Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

Bio

Alexander Hellene is either a Renaissance man or a dilettante, depending on whom you ask. A musician, athlete, artist, and law school graduate, Alexander has always been attracted to fantastical tales, since they tend to do a better job of explaining how the world works than just about anything else.

(Copied from his website)

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Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

We sit down with the author of sword and planet adventure The Last Ancestor to discuss The Second Sojourn

Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

Terror strikes the heart of Pysh!

The Global Union has tracked the Canaanites across the galaxy, hellbent on finishing the job of extermination. But first they need to recover a secret, one that will explain everything.

A distress signal from the East brings Garrett, Ghryxa, and their friends closer to the answers about what happened on Earth. The lost ship survives! But to find it they must cross the Waran Steppes, and an endless swamp filled with ancient, deadly creatures.

Pursued by assassins, Garrett must make the hard choices and be a hero like his late father. Escaping the High Lord was just the beginning.

The Second Sojourn is available, and I have already snagged myself a copy!

I can’t wait to crack it open (metaphorically…my Kindle wouldn’t take kindly to being actually cracked), but if it has the panache of The Last Ancestor, I’m confident it will be a hit! (You can read our positive, long-form review of the first book in The Swordbringer series here.)

Alexander Hellene generously agreed to answer some questions about his series and this sequel in particular. Prepare to have your appetite whetted for the continuation of this classic sword and planet adventure!

The Last Ancestor was a great sword and planet adventure. Where did you draw inspiration for this series?

Thank you! I’m glad you liked it! Inspiration came from many places. I had recently read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and I loved the strangeness of it, and the freaky aliens. I took inspiration from that, but also from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon and toys. Eternita was a big inspiration for the planet Yxakh—it felt so ancient and primordial and lived in.

I also loved the idea of animal-men. I’ve always been a big fan of anthropomorphic animals and settled on anthropomorphic dogs, which became the Growlers. I thought that having man’s best friend be these hostile, deadly creatures would be fun. It was originally to be solely animal people, with Princess Dhaxiha being the main character.

But I also had this image of a young American teen exploring such a world with one of these dog creatures, and the idea of crashed humans on this world grew from that. The religious aspect came next: Why were humans there? Why had they left Earth? Religious persecution seemed a perfect reason. The Canaanites in The Last Ancestor were pilgrims in a way, maybe a resulting inspiration of my having grown up in New England.

Although The Swordbringer series is intended for Young Adults, it probably isn’t typical of modern YA science fiction in terms of character or theme. Would you say that is accurate?

I’d say that’s very accurate. Interestingly, I never intended The Swordbringer as being YA, though having a teenaged human protagonist and what is essentially a teenaged alien puts it in that category. Still, I didn’t want the series to be “mature” in the violence and sex way, just thematically. Lots of heady stuff I tried to wrap in a package of fun and exploration. I’d like to think I succeeded and that young people can enjoy it as much as adults.

The cover for The Second Sojourn looks exciting! I remember when I was reading The Last Ancestor, I was really pleased to discover that the scene depicted on that cover actually took place within the story. Can we look forward to something similar occurring in the sequel?

Thank you! All credit to Manuel Guzman, aka Lolo. He’s truly a remarkable artist and I’m glad to have found him. Yes, there is definitely a scene in The Second Sojourn like that depicted on the cover. I’ve always been a big fan of books that do that, and wanted my own to capture that same spirit instead of something more generic or just an action pose.

What were some key challenges or highlights you had while writing The Second Sojourn?

I had never written a sequel before, let alone part two in a trilogy. The big challenges were making sure to ramp up the stakes and create a self-contained story with a satisfying arc that also acts as an arc, or crisis point, for the overall story. That, and creating new characters that were not redundant and didn’t overwhelm the reader. I’m particularly proud of Rikkert and Tarleo.

Other than that, it took some work getting the prologue right—should it be in the present and then flash back in chapter one to explain how our crew got to Pysh, or vice versa? At my awesome editor Emily Red’s advice, I kept it chronological. Then, at my great beta reader’s advice, I made the journey start with a bang before getting into the more prosaic travel portion. I think it worked much better.

The Last Ancestor boasted some spectacular locations, but the ending took the characters out of the bounds of the established setting. Can we look forward to equally detailed new settings in the sequel?

You sure can. I’m a big fan of incremental world building. I like teasing new locations and then getting to them later on. Hence the relative mystery of Pysh, save for the one Pyshan character in The Last Ancestor (Pason) to hopefully whet the reader’s appetite to see what Pysh and its culture and society are like in The Second Sojourn. I do more of that in The Second Sojourn as well. A little mystery goes a long way, as long as there is some payoff.

