Author Michael Ventrella makes a return visit to my blog today.
What drew you to the subject of THE AXES OF EVIL?
THE AXES OF EVIL is the sequel to ARCH ENEMIES, which I discussed in my last interview with you. I had so much fun with ARCH ENEMIES and wanted to do more with that world. I had ended ARCH ENEMIES with a preview, and when readers said “What happens next?” I knew I had to tell more…
Describe your book.
THE AXES OF EVIL is a fun fantasy romp, with numerous plot twists and turns, cliffhanger surprises, and humor.
One barbarian prophecy says the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another tribe has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third tribe, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians sit wants them all gone.
In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.
Along the way, he has to avoid crazed assassins, possessed werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes.
Nobody said being a hero would be easy.
Fantasy author Gregory Frost says “Michael A. Ventrella takes up the mantle of Christopher Stasheff. Terin’s exploits are as entertaining as those of Rod Gallowglass, and fans of THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF will hugely enjoy THE AXES OF EVIL.”
What do you do to avoid the clichés so common in this kind of literature?
It is a problem, admittedly – you want to use some of the standard basics which are part of fantasy literature (magic, elves, knights, and so on) without having readers go “Oh, not this again.”
And it’s also good to have new creatures and races that you don’t see anywhere else – in my case, it’s the biata race, which played a large role in ARCH ENEMIES and to which one reviewer on Mania.com made the following comment: “What does work is Ventrella’s conception of an entirely new race. Yes the old fantasy stereotypes are all still here (goblins, elves, dwarves, etc.) but with the addition of the biata, a feathered people who refreshingly aren’t just a recycling of the aforementioned genre archetypes. This is good because in many ways the biata need to work, since the plot is based so heavily on their history.”
But mostly it’s just plotlines and characterizations in general. I try my best to have my characters act as real people would. They argue and make bad decisions and react to the wild things that happen to them like I believe real people would do so.
One thing that seems to set my books apart from a lot (but not all) fantasy literature is that the main character is not “the chosen one” – everyone just thinks he is. He has no special powers, and unlike books where the hero is ordained by the gods or otherwise is the only one who can use the Force or a special weapon, Terin Ostler is just this kid who gets mistaken for one these heroes. He’s in way over his head and has to use his wits to get out of the situation.
What’s the most satisfying part of writing?
For me, it’s making everything come together in the end. My novels are almost like mysteries – Terin has a prophecy he has to complete but he has no idea how to do so. In AXES, he has three of them and an order from his liege which all contradict each other. There are also three magic axes with mysterious writing that has to be deciphered, goblins that are convinced Terin is their leader, and political issues that must be resolved.
In the end, it all falls into place, but it won’t work if all the clues aren’t spread out through the book in just the right way to not be obvious until the final result.
And planning all that out is a lot of fun!
There is no way anyone reading my books will ever think that I am making it up as I go along, because I certainly am not. Everything is meticulously planned.
Is it true that your books are based on a game?
Well, yes and no.
Years ago, I founded a live action fantasy roleplaying game, now called “The Alliance” (http://allianceLARP.com) which has chapters all over the United States and Canada. This game has a well developed world, culture, and magic system.
So when I decided to write a fantasy novel, I used this world that I had already developed. (Since I have the copyright on it, I knew I wouldn’t sue myself.)
Other than that, no, the books are not based on a game in the strictest sense. I ignored the game rules pretty much completely, because what works in a game does not in fiction, and vice versa.
For instance, in our game, if your character dies, you can be resurrected, because it’s no fun to show up and die and then you can’t play any more. Resurrections would be terrible in fiction. Death has to be a real threat for the story to be dramatic and scary. In my books, when people die, they die.
I have read some novels based on games, and you can always tell. You can almost feel that the characters have gone up a level and have learned new skills or that the “author” has just rolled the die to see what wandering monsters will come by.
I did none of that. It’s a stand-alone story and people who have read it have no idea it was based on a game, and that’s exactly what I want.
THE AXES OF EVIL is much shorter than ARCH ENEMIES. Was this by design?
