Interview: H.O. Charles, author of The Fireblade Array @HOCharles

Today it is my pleasure to host one of the hidden gems of self-publishing, H.O. Charles! Charles’s epic fantasy romance series (and by epic, I mean it spans multiple centuries and lifetimes) is one of my favorites and I’m delighted to be hosting the insanely talented creator!

How did you get the idea for The Fireblade Array?

I’m not sure, really. It was years ago, and I used to make up stories in my head to amuse myself on dull train journeys. I like the idea of another universe that has some similarities to this one, but then I want to add in what’s missing in this world. Why is X so unfair, why do we have to suffer Y, and why must we be limited by Z? But as you know, we can’t have everything good all the time – the human psyche just isn’t wired that way. Angst and trials are entertaining to us – to me! So as soon as you start conjuring amazing powers and piecing together beautiful places in your head, you know there has to be some sort of balance – a price, if you will.

So for example, people in The Fireblade Array are very nearly immortal, but can you imagine how overpopulated our world would become if that were true? There has to be a correcting mechanism or mechanisms in there because of the way The Darkworld was formed (you discover some of the history behind this in Book 6), and the balancing mechanisms you see in my books pretty much wrote themselves. Interestingly, and while looking into mortality, I discovered that if we were no longer susceptible to disease or age in this world, we would still *only* have an average life expectancy of 1,200 years. This is because we are so accident-prone and (to a lesser extent) given to murdering one another. (Ref: Finch, C. 1990, Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome) Isn’t that fascinating?

If you broke the ideas in the series into their constituent parts, you’d probably find that they’re a Frankenstein’s monster of bits and pieces from Western literature, film, TV and even video games. I get a great deal of enjoyment reading nineteenth century novels as well as modern, but it would be wrong to discount the huge influence gaming and film have. Games, in particular, are another fantastic modern-day mode of storytelling. The Bioshock series blew me away. Books and games each offer something the other does not have, and they both activate that creative bit of the brain. I think everything an author sees and reads and consumes ends up being churned up and spat out in their writing one way or another (sorry, that’s not very nice imagery, is it?! I’m in Mirel mode. Radiated might have been better there). I radiate all that I consume. Haha. Hmm. Okay, onto the next one before I start to sound like an hubristic narcissist!

Fantasy backed by scientific articles! I love it. The Fireblade Array has a very unique format in that it’s more of an epic chronicle than a stereotypical narrative. What inspired you to write that way?

I wanted the story to be told from different points of view. I cannot claim credit for it, as it’s fairly standard practice in the fantasy genre (Robert Jordan, GRRM both do it, as do others I cannot remember offhand). It made the most sense to me, and I knew the story would be a long one. I can do single-point narrative, but I find I become bored easily. I also REALLY enjoy cliffhangers. << laughs wickedly >>

I know you love cliffhangers, you wretched goblin. *glares* What made you decide to become an indie author?

Haha. You mean, why didn’t I get a big-name publisher?! I tried a couple, but I started young and for whatever reason (I’m not bitter. Nope) I wasn’t picked out of the pile. I took it personally (I shouldn’t have), but I don’t feel I’ve missed out. The world is different now. The big publishers still have their finger in the publicity pie, and enough budget to hire powerful literary PR agencies, but the book world is a much more heterogeneous place compared to that of ten years ago. Yes, there’s some dross out there (there was before, let’s be honest), but it’s better for readers now. Back in 2010, I stumbled upon a very amateurish book on Smashwords, and thought (as we often do) “I can do better than that!” and decided to have a go. I always hoped my books would do well, but I never expected to leave my job/PhD and make a living out of it. Really, I just wrote and published because I loved creating the stories. Still do!!

Yeah…publishers can be like that. But good for you! How did you pick your penname? Do you feel it has allowed you more creative freedom?

YES. I picked the penname because I thought it sounded like the typical, middle-aged, bearded dude that writes fantasy (I think it’s some sort of uniform that you have to adopt once you get signed to a major contract). Is that who I am?! I’ll leave that up to your imagination, but YES, YES and YES, it has given me huge creative freedom. I am seriously self-conscious about anything I do, and I was scared of having my friends cut and paste romantic scenes from the books onto my Facebook page for laughs (they would do this, srsly), so I made my own little secret world where I could write anything I bloody well liked. “Write like everyone you know is dead,” they say (I cannot find the source for that quotation) – well, instead I killed me and invented a person too new to know anyone.

