Justin Sloan - Putting Military Experience Into a Fantasy World
Author Justin Sloan drew from his own military training to write his Falls of Redemption Fantasy books. When he is not working on the latest fantasy novel, he collaborates with other authors on stories for video games or screenplay adaptations of successful books. As our author of the day Sloan chats with us about his five years with the Marines, why he placed his own experiences in Ancient Greece and what other exciting projects he is working on.
Please give us a short introduction to your Falls of Redemption Trilogy
The Falls of Redemption trilogy is epic military fantasy, loosely based on Ancient Greek wars in the way that Game of Thrones is based on the Wars of the Roses. It follows two cousins in alternating point of view (POV) chapters. They both love the same woman, but face hurdles in a time of war that cause their pursuit of this woman to be complicated. That’s where the story starts, because then it becomes so much more – it’s the tale of one of these cousins who is taken against his will and forced to fight for a Spartan-like group of warriors, and then his journey when he’s must choose between the brothers in arms he has learned to love and the woman of his dreams. What I love about this series is the way the characters come first, with hints of magic behind a curtain at first, revealed slowly until BAM! The magic system comes out swinging.
What inspired you to write Falls of Redemption?
I started writing the Falls of Redemption trilogy back in 2010 when I was waiting for the next Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) book to come out. Those books were so amazing, I felt compelled to attempt to write a book that would touch and inspire people in the same way George R.R. Martin’s books did with me. This made it feel especially amazing when I found myself working at Telltale Games on their Game of Thrones title.
Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you
- I was in the Marines for 5 years, where I did intelligence and martial arts instruction.
- My family comes first in everything. They are amazing.
- I’m a sensitive soul. A large part of my interest in writing comes from wanting to understand characters and how they’ve become who they are.
How much, would you say, has your military training influenced your writing?
My grandma was always asking me to write about my military time and travels, so instead of writing a journal or memoir, I thought I would write a fictionalized version of my bootcamp experience. I had taken a class in my international relations MA program on the Peloponnesian War, and loved it. So it made sense to combine these two ideas – a military fantasy novel based on Ancient Greek wars, that in some ways tells my story of going through boot camp and the years that followed.
Of course, the book changed drastically and totally took on a life of its own, but you could certainly say my military time has greatly influenced my writing. In fact, my other books have strong military aspects – the little girl in Back by Sunrise loses her father to the military, and Allie Strom’s mom is in the military (kind of) in Allie Strom and the Ring of Solomon.
How different is writing novels from writing the stories for video games?
The writing process for video games is much more like screenwriting than writing novels. There are many similarities, such as character creation, plotting, and coming up with awe-inspiring reversals and plot twists. The main difference would be that writing for games, in my experience, is extremely collaborative. You might think that writing with a partner on novels is collaborative, or working with editors, but the word collaborative takes on a whole new meaning when there are six or seven writers all on one two-hour episode of a game, with producers, people in marketing, and studio executives all weighing in. And that’s not even talking about working with art and programming and all those other considerations!
However, when it comes to the actual writing, it’s still the amazing process of sitting down behind your computer and entering a magical world that is, at least to some degree, your own.
Relationships between brothers in arms and family members is a recurring them in your books. Why do you find it so important?
One question that’s always been on my mind, since joining the military, is the moral one of where does your loyalty lie. You’re told you answer to the president and your chain of command, and if you don’t follow every order you can be shot or thrown in the brig (jail). Add to that the fact that these men and women training and potentially fighting alongside you become like family—you have to trust each other completely, or you could die.
So what happens when you’re forced to choose between the two groups? If you are presented with an order that will save thousands or millions, but will cause someone you love to be hurt or killed? It might be a simple answer for some of us, but it’s the moral line that shows like Game of Thrones or games like the ones Telltale does handle so wonderfully. And the audience loves it.
Your series contains a lot of twists. Did you plan them out ahead of time?
When it comes to the majority of my story, I outline and plot everything out. That said, I LOVE surprises. If I write a whole novel and it hasn’t surprised me along the way, I probably have to start over. If I’m not surprised, then neither is the reader.
There are some big surprises throughout my books, and especially in Tears of Devotion, book three in the Falls of Redemption trilogy. I would say that half of those were planned, while the other half came naturally through the story. Usually, I’ll be in the shower and suddenly the idea just hits—this is why writers must take showers.
Do you have a set of rules for your world? How do you go about defining these?
There is a great debate about magic systems, with Brandon Sanderson on the one hand saying that the reader should understand the magic system, and a lot of others pointing to J.R.R. Tolkien as a great example of fiction that works while the magic system isn’t clear. As with magic systems, I think the rules of the world should fall somewhere in between the two. I love understanding enough of the world to feel like I get it, while still feeling that sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of it all.
Did you know right from the start that this was going to be a trilogy?
Originally Falls of Redemption was going to be one book. The premise was simple—a young man who's kidnapped by a neighboring warrior clan and forced to become one of their warriors. I knew the starting point was the love-triangle between him and his cousin, and I knew it would be fantasy but without the magic up front, and that was it. The trilogy came along much later, when I had already revised the novel multiple times.
Your action sequences in your books are very vivid and descriptive. How do you pull this off?
Thank you! I think this comes in two parts. (1) My experience in the Marines as a martial arts instructor gives me a better grasp of how fights would likely occur, and (2) my screenwriting experience forces me to be more focused on staging in a scene.
Tell us a bit about the covers of this series and how it came about.
Originally, I thought it would be fun to do my own covers. I was a painter and artist, so why not, right? Boy was I wrong! I finally went to a website called 99 Designs and found an artist who had done covers I liked and that had a similar feel to mine, sent him fan art for Game of Thrones and told him about some scenes in my books, and voila! Actually, those are for the individual covers - the cover for the trilogy was done via a 99 Designs contest (where multiple artists submit design ideas and you pick the ones you like). If you look closely, you see something in the smoke/clouds, and this is very telling of the genre/ what sort of book this really is. I love that he was able to capture this.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best writing advice I ever received is to slow down. We see so many authors now bragging about how fast they write, but I think that is a huge mistake. The better way to brag is about how awesome your books are, right? Take the time to work on the prose, perfect your characters, and add subtext. These are just some of the elements of great fiction that could get passed up by writing too fast.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
I thrive on schedules. Having two small children doesn't help, but I try to wake up at 5:00 am every day, write for an hour or so until they wake up, then write for another 30 minutes on the train to work. In the evenings, I get my marketing and editing done, because that's when my creative brain has shut off.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on two really exciting projects. First, I have outlined book 4 in this fantasy series - yes, there will be a fourth book! It gets pretty intense, and might have an element of time travel. Exciting!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Separately, I recently worked with authors Sean Platt and David Wright to adapt their novel Crash into a screenplay, and we sold it! That was super exciting, so writer PT Hylton and I have decided to work with author John L. Monk to adapt his amazing novel Kick into a screenplay. Trust me, you will love this movie when we're done with it.