Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Monday, September 18, 2017

John R. Fultz Interview by S.E. Lindberg

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction."

This one features weird fiction author John R. Fultz, who is a sorcerer in his own right [being an illustrator too!].  Learn about his past graphic necromancy (SKULLS) and his future releases (Veneration... and Son of Tall Eagle)!

John R. Fultz - Interview

SEL) Who the Hell are you anyway?   

JRF: My name is John R. Fultz, and I'm a storyteller. My latest novel, THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, is available now from Ragnarok Publications, and a sequel called SON OF TALL EAGLE is set for release in June 2018. My “Books of the Shaper” trilogy includes the novels SEVEN PRINCES, SEVEN KINGS, and SEVEN SORCERERS (Orbit/Hachette). THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG (01Publishing/FantasticBooks) collects 12 dark fantasy tales set in the magical World of Zang. I live in the North Bay Area, California, but I'm originally from Kentucky. My short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as YEAR'S BEST WEIRD FICTION, SHATTERED SHIELDS, THE WAY OF THE WIZARD, CTHULHU'S REIGN, THE BOOK OF CTHULHU II, THAT IS NOT DEAD, and DEEPEST, DARKEST EDEN: NEW TALES OF HYPERBOREA. I've also had stories in magazines such as BLACK GATE, WEIRD TALES, WEIRDBOOK, LIGHTSPEED, and SPACE & TIME. I've written comics for Boom Studios' ZOMBIE TALES and CTHULHU TALES. My graphic novel of epic fantasy PRIMORDIA (illustrated by the great Roel Wielinga) was published by Archaia Comics in an "ultimate hardcover edition" in 2012. 

SEL #1 Weird Role Models: Your author notes, blogs, and Facebook posts all mark your reverence for weird fiction writers such as Clark Ashton Smith (1893- 1961) and Darrell Schweitzer. CAS was one of Lovecraft and Howard’s pen pals and compatriots in Weird Tales; and Darrell Schweitzer has been a flagship short story “weirdo” (compliment) for decades going. Can you discuss how their short-story methods & tales have informed your novel-length works?

JRF: I started out writing short stories like most novelists. There are a few who go straight to novels, but I think they’re a rare breed. I started writing fiction seriously in college thanks to two factors:

  1.  My creative writing classes forced me to create new stories with actual deadlines—and I discovered the workshopping process of how writers share stories and provide useful feedback to one another. 
  2. The Terminus version of WEIRD TALES magazine was going strong at that time under the editorship of Darrell Schweitzer and George Scithers—who won a World Fantasy Award during their tenure on the mag.

 I would read new and back issues of WT and be crazy-inspired by them at the same time I was reading Robert Silverberg’s WORLDS OF WONDER and discovering the great sci-fi writers such as Aldiss, Kuttner, and Vance. There was also a great anthology I acquired at the time called WEIRD TALES: THE MAGAZINE THAT NEVER DIES, edited by Marvin Kaye, and it turned me on to some of the best stuff in the magazine’s long history (including my first Tanith Lee tale, “The Sombrus Tower”). I started workshopping my “weird” stories in class, then sending them to WEIRD TALES. I got rejected again and again, but I always got terrific feedback from Darrell. He wrote personalized rejections with actual advice on how to make the writing better. I had never met this man in person, but I could tell he really cared and wanted to see me succeed. 

Cut to 15 years later and I finally managed to write a story worthy of publication—Darrell was impressed and wanted to buy it for WEIRD TALES. I hadn’t submitted every single year, but for a decade-and-a-half I’d been trying to crack this market because I loved WEIRD TALES above all other fiction mags. This was in early 2004 when I finally succeeded with a story called “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” (WT #340, 2005). It was my first and only appearance in the magazine, but it set me on the path to writing and selling more stories. I did sell two more stories to Darrell and George before the magazine came under new management and my stories were quickly forgotten. Luckily, I found a new home for my best stories at BLACK GATE magazine, where John O’Neill had become the new “editor to impress.” After a few years of hustling short stories here and there, and eventually completing my first complete story-cycle (i.e. THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG), I was ready to move on to writing novels. Again, Darrell encouraged me in this wholeheartedly from afar. Reading WT had turned me on to writers like Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, and others. Discovering Tanith Lee was a thunderbolt moment for me—I started seeking out her books whenever possible. My favorite is probably DEATH’S MASTER, but she wrote so many masterpieces.

I might not have stuck to it without Darrell’s encouragement across all those years of rejected stories. I wouldn’t have trusted his advice so much if I didn’t love his work so much. All Schweitzer fans know this already, but he’s one of the greatest living fantasy writers, and a real master of the short story form. His novel MASK OF THE SORCERER ranks with any of the genre’s greatest works, but he’s most comfortable writing short stories. I’m the opposite—I feel way more comfortable writing novels, but I still have to crank out a short story now and then. I should mention that I had grown up a fan of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, having discovered their work at the age of 9 or 10 in both comics and paperbacks. This was years before I came across WEIRD TALES. I used to scan every used bookstore I found for Clark Ashton Smith books, which weren’t always easy to find. This was in Kentucky where I grew up. Now, ironically, I live about an hour’s drive from Auburn, California, where Smith wrote most of those amazing stories and poems. If anything, my discovering WEIRD TALES in college only solidified, enhanced, and expanded my tastes in the fantasy and horror genres, at a time when I was also imbibing the history of science fiction via Silverberg, Ellison, and a new bloke named William Gibson. NEUROMANCER was another thunderbolt.

