So here goes!
MM- How long, exactly, was it between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of the Cycle of Ages Saga’s release?
JH- Just over two years. However, Sands of Sorrow was finished a few months after Finders Keepers was released. We waited as long as we could on our publisher, but ended up releasing the sequel ourselves due to our demanding convention schedule.
MM- Who did the cover art?
JH- The cover art for Sands of Sorrow was done by Rob E. Brown, a good friend and former Marvel artist. Kevin “Fritz” Fotovich was responsible for the graphic design and back cover of Sands. Fritz was also the cover artist for the second edition of Finders Keepers.
MM- How did you and Barry split up the work? What is the working relationship?
JH- The Cycle of Ages Saga novels feature the use of multiple third person perspectives that shifts from chapter to chapter and scene to scene. That allows us to split up the work so that we tackle different character’s perspectives. And with Sands, we have a divergent plot line that allows us to split up our writing duties. I started both novels out with strong openings, and then as the party separated in the story, we each took a different plot line. Then I tied it all up with an ending that will hopefully reduce most readers to tears. Hopefully no jeers, though. With Sands, I was heavily involved in editing the final manuscript; I even tacked on the final two chapters almost two years after the first draft was completed. A different ending came to me in a dream like a bolt of out the blue and pretty much possessed my waking thoughts until it was done. Guess that’s what they call inspiration. Hope it leaves the impact it did on me.
MM- Who initially came up with the plot idea for Cycle of Ages: you, Barry, both?
JH- Long before I came up with the title for the Cycle of Ages Saga, Barry and I were involved with a little roleplaying game called Dungeons & Dragons. We were both Dungeonmasters for various groups in various places for a couple of decades. But people kept telling us that we should do more with our stories than play games. After years of miserable toil in wage slave jobs, we came to the decision that we would master our own destinies and take a stronger hand in our futures. So, we went from playing games and writing fan-fiction to putting our heads together to come up with the world of Faltyr. Fortunately, Barry had run an epic campaign for us that involved what became the core storyline for Finders Keepers and Sands of Sorrow. Personally, despite writing more of the first novel, I felt closer to the second story line as a decision made by a certain elven war mage, played by yours truly, turned the plot of one of Barry’s games on its head. Yax’s storyline in Sands of Sorrow is largely inspired by what unfolded as result of those decisions and dice rolls. All of this is why Gary Gygax is listed in the dedication for Finders Keepers. And why we tried to have the original screenplay version licensed as official Dungeons & Dragons products. Sadly, that was not to be. Well, not unless Wizards of the Coast sees this and are moved to offer us a home under their umbrella.
MM- When did you guys decide you had enough of an idea for a series to move forward in the project during those early stages? Were you always certain that it would be a series, and not just a one shot novel?
JH- We planned a series of installments from the start. It’s hard to tell a modern saga in one shot. Unless you wanna write a million word novel like some madmen.
MM- Many writers who write in series say they sometimes feel pressure from their previous book when releasing new books in that same series, as if the new book might not live up to the previous books in the series. Did you feel any pressure, or anxiety releasing Vol 2 like this?
JH. Not with Sands of Sorrow. We knew it was a bigger, better, more mature story line. The pressure has come with drafting the outline for Delve Deep, which will be Vol. 3. We had screenplay versions of the first two stories, so we had strong outlines. With this one, I’ve had to sit down and work out each chapter and its subsections beforehand. It will be the only way we can split up the writing duties with this one. Right now, the total novel outline is almost 15K words and around 35 chapters. I laid down the first 1,500 words of the rough draft last week, so it will be a while.
MM- Previously, during convention panels, I’ve heard you say that you use tabletop RPGs as inspiration while writing Cycle of Ages. Can you elaborate on that process?
JH- I addressed this topic in some of the other questions, but I can tell you that our games, our former worlds and campaigns, and even our former gamers and other dungeonmasters were formative in not only inspiring us to write but encouraging us. For me, it helped to see that our people had gone before us and made the transition from player to writer. George R.R. Martin being just one of them. You’d be surprised how many genre writers are also roleplayers. I meet more and more at each convention. And there is no substitute for the support of our true friends, many of them fellow gamers.
MM- Do RPGs alter how you view characters and how you build them, as well?
JH- For me it does. I think it helps to have designed characters for games for decades before I wrote my first novel. I tend to outline characters as I would have designed them for different games, albeit seriously streamlined and without math involved. And for Faltyr, I even created a system to use for our magic-users. That way I can detail what abilities someone has access to when I use them in a story. I believe it keeps my character actions more consistent and allows me to balance things out.
MM- Cycle of Ages has quite a few female characters. Fantasy, as a genre, has a bit of a bad reputation for writing thin-persona, or unrealistic female characters, who often times are just plot devices, or just sex objects. How do you feel you guys have done in molding your female characters into real people?