What about new monsters and people/alien groups?

Lots of them. We have the Pyshans and their more refined culture, as well as the Waran, nomadic warriors who live far across the river to the east. And both lands are filled with flora and especially fauna both domesticated and deadly. That’s not even getting to the disgusting things that live in the giant swamp our heroes have to cross…

How did changing up the characters’ situation impact the thematic message of the story?

Our characters are still strangers in a strange land without a home, exiled from Earth and still not safe despite Pysh’s relatively welcoming nature. Compared to Kharvalar it’s like heaven, but danger abounds and the Canaanites have gotten soft in the intervening year. So thematically there’s still a lot of danger and a sense of being unsettled as the Canaanites try yet again to rebuild their lives in an alien environment. And of course, they’re still being chased by those hellbent on their destruction. Nothing is easy!

Thematically, there’s still the sense that, no matter how they try to fit in, the humans and their faith bring changes that are not always welcome to their host nation.

Who was your favorite character in The Last Ancestor? Are there new characters in the sequel that you are excited to share with readers? Do we get to see more from any of the supporting cast?

Garrett and Ghryxa are my favorite. Their relationship is fun to write, and I wanted to make sure they each had their arc and that Ghryxa wasn’t just along for the ride. Dhaxiha and Yhtax were also fun. I liked how their personal changes drove the story.

As far as supporting characters in The Second Sojourn, I had a good time giving Tracy an expanded role and getting to know him more than just his little part in The Last Ancestor. It was also good to give Julie and Gregory a very satisfying arc that will continue into book three. My favorite new character was Rikkert. Always cool to write that “frenemy” character. The Waran were also a personal favorite that I hope readers dig as well.

What do you think The Last Ancestor did well that you hope to continue or expand on in the sequel?

I like to think The Last Ancestor took relatively simple themes of bravery and faith in the face of deadly peril, and trying to live up to obligations, and couched them in a fresh, exciting way. Those themes are expanded, as well as that of being a disruptive agent of change, even if unintentionally. Lots of the importance of duty and obligation and staying true to oneself and one’s beliefs despite temptation to throw it all away for an easy out.

Do we get to meet any other human survivors of the original crash onto this alien planet?

That would be telling, but let’s just say that our characters are just as interested in this, and wanting to know that is what drives the bulk of The Second Sojourn. Are they still there? Who sent that signal, and are they friendly? That sort of thing. Some journeys are worth undertaking even if the answer isn’t clear. You have to have hope and you have to have faith that all of your struggles are worth it. Leave no man behind, or more appropriately, if you have 99 sheep safely with you and one goes missing, you go after that one!

What do you hope your audience comes away with from The Swordbringer stories?

Great question! A few things: that family and duty and honor matter. That it is important to maintain your culture and your ways, but that some changes are good even if they are tough. That leaders make the hard choices and try to salvage the worst situations. That reading can be fun and exciting and not dragged down by despair and nihilism—there is always hope!

And ultimately that you can have “Christian fiction,” or at least fiction with Christian themes, that is still fun for anyone regardless of their faith, if any, and that it doesn’t have to be boring or preachy. And lastly, that it’s good to forgive and it’s never too late to make amends.

Read The Second Sojourn today!

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Author Interview: Fenton Wood

Bio

Fenton Wood is a fictional character, just like the characters in his books.

(from Amazon bio)

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Author Interview: Fenton Wood

We sit down with the author of the Yankee Republic series to discuss these classic-feel, sci-fi adventures

Publisher’s Description:

A young radio engineer travels across an alt-history America, encountering primeval gods, mythical beasts, and tall tales come to life, in a quest to build a radio transmitter that can reach the stars.

YANKEE REPUBLIC is an old-school adventure series with traditional values and down-to-earth heroes. Escape from the pessimism and propaganda of modern fiction, and take a journey through a mythic America that might have been.

I loved Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves (you can read our positive, long-form review here!), and while we have not posted reviews of any other books in the Yankee Republic series, I can attest that they continue to impress.

The Kickstarter for the Yankee Republic Omnibus is on now, and Fenton Wood has graciously given me some of his time to answer a few questions about the series!

You describe the Yankee Republic as an old-school adventure series. Were there any stories from this genre that made an impact on you as a writer? What about the alternate history elements?