I still haven’t ‘come out’ to most of them about my penname. I’m working up to it…

You have to do what you’re comfortable with. Your three favorite characters to write and why?

Silar – for teh swearz

Morghiad – if I said here, I would spoil the next book…

Mirel – because she’s just so wicked!

Personally, Morghiad is my favorite. <3 (And not just because he’s dreamy, I swear.) What’s a story idea that’s come to you recently?

What? Give away all my hugely lucrative ideas on your blog?! Okay then! I started writing both a prequel and a spin-off to the series a while back. I hope to finish those within a reasonable time frame.

I have some other ideas that are still in development stage. One will be an historical fiction-type-adventure thing. With a ton of romance. Mustn’t forget that. I also want to do a near-future dystopia one (think Charlie Brooker/Black Mirror), but I don’t have time just yet!

YES for the romaction! How would you describe yourself in three fictional characters?

My own characters are basically me if I were significantly better-looking and braver and cooler. Take Silar, Artemi and Morghiad, and stir them all in a pot. Something like me will come out of it. Probably. Maybe a bit more evil Ambrose from Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. And possibly some Emma Woodhouse from Austin. Sorry, that’s more than three, isn’t it? See? That’s why I added evil/scheming characters, because they don’t like doing things the proper way.

Pieces of yourself to each? Hmm…that’s either great or concerning. Your favorite online haunts and links?

Ooh. I’m going to be really boring and say I don’t go anywhere exciting online at the moment. Aside from the news, Wikipedia, checking my own reviews (I know, I need to STOP doing that) and the usual social media pages… there’s not a whole lot online these days that I have time to wander around. If you know of any good places, do tell me though.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Here’s to the best of luck and looking forward to Fall of Blaze! 🙂

H.O. Charles was born in Northern England, but now resides in a beige house in Suffolk.

Charles has spent many years at various academic institutions, and really ought to get on with writing a PhD, but frequently becomes distracted by writing fantasy fiction instead.

Hobbies include being in the sea, being by the sea and eating things that come out of the sea.

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Why I Almost Never Take Book Recommendations

After reading a mind-blowing book, what’s the next step? Some of us preorder/buy the sequel, others make fanart or fanfic, some of us hunt down the author’s backlist, but all of us—at some point or another—will recommend that book to someone else.

It’s only natural. After all, we just found this piece of printed perfection. Why wouldn’t we nod approvingly at strangers in bookstores, send fervent messages to friends, or even shout from the rooftops? The world must know of the awesomeness we have found!

The problem is, everyone is different. Not everyone is going to love the same books you love. Not everyone is going to love the books even a vast majority do.

And that’s OKAY.

I have been blessed with many bookish friends. With this has come many book recommendations. A lot of them have similar tastes to mine, but not one of us has the exact same tastes—we wouldn’t be individuals if we did.

Every so often, my friends recommend me one and I love it. Most of the time, though, I look into the book I’ve been recommended and decide, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t tickle my fancy. It can get harder, though, when four, five, six, or more friends start recommending the same book I just don’t want to read.

The thing is, time is short. Between writing, blogging, school, and life, I can only read a few dozen of the hundreds of books I’d like to read every year. I want to spend that time on books I genuinely want to read, not something I felt forced into.

And you know the one thing worse than not reading a book all your friends love? Hating a book all your friends love.

Believe me, it sucks. I’d much rather stick to books I think I’ll enjoy than caving to peer pressure and ending up the black sheep. Besides, if reading isn’t enjoyable, why bother with it?

“But how will you know unless you try it?” some might ask. In all fairness, I won’t. It doesn’t matter. I, like everyone else, has the right to read what I want whether that’s the biography of a 16th century banker or a paranormal romance novella (both were great, in case you wondered). People shouldn’t have to justify their tastes in what is supposed to be a harmless recreational activity.

However, even if I don’t particularly want to read a certain book, that doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely happy someone else enjoyed it. I am.

Nonetheless, I know myself better than anyone else, after all. If my search happens to lead me to the same books, awesome. If not, oh well.

Last year I gave myself permission to read what I wanted and it’s working out pretty well so far!

All the same, don’t let me discourage anyone from shouting out their favorite books. If you like it, flaunt it. Maybe you’ve found exactly what someone is looking for. Just remember that everyone is different and not to take it personally if you recommendations never make it to the top of your friends’ reading lists.

