SPFBO Interview with Steve Rodgers

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One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition as an advisor for Fantasy Book Review’s judging team. I decided to offer a spot to the authors in our group and will post them throughout the year. To see all of our content regarding the competition, check out my SPFBO page!

Steve Rodgers

Steve Rodgers has been reading science fiction since he was old enough to carry a stack of hard-bound books out of the central library.

In his adult life, Steve is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Books 1 and 2 of his epic fantasy Spellgiver series (“City of Shards” and “In the Claws of the Indigen”) are out on Amazon, with the third book being written now. A prequel novella set in the world of Spellgiver “Mountain Witch” is also available on Amazon.

Steve’s short stories have appeared in a variety of on-line magazines and anthologies for sale on Amazon. This includes Deepwood Publishing’s “Ruined Cities” anthology, Cosmic Vegetable’s “Anthology of Humorous SF”, Longcount Press’s “Songs of the Great Cycle (Mesoamerican Fantasy)”, and “Dysfunctional Family: An Anthology”, all for sale on Amazon. His short fiction has also appeared in several on-line magazines, such as Compelling Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, Perihelion, Black Denim Lit, NewMyths, Electric Spec, and many others. Steve has won several honorable mentions and silver honorable mentions from the prestigious Writers of the Future contest, and has attended the Viable Paradise science fiction writing workshop.

Steve Rodgers lives in Southern California with his wife and dog. He is an electrical engineer by trade, and works in the field of security and cryptography.

Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!

Thanks for the opportunity! Still pretty hot in San Diego, so a fan might go better with my beer. 😊

Maybe like a few other spec fiction writers, I started writing in my teens, inspired by D&D. My first project was based on my D&D game, but I quickly abandoned it because something felt off about writing under the constraints of the Players Handbook. My second project was more creative, and involved only creatures/worlds/magic dredged up from my own mind. Then life got in the way—went to school, work, etc, and though I’ve been writing consistently through my career, I didn’t start writing creatively again until about a decade ago. I picked up some of the ideas from my second project in my teen years, ditched all the writing, and started from scratch. This eventually turned into the Spellgiver series, which I continually revised over several years, passing it to successive waves of beta readers. Some time ago, I paused that effort and wrote short stories for 3 years, about 15 or so of which have been published in various magazines and anthologies (mix of pro, semi-pro and token). After attending the Viable Paradise writing workshop, I went back to finish the books. I ended up publishing both books 1 and 2 of Spellgiver (“City of Shards” and “In the Claws of the Indigen”) early this year. Books 3 and 4 are on the way.

By trade I’m an electrical engineer, but that’s the boring stuff.

Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like? 

I love castles on cliffs, or over rivers. When I was 16, I spent a couple of weeks with my grandparents, who lived in a suburb of Paris. My grandfather took me to the Loire valley to see all the old French castles, and I was absolutely thrilled. This was at a time I was really into D&D, so it set my mind on fire. I still think about some of those places, and they inspire the creative juices when I’m writing.

So to answer the question: A big medieval castle on a cliff over a river. Preferably with tangled, witchy woods nearby.

What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?

I wanted to pick something clever and creative here, but honestly, it’s hard to do better than a dragon. They’re majestic, deadly, and smart. But they have this one major Achilles heel, which is their love of gold. Any creature that is both dangerous and fascinating, yet strangely weak is prime fodder for stories.

Having said that, there are no dragons as such in City of Shards.

Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?

I started writing in my teen years and never looked back. Though I spent a lot of time in the wilderness (i.e. not writing creatively), I have always written as part of my job, and I always knew I’d come back to writing fantasy and science fiction. That I did, about a decade ago.

As far as self-publishing, like many people, at one point I wanted to be traditionally published. Then a guy joined my writing group (Doug, RIP) who continually bashed trad pub, and extolled the greatness of self-pub. Though I didn’t always agree with that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t eventually come around to his point of view. I love the control that self-pub gives you—control over your own covers, writing, layout, and most importantly price. I did try a few agents, got some personalized rejections and one request for sub which went nowhere. But this was out of only about 20 submissions, and I could have tried much harder. At some point I decided that I actually prefer self-pub to spending the next year trying to land an agent. And then I started reading some of the great self-published books, some of them SPFBO finalists and winners (loved Grey Bastards), and I realized that self-published books can be not only as good as traditionally published novels, but even better because they have more room to spread their wings. At this point, I can’t imagine trying to traditionally publish again.

Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?

That is such a hard question. The writers who influenced my love of science fiction and fantasy are not necessarily the same ones I’d read today, but they influenced me nonetheless. I guess those would have to include Ursula LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, Raymond Feist, Heinlein and Asimov. More recently I’d say some of the authors I love the most include Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman.

If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger Steve prior to releasing City of Shards what would it be?

Don’t spend time trying to get an agent. And writing short stories is a great way to hone your craft and get some credits, but 3 years is too long. I could have spent 2 years on it, and used that last year to get my books out that much sooner.

Adam: City of Shards (which was just picked as a semi-finalist) has an impressive amount of history, lore, and religion that is introduced to the reader before chapter one even begins. How much preparation did you do to create this world before starting the actual narrative? Do you have any plans to visit different periods of time in this world’s history in future stories? How’s book three coming along?

I had quite a bit of preparation. Which is a nice way of saying that I may have dithered with my books too long. I spent a long time going over the world as I wrote, and I wasn’t afraid to edit and revise. I passed these books through more waves of beta readers than any other book I’ve heard of. After each beta reader wave, I refined and added to my world, eventually doing a timeline so I could keep all the history straight (this timeline is in my book). With each revision, I went back to consider how the religions and conflicts of the world would affect every scene. I tried to place each event and every conversation within the constraints of the milieu, and devise small details that make sense based on its history. I hope that I ended up with a rich world that is full of enough specifics to make you feel like you are there. At least that was the goal.

Book 3 is about 80% done. It actually would be about done now except that several people who’ve read book 2 have given me enthusiastic feedback about things they’d like to see in the next book. That influenced me, and I’m planning to add those things in. I expect Book 3 to come out in February or March of next year. There will be a book 4, then that will be it for the Spellgiver series.

As far as visiting different timelines in the same world, yes. I have a prequel novella in the world of Spellgiver called “Mountain Witch” which is set 140 years before the events of book 1, and is available on Amazon. I also have a half-written novella called “The Snows of Avensai” which will come out after book 4. That one takes place 60 years before the events of book 1.

What SPFBO means to you? What do you hope to gain (fame and wealth aside)?

I love the whole idea behind SPFBO. There are a lot of fantastic self-pub books out there, but the problem so far is finding them. What self-pub needs are gatekeepers, so that those of us who want to support other self-pub authors but also want to read great writing can get both wishes fulfilled. That’s where SPFBO comes in. I love the fact that it works in stages, so that we have a whole list of semi-finalist and finalist books we can read to keep our Kindles full of self-pub gems.

As far as what I hope to gain: I think like a lot of authors, I want to be read. I’ve poured a significant amount of life force into my books, and spent a huge amount of time thinking about my world. I want others to enter my dimension so that we can have this shared hallucination together. Basically I’m looking for an excuse to continue daydreaming. I get that excuse that if I can convince others to step into my world, and they feel the same way I do about it. Every reader who likes my book gives me motivation to continue writing more.

What inspires you/your world? 

Everything, life. Although it’s a fantasy world, the conflicts are universal: Invader and displaced. Outcast and bully. Yearning and hope mixed with savage anger. Rescue from slavery, defying power, and bursting free from our chains. All of those are themes of Spellgiver, which come from real life.

Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?

