Friday, September 6, 2019

Dimitri Liountris, Author of The Oracle’s Journal

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Today we are interviewing Dimitri Liountris about his urban fantasy novel “The Oracle’s Journal.” 

Tell us a bit about yourself.
There’s not much to tell really. I am a new author who published his first book less than a year ago. I am currently getting my MPhil in Criminology, which gets in the way of writing, because responsibility and priorities are a thing apparently. But, then again, the psychology side of criminology helps with getting into my characters’ heads, so silver lining there. I am South African, born and bred. Been in South Africa my entire life, moving between Cape Town and Johannesburg. I absolutely adore storytelling in any form and in all genres with the notable exception of historical fiction. I have tried to get into it and I cannot. And I am a writer, which I suppose is obvious with the whole book thing, but a writer is a specific creature and I like to know that I am one. That’s about it.

Describe the plot of your new book, “The Oracle's Journal,” in a few sentences.
This is a difficult question, because the book actually has several storylines that collide at different points. But the long-and-short of the plot involves an enemy named Serena returning to modern-day Earth, the year 2012. Serena used to be queen of Earth a hundred thousand years ago and wants her throne back, but in order to do that, she needs to reclaim the power she once had before she was imprisoned. So, she’s searching for a book known as the Oracle’s Journal, which has several powerful spells, one of which can make Serena a goddess. At the same time, four teenagers get the powers of sixteen dead gods, becoming the guardians of the realms, and they find themselves facing off against Serena and her knights. They also learn to transform into the different gods, increasing their powers exponentially. That’s the basics of it, but the story also follows the characters that helped the last set of guardians as they try to mentor the new set, which brings in a lot of other characters and sets up the history of the world.

Who do you think would most appreciate this book?
Fantasy readers. I know, that’s vague, but I have to say, I didn’t really think of this until after the book was written. I wrote it with the notion of wanting something that was just fun and entertaining, so if you like fantasy and want a fun story with lots of things happening, this your book. It’s fast-paced, it has a lot of magic, and it’s long, so if you enjoy immersing yourself in worlds of magic, I think you’ll have a good time here. I’ve put a lot of lore and mythology into this book, with rules for how the magic system works, so if you enjoy that kind of thing this is the book for you. Lastly, I’ll say that the book does take on a superhero-type angle. Not so much as a theme, but more in execution with the colours and fights, so if you’re someone who enjoys any of the Marvel movies, you’ll find this book entertaining. Oh, and if you’re someone who likes series, or big sprawling sagas, this will be a series, one day, as soon as I publish, you know, more than one book.

The story is set into motion when the powers of gods are given to four teenagers. Tell us about these four teenagers.
So the teenagers are Blake Holden, Monique Bishop, and Jen and Eric Storm. Blake, Monique, and Jen are all seventeen-years-old, while Eric is fourteen. There’s not much to tell about them, but that is done on purpose. I wanted to breakaway from the trope of “the chosen ones always come from tragedy or have a secret past”, so the conflict they experience comes from when they get their powers and then from inner turmoil brought on by those powers. At the start of the story, they are just normal kids. Jen, Eric, and Monique are orphans, but they come from stable households with loving guardians. The real personal problems for the kids, and what starts their development as characters, is when they realise that magic has been woven through their lives for years and how that affects them, and how it affects their relationships with those closest to them. Individually, they all have their own things. Blake is a mess of tranquility and anger, if that makes sense. Monique is rational. Jen is almost annoyingly righteous. And Eric is the youngest, which brings a ton of implications as he enters this world of magic and mayhem. But I don’t like to dwell on their personalities at the start because they change as they continue their journey, as all characters should.

How do they react to having received the powers of the gods?
They all have different reactions, and even individually, their reactions go up and down. But, for the most part, they shift from being absolutely panicked about what they can do to loving the powers they have. Their powers are vast, but are also contained to what I call ‘elements’. So, they have things like fire, water, wind, but they also have powers that have to do with motion (telekinesis, gravity control, teleportation) and phantasm (ghost powers). So, the reaction depends heavily on the guardian, and who got what element. But I suppose the reaction to their powers is less important than their reaction to the implication of those powers. They are now guardians and that means they have to defend sixteen different realms, and that’s a lot to ask of four teenagers. It takes its toll on them, and while they are in wonder, they’re also scared and confused.