SEL #2) The Art of Shaping: Books of the Shaper trilogy is accessible, epic, weird fantasy: it’s sorcery is based on “shaping.” Please describe how shaping works and describe the “craft/art” behind the sorcery.

JRF: Actually, that’s a common misperception. In The Shaper Trilogy, there is only one “Shaper” and his name is Iardu. He’s a sorcerer of great power and a rather mysterious figure who haunts and “shapes” the history of mankind. He may be far more than that as well, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. The sorcery in these books isn’t confined to any one “system”—I believe magic and sorcery should be kept somewhat mysterious, lying just beyond the layman’s ability to understand. I mean if you could really understand magic then it wouldn’t be magic, would it? It would be science, where everything is laid out in formulae and based on empirical evidence. Magic/Sorcery should be the opposite of that—a dance with dark forces beyond the ken of men; a manipulation of reality and its obscure forces through the power of transcendent language; the mind-over-matter redistribution of atom, molecule, and form by sheer willpower alone. 

Magic and Sorcery in the Shaper Trilogy is all of these things and more. Over the course of the series we see at least three different characters go through “training” periods where they learn the art of sorcery—and each person’s journey is completely different. One unsavory fellow uses blood and shadows to invoke necromancy, another uses naked intent to rearrange the existing patterns of reality itself, and one uses an ancient language of power that can be spoken without sound. There are also entities in the novel who are simply cosmic in nature, so that magic and sorcery is their very lifeblood, creatures of concentrated power who fade and diminish over time into something resembling mortal forms. Often these transfigured cosmic beings forget their true nature as they are swept up in the dream of the living world. So there’s a lot of magic in the Shaper Trilogy, and a lot of different kinds of magic. I used to tell people the trilogy is “way more sorcery than sword.” ‘Cause that’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it.

SEL #3)    Happy Horror: I’ve reviewed your short story in Weirdbook#35 “The Man Who Murders Happiness” as being poignant and disturbing (in a good way)! There is a fine line between creating repulsive and pleasant horror. Please discuss how you balance walking that tight rope.

JRF: I mainly work in the fantasy field. However, sometimes I’m inspired to go “full horror” or explore science-fiction concepts. Usually in the case of horror I’m channeling some kind of anxiety or emotional issue—writing horror can be a catharsis—and it can say interesting things that you could never express aloud in simple declaratives. It can peek around the edge of reality and look right into the rusted bloody gears that turn the guts of the world. In the case of “The Man Who Murders Happiness,” I wrote that in the latter part of 2016 when it felt like the world was sliding into darkness. We’re all forced to weather that darkness with all its conflict, hatred, hypocrisy, and incivility. We’re living out that old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” On top of all this, our leaders have conned us into an Endless War. That’s one of the most terrifying concepts in all of human experience—a war that never ends is literal insanity—and yet our society has bought into it as the new “normal.” 

So my feelings that I was watching the world go mad emerged in that story—it’s brutal, it’s dark, but it echoes the world today. One cannot dwell in existential misery forever, and writing horror stories can be even more liberating than reading them. I think I’ll always dip into horror now and then, even though fantasy remains my first love. Some people are appalled by the horror in my fantasies, but what can I say? I like it dark. The more darkness you have, the brighter the light shines against it.

SEL #4)     What beauty is in any of your weird works?  

JRF: Wow, that’s probably a question for my readers rather than myself. However, I can tell you what I hope comes across as beautiful. In the Shaper Trilogy, I wrote in a lyrical style heavy with imagery. A lot of people have complimented the extraordinary visuals in those books. Others have complained that I “describe too much,” which I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. When you’re reading fantasy, you should be taking in fantastic images—there should be an immersion into the “other”—a descent into the atmosphere of the unreal to the point that it takes on a reality of its own. If you don’t want descriptions of fantastic settings, environments, and locations, you might as well be reading a contemporary crime novel, or any other non-fantasy genre. 

I never have and still don’t enjoy fantasy that doesn’t provide me with fantastic imagery. As Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees once sang: “Show me fantastic lands…” I remember a reviewer who said that I was “Trying to write like Clark Ashton Smith,” but this person had never spoken to me, nor had any real idea what I was trying to do. I was only trying to write like myself, so that’s exactly what I did. A lot of modern fantasy—most of it—is written in a rather mundane contemporary style that fails to evoke the fantastic at all. In SEVEN PRINCES and its two sequels I aimed for a timeless style using language neither wholly dated nor wholly modern. The best fantasies and  historical dramas are told in simple, timeless language. It’s a very hard line to walk, and I did the best I could at it. Everything you write is a snapshot of where you are as a writer at that specific moment in time. A writer’s style also evolves over time and from project to project.

My next project, TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, was written in a very different style—a first-person narrative told in the voice of a native American from the late 1700s (yet whose mind had been expanded by magical means, thus enhancing his vocabulary and awareness). Right now I have a “big weird fantasy” novel making the rounds, and it’s written in yet another style. It combines fantasy, horror, sci-fi, weird, and a few other genres to create something unlike any of my previous books. For me, style isn’t a fixed quality, it’s an ongoing natural process of growth and experimentation.