Well, in some ways the main character Larin deserves to be in an asylum, an affliction that comes into play in book 1 but more so in book 2. I identify with Larin in many ways—he’s happy to be alone, but gets lonely. He has friends and love interests, but always feels a yearning to do more. He stands up to bullies but feels insecure behind his mask. Loneliness is part of everything he does, a constant shadow that overhangs all the moments of his life.

I also relate to another character in my book, Kemharak, leader of the indigen creatures of Spellgiver. Kemharak isn’t even human, and many of his emotions may be alien. But he has this savage desire to free his people from their ancient prison at the top of the world. That longing for freedom is something I think many of us can relate to.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?

I do read them. By now I have enough positive reviews (including from places like Kirkus and BlueInk) that when I see a bad review, it doesn’t bother me too much because enough people like my book that I can feel secure about it. And plus, to be honest, some of the bad reviews I understand—the issues they bring up may not bother me or lots of others, but I can see how they could be a problem for some (like all the world-building details, which for non-fantasy readers might seem overwhelming). Let’s face it, not everyone will like every book, and all my favorite books have bad reviews. When I find some that sting, I re-read the good ones, which outnumber the bad by a big margin, and that keeps me going. But I also try to learn from the bad reviews and take what advice I can for the next book.

Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2018 that you are excited to read?

So many. But honestly, I’m really looking forward to reading the SPFBO finalists to see if I can spot any of the new up and coming authors.

While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?

Wow, a tough one. Maybe “Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula LeGuin. That book fills me with beauty and hope.

Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*

[Shouting through locked door]. Thanks for the opportunity! If you want to be on my mailing list, go to my website at www.steverodgersauthor.com.  (voice fades away).

 


If you’d like to get in contact with Steve Rodgers, you can find him on social media:

 Website | Amazon | E-mail

Read Adam’s review on Fantasy Book Review, the expert below and get City of Shards by clicking on the cover!

City of Shards

For more SPFBO content from the whole Fantasy Book Review team, check out my page!


City of Shards

Larin

As he exited the temple into the falling curtain of white, the distant alehouse voices followed him like a mocking school child. He stopped, shin-deep in the snow, listening to the low whistle of the wind and feeling the cold pinpricks melt on his neck. The street was dark and empty, its white blanket tinged with Spellgiver’s faint blue glow.

He drew his dagger and placed the cold steel against his neck. Onie was gone, he’d never step foot in the temple again, and he’d just made an enemy out of the Morphasti, the fastest growing power in the Wormpile. His isolation was deepening, a well of blackness from which he’d never escape. He concentrated on the icy blade lying flat against his Adam’s apple, imagining bleeding his life into the snow. After a long moment, he returned the dagger to its sheath. He stumbled into a deserted alleyway toward home, its second-floor windows dark as his soul.

He turned a corner and there, at the end of an alley, was the brown-robed man from the alehouse. Larin stood in numb shock for a split second, then whirled around.

“Stop and turn around,” the man barked, in an accent Larin couldn’t place.

Larin halted and turned slowly around, like a marionette in a corner puppet show. His arms were pinned to his sides, and his toes seemed to sprout roots that burrowed deep into the earth.

The man considered him a moment, face dark under his hood. He limped toward Larin through the snow, and Larin’s eyes widened—that limp . . .

The brown-robed man stopped three feet away, pulling back his hood to reveal a grim expression. Brown hair curled over a thin, pockmarked face angling toward a cleft chin. He was definitely not Tanbari, though Larin couldn’t place his origins.

Despite raw fear, Larin couldn’t stop the words from escaping. “Well, now I’ve met two of them.”

Stony eyes bored into him. “What nonsense do you speak?”

“You’re Haraf’s servant, right? The one with King Galin’s disease? I’ve met one of the other personas, and I’ve seen a third.” Larin struggled to move his arms to no avail, feeling the cold seep into his bones. He swallowed slowly as the man approached him.

“What do you know of Haraf?” Something in his tone promised imminent danger, and Larin’s budding request for release died on his lips. He forced himself to breathe.