The monsters from the Chaos Realm begin to leave through a portal. Can you describe these monsters for us?
They are mostly what are known as Chaos demons, and these are creatures that are either born into the Chaos Realm or created by shredding and then stitching the souls of the dead into a new beast. There’s no template for demons, so I can’t really give you an exact description of what they look like because they’re all different, but know that creatures of Chaos rarely have great intentions. Plus, monsters are not the only thing that come through the portal. Serena was imprisoned in that realm, not born there, and there are others who were imprisoned as well. Monsters are the first thing to come through, but they aren’t really the worst. I find mankind’s biggest enemies tend to look like us.
urban fantasy novel, young adult fantasy; lengthy novel, Dimitri liountris, urban fantasy author, urban fantasy book, urban fantasy genre, urban fantasy
Author Dimitri Liountris.

Tell us about the artefacts, including the most powerful artefact – The Oracle’s Journal.
Well, this is a difficult question, because we’re walking directly into spoiler-town. So, with regards to artefacts, there’s two important items and the second is just a massive spoiler, so I can’t really go into that. It’s actually the title of the second book. As for the Oracle’s Journal, without wishing to spoil, it is a book that was created to house the most powerful spells in existence. Examples of these spells include opening portals with the strength to suck in entire buildings, reviving the dead, and linking two people’s lives in that if one dies so does the other. And then there’s the spell that can create a god, which is probably the most important spell in terms of this novel – and the next one, come to think of it. The book itself has different rules to it, but those are revealed throughout the story. I suppose the one aspect I can give is that to read the book, you need to find the oracle, a being that almost no one knows the identity of, which adds an extra facet to Serena’s plan.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the story’s antagonist, the Demon Queen?
Sure, how long do you have? In all seriousness, Serena is one of my favourite characters, and I absolutely love her scenes, especially with a character named Izzy – who mentors the guardians. There’s a lot I can say about Serena but a lot of it is spoiler-y. What I will say is that I wanted to make a villain who was understandable. I’ve never bought into the notion that characters always need to be relatable. As long as they’re understandable, as long as we can empathise with their vision even if we disagree with it, we can make a connection, and that’s what Serena is all about. She’s a villain, no doubt, but she’s also someone who has experienced loss and pain, and it shows in how she carries herself and how she acts. The Demon Queen moniker is both true but also false, and I can’t really say more than that without going into details. What I can tell you is that she is extremely powerful, even without her Queen of Earth powers (she was almost god-like when she ruled Earth). She controls six magical elements (Motion, Lightning, Defence, Form, Wind, and Light) and she is an expert fighter with swords and hand-to-hand combat. She is a queen, regal and proper, but also a warrior who should not be taken lightly. After all, she survived in the Chaos Realm, a hellish world, for over one-hundred-thousand years (oh, she’s got eternal youth) and that’s not an easy thing to do.

What drew you to the urban fantasy genre?
This is a difficult question, because while I describe the book as urban fantasy, the series starts to move to other types of fantasy, where magic creatures and other worlds start popping up like daisies. So I wouldn’t say I was drawn to urban fantasy, but rather I came to fix a problem I’ve always had with stories that take place in modern times or urban settings, which I’ll get to in a moment. My first book, and second, just happen to be in an urban setting and are limited compared to what I have planned for the rest of the series, so that’s why I call it urban fantasy. With all of that said, I suppose I should actually answer your question. So, I’ve always been a fantasy and sci-fi junkie, but I leaned more to fantasy. But the reason I set it in an urban setting and in modern day is because I had a problem that I wanted to fix. I love Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones as much as the next person, but I find I am drawn more to stories that happen on Earth, in modern society. That said, it’s always bugged me that urban fantasy and modern fantasy tends to be tamer than high fantasy stories. I find the stories to be contained, where the only people who know about magic and what is happening are the important characters, and the rest of the world is oblivious because everything is kept secret or hushed. And then things get tied up at the end and the heroes go off after saving the world with the world none the wiser. It annoys me to no end, and so I wanted to blow that up, which is why I wrote this story. When magic appears in this novel, when the portal opens, it is in view of the world. The media is there, the army comes in, it is chaos. The world has been changed forever. The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going back in. I wanted to explore what would happen in this time of social media and 24-hour news if magic had to show itself, and so I ran with that, and by the time the story ended, I realized we have not left Maxton City despite fifteen other realms out there. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the long-and-short of it is that I like change. I want my world to change with my characters and I am fascinated by the concept of us humans, who for better or worse think we are the centre of the universe, not only finding out that there are other worlds out there but also that we’re pretty low in the magical food-chain. In order to do that, I needed the story to be in an urban centre where all eyes would be on the portal.