Your question brings up the ideal of “beauty”—it can be found in fantastic realms and the language that evokes them—but it’s also found in certain characters and their journeys. For example, some readers find the love story between Tall Eagle and White Fawn a beautiful thing in TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE. Also, language itself can be beautiful, and I always expect the most beautiful language when I’m reading fantasy (as opposed to other genres). Usually my writing attempts to create beauty in the form of strange, fantastic, and otherworldly environments—an immersion into imaginary realms with genuine colors, shapes, and textures. Sometimes, though, it’s finding the fantastic qualities of the mundane world that creates beauty. I’ll take it wherever I can find it.

SEL #5) Fine Arts: CAS was a poet, illustrator, and sculptor; many others interviewed by S.E. have other artistic talents beyond writing.  Do you practice other arts? If so can we share them (i.e., images of fine or graphic art) or mp3s (of music). Likewise, can you discuss how art can from one medium can inform/inspire another?

JRF: Yes, my first goal in life was to be a comic book artist—which I decided in the late 70s at about the age of 6 or 7. So drawing was my first love. HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY was my Bible for a while. Then in high school I quit comics and took up the electric guitar. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15 and played in a few bands in the early 90s—mostly heavy rock with a psychedelic edge. I’ve always had a passion for the Blues as well. I re-discovered my comic art beginnings in ’99 when I started drawing my own dark fantasy comic, NECROMANCY. I worked on that for two years before realizing I was much better at writing than penciling. Eventually I wrote the graphic novel PRIMORDIA for Archaia Studios Press and a couple of 8-page stories for Mark Waid when he was editor at Boom! Studios. Music today is still a major part of my life—I listen to it every day, and I make special playlists when I’m writing. Most of my favorite bands these days are European bands from the stoner/doom scene—but I’m always discovering great new American bands too. They’re out there—you just have to go looking for them these days. Rock ain’t dead, but nobody’s getting rich playing it anymore. Corporate rock, however, is truly dead—and m-m-my generation killed it. That means people are playing rock and roll because they love it and they can’t live without it. (Shout-out to my buddy Jon Davis of CONAN!)

[SIDEBAR: John R. Fultz self-published a graphic novel NECROMANCY, which years later he revised into an online comic called SKULLS (published at].  Here are the Quick Links:

SEL #6) Writing Styles: In an October 24th 1930 letter to Lovecraft, CAS described his strategy of using aesthetics to heighten the reading experience of his weird works (quote below). As much as I adore CAS’s works, they are a bit dense and less digestible than yours.  What is your take on writing styles and conveying emotion?  
“My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation. You attain a black magic, perhaps unconsciously, in your pursuit of corroborative detail and verisimilitude. But I fear that I don't always attain verisimilitude in my pursuit of magic! However, I sometimes suspect that the wholly unconscious elements in writing (or other art) are by far the most important.” – CAS 1930. 
JRF: Well, as I stated above I think style isn’t a fixed quotient—at least not for me. It’s an ongoing evolution of thought, process, and expression. One thing I can tell you is that you simply can’t write like CAS these days—people don’t have the patience for highly ornate language—they want easily digestible chunks of prose. But most of my favorite writers have basically said “Screw that! That’s not how I write!” I adore the work of R. Scott Bakker, for example, but some people can’t read him because his prose is “too dense.” Likewise with Tolkien—who all self-respecting fantasy fans should have read—but many people come to the genre and skip right over Tolkien. I remember friends of mine saying the Tolkien’s writing was “boring” or “it moves too slow.” I remember complaints of Tolkien describing what kinds of flowers grew alongside the road. What the hell--? If that’s what the writer needs to complete his or her vision, then by all means put it in there! If you want easily-digestible prose, you’ll have to limit yourself and miss a lot of amazing books/stories. 

It’s okay that writing CHALLENGES the reader sometimes—I read LORD OF THE RINGS when I was in third grade and let me tell you I was challenged by it. I remember reading John Brunner’s “The Things That Are Gods” in Lin Carter’s YEAR’S BEST FANTASY #6 when I was ten. I couldn’t understand it at all. A quarter-century later I read the story and realized its genius. I had to seek out every other Traveler In Black story that Brunner wrote. Luckily they were collected in THE COMPLEAT TRAVELER IN BLACK, and they are amazing. Dense language, fantastical in every way, and built on a foundation of cosmic mystery. Definitely not written for the 10-year-old fantasy fan. At that age I was digging Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria stories in that very same collection. Thongor was kid-friendly with simple language and Conan-esque context, whereas Brunner’s story was in a whole other class: it was legitimate “literature of the fantastic.” 

Anyone who says “I’m a fantasy fan” should also be able to read and enjoy the work of Lord Dunsany. If you read his beautiful prose and complain about his language, than you’re a lazy reader. Sorry, mate. Go read one of those bland mass-market fantasies that sell so well—lord knows there are plenty of them. My ideal way to write fantasy is to use a blend of timeless and contemporary language free of anachronisms. Yet when it comes to sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction, I tend to write in far more contemporary language. Short stories are kind of like experiments where I can play with language, style, and ideas, freed from the greater demands of a cohesive novel.

SEL #7) Art vs. the Artist? Is there a character that you most empathize with or reflects you [King D’zan perhaps (I’m implying you know necromancy)]?
JRF: Not really—although back when I was writing the Shaper Trilogy I suppose I identified most with Lyrilan—a scholar-prince who later becomes a deadly sorcerer. When we meet him in SEVEN PRINCES, he is obsessed with chronicling important events in the book that he’s writing; his brother Tyro is a military commander and his polar opposite. I don’t have a brother, although I am as obsessed with books and writing as Prince Lyrilan ever was.

SEL #8) Weird Muses: Are you driven to escape or capture elements of beauty/horror? In any interview with Gail Z Martin, you offer a geography (California) as being a general inspiration for writing. But when it comes to the weird & horrific, I suspect you draw from other sources. Are you haunted?

JRF: Ha-ha! I suppose all writers are “haunted” to a degree. As I cruise through my late 40s, my biggest goal has been to enjoy life and learn to appreciate every moment. I remember my 20s when I was a “raging youth”—rock guitar gave me a way to rebel and to express my righteous anger at the world. In my 30s I was too busy trying to get my life together to rage against much of anything—but I did turn my life around when I got a teaching degree at 35. Teaching has been the best decision of my life, and my success in that career has enabled me to pursue all of the success I’ve had in writing. I usually write my novels in the summer when I’m not teaching—although the “idea work” continues year-round.

California’s natural beauty does inspire me every single day—and rain inspires me to a tremendous degree. We only get rain in the winter out here, so that’s my favorite season. Finding beauty in the arts—music, film, theatre, literature, always inspires me too. I think great works of art naturally inspire others. Watching a David Lynch movie, for example, inspires the hell out of me every time. When it comes to horrific subjects, I’m not inspired by beauty but by ugliness. Beauty and wonder inspire me to write fantasy, but anxiety and dread inspire me to write horror. If I’m haunted it’s only by the same creeping sense of mortality that haunts everyone in their late 40s. You know you only have so much time left, so you start cutting out the bullshit and focusing on things that really matter. Like enjoying life for what it is—not for the dream you always wished it was.

SEL #9) Sword and Sorcery: Being influenced by REH, it is no surprise that you like heroic adventure.  Can you discuss your upcoming new story-cycle beginning with a tale called "The Veneration of Evil in the Kingdom of Ancient Lies”?
JRF: Oh, yes. “Veneration” is slated for an issue of WEIRDBOOK coming sometime after the October Annual. A while back I was feeling a bit “lost at sea”—it was a transitional period and those can be tough—also general anxiety about the direction in which society was heading. I don’t like to get on a “high horse” or try to sound “holier-than-thou,” but it seems these days that we may have lost our way as a society both morally and spiritually. We are a nation consumed by falsehoods, division, violence, addiction, an increasingly militarized existence, and a culturally fragmented population. I found myself wondering if we had simply forgotten what “good” was and started revering  “evil” instead. Then I found myself thinking how that would make a great fantasy story: an ancient society where evil had long ago replaced goodness and the general populace were too oblivious to see it. How long could such a confused, self-defeating society survive? That became the seed from which grew the story of a conniving poet-thief and his dirty deal with one of the wizards who built this sinister society. The story’s setting is akin to a Eurasian Bronze Age city-state, yet more fantastical in nature. Once I had a lead character to explore, that’s when the real plotting began. Plot is character, character is plot. I don’t want to say anything more about the story for fear of spoilers, but I will reveal that there’s a bitchin’ flying carpet involved.

SEL #10) Cover Art: Son of Tall Eagle, a sequel to Testament of Tall Eagle, is due out in paperback next year (May 2018 Ragnarok). Would love to hear your input on the series. Alex Raspad’s cover art is very engaging. Authors are usually solitary artists; relying on another artist to realize your world is element of beauty/horror in the publication industry. Did you have a chance to work directly with him on these? How did that process go?

JRF: I’m extremely fortunate to have Alex Raspad doing the TALL EAGLE covers—and I owe it all to Ragnarok Publications. They “discovered” Alex—who is a Russian artist—and commissioned several covers from him. I knew when I wrote the second book that we had to have another Raspad cover. I was also lucky that the folks at Ragnarok worked with me very closely on the first cover—I wrote a very detailed description which was passed on to Alex; he did a preliminary rough to show us, then make a couple of tweaks at my suggestion. The result was his gorgeous TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE cover: White Fawn’s face floating in the sunset behind Tall Eagle as he flies in search of her. For the SON OF TALL EAGLE cover I also wrote a detailed description and did a very rough sketch. Alex took that and ran with it, once again knocking it out of the park. 

I was also fortunate that Orbit Books hired the brilliant Richard Anderson to do covers for the Shaper books, also based on nothing more than my written descriptions. My favorite of those covers is SEVEN SORCERERS, which I believe is also the best book in the series—as the third book of any trilogy should be. You have to deliver bigtime in the third book, otherwise what’s the point? While the Books of the Shaper were designed to be a self-contained trilogy, I have no specific number of books in mind for the TALL EAGLE series. The TALL EAGLE novels can also be read in any order—each one is a new entry point.

Art by John R Fultz - Conclusion to SKULLS online comic

Monday, February 20, 2017

Jerome Stueart Interview - Author of Angels of Our Better Beasts

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction." This one features Jerome Stueart, author of many books including The Angels of Our Better Beasts S E Review (Link)Let's learn about his muses...and his Better Beasts!

Jerome Stueart
The Angels of Our Better Beasts
Jerome Stueart is a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in Lightspeed's Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Fantasy,, Geist, Joyland, Icarus, Tessaracts anthologies, and other journals and magazines. He is a Clarion 2007 grad, a Lambda Literary fellow, a Milton Fellow and a Fulbright fellow--meaning he's a queer science fiction/fantasy writer of faith who has dual citizenship in Canada.  He co-edited Wrestling with Gods and Imaginarium 4.  His next book is a novel, One Nation Under Gods, from ChiZine Publications in June of 2018.  His Patreon with loaded extras (illustrations and scenes) can be found under JeromeWStueart.  He most recently moved from the Yukon Territory, and now lives in Dayton, OH.   