It’s not a typical alternate history story, because the history isn’t the focus. Some influences include Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card, The Seven Citadels by Geraldine Harris, and the TV show Adventure Time, which takes place in a strangely altered post-apocalyptic world.

People have said that Yankee Republic is a unique take on American magical realism, but Alvin Maker was first. I love the way Alvin has to learn a difficult real-world skill (blacksmithing) in order to develop his abilities as a Maker. The plot structure of Philo’s quest was an homage to The Seven Citadels, reimagining the seven sorcerers as various outré characters ranging from scientists to ancient gods.

You’ve also mentioned The Three Investigators was a favorite of yours as a kid; did that have an impact on your writing?

I loved the ingenuity and realism of The Three Investigators. Philo, Randall, and Pete are basically The Three Investigators with their personality traits swapped around. I introduced a new trio in Book 2 with a similar dynamic.

Even though you have extremely detailed factual elements, your stories are accessible even for young readers. How much general knowledge do you expect your audience to have?

The story should be accessible to readers age 10 and up. The plot incorporates linguistics, genetics, and astrophysics, but it’s presented in a way that’s easy to understand.

How much of your mythos is “alternate” (history or science). What do you think is the most surprising thing you included in your books that is true about the “real” world?

Most of the myth and folklore is based on historical sources. There really is a temple to Viridios, an obscure god who may be connected to the Green Man and to ancient harvest rituals. “The 101 Tales of Randall” are mostly real. The ELF transmitter is real.

What were some challenges or highlights about writing this kind of story?

I spent a couple of years developing the plot in my head before I wrote anything. The biggest challenge was adapting radio technology to the requirements of the plot. I had to learn the basics of radio and figure out how to create a pirate mountain station, a transcontinental AM station, a shore-to-submarine transmitter, and an interstellar transmitter. The last one requires a super-metal with properties that don’t exist in reality, but most of the radio tech is realistic.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned in the process of writing this series?

The most surprising thing I learned about was the Theia hypothesis. An iron-rich planetoid collided with the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, creating the Earth’s unusually large iron core. The core acts as a dynamo and generates a magnetic field that repels the solar wind and prevents it from stripping away the atmosphere.

You have talked a little on Twitter about working with Hans G. Schantz on some of the science and math involved in your stories. Can you comment further on how your research influences your writing process and informs or alters your plot?

The series would have been very different without Hans’ input. It would have been lazy Hollywood-style writing where the science is treated like magic. Hans saved the story on several occasions by figuring out how to do the impossible with real technology.

I get frustrated when I see lazily written movies or YA novels that could have been so much better if they had put a little effort into the research. Real-life sciences and trades have a wealth of interesting details that make for a better story.

Your writing has a strong sense of place. Were any of the settings based on real locations or were there other inspirations?

The alt-history setting is a way to compensate for my lack of travel and experience. Instead of describing real places, I can just make stuff up. Porterville isn’t really Appalachia, it’s a composite of Ray Bradbury’s Illinois and the strange Deep South cultures in Huckleberry Finn. Iburakon isn’t really NYC, it’s more like an Old World city.

The easiest way for me to relate to other cultures is through their myths, so I gave Iburakon its own myths based on the real history of NYC. If I tried to evoke the atmosphere of NYC by describing it in a realistic way, I don’t think it would work. I’m not a city person and I couldn’t imagine living there.

Music plays a significant role in your stories. How has music influenced you and your work? I know you have talked about metal on twitter.

I was a lyricist before I was a novelist, and I wrote mythology-influenced lyrics that provided a lot of material for the Yankee Republic series. I used music and lyrics as a way to portray the culture of the mountain people. The experimental music project in Book 2 was influenced by my work as a music producer and engineer.

I had to come up with an alternate history of American music to fit the overall history. It’s more insular and more rustic. A form of jazz exists in the Regnum, a strange country corresponding to Louisiana, but it isn’t well-known in the Republic. I grew up on thrash metal and death metal, but my biggest musical heroes are probably Brian Wilson, Brian May, and Wendy Carlos.

You have mentioned Zelazny as an influence on your lyrics, which in turn influenced your antagonists. Could you describe how? Any lyrics you would be willing to share as examples?

Zelazny uses myth in most of his stories, and he’s responsible for my mythological obsession. Whenever I write a story, I look for parallels in real-world myths to give it more resonance.

A lot of metal bands draw on mythology or fantasy literature. I used to write narrative lyrics with dark, Zelazny-esque protagonists. They were original creations, not borrowed Zelazny characters. A lot of them ended up in the Yankee Republic series, but they were made more sympathetic. Most of the lyrics weren’t very good and they probably won’t see the light of day.

