Thursday, April 14, 2016

Author Spotlight: Michael Dellert, author of, "The Matter of Manred" series

I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Fantasy author, Michael Dellert, at a recent book signing.  When his vivid book covers caught my attention, I had to know more about his novels, Hedge King in Winter and A Merchant's Tale.  He was featured at the Readers' Fantasyland event at the Brains to Books Cyber Convention and presented his books to new fantasy readers.  He is a writer, editor, and writing coach, but today we are going to discuss what motivated him to create these wonderful books.

Book Genre: Fantasy.
Suggested Reading Audience: 13 and up.
Content Warning: Some graphic violence, some strong language.
Book blurb:
Hedge King in Winter:
The King has been crippled! Can the King’s brother Eowain defend the realm against the machinations of their rival cousin?
When his brother is dangerously wounded, young Lord Eowain is faced with a desperate choice between the law, his family, and the good of his kingdom. And when the mysterious Order of the Drymyn, sorcerer-priests with their own occult agenda, pressure him to take the throne, Eowain has to wonder whether there isn’t something darker and more dangerous a-foot. Why should kings far and wide suddenly take an interest in him? What dark powers have awakened in the Kingdom of Droma? How will they threaten the future of his kingdom, the destiny of things yet to come, and even his own soul?

Purchase the Hedge King in Winter! 

A Merchant’s Tale:
Corentin, a young foreign trader of the House Pelan arrives in the uncertain lands of Droma, tasked to deliver a mysterious chest to a far-away sage in a remote corner of the kingdom. Accompanied by his mercenary bodyguard, a native scout, and the young local priest named Adarc, he sets out on a journey that will change his life forever.

A Merchant’s Tale is the second installment in The Matter of Manred series, a new cycle of medieval romances, action adventures, heroic fantasies, mysterious priests, and their dark and forgetful gods.

Purchase A Merchant's Tale!

What made you decide to become an Author and write a book series?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager: I took writing classes, served on the board of school literary magazines, studied literature, and practiced, practiced, practiced. I worked in the traditional publishing industry for twenty years so that I could understand the cradle-to-grave process from manuscript to bound book and digital formats. When I was asked during a job interview in 2006 what I really wanted to do with my life, I said, “Start my own publishing company and publish my own books.” (I didn’t get that job, by the way.)

Then about three years ago, some challenges came up in my life and I couldn’t work full-time for about six months. But I needed something to fill my time. I’ve always wanted to be a published writer, but traditional publishing takes too long and there are no guarantees. And here was this world I’d been using as a story sandbox since time out of mind.
So I decided to do something meaningful with those stories and started laying the foundation for that little publishing empire I’d dreamed off. I’ve been investing my retirement savings into it ever since.

Why did you choose to write Fantasy and what are some of the difficulties associated with the genre?
I grew up on sci-fi/fantasy stories from Tolkien, CJ Cherryh, Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin and many others, as well as Greek and Roman myths. From a very early age, the genre has always fascinated and enthralled me.

But no doubt, it presents some unique challenges, especially when one’s stories are set on an alternate world, as mine are. The time-period in which the story is set as well as fundamental things like the length of the year, the constellations, the political history, and the social structure, all these have to be taken into consideration. 

More than that, once one knows these things, one has to consider how knowing these things and only these things influences the thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes of the characters.

For example: To a modern person, a case of the flu is a fairly low-impact event: a few days in bed at the mercy of an impersonal virus, with some chicken soup and some TheraFlu, and that’s that.
But to the average citizen of my fantasy world, there’s no TheraFlu, no antibiotics, no modern germ theory. A flu is a potentially deadly assault by other-worldly forces, calling into question one’s life-choices and running the risk of exile from one’s family and friends. It’s a very different kind of mind-set, and this kind of world-building and research can take up a lot of time and energy. One can easily wander off into a rabbit-hole of procrastination, and that’s the real struggle. Keeping oneself focused on the story, and not on the history behind the story.

What is your favorite book you have written?  What was the hardest part to write?
You’re going to make me pick favorites?! But they’re all special little darlings. At least, that’s what I tell them. 

Between us, though, I like A Merchant’s Tale better (of those I’ve published so far). It’s a smaller story than Hedge King in Winter, and a little more intimate in some ways. Hedge King has a lot of great stuff that I like, battles and politics and possibly sinister religious figures, but I feel like I overreached myself for the shorter novella format and sacrificed a bit on character development.

In A Merchant’s Tale, however, I feel like I mixed character and action more successfully. I also featured the setting much more strongly, dramatizing bits of the world-building without overloading the reader with exposition. But the hardest thing about writing it was the pacing of the scenes. I actually flip-flopped several major moments in the story during the last draft because the pacing just wasn’t quite right, and that led to some heavy-duty rewriting.

Who is your favorite character to write for and why?
As much as I love my main characters, sometimes it’s the minor characters that steal my heart. In A Merchant’s Tale, the heroes encounter a young tinker-girl and her dog on their travels. She came out of my head as bold, brash, proud, and plucky, and I just loved her from the minute she opened her mouth. As one of my beta-readers put it, that girl and her dog are a force to be reckoned with. She outdid herself and may have bought herself a larger role in the series.

What is your writing process?  Do you have the story planned out or does it surprise you as you write it?  Do you write at night, or in the morning?  Do you listen to a play list?
I know there’s this whole “plotter vs. pantser” debate, but honestly, I’m a bit of both. I do a lot of planning: number of chapters, overall structure, number of words per scene, number of scenes per character, the timeline, the weather, the terrain, the effects of terrain and weather on character movement and timeline, which damned things and unfortunate events will happen, and on and on.

