This is a re-release of the "Artesans of Albia" series, can you discuss your experience with the original publication of these books?
First I'd like so say a HUGE thank you, Walter, for helping out with my relaunch, and for posing me such interesting questions. I had much fun answering them!
So - first answer:
The books originally came out with indie publisher Rhemalda Publishing. The first book was available in August 2011, and the next two books followed, each a year apart. I did already have a self-published non-fiction book out there, titled For The Love of Daisy, but my fantasy series was my first experience of a 'traditional' publisher. I have to say that I found it all very exciting. Rhemalda was a relatively new company, and I realized there might be some risk in this, but I was prepared to take it. My thinking was that they stood as much to win or lose as I did over my books, and that meant they would do all they could to make them successful. I learned such a lot from Rhemalda - about cover design, about layout, about using social media, and about marketing. It was a blow when they were forced to close, but I have to commend them for being very straight and honest with me, and for returning all my rights with no fuss and plenty of help. I now feel so much better equipped to handle my books as a self-published author.
Tell me about the new cover design. Who is the artist?
The artist who designed the new covers for King's Champion and King's Artesan is Mikey Brooks. http://www.insidemikeysworld.com/ I met Mikey in 2011 at the "Rhemalda Publishing Got Stories?" conference in Utah. We hit it off and have been good friends ever since. I edited Mikey's two MG fantasy novels, The Dream Keeper (2012) and The Dreamstone (2013), and another novel not yet published. As well as being an author, and father to three young girls, Mikey is also an illustrator and designer, so when I was thinking of changing two of my covers, he was right there, eager to help. I love the new designs, and working with Mikey was a dream. He's already made a start on the cover for my fourth Artesans novel!
Why did you make the change?
The appeal of a book cover is such a personal thing. As an author, you want the cover to represent what's inside your book, but you also know that its main function is to attract readers. Your personal tastes should take second place to the business aspect of the design, and that's what happened with my second two covers. I always loved the cover of King's Envoy. It was entirely my vision, realized to perfection by digital artist Eve Ventrue. Yet Eve was not available for the next two covers, and I always felt that they didn't quite fit what I would have chosen. The third cover especially. Getting the chance to redesign them was the one thing that kept my spirits up during the closure of Rhemalda, and the uncertainty I felt over my writing career.
These are the first three books in a larger series. Can you tell us about the rest of the series and when you expect those works to be published?
Oh, yes! The Artesans of Albia series is a triple-trilogy, and all nine books have already been written. I carried on with the series while trying to get the first book published, so by the time I snared a publisher, all nine books were complete. That's not to say they're ready for publication - they need editing - but I have a firm time frame for their publication.
The first trilogy, the eponymous Artesans of Albia, concerns the deadly weapon known as the Staff. The novels deal with its discovery, its power, its effect on those who come into contact with it, and its implications for Artesans and the entire world. Those three books, King's Envoy, King's Champion, and King's Artesan, are available right now.
The second trilogy, Circle of Conspiracy, deals with the creator of the Staff and the plans the weapon was created to achieve. I'm not going into any more detail than that, otherwise I'll give too much away! The first book in this set, The Challenge, is scheduled for publication in Spring 2014; the second, The Circle, in Fall 2014; and the third, Full Circle, in Spring 2015.
The final trilogy, Master of Malice, is the thrilling, heart-rending, catastrophic finale to the series. It has much more of a horror element than the other two (the clue is in the title!) and I cannot guarantee that all the characters my readers have come to love and relate to will make it to the end. *Mwwuuhahaha!*
The first in this set, The Scarecrow, is due out in Fall 2015; the second, The Vagrant, in Spring 2016; and the final novel, The Gateway, in Fall 2016.
So much to look forward to!
I understand that there are some performances available of the songs that appear in your books, can you tell us about that?
Before I was a writer, I was a singer. I learned to sing in childhood by listening to folk bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Sandy Denny was my idol. I saved up and bought a Spanish guitar when I was 15, and took lessons at school. Soon, I was writing and singing my own songs, and performing some of them in my local church.
Music is a huge part of my life, and it percolated quite naturally into my writing. My characters inhabit a medieval-style world where singing and playing music was one of the major forms of entertainment. I could not help but incorporate it into their lives. 'The Wheel Will Turn', from King's Envoy, is an integral part of the book, but I didn't at first even dream of making it into an actual song. It was only when I was trying to find a USP for my series, something unique and interesting that would grab readers' attention, that I realized I already had the perfect vehicle. If I could put music to the 'song' in the book, I could record it and offer it to readers.