“I know that Haraf said three words before he was banished to the Gray Lands. I know I’ve been spouting those words all my life. And I know that you’re Haraf’s servant, and you have King Galin’s disease.”

The man circled around him, features cast in blue shadows from Spellgiver’s light. If it was possible to read surprise on that impassive face, Larin thought he saw it. The silence stretched forever, and Larin ventured more, trying to keep any part of his body moving.

“I don’t understand what possible use Haraf could have with me. This curse has brought me only pain. What could I ever do for the Demon Lord?”

The man watched him somberly, and Larin had the surreal feeling he wasn’t wholly present, as if part of him occupied another existence. “Yet, surely Haraf has picked you. I’ve been searching long for the one who will fight this war. I’ve felt a force emanating from this part of the city, this temple. It wasn’t until I heard those words that I knew who it was.”

“I’m not going to fight any war.”

“You will. You’ve started that very war tonight.”

Larin’s eyes began to tear. “Look, can you at least let me move my arms? I’m going to freeze to death.”

The man waved a hand, and Larin’s arms came unglued.

Grateful for sudden freedom, Larin wiped his frozen face with his coat sleeve. “How do you do that?” He sniffed. “I mean, work magic without saying a single Lyrashi word. Not even violet-sash mages do that . . .”

“The magic of the Masters needs no help from the language of the six-legged ones.”

Larin squinted, trying to read his wooden face. “Six-legged ones? You mean the Old Gods? That makes no sense. Lyrashi comes from the Carvers, not the Eldegod.”

The man remained motionless, and a freezing wind rippled through his hair. “Ignorant boy from an ignorant land. The language you twist to your own ends comes from the race that spawned the Old Gods. The Masters work their power in different ways.”

“The Masters . . .”

“You call them Demons. It is for them you fight.”

Larin looked up defiantly. “I fight for no one.”

“You will fight. You cannot avoid your fate.”

“Fate? So you’re saying I can’t choose for myself?”

His eyes gleamed. “I’d forgotten the straight-line thinking so popular in this corner of the world.” He donned his hood again, throwing his face into darkness. “Fate and free will are no enemies. They are two halves of the same circle.”

“And if I choose to resist fate?”

“You will choose, of your own free will, to follow your fate. Man’s free will becomes his destiny.”

Kemharak

The constant sway of the thrukk had turned Kemharak’s lower appendages numb. He wasn’t often sick, but the endless journey atop this lumbering, rocking monster was driving him close. He placed his lower arms on the creature’s back, trying to avoid watching his beast’s six furry legs shuffle in hypnotic rhythm across the hard ice.

Days ago, they’d exited the forests onto the frozen wasteland of this immense sloping ice sheet. The jagged peaks above were lost in clouds, and the wind whipped down the field of ice like an angry god. Before them, mountains stretched outward in every direction, their sides hugged by ageless ice that ran through the valleys, disappearing into unseen depths. Kemharak marveled that they’d traveled so long on this sideways tundra, struggling with their footing lest they roll down the slope to their frozen deaths. Yet such was the terrain here at the top of the world; the mountains proclaimed their power proudly. Only by descending and admitting defeat could one be free of the ice.

Kemharak reduced exposure to the swaying thrukk in front by shifting emphasis from vision to hearing, focusing what little sight remained on the backs of his elite guard. No more than twenty rode before him, protecting him from surprise attack. It was formality only; the chances that any band of humans would brave the ice to engage this immense army were remote. The bulk of his forces lay behind—they stretched forever, a multiheaded beast slithering its way across the mountainside. Yet for all its might, his army was but a trail of ants across the vast expanse of white.

Below him, the human struggled to keep pace, its arms chained to Kemharak’s saddle, staggering forward step after endless step. It was wrapped in an old thrukk-fur coat, the two lower sleeves cut away. At first, Kemharak had watched it try to maintain balance on the steep ice, attempting to keep pace with the thrukk. In the last day or so, he’d seen it slowly surrender to circumstance, allowing the thrukk to drag it for miles across the frozen landscape. Only when the pain in its arms became unbearable did it try to right itself, staggering forward for another hour until it surrendered again.

