Thursday, November 29, 2012

Brand new Interview with William Kenney

Shortly after I took up Jeremy Laszlo's invite to join the Skulldust Circle I decided the read what my fellow authors were writing. Gary's Ashenclaw work and Jeremy's Blood and Brotherhood debut were featured on my book blog, The Roaring Mouse, and so now it's William Kenney's turn.

William is one of those astonishingly talented types that you meet very so often that thrives in his creativity. As well as his great writing he also excels at artwork and muisc. In fact it was through admiring his covers that I first connected with him on Twitter, well before the Skulldust Circle formed. His covers grace the books of Gary Vanucci, as well as his own work and they evoke the superb fantasy art of the sixties and seventies which adorned the fantasy and sci-fi novels most of us grew up with,

Dreams of Storms is the first book of the 'In the Shadow of the Black Sun' series. It's a high fantasy series with a distinctly dark edge to it, not perhaps to the degree of Martin or Abercrombie, but enough to tell you it ain't for the little ones. It tells the story of Hagan, a former hero, now trying to live a life of refuge away from the lands and city that made him famous. However crisis returns to the lands and an old comrade (the awesome stone troll, Gorin) is dispatched to convince him to return. The pair set off with Hagan's younger brother, D'Pharin, in tow. On the journey to the city of Harquinn, they meet Vasparian, an Elven veteran and Windenn, a Woodwarden (kind of like a ranger-druid). But things are not quite as they expect- the evil Malhain is at large and has dispatched his sinister Inquiti after the companions.

There are all the hallmarks of good heroic fantasy in here--the quest, the interplay between human and non-human races, excellent world-building. In many ways William draws on the traditions of Tolkien, Brooks and Eddings, with the multi-skilled group and their dialogue. But what made the book for me were the more original touches-- the hostile and decaying city of Overbrook; the mystery of the seer, the Wisp; the guilt and ruminations of the troubled hero, Hagan; and the Inquitis, probably the scariest opponents since the Nazgul got drowned by Elrond's daughter. The dark atmosphere is there but it never overpowers, rather it bolsters the authenticity of the work, and makes you nervier as you're never sure that all the comapnions are going to be all right or not.

I took the chance to throw a few questions at William the other day:

Me: I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much 'dark' fantasy mixed with your traditional high fantasy story. Are you a fan of the darker end of the genre?
WK: Absolutely. I've always felt that the evil element in the story should be as dark and nasty as possible. The reader should fear them, loathe them and want them defeated. The reader is walking in the characters shoes and should feel the ultimate desperation of facing the bad guys. The good guys will only truly shine in the presence of absolute darkness, right?
Me: There's a definite feel of DnD in your work. I know our friend Gary is a big gamer, is it something you've done/do and does it influence you?
WK: I played quite a bit when I was a teenager. We had a group of guys that would play all-day marathons, sometimes getting so involved that we would forget to eat. I'm sure my mother remembers us taking over the dining table with maps and hardcover rulebooks. Eventually, a friend and I built a custom DnD table to play on. It was divided into four sections with a built-in box at the center with a lid. We kept dice and figurines in there. DnD and role-playing games in general really spark the imagination. I use to be the DM (GM now) back then and really had to think quickly while taking the others through the adventures. The DM is essentially a storyteller after all.
Me: Your covers are simply astounding. If you had to choose which one you enjoyed more- writing or painting/design- what would it be and why?
WK: Thank you very much for the compliment, Ross. That would be a difficult decision. I've done both since I was a boy and both feel very much like a piece of the same thing. To me, they are both art. I'm also a musician and treat it in the same fashion. I start with a small idea and continue to add pieces until I have a cohesive finished product that hopefully creates some sort of emotional response in people. Of course, painting is more immediate than writing, but they are both rewarding to me.
Me: I'd just noticed you also write a YA series. Tell us a little about that.
WK: I created the Tales of Embremere series as a break from the In the Shadow of the Black Sun series.I was writing such a complex dark fantasy story, that I wanted to create something more relaxed for a change. I wanted shorter stories that could be read in one sitting and I plan to do more in the future. The characters in the story are teenagers living in the Under. Beneath the city of Embremere, which is constructed on an immense platform above the surface of a lake, the less fortunate have built their own city from the discarded refuse tossed away by the city-folk above. The main character, Grivvin is the last of the Wychan, the wizards of the world. During the opening of the first book, he is cast out and into the dark world of the Under.
Me: Fun question- who was your favourite author and why?
WK: I would have to say Tolkien. Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was young changed my life without a doubt. From there, I devoured as much fantasy as I could find. My literary diet consisted of Terry Brooks, Michael Moorcock, Stephen R. Donaldson, Robert E. Howard, etc. Fantasy created such a magical atmosphere for me that I immediately wanted to tell my own stories. I still have pieces of novels that I started when I was roughly 15 years of age. No one will ever see them, of course. Very crude, but still some interesting ideas.
Me: What are your feelings about the increasing popularity of the fantasy genre with the success of Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations?
WK: I love seeing so much fantasy on television and in the theaters. When I was young, it was so hard to find anything like that. Any new fantasy-related film or series was a godsend to my friends and I. I didn't care how cheesy or ridiculous it was, I would watch and re-watch it. The Sword and the Sorcerer, Krull, Hawk the Slayer, Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian. I loved them all. We can only hope that with the added exposure, people that have never been exposed to it, will give fantasy novels a try.
Me: How excited are you about the Hobbit?
WK: Well, I can't wait to see it. What Peter Jackson did with the trilogy was truly mind-blowing. Those are some of my favorite movies without a doubt. So much detail, it's insane. I'm hoping the magical feeling of The Hobbit, which definitely has a different atmosphere than the Lord of the Rings books, translates to the screen. I keep waiting for someone to bring a decent Elric movie to the screen or the Shannara stories.
Me: And, finally, what's the current work in progress?
WK: Currently I am writing the third book of my In the Shadow of the Black Sun series. I've just scratched the surface with it and am feeling a certain amount of pressure. I feel that the first two books in the series are great fantasy tales. I am my biggest critic and hold my stories up to a pretty high standard. I spend a lot of time thinking through different possibilities for the storyline. What if I took the story this way or that? So many ways for the tale to go. Which works best? I've got so many stories to tell, some fantasy and some not. There is simply not enough time to get them all written.
Check out William's amazing work and excerpts from stories at
If you wanted to check out A Dream of Storms then click here for Amazon UK and here for Amazon US
Next time on the Roaring Mouse we're going 'down under' for a date with True Blood devotee and Mistress of Mutants, Rachel Tsoumbakos.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Infinity Bridge

