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Friday, February 5, 2016

Interview with Chris A. Jackson - Author of Pirate's Prophecy: A Pathfinder Tale (Interviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Pathfinder Tales is a longstanding sci-fi/fantasy novel series based on the best-selling tabletop adventure game. On February 2, 2016, Tor released the latest installment in the series – Pirate's Prophecy by Chris A. Jackson.

About Pirate's Prophecy:
Captain Torius Vin and the crew of the Stargazer have given up the pirate life, instead becoming abolitionist privateers bent on capturing slave ships and setting their prisoners free. But when rumors surface of a new secret weapon in devil-ruled Cheliax, are the Stargazers willing to go up against a navy backed by Hell itself?

Cindy got to sit down with Chris A. Jackson and talk about this new release, how it feels to write for the Pathfinder Tales, and about what it is like to live life on the open seas!

A huge thank you goes out to Tor for helping to arrange the interview and for Chris A. Jackson for stopping by.

Please welcome Chris A. Jackson!

1. Hi Chris! Thank you for stopping by Fantasy Book Critic! Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My pleasure!  Let’s see, my father was a boat builder and fisherman, so I grew up around boats and on the sea. The most important thing I learned during that tenure was that the ocean will either earn your respect or kill you. She’s certainly earned mine, but I also learned to love her despite her occasional homicidal tendencies, and even sought a career in marine biology. Despite loving the field, and even marrying a marine biologist, I went into biomedical research as a career. Trust me, it pays better. During my twenty years in that field, I started writing seriously. After a few years of attending conventions and making contacts, I was picked up by a small publisher, and it’s been full steam ahead ever since. In 2009, having saved up some money and needing a change, my wife Anne and I left our scientific careers to go sailing on our forty-five-foot sailboat, Mr. Mac, and write fulltime.  We thought to sail until our savings ran out, but my writing is now paying for our seaborne lifestyle, allowing us to cruise the seas from Maine to Trinidad. Anne is my first-draft beta reader/editor and co-author for some of our books, which tells you something about her level of patience and the durability of our relationship.
2. How did you get involved with writing in the Pathfinder Tales series? Was it something that just happened to cross your path?
I had played table-top role-playing games since my teens, and the Pathfinder RPG for several years, and I had just finished a four-book nautical fantasy series—the Scimitar Seas novels, published by Dragon Moon Press—which won three consecutive gold medals from Foreword Reviews Magazine for best fantasy novel of the year. Paizo had been publishing Pathfinder Tales for a couple of years, and had just published the pirate-oriented Skull and Shackles adventure path, but had no one writing nautical Pathfinder Tales. So I knew gaming, the Pathfinder RPG, and how to write a nautical fantasy. The opportunity just begged me to take advantage, so I pitched myself to Paizo’s fiction editor, James L. Sutter, as the guy who could write nautical Pathfinder Tales.  He was intrigued, and asked for a web fiction story, which I happily submitted, but before Stargazer was even published, I got a surprise. A hole had opened in his publishing schedule, and if I could give him a manuscript in five months, I was in.  I said yes, spent the next few months on anchor in St. Lucia furiously working on the manuscript, and submitted Pirate’s Honor by the deadline.
3. Pirate's Prophecy is a continuation of your previous books in the Pathfinder Tales. For readers who haven't read the first ones, could you give a brief summary of what they can expect?
In general, Pathfinder Tales are written such that a new reader can enjoy any one of the books without having to read them in any particular order. There are, however, some events that build on previous ones, and there are some minor spoilers here if you haven’t read Pirate’s Honor.  
My “Pirate’s” stories revolve around three primary characters: Captain Torius Vin, his navigator and lover Celeste, and the deadly and seductive Vreva Jhafae. Torius is a former slave turned pirate turned privateer/spy for the fledgling democratic nation of Andoran. He loves three things: his freedom, his ship, and Celeste.  Celeste is an atypical protagonist for a Pathfinder Tale, not human or even humanoid, but a lunar naga with the head of a human and the body of a large black snake. She’s quite beautiful, if you don’t mind scales. Lunar nagas love the stars and astrology, making her the perfect ship’s navigator. The romantic relationship between Celeste and Captain Vin is problematic. Aside from the obvious obstacles to their intimacy, Celeste is venomous, and Torius has, over the years, become inured and even addicted to her deadly venom.  The relationship is strange, but fun, and the fans love it.  
Then there’s Vreva Jhafae, courtesan/spy for Andoran, and devotee of Calistria, goddess of trickery, lust, and revenge. A minor character in Pirate’s Honor, she was so much fun to write I had to expand her role.  Vreva uses her seductive wiles, beguiling magic, and mind-numbing toxins to ply her trade, and often drags Torius and Celeste into intrigue and trouble.  Pirate’s Prophecy is a mix of Mission Impossible and Master and Commander, with spies, witches, devils, and nautical combat. Our intrepid trio has been assigned a covert mission to neutralize an unknown and potentially devastating secret weapon that the devil-worshiping Cheliaxians intend to unleash upon Andoran.  I won’t go into too much detail, but rest assured, mayhem ensues.