And try not to pressure people who haven’t read what you have! We don’t deserve the guilt!

Read and let read, that’s what I say.

Lesser-Known Writers I Love

As a regular reader of indie books, it’s not uncommon for me to fangirl over writers no one I know has ever heard of. Nonetheless, this week I’d like to brag about a few whom I especially adore. So read on for my fangirling and click on the names for their Goodreads bibliographies or websites (depending on what they have).

Enheduanna

It may be odd to start with an author I have never read. This lady was the daughter of the Akkadian king, Sargon I, and the first credited author in recorded history. Living several thousand years ago, I think of her every time I’m watching Downton Abbey and there’s a debate about whether women should be writers.

(Spoiler: They should. Men, too. Seriously, everyone.)

John Marco

I have written one fan letter in my life and it was to this guy. He is amazing. He is underrated. Specializing in military epic fantasy, I enjoy the way he explores both the human and strategic aspects of warfare against the backdrop of wildly imaginative worlds. DID I MENTION HE IS AMAZING?!?!?!

His Tyrants and Kings series dropped into my life right when I was going through some rough stuff later in my parents’ divorce. That trilogy really helped me. I mean, my life was miserable, but at least I didn’t have a semi-immortal druggie with uncomfortably likable assassins out to kill me and my family, right?

Lloyd Alexander

Who says Fantasy books have to be long to be epic? The Prydain Chronicles, based on Welsh mythology, are an imaginative, thrilling quintet and none of the books exceed 250 pages. Disney actually adapted the first book into an animated film, but it didn’t do so great. Nonetheless, the books are great, nay—AWESOME.

Kaitlyn Deann

I have had the honor to know this young lady personally through the magic of the interweb. Her debut novel was far better than my original effort, though we are about the same age. I am continually blown away by the depth and breadth of her stories and I am honored to know her.

Intisar Khanani

The very first eBook I read in entirety was Thorn by this resplendent, brilliant wordsmith. It was she who proved to me that diversity could be written well. Her stories are action-packed, whimsically inventive, but at the same time advocate a value for life that makes me want to hug her to bits.

If someone ever tries to say self-published books aren’t good, I shall pelt them with her entire bibliography.

Tad Williams

This guy’s Shadowmarch quadrilogy holds a special place for me. It was with me through those first few months after my dad filed for divorce. Mr. Williams is high on my list of “must meet someday” and I’m looking forward to reading his backlist.

(When I saw he also left a sparkly review for one of John Marco’s books, I went into Fangirl Overdrive.)

Gerald Morris

This gentleman wrote a series of twelve middle-grade novels, each tackling a different Arthurian myth. Have you ever heard of the dung-cart knight? The damsel and the dwarf? Sir Owain and the lioness? Neither had I, but The Squire’s Tales educated me in the most sarcastic, humorous, enjoyable way possible.

I read all twelve books out loud to my brothers and it was a wonderful family bonding experience. (Also with a special place in my heart.)

Who are some of your favorite less-known writers? Ones that no one—not even your bookish friends—has heard of? What’s your favorite thing about them? Tell me in the comments!

Seven Steps to Becoming an Epic Fantasy Mentor

Step One: Have a mysterious and tragic past.

You will vaguely allude to this past with a far-off look in your eye whenever the villain is mentioned, followed by a moment of pensive silence and/or moodiness for the remainder of the day.

Step Two: You must have a personal reason to hate the villain (whom the protagonist is obviously destined to kill).

You were lovers until he/she chose the path of evil. More likely, he/she murdered your spouse and/or offspring and/or someone else dear to you.

(This is doubly effective if you go with both ex-lovers and murder, though.)

Step Three: Live somewhere remote and hard to reach.

The only worthwhile mentors are inaccessible. If you must live in an urban environment, be the weird/creepy/dangerous person no one likes. Anything to prevent you having friends.

Step Four: Have a secret artifact that the villain will come seeking.

An artifact that has been lost for years and is only coincidentally located once the protagonist turns up.

Step Five: Silence is golden and so is miscommunication.

Never tell the protagonist everything outright. Let them discover the villain’s secrets (which you obviously know because of your past) through a series of (likely violent) misfortunes on their own.

Step Six: By contrast, micromanage the protagonist’s love life.