I am fortunate in that my brother is also a musician, and a much better guitar player than me! He and the guy he writes with have a small recording studio and they record their own stuff. So they gave me masses of help with producing 'The Wheel'. We decided to perform it live for the King's Envoy book launch I organized in my home town, and our local shopping mall agreed to let us erect a small stage and perform the song. The video of this performance is on my website: www.caspeace.com. Once I had 'The Wheel' under my belt, and saw how well it was received, I knew I had to continue with writing songs for all my books. 'The Wheel' is essentially a love song, a song of hope. King's Champion has a sea shanty called 'The Ballad of Tallimore', and the song for King's Artesan is called 'Morgan's Song (All That We Are)'. This song will appear at various times throughout the series, but all the books will have unique music. We are currently working on an instrumental called 'Larksong' for Book 4, The Challenge. It will have vocals, just not actual words. It's great fun and I love being able to use my other talents to help readers connect with my books.
Major Sullyan is the strong female protagonist of these novels, and she is forced to endure some pretty horrific situations. What was your motivation for dealing with the themes and scenarios which you have chosen?
I'm glad you asked this question. Every story must contain conflict, and when I decided I wanted to create a powerful, beautiful, but still entirely credible female fantasy lead, I knew I was going to have to pull out all the stops where conflict was concerned. Sullyan lives in a male-dominated culture, and her chosen profession - Albia's military - is even more so. She has to be able to hold her own among these hard-bitten types, and even be able to lead them, without being either a harridan, an archetypal Amazonian woman, or someone who holds her position through unnatural means (i.e., her own powers). This meant she had to endure life experiences that such men would respect, as respect is earned and won; it cannot be forced. Also, because of what comes later in the series, I needed her to have a powerful motivation for what she does. She becomes a champion of those weaker than herself, and such sentiments are often much deeper and stronger in those who have suffered trauma. I also needed a reason for her to 'lose it' sometimes. She had to be flawed, otherwise she would not be credible.
I know from your review that you felt skeptical about one aspect of her life experiences - I am hoping that as you read further, you will come to understand why that aspect exists (Editor interruption--here's the review that Cas is referring to).
The dual world situation that you have created in Artesans brought to mind Raymond E Feist's "Riftwar Saga" for me. Is he among your influences? If not, who is?
Actually, he is not. I have only read one Feist novel (to my shame), so he was not among the authors who have influenced my writing. When I was growing up, my love for fantasy was kindled by C S Lewis (Narnia), Anne McCaffrey (Pern), and Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse). Then, of course, came J R R Tolkien (LOTR). I guess it was C S Lewis who planted the notion of other worlds being available to the chosen few, and when I discovered Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, that notion was strengthened. However, I didn't consciously decide to build a world with 5 different realms - they kind of built themselves as the story evolved. I'd love to tell you that I meticulously planned all nine novels, and that everything was clear and in place before I started writing, but that would be untrue. Me - plan a novel? I wouldn't know where to start ... ! :-)
Overall, how have these books been received?
Actually, I have been thrilled and humbled by how well my series has been received. For someone who never set out to write novels at all, it's nothing short of miraculous. But you know, writing this series was an incredibly intense and strange experience, and because of the way it came about, I always felt there was some 'reason' why it had to exist. This was what kept me going through all the years of submission and rejection - harder to bear, I found, because of the constant encouragement from the agents and publishers who rejected me. "It's very good," they often told me. "Your writing shines," one said. "Don't give up," several wrote back, "you will eventually find a home for this." Wonderful comments, and hugely uplifting, but also screamingly frustrating when none of them would accept me! None, that is, until Rhemalda Publishing. :-)
What other writing projects do you have besides "Artesans of Albia?"
At the moment, relaunching the first trilogy, and prepping Book 4, The Challenge, is taking all my time. I'm also a freelance editor and proofreader, so I don't get much free time. I seem to need an empty and bored brain for ideas to present themselves, and I'm still undergoing 4 years of pretty intense stuff over 'Artesans'. I do, however, have one project, although it's connected.
Once two of my books were published, I realized I'd missed a trick with Sullyan. I ought to have started earlier in her life. My books are aimed primarily at adults, although there is nothing in the first 6 that younger people couldn't read. My characters rarely use strong language (Sullyan's soldier curses are seldom written down!) and I have had readers as young as 12 thoroughly enjoy the books. But I can't market them as MG or YA because of the characters' ages. Yet YA is one of the fastest growing age-groups, and it's also one where readers freely share, by word-of-mouth, FB, Twitter, etc, the books they love. And that's what I want to tap into. So my project is a prequel to the Artesans series, dealing with Sullyan's early life and how she developed her awesome powers. Its working title is Maiden of Mystery, and all I can say is - watch this space!
Where should we go to learn more about you?
My website is a great place to start; you can find all the sales links to my books, and you can also download - FREE - the songs from each book. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, and I have a blog, Peacewrites. Here are all the links:
Many thanks once again for hosting me, Walter - you are a star!