Daniel E. Olesen spent entirely too long studying Comparative Literature and now works freelance as a translator and editor. Writing in fantasy, he draws strongly from history and travels around Europe, always searching for inspiration. His first book, The Eagle’s Flight, is an epic fantasy that can be downloaded for free from his site, www.annalsofadal.net.
Thanks for accepting my invitation, Daniel! Please don’t mind the noises, the Asylum got quite busy these days. Have a beverage of your choice and tell me a bit about yourself!
I’ll take a whisky sour if you don’t mind. As for the main details, I’m 32 and from Denmark. My degree is in Comparative Literature, which I use to write and edit books (sometimes even for monies). Otherwise I subsist on chocolate and by working as a freelance translator.
Who doesn't subsist on chocolate? At least every once in a while...
I’m pretty sure that by now, my organism has adapted to it, and if I stop, I will die.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
I’ve long had the idea of finding a defunct lighthouse – the view is guaranteed to be perfect. I’d place my bed where the light used to be, and wake up each morning to a panoramic view of the sea.
Yes! If you ever get a lighthouse, you have to invite me over. I love the idea of this. I wouldn't be able to sleep up there, but the view! It would be awesome.
Also the remoteness has some appeal. While I do appreciate living in a city with all the benefits, having a retreat has a certain allure as well.
What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
Probably has to be dragons. I find them interesting in all the different versions that both myths and modern fantasy offer. Not to mention, dragon-slaying is a time-honoured tradition in the Norse myths I grew up with.
Wait, you have dragons in Norse myths? How did I miss the memo? And why am I surprised? Nevermind, let's move on. Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?
I have always wanted to tell stories, even as a child. Reading The Lord of the Rings made me want to do the same, create a vivid world brought to life by imagination, which led me to write The Eagle’s Flight. I didn’t attempt traditional publishing simply because it’s a huge book of enormous length, with a big cast and lots of plots running side by side. In short, it’s not a very commercial project, especially coming from an unproven, debuting author.
Talking about The Eagle’s Flight. I haven't read it yet, but according to the blurb it sounds like it’s more an epic fantasy unlike The Prince of Cats. Was the writing process any different?
It was a more complicated process, simply because The Eagle’s Flight is a more complicated book. I had to spend more time structuring the narrative, because there were a lot more characters and plots to juggle. With The Prince of Cats, I wrote a rough outline, began the story, and filled out the outline as I progressed and knew where the story was headed. It was a breeze to write in comparison!
The Prince of Cats got mostly positive reviews so far. What motivated you to choose an Arabian-like setting? How much research you had to do to make the world so vivid and real?
I’ve always been fascinated with the Middle East. Reading the Arabian Tales and many other books growing up, I knew I wanted to write in that setting. It did require a lot of research; I read several books on architecture alone, so I could describe the cityscape and palaces of Alcázar correctly. I also consulted with an Arab reader, who ensured all my use of Classical Arabic is correct.
It really comes through that you actually spent time and energy to make it as real as possible. I believe you had an article about Orientalism over at the Fantasy Inn, where you addressed these problems. Namely, how you can avoid the pitfalls of writing about a culture not your own.
It’s definitely complicated. In some ways, I got the idea to write The Prince of Cats because I both wanted and needed a part of my setting to be inspired by Semitic cultures. The reason for that was to explain the many Semitic influences upon the English language (which is the stand-in for the common language in my world). Apart from the most isolated examples, cultures don’t exist in vacuums. Of course, this also makes it harder to distinguish between what is genuine in another culture, and what is our misunderstanding and simplification. Quick example: ’admiral’ is just the Arabic word ’amir’. The suffix, -al, is actually part of whatever name follows the title. The French didn’t know this, of course, and assumed that -al belonged to the title. So research is paramount!
Fascinating. So, why Prince of Cats? I don’t think that choice of name was explained in the book and I’m curious. This also comes from the Semitic cultures?
It’s a bit of a theme in European literature that I stole my way into. Originally, the Prince of Cats is a figure in French folklore; he is an enemy to Reynard the clever fox. There is an allusion to this story in my book, though saying more would be spoilers! This motif occurs elsewhere as well. In the original drafts of Tolkien’s work, Sauron was known as Tevildo, the Prince of Cats. And if you are familiar with Romeo and Juliet, her cousin Tybalt (due to his angry temper) also bears this moniker. So I really liked this theme of an angry spirit and thought it fitted well to my antagonist.
Hmm. Interesting. If you put it like that, I can see it fit. I think I didn’t mention this in my rather long review, but I really liked the idea of the rings symbolizing the status in society. What inspired that?
Rings have always had a particular significance in most cultures (the whole reason Tolkien chose them as his motif too). Even today, wedding rings have great cultural importance. I think it’s a combination of practicality (you can easily make and wear them) and something mystical (the circle being the perfect geometrical shape, its own beginning and end etc.). So rings are always a good choice for anything cultural in your world-building!
Which one of your characters would you like to switch with and live in Alcázar in their place? And which of them would you like to live with in an Asylum?
I would probably switch places with Faisal. That guy’s got it good. But if I had to be locked in an asylum, I’d choose Jawad. There’s a good chance he could get us out, and if he can’t, at least we won’t be bored.
Hey, we have a pretty good safety system, no one ever got out from here! Oh, by the way, I’m always in need of a good torturer, do you happen to have contacts to Basmah? She seems someone who is good at her job.
I’ll be honest, I think the Master is a bit too protective that he’ll lend out her services.
That's a bummer. I have to keep looking then.
I’m sure I can recommend other names. People in this line of work shows up in my epic series too.
I'll contact you about that later. What are your plans for the future? What are you working on now? Any chance you’ll visit the world of the Prince? I’m sure many people would like to know what will become of Jawad, Salah, Zaida and the others.
I’m almost done with the third manuscript in the same series as The Eagle’s Flight. After that, I’ll be starting the viking saga of Torkil the Tall, so I’m going native on that one. But, if reception is positive and people want to read more about Alcázar, I do have ideas for two more adventures in that setting.
Yay! I hope we readers will keep you busy then. Vikings seem to be pretty popular in recent years. You think there is still potential in stories featuring them? Though based on my surprise about dragons earlier, I guess I have my answer there...
Indeed I think so. When I encounter vikings in historical novels or fantasy counterparts, I usually feel they are done in a somewhat shallow fashion, bordering to caricature. Thanks to my upbringing and background, I know a host of details and interesting bits that I will using. I can promise that my viking world will feel as detailed and immersive as the world of my previous works.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
I guess I am going for Paradise Lost. Of my various list of favourite books, I imagine that’s the one I’ll get the most out of reading over and over.
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks the door*
What’s your wi-fi password?
If you’d like to get more fantasy stuff and historical nerdness, you can find Daniel E. Olesen on social media:
Read my review then get The Prince of Cats by clicking on the cover, which is out in the wild now!