Welcome, travelers. Our stop in the Otherworld today brings us face to face with a talented and passionate epic fantasy writer in Daniel Thomas Valente. His upcoming debut release, The Sins of Kings, takes us into a new kingdom with a grand scope within its borders, and a personal look at some of its nobles and subjects. In today’s interview, we get an opportunity to spend more time with Valente, learning how he came to create this tremendous world, and what yet remains to tell. Read on to learn more about him and The Sins of Kings!
Tellest: Greetings Daniel! I wanted to thank you for introducing me to your story, and to the Kingdom of Onyris. It’s a written universe that is both epic in scope and focused enough to tell some wonderful character stories, and I’m certain that it must have taken a great deal of work and patience to bring it to life as elegantly as you have. I’m very appreciative of your time, and I’m interested in learning more about how you brought your world to life, and to figure out what makes you tick!
Daniel Thomas Valente: Hi and thank you for having me. The world took its shape over many years. About ten years ago I wrote my first version of the story and then set it aside, though I would go back to it occasionally, and tinker with it somewhat. Then, about, jeez, 6 or 7 years ago, I began writing almost like my version of ‘The Silmarillion’ about the world. This was obviously not suitable for public consumption, but it really helped me in understanding the history and mythos of Onyris. Another thing that helped in creating the world was my very nerdy love of fantasy maps. I found an online map-making site and spent hours playing with it until I had the basic foundations of the continent. Once I was able to visualize the world, I could start seeing how all the different pieces would work with each other.
T: To understand more about a favorite new storyteller, I’ve found that you need to understand their foundations. With that in mind, what was it that inspired you to write your first words? Did you have an author that spoke to you, or are there people close to you in your life that gave you a need to tell stories?
DTV: It was kind of a combination of things. My father turned me on to reading at a young age, and I would grab books from his pretty extensive collection for years. When I was about 12 or 13, I took down his copy of The Hobbit and immediately fell in love. After that, I went straight into The Lord of the Rings, and never looked back. I was able to connect with that world so wholly and so intimately, that I still go back to it at least once a year. Tolkien was one of my father’s favorite authors and he and I were able to kind of grow a deeper bond with one another over our shared love of Middle-Earth and reading in general. My father passed away about 13 years ago, and shortly after that, I began writing, almost as a way of dealing with my grief. So since then, whenever I write, I’m kind of carrying on the connection I had with my dad.
T: Do you now have a sort of catharsis when it comes to writing that makes you feel as though a part of your dad lives on in you and in your world?
DTV: Definitely! I actually write at his old desk. It’s this big, old, heavy wood office desk that takes up a substantial footprint in my garage. I’m oddly sentimental about things like that, and whenever I sit down to write, there’s a part of me that sort of feels like I’m channeling him. Not to say I’m purposely adding him into the world, but there are sections of the story that when I read them back, I’m just like, “Wow! Thanks, Dad.”
T: That must be a comforting feeling, and it must be nice to be able to consider him immortalized in that sort of way.
Do you have any other friends or family that inspire parts of your world, or that help you conceptualize pieces of it?
DTV: I pulled a great deal from my friends and family, actually. A lot of the character names are kind of screwed-up derivations of the names of some of my family-members. I also used certain personality traits of friends to help round out and give extra dimension to the characters. As far as helping conceptualize pieces of the story, I need to give a huge thank you to my mom. During the writing process, she was basically my alpha-reader. I would send her a copy of each chapter once I was finished and we would discuss it. Getting her opinion was really valuable and allowed me to see if I was hitting the mark I was aiming for.
T: And when it came to The Sins of Kings, how did that come to be? What part of it called to you and let you know that the story needed to be told?
DTV: It’s kind of a funny story; a couple of years ago my wife took the manuscript I wrote after my dad passed away and had it printed through Amazon as a birthday present for me. It was the sweetest gift I could have ever asked for, but when I opened it and tried to read it, I couldn’t make it past the first few paragraphs…it was so bad. I decided to rewrite the entire thing from the ground up. A lot had changed in my life in the time after I wrote the original manuscript. I got married, moved, bought a house, I got a promotion at work, and then my wife and I ended up adopting our daughters who were 10 and 12 at the time (which is a crazy story all in itself). So, once we were all kind of settled, and I began rewriting, I felt as though my mindset had changed. I wanted to write a story that dealt with people who felt out of their depth, which is something I definitely felt as a new father, and as a newly appointed manager at my day job.
