The Dawn of Unions (Author Interview)

The Dawn of Unions looks like a fantastic fantasy adventure. Can you tell us a little about the book?
            So, the Dawn of Unions serves as a reader’s first foothold on the world of Skolf, and by extension, into the series, “The Cycle of Bones.” Skolf is a world that exists very clearly in my mind, and I’m excited to bring the proverbial “monsters in my head” to readers. As a setting, Skolf has a ton of cultural, linguistic, economic, and magical detail. The truth is, however, that it doesn’t matter how many languages, cultures, magic systems, monsters, or machinations exist in a given world. While everyone wants that rich detail, too much detail given too fast can actually be a barrier to reading.
With this first book, it was important to me to pick a place, and people who were comparatively isolated. I wanted to find a little microcosm, a little slice of the broader world, the larger story to come. The events in a sovereign county in the comparative middle of nowhere seemed like the right place to begin. A single village in that county – the village of Westsong? That seemed to be just about the perfect fit.

How many books are going to be in the “Cycle of Bones” series?
            That’s an excellent question. The answer is, honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I know the road, as it were, and how it ends. It’s the details along that road which are still a bit blurry for me. Yeah, that was a blind joke. Getting to journey’s end could take as few as three novels and one novella, but might take a bit longer. I write reasonably quickly, though. Knowing the world so well makes that process easier.

What inspired you when writing The Dawn of Unions?
            Certainly there are a ton of authors who have inspired me over the years (King, Tolkien, Hamilton, Crichton, Sanderson,) but that just scratches the surface. As you know, I’m legally blind. While that’s been the case from birth, my condition’s degenerative. That means that as time has passed, I’ve had to give up activities I’d previously thrown myself into with all the zeal and abandon that time, effort, and my body would allow. I spent about a decade fighting Western martial arts heavy combat. Full armor, swords, spears, crossbows with blunted bolts, etc. I went all over the country doing it, met some remarkable people, learned a lot, and ultimately fought beside, trained, and led people on the field. None of this was scripted or choreographed, it was all spontaneous. While this particular martial art, like most others has regulations and safety requirements, it was dangerous, unpredictable, exciting, demanding, and very nearly the most fun I’ve ever had. When my vision loss meant I had to retire from that particular activity, I was gutted.

            So yes, a very real part of why I wanted to write not only this book, but all of my books, had to do with scratching that itch. I wanted to take all of the things that I’ve learned, and all of the things that I’d done, and use them to add a touch of realism – a touch of “my truth”, if that makes sense – to the genre.
            There’s also the fact that, being legally blind, I had a fairly rare, if not utterly unique perspective on what it was to be in the throes of combat. While certainly I didn’t see things the way other people did, I also didn’t hear them, feel them, or even smell them quite the same way. I wanted to put other people in situations like the ones I’ve lived through. I suppose some part of me hopes that those brothers and sisters I was fortunate enough to stand beside, behind, or in front of, will get to read the work and gain a new perspective of their own.
            Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this world has been rolling around in my head for two decades. I’ve had this place, and all of the others that readers will eventually see, invading my dreams, demanding I put them down on paper, if only virtually, for so long now that I really can’t imagine my life without them. To finally be in a position to pull back the curtain and show these things to the world … It’s a great gift, and one I don’t intend to waste.

Why did you decide to become a writer?
            I don’t think I decided much of anything, if I’m honest. I’m a storyteller at heart, of course, and that helped, but there wasn’t any conscious plan to “become an author”. I’ve been a session and touring musician, a songwriter, and a recording artist for most of my life; and I’ve always taken notes and written short stories when I wasn’t working on songs. I kind of had to. I don’t know if it’s true of every person who is creative, but based on my own experience it really is a scenario where  if you don’t find a way to get these things out of your head and on paper, or recorded in some other way, it seeps into the rest of your life. I don’t mean you start seeing things, or anything like that. I just mean that you’re constantly distracted by them. Every free moment your mind can wrestle itself away from whatever daily tasks you have to do, your dragged back to think about the thing you still haven’t bothered to write down or record.
            I think some part of me always planned on doing longform prose, but for me it was difficult to get my mind wrapped around it because there was so much to tell. So you think, “fine. I’ll write an ensemble piece.” Right? Well, there are ensembles, and then there are crowds. No one in my world is just “the guard” or “the spinster”. By no means are their lives all grand or dramatic, but they are, in their own way, quite real. For me the difficulty wasn’t whether or not to write, it wasn’t some final epiphany that writing was something I intended to do. I never “chose” to be an author in one of those moments. For me it was more about finding a way to sift the real story – the important bits I mean – out of the living, breathing places in my head. I’m sure that sounds weird, but it’s the truth as I understand it.

How did you come up with the story in The Dawn of Unions?
            Well, as I said, it was more about finding the right place within the larger tale. For me, writing is a lot like anthropology on most days, and archaeology on others. I knew what was going on on the larger map. I knew who the major players were, and how the story was going to play out, overall.
In order to tell that story, though, someone has to care about it – has to care about the characters, at the very least. So, I set my mind to the task of finding an entry wedge. Where, I asked myself, can I bring a complete stranger into this world without having to give them any prior knowledge as to what was going on, who these people were, what the cultures were, what the history was, etc, and not make them feel like they’re drowning in backstory, or in desperate need of a spreadsheet to keep track of it all? Thorion County seemed the logical place. From there, it was just a matter of looking at the larger story, then figuring out what parts of it were going to fall within Thorion itself.
            The Countess, Ylspeth, opened the door for me. Once she was kind enough to invite me in, so to speak, Kaith and the rest were only too happy to tell me their own stories.

Did anything stick out as particularly challenging when writing The Dawn of Unions?
            The only real challenge is a technological one. Most of the time I tend to do my writing using speech-to-text software. One of the intrinsic problems with that, however, is that there are often homonym and homophone issues. It’s a unique challenge to find an editor who can switch their brain into that particular mode and look for those particular errors. They’ll find most of them, certainly, but never all of them, in the ordinary course.
            The closest thing to another challenge for me was finding the right entry wedge. It’s a term I use a lot in conversations like this. My “blank page syndrome,” so to speak, isn’t a generic lack of certainty as to what to write. It’s more a question of, “at what point in the story, or in this particular character’s day, am I turning the cameras on and yelling action?” I know damn near everything there is to know about Kaith of Thorion. I know where he usually breakfasts, I know who he usually speaks to, I know what side of the bed he gets out on, and which boot he puts on first. I just wasn’t certain where within that day-in-the-life we needed to join him. We’re going to join the Kaith show already in progress, which is fine, but finding out exactly where and when can be challenging. For me, that’s where my blank page syndrome comes into play.

What do you like to do when not writing?
            Well, when I’m not writing, I tend either to be in the recording studio, on the stage, rehearsing or the like. When I’m not neck-deep in a particular story, I like camping. If I can find games that I can still see well enough to play, I’m also a gamer.

Where can readers find out more about your work?