Saturday, April 25, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephen Merlino


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Stephen.  Welcome to The Gal.  I must say, before we get started, that your interview has been, by far, one of my absolute favorite interviews so far.  And I'm so glad you had time to join us.  Go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Stephen Merlino:
I live in Seattle, Washington, with the world's most talented and desirable woman, fabulous children, and three attack chickens.


I teach high school English to a group of fantastic kids.  When people ask (and they always do), "Are teenagers really messed up these days?" I say, "Not at all.  They are just like we were.  They're awesome."  And I mean it.  Best job in the world, working with teens.  Keeps the mind young, too. :)

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Stephen Merlino:
One: I wrote a kids novel before I wrote The Jack of Souls.  It is still in my desk.

Two: I once rode a motorcycle through the Valley of the Kings.


Three: When I was 25, a bush-nun in Africa cured me of malaria.

Four: When I was fourteen, I saw a phalanx of UFOs dart across the sky.

Five: I went to grad school in England.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Stephen Merlino:
The first book I remember reading is Miss Twigley's Tree, and it is still my favorite children's picture book.  It's about a lady who lives in a house built in a huge willow tree with a bunch of bears and dogs and cats; it's a beautiful celebration of non-conformity, individuality and eccentricity.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Stephen Merlino:
Son of Avonar, by Carol Berg.  I've never read one of her books, but I met her at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Denver and really enjoyed her.  Looking forward to seeing what her stories are like.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Stephen Merlino:
As soon as I read The Lord of the Rings, I wanted to be a writer.  I wanted to invent and explore and share fantastic and magical worlds and characters.
            My earliest memory of wanting to write is from the seventh grade, when my best friend and I sat in the back of my parent's huge yellow station wagon as they drove us up to the ski slopes.  We were discussing The Sword of Shannara when my friend announced he was going to be a fantasy writer, and that he would start his own fantasy epic right then and there.  He had already named it, The Onyx Box, and it would start like this, "The taciturn dwarf held his ground, his double-bladed battle ax held tight in iron fists..."
            I remember it because it was the first time I'd heard anyone speak the word "taciturn" out loud, and it sounded like "TACK-a-turn," which I wasn't sure of, and because I wished I had been first to claim the dream.
            Of course, it turned out it would be me who fulfilled the dream, at age 49.  My friend now plays guitar in a world-famous rock band, and doesn't remember The Onyx Box.


It wasn't until high school that I really started writing, though, as annotate for all the daydreams of magic and adventure.  I still need that outlet.  These days, if I don't write, I become restless, un-centered, and unhappy.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Stephen Merlino:
A local cafe, called Cafe Racer, in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Stephen Merlino:
I tend to review/revise the previous session's writing, ten move on as the juices get flowing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Stephen Merlino:
Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion series is magnificent.  She has such a deft and subtle understanding of human relationship interactions, which she captures in subtly handled prose.  I read her work over and over and study how she does it.
            George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones has had a big impact on the genre (and me) with his realism and strict departure from the classical "white wizards and dark lords" of The Lord of the Rings.  "There are no dark lords," Martin once said.  "We are all gray lords."  I think he's right about that, so I try to give all my characters light and dark streaks.  Even the most irredeemable madmen have some small streak of lightness.  It makes us have to think a bit, wrestle with hard questions.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Stephen Merlino:
Balancing the time commitment with family and work.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Stephen Merlino:
Conflict.  Characters with problems.  Conflict is story.  Nothing should be nice and easy for a character.  The more problems they have, the better the action, the better the story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Stephen Merlino:
I love that question!  After some thought, I realize I'm most like Bolli, the Kwendi ambassador.  Okay, Brolli's not human, but he and I still share many character traits: first, we are both keen observers of others; second, we are both skeptical of authority and a tad irreverent of tradition; third, we both love solitude in wilderness; and finally, when faced with danger, both of us rely on stealthy and deception rather than frontal assault.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Stephen Merlino:
Wait...there are other genres?


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Stephen Merlino:
I try to turn as many outworn tropes of fantasy upside down and inside out as I can.

Instead of a tough, muscled protagonist, I make him slight and sneaky.  (I make his girlfriend the tough one.)

Instead of a young shining Lancelot as knight, I cast an aging, drug-addicted outcast.

Instead of a medieval setting, I do a mashup of Elizabethan England and the Wild West.

Instead of elves, knuckle-walking brutes.

Instead of... Oh, you get the picture. :)

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?

Stephen Merlino:
Okay, this isn't a book project - more of an art project - but it's been on my list for a long time.  I want to buy a whole bunch of 2" thick foam insulation board, then cut and weld and meld and bind and sculpt it into a full suit of plate armor.  Can you imagine that?!  I imagine big blocky, geometrical planes, like the force armor in the Kyle McLoughlin Dune film, or like some of the geometric ice golems in World of Warcraft.  Once complete, it could be molded with power sanders, linked together with flexible leather joints or hinges, and painted.  Probably need some stilt shoes, too.  It would be such a fun Halloween costume!


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Stephen Merlino:
Book 2, The Knave of Souls, in August 2015.
Book 3, The Prince of Souls, in December 2015.

And another trilogy after that.  The story isn't over!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Sounds awesome, Stephen!!  Thanks for stopping by and good luck. :)


About the book:
Harric is an outcast rogue who must break a curse put on his fate, or die on his nineteenth birthday.  To survive, he'll need more than his usual tricks.  He'll need help.  But on the kingdom's lawless frontier, his only allies are other outcasts.
            One of these is Caris, a mysterious, horse-whispering runaway, intent upon becoming the Queen's first female knight.  The other is Sir Willard - ex-immortal, ex-champion, now addicted to pain-killing herbs and banished from court.
            With their help, Harric might keep his curse at bay.  But for how long?
            And his companions bring troubles of their own: Caris bears the scars of a dark past that still haunts her; Willard is at war with the Old Ones, an order of insane immortal knights who once enslaved the kingdom.
            Together, they must overcome fanatical armies, murderous sorcerers, and powerful supernatural foes.
            Alone, Harric must face the temptation of forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he's ever loved.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Great book and fun interview- love the pictures! :)