T: With the rewrite, did the content change a great deal, or was it merely the prose around it that sort of morphed with your added years of wisdom?
DTV: The entire thing changed hahaha. The Sins of Kings has almost zero connection to the original other than a few names which I carried over, and the most basic outline of what was to become the Valdryz. Originally, it was my newbie take on Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. But as I rewrote it, though there is an echo of that in say, Edlen or Darrin, I tried to veer away from that structure. I became much more interested in the concepts of power structures. As opposed to following a character destined for greatness, I wanted to follow the people who would become swept up in these great powers that they had no control over.
T: With something like that in mind, do you ever feel like allowing other small elements of the original writing to pierce through to the new work? You mentioned echoes, and though you meant regarding a hero’s journey, is there some element of old variants of characters and the world at large that could begin to pass beyond the veil?
DTV: I love how you phrased that! I think there are some definite building blocks from the original that remained in the background of the book. Even though I reshaped the world that the story takes place in, the foundation of that world lingers on. Certain character motivations are still present, as well as a bit of the overarching storyline of the series. In book 2, you’re going to be introduced to POV character who played a huge role in the original, but was not needed in The Sins of Kings.
T: Onyris is a massive kingdom, and you present your work in an epic scope. How do you manage to wrangle everything in order to understand the machinations of various groups and leaders, all who want to rule over their own corner of the kingdom?
DTV: I’m pretty much a discovery writer, so most of all the different plot threads are floating around in my head somewhere. I’ve jotted down a few outlines here and there, but those notes seem to disappear whenever I look for them. I do have lists of names and realms inside a notebook that I refer to in order to make sure I have the players involved correctly, but for the majority of it, I keep it all up in my head.
T: When you are crossing over into storyline beats and new characters that you may be unfamiliar with, would you say that you let them tell the story? Or do you sort of hammer things into place in such a way that you can get things back on track, so to speak?
DTV: I always have an end-goal in sight, but I allow the characters to discover their own path to that goal. And though I ultimately know what I want to see happen, I feel that giving my characters agency allows me to be just as intrigued by their actions as the reader.
T: Have you ever encountered a situation where allowing your characters that agency ended up having you going off in directions and tangents that you weren’t prepared for? Did you ever have to wrangle them back in and guide them toward your goals?
DTV: There was a lot of wrangling! I would write whole swaths of text where they might be going off on their own little adventure, and then I would have to cut those entire sections out. What that allowed me though, was to see where their intentions lied. Once I had an idea of that, I was able to steer them towards the finish line, while at the same time, understanding more about who they were and what they desired. Without giving away any spoilers; the character of Rhen ended up in an entirely different place then I expected. But in the end, it was a place he needed to be for his arc. So, yeah…I’d say for the most part I was able to wrangle them back in, but the occasional tangents were pretty exciting for me to see.
T: With as grand a scale as you can see things in your kingdom, how do you determine who is integral to the plot? Is it something where you knew where your world ultimately had to move toward, or did you know about the characters first, and then built a massive sandbox around them?
DTV: I had a general idea of what I wanted to see happen, and I knew the five POV’s from the outset, but then as things started to take shape, I kind of just gently nudged the characters in the direction I had. Take for example, Tomm Harken. He just appeared one day, and I kept trying to figure out who he was. I was quite excited to see how he managed to get involved in the story.
T: As your story expands, are you going to continue to keep things relatively narrow as far as the POV characters go? Or are you going to invite other characters into the mix, so that you can see things from their perspectives as well?
DTV: Without giving too much away, my plan is to add a few more POV’s as the story progresses. Book 2, for example, I have added two more POV’s in order to give some balanced perspective as well as widen the scope of the world. Book 3 will most likely see at least 1 more POV. I don’t want to overwhelm the reader with a thousand different voices battling for attention, but I’m hoping that anyone who sticks with the series will grow with the added characters and become as invested in their stories as they are with the five from book 1. It’s a delicate balancing act though, and I can only hope to pull it off hahaha.
T: With something as expansive as this, did you find yourself doing a good deal of real-world research to try and get a good concept of how to build out military excursions and battles? What does your research process look like?
DTV: I did quite a bit of research as things came up throughout the story. Though it is set in a world that doesn’t exist, I wanted to make sure most of the basic principles of our world held true. Google and YouTube were pretty much my encyclopedias throughout the writing process. What kind of trees grow near each other, proper sword fighting techniques and terms…things of that nature, I wanted to be as close as I could to reality.