But what I don’t plan out in advance is how the characters will develop through the story. I know they will develop, but how they handle their personal problems in relation to the story I’ve planned out is always a mystery. And yes, it often surprises me, like how my tinker-girl developed from this early note, “characters meet lone trader on the road,” to become the little scene- and heart-stealer that she is. Or how Corentin’s voice and thoughts developed once I started writing his dialogue in French and then translated it into English, to get the “foreigner” aspect of his character just the way I wanted it.

I like to write in the morning. I’m a creature of habit: rise, coffee, walk with dog, oatmeal over email, then more coffee as I dive into the writing. Developing a habit like this was the best thing I ever did for my writing, because I miss it when it’s not there. And getting my work in before my kids get up and start their day helps me keep the howling monkeys of life from interfering with my work.

I do have a playlist. It’s a very eclectic mix, but Celtic folk rock features heavily, from the Pogues to the Waterboys to the Chieftains and beyond.

I’ve actually been sharing my process on my blog recently, under the tag #13WeekNovel. I have two completed novels waiting in the wings that I wrote using this method, and I’m currently writing another one. The process doesn’t lead to a “good” novel, but it’s great for a first, dirty draft and feeds into the sausage grinder of my thirteen week rewriting process really well. So to complete a first and second draft, my process takes about six months per novel.

Looking ahead, what can we expect to see from you in the future?  What are you working on?
I’m currently re-writing The Romance of Eowain, my third book and the first full-length novel that I’ll be publishing. It continues the story of Hedge King in Winter, but the full-length novel format gives me the space to include both the character development that I felt Hedge King missed, as well as retain the elements of action and adventure that I enjoy. It’s also a stretch for me as a writer, because the primary story line is the romance between the Hedge King and the foreign, head-strong bride that’s been arranged for him. We see the first hint of that relationship at the end of Hedge King, but in Romance of Eowain, I take that hint and crank it up to eleven. On my calendar, the rewrite will be completed in the next few weeks, and then it goes into Production and should hit the shelves in early July.

Beyond that, the novel I’m currently writing is another stretch goal for myself: another romance, but with a female protagonist, and a third person point of view limited to her. It’s a big stretch: Can I write “like a woman”? I don’t know yet, but I think it’s coming along pretty well so far. A beta-reader of the early chapters did tell me, “she sounds like a dude,” so I’ll have to go back and polish that dude-ness out of it, but it’s on my calendar to hit shelves sometime in Autumn 2016.
Still further in the future, I have a completed novel that will publish in early 2017 called Heron’s Cry. It’s the fifth story in my Matter of Manred series, and will finally pull together all the threads that I’ve been introducing in the first four books. It’s already finished, but I’m going to give it one last major rewrite later this year to really fine-tune the interconnected story-lines from the earlier books. All of the major characters will be involved, some new ones will be introduced, some mysteries will be revealed, and we’ll finally have our first major glance at the ultimate villain of the series. And there’s a dragon! I’m really excited for that one.
After that, we’ll have to see. If this writing thing takes off, who knows? Maybe 2-3 more novels per year until the series is finished. I know what stories I want to tell, but we’ll see how the readers respond. Reader feedback makes a huge difference: I love hearing it and trying to imagine how to work ideas from readers into the series.
What would you like your readers to know about you or your books?
I created a big world for the Matter of Manred series, and I have several books planned that are set in this universe. But it’s not a traditional series like, for example, Lord of the Rings. In many ways, the overall structure of the series owes its inspiration to medieval Irish romances: there will be a main “cycle” of stories that follow the major characters through a developing and increasingly malevolent throughline of action, but there will also be a handful of subsidiary stories in the orbit of that main cycle. These subsidiary stories (called remscela in Irish) will follow some secondary characters along subplots that at first seem unrelated, but serve to expand on the setting, introduce secondary characters who will grow in importance through the series, and develop the fundamental threat that is facing this world of mine. Despite the changes that arise as the series progresses, the “ultimate villain” (whom my readers haven’t yet met) will always remain the same and his role will grow and grow. 

To give just one example of how this is already at work in the series: In Hedge King in Winter, some of the main characters are involved in a complicated strategy board game similar to chess. To dramatize that game, the character of Medyr explained its rules and symbolism to his unnamed acolyte. The acolyte’s name was unimportant to the story of Hedge King, but that character was Adarc the Acolyte, one of the main characters in A Merchant’s Tale. The story of Adarc and Corentin in A Merchant’s Tale is set in the Hedge King’s kingdom, but their story is seemingly unrelated to the Hedge King’s troubles except at some key points. These two threads begin to braid together in the forthcoming Romance of Eowain, and we’ll start to see the emergence of a deeper, more sinister threat whose time is yet to come. 

I think it’s really exciting to write like this. While each story is satisfying in its own way, I think the real pay-off is in seeing how all these stories come together over time and what becomes of all my favorite characters. I want to jump in a time-machine and skip to the end to see how it all turns out!

Author bio:
Michael Dellert lives in the Greater New York City area. Following a traditional publishing career spanning nearly two decades, he now works as a freelance writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach. He is also the sole writer, editor, and publisher of the blog MDellertDotCom: Adventures in Indie Publishing. He holds a Master’s Degree in English Language & Literature from Drew University, and a certificate from the Cornell University School of Criticism & Theory (2009). He is the author of two fantasy fiction novellas: Hedge King in Winter and A Merchant’s Tale.

Contact Michael:


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