What do you hope your readers take away from Yankee Republic?

The people in the Yankee Republic don’t want to fix the world or control other people. They accept their limitations and look for practical solutions, instead of pursuing grandiose visions that lead to disaster.

The Ancient Marauder legend, which describes an ancient conqueror being struck down by divine wrath, is an important part of their culture. That’s why the Republic is much smaller than the US and isn’t a world power, and it’s peaceful instead of being torn apart by partisan struggles. Wherever Philo goes, he is careful to act as a guest and not as a conqueror. He values home and family much more than empty things like wealth and power.

Another thing I learned from The Seven Citadels was how to write a hero who solves problems without using violence. There’s nothing wrong with war stories, but I don’t have the experience or knowledge to write them. A lot of my writing approach is dictated by the necessity of working around my shortcomings. That’s why my stories are so odd and eccentric.

With the conclusion of the Yankee Republic series, what are you working on next? Will you ever return to this setting or characters again in the future?

My next book will be NIGHTLAND RACER. It’s influenced by classical mythology, in contrast to Yankee Republic, which used a lot of pre-Indo-European and indigenous mythology.

I’d like to write an entire book about the World-Tree, because it’s a very big story that was barely hinted at in Yankee Republic.

Back the Yankee Republic Omnibus Kickstarter today!

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Author Interview: J Trevor Robinson

Bio

When J Trevor was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his upcoming novel THE MUMMY OF MONTE CRISTO.

He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel THE GOOD FIGHT, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology SECRET STAIRS as the sole romance story in the collection.

He lives in Toronto keeping the redhead gene alive with his wife through their newborn daughter, born Friday the 13th.

(From website bio)

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“The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies!  . . . I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader!”

“Instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.”

“There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics.”

Author Interview with J Trevor Robinson

We talk with the author of The Mummy of Monte Cristo, the exciting new undead adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic revenge tale!

Pre-order Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

In a world where mankind shares the world with monsters and magic, and where the undead roamed Europe until Napoleon conquered the Dead Plague, Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned against the backdrop of the French Revolution and Hundred Days.

Desperate and with nothing left to lose, Edmond turns to a dark power beyond his understanding to reach from beyond the grave and torment his accusers. He will return to Paris with new riches, a new face, and a new weapon – THE MUMMY’S CURSE.

I am really excited to share my thoughts on The Mummy of Monte Cristo with you all! I have already read it thanks to an advance copy and can attest that it is a fantastic accomplishment: Dumas’ classic revenge tale packed with all the undead and horror goodies you could wish for!

So keep an eye out for our positive, long-form review when The Mummy of Monte Cristo is officially released on October 20th, 2020!

For today, I have a real treat. 

I sent author J Trevor Robinson some questions to pick his brain about what went into adapting this classic, and he was good enough to take the time to make some thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy!

 How has the original The Count of Monte Cristo impacted you as a reader and as a writer?

I remember I first read The Count of Monte Cristo back in 2009, on a trip to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding. Aside from Lord of the Rings, it was certainly the largest and longest book I’d ever read up to that point, and the scheming in the plot is still some of the most intricate I’ve ever seen.

One of the biggest impressions it’s left on me though, both from when I first read it and now after adapting it, is the amount of historical context and research it can take to really dive into a book like this. In the original, the edition I first read (and still have) was filled with footnotes explaining fascinating things about 19th-century French culture that Dumas’ original readers would have just known. In my adaptation, I took a lot of care to weave that background into the narrative so that the exposition doesn’t take away from the story.

Another reason that’s important is that when you’re adapting a story that’s so dependent on historical events of the period (in this case, the downfall and return of the monarchy and Napoleon’s time in power) you’d better be sure you understand it enough not to make a total mess of it. Of course, I got to exploit the convenient loophole of inventing things like zombie attacks to simplify some of the subtleties of history!

What do you enjoy about the undead adaptation genre?

The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies! Like, to the point that I don’t watch The Walking Dead (or even Shaun of the Dead!) For some reason, zombies just hit some nerve in my head where I become very aware of how badly equipped I’d be to survive in a world where they were real. Give me a vampire or a wolfman to deal with before putting me into a zombie apocalypse; I’m probably still getting eaten, but somehow it just seems less horrible when it’s not walking corpses doing it one puny human bite at a time.

