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‘A Metaphor for Real Life’: Conversation with Fantasy Author Ryan Peabody

Like many fantasy readers, Ryan Peabody spent his childhood imagining worlds and dreaming up big adventures. However, when he entered law school, his love of fantasy grew for another reason — it gave him space to relax and explore.

Shadows of Hammerfall author Ryan Peabody

“I like the unexpected,” he says. “I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, even as a youth and all the way through law school, as a space to relax and explore. I have read all different genres, fiction and non-fiction. But I was always drawn back to fantasy for its unique ability to capture the imagination with adventure and big ideas. As a writer, the world of fantasy was so vast that the logical next step was to further expand that universe in areas that I personally wanted to explore.”

The Texas-based author has wrapped up Shadows of Hammerfall, the first in an eventual three-book series chronicling the adventures of brothers Drakiel and Kael, and their efforts to save their kingdom from corruption, invaders, frightening primordial creatures … and how they shape themselves, society and world in the process. It features many twists and turns, including some that surprised Peabody as much as anyone.

‘I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change,  in both themselves and in the world around them.’ — Ryan Peabody

In other words, a strong fantasy debut by a lifelong fan of the genre. Shadows is being shopped to publishers now; publication is anticipated in late 2018 or 2019.

Word Journeys sat with Ryan to discuss Shadows, in a conversation that not only offers up plenty of tidbits about the book, but gives insight into the writing process.

WJ: Ryan, thanks for joining us. Where did you come up with the seed of what became Shadows of Hammerfall?

Ryan Peabody: The very essence of fantasy is a metaphor for real life. I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change, in both themselves and in the world around them. So many people today just accept the ideas of others rather than testing their own. My characters face off against the greater problems in society and find that making any progress to finding solutions is infinitely more difficult than they appear. The Shadows looming over Hammerfall are those problems, and iour aspiring heroes must pass through the crucible of fire and transform from naïve youth into hardened adults.

WJ: Can you elaborate more on what we’ll read in Shadows?

RP: Two brothers are born into a family where their entitlement is all they will ever need. Yet satisfaction in this lifestyle becomes more unbearable and oppressive than being in prison. They strike out to challenge the powers that be, and in the process, find themselves so far over their heads that  the course of their lives changes forever. As their brotherly relationship is shattered and rebuilt, they individually uncover a corruption in Hammerfall that will unlock secrets of an ancient past that will plunge them all into darkness. They alone can stop it, if they can only rebuild their broken bond in time.

WJ: In the book, we see a parallel, in some ways, to the social and political movements in the US. Did you have that in mind when writing it? Or did that draw out naturally through your characters and their stories and journeys?

RP: It’s more about the controlling forces in society than politics. That being said, politics has a tendency to get out of hand on either side; most people may agree. So I wanted to use that as a starting place and delve deeper. I wanted to pit my heroes against the person behind the person; the unknown antagonist pulling the strings of society. At the same time, I wanted to craft characters able to justify any action as a means to an end, and challenge notions of morality as they begin to slide down a dangerous slope to becoming the very thing they proclaim to fight against.

WJ: You present a great juxtaposition of influences in the boys’ lives, between Yodden, their wise blacksmith friend and a guiding light; and the Prime Chancellor, a very corrupt and authoritative, yet charismatic man. Tell us about the ways in which you present good v. evil in these characters, and also the room that fantasy allows you to develop variations of the theme.

RP: I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil by making these two characters pulling toward their own ends, but by following very different directions. It’s almost like the idea of vigilante justice; is killing a known killer justifiable? Or is due process more important than righting a wrong, particularly if the justice system itself is corrupt? The main characters must decide to fight within a broken system or justify their actions outside of it.

WJ: “Shadows” is in many ways the story of two brothers, Drakiel and Kael, who embark on a journey together – and then everything in both their lives changes. What are some of your favorite parts of their journey?