SEL: The Angels of Our Better Beasts invites readers to reconsider what it means to be a human (angel or beast). Most are weird, fantasy and sci-fi tales, and the relationships span the gamut from lemming-to-researcher, to husband-to husband, and wife-to-husband, etc. The variety is great and writing evocative. Please identify/discuss your own angels and beasts. Are these your muses?

JS: Thanks, Seth.  I think animals are the muses of many people---they seem so wise (because they can't talk) and so we give them the words we think they should say.  I've often believed that writers who include animals in their works usually make them wiser than the people.  I was also one of those kids that went and made friends with your dog before I made friends with your kids or you... I felt very comfortable with a pet.  As for beasts, yeah, growing up mine was a werewolf.  I used to think of him as a mentor---if I could just find him, or he find me.  I think I still feel compelled to explore the relationship we have to beasts--both animal and monster--in stories.  Are these our way of trying to reach a higher plane of wisdom or morality?  Or our way of trying to escape civilization and become more wild?  Certainly our pets give us a bridge to the animal kingdom--and many stories that have animals as a focus try to make us better people through those animals.  Maybe our monsters are trying to help us too.
Select Better Beasts by Jerome Stueart 

SEL: You illustrated the whole book too! How does your drawing and writing work processes interplay?

JS: I usually do the illustrations after I do the story.  In fact, I mapped out the illustrations on a sheet to see if I could do something interesting with them when they are together.  Kind of evoke different themes.  I tried that!  LOL.  I had the first column focus on inanimate objects: the box of ashes, the bottle of wine, the heart on the table, the gold; the second column do a close up of people in relationship; the third was to show movement; the fourth got all messed up--it was supposed to be about body parts: hand, foot, and well, a canyon and large gorilla got in there [see inset image].  So that failed.  But I still think they work in harmony somehow. 

Whenever I do illustrations I try to capture the essence of the story:  wonder for "For a Look At New Worlds" and disembodied horror for "The Moon Over Tokyo" and the weird juxtaposition of a werewolf playing the banjo, not necessarily a scene from the story (as the werewolf doesn't play the banjo in his werewolf form).  I also had fun with imitating famous works of art or poems.  My box of ashes tries to echo Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" and the illustration for Bondsmen is "James Bond descending a staircase" --- hey, I try to keep it fun.

I had the most trouble trying to illustrate "You Will Draw..."  because I wanted to emphasize the relationship--but once I had the figures, I didn't want to muddy the background.  So I settled on a sort of blank canvas, or window behind them.  The story might be better served, but I didn't want to give away any surprises. And doing the art of the main character--who is a famous artist--felt daunting.  To pretend to be one of his illustrations, my art needed to be amazing, and I wasn't at his caliber--so I settled for a portrait of him.     

Illustration Map - Jerome Stueart

SEL: Are you secretly a changeling or hybrid/chimera?

JS: Well, technically, I'm a changeling because I'm adopted (if you're referring to the babies switched by fairies idea), but I think of myself probably more as a chimera--a mixture of things and ideas.  I'm not one kind of writer, and I don't have one kind of theme or style.  This collection is me trying to show all sorts of ways to tell a story.  I'm going to be hell for an agent someday, but I love trying new things and seeing what kinds of stories and styles I can do.  

SEL: Okay this one will make more sense for those who already read the book, but here goes a question posed by yourself: “Young painters might be asking if there is a place for art in politics… What do you say to them about the nature of true art and its neutral place outside the quagmire of human rivalry?”

Auguste Renault - by Jerome Stueart
JS: The interviewer in the story is trying to ask the question: should artists be political?  Should art try to influence society?  And my character, Auguste Renault, just laughs and you never hear his answer.  The story, though, is his answer.  He truly believes that one should use fame to help others out.  Much of art is political.  Is ALL art political?  Well, Renault was doing portrait painting and paintings of cities for most of his career.  I made him like the Sargent of his era, and Sargent did a lot of portraits of the wealthy and of his friends, and some of it was scandalous.  He painted actors!  At a time when having one of his exquisite portraits meant you had "made it" into the wealthy class, he deemed to give them away to authors, friends, actors and actresses--he used his talent to give equal status to rich and poor.  Renault turns his art to the miners of Ganymede--and at first this is seen as it is with most artists: that their subjects are the poor, and they are making a statement to remind the rich of the poor.  But in Renault's case, his subjects got their paintings for free, and the rich are upset that they can't see Renault's work--or that his work starts becoming the only source of news when the strike is not covered by the media.  

In my own opinion, art is an excellent way of speaking truth---sometimes the perfect illustration encapsulates a change that is needed, a flaw that is nearly hidden, or even model a way of being.  It is the purpose of art to bring truth and beauty and yes, controversy, and wisdom to society.  There is a place for beautiful flowers and landscapes to bring peace to a troubled world--but isn't that influencing society too?  

SEL: At World Con 2016 in Columbus OH (Writer-Artist Panel coverage link) you shared the history of Angels Of Our Better Beasts. Can you recap that here? Did the drawings come before the tales?