JH- Regardless of gender, I try to make our characters three dimensional, layered, and, above all, flawed. No one is perfect, so it’s nice for characters to have flaws we can relate to when reading or writing about them. As to them being used as plot devices or sex objects, I have this to say, ALL characters in a story are tools, gears, cogs, or devices in the plot machine. If not, they don’t belong in the story because they are extraneous to the plot mechanics.
In regards to our female characters, I did, and always do, feel trepidation when writing them, especially in today’s age of complaint heavy, oversensitive people. This is especially true for Bruttia and Baebiana, two characters I’ll be introducing in “Once Upon a Crossroads”, which is due out through Pro Se Productions sometime this year as one of the Tales from Faraway Faltyr. I tend to walk and talk hard, so it’s difficult for me to pull any punches in writing. These characters are often unflinching portrayals of a specific archetype for plot reasons, while others deliberate twists on familiar clichés and stereotypes. However, the intent is never to denigrate or pass judgment on anyone, much less any group, in the real world. It’s fiction. Someone may be a complete bitch or bastard to serve the story, but it’s all in the interest of the creative recipe for what you’re trying to do with your world, your characters, and your story. Either way, I hope readers feel that our female characters are rich, full, and interesting. We try to write them that way, whether they are a bit player, plot catalyst, sexpot, femme fatale, or a main character.
MM- Do you, as of yet, have a clear idea about how many Vols will be in the Cycle of Ages Sage?
JH- The main cycle will be five novels. That’s how we have it laid out now. However, there will be a number of short stories, novelettes, and novellas to supplement and enrich it and the world of Faltyr. “Savior of Istara” and “Deep Diving Death Defying Dwarves of the Deep” are two of these shorts. “Savior” is available on Amazon and Smashwords. The 6 D’s story is featured in Dark Oak Press’s anthology Capes & Clockwork.
MM- Is there anything else in the works right now that we should be looking forward to?
JH- I mentioned a bit about the Tales from Faraway Faltyr earlier. After many delays, this Pro Se Productions Digital Single Shot series will launch later this year. The first round of it will include four short stories. Some will tie back into the Cycle of Ages Saga, while others will explore the savage, strange world we’ve created. We’re also working on the third Cycle of Ages Saga novel, Delve Deep. I will have a story in Dark Oak Press’s Capes & Clockwork 2 anthology, which is due out this year (2016). However, it’s not related to Faltyr at all. “The Fluff and the Fury” is a steampunk story about my dog.
MM- Being an author in this electronic age isn’t easy. Can you tell me what has been some of your obstacles in getting your work out there? What has been successful? Where do you feel the tires have been spinning?
JH- Being online is akin to being a ghost. At least that’s how it feels when you have virtually no marketing budget in an age when some publishers drop six to seven figures on an advertising campaign for big name writers. Everyone says that you have to start a blog, be active on social media, and work from there. It’s more difficult than one would think, especially with the oversaturation of all book markets. There are more writers than readers it would seem. I’ve spent thousands over the years on online book promotions, Twitter and Facebook ad campaigns, and banner ads on reader forums, fan sites, and genre-related sites. Sadly, it all seems like a waste, unless you can afford $25,000 to advertise on Amazon. You heard me right. And that’s just their starting package. You’ll still be competing against publishers who spent much more on their golden geese. BookBub seems to be the only online promotion that all writers agree upon that is both affordable and effective; however, you have to be able to control the price of your own book or have publishers willing to accommodate you by lowering e-book prices to accommodate BookBub’s stipulations.
At the moment, we are not in the position to take advantage of this one reliable option, so we’re stuck making our way with personal appearances at conventions around the Southeast. I’ll be branching out to AwesomeCon in DC later this year, though. Unfortunately, conventions and literary festivals are expensive and almost never profitable. The real hope is that you meet an agent, producer, or major publisher who believes in your story and has access to the resources to make things happen. Otherwise, you’re stuck grinding it out book after book and hoping they catch on with a niche audience before you’re too old and senile to remember writing them.
MM- You’ve always been a generous guy when it comes to helping out other creatives. In your opinion, what can writers do to help their fellow writers the most?
JH- Writers live and die by word of mouth. That’s really the best way for us to advertise. If people love our books, they should tell other people about them. In the modern age, this means online reviews. Reviews are the lifeblood of writers, especially Amazon reviews. It takes at least 50 Amazon reviews, depending on how they are rated, for a book to be anything more than just another product on a site with tens of millions of products. Most people do not realize how important it is for them to take a few minutes of their time to leave a review for books they enjoy. It’s the quickest, easiest way to ensure we keep writing them.
I’d like to thank Jeremy for his time, what he’s contributed to this blog, and the insights he’s shared here. Some very valuable perspectives and experience here. THANKS!
Do check out his new release in the Cycle of Ages Sage, Sands of Sorrow! and, like he said LEAVE A REVIEW!