1) First off welcome to the site Stephen. It’s great to have you here.
It is wonderful to be here! I thank the world of That Book Place, which has been one of my homes away from home. I loved going to your book fair in the spring, and doing the store signings, and really appreciate how kind you are to authors. It is a crazy and difficult road, and you’ve definitely been one of the few who have understood that reality of it all.
2) So tell us a little about your newest book.
Spirit of Fire is the third installment of the Fires in Eden series. Without touching on too many spoilers, the events of Spirit of Fire occur as the Kingdom of Saxany and the Five Realms are being invaded by forces doing the will of the Unifier. The ensemble of characters who come from our world are caught up in this maelstrom, as are those who have given help to the Saxans and tribal people. There are some major things happening in this book, some that will likely surprise the readers of the series.
I feel strongly that this is the fastest paced book of the three. Very action-heavy. Lots happening, battles, plot twists, and perhaps even some hints of romance! Some new characters are introduced that I think the readers are going to be very excited about. Just wait until you get to meet Brynhild in Midragard, or young Thomas in Avalos, for example! Readers will also get to explore Midragard and Avalos more extensively, as the reach of the series begins to broaden farther beyond the Five Realms and Saxany.
There is a map and an appendix in this book too, which I think regular readers of the series are going to enjoy a great deal. I’ve gotten some great feedback on those additions already.
3) What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book in this series or the first overall? I’ll answer both to be sure! J
For the first full novel I ever wrote, which is one of three in a series that would be classified as urban fantasy (and written before urban fantasy really was regarded fully as a subgenre like it is today), I just wanted to see if I could accomplish the writing of a novel. It was more or less a personal challenge, sort of a test to learn about the process and whether I enjoyed it or not. I did, and had a lot of fun doing it, though the end result was such that I keep those manuscripts locked away for the time being. The concepts for those stories I still feel are very strong, so I might do something with them at some point.
As for the Fires in Eden series, and what became Crown of Vengeance, the inspiration comes from my own personal fantasy. It is the idea that perhaps one day I can step through a door or go through a mist and find myself in a fantastical world. I absolutely loved the wardrobe concept in The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. Believe me, I’ve always dreamed of having that experience. Not being overly fond of the way the world is, and that view is reinforced with every day that passes, I’d step out of this world in a moment if I had the chance and choice. In my series I decided to take the angle of having the ensemble of characters stay in the world of Ave once they are there, and not go back and forth like some of the characters in the Narnia series do.
4) What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing the book is probably sensing the moment when I have done enough on the rewrites and it is ready to hand over to my editor. An author can engage in rewriting endlessly, and it is that fine line of knowing when you’ve gotten it to the right point to move onward that has been more challenging than other aspects.
5) Do you write an outline before every book you write?
In a basic sense, I do have an outline as far as the main goals and direction of an installment. I don’t think you can manage a large, epic series like this without some idea of where you are headed. However, I don’t rope myself in too tightly, and I leave room for the emergence of new threads and characters. I feel I am well-balanced between outlining and improvising as I go. This lends the writing of a new book both some structure as well as providing for new inspirations and ideas.
6) Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot and don’t worry about word counts.
I’ve never been one to get too caught up in word counts, and it has served me fine in developing some fairly large titles. The important thing is to write consistently, even if it is just a few hundred words a session. I feel that it is better in the long run for someone to write a thousand words a day for ten days than ten thousand words in one day, if that makes sense. Write regularly, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a high word count every session. Consistency is what counts.
As far as reading, read authors in your genre and read authors outside of it. Every writer has different strengths, and it is good to experience those various strengths as a reader to give you a better sense of techniques and execution as a writer. Don’t copy or mimic other writers, of course, but always be open to learning and understanding new techniques.
The inimitable Matthew Perry, who currently dwells in a world of fun, frolic, and adventure out on the west coast, haha. Matt is not only a great artist, but he also has a great talent for layout and design, and he’s given both of my series a distinctive identity in their cover styles. At this point, Matt has a good understanding of what’s contained in the two series, having done a large number of fantastic interior illustrations for all the novels.
The artwork associated with this series has been a wonderful component. You will be hard pressed to find even a handful of series, whether major press, small press, or self-published, that have a dedicated and building art collection like this one. It is a real honor to have Matt involved.
8.) Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Keep the faith, and let me know what you think of the books. I consider myself highly accessible, and I love to hear from the readers of the series. I am always glad to discuss the books. I put these stories down for the enjoyment of the readers, as without a reader, an author is nothing. I’m afraid a lot of authors forget that. My readers are my highest priority, and if you support what I do I will reward that with a lot more to come in the future.
9) Can you share a little of your current work with us?
No problem! Here’s an excerpt from Spirit of Fire, the very beginning in fact!
