Wondrously, I’ve discovered another novelist who is working with zombies in Rome. So naturally I invited him over for a beer and a chat.
Readers, I’d like you to meet novelist Scott James Magner, another writer with 47North, the publisher of my series The Zombie Bible. Magner has released several installments in the Foreworld saga, a historical fantasy shared-world series reimagining the Middle Ages from a martial-arts perspective. I recently read his high-action debut, Hearts of Iron, and am about to sit down with his new release, Blood and Ashes, which is–yes–about zombies and Pompeii. You can see why I’m interested!
Here’s our recent conversation:
7 questions for you! I was really struck by the way you moved back and forth so easily from action to nearly lyrical moments in Hearts of Iron. Chapter XI was quite beautiful.
Scott: Why thank you!
1. What drew you to stories of the age of Outremer, the Crusades, the age of Tancred?
Scott: The nature of the Foreworld Project is to document the hidden history of Western martial arts. For me, that has to include the Normans, specifically the Kingdom of Sicily. It’s such a brief moment in time that’s shaped so much of the centuries that followed. When Mark Teppo and I were looking for something to write that wasn’t already in the lexicon, I suggested Sicily, and we had a great meeting of dueling Wikipedia searches that eventually uncovered the twelve sons of Tancred. Since neither of us had ever heard of Tancred before, diving in to research him and his family was a real treat, and almost from the moment I heard the name “William Iron Arm” the plot for Hearts of Iron was born.
2. Scott, I was struck by this passage in Hearts of Iron: “I saw many things in that golden chamber, Humphrey. Wonders of the age scattered like sand to feed the appetites of a vain and stupid man.” If you could tell your readers one thing about history and its artifacts, what would that be?
Scott: Nothing is ever as it seems. It seems odd to be cagey about the plot of a book that’s been out almost a year, but Hearts of Iron is at it’s heart a “caper.” The tag-line I use when introducing people to it is “The Dirty Half-Dozen.” They’re going in to
steal retrieve an object of some value, but what William refers to in that line is that there was that when he saw the assembled treasure, he know that there was a lot more going on than he’d been told.
It stung his pride somewhat that the owner of the collection had such things hidden away from the world, and that distaste spurred him to action. The previous paragraph had him outlining his plans for the future, and the next line is/was, “In time, I mean to share them with the world, and so much more.”
3. You have two novels out, and I know that preceding them, you have a long history of writing for role-playing games. How has that shaped you as a storyteller?
Scott: Technically they’re novellas, though at 37K words Blood and Ashes does push the edge of that envelope. Although the shameless self-promoter in me demands that I at least mention that my full-length novel Homefront will be out this fall from Resurrection House.
Whew. Now that that’s done, I’d like to say that writing roleplaying games, card games, and video games taught me to distill meanings down to the essential elements, and then build up from there. It’s certainly the approach I take while doing localization work (taking a product meant for one part of the world and preparing it for customers with different cultural referents), but what I’ve found in my fiction writing is that the one thing I usually don’t get to do in games is have really compelling characters interact with one another.
When you are writing games, you always want to keep the focus on the player and the player’s actions. You do a fair amount of world-building for both, but in straight fiction you get to control all aspects of the action, and it’s really important to make everything as believable as possible.
4. Which scene in Hearts of Iron did you find hardest to write?
Scott: Hands down, it was Humphrey’s “big” action scene, aka Chapter V. It has no spoken dialogue, and takes place mostly in the dark. My codename for that scene was “Bat-Man and batman,” and it was a challenge to keep it interesting when most of what was happening with just one person “on screen,” with limited perception. Almost a quarter of all the editorial comments I got on the book were in that chapter, and it’s the one I’m proudest of overall.
5. Your William of Hauteville is almost Sherlock-like (or William of Baskerville-like) in his observation of detail. He is constantly assessing, noting, observing, and acting. Quickly and efficiently. He lives life in a sort of combat stance. What drew you about this character?
Scott: William is the oldest brother of twelve, and the most like his father of all of them. At least, that’s how I’ve chosen to write him, since very little is recorded about either man. I cover this topic in depth in a previous article, but in essence William is driven to be the best at everything because his family depends on him
6. Hearts of Iron is a story set in the historical fantasy world of the Foreworld Saga – what is it like, writing and creating inside of worlds created by others?
Scott: It’s a lot easier than you might think. I used to write Dungeons & Dragons adventures, which have a lot more rules about what you can and can’t do. Hearts of Iron was fairly “siloed” in terms of shared world content, but I still was able to work in the “bad guys” while presenting a different look at the medieval era.
7. What can you tell us about your new release, Blood and Ashes?
Scott: Zombies vs. Gladiators. In Pompeii.
What more do you need to know? It’s an unapologetic action story, with a mustache twirling villain, a hero with a troubled past, ZOMBIES, a not-damsel who in no way needs rescuing, ZOMBIES, and an exploding mountain.
Did I mention ZOMBIES?
Lord, but I am going to enjoy zombies in Pompeii. You know that my own next novel is set in the same period, a sequel to my earlier Rome novel?
I’m buying Blood and Ashes today, and I can’t wait to read it! Readers and fans, I hope you’ll check out Scott James Magner’s new release here.
Scott, thank you for joining me on the blog today!