4. Who is your favorite character to write about in the Pathfinder Tales?
Vreva Jhafae is just so much fun to write. She is courageous and capable, relying on cunning and deception to accomplish her missions instead of brute force and brawn. A mistress of magic, disguise, seduction, and subtle poisons, Vreva is an atypical femme fatale. Her familiar, Mathias—a smart-mouthed tomcat—is always up for a scrap with a rival or a tumble with a kitty cat. Her life of constant danger, seduction, and intrigue is very different than the piratical characters, and adds an espionage element to the tales.
5. Pathfinder Tales is a pretty established world. You have written several other novels in the series before Pirate's Prophecy. What was it like working yourself into an established series? Was it different than working on your own separate series in a world you have created?
 The Pathfinder Tales authors are given a lot of creative freedom.  I create my own characters and plots for the novels, weaving them into the fabric of the Pathfinder game world of Golarion. However, writing in an established world is very different from writing in my own fantasy world.
Basically, I’m playing in someone else’s sandbox.  I can have fun, but I can’t break the toys.  That means that I have to abide by the gaming rules with regard to character types, magic, religions, etc., and refrain from sinking islands, blowing up cities, or killing heads of state. Writing in my own world, I can break anything I like, though I still have to adhere to my own rules for magic, technology, religion, etc.  And of course, in my own worlds, nothing is sacred, and the stories are much more epic in scope.
6. There are several dozen authors who also write within the Pathfinder Tales series. Do you read their books too? If so, do you draw inspiration from what they are writing as it occurs essentially in the same type of world or do you keep your novel completely separate from theirs?
I read as many of the Pathfinder Tales as I have time for, and have started listening to the audio versions to allow myself more exposure. I draw inspiration more from the other writers’ styles than the content of their stories. Dave Gross creates wonderful characters, Liane Merciel is the queen of dark tension, Howard Andrew Jones is a master plotter, and Tim Pratt’s wit reminds me that humor is vital to a good rollicking tale. I’ve done some beta reading for several of the other authors, as they have done for me as well, which is invaluable.
There’s virtually no crossover between authors, other than a few mentions of places or events, although it would be fun to actually coordinate, perhaps have our characters cross paths.  I’d love to write a scene where Dave Gross’ primary character Varian Jeggare makes a cameo appearance, perhaps dancing with Vreva Jhafae.  Haven’t gone there yet, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
7. You have extensive, hands-on experience sailing the open seas. How does that play into your recent novel or any of your other novels?
I like to think my sea experience adds authenticity to the nautical scenes and sailing maneuvers. It certainly did in my Scimitar Seas novels, which were much saltier than my Pathfinder Tales.  Much like a little experience with martial arts, or at least knowledge of them, adds realism to a fight scene, experience with heavy weather, squalls, dead calms, and even the simple act of eating a meal on a table lurching with the motion of the ship, adds realism.  
One aspect of my Pathfinder stories that is directly from personal experience is Celeste’s love of the offshore night sky.  There is nothing quite like the sky a hundred miles from land on a clear night. Beyond my own experience, I must admit that a big influence for the large ship warfare and terminology was Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. Reading those novels is a baptism by fire into nautical jargon and tactics.  I pull my punches with regard to jargon in both in my Scimitar Seas and Pathfinder Tales books, to keep the reader interested, but I use enough to give it authenticity.
8. What inspired you to basically pick up everything and live aboard a ship? What are the most challenging aspects of this type of life?
Our original impetus for living aboard a boat was the view of a marina from our apartment window. We watched enviously, then finally decided, “We can do that.” So, we moved onto a small boat together, fell totally in love with the lifestyle, and have lived aboard for twenty one of the last thirty years. Even without sailing, living in a marina is a unique and wonderful experience. It’s the best neighborhood I’ve ever lived in. You know and socialize with your neighbors regularly, and you all have something (boats) in common. The cruising community is similar, but on an international scale. Leaving our careers to go sailing drew quite a few dumbfounded looks from our professional peers, but we shrugged that off.  We are both experienced scientists, and could get real jobs again with little trouble if need be.  Thankfully, that need has never arisen, mainly due to the success of our books.  