To the northeast of the Plains of Athelney, a motley assemblage sprawled across an expanse of open ground. Located adjacent to a lake, upon the outskirts of an extensive range of forested hills, the gathering was not too far removed from the place where one tendril of the invasion force had already run into stout Saxan resistance.
The surface of the water was choppy, buffeted frequently with brisk surges of wind. A considerable tension clung to the steadily cooling, evening air, empowered by what had taken place, and what was to come.
The earlier thrust of the Avanoran invaders had endured an unexpected, thorough destruction. Battered survivors trickling back spoke with shaky voices, and wide, frightened eyes, telling of brawny, non-human warriors with gray hides. A horde of the creatures had emerged seemingly out of nowhere, without warning, to shatter the Avanoran encampment and slaughter all but a remnant of the force.
The Saxans that had been arrayed in the hills presented no threat anymore, having been broken and scattered just prior to the deadly ambush. But the brutish interlopers that had decimated the Avanoran force were still an obstacle to be wary of, and reckoned with. They were about to be countered with a most chilling solution.
The deepening unease gripping the assemblage was enough to rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned, hardened of veterans, whether Trogen or human. The disquiet had a single, dreadful source, one that was living, or at least animated to a mockery of life. It was hard to discern which, as the normal vibrancy of life was not present within the hooded being standing tall among the throng of warriors.
The grave apprehension was deepened even further by two huge objects borne into the midst of the warriors, at the dark figure’s command. The winged monstrosities that had carried the pair of elongated shapes to the lakeside now rested on the ground, their vast wings tucked in.
The two Darroks were intimidating sights to behold on any occasion, but they were not the cause of the elevated alarm and distress pervading the scene. Between the Arcamon and the hellish cargo of the Darroks, the gathered warriors were truly caught between a hammer and anvil of cold fear. Mounted upon the Darroks’ backs were immense cages, fashioned of timber and iron. The interior of the cages was hidden from view, with long horizontal planks of wood affixed to their frames, the timber lengths fully covering the sides.
The cages themselves were of a respectable height, enough that the tallest amongst the Trogens could walk into them with ample headroom to spare. But the great length of each cage was what made them most unusual.
The ongoing work involved with the pair of enclosures was conducted with extreme diligence and focus. The assiduousness was bolstered by the fact that most of those laboring with the cages wished to keep their attentions diverted from the foreboding entity silently watching over their progress.
With the ends of its long, dark cape undulating in the winds, the Arcamon sat astride its infernal steed. Exposed so prominently atop a small rise in the middle of the host, the entity conveyed an image of authority. The Arcamon’s raised hood was a mercy to the surrounding warriors, shrouding the entity’s nightmarish face within caliginous
The glowing embers of the Arcamon’s gaze were fixed upon the mass of individuals handling the makeshift network of ropes and pulley-driven cranes, the latter similar to those used on ships at quays, to lower the giant cages.
The Arcamon’s grotesque winged steed, scaly, sinuous, and serpentine, followed its master’s every directive with rigid discipline. It was now brooding and silent, patiently awaiting its master’s next command.
Though the shrouded figure appeared impassive to all eyes, a mounting impatience was welling up within the Arcamon. Of the four of its kind loosed at a tremendous expenditure of energy from the fiery depths of Jebaalos’ realm, two were now aiding the assaults upon the Saxan kingdom.
That alone reflected the tremendous importance the Unifier placed upon subjugation of the Saxan lands. The invasion was a pivotal element of the final series of conquests, which would bring all of Ave under one authority; outwardly that of the Unifier, though truly, through the Unifier, Jebaalos.
The Arcamon’s fury had soared throughout the report informing of the sudden Unguhur attack, which had blunted the Avanoran efforts to break through to the northeast of the Plains of Athelney. The force should have been able to hook around through the mountains, to pour down and ambush the main Saxan forces on their exposed right flank, out on the Plains of Athelney.
The worst aspect of it was that the Saxan ranks arrayed to oppose the Avarnoran maneuver had been dislodged and broken, leaving the way clear for all aims to be achieved. All had been thwarted by a horde from a brutish race that now held the Arcamon’s malefic ire.
At the moment, the battle at the Plains of Athelney should have been over, and the interior of the Saxan lands left wide open. The Kingdom of Saxany had likely exhausted itself in the musters for the Plains of Athelney, and for the smaller force deployed to face the woodland incursion.
Unlike the Trogens, humans, and others around it, the Arcamon knew much about the Unguhur. The primitive creatures had emerged from the depths of their underworld dominion, having been well-hidden from the extensive scouting from the skies and on the land. The human and Trogen leaders had been confounded. To the few that had even heard of the underground race, the Unguhur existed only within legends, or as wisps of tales. Things of legend and myth were certainly not foremost on the minds of the invasion force’s command.
In a practical sense, the existence of an underground population of Unguhur, right under Saxan lands, was something entirely unknown; and altogether unaccounted for.