RP: My favorite part, without giving too much away, was their role reversal over the course of the book. The brothers start out with nearly the same personality profile and then are drawn in such dramatically different directions. I found this to be a particularly interesting concept, what would happen to the same person growing up in different environments; taking a different path through life. How dramatically different would the “same person” end up as a result of very different environments and external forces? I also explored how such seemingly small decisions can have dramatic impact on the life paths we follow.

WJ: One of my favorite parts is Drakiel’s sentence to the Wilds, a truly foreboding land – but you do a great literary thing by showing him experiencing his own lessons, then coming back to fight again with those new lessons in place. How does the journey, along with the original wild landscapes and creatures you created, help you draw out Drakiel, as well as set up the later story?

RP: Drakiel needed to learn humility; he finally had a situation  he had no control over. He had to give in. He had no choice. He had to be broken down and rebuilt. He had to give up who he was so he would have the opportunity to grow into who he was meant to become. In discovering the new land he was also discovering who he was meant to be. The wilds were a reflection of his own inner-self. Instead of fighting against the world he had to learn to adapt to it, and in doing so became a very dangerous man, taking these lessons back to the civilized world as a force of nature himself.

WJ: What types of creative license does working with two brothers give you when developing character?

RP: Although there are a host of unique characters, the brothers consistently emerged as focal points because of their unquenchable need to take action. The type of action they individually decide  frames their decision-making process and drives their characters. One sees the world as black and white while the other a pallet of gray. The reader may be able to almost anticipate how they will each react in a given situation, particularly as they come to know them better and better throughout the story.

WJ: When writing fantasy, what do you think are the most important ways your story holds the audience?

RP: Character and plot, in that order. The characters, including the creatures the readers will find unique and interesting, are constantly forced to make big decisions based on inadequate information. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes wrong, but most of the time in ways that will leave the readers questioning what they would have done in the same situation. The plot continually splits off and then rejoins the mainstream as well, like a river with branching tributaries, rapids and all.

WJ: You’ve set up Shadows of Hammerfall for eventual growth into a number of future books – one of which you’re writing. Can you give us a sneak preview of how Shadows ends – and where you are taking it from there?

RP: Without giving too much away, Shadows ends with a glimpse into an uncertain future. But to understand the future we must first understand the past. Book Two starts by answering some of the big questions about the more secretive characters and the incredible impact they will have on the story. It pulls back to get a bird’s eye view before quickly plunging  into the thick of the story.

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Feasting on Words: Billy Collins, Southern California Writers Conference, and New Books in the Making

A few odds and ends while feeling very inspired and energized by the past ten days, which have included a wonderful Southern California Writers Conference, starting to put together what will be a smashing Spring 2013 issue of The Hummingbird Review, watching editing clients get one deal and opportunity after another, and Tuesday night’s superb event with Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States…

The Billy Collins program at Point Loma Nazarene University was truly special. Billy has drawn hundreds of thousands of otherwise non-poetry fans into the world of poetry through his easily accessible, humorous, poignant and endearing takes on life’s otherwise ordinary moments. On Tuesday night before a standing room-only crowd of more than 400 at Crill Hall, he read 17 poems spanning his career (10 collections, plus several anthologies), including a couple from his latest, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003-2013, which will be released October 22. He also sat with PLNU journalism faculty member and Writer’s Symposium coordinator Dean Nelson, himself the author of a dozen books, for an excellent hour-long discussion.

One of Billy’s many funny lines? Check out this succinct take on science fiction: “There are only two directions for all of science fiction: We’re going there, or they’re coming here.” Priceless.

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

A couple hours earlier, I interviewed Billy at his bayside Shelter Island hotel for The Hummingbird Review. It was fun, lively, full of wisdom and humor – typical of Billy’s take on the world. We had a wonderful discussion about his poetics and vast contributions, a part of which I will share in this blog on Friday. For the rest, you’ll have to pick up The Hummingbird Review.

