Interview by Michelle Lynn
- Hey Christopher, thanks for doing this. We’re all pretty excited to learn more about the man behind the brilliant world of deaths, so let’s get started. First, can you tell us a little about your books?
School of Deaths and Sword of Deaths form the first two parts of a trilogy called The Scythe Wielder’s Secret. The final novel, Daughter of Deaths, will release in 2017. In School of Deaths, a young girl named Susan is pulled from her home in Maryland and brought to the College of Deaths, where she’s forced to train to become a Death, Reaping souls from the Mortal World to the Hereafter. She learns that she’s the first female Death in a million years, and faces sexism and bullying from all her peers. She eventually forms a group of close friends, and as the series progresses realizes that her presence in the World of Deaths is no accident. A war between the ancient original reapers, the Dragons, and the Deaths is about to erupt, and Susan’s right at the heart of the conflict. In Sword of Deaths, Susan and her friends find an ancient artifact that may help in the oncoming confrontation. In Daughter of Deaths, the Dragons attack, and Susan and her two closest friends undertake an epic journey across three worlds hoping to save the Deaths.
- You’ve written some great character that people can really identify with. Who’s your favorite?
I really like Frank, and the arc his character goes through, progressing/maturing from the first book through the end of the series. I also intentionally paralleled Susan’s arc to Frank’s.
- As a woman, I loved Suzie. Girl Power! She’s the lone girl character of any importance. As much of a dream as that would sound to most girls, I’m sure it created some problems or unique situations when writing? Can you tell me about that?
Yes! In the very earliest draft, the sexism wasn’t even an issue. The main character was Billy, and the College was co-ed. However, as I worked on the book, I wanted to increase the main character’s isolation, and that led me to realize that the overwhelming majority of grim reaper portrayals are either men, or are parodies. I wanted to make a female Death who wasn’t a parody, and was a strong heroine in her own right.
However, as a man, writing in a girl’s point of view, particularly a teenager’s, can be problematic. In one scene in book one, Susan has her first period. It’s an intentional scene, both in terms of the fact that it sets her apart, and also it serves as foreshadowing for several events. I wrote the scene, then gave it my wife to help me re-write it, and later had two female beta readers pay special attention to it, but I’ve still had students tell them that scene in particular made them a bit uncomfortable.
- So, death, huh? Your characters are training to be grim reapers. Does spending so much time dwelling on death get exhausting?
Death’s the only absolute certainty in life. While the book has extremely dark undertones, I intentionally kept the tone light, particularly in the first two books. The focus in my series isn’t really the reapings or the occupation, it’s the world that the reapers live in. From a social justice perspective, the Deaths in the book are not the horrors, the sexism and racism are. For me, and for the characters, the focus is on what we can do in our lives, not a fear of what might happen after.
- Personally, I love dragons. So, I was pretty psyched when I read your book and realized they were going to play a part. How do you find a new take on such a popular and often done creature?
I love dragons too, and it was fun to write about them. Especially in Daughter of Deaths, when we see the world of the Dragons up close, I think you’ll find extremely different dragons than usually appear in fantasy or elsewhere. For me, the series has an underlying theme of addressing sexism, bullying, and racism. As one of the races, Dragons became a non-homogeneous collective. I think too many stories lump all dragons together as being one certain way. I think each dragon would have its own issues and own society.
- Were there alternate endings that you considered?
I always knew exactly how this series would end. However, without giving anything away about the end, all of the plot strings wrap up, but the door’s left open a crack.
- These days, there are so many amazing books out there. What authors have inspired you to write?
My favorites growing up were Tolkien, Asimov, and Pratchett. They were my initial inspirations, joined later by authors such as Gaiman, Rowling, and Ken Follett.
- What age were you when you started writing?
We were given an assignment to read three books, then pick an author of one of the three and copy their style. My three were: “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Mabinogion” (A Welsh myth cycle- I used the four book Evangeline Walton translation), and Robert Holdstock’s “The Hollowing.” This, while half the class chose “The Cat in the Hat” as one of their three. I ended up writing a short story in Tolkien’s style about the Ents searching for the Entwives. It was my first written story, and I’ve enjoyed writing ever since.
- Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I honestly don’t believe in writer’s block. I have trouble progressing at times (extremely rarely), but since I get so little time to write regularly, I have to be efficient about my writing time. I don’t have time for writer’s block.
- Do you work with an outline, or just write?
In the past, including for The Scythe Wielder’s Secret, I used what I called an image outline. I’d start with a concrete idea, and then develop a series of images. Many of the art pieces on my SITE are images from my image outline, that I later described to my cousin (the artist). I have vivid pictures in my mind, like photographs, and know I want them to be in the story, but don’t necessarily know how they’ll connect- I just write after that.
However, the more I write, the more that’s starting to change. I’ve been working on my current novel by outline sections of about six chapters at a time, still connecting the image outline, but less by the seat of my pants. At the same time, I’ve already started a detailed outline of the book I’ll write after that, including eleven pages of pure plot outline, and a thirty page glossary of places/characters. This is new for me, and we’ll see how it impacts the writing.
- Our characters become like friends to us. Some of the time we spend more time with them than we do with the people in our lives. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?
But they are real. As long as we can imagine them, they’re real in a sense.
- We all want the ability to do the extraordinary. Sometimes writing allows us to do just that. If you could have any power in real life, what would it be?
Shape-shifting! It covers most of the other powers I’d want, including flight.
- If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
- Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I did not want to self publish. I queried hundreds of agents and publishers, before eventually finding the publisher who printed the book. It took me about a year to find a publisher, and then another year to go through the editing process.
- If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I’ve learned a lot about both writing and publishing since my first book came out, and definitely feel that I’ve grown as an author significantly. There is a sport called boskery that appears in the first two books. While I do think it adds to the novels, I’m not sure I would include it at all if I was to write them over again.
- Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Two years ago, Susan Sarnio was brought to the World of Deaths.
Fighting sexism and bullying, the first female Death helped reinvent the College.
Now, her friends journey deep into the heart of enemy territory, hoping to rescue her. Ancient secrets come to light. The horrifying truth behind Susan’s arrival in the World of Deaths is at last revealed. War erupts between Dragons and Deaths, and the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance. Daughter of Deaths, the epic conclusion to The Scythe Wielder’s Secret releases in 2017.
The final novel in the trilogy is told from the same three points of view as book two. The series has now moved completely from light fantasy (Harry Potter/Percy Jackson style) to epic fantasy (Lord of the Rings/Eragon style). There’s a lot that happens in book three, and the end just may shock you.
- Criticism can be the hardest part of being an author. How do you deal with it?
It hurts, but you move on, and focus on the positive acclaim you’ve gotten. In the end, I write because I have stories to tell. Not everyone will want to hear them, but the stories still need to be told.
- There has never been a better time to be a writer. The publishing world is wide open and more books are being published than ever before. Do you have any advice to give to writers thinking about jumping in to this crazy world?
Never give up.
- Do you have any strange writing habits?
I like to write with Pandora on- I play film scores, or trailer music such as Audiomachine.
- And finally, for some fun – Dogs or Cats?
BOTH- although I only really like cat sized dogs. (I have a shih tzu)
- What is your biggest fear?
That someday I’ll meet Susan on one of her colleagues for real. J
Thanks for joining us, Christopher.
Don’t forget to check out the exciting world of deaths in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret!