(Interview by M.D. Kenning)
Today I will be posting and interview with Robert Eaton, the author of “The Hero Always Wins.” He is another member of the Genre Underground, and his first novel is both dark fantasy and comedic at the same time, and a very enthralling read.
Here is the interview:
MD: The world seems to be an interesting mix of seemingly familiar concepts (heroes, fire wielding bad guys, orders of knights with magic swords, etc) with original spins on them (exactly how the heroes work and the warlocks, etc). Are there any specific inspirations for this world and how it works, or was all of it an original world from the ground up designed to feel like a familiar type of tale?
Robert: As you’ve pointed out, the world of The Hero Always Wins is inspired by a number of traditional fantasy elements. I love Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the like, and wanted my book to have some of that feel. However, I think my world has a lot of original elements as well.
One aspect that is unique to the world of The Hero Always Wins is that the scale is much smaller than many other fantasy worlds. I didn’t want armies of millions where a single hero could hardly have an impact without god-like powers. Instead, I created world that could be travelled by horse in a matter of a few weeks, and large cities have populations in the thousands. A few hundred warriors constitute a sizeable army, and individuals can really turn the tide in battle.
MD: Tell us more about how the heroes (and the Leorht) work, and what makes them different from typical tales. Any world information you want to give, either that can be gleaned from the books, or that you had thought of but not necessarily spelled out in the book.
Robert: I love tales of magic, but one thing that always bothers me in fantasy is when a hero has too much power. So often I see fantasy series go off the rails because the hero is nearly invincible and only complicated loopholes can challenge him. To this end, I wanted to create a magic system that gave my heroes power, but kept them vulnerable as well.
Generally, my heroes have a very well defined set of abilities. Those that follow Leorht, for example, have the ability to wield properties of light. The move with a heightened sense of speed, and can summon limited amounts of electricity to aid them in battle. Beyond that, they are as human as any other warrior on the battlefield.
MD: Without going into spoilers, I will say I enjoy how as the book goes on, the reader cannot necessarily know where things are going with characters, even though at the beginning it seems to be very typical of its genre. This makes me wonder, did you know an overall outline before you wrote, including the twists, or did the twists come to you as you wrote. What is your process in general when writing in terms of you the author knowing the plot?
Robert: Most if not all of my plot twists are planned well in advance. I always develop an outline before I start the actual writing. At the core of my outline are a series of plot events which form the critical path from beginning to end. I also throw in specific lines of dialogue, bits of imagery, side plots, and other “cool” ideas I have that I want to work in. From there, I start writing, and ad lib the details of each chapter as I go. Sometimes the journey leads to changes in the original outline, but generally the major plot elements go unchanged.
MD: Your structure is a more typical chapter based structure, but I have noticed many modern idioms and phrases in the chapter titles. Was this a conscious decision to add some “tongue in cheek” elements to the story or a more unconsciously motivated decision?
Robert: Modern idioms and tongue in cheek phrases are central to my writing. When I first started writing, I tried to mimic typical fantasy influences from mythology. However it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t care about mythology. Instead, I drew on those cultural elements that are near and dear to my heart: pop culture. So my books, though set in a “traditional” fantasy setting, are chock full of references to sports, music, and modern slang.
As for some of the “tongue in cheek” elements, I love a good pun. Some people may find it corny, but there is a playful cleverness to puns that amuses me. I also like to mix in elements of satire, which I think goes hand-in-hand with the cheekiness.
Basically, I live in 21st century America. Just because my head is in the fantasy world doesn’t mean my feet don’t touch the ground around me!
MD: Tell us more what got you into writing this book. Are there any specific trials or stories in your own life that occurred from writing this?
Robert: Honestly, this book is influenced by video games as much as anything else. I grew up on Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, andthe Legend of Zelda. I love heroes like Kratos from God of War, and villains like Arthas from Warcraft. I started writing partially because video game stories got in my head and I couldn’t get them out. Does that mean my books would make a good game? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.
MD: What is your background/training as a writer, or any prior experiences in writing?
Robert: I don’t really have any formal training in writing. I do have two Ivy League degrees, and took a few writing classes along the way, but never majored in English, Creative Writing, or anything like that. I owe most of my writing ability to genetics and my high school English teachers. I always did very well in writing throughout school, and I had a few teachers along the way who really helped me understand how to channel my ability into a decent story.
MD: What would you say you focus on as a writer; themes, plot, or characterization? If it’s a combination of these, let us know which you feel you focus on the most, and why?
Robert: Definitely characterization. I love my characters, and have a vision for them from cradle to grave. I don’t generally have characters who managed to live boring lives as simple farmers or blacksmiths until the age of eighteen. Instead, my characters have colorful backgrounds chock full of adventures that happened before my book begins. My writing, however, concentrates on what I consider to be the main adventure of a character’s life, the adventure that leads them to ultimate glory or ultimate demise.
My characters have real emotions and real motivations. They are driven by the same things that drive us all: love, greed, fear, and duty. In the end, every one of them is doing what they think is right, either for their nation, their loved ones, or themselves.
MD: What makes you the rock and roll star of fantasy writing?
Robert: Rock and roll has always been central to my life. I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, watching glam rock and metal morph into grunge and rock-rap. I always identified with the wild, lustful, and dark undertones in rock music, and I carry those undertones into my writing. In my mind, every one of my characters looks like someone you could find at a music festival. Some are on stage, some are carrying equipment, some head-banging in the audience, and some are selling weed behind the porta-potties. They’re all there though.
MD: Finally is there anything you would like to tell us about your upcoming book?
Robert: The last question is actually a good segue. My upcoming book, the sequel to The Hero Always Wins, takes the rock and roll from backstage to center stage. Music is part of the plot, and one of the settings is a fantasy version of the Sunset Strip circa the mid-80s.
All your favorite characters are back, with the action picking up right where the first book left off. The mood is darker, the battles bloodier, and the plot twists crazier. It’s taken a little longer than I’d hoped, but the book is finally coming out this fall, and I couldn’t be more excited. If you loved The Hero Always Wins, stay tuned; the sequel is going to rock your world!