter of following the string through the grass. 

Is there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Yes. It’s a middle-grade fantasy called, Dragon Bait. It was good enough for two separate agents to accept and shop around, but they never could sell it.

Tell us about your writing process.
I tend to begin by revising what I last wrote, and that gets the creative juices flowing for new composition/helps me pick up the string where I left off.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
The opening scene. 
Harric’s mother cursed him to die on his nineteenth birthday. When the story begins, she is dead and gone, and Harric has a day to live; in an hour, he’ll host his own wake. Most of the frontier town will be there, including many who simply want a share of his loot when he dies. Caris, his knight friend, is new to town, and didn’t know his mother, so she doesn’t even believe there is a curse. Nevertheless, she agrees to be his body guard to keep the beggars away while he writes his will.  

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Yes. I am a rule-bender, rule-tester, like Harric.
I also remember what it was like to be young and idealistic, like Caris.

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
My face takes on an evil, villainous intensity when I write a wicked character. My kids have caught me doing this.

What is your usual writing routine?
I must be truly alone without interruption. Deep immersion is important. I tend to write in the morning, after a cup of coffee and an hour or so of puttering (also alone). Then I dive in and don’t come up for four hours, sometimes six. It’s bliss.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion series is magnificent. She has such a deft and subtle understanding of human relationship interactions, which she captures in subtly handled prose. I read her work over and over and study how she does it. 
George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones has had a big impact on the genre (and me) with his realism and strict departure from the classical “white wizards and dark lords” of The Lord of the Rings. “There are no dark lords,” Martin once said. “We are all gray lords.”  I think he’s right about that, so I try to give all my characters light and dark streaks. Even the most irredeemable madmen have some small streak of lightness. It makes us have to think a bit, wrestle with hard questions. 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Read a lot. Write a lot. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Write a lot. Keep a journal no one has to see. Don’t worry about sharing it with anyone at first. But when you do, share with other writers of your level and experience, and help each other with encouragement and insights. Then find a good writers critique circle that is run well by an experienced moderator/leader who keeps the norms carefully.

Harric, an outcast rogue, must break a curse put on his fate, or die on his next birthday. As the day approaches, nightmares from the spirit world stalk him and tear at his sanity; sorcery eats at his soul. 
To survive, he’ll need more than his usual tricks. He’ll need help—and a lot of it—but on the kingdom’s lawless frontier, his only allies are other outcasts. One of these outcasts is Caris, a mysterious, horse-whispering runaway, intent upon becoming the Queen’s first female knight. The other is Sir Willard—ex-immortal, ex-champion, now addicted to pain-killing herbs and banished from the court.
With their help, Harric might keep his curse at bay. But for how long? 
And both companions bring perils and secrets of their own: Caris bears the scars of a troubled past that still hunts her; Willard is at war with the Old Ones, an order of insane immortal knights who once enslaved the kingdom. The Old Ones have returned to murder Willard and seize the throne from his queen. Willard is both on the run from them, and on one final, desperate quest to save her. 
Together, Harric and his companions must overcome fanatical armies, murderous sorcerers, and powerful supernatural foes.
Alone, Harric must face the temptation of a forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he’s ever loved.

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