Nevertheless, the Arcamon had confronted many of the Avanoran lords after the terrible debacle. Its dark presence had driven each one of the fierce, haughty commanders to become sniveling, groveling fools in mere moments. Mortals confronted by an immortal from the afterworld itself, its very existence boggling to their minds, several had broken out in cold sweats. Others had openly trembled, unable to stifle the terror wracking their spirits
Failure for any reason was never to be lightly taken, whether in the infernal realms or in Ave. The Arcamon had faced the Avanoran lords as if they were going to be made to answer fully for the considerable losses.
Using mystical arts from the abyssal depths, the Arcamon had implanted stark images directly into the minds of the Avanoran lords, one by one. Shadows of madness, visions of monstrosities in chasms of sentient blackness, and searing vistas of blood-drenched infernos filled the thoughts of the Avanoran lords, as they were given the briefest of glimpses into the nether kingdom of Jebaalos.
They were unable to avoid the terrifying spectacles by shutting their eyes, forced to endure the waking nightmares for what threatened to be an interminable ordeal. A couple openly wept, others shook as the cold sweats streaked down their faces, and still others collapsed to the ground in quivering, sobbing heaps. The Arcamon knew their minds
were not equipped to handle such sights for very long.
After their humiliating, terrifying experience had reached the very edge of a place from where it could not return, on the brink of madness, the Arcamon finally, and suddenly, withdrew its hellish grip. The entity consigned the horrific visions to the subconscious regions of their minds.
The Arcamon knew every thought going through their minds as they were loosed. The seeds of many future sleepless, nightmare-flooded nights had been sown, but the Avanorans had blinked and gasped in surprise, and relief, as they were released. They quickly regained their focus, but found to their great agitation they had absolutely no recollections of the previous several moments.
For them it was as if time itself had skipped forward. Greatly disconcerted, their hearts still beat rapidly as an icy fear danced on the edges of their awareness. The Arcamon had then turned immediately to the issue set before all of them, breaking the defenses of the Saxans, and those that aided them. Whether the main invasion force had broken through or not out on the Plains of Athelney, it was advantageous for the Avanorans to secure an open passage into the northern lands of the Saxan kingdom.
The Unguhur were the only real threat standing in the way. To confront them, and root them out from their underground domain, the Arcamon quickly settled upon a strategy that would exact a terrible vengeance in the process of achieving their aims.
A summons had been sent by way of another of the Arcamon’s dark, mysterious arts back to Avalos itself. Two young Darroks were being harnessed shortly thereafter, on open grounds just outside of the great city. Though not fully trained, the pair of Darroks were the only ones out of the Unifier’s brood not currently committed elsewhere.
A small crew of fiercely loyal, carefully selected Avanoran warriors had then guided the giant winged beasts to a faraway, hidden place. It was a location known to very few, and all of those were beholden to the Unifier and Jebaalos.
To assault something of the underworld, the Arcamon had chosen to send something from the darkest depths of the underworld. The creatures granted to the bidding of the Arcamon were not entirely unknown to the surface world.
Their subterranean kind had risen up before, making their presence known many times over the long ages of the world of Ave. They had reached the surface through deep lakes and rivers, ascending from the gaping depths of the underworld itself, becoming creatures of great myths and legends themselves.
Two of the creatures had been obtained to serve the Arcamon’s bidding, each one of them a veritable juggernaut. Their bodies were akin to enormous serpents, covered with hardened scales that were collectively as good as a solid sheath comprised of the finest crafted armor.
Of massive girth, their bodies were as thick as the trunks of the oldest, largest trees in all of the Saxan forests. Neither of the fully-grown monstrosities was less than seventy feet in length. Their appearance was also as beautiful as it was terrifying. The scales forming their natural armor were themselves comprised of a variety of vibrant colors, amid others that seemed to blaze like tongues of fire when caught by the light.
The deadly beauty reached its pinnacle atop their great heads. As if kings and queens among the ancient race of snakes, they were crowned with natural diadems. Great, sharply pointed horns sprouted up from each side of their massive heads. In the center of their broad craniums, at the forward end of a fiery red crest, was what looked to be a radiant, sparkling, crystal, bisected by a prominent, blood-red streak.
Their enormous heads contained a gaping maw lined with an arsenal of spiky, rear-curving teeth, forming an inescapable prison for anything caught within the creatures’ awesome bite. Two massive fangs, like gleaming, deadly sabers being pulled from scabbards, extended downward whenever the creature opened its mouth with the intent to
Just a few tiny drops of venom from one of the creatures’ fangs were more than enough to kill the strongest of humans. One full injection from the dual fangs imparted a comparative torrent of lethal poison, which no creature living on the surface of Ave could withstand.
