Books

Interview with Darrick Dean, Fantasy Author

[Full disclosure: This is an interview with me, by me. Yes, you read that right…]

Today we are talking with writer Darrick Dean, author of the Watchers of the Light historical fantasy series. He has graciously taken time out of his busy schedule to answer a few quick questions on his books and writing. Thanks for joining us tonight, Darrick, ready to dive in?

Good to be here. Let’s give this a go.

Q: So, fantasy stories are often set in other realms or alternate realities, but the Watchers of the Light is set in our own modern world. There is a catch, however. Not all myth is fiction. Can you tell us more about this premise?

A: I wanted to really blur the line between reality and fantasy, so I took some historical elements, and overlaid bits of myth and legend. Of course, another facet is that legend often has remnants of truth in it. Take the core of the Iliad — the Trojan War and the siege of Troy — turned out to be true. So did the Viking Sagas detailing voyages to America, and so on. Now the reader is left wondering where fact ends, and fiction begins, while being drawn deeper into the story.

Q: Among the Shadows has an archetypal villain, the shadowmancer Ahriman. What kind of threat will the Watchers face in Awakening?

A: Ahriman is largely a puppetmaster, controlling everything from afar. He isn’t overly complex in his motivations, but is certainly malicious and powerful. His past his only hinted at, which leaves an opening for future stories. In Awakening, we encounter a different sort of enemy. Darkness pervades her as well, but her story is more complex, her motivations more faceted.

Q: In the first book, much of the story centers around Ethan and his family, all gifted with different abilities. Does the focus change in book 2?

A: The plan was always to give all the characters substantial roles, but to shine the light a little more on different people in each book. In Awakening we see that happening, including bringing to the forefront a person who was just hinted at in book one. She was a bit mysterious, bookending the first story, but here we find her in the thick of things. Also, with the establishment of the characters out of the way, I think we will see them grow more and be more comfortable in their chosen paths.

Q: Among the Shadows certainly was influenced by traditional fantasy in the sense of creatures and battles and searching for lost relics. Will the story continue down this path?

A: A little, but I want to move the needle just a bit. Not only don’t you want your plots identical, making some subtle changes in the atmosphere keeps things fresh. I like how the Mission Impossible films use different directors to give each film a slightly different look, yet still keep them in the same continuity. Not jarring change, but they avoid a same-old feel. Awakening has creatures and battles for sure, but there is an Edgar Rice Burroughs influence here. Think lost worlds and kinetic action. More crisp and tactile.

Q: What’s the best part of writing these stories?

A: Seeing them come alive on their own. Sooner or later in writing a story, people and places appear that you didn’t plan for. Character arcs you never outlined form on their own. When an author experiences this, he or she has left writing and entered storytelling.

Q: What’s the hardest part?

A: Editing. First you must find the best parts, the ones that just pop off the page, and compare everything else to them. You cut and delete what no longer works, or never did. Think you can’t delete your amazing words? You will once you realize how much more amazing they can be. First chapters, then paragraphs are refined. Next are sentences. Then you are down to individual words. Shaping and trimming like a sculptor. Then you’re done. Mostly.

Q: What does the future hold for the Watchers and their adventures?

A: Finishing Awakening is the first goal. Everyone thinks in trilogies these days, and that’s my initial plan as well. That could no doubt change, but this universe will ultimately have self-contained sets of different lengths. Two books I have planned will parallel the Watchers of the Light, and most likely intersect with it. Set in the same world with a different focus. There is a clue in Among the Shadows to what beings will be featured in the Servants of the Flame duology. I also plan to put together a collection of shorts — lost tales, deleted scenes — featuring various people we have already met, and yet to come.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to everyone. Where can readers find your book?

No, problem, it’s been fun. Among the Shadows is on Amazon, of course, plus most other booksellers. And be sure to check out some excerpts, character profiles and other cool stuff.

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Why Hate Homer?

I was listening to this podcast concerning how students aren’t ready for college. In particular, what they have read in their educational or personal lives is rather deficient. Instead of offering the best of the best for them to read, colleges instead replace classics with forgettable, trendy books.

So while colleges are falling down on their job of broadening minds and overcoming prejudices — through the abandoning of classical education — what about the student or not going to college? What about the person who doesn’t care about reading the classics or doesn’t think it’s necessary?