You must strongly encourage or overtly discourage any attraction the protagonist has to another character. Either way, you must never be neutral under any circumstances.

Step Seven: Sorry…but this is the part where you must die.

*cough* And now we get to the last one. No reneging. You will most likely be killed by the villain in a traumatic event that shall steel the hero’s resolve to destroy the villain. Hey, at least your death was worth it, right?

Review: Kingdom at Sea (The Kinsman Chronicles, Part #4) by Jill Williamson @Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson’s Fantasy Saga Continues!

In the second volume of Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, a remnant has escaped the destruction of the Five Realms and now lives on several hundred ships adrift at sea. As a flock, they sail north into the unknown in hopes of finding land that might become their new home.

As the king’s illness worsens, Sâr Wilek takes authority over the expedition and struggles to rule the disjointed people, while assassination attempts, vicious serpents, and dark magic endanger his life.

One prophecy has come to pass, but another looms dauntingly in the future. Who is this Deliverer? And if the Magonians have him, what might that mean for the realm of Armania?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I stayed up late to finish this because sleep is for the weak and this book is AMAZING. (Though, it’s from Jill Williamson. I’m not sure what else I expected.) It’s supposed to be a novella, so I’ll keep it short, but count me a rejuvenated fangirl.

The plot:

Like the rest of this series, there are several perspectives we follow through the course of the book. I didn’t expect to be surprised as often as I was. Several times, I was predicting one outcome and got one very different. There

The characters:

I’ll try to limit this to a few lines each. It may be difficult. *clears throat* Here we go.

Wilek: I’ve mentioned before that he reminds me of my favorite character from my favorite film of all time—Prince Hector. He still does. He messes up, but takes responsibility. He tries to do the right thing, but half the time gets screwed over by his father and brother (Janek, not Trevn). I just want him to be safe and happy and LIVE, DAMN IT.

Charlon: I was glad to see more moral dilemmas with her in this one, more conflict. The interactions between her and Zeroah were especially fascinating and I enjoyed that development. Zeroah has also begun to grow on me—probably because she’s grown a (small, but still existent) backbone. (YES!)

Trevn: Ah, my spunky summer child. It’s hard not to love him. The author has admitted he’s her favorite and I see why. Idealist, hardworking, romantic at heart…my sweet baby. Written believably with flaws to match his perfections, he is perfect because of it.

Kalenek: The storyline of a guard who can’t fight has intrigued me from the start. I feel bad about him and Onika just because I don’t see how it can end well, but the relationship between him and Wilek is a bromance for the centuries. Watching Kal juggle his duties as Wilek’s shield, Mielle and Amala’s guardian, and his feelings for Onika was a deeply engaging and truly helped me integrate emotionally with his character.

Mielle: She didn’t get as much page time as in previous installments, but she was still around enough for me to say her and Trevn are an OTP to die for.

Miscellaneous others: Janek and King Echad can die at any point and I won’t be sad. Janek had two sentences where I thought I might reconsider my assessment, but no. The same goes for Rodegoth and Mreegan. Seriously, it can’t happen fast enough. Ulrik is an idiot who needs to be slapped like the foolish child he is, Qoatch should find someone who appreciates his loyalty, and Inolah is awesome. I ship Hinck and Pia and that Tennish High Queen should take a chill pill. Or several. And someone slap Amala, too, because she’s also an idiot child.

In short, this series is amazing and you can download part 1 for free for all major eBooks. It’s awesome. I highly recommend you READ IT as well as the companion trilogy, the first of which is also free. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have downloaded part 5 and have a date with my Kindle.

Find Kingdom at Sea on Goodreads

Find Kingdom at Sea on Amazon

Find Kingdom at Sea on BN.com

Reading Bad Books in the Name of Representation

There is no inherent problem writing about a social/religious/relational/political issue in literature or—as I like to call it—activist fiction. Quite the opposite. I am a big believer in the power of art to influence society. Without the freedom of artists to call attention to issues big and small, there go most of history’s great revolutions.

That being said, there is a HUGE problem with BAD activist fiction and most of it is.

I’ve seen this happen in LGBTQ fiction, Christian fiction, and others.

I once encountered a story about a person becoming a Christian, but it was wholly bereft of character development and conflict. (FOR EXAMPLE: Christianity doesn’t magically cure mental illness. It does make the mental illness more manageable and has literally kept me alive, but no insta-cures!) Even when there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING inaccurate in the theology presented, I can definitively say it was a horrible piece.