As far as challenges go, everything on a boat is more effort. We do dishes by hand, cook in a space roughly half the size of a twin bed, and have to be self-contained in all respects. Everything has to have a place and be in its place, since things tend to fly around the cabin in rough weather if they’re not secure. Space is minimal, so we don’t have a lot of “stuff”. No big-screen TV, no vast library, no big toys or cars, and, much to my dismay, no broadband Internet connection. Wifi, when we can find it, can be dreadfully slow. We also take care of all the systems aboard ourselves, including plumbing, electrical, fiberglass repairs, paint, brightwork, woodwork, diesel engine mechanics, refrigeration, and sailing hardware. Every full-time sailor must either be a jack of all trades, or have very deep pockets, and we’re far from rich. It’s not an easy life, but it pays off in freedom and adventure.
9.  Can you tell us a short, adventurous story about your life aboard a boat?
Okay, picking only one is the hard part here, but this is a moment I’ll never forget. In the spring of 2014 we were sailing back from the Eastern Caribbean to the US to do some boat maintenance and spend time with family. The passage from Culebra along the north shores of Hispaniola to the Bahamas follows a very deep trench.
One day we were becalmed, motor-sailing along on perfectly flat seas in water that was nearly three miles deep, when we decided to go for a swim.  One might think this is no big deal. Many sailors do it regularly, but we had never done it before in such deep water, out of sight of land.  We stopped the boat, threw out a long safety line, and dove in.  The water was literally clearer than tap water, and looking straight down the shafts of sunlight piercing the azure depths was quite beautiful…and also quite unnerving.  As writers, my wife and I have very active imaginations, and we couldn’t help but think that something way down there might be looking up at us.  We both had the same thought at the same time and scrambled for the swim ladder to climb out, laughing nervously at each other.  Realistically, this was perfectly safe, but still…what could live down there that might think two swimmers would be tasty?  My skin prickles just thinking about it.
10. The Pathfinder Tales is based off the tabletop game. Did you play it at all, perhaps in the name of research?
Oh, yes, I’ve played role-playing games since I was a teen and Pathfinder for years before I wrote stories for them.  I don’t play for research, actually, but for fun.  I will say, however, that I’ve used events that have happened during games in my novels.  In fact, my first novel-length writing effort was a novelization of an adventure that I ran for my wife and friends in graduate school. It was set in my own world, using characters created by the players, and over many re-writes, turned into the Cornerstones Trilogy, which I co-wrote with my wife.
11.  You've mentioned before that you regularly play RPG games in an effort to clear writer's block. Do you have any favorites that really help unblock that stubborn writer's block?
For table-top games, Pathfinder is my favorite. I enjoy the system design and I’m familiar with all the elements. I also enjoy Shadowrun for the fantastic world, and was lucky enough to have contributed the short story Sweating Bullets to their World of Shadows anthology.  
As far as computer RPG’s go, I love the Elder Scrolls series for the freedom of character creation, and the sheer depth and detail of the world. I need a better computer to play Skyrim, but maybe it’s better that I can’t… Addictive games are a writer’s bane. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have a broadband connection, too, or I’d have become hooked on MMORPG’s long ago. I use diversions like these because they’re fun, stimulating, and of course, in the genre I enjoy most.  I also keep a collection of my favorite old novels that I read to break blockage on occasion.
12. Before you go, I'm going to give you the floor to say or share anything else I may have left out. Here is your chance!
Thanks for the great questions and the opportunity to shout out some of my other projects. I have two more Pathfinder Tales novels in the works, as well as a nautical fantasy novel for Privateer Press, based in their Iron Kingdoms game world.  
I’ve also joined a new publishing effort, The Ed Greenwood Group, which will incorporate multiple worlds and myriad “creatives”, including authors, artists, game designers, musicians, and even chefs! My first novel with TEGG—Dragon Dreams, released in November 2015—is set in Hellmaw, a contemporary dark fantasy/horror universe where daemons live among and feed upon humans. My second TEGG novel, Queen’s Scourge, a nautical fantasy set in a different world that has yet to be formally announced, will release in 2017.  My successful Weapon of Flesh series, a self-published magical assassin saga, continues this summer with the release of Weapon of Pain, and next summer with Weapon of Mercy.
As far as short fiction goes, I’m writing Pathfinder related Swords and Planets stories for Legendary Games’ soon-to-be-released Legendary Planets adventure path, and last, but far from least, I’m very excited about my short story, First Command, in the upcoming Women in Practical Armor anthology, from Evil Girlfriend Media. There are more projects on the horizon that I’m not free to talk about yet, but one never knows what might crop up.  
Anyone interested can drop by my writing website to keep track of my creative work, or follow my real-life sailing adventures on our blog