Kemharak looked at the riderless thrukk beside him, carrying his personal belongings, then at the beast ahead. “Guard!”

The guard’s rear vision pods flipped open, but then he twisted on his beast to face his commander. “Revered one.”

“I would converse with the human. Rearrange my belongings and mount it upon this thrukk.” He pointed with his upper left claw at the beast beside him.

The guard’s vision pods tinged red for the briefest instant, but Kemharak ignored it. To do otherwise would mandate this soldier’s immediate death.

“Yes, revered one,” the guard said, halting his thrukk. Up-thrust claws and sharp-pitched whistles traveled down the line of troops, as the head of the army slowed to a stop.

Manek pulled his thrukk beside Kemharak. His pods were pink, and the scales about his feeding orifice were pulled back. “This is wrong. The human will ride the thrukk, while most of our soldiers walk.”

Kemharak swept his gaze across the ice field, lidding his pods against the sharp wind. “It shall be as I say.” He turned to the guard, busy disconnecting the human from its chain. “Take care to leave the arm chains—they have etchings that bind its power.”

Manek watched him, head ridge hardened, barely keeping red from his pods. Kemharak turned back to the guard. “Shackle its arms tightly in front of it. If it is to sit upon the thrukk, it must feel pain.”

Manek’s pods returned to neutral gray, and he kicked his thrukk forward.

The guard lowered the rope ladder from the thrukk’s back, and the army’s front guard watched silently while the human climbed, barely able to use its tightly bound arms. Halfway up, it missed a rung and fell to the ice with a hard smack. The guard kicked it twice, and Kemharak did not interfere. It curled into a ball, then when the kicks had stopped, rose and tried again. Eventually, it alighted the thrukk’s back, and the guard returned to his beast. Within moments, whistles and outstretched claws rippled down the line of soldiers, indicating progress was to resume.

The army lurched forward, as lumbering and plodding as the thrukk, which were its lifeblood. Kemharak spared a glance at the human, but its head was bent into the wind, face twisted against the pain caused by its arms’ unnatural position. He drew the furs about himself.

“Human, we ride to battle your wizards.”

It shifted its arms, trying unsuccessfully to relieve the pain. “Yes,” it said, voice barely audible against the wind’s howl.

Kemharak looked to the rolling sky above, where the edge of the Spellgiver’s giant disk poked through the fast-moving clouds. “Never before have we attacked when the moon is near. Your wizards’ power will be high.”

The human said nothing. They rode for a silent moment, the dull thud of the thrukk’s six massive feet echoing faintly over the wind. Far downslope, a herd of denarin buried their bowl-shaped heads into the snow, their six legs rigid in the slanted ice as they searched for allimoss.

“You will tell me what I must do to be successful.”

The human finally lifted its head. Its face was scarred against the cold, and its vision pods seemed dead to Kemharak. “No.”

Kemharak’s head scales hardened, and he struggled to contain fury mixed with fascination, for this creature seemed not to care that its life was in his claws. Kemharak pulled his face back, exposing a round orifice of sharp teeth.

“Human, I can make your death very painful. I ask again. What advice do you give for the coming battle?”

The human turned away and hung its head.

Kemharak moved his thrukk beside the human and struck it. “You will do as I say! Answer me now!” His voice was loud for all to hear, as he struck the creature again with an upper arm while his lower arms loosened its chains with small, hidden movements. He delivered another blow, then moved his thrukk away.

The human pulled its arms apart in new freedom. It turned wide vision pods on Kemharak, the motion of small muscles on its face inscrutable.

“Why do you do this?”

“It will be easier for you to talk without pain.” Kemharak sensed there were deeper reasons as well, but they were not to be examined.

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