I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader! “Write what you know,” you know? There’s a scene where Edmond reminisces about growing up in a world where zombies roamed the Earth where I drill into that fear a little further. Maybe one day I’ll put out a short story set during the Dead Plague, that could be fun.

What about The Count of Monte Cristo lends itself to this kind of adaptation?

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to write a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” kind of mash-up story that injects monsters and horrors into a classic novel. Of course, to do this sort of thing it needs to be old enough that the original book is in public domain, and the most fun and exciting book that I’d ever read which fit that description was Count of Monte Cristo.

Once I’d picked that, it was pretty easy to decide on a monster to use. I briefly toyed with using The Blob, and have it be a running joke that nobody realized the count was just a wad of pink carnivorous jelly wearing a suit, but having him become a mummy instead was the clear winner. After all, mummies in horror stories are often driven to take revenge on the treasure-hunters who disturbed their rest, so it was a natural fit.

On top of that, there’s a theme in the original story that I don’t think Dumas really dove into as much as he could have, which is how all the suffering Edmond goes through is ultimately due to a complete abuse of government power; one could even say, due to a government with far too much power. I feel like that becomes a more important theme to explore with every passing day, and I’ll get into that again a little bit later too.

Where did you draw inspiration from for the horror / undead genre elements?

Since I try to avoid watching any zombie movies or TV, I’m not really as familiar with the zombie tropes as I could be. In lieu of that, I focused on what makes them so scary to me, like how they can multiply so quickly, or how you never know if one could be lying hidden in tall grass or under someone’s porch waiting to bite any convenient ankles that come along.

As for the mummy’s powers, I had a lot of room to play with there too. Mummy movies tend to give the monster whatever magic serves the plot, so I did the same, focusing on what kind of abilities would help Edmond to pursue his goals. And of course, every monster needs weaknesses; I think I did a good job coming up with some to maintain a level of uncertainty and danger in his quest!

Was it difficult to integrate those elements?

Once I’d settled on the mummy as the main monster, I hit a small problem: Edmond’s story was so well-suited to it that I needed more supernatural elements to really make the book stand out from the original. There’s a line in “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, when Lecter is decorating a room, that goes something like “too much would be too much, but far too much was just right.” So instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.

What were the challenges and/or highlights of writing this adaptation?

One of the big challenges was knowing what from the original to cut to make room for the new elements I was adding in. Some characters from the original and their related subplots are entirely gone.

Another challenge was giving other characters things to do which served the new story. Let’s face it: in the original Max and Valentine are kind of dull, and Eugenie doesn’t do a whole lot either. But some of the changes I made let them get involved in the Mummy’s plans a lot more actively than they used to be, and I think it really helps the flow of the book.

What did you think was important to preserve about the original?

I felt that the root motivations of the main characters really needed to stay the same, partly because they work so well and partly because they’re so relevant to the state of the world today. Fernand is jealous that Mercedes loves Edmond instead of him, and feels entitled to her. Villefort is a fanatic who thinks that the government he serves is the highest moral purpose and can do no wrong. Danglars is just a bitter and twisted man who likes to see people taken down a peg when he thinks they have “too much” success. If fewer people behaved like the three of them in the real world, we’d be in a much better place.

What do you believe makes this classic story timely for today’s audience?

For starters, a story about life in the aftermath of a major plague is definitely fitting for 2020! The final edits were already with my publisher, Immortal Works, when coronavirus happened; it wasn’t even until early summer that I realized how coincidental the timing was.

There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics. The main plot kicks off because the villains exploit the Royalist/Bonapartist political schism to frame Edmond and have him locked away despite his innocence, a clear abuse of state force.

One thing I was very careful to do was not to represent either the Royalist or Bonapartist faction as fundamentally better than the other. The only glimpse I even give of their policies is in a brief conversation between two characters who try to defend their own sides, but end up just showcasing the ways that they both were in the wrong. The point isn’t for people to look at the factions and say “Oh, this one is Conservative and that one is Liberal, or this one is Republican and that one is Democrat.” The point is to look at the system those factions are part of and say “This is a mess, both teams are doing things they have no right to do, and a lot of innocent people are getting hurt for nothing.”

(and just like the plague angle, I had no idea just how much more fitting that would be by the time the book released!)

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Author Interviews

Coming soon: interviews with the authors of books we've reviewed!

Everyone knows that the published story is only the tip of the iceberg! Delve deeper with us in our discussions with authors. 

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We strive to deliver content that is entertaining and valuable for readers. Therefore, we will always keep the focus on the story, never straying into drama, politics, or writing advice! 

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