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
Michael Grant, author of the “Gone” series is definitely up there. It’s my favourite series and when I revisit the books and see how he writes, and then reread my own chapters, I can definitely tell his influence is there. Other than that, no one else really jumps to mind. I try to take little pieces from different authors. Some authors are great a inferring things, like George R.R. Martin, so I’ll try to see if that’s something I can do, but other than Grant, there’s not one author where I think: yeah, you’re definitely influencing how I structure my sentences. I read, I listen to audiobooks, I take notes, and I go from there.

How long have you been writing?
As a serious writer, someone who wanted to publish his work and share it with the world, it’s been about five years. That first book was a nightmare to write, but I’m going through my other projects faster so I hope to publish more than one book every five years. In terms of writing in general, I’ve been doing it since I was like fourteen. I started with fan-fiction stories, the first of which was an atrocious piece of Dragon Ball Z fan-fiction. I used to go back and read it, and it would make me squirm. But I have been writing for a while. I actually came up with the concept for The Oracle’s Journal when I was sixteen, and even wrote a draft when I was still in high school, but at that point writing seemed like a mythical thing and who was I to assume anyone would read my work? Good thing too, because when I read that copy after I decided to take this seriously, it wasn’t great. But that’s what first drafts are, I suppose.

Who was your favorite character to write?
Don’t make me choose between my babies… in all honesty, I have no clue. It jumps all the time. Serena is definitely up there. And one of her followers, Malik, is great fun to write. But if I had to pick someone it would probably be a character named Melissa. Melissa is Blake’s mother, but she could easily be the main character of the story if I were to shift a few things around. In many ways, this series is actually her story because the kids start to emulate different sagas of Melissa’s life. Melissa was involved with magic in the past and she is scarred by what happened twelve years before this story starts. This history, coupled with the fact that she is a powerful fighter, a good leader, and someone who deeply dislikes the gods, she is a lot of fun to write, because like her, I’m always trying to strike a balance between what needs to happen and what I want to happen. Melissa is very much a through-line for all the other characters as she interacts with almost everyone, and that lets me not only explore her story and contrast it with other characters, but also lets me know that when I write her scenes, I’m writing other characters who might not get a lot of “screen” time.

How do you think you've evolved as a writer since when you first started?
Well, for one thing, I use pronouns now. When I started – I still do it now a bit in my rough drafts – I’ll just keep writing the character’s name. “Jen walked into Jen’s room while holding Jen’s cellphone.” It’s not that terrible anymore, but that was one problem I had. I think I’ve definitely gotten better at writing deeper characters who are not one thing. At the start of the story everyone sort of had a side, good or evil, and as the story progressed I found that I didn’t like that, to the point where I was going back and rewriting entire scenes to make characters slightly more nuanced in their reasonings. I’ve also grown to adore themes. I look for them everywhere now and try to include them in my work. I find themes give me a guiding light to follow when I’m writing, and that was definitely an evolution, because when I was younger the word “theme” made me roll my eyes.