T: When it comes to the things that are decidedly outside of reality and the rules thereof, how did you end up coming up with those sorts of things, and how do you end up balancing them in a more logical world?
DTV: I have tried to maintain a sort of ignorant deference to the magic system. Seeing that the fantastical aspects that do come in to play are witnessed from the perspective of the characters we follow, I wanted to keep a bit of distance between their understanding of what is happening and the hard-and-fast rules I created. To bring up ‘The Lord of the Rings’ again, I was always fascinated by Gandalf and the other wizards. I knew they had a kind of otherworldly power, but I never actually got to know exactly what it was. So, for me, I wanted to sprinkle in this slow discovery of how the magic works and how it affects the world. You as the reader will learn along with the characters.
T: Let’s tie this in with our earlier question about POV characters. Are we ever going to see from “behind the eyes” of someone who has that magical intuition? Or is that pulling the curtain back a bit too far, and showing people how the donuts are made in a way that sort of diminishes the magic, so to speak?
DTV: Again, without giving too much away, I can tell you that we will follow someone who begins to learn about that magic. My goal, is that by the end of the series, the reader will have a pretty solid grasp on the, “donut making process.” It won’t be as outlined as say a Brandon Sanderson, story, but you won’t be left wondering, “What was Gandalf’s power?” I want the reveals to be organic, and maybe on a re-read, you could see how those pieces all fit together.
T: While this first book is a massive undertaking, you’ve made it known that you are working on your next masterpiece. Is that a direct sequel to The Sins of Kings, or do you have something else in the same world that you are working on?
DTV: Hahaha, I kind of shot myself in the foot when I sarcastically made the comment about, “my next masterpiece,” didn’t I? Anyway, I’m currently writing the direct sequel to The Sins of Kings right now. The series I have planned is a trilogy, but it might turn into 4 books. But yeah, I’m hoping on having book 2 finished by around March or April of 2024, so that after revisions, edits, and cover design, it could be available around October-November of next year. My plan is to have each new novel released within a year of one another.
T: Outside of the main series, do you see yourself jumping in any other direction? Are you interested in spinoffs or prequels, or anything of that nature?
DTV: I’ve always been a little dubious of prequels. Not to say there aren’t some amazing examples, but for me, I feel they kind of take away from the oomph! of the main series. Once I wrap up the whole telling of The Last of the Valdryz, I will probably start concentrating on another story all-together. But who knows? I might be having too much fun in this sandbox and will be loath to leave it.
T: If you do leave this established sandbox, do you think you would continue working on fantasy, or would you see yourself working in a new genre altogether?
DTV: My first love will always be fantasy, so I’m pretty sure I would stick to that genre. But I’ve had some ideas for stories that fall more into the sci-fi genre, and a short story I can only describe as, ‘Paranormal-historical-western.” It’s hard to tell though. I love Stephen King and his ability to write across so many genres while always maintaining his voice. To be honest though, I’m so firmly entrenched in the world of Onyris right now that it’s hard to see past its borders. If I end up being able to write full-time though, I can definitely see myself veering off into some other strange worlds.
T: With this first book coming out soon, more and more readers are going to want to learn more about you. If they wanted to discover more about Daniel Thomas Valente, Onyris, or your series, where could they find you online?
DTV: Thank you for asking that. I have an author website at www.danielthomasvalente.com, as well as a Facebook and Instagram page. I’m also on Goodreads. If anyone is interested in learning more, I’d be more than happy to talk to them.
T: Daniel, I wanted to thank you again for sharing some of your time with us! You’ve clearly got a magnificent amount of information that you have locked away, and I very much appreciate that you were willing to let us see some of that magic behind the curtain. I’m looking forward to seeing more fantasy fans discover your world, and to enjoy the tapestry you’re creating!
DTV: Thank you so much for having me! I’d like to just say that being an indie-author and trying to navigate the whole self-published scene is an exciting and (often) stressful endeavor. It is really awesome that there are people out here like you and your readers who support us along this road. I’ve had a blast being here and am truly appreciative of your time and efforts. Thanks again!
Once more, I want to thank Daniel for dropping by and letting us know about his forthcoming book, and about the world of Onyris. It is always great to speak to someone who is passionate and excited about their craft, and you could tell even before the interview that this was an author who has great care and respect for the genre. His first book drops on October 24th. Check out The Sins of Kings (Book One of The Last of the Valdryz) on Amazon today!
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