AJ Cooper - Epic Fantasy Set in a Dark, Scandinavian-Inspired World
Cursed at birth with a wild imagination, AJ Cooper spent his youth dreaming of worlds more exciting than Earth. He loves writing fantasy, especially epic fantasy set in his own created worlds. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of numerous fantasy novels and novellas. His short stories have appeared in Morpheus Tales, Fear and Trembling, Residential Aliens, and Mindflights, among others. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about Fell Winter.
Please give us a short introduction to what Fell Winter is about.
Fell Winter is an epic fantasy I based in part on Viking mythology and Norse history. It’s part horror, part fantasy, and features undead and a lot of action. If you’ve seen 2022’s The Northman, it’s in the same vein, though I wrote it long before that. It’s the introductory book to a trilogy and it’s the first series I released on Amazon.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
Fell Winter originally started as a short story. Chapter two, where the characters visit the haunted land of Blackfold, was an adventure-horror story I was hoping to sell to a magazine. But eventually, I expanded it, added chapter one, and it became the novel it is today. I was inspired to write the short story by the work of Steven Saylor, a historical fiction author who sets his books in Roman times. Mine was Norse, but I was really on an adventure-horror binge back in 2012.
Why Fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
When I was young, I was most interested in superhero fiction. The 1990s Batman films were some of my earliest memories, and they were memories I loved. I recently bought the DVD of them and I think they hold up well.
After that, in the ‘90s, the special edition of Star Wars came out and my obsession became science fiction. I was a prolific writer of Star Wars-esque short stories when I was a child. Then came Lord of the Rings, and my obsession turned to fantasy. The rest is history — I never lost that love as I did of other genres.
This is the first book in your Ulfr Crisis series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Fell Winter could be read as a stand-alone, as the characters’ stories are wrapped up at the end, and many people do read Fell Winter by itself. However, I think it’s best to read all three, as it completes the story and the conflict is resolved by the end.
Readers were impressed with the world-building in this story. How did you pull it off?
I believe world-building is a skill that writers have to develop. It’s not a matter of compiling an encyclopedic tome of a setting’s minute details and history, but rather the ability to deeply inhabit a character’s mind. You can tell some fantasy authors go to great lengths to describe every small detail of a fantasy world, but their setting never comes across as living and breathing in the manner of Tolkien. With my books, whether a beta reader likes or dislikes a novel, they always seem to comment on the richness of the world. To me, it seems it’s a matter of putting yourself in that place and deeply envisioning it while you write.
The book has a lot of twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
I rarely plan out a novel, though I usually have a general idea of where the story will go. I allow the story to tell itself, and often I’m surprised in the process of writing. I find when I plan out a novel it comes across to the reader as dull. Perhaps, that’s because I don’t enjoy writing as much when I don’t let the Muse take over.
Interesting cover. Please tell us more about it.
The cover actually depicts a type of villain in the later books of the trilogy, but many readers, whether they like or dislike Fell Winter, remark on the cover. Some say it drew them in more than the blurb. It might be the best cover of all my books.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently writing a lengthy ten-book series, for which I’m seeking a traditional publisher. I call the series my epic because although it’s not written in verse or poetry like the Odyssey or the Illiad, it’s of the same scope and kind. Because I’m currently seeking a publisher, I’m not able to share it with readers, and that’s difficult, but I hope it will be worth the wait.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I have a weekly newsletter, and I also have a website where you can buy books (www.vardabooks.com), paperbacks now but I’m hoping to sell ebooks there soon. You can even buy a poster of the Fell Winter cover people love so much. I hope people check out the website, as well as follow me on social media. I’m pretty active there.