Absolutely. ARCH ENEMIES is around 120,000 words. This can be daunting to many readers coming across a new author they have never heard of, especially young adult readers who should enjoy this kind of fantasy. I decided to trim the sequel down quite a bit. AXES is about 70,000 words.
Mind you, it’s easier to do with a sequel because in the original, Terin is a teenager who has run away from home and gets caught up in this adventure he never wanted. Along the way, he has to learn about how the world works, and some of the book gives that background as the reader learns the same time Terin does.
That is not as necessary in a sequel, so that helped me move the action along faster. Readers have commented that while ARCH ENEMIES was a real page-turner, AXES is like a roller coaster ride with a lot happening very quickly.
It also helped that my publisher gave me an excellent editor this time around who made sure the story moved well.
Is a good editor that important?
Absolutely. For one thing, a professional editor (as opposed to a friend who reads your work and gives comments) knows what to look for. It’s not just the phrasing of sentences that is important, it’s the overall story sense and pacing.
What I found was that scenes that seemed so clear to me needed rewriting. Just because I can visualize what happens in my head doesn’t mean I have explained it clearly enough to my readers.
And let’s face it, an author who thinks that they are perfect and can never improve with reasonable constructive criticism has a problem – you can always get better!
You are published by Double Dragon Press. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a small press?
Well, Double Dragon is the largest fantasy and science fiction e-book publisher in the world, so they’re not that small.
The advantage of a small press is that they are more willing to take chances. The big publishers are sometimes like the big record companies; they’re just looking for the next top 40 hit and things that don’t fit in their selling strategy will be rejected, no matter how good it is. And with a small press I can be a big fish in a small pond.
Of course, the disadvantage is that I don’t get distributed well. It will be unusual for you to find my books at your local Barnes & Nobles.
Would I rather be with a large publisher? Of course; just for the increase in income, if nothing else. But I am not unhappy where I am – and it’s a good way to get attention, reviews, and experience in the system.
My problem was that when I originally wrote ARCH ENEMIES, I sent it off to the big publishers who rejected it. I then took a look at it and realized that it deserved to be rejected. I was so thrilled at having written a book that I had basically sent off my first draft. I then worked to rewrite it and hone it down and when I had completed that, I figured I had already burned my bridges, so I sent it off to Double Dragon who snapped it up right away. Maybe if I hadn’t been so anxious, I would have done better…
How about self-publishing?
That’s the kiss of death in the publishing industry. Even if you have written the greatest novel ever, if you self publish it, the image will be that it wasn’t good enough to be accepted by a real publisher.
What are you working on now?
Well, I had a short story published a while ago in a book called RUM AND RUNESTONES and they’ve just asked for another for their sequel. This is a new series of stories about pirates and magic, and I had a great time with my story “X Spots the Mark.”
And then I’m working on my next novel about a vampire who runs for President. It’s the West Wing meets the bat wing!
And I also keep my blog updated where I interview famous authors and sometimes offer my own comments about the publishing world.
And of course I maintain my web page where there are links to buying all my books in either paperback, e-book, ipad, or kindle formats.
Thank you for interviewing me again, Chris!
AXES OF EVIL Book reviews/quotes:
“The Axes of Evil is a taut nail-biter of a thriller. Edgy, funny and dark.” – Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Dragon Factory and Rot & Ruin
“Humor, danger and a twisted tangle of unlikely prophecies make for a page-turning adventure.” - Gail Z. Martin, author of The Chronicles of the Necromancer series
“A witty and original fantasy. Grips you from the start and never lets go.” - Patrick Von Raven, author of The Bride of Annwn
“Michael Ventrella weaves another of his perplexing tales where it seems his protagonist, the squire but would-be bard Terin Ostler, cannot succeed in solving one problem without betraying another … Four stars!” - Christopher Hoare, author of Arrival and The Wildcat's Victory
Mike’s web page: http://michaelaventrella.com
Mike’s blog: http://michaelaventrella.wordpress.com/
Mike’s Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-A-Ventrella/456487130415