CHRIS A. JACKSON is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Pirate's Honor and Pirate's Promise. His self-published and small-press work includes the Scimitar Seas and Weapon of Flesh series, which have won three consecutive gold medals in the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year awards, as well as becoming Kindle best sellers. Jackson has also written a novella set in Privateer Press's RPG fiction line. He lives on a sailboat in the Caribbean.
Thursday, February 4, 2016

Blog Updates: Email Sign Up Now Live and A Few Other Things to Discuss

It has been a while since we have had to make any blog update posts. This is just highlighting a few things that go on at the blog and have been added for the ease of our readers, as well as a reminder.

First, we have received several emails asking about how to sign up for email reminders. I am excited to say that we have added this feature to the blog. Located on the right hand side of the screen is an email sign up. Just type in your email and get updated whenever a new post appears on Fantasy Book Critic. We post at most twice a day (sometimes at noon and midnight), but you won't be swamped with emails.

The other order of business that needs to be discussed is comments and the reviewers on the blog. Please remember that Fantasy Book Critic is a hobby. All reviewers are spending their free time working to write up reviews, conduct interviews, and maintain the blog.

While we welcome discussions on books and welcome different views on books you have read and experiences you have with authors other books, we will not tolerate comments that contain profanity or harassment to the reviewers/other commenters. We want to keep and maintain a professional community and comments of this nature will not be allowed.

We thank you for your continued support and look forward to bringing you wonderful reviews, interviews, and guest blog posts!

"The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma" (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Nova Ren Suma's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW:  On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

FORMAT: The Walls Around Us is a standalone YA novel. It is a haunting novel that is a mix of mystery and contemporary fiction. It is told from the point-of-views of Amber and Violet who have one common thread – a young woman named Orianna.

The Walls Around Us was published March 24, 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: Most of 2015, I struggled to find that one read that blew me away. Every year, there seems to be that one book that is so good that it is difficult to put into words, but you know deep inside it was an awesome read. I just didn't have any luck with finding a book like that, until I picked up The Walls Around Us.

I was not familiar with any of Nova Ren Suma's work, so I basically went into this book blind. I had the summary and a basic idea that it was a raw, emotional read that had a haunting feeling to it. That was all I knew.

Upon starting The Walls Around Us, I was a bit confused. The beginning can only be described as rough. The writing style isn't straight forward, it is very flowery and it almost felt like readers were thrown into a situation with no explanation. The opening scene involves a bunch of young girls at a juvenile detention center trying to escape after their doors are mysteriously opened up. No one knows why the doors opened up, but the girls see it as their opportunity to run for it.

After the scene with the girls making an escape, it quickly jumps to a scene involving rising star ballerina Violet as she takes the stage one last time before heading to the big city to make it big. Readers are given hints that Violet's rise to fame wasn't natural and something happened to make her the star she is today, but readers aren't told that at all.

For the rest of the book, readers are shown through a series of events. The story is told from two points-of-view. There is Amber a young girl locked up in Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for a horrific crime. The other point-of-view is Violet, who has always dreamed of being a world famous ballerina, but has always had to settle for being second best; that was until a horrific and tragic event caused her to rise quickly to the top.

The two girls' stories eventually do connect, at the end of the book. But it takes a long while to get there. Readers are given lots of backstory and details that seem unrelated at first, but in the end all plays a part in the story.

This rather disjointed, flowery start to the book almost had me putting the book down. I was confused and couldn't place what was going on. That was until about page 100. Right at page 100 everything started to click. Events and little details slowly, but surely started to fall into place and I became hooked. Before I knew it the big reveal happened and the book was over. I was left in a feeling of complete awe of the book and with a desire to re-read it again to see what happens.

Nova Ren Suma does an amazing job of detailing the complexities surrounding teen girls' friendships. Readers are pulled into the story of Violet and Orianna. They see everything from how the friendship formed to how quickly a best friend will turn on another and betray her for her own good. It was beautifully written, but had a very sad element to it when you think of it on a deeper scale.

The friendship between Violet and Orianna isn't the only thing detailed. All the scenes of Aura Hills Detention Center are absolutely amazing. I have never been in a detention center, but Nova Ren Suma really detailed the experience. I felt as if I was actually locked up. There were moments of feeling claustrophobic. There were moments where I felt like I was one of the girls just struggling to survive, and there were times where I felt as if the guards were against me.

The Walls Around Us is by far not an easy read. There is betrayal and lots of unfair situations that many will find frustrating and at times a bit uncomfortable. There is also the fact that this book is not straight forward. There are lots of details and side stories being told that all string together in the end. Unfortunately, some readers will not enjoy the pacing and rather confused feeling they have for the first 50 – 100 pages. If you can get past that or you know things work out in the end, it is well worth it to try to power through it.

Overall, I absolutely loved The Walls Around Us. It isn't a book for everyone. It is certainly a dramatic, emotional story about teen girls and the struggles of peer pressure, the desire to succeed, the need to maintain friendships, and the complexities surrounding friendships/success/life.

I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something detailed and complex with a haunting mysterious air to it. The Walls Around Us will certainly not disappoint you.

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