A really funny moment popped up during the interview. When my sweetheart, A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda, and I told Billy how Carlsbad High School teacher Tom Robertson turned us onto poetry in our freshman English class, Billy looked at Martha and quipped, “So you were one of those mean girls!” He was referencing the fact that he (like me) was painfully shy in high school, and not on the radar screen of the school’s most beautiful girls. We informed him that Martha was one of the nicest (and best looking, and still is) CHS beauties, to which he replied, “So you were the nice one!” Gotta love this man.

• • •

I’m still pouring through notes from the Southern California Writer’s Conference, so I want to share a few comments that famed science fiction writer David Brin made that are great takeaways for writers and readers alike (with very special thanks to Alicia Bien for emailing her notes as well):

On the bad guys we all love to hate (or maybe root for) in novels: “Give the villain great dialogue so they are tempted. Make your villains so powerful that the U.S. government can’t beat them.”

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

On the purpose of writing: “Convey your sense of joy on the page. Control your ego, but believe you can write material that people want to read. Remember: writing is the only true form of magic.”

How to write a first page that hooks readers: “The first page must sing. Copy the first page of writers you respect, see how they move the story, and find that within your own voice, your own story.

Four keys to getting published and drawing your readers:

1)   You need an ear

2)   Bring on the criticism because you can be even better – and you know it

3)   Hard work

4)   Luck

• • •

Have been having a blast editing and/or writing proposals for some truly wonderful books that have made their way onto my computer in the past several months. Will rattle off their titles and authors now, so that you will grab them and share the experience when they hit bookstores in the next 12 to 18 months (as I am fully confident they will):

• A Taste of Eternity, a memoir by Martha Halda

• Home Free Adventures, a travel narrative by Lynne Martin

• Island Fever, Mustang Fever and Storm Chasers, an adventure romance trilogy by Stephen B. Gladish

• Who Will Cry for Us? a memoir by Davion Famber

• The Columbian Prophecy, a novel by Gary B. Deason

• Changes in Longitude, a travel narrative/memoir by Larissa and Michael Milne

• Red Hand, a novel by Seamus Beirne

• Forgoing Stress, a prescriptive book by Leo Willcocks

Next week, I will talk more about a couple of books coming from yours truly, including my forthcoming novel, Voices. We’ll also hear from authors Larissa and Michael Milne, Martha Halda and Stephen B. Gladish. Stay tuned.

• • •

Speaking of March, two events are coming up in the next two months that I hope you will participate in, if you are suitably located geographically: the Tucson Festival of Books March 9-10 at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and the L.A. Times Festival of Books April 20-21 on the University of Southern California campus. Between the two, more than 100,000 people will be in attendance. These events are a paradise for readers, a chance to meet and talk with hundreds of authors and publishers in all genres. Check them out.

 

 

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Brewing an Adventure Romance Saga: Interview with Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

(NOTE: Stephen B. Gladish is the author of a trilogy of adventure romance novels: Mustang Fever (2007), Storm Chasers (2013), and a reworking of a 2005 novel, now entitled Island Fever and currently in the final editing stages. The three books tell the interwoven stories, adventures, challenges and triumphs of a few memorable characters – Chance Chisholm, Luke LaCrosse, Annie Banner, Moana, and Cheyenne Autumn. Gladish is also the creator and co-editor of the 2006 anthology, Freedom of Vision, featuring writing from behind prison walls. He served in the Air Force, and is a retired creative writing teacher from Pima (Arizona) Community College. His writing is adventurous, colorful, deeply engaging and filled with characters who bring out the best qualities in each other … and themselves.)