In the abysmal reaches of the underworld, the beasts could pass through great depths of water, navigate the most powerful of currents, and weather the greatest turbulence. Their bodies could handle great extremes of temperature, and withstand exceptional pressures. On solid ground, they moved with tremendous bursts of speed, dizzying to behold.
There were very few creatures in all of Ave that had the kind of size and power to even have a chance to contend with the colossal serpents; and most of those were now regarded in a mythical state themselves.
Yet they were not invincible, having one major place of vulnerability on their bodies. Located seven spots from the base of their heads was a susceptible point where a solid, penetrating strike could instantly incapacitate the giant beasts. The knowledge of the location was largely delegated to obscure lore, known currently only to a few handfuls of people whose ancestors had encountered the horror of the deadly creatures in past times.
The Uktena were virtually without rival, exactly the kind of formidable creature the Arcamon could use to beset their underground adversaries.
In a shrouding darkness secure from the reach of the sun, the Unifier was keeping a number of the fearsome creatures. Tended closely by the Unifier’s Sorcerers, the Uktena were controllable. Using their secret arts, the Sorcerers had lulled the creatures into a deep, trance- like slumber, before a cadre of highly-unnerved Gigans had laboriously gotten them into the lengthy cages.
The creatures had not stirred in the least, as the cages were then mounted up onto the young Darroks’ backs, but the huge flying beasts instantly sensed the nature of their deadly passengers. It took a highly concerted effort from their flyers and Sorcerers alike just to calm the surge of agitation in the Darroks. The titanic steeds rumbled and snorted, loosing short, sporadic bursts of fire, even after they had been brought under an outward semblance of control.
Two of the exalted Sorcerers of Avalos accompanied the beasts on the ensuing journey, keeping the Uktena in an unconscious state throughout the entire flight. At the moment, a Sorcerer attended each cage, as they were tediously lowered and angled off of the backs of the Darroks.
Under the increasing weight of the Arcamon’s spectral gaze, the small host of men and Trogens, augmented by horses, and a pair of the powerful Gigans, continued to strain with ropes secured to the cages. The wood of their assembled cranes creaked and groaned with an unnerving tenor, the ropes taut as the tremendous weight of their burden drew the
hempen cording to the limits. Just alongside each team, the stoic form of a Sorcerer kept a wary
eye out for even the slightest sign that the Uktena might be awakening from their deep slumber. The Arcamon paid no heed to the nerve- wracked state of those handling the cages, who feared that the serpentine monsters could be roused at any moment by the jostles, shakes, heaves, and lurches that the enclosures endured. The noise generated by the effort was considerable as well, as both man and animal grunted in their exertion, and those in authority shouted out orders, whenever sudden adjustments were needed.
When the cages were completely free from the Darroks, and were finally resting upon the ground, the handlers mounted the huge sky beasts and guided them away from the lakeside. The two creatures were given a wide berth as they lumbered forward, many scrambling in haste to avoid being caught in the titanic beasts’ path.
The agitation in the Darroks, which had emanated ever since they had taken to the skies with their fearsome burden, finally ebbed as they gained distance between themselves and the cages’ occupants. Yet the Darroks’ gazes returned to lock upon the extended contraptions, when their handlers drew them to a halt and allowed them to lie upon
the ground again.
Like a shadowy wraith, the dark figure on the rise then spurred its scaly steed to flight, and glided down to land close to one of the cages. A number of men and Trogens shuddered reflexively, as if an icy chill had abruptly fallen upon them. With the Darroks in their place, the Arcamon signaled for the cages to be fully disassembled. Only the Arcamon could have elicited the assiduous response of the apprehensive laborers, transcending the grave dread that permeated the vicinity of the cages.
Trogens and humans opened the locks that secured iron chain links running between the long, modular segments of the great cages. Slowly, the sides of the cage sections were lowered on their hinges, the latter affixed at the bottom.
The dropping of the sides bared the lengthy, gigantic forms within to the eyes of all gathered, exposing the bodies of the Uktena to a host of individuals seeing the creatures in their entirety for the very first time. Expressions of fear and awe filled the faces of the hushed observers. Only the terrified whinnies and stamps of the frightened horses broke the silence, as their handlers labored to keep the wide-eyed equines under control.
The Arcamon felt no pity for what the Unguhur were about to be subjected to. In his view, the Unguhur should have stayed huddled below the surface, and let the matters of the surface world take their own course. The Unifier would probably have even tolerated the existence of the foolish creatures, if they had chosen to remain sequestered away from the upper world.
Their fateful decision to take the side of the Saxans in the war was now going to bring a terrible wrath down upon them. The Unguhur would reap the lethal harvest of what they had sown.
The two immense, serpentine forms, now still, would soon be brought back to full awareness. It would not be much longer before the Unguhur were introduced to the two creatures of legend, and experienced what they were capable of. The Arcamon savored the thoughts of the Unguhur’s impending doom, with malice-drenched pleasure.