Your first book in The Edan Trilogy, The Way of Edan will be released on March 21st this year. Firstly, congratulations! What can you tell us about the book and the world, and how did the idea for the book come about?
The initial catalyst for The Way of Edan came about while I was reading Beowulf, which is one of my favorite stories of all time. There is a throwaway character who is mentioned in passing in the poem, a warrior whom Beowulf kills. I loved the name of this character and thought it was a terrible waste of a good name. I had wanted to write a fantasy story since reading The Lord of the Rings when I was a boy, and this name called out to me, so I decided it would be the name of my protagonist. Translated into modern English, the name of the character is Dayraven. Once I had my protagonist’s name, I decided to draw a map and develop a world he could live in. It’s a world that is based in part on my love for Old English and Old Norse, but there are other influences from languages and cultures I have been lucky enough to engage with, such as Welsh and Nepali. It quickly became apparent that Dayraven was living in a time when religious change was sweeping through his world, and a holy war became the backdrop to the story.
As someone who enjoys analysing other books, did you have to push away any thoughts comparing yourself to some of those writers during the drafting and editing process?
I am someone who embraces my influences, and I enjoy thinking about where and how other stories have influenced me, sometimes even including some deliberate nods while writing to allow readers to pick up on them. For example, a common theme in Old English poetry is the fleetingness of life and how one might respond to knowledge of certain doom by doing deeds that leave a lasting impact. Another theme is exile, which for ancient peoples was a tragic stripping away of identity perhaps worse than death. I have consciously included such themes in my writing. On the other hand, as the story emerged onto the page, I am sure that many other influences made their way into it without my awareness — from somewhere within the cauldron of stories — and these are the ones that I find fun to look for.
What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?
To me, there is no other genre that embraces the imagination to the extent that fantasy does. I love this! I have also always been attracted to myths and legends, and fantasy’s kinship with such older forms of storytelling is another part of the attraction for me. Fantasy delves deep into the human psyche and experience. I believe that among the functions of storytelling is the gift of patterns that help us to make sense of our lives, bestowing a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves. Fantasy is a natural vehicle for such storytelling.
What makes you connect with a character?
Conflict. One of the fascinating things about humans is how we have various parts of our brains that are often in conflict with each other. Part of my brain wants another cookie, but, alas, another part knows I’ve already eaten too many! A compelling character is often one who is divided and must confront a major decision (even bigger than whether to eat another cookie) that will have rippling consequences. A character struggling with inner conflict is often one we find complex and easier to relate to, and even if there are aspects of that character that we dislike, we might identify with that character’s struggle.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Because of how busy my life is, I don’t think I have a typical day of writing. During times when I’m able to write, primarily in the summers when I’m not teaching, I will put in several hours a day. I always start by going over what I wrote the previous day, often spending a great deal of time revising, which is my favorite part of writing. By the time I’m finished revising, I’m fully immersed in my world and ready to move on with the story.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I have no memory of when I started to read. However, I do recall my first fantasy series, which was Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain. I was probably around 11 or 12 years old. Soon after that, I read Tolkien’s books, and I have never looked back after stepping through the door that he opened for me. I have read Tolkien’s books more times than I can count, but I also made it my mission to read the things that inspired him, which is probably why I became a medievalist specializing in Old English. I wrote my dissertation on a major influence for Tolkien: William Morris, who translated Icelandic sagas and Beowulf and wrote what we now call fantasy in the 1890s. Ursula Le Guin was another big early influence for me, and I have read A Wizard of Earthsea many times.
What are some of your favourite recent reads?
In the last couple years, I have become a huge fan of the various series set in the Malazan world, which was created by Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont. I will no doubt forget to include several authors if I make a list here, but I have thoroughly enjoyed books by Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, R. Scott Bakker, John Gwynne, Janny Wurts, Daniel Abraham, and Stephen King, among others.
What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading?
“BookTube,” the corner of YouTube where people talk about books, has become a passion of mine in the last three years, and I have deeply enjoyed becoming part of that community after starting a channel dedicated to exploring fantasy literature. I am also an avid tennis player, and I love going for walks in the forest behind our home.
If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Don’t wait to write until you have enough life experience or knowledge. Those things will certainly make you a better writer, but so will practicing what you want to do, which is writing. If a story is calling to you, write it!
Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?
I am mainly working on getting The Edan Trilogy ready for publication. The Way of Edan is looking good for March 21, and then I hope to have The Prophet of Edan out on June 21 and Return to Edan out on September 21 of this year. I also have a complete draft written of a standalone sequel titled While Darkness Gathers, so that’s perhaps a project for 2024. I’m having a lot of fun getting the books ready and working with some amazing people. It’s wonderful to be part of a community of folks who love fantasy, and I’m grateful for every chance I have to interact with such people, including you, Tommye! Thank you so much for the honor of this interview!