As educator and writer Susan Wise Bauer writes, “A classical education is valuable [even] for people who hate Homer.” In her book The Well-Trained Mind, she describes the frustration of employers who are expected to prepare people for life in the world. Many graduates of high school “can’t write, don’t read well, can’t think through a problem.”

Bauer writes that, “A well-trained mind is a necessity” no matter your path in life, and even though a “classical education is not intended to teach all subjects comprehensively,” it is designed to teach us how to learn.

But it goes further than that. There’s something deeply fascinating about reading books that have often endured for centuries. They reveal our past and our history. It allows us to join what Mortimer J. Adler named the “Great Conversation” which is the “ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.”

And there is the rub: Perhaps at no time in history have we had such a widespread hubris in society. We think those who came before us can’t possibly have anything to teach us.

The truth is that we wouldn’t be here without them. They experienced far more great events — and terrible disasters — than we can imagine. Our civilization is built on their millennia of knowledge. We mistakenly believe many of our contemporary issues are new — rarely are they.

Schooling, at all levels, can be very important in achieving your purpose. Increasingly, though, secondary education has lost its way, forgotten its purpose. These institutions that were built on an idea that stretches back to the Middle Ages — Western Civilization’s contribution of the university — is in terrible trouble. However that all may play out, realize this:

Your education, your mind, and where you take them, is solely up to you. “Being smart” is not based on the decision of others, but what you decide to be. Be part of the Great Conversation and rise above fast-food-internet “knowledge.” See beyond the selfish views that act like we are the first to walk the Earth. The voices of our ancestors left many lessons for us. One in particular stands out.

When they forgot what truly mattered in their lives, they lost it all.

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Character Profile: Solana

Solana To you it is just a breeze. A wind on a wintry day. A summer storm across the plains. When I lost what was dearest to me, a storm was unleashed from within. The winds could terrify and destroy.

I tamed them, made them answer to the Light.

Now evil arises among the sands, in the shadows, and the deep sea. I am Solana, and I will hunt the Darkness, search it out, and call forth the tempest to hurl the demonspawn back into the Abyss.

Among the Shadows: Watchers of the Light Book 1 now available!

[Photo used under license from Shutterstock.com.]

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Join the War, Choose a Side

Follow on Facebook for more on books, writing, and the War Among the Shadows.

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Mental Hunger? Here’s Some Brain Food.

Bored at work? Need something to listen to in the car other than mindless babble? Well, I have been collecting interesting podcasts over at Soundcloud. In particular, give a listen to my selection on books, writing and learning.

Reclaim lost minutes of your day, shut down the Facebook feed, and exercise your mind. You’ll feel much better…

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Timeless Thoughts on Wisdom

Miyamoto Musashi, The Five Rings:

Do not allow your mind to become clouded, but make it expansive, and in this broadness you should place your wisdom. It is utmost importance to polish both your wisdom and your mindset devotedly.

Honing your wisdom, you will recognize what is right and wrong in any situation, and understand the good and bad of everything; knowing every art and skill, and being familiar with every Way, when you have achieved a condition where you cannot be tricked by anyone in the world in the tiniest way — that is the wisdom at the heart of strategy.


Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War:

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight…He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared…If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.


King Solomon, Proverbs:

Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She raises her voice in the public squares…Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold…preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you…whoever fails to find wisdom harms himself; all who hate me love death.

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Is Barnes and Noble a Lost Cause?

I hope not, but after what went down last week that involved firing 1800 full-time employees, things don’t look good. Almost four years ago, I wrote about Barnes & Noble reinventing itself (which was a rewrite of a 2013 post).

Yet little has changed, and much has gotten worse.

Amazon is opening stores, indies have thrived, but Barnes and Noble continues to falter. It seems bound and determined to hold on to this sell-everything-do-everything model from yesteryear. Even Wal-Mart doesn’t do that anymore. Just closing stores and cutting people – without changing your model – doesn’t promote longevity. Just ask Sears and Kmart. Barnes and Noble should be doing this:

Focus on strengths. Narrow the focus back to basics. Be the local, neighborhood bookseller.

Not fire your most experienced people.

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Something Amazing Ends Soon

The amazing prices of $2.99 for the ebook, and $12.99 for the paperback of Among the Shadows, ends in a few days. There has never been a better time to choose a side in the War Among the Shadows. Join the six Watchers while you still can.

What was locked in shadow stirs, and where darkness has laid dormant, evil awakes.