JS: I wrote the stories over the last ten years or so.  I found the stories I loved best--the ones that seemed to work--had a beast in them, or a monster, or something someone might think was a monster.  Something that made us afraid, or made us wonder, or connected us to animals in the sense that we wanted to listen to them.  So I put the collection together--most of it and proposed it to ChiZIne and they liked it.  I then wrote a couple of stories for it, and decided to illustrate it too.  So definitely the illustrations came afterwards--and that process is something I spell out above.  

Jerome Stueart's Better Beasts - for fans!

SEL: You have been known to draw personalized “beasts” for fans. Is that like doing a tarot card reading?

JS: HAHA.  No.  But it was enlightening to me what they wanted as a beast.  And I think it was enlightening to them too.  Many just wanted to see their beasts "come to life" and so they had crazy wonderful requests.  It was a good way to build a rapport with my readers--or with people who just fellow beast-lovers!  Here are a few of those beasts people wanted.  

SEL: Do you find your own art “weird” or “beautiful”?   
JS: I think my work is weird, but I strive for beauty.  I strive for harmony and balance in composition.  Even as it is weird.  I do not always love my own art, but I do find I work hard at creating something that will be nice to look at.  Or a good illustration of the story.  In many ways my stories are trying to make the weird beautiful.  I want to move a reader to care about a beast, or to consider that the beasts are beautiful.  My vampires in "How Magnificent" are beautiful in their perfect takeover of the medical profession, their efficiency, their marketing.  My werewolf hopes that the beauty and power of his Christian music can overcome the horror of his mistakes, his primal nature.  He does not see anything redeeming about being the werewolf--only that it must be contained.  There is beauty in the mandalas of "For a Look at New Worlds" and in their fragility.  There's a lot of art in this book--- whether it's the young king who will be a better king because he is artistic, or the artist who tries to use his fame to help others, or the writers who try to make sense of their lives... so many of these stories are a statement on the place of art in the world.  

SEL: Any future endeavors to share?
JS: Well, I'm finishing up a story about sisters and their rival gods, and another one about a chef on a starship.  I'm also writing One Nation Under Gods--my alternate American history with religious nationalism--and two kids trying to escape to Canada.  You can see more about that on my Patreon page (  For a couple of bucks you can see the illustrations I'm working on for this novel.  It comes out from ChiZine in June of 2018.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Aona Series - Interview with Simon Williams

Simon Williams is the author of the Aona dark fantasy series, which is attracting growing acclaim for its fusion of different genres and atmospheric, character-driven narrative. He has also written "Summer's Dark Waters", a sci-fi / fantasy /supernatural novel aimed at young adults. The interview series of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction" engage contemporary authors & artists to reveal their muses, so let us learn more about the Aona series which was just concluded.

SEL #1) What is Aona?

SW: Picture a distant world, probably in the distant future, where most technology is no longer even a memory. A world which for a number of reasons is like no other. A world where two great powers will struggle for control. One of them has crossed great swathes of the known Existence to find this world, the other has controlled, nurtured and dominated it in one form or another since the dawn of known time. 
Thus two opposing, universal forces are preparing to destroy each other. One is an implacable, faceless destroyer of worlds- the other is the ancient master of all the races that live on this world- Aona. Caught in the midst of all this are the races of this world, human and non-human. Both supreme powers, in the simple terms of the Younger Races, are evil beyond comprehension. 
The story of Aona is not a fable of good versus evil. It's a tale of incomprehensible forces, survival, corruption, greed, betrayal, and above all else, the gradual realisation amongst the main characters that this war is not simply a struggle for one world but something far, far greater.

SEL #2) With Aona being dark fantasy; do you see any excerpt or book as "beautiful"? If so please give an example and explain.

SW: My work often seeks to combine striking beauty with stark horror. I don't actually think the two are that different at all sometimes. In my youth I often sought to describe in great detail and provide explanations for everything- but over time I've found that a sparse turn of phrase will often work far better if the reader has imagination and intelligence.

In terms of other authors' works that I would term "beautiful" some of the most achingly gorgeous and emotive prose I've ever read appears in Celia Dart Thornton's  Bitterbynde Trilogy and Crowthistle Chronicles.

SEL #3) I see from a previous interview that you have listed Clive Barker as an influence; he is known for being a graphic artist as well as a horror author.  Do you create art in other mediums than writing? If so, can we share a piece (illustrated/photo, or audio of music, etc.).

SW: Sadly I'm no artist- I do enjoy drawing (or doodling, in my case) from time to time, but I have no illusions whatsoever about my ability in that area. I can't draw or paint or do anything like that. Sometimes I think that's a shame because I can vividly imagine a certain scene in great detail and keep that exact image in my mind for a very long time- which would be really useful if I could draw or paint.

I play piano / keyboards and I have various compositions recorded although they're not really good enough to be shared. I even have the beginnings of a classical symphony that I had begun to create to work in tandem with the Aona books. That may sound pretentious but again I have no great illusions about the quality of my musical works. I think they're ok, but if something is just "ok" that means it isn't good enough to be shared with the world. This perhaps ties into the reason why my output has been quite lean- I have a number of unseen works, some of which are complete and others which are at various stages, which I feel are just not "right" (that's why they're unseen).

Luckily I have been able to collaborate with an artist friend of mine (her website is on one of my books already (Summer's Dark Waters) and hope to on future works as well. Her vision matched mine so exactly for that book that it was astonishing.

SEL #4) Can you describe more about working with illustrator Ankolie? Any feedback about sharing the control of expressing "your world"?  