Are there any aspects (e.g. character building, world building) of your writing that you've been practicing?
Character descriptions and condensing sentences. Let’s get this out the way: I hate describing what people and things look like. Hate it. Give me what a character is thinking or a fight scene and I’ll write until the end of time, but of all the things that take time out of my writing, describing what someone looks like and what they are wearing takes the most, because I just don’t have the patience for it. I have no clue about fashion in real life, so the way someone styles their hair or wears their clothes take effort from me, and I’ve been trying to get better at that. As for condensing sentences, I find that I do describe something in fifteen words when ten would do. So, I’m practicing getting better at that. If nothing else, it will help me write shorter stories.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
Three things. One is to publish more books and get more followers reading. What happens after that, who can say, but at the moment I’m hoping to finish this current series as well as another one in ten years, with maybe some short stories sprinkled in between. The other two things will not take ten years (hopefully) but I’d like to give my blog more attention and create an author’s website that holds all the information this current series has. This series has sixteen realms, each with their own rules and species, and unless I plan to include a free encyclopedia with each new novel, I’ll never get all the information down into a book because not all the information is needed for this specific story. Still, with so much happening in my mind, I thought it would be nice to create a website with the explanations of the different realms, their gods, and their elements, as well as creatures and special locations within those realms. I’ll move into more detailed things like culture and religion at a later date… and now that I’ve answer this question, this might actually take ten years, but that’s the gist of it. As for my blog, it’s already up, and it’s all about writing. It’s called Professional Amateur Writers, but I’ve been neglecting the poor thing lately. But I’ve got a plan that starts soon and we’ll see where that goes.

How have your readers responded to the book so far?
Well, my mother loves it. No, but seriously, so far so good. It hasn’t gotten a ton of traction yet, but the seven reviews it has gotten (yes, I count every single review and read them ten times) have been really good. People tend to like the magic and characters, which is what I hoped they’d latch on to. The biggest complaint is the length, which I myself actually agree with. I thought about splitting the book in two, but it is one full story and it didn’t feel right. I don’t have much to go on except Goodreads, and so far it’s been four or five star ratings. Mostly.

Is there any aspect of writing you don't like?
Character descriptions. I could complain about it again, I really could, but I’ll just direct you to my previous answer.

What is your favorite aspect of writing?
Dialogue. Hands down, making characters speak is what I love about writing. I feel you can do so much with dialogue, from explaining concepts, to showing emotions and motives, to making readers laugh and cry. Yes, you can do that with normal prose, but I find dialogue just has a kick to it. It’s almost easier to read when it’s someone else’s voice in my head. I don’t know if that makes sense, but dialogue is my favourite aspect. No question about it.

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it? If you have not had writer's block, why do you think you haven't?
Is there a writer who hasn’t had writer’s block? Who are they? They should write a book. They’ll make millions. Yes, I’ve had writer’s block more times than I can count, and I do two things that help, but both pretty much come down to just write. Write anything. Write absolute garbage if you have to, but write. With that said, the first thing I do is find out what the problem is. If it’s a specific character, I’ll literally just write their scenes with no context of the rest of the story or characters. It’s almost like free writing, just to see where this character will take you if left to their own devices. It helps me flesh out the character and understand how they think, and what their motives might be. The second thing I do, if the block is not specific and I just don’t know what to write, is to just write anything. Jump to the first scene that pops into my head and write one sentence, and then try to follow it up with a second. It sounds dumb; how can you write when the problem is that you can’t write? But that’s really the only way I know to fix it. Write anyway. Write knowing that you’ll probably toss the scene away, because if you do, it will be worth it to get the creativity flowing again. Also, random tip, when you reach the end of a writing session, don’t finish the sentence. Write a half sentence out so that when you come back, you have to finish it. It helps you jump back in immediately.

What do you have in mind for your next project?
So, I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is the sequel to The Oracle’s Journal and takes place two weeks after book one ends. The second project is called Children of the Beasts, and follows two boys trapped in another world who must rush home to basically stop a world war from breaking out. It’s set in an alternative Earth and it is what I call my “anything-goes” story. It’s both fantasy and sci-fi. It has dragons, and sorcerers, and clans, and ninjas, and chimera, and cyborgs, and demons, and angels, and, and, and. It’s a mess of magic and technology, and follows the adventures of the two boys, Kashiko and Dartan, as they move through the six worlds. I’m having a blast writing it because it is so out there. I just hope others feel the same way reading it.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
Well, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. My book is long. It’s not difficult to read but it does take a chunk of time to get through. However, I do think it’s worth it. I put a lot of effort into making sure something is always happening and that the characters are fun to follow around, so while it is long, I doubt you’ll get bored. Obviously, this is from a biased source, so maybe go check out the reviews. What I can tell you is that there is a ton of magic, lots of action, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end of the story. It is the first book of five, so there are things that are set up for the future, but it is a complete story and so worth the read. This book was a nightmare to finish, but I also had so much fun writing it because of how much magic and lore is in it, and I hope you as a reader find it entertaining.

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