We are two for two regarding guest spots! Continuing along with the trend of getting voices from beyond Tellest to let us know just how important fantasy is, we’re forging ahead even deeper into Otherworld.
This week, we sat down with Mark Cole, writer of The Nine Realms series of books. With such aspirations, it was imperative that we had a chance to chat with Mark about his work, and find out just what makes him tick. We had a decent amount of back and forth, and I know that you will be happy to read what Mark has to say!
Tellest: I’m getting vague hints about other writers you’re fond of. Do I detect a hint of R.A. Salvatore in your work?
Mark Cole: Haha, I’m sure you do! I remember reading about Drizzt when I was, oh, ten or eleven, and I’ve always loved the persistent action and constant drive in Salvatore’s story telling. I’m also a huge fan of Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game is my all-time favorite book), Patrick Rothfuss, and Piers Anthony.
T: You mention that Ender’s Game is your all-time favorite book. Does this mean we might be able to expect some Sci-Fi from you in the future as well?
MC: Most definitely! I tossed a couple Sci-Fi elements into A Child of Two Worlds, and I continue to add them throughout the series. I’ve always been a big fan of books that blur genre lines, and that’s what I’m doing with The Nine Realms Series. It’s not just Fantasy, and it’s not just Sci-Fi. It’s both. Well, in the latter books, at least.
T: Because The Nine Realms Series is going to go on for so long, do you find yourself tightly bound to it? Is that going to be your sole mission over these next few years?
MC: I certainly have a lot of focus invested in the series, but it’s not going to be my only project. My plan is to put out at least one Nine Realms book a year, two when I can, but also release either a novella or collection of short stories annually also. I have a few novella length stories in mind already.
One is the story of a young woman who finds out she’s heir to an ancient pact between humans and elementals, and the other is a story of a man who travels back in time to stop himself from unleashing magic on the modern world. I think they’re both going to be a lot of fun to write!
T: Your situation is interesting, in that you actually have some military experience, which must help you write from the perspective of Alex Zane, your protagonist. How much would you say bleeds into your writing from real life?
MC: While I’ll agree that there are some similarities between myself and Alex, I’ll admit that he isn’t based on me. I have four brothers, and Alex is some of the best and worst parts of us all. If I had to pick one of us to say he’s most similar to, I’d have to say my eldest brother, Matt.
I’d say the emotions more than the events bleed over. Being in the military is an emotionally polarizing experience (for me at least). It has definitely helped my writing as I’d never experienced some of the highs and lows that being in give you.
T: There are some events that take place in A Child of Two Worlds that leave the fates of certain characters… in question. With that in mind, do you see yourself falling more to fantasy tropes and ideals rather than leaning on military experience?
MC: Well, as you saw, the setting of the Nine Realms isn’t all sunshine and butterflies. People die, people get tortured, and there’s a lot of pain and anguish to go around. But, there is always that element of enduring hope; the knowledge that the future isn’t written in stone, and if you want things to get better then you better get out there and make a difference.
So, yeah, I’ve done what I can to draw from both common Fantasy tropes, and in some cases, turn them on their heads. While in others, I’ve put my own spin on them using the experiences I’ve gained in the military.
T: Have you noticed any specific response from other members of the military? In your acknowledgements, you’ve indicated that your fellow servicemen and women have helped you in some manner.
MC: Most of the other service members have been enthusiastic about reading it, and there are a few that have been extremely helpful in helping put the books together with proofreading and editing. One of the reviews I’m happiest with is from a Commander in the Coast Guard. He read A Child of Two Worlds and really enjoyed it.
T: Perhaps one of the more evocative portions of your tale is the description of the nine realms. They’re so perfectly balanced, even when in such contrast of each other. The concept of Earth being a world of balance because we’re centered among the other realms is brilliant. Where did you draw inspiration from regarding that idea?
MC: Growing up, I would always throw myself completely at one task or another and drive it into the ground while ignoring other things, like homework… My mother and oldest sister would always tell me that I had to balance out what I was working on and spread the focus around, so there’s always been a bit of searching out balance in my life.
As for why nine realms, it’s going to sound ridiculous, but Earth starts with an E, and there are four letters prior. Adding in the four letters after, you get nine. Each realm is even named according to its correlation to the appropriate letter. Aria, Bara, Caine, Dae, Earth, Fyr, Gile, Hell, Ignia.
T: I don’t think that’s ridiculous at all. Everyone has their own ways for coming up with names, whether they’re permutations of names we’re familiar with, a roll of the tongue, or an off-glance at an item in the room. Speaking of names, how did you come up with the names of characters like Terra, Brahm and Caitlyn?
MC: Well, I used to have a crush on a girl named Terra when I was a kid, and I LOVE the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy Six’s main female protagonist is named Terra.
Brahm is a nickname for my younger brother, Bryan, and I thought it sounded dwarven enough to work, haha.
I chose Caitlyn because I have a sister Katie, and I thought having her name so similar to “cat” was a wonderful idea, considering that she is a panther.
T: Love it. Final Fantasy Six was my favorite of the series. And Caitlyn gave me that first intuition of “this guy likes Salvatore.” Kind of like an amalgam of Guenhwyvar and Cattie-brie.