SW: It was a privilege and I certainly intend to work with her on future projects, particular those aimed at younger audiences which I feel benefit from more artwork. Ankolie managed to perfectly encapsulate the vision I had for my characters in Summer's Dark Waters, there was no need to adjust or change anything, which was remarkable.

SEL #5) Please discuss more about writing horror for various audiences: Young Adult vs Mature Readers (Summer's Dark Waters vs Aona).  Did you feel constrained with Dark Water's?

SW: I certainly didn't feel constrained with Summer's Dark Waters, I find it's perfectly possible to make something "scary" and exciting without resorting to overly graphic descriptions. It was a challenge initially to make my style a little less complex but I soon got into the swing of it, and as with my other others the characters ended up helping to carry the story. One of my new projects is actually a book for even younger readers which is actually a greater challenge still- we'll see if that works out.

I don't really feel that there needs to be much difference in style and content between Young Adult and Adult if the reading age of the reader is high enough. I'm not a big believer in censorship- there are far worse things in the news every day than in the books of 99.99% of authors!

SEL #6) Are any of your characters artists? Can you talk about their motivations?

SW: Alexia, member of a ruling family that met a very unpleasant end, is more a polymath but would include art amongst her skills. Nia is an assassin but would consider herself an artist (in the first few books anyway) based on the kind of work she does and her attention to detail, not to mention the sometimes unusual methods (see Oblivion's Forge for an example). Her motivation? Perhaps the intensity of her work helps her bury the past. Nia is one of the more complex characters in the series and I think her motivation in all things changes many times through the saga.

SEL #7) What are your muses? Are you trying to capture/contain/control particular horrors or fears?

SW: On the contrary, I'm tapping into the deepest recesses of my imagination in order to find things I perhaps didn't even know existed, and then let them go. In my experience, fear can't be contained forever; sooner or later it needs to fly free.


SEL #8) The runic covers have always caught my eye.  Are they Scandinavian/Futhark? Something else?  Please discuss the choice of coverart for the Aona series.

SW: I came up with the symbols and their meanings, and intend to explain them in detail in my Aona "guide" which I'm slowly compiling. They've proved popular and have certainly drawn people to my work. I consciously chose to avoid the usual fantasy tropes and cliches when I first thought about the covers, and decided a sparse, enigmatic motif would be ideal for the books. The Aona series bridges genres other than fantasy as well, so coming up with a common visual "standard" for the books might have been difficult with anything more involved. The books are fairly complex and so I also wanted to use something clean and stripped-down as a counterpoint.

SEL #9) Please share your own thoughts about the creative process. Anything peculiar about your methods? Suggestions for others?

SW: To be honest, I have no particular method. I write, I write some more, I keep writing, some of it's good and I keep it, some of it's bad and I scrap it, some of it's ok and I edit it. Sometimes it's a struggle to wade through the "creative mire" as I call it, and at other times I just sit down and it kind if happens without my really knowing about it. I like to have a title before I even start, and quite often I'll know how it all ends a long while before the middle bit and the bulk of the plot is in place. Basically it all starts with a vision, and I know that if I stick to that vision and the skeleton of the plot, in time everything will come together. That's the way it's always been.

That messy, chaotic way of working won't work for everyone, so I can't necessarily recommend it. It works for me though. 

Seek out more about Simon Williams and his dark fantasy:

Author Website Link /  Twitter: @SWilliamsAuthor / Amazon Author Page 

Summer’s Dark Waters: Amazon UK link     Amazon US: 
Oblivion’s Forge (Aona Book I): Amazon UK  Amazon US 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Serpent Goddess Katrina Sisowath - Interview by S.E.

The series of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction" interviews engage contemporary authors & artists to reveal their muses; this one features Katrina Sisowath, contributing author at The Doom of Undal is a beautiful blend historical fiction and alchemical fantasy (Doom-S.E. review and Fall of Undal -S.E. review). The Dragon Court series continues with the recently released Fall of Undal. Let's learn about the author’s muses. Thanks to Katrina Sisowath for sharing her weird attraction to serpents, mythology, and sacred pregnancies!

About Katrina Sisowath

Katrina Sisowath, (1979--) British-American, born in Frankfurt, Germany. Grew up in South-east Asia and Europe, now lives in England. Mother of 2.5 children (dog thinks he's human), experienced in making brownies.

On a personal level, Katrina is an avid book reader and loves mythology, history, ancient civilizations and anything to do with occult ideologies and practices. Mages, Serpent Priestesses and the 'real' Gods, aka the ANNUNAKI (the prototypes for those we know today in the form of Greek, Roman, Indian and even the Biblical characters) are all addressed on her website, with descriptions of Dragons, consciousness altering drinks and powders and what the scarlet clad priestesses really got up to in their sacred chamber. She also is a guest writer on Ancient Origins, writing about the Serpent Cult, Mystery Schools and their politico-military branches. 'Serpent Priestess of the Annunaki' (Dragon Court Series #1), published by 5 Prince Publishing was released June 19, 2014, quickly rising up the Mythology charts, becoming a best-seller. This was followed by Doom of Undal (#2, 2015), and now Fall of Undal (#3, 2016).

1) SE: The Dragon Court series seems to be both alternate history and mythology. The Annunaki deities in your books appeared based on a variety of ancient cultures (Greek, Roman, Indian and even Biblical characters). Can you reveal inspirations, both real and fantastical? Likewise, are there some design aspects, such as associating certain fictional-characters with particular real-cultures?