WJ: Steve, what types of adventure did you weave into Storm Chasers to illustrate the title?
SG: It includes four variations of storm chasing: tornadoes, nuclear detonations, attacks via helicopter, and white-water rafting.
WJ: How would you describe the book in a long sentence?
SG: The storm chaser protagonist, Luke LaCrosse, locates and records deadly tornadoes in our nation’s Tornado Alley, is blasted and temporarily blinded as he tracks nuclear detonations in the Pacific, hunts down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and effects a stunning rescue as a white-water guide Idaho’s “River of No Return,” through all of which he struggles to reconnect with and win back his childhood sweetheart, the one consistent love of his life.
WJ: That’s a long sentence — almost a taste of Jack Kerouac! Speaking of which, who are some of the authors that influenced you most over the years, as a novelist and as a teacher of creative writing?
SG: I have a long list, both from writing and teaching. All are pretty well-known authors: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emmanuel Swedenbourg, J.D. Salinger, James Fenimore Cooper, Larry McMurtrey, Herman Wouk, Ken Kesey, Stephen Crane, Langston Hughes, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Harper Lee.
WJ: Back to your latest book. Where did the idea for Storm Chasers come from?
SG: I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives, especially with all the climate change going on right now. I served in the US Air Force 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early ‘60s. In this fictional story stemming from real life events, I take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke LaCrosse growing into a man just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.
In addition, I spent a lifetime of study especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” which I find a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide were a record high in 2011, and we had record high temperatures in the U.S. in 2012. The build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests must not be ignored. Because of catastrophic climate changes, the world faces multiple catastrophes including: sea level rise of five feet, with sea levels rising as much as twelve inches a decade, staggeringly high temperature rise, permanent Dust Bowls, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, huge enlargement of area in Tornado Alley. There are other unexpected impacts, such as the violent rainstorms in Italy in October 2011 that inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso, and almost sank Venice. As George Orwell said, “During time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
WJ: How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
SG: Twelve months and three hundred desert trail runs in the Rincon Mountains.
WJ: All of us who write novels have our dreams of seeing the motion picture version. With that in mind, which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
SG: If they were a little younger, Matt Damon would play Luke LaCrosse, Josh Brolin would play Chance Chisholm, and Elizabeth Hurley would play Annie.
WJ: Here’s a question that comes from the Next Best Thing Book Blog Tour, which I thought was quite revealing for readers who want to get a better grasp on an author’s influences and style: To which other books would you compare Storm Chasers within your genre?
SG: Though not technically in my genre, many of Louis L’Amour’s stories take an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves: Sackett, 1961; To Tame a Land, 1965. All American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy who runs away from his Pap and all the sins in the culture of his time. Luke too runs away from a broken relationship into freedom. Both Luke and Huck find a true friend on their adventure. Huck’s adventure rafts on the Mississippi River; Luke’s adventure sails in the Armed Services. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse. Masculine qualities, an adventurous and ambitious protagonist, needs to win.
WJ: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
SG: The desire to fictionalize key events from real life, to show the infinite possibilities of life, to demonstrate what it takes to grow into a man. To bring to attention the dangers of catastrophic climate change; recent massive outbreaks of tornadoes; possibilities of present day nuclear bomb disasters, which in 1962 the United States strove to avoid as they developed and tested the most powerful deterrent; a thermonuclear arsenal.
WJ: Tell us a little more about Luke LaCrosse. He is quite a morally strong protagonist, truly a model for young men today even though you’ve set the story in the 1960s. On top of that, you show romantic love not as a quick, perfect event, but as something that, in many cases, you have to pursue for years.
SG: Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, as we experience Annie Banner and Luke’s tortuous and seemingly tenuous romance. Luke the adventurer has the need to feel like a warrior; he is quietly rebellious, leading to moments of anti-authority. He may be the last soldier to settle down, while Annie comes from a traditional upper class authoritarian family intent on her marrying anyone other than Luke. They both grow away from their families in independence. Theirs is an extraordinary journey with reversals and crashes on the proverbial rocky island shores, in war and in peace. They pick themselves up and in their separate crafts set sail again, hoping to connect finally on the sandy shores of a harbor home.

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