Lest you think we at the SkullDust Circle have been asleep all summer, or worse resting on our laurels at the completion of our awesome anthology I shall quote the Mighty Thor...
"I say thee nay."

Which translated means 'No.' Whilst Emperor Vanucci, Sir William of Kenney and Lord Laszlo have all been scribing the next installments in their fantasy epics, for my own part I have completed my edit on DR3 and released a brand new book- The Infinity Bridge.

I wrote the book in response to complaints from my two eldest kids that everything I wrote was too grown up (i.e replete with long words and graphic fight scenes) for them. So I set to work in creating a MG/YA story with all the Dr Who-esque elements I knew they liked, set in a place they've visited with kids they could identify with (like Green Day and computers). I threw in a dash of Steampunk (clockwork androids and air-ships), some alternate worlds and even good old Merlin, re-imagined for the modern age.

If that tickles your curiosity buds, or if you've got kids age 10+ who like sci-fi/fantasy then click below and download a sample. The blurb for the book kinda says it all....

Sam: likes loud music, wears black eye-liner... and sees monsters.

Nick: wears Che Guevera knit-wear, big specs, loves sci-fi... and designs computer viruses.

Annie: dresses like a Sunday evening period drama, lives with her granddad... and fights like a ninja.

When Sam helps out the mysterious Annie, he and his cousin, Nick, are drawn into a world of excitement and danger. Terrifying androids roam the streets of York seeking the awesome power of the Infinity Bridge, a device that could signal the end of our world as we know it. All who stand in their way are being eliminated.

The three teenagers are propelled into an action-packed race against time, involving alternate realities, airships, clockwork killers.... and Merlin.

Sometimes the monsters are real....

To find on Amazon UK
And on Amazon US

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Carrot Noses and Holy Avengers

I came upon Poul Anderson quite late in the game compared my reading of other authors that were big influences on the DnD game. Anderson’s books Three Hearts and Three Lions and the Broken Sword both pop up in the reading list in the 1st Ed DMG, but it was one of those books that never seemed to populate UK book stores.

Being a classic of its type (modern man transported into fantasy alternate world a la everything from Mark Twain to CS Lewis) it was re-published as part of the awesome Fantasy Masterworks series, some of which have now drifted onto Kindle.

The book tells the tale of Holger Carlson, a Danish agent in WW2 who is flipped into a fantasy world by an explosion. He finds he has taken the role of a holy knight, who is known in the world, and whose recollection slowly returns. Along his journey he meets dwarves, faeries, cannibals, witches and trolls. Ultimately he finds that he has been previously involved with Morgan Le Fey, and she plays a key part in the latter part and the conclusion to the book.

The book is a cracking read—although the plot is linear (and given it was a serialised novella, that’s not too surprising) and some of the dialogue grates (especially the pseudo-Glaswegian of Hugi the dwarf). It is a surprisingly energetic and contemporary feeling fantasy, which given it was released just prior to JRR Tolkein’s work, is surprising.

The influences on the DnD game are numerous, perhaps almost as many as Tolkien and Lieber’s work, considering it was only a single novel. The most significant, and this was further extended by Moorcock in Elric, was the alignment system: Anderson describes Law and Chaos in his book (which was later modified in AD&D to include the –good and –evil suffixes). Gygax cited Anderson and Moorcock in his creation of the system. By all accounts, and Gary Vanucci is the man to ask here, the 4th Ed has merged them all together to create a sort of spectrum from lawful good, to good, to neutral (couldn’t give a monkeys) to evil, to chaotic evil (proper naughty).

Anderson’s book gave us two more icons of the DnD world—the Paladin and the Troll. The Paladin character class was majorly influenced by Holger and his knightly values, which in turn was a representation of classic virtuous knights from the Arthurian legends (Gawain, Lancelot, Galahad). For my own part I really liked the Paladin characters for all the awkward situations you could toss them into. And the fact they could walk amongst scrofula-ridden peasants with little fear of infection. And laugh at mummies.

And the troll. Oh, the troll. Not the bulky boulder headed ‘oh, they have a cave troll’ type-troll, but the authentic 100% genuine carrot-nose rubber flesh variety. The inspiration of the seminal Tunnels and Trolls (OK, I made that up) and the unbeatable basis of many a horror film-style trap in DnD. We all did it—troll fingers frozen in a chest, thaw out when opened, grow new troll. I think it was even in some of the modules! And the punk new wave haircut... genius

A perfect note to end on (as if I get going about AD&D artwork I’ll be here all night).

Next time, got to be Fritz Leiber, and the Grey Mouser.