KS: The Dragon Court is based on the ancient Serpent Cult, which seems to have originated in Sumer and spread to Cambodia, China, India, Egypt and eventually Europe. I’ve studied the works of authors such as Arthur Waite, Dr Waddell, Laurence Gardner, Gerald Gardner, Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn, who have researched various aspects and written very interesting books. My inspiration comes from their research as well as mythology, the occult and even the Bible (which has a lot to say about Serpents).

I’ve found that there are a lot of correlating accounts between the various mythologies, so that the same stories are told in many countries, with the gods and goddesses given different names. The fact that many of them are tied in some way with the dragon or serpent mythology led me to create a world in which figures like Innana were real and the Serpent Cult was a powerful entity of kingdoms devoted to the religion. It may have been the first advanced civilization which kept its power through sending emissaries to newly developing kingdoms, offering wealth and knowledge in return for fealty, with a marriage cementing the deal. This may be why most of the Royal Families of today claim descent from a Serpent Prince or Princess who had come from over the seas. What’s interesting is that it’s through that marriage the Royal Family was able to claim divinity.

It is this idea that the Serpent Cult existed and was focused on protecting its bloodline that sparked the story in my head. In some accounts they were wise and noble, in others they were a danger to humanity. I hope to be able to balance both accounts in the Dragon Court series, showing those involved to be fallible and thus capable of being good or evil.

2) Are you afraid of snakes in real life (or serpents in your dreams)? If so, is it therapeutic to create art (i.e.,write) about your fears? Did you ever have a nightmare about giving birth to a serpent?

KS: I'm not actually scared of snakes, I once thought a wire in our garden in Indonesia was a snake and my mom caught me pulling it out of the ground (luckily in time). I'm more likely to scream when I see a mouse than a snake.Inline image 1I do find these images disturbing, though, and I wonder if they spark the same response in others. So if there is therapy in my writing, it's trying to come to terms with the emotions I feel when I see these images and balance the stories about them with the writings of David Icke and Graham Hancock. I still don't know what to make of them.
 I think I find the legacy of family, beliefs and expectations to be quite terrifying and restrictive (descendant of Jewish Huguenots, have traced our ancestry back far enough to learn the names of those sent to the stake) in terms of how others view you and how you view yourself and your family tree.

 I've never dreamt of giving birth to a serpent, but I have worried about passing on my fears, faults, and foibles to my children.

3) "The Doom of Undal" had an interesting blend of young female protagonists involved with some fairly dark rituals, especially with pregnancy. What is your take on balancing the "beauty" many associate with woman & birth against "darkness"? 

KS: I know that in many stories, particularly romance tales, the idea that a man and woman fall in love and pregnancy is the result is treated as the most wondrous moment of their lives. And it can be, but there is also the issue of arranged marriages, difficult pregnancies and traumatic childbirths, and I think in the ancient world the news that you were about to be married would have been terrifying for a lot of girls.

(Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850),
Tate Britain, London, D. G Rossetti)
I think the expression on Mary’s face in this painting sums it all up (see inset).

With Serpent Priestess of the Annunaki, I focussed on the beginning of a bloodline and the rituals, beliefs and procedures fomented to protect it. With The Doom of Undal, a lot of time has passed and the children born into the Dragon Court have their paths set out for them almost from birth. Yet the question is what happens when they choose their own path? What are the consequences?

For women, in particular, when the emphasis is on maintaining a bloodline, there is perhaps no greater act of rebellion than in choosing to have a child ‘without permission’. The Undal books look at the weakening of the bloodline through inbreeding, the old guard still maintaining strict control on each generation and follow three sisters from childhood into adulthood.  The eldest does as is expected, while the two younger deviate from the norm. But only one causes a great schism and worldwide war.

Although the Dragon Court series is fantasy, I still try to maintain a sense of realism in the storyline and the characters themselves.

4) What are your artistic muses?

KS: I seem to be drawn to the Pre-Raphaelite artists and so William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse and the other members of the Brotherhood have created my favourite paintings.

5) Besides writing, do you practice other art? If so, please share which media.

KS: I wish. My mother is a fantastic artist, as are my grandfather, my cousins and my eldest daughter. It seems to have by-passed me entirely. My grandmother and uncle were incredible musicians, but I do not possess a musical bone in my body. My father’s side is fonder of putting words to paper, so I seem to have inherited that trait. I do appreciate music and art, though.

6) Any inspirational fine art to share? 

K.S. Happily. These are some of my favourites and there is a lot of symbolism contained in these images, while telling stories that are familiar to us.


The Fall of Undal is out now via Amazon website globally (US centric link provided).

The lines are drawn between the Royal House of Undal and the Dragon Court, led by the Royal House of Magan. Cronous and Rhea have gathered to their side ten nations, forming their own empire, one great enough to confront their former friends and allies. Yet victory is not assured. The Annunaki have their own plans on how to deal with the upstart King and Queen and they keep their own counsel, leaving those that serve them uncertain of what is to come.  
With both sides forced to seek out new allies, to make and carry out plans never before conceived in order to win the war, who will go too far? At what point will one side tip the balance in war and unleash devastation upon the entire planet?  

Drawing upon accounts of devastation and global war from ancient texts (including the Bible) and exploring the concept of ‘passing through fire’ and the Baal rites, The Fall of Undal is the thrilling conclusion to The Doom of Undal.