Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stephen C. Merlino, Author of The Jack of Souls

jack of souls, stephen c. merlino, stephen merlino, autistic character

Today we are interviewing Stephen C. Merlino, author of the fantasy/YA fantasy novel The Jack of Souls, book 1 of the Unseen Moon series.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in the Pacific Northwest of the USA with the world's most talented and desirable woman, two fabulous children, and three attack chickens.

I teach high school English to a group of fantastic kids. When people ask (and they always do), “Are teenagers really messed up these days?” I say, “Not at all. They are just like we were. They’re awesome.” And I mean it. Best job in the world, working with teens. :)

Describe the plot of your new book in a few sentences.
An outcast rogue must break a curse put on his fate, or die on his nineteenth birthday. His usual tricks won’t be enough so save him. He’ll need the help of other outcasts—and a lot of it. Ultimately, he must face the temptation of forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he’s ever loved.

Who do you think would most appreciate The Jack of Souls?
1)    Lovers of fantasy who want a fresh twist to characters and world. I enjoy upending old tropes and shooting for originality. Many of my reviews express appreciation of that, so think I must have succeeded in it.

2)    Those curious about autism and who might appreciate seeing an autistic character.

3)    Lovers of Shakespeare who might enjoy finding an Easter egg subplot from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. :)!

What inspired you to write a book about three outcasts, each with a shortcoming, that must band together to survive?
Flawed characters are the best characters. The more messed up they are, the more interesting their story, the farther they have to go to redeem themselves, and the more non-stop the action. 

Tell us about the three main characters, Harric, Caris, and Sir Willard.
HARRIC is a bastard. Literally. As in, he was born to a single mother. 

If he’d been born thirty years earlier, he would have been born a slave, but the Queen abolished the slavery of bastards and women, so he was raised a free bastard.

Nevertheless, there are those in the land who wish to overthrow the Queen and re-enslave bastards and women, so Harric is very fond of the present government. His mother was one of the court ladies first educated by the Queen’s tutors and employed as a courtesan spy. When she raised him, his mother trained him in all the arts of the spy—etiquette, seduction, subterfuge, slight of hand, forgery, lock-picking, poisoning, etc.—so he could take her place in the Queen’s service.

Cool mom, right? She taught him to be the ultimate trickster!

Sadly, she also went mad, saw visions of him one day destroying the Queen, and cursed him to die on his nineteenth birthday, in order to protect the Queen.

Maybe not such a cool mom.

CARIS is a runaway noble maiden intent upon becoming the Queen’s first female knight.


She is not your average charismatic Joan of Arc type, however. She is, in fact, horse-touched, which means she has several advantages and some serious disadvantages in her quest to serve the Queen.

Advantages include enormous strength and size, as well as uncanny ability with horses. The main disadvantage centers around the fact that she understands horses better than humans. This manifests in a sometimes crippling fear of social situations, crowds, and in a general blindness to subtle human social cues.

Needless to say, since Harric is a master of subtlety and social manipulation, they make quite a pair, each protecting the other’s weak spot.

SIR WILLARD is an ex-immortal knight who still rides the immortal warhorse that once made him immortal and gave him immortal powers. He has sworn off immortality, however, and is now aging and outcast and addicted to painkilling herb.

Sir Willard
That being said, he is also arguably Arkendia’s greatest hero.

In his heyday as an immortal, he led the Cleansing—the war that rid the kingdom of the Old Ones, an order of immortal knights who once enslaved the land. In the flush of the Queen’s youth he served as her official Champion and unofficial lover. Everything fell apart when he fell in love with one of the Queen’s ladies; the resulting love triangle proved unforgivable, quickly making him an ex-champion, ex-lover, and banished from the court.

He is still in love however, and he seeks the Queen’s forgiveness by undertaking one final, desperate quest in her service.

Did you have a favorite character to write?

You know, I have to say, No, I love writing them all.

Harric is always fun because he’s a trickster and unpredictable and funny—qualities that get amplified when Fink shows up (not telling you about Fink, sorry!).

Caris is so powerful and flawed, and she’s such a plain-talking merciless ass-kicker that I just love to watch her go. Justice, especially, seems sweeter when she deals it. :)

Willard is wise, foul-tempered, good-hearted, old-fashioned, and constantly smoking ragleaf stogies. He’s funny, and like Caris is also capable of feats of astounding ass-kickery, despite his age.

Can you describe the creative process you had for this book, from the initial idea to the final manuscript?
1)    Wrote a chapter, rewrote it, then shared w/ critique group. Revised per critique. Let it sit.

2)    Wrote another chapter, rewrote it, shared w/ critique group. Revised based on critique. Let it sit.

3)    Repeated chapter by chapter through entire manuscript until done.

4)    Left that critique group.

5)    Presented manuscript chapter by chapter to second critique group, revised per feedback, until done.

6)    Posted entire book on Wattpad. Listened to feedback nitpicks. Tweaked.

7)    Sent to beta readers. Revised according to feedback.

8)    Sent to copy editor.

9)    Published!

How do you feel about the increasing popularity of ebooks?

Because of ebooks, I have readers. If there were no ebooks, The Jack of Souls would still be languishing at the bottom of agent and editor slush piles doing no one any good—least of all, fantasy readers.

So I love ebooks! Thank you, Amazon and Nook and Kobo and Smashwords! :)

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it?

If I’m having a hard time starting, I revise what I last wrote, and that gets the juices rolling.

Do you write with a computer, typewriter, or pen and paper?
Mostly computer. There is a time and place for the luxury of paper, but usually I go for the speed of computer. 

What do you have in mind for your next project?
Book 2, The Knave of Souls, to be released at the end of summer 2015!

Book 3, The Prince of Souls, to be released at the end of 2015!

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about The Jack of Souls?
The Jack of Souls won two awards for fantasy, and is top ten on two Amazon Bestseller lists. Check it out! The first three chapters are free, so you have nothing to lose. Read them and see what you think.

If you like it, pick up the ebook for less than a frappacino and let me know what you think!

I love to hear from readers. Just email me at stephenmerlino@hotmail.com. :)

Thanks for reading!

—    S

More Information

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