That also brings us to another point. You’re exploring characters of all different races. Can we expect to see some more tried and true mainstays, as well as off-the-wall entries in the nine realms?
MC: Well, she’s a panther because of Salvatore, but I don’t think my subconscious took over that much!
I like to do a bit of both when it comes to my little universe I’ve constructed. I pull creatures and ideas from many different sources, and I love to combine them in new, interesting ways. The Libram of Fate, the second book in The Nine Realms Series, is thick with Norse mythology, so there are Valkyrie, Einherjar, and several other bits and pieces. You also get an in-depth look at the Angels, Life Wardens, and some more on Alex’s mother.
T: You made some brave choices regarding character development. Did you have any doubts or worries about some of the journeys you took your characters on?
MC: Haha, there’s a plan. I have a lot of dark roads to lead these guys down before they all grow into who they need to be when the final book rolls around. There are going to be nine books after all, and a lot more characters are going to be introduced.
I think this is where part of my military life has bled over into my writing. In boot camp, they break you from what you were and begin the process of molding you into what you need to become. That’s what I’m doing here.
There is only one character I’m worried about, and she’s the one that’s going into the darkest pit of madness. I don’t want to give away too much to my current readers, but she has a hard road ahead of her. And no, it’s not Caitlyn.
T: Regarding these additional characters that you’re going to introduce, would they have anything to do with the other realms? Are we going to see bits and pieces of each of the realms by the end of the saga? Feel free to be as vague as necessary.
MC:A few of them are from the different realms, but most of them are from Dae and Earth. That’s where the characters spend most of their time, so it was logical to give them allies there.
Yes. By book three you’ll have seen glimpses of all nine realms with in-depth looks at five of them.
T: Can you let us know if we’ll see if the sacrifice that Alex made leads to anyone he knew on Earth searching him out? Or has his story pretty much been told (with the obvious exception of offspring)?
MC: Right now, you only get very brief glimpses of what’s happening on Earth through Max, Alex’s friend from the beginning of A Child of Two Worlds. They are mostly just used to show how the external events are affecting the Realm of Balance. Haha, no, Alex’s story isn’t done yet.
T: On that same note, do you think that introducing these additional characters is going to take away from the central characters that you focused on in A Child of Two Worlds?
MC: I don’t think they will because I use them to help build on my existing characters.
(Spoilers ahead. Venture farther at your own risk!)
For example, we know Caitlyn has a thing for Alex, but now that can’t be resolved. I’ve helped her along by giving her a person to grieve with and eventually fall in love with. Not that I’m guaranteeing she and Darren will fall in love, just that the possibility is there.
T: Your worlds also leave a lot of room for toying with reality and, in a way, fate. We’re still talking spoilers here, so you can feel free to avoid the answer if you must, but do you think we’ll see Alex again in some capacity? And for that matter, what will his absence mean for his child?
MC: (Extreme spoilers ahead! Stop if you do not want to ruin several major plot points!)
Yes, we’ll definitely see Alex again. His story is far from done, and there are a few things he needs to do yet before he leaves us permanently. Unfortunately, Alex isn’t with us again for long, and his daughter is impacted by his absence. Jessica makes a few decisions that other characters don’t agree with, and they think it’s due to Alex’s death. But there’s a much deeper game, and she’s well suited to play.
T: Alex Zane’s journey is set up almost like an origin story, in that his time in the realm of magic is completely foreign to him. There is almost a learning curve for him. Yet he also has grown here on Earth, and is formidable in combat, and assessing situations and defusing them if necessary. How did you find a balance in that?
MC: Well, one thing that annoys me in a lot of fiction is that the main characters are these blank slates, and everything they gain is during the course of the story. I didn’t (and still don’t) want that. Alex, Terra, Caitlyn, and Brahm all lived vibrant lives prior to their current adventure, and I feel that I’ve done well showing that. Alex was in the military; Terra was a powerful sorceress; Caitlyn was a protector of her village; Brahm was the Captain of the Guard. Each has gained knowledge and skills that must be utilized to ensure their best chances of success.
Sorry, I got a bit sidetracked. Going back to your original question, I knew there were some skills and traits Alex needed to have in order to function in his role as male main character. Rather than having him become the overnight swordsman progeny, it made more sense for him to have a legitimate source for those skills in his background. He’s not some teenage farmer whose thrust into a harrowing tale.
Also, Balance is a core theme in the story, and I thought it best that his ignorance about the setting be balanced with experience in other areas as well.
T: While we’re on that topic, do you think we’ll see Earth again? Are there instances where the characters from the magical realm will see a lack of magic in our world, and be at odds with it as Alex was when he arrived in their world?
MC: Yes, we’ll definitely see Earth again. About a third of the third book takes place on Earth.
Unlike Alex, the other characters are all aware of the other realms’ existence, so they are as surprised by the lack of magic as he was by magic’s existence. Caitlyn does make a few comments however.
We’re very grateful for our chat with Mark Cole. He’s as personable as a storyteller can get. You can find his featured story, A Child of Two Worlds, on Amazon.com. If you’d like to contact the author, or find news on his upcoming works, check out his facebookpage: www.facebook.com/mcthew – you won’t regret it!
If you’re the creator of fantasy worlds and you would like to be interviewed for your work, contact us via the link in the menu bar.