This is not some mythical land, nor the distant past. Our own world, our own time, will face malice not seen since ancient times. Once, when the world was new, the Fallen battled the Light over the destiny of humankind. Civilization was left in flames, the Scourges turned back by the Watchers in the last hour. The Darkness, though, was not defeated.

Now, there are six that will decide the fate of us all. A new generation of Watchers, gifted by the Light.

Ethan, with unmatched strength and speed, has walked unafraid among the shadows. Milena is his equal and can command the life around her. Kyra, but a child, can see into the minds of men. The Darkness fears what she may become. Conrad can sidestep time and pass through the veil. Kane must conquer his fears even as the energy of Healing surges within. Duncan wields the substance of life as a weapon none can survive.

Those they face, the Dark One’s Followers, are also gifted. Their skills were forged in blackness.

The depraved seek lost relics infused with unimaginable power. Through portals of time they will raise an army of nightmarish creatures once lost to myth and legend. Collapse and ruin they will bring.

A war of the worst sort has begun. The six Watchers must stem the tide, or will they be drowned by the flood of darkness that ends the age of man?

 

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Equality and Diversity of Humans…and Elves?

Fantasy tales are often populated with a wide array of beings. Elves, humans and dwarves are a common trio, along with trolls, orcs and countless other variations. Not all authors have filled their stories with these fantastic races to purposely tell stories of diversity or race-relations.  However, long before terms like diversity were buzzing in everyone’s minds, two masters of fantasy had made a statement on equality among people. Joseph Loconte writes in A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War:

[J.R.R.] Tolkien and [C.S.] Lewis encountered the horrific progeny of [eugenics] in the trenches and barbed wire and mortars of the Great War [World War I] — and it gave them great pause about human potentiality…the characters in their novels possess a great nobility, creatures endowed with a unique capacity for virtue, courage, and love. Indeed, a vital theme throughout is the sacred worth of the individual soul in Middle-Earth and Narnia, every life is of immense consequence.

The “races” of Narnia and Middle-Earth are very much like us, always at odds with each other: Elves hate dwarves; elves look down on humans; hobbits are obviously different from their larger human cousins; orcs once were elves.  And yet the fellowship of the ring throws together polar opposite, feuding races in a quest to the save the world.

Against all odds, they succeeded.  A powerful message among the many in these stories.

Tolkien and Lewis began writing during a time when eugenics was on the rise. This misuse of science and philosophies pretending to be science was rationale to cleanse humanity of undesirable races, beliefs or attributes. People remember the result of this horror in World War II under the Nazis, yet don’t know that this thinking had been promoted among the “elite” thinkers and governments across the world for decades.

While many many post-WWI writers saw hopelessness, and others turned to Progress as a god to right humanity, Tolkien and Lewis saw the importance of every life. They wrote of evil that couldn’t be reasoned away — and could be hidden behind “science” and “progress.” The equality of peoples doesn’t automatically equate to the equality of ideas and actions. Even Tolkien’s “dreadful orcs are presented as rational beings” — but being rational isn’t the same as being on the side of virtue.

Middle-Earth and Narnia showed how mankind, even with its capacity for wrong, has innate qualities that can defeat the most terrible of evils; qualities that transcend superficial differences among people, and show that we are much more than a result of randomness and fate.

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Why do Young Readers Turn to Fantasy?

The fantasy genre has exploded in popularity over the past twenty years. From the big screen adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, to endless new novels often directed to teens and young adults. Fantasy has always appealed to younger readers as escapism, but is this the only reason, or is there something more for the current generation?

Rebecca LuElla Miller writes of deeper reasons in The Appeal Of Fantasy For Young Adults, in that these readers have been:

…expected to do little more than have a good time and do their homework, [now they] long for significance. They want to do something that matters, that has eternal purpose…long for a life that matters, and they find in fantasy a world that needs someone who will step up and do just that.

Then too, fantasy helps young people organize the world. There is moral right and wrong, and the characters in fantasy must align themselves with one or the other. There’s also history that makes a difference in the here and now, prophesy that tells about the future, and decisions that make or break a destiny.

So I suspect that these, and the other reasons that LuElla details, are not all that different for all age groups. Finding your true purpose, your place in the Story, is the desire that burns in all people.

Younger readers just haven’t given up on that quest. They haven’t allowed societal forces to tell them where to go or what to do. Yes, one could also argue that flawed materialistic and relativistic beliefs have replaced solid and logical worldviews.

Perhaps a good dose of fantasy is, ironically, needed to show us reality.

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