In another case, I read two lesbian romances in a writing workshop that were just as atrocious. One was about a woman who has an affair with an employee and the other was about a girl finally getting a commitment out of her girlfriend, both by the same author, both with the same problems.

The plots and climaxes were no where to be found, the other characters’ reactions to the couples’ relationships made NO SENSE, and plus some other little details just didn’t…add up.

And don’t get me started on all the women’s rights monologues that take up whole pages of certain Young Adult Fantasy novels. I mean, if you want to write feminist essays, write feminist essays, but don’t try to play them off as dialogue tossed in at random.

Why does this happen?

From what I’ve seen, people decide they want to write in an underrepresented niche, but don’t learn how to write first. They then surround themselves with people as passionate about the issue as they are which, while great, means these people are going to be a lot less likely to notice or point out problems. I’m also convinced that people supportive of the issue in general are less likely to point out problems because they don’t want to appear adversarial.

It gets to the point where people will focus on the representation and NOTHING ELSE when discussing certain books because, let’s face it, that’s the only redeemable quality. 

I am a feminist reader who wants to see more diversity in my books and also more Christianity, but you can be sure that the moment I see “feminist,” “Christian” or “diverse” in the blurb, I usually forego. Of course there are exceptions, but I’ve been burned too many times. I’m convinced half the time publishers are just filling diversity quotas.

I’ve read too many crappy stories in the name of representation.

I understand it takes time for genres and writers to find themselves and their voices, but life is too short to waste on bad books. Maybe in 5-10 years things will be better. The lesson for all the writers out there is to definitely use your writer-ly powers for good, but also learn story mechanics. PLEASE.

And, just as importantly, seek help from brutal (and I mean BRUTAL) editors.

Be sure to work on your craft as well as your cause.

But I assure you it can be done. To prove it, let me say good Christian fictiongood diverse fiction, and good feminist fiction do exist. Sometimes all at once. I have found these and more examples and they are amazing. You, see? It is possible!

BEAUTIFUL BOOKS ~ 2017 Writing Goals

Beautiful Books is a monthly feature hosted by Her Bookish Resplendence, Cait, over at Paper Fury. Click here to join in the link-up and don’t forget to check out Cait’s aesthetically divine bookstagram account! Now…on to the questions!

What were your writing achievements last year?

Not to pat myself on the back, but I did pretty darn well. I drafted three manuscripts and published three others. 😀 I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?

Well, like I said in my “resolutions” post, I want to do a repeat. Draft three books, publish three books, and  then decide whether or not I want to query this other WIP. That last one has been quite the internal debate. Grr…

Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!

Fanged Rebel (Haddie’s fourth adventure) is currently being drafted and Janir’s fourth book, The Temple of Tarkoth, are my priorities for this year. No more three year waits between books!

How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?

I see myself at the end of 2017 with only one year left of school, nine published books, and at least two more in the works for release in 2018. Exciting stuff! From a craft perspective, I want to explore character relationships and complexities more. That never gets old for me!

Describe your general editing process.

I generally have an idea of some things I will want changed while drafting, but I just plough through. After taking a break from the manuscript (anywhere from weeks to months), I do a few rereads and mark-ups in both electronic and finally print format. The last step is sending the manuscript to other writers whom I trust and adore who (lovingly) offer me brutal critiques.

On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?

For my NaNo project, Fireblight, I’d say 9 and 3/4. 😀  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I’m pretty proud of it.

What aspect of your draft needs the most work?

Fireblight started out as just a fun book to relieve stress, so there are some inconsistencies in world building and character relationships because, like I mentioned, I tend to edit as I go. That’s definitely what needs the most work, I’d say.

What do you like the most about your draft?

Again with Fireblight, I love how the characters took charge at certain points. I love how the whole story took an unexpected turn. I just love the adventure of this piece! It’s fairly unique compared to my usual stuff and tested me a bit. It’s a blast!

Also, DRAGONS!

What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

Unless plans change, I plan to queue Fireblight as an indie release in two or three years. (My release schedule before that is booked. LOL. Get it? Booked?)

What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?

Put it down for a week. A month. Four months. Then edit it before you do anything. PLEASE EDIT. We all write crap on the first go and exposure to raw, first drafts (including my own) isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.