Steven Kelliher - A New Breed of Epic Fantasy
Steven is a former full-contact kickboxing and karate champion. A former sports and entertainment writer, he now focuses exclusively on his true passion: epic fantasy and action sci-fi. He wishes all disputes were still settled with a friendly game of hand-to-hand combat, is a fan of awesome things, and tries to write books he'd want to read. He hopes you like them. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Valley of Embers.
Please give us a short introduction to what Valley of Embers is about.
Valley of Embers is the first book in the Landkist Saga, an elemental epic fantasy series that chronicles a war between the elemental Landkist and mighty sorcerers known as the Sages. The series focuses in particular on the last Embers, flame-wielding warriors fighting to defend their people against the coming of the World Apart--another realm beckoned by the incessant conflict between the Sages.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
In addition to the usual epic fantasy inspirations of Tolkien, Weis & Hickman and Salvatore, the aesthetic of the Landkist Saga was heavily influenced by Princess Mononoke, the animated masterpiece by Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki. I'd like to think the series blends eastern and western fantasy aesthetics for something wholly unique, that's also accessible to traditional epic fantasy fans.
Tell us more about Kole Reyna. What makes him tick?
While the Landkist Saga has a wide cast of POV characters, Kole Reyna is the primary focus of Book 1, and plays a major role in much of the series. A driven, powerful Ember who lost his mother at a young age to the corruption of the Sages, Kole seeks to push his people into more of an offensive mindset rather than a defensive, survival mindset regarding the War of Sages. While Kole loves his people, his fiery core harbors a dark thirst for vengeance that can both propel him and hold him back while those orbiting around him attempt to steer the series in various directions.
Why epic fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
There is just nothing like epic fantasy to me. I believe it's a genre that allows authors to create intricate plots, fleshed-out character arcs and deep themes all while presenting it in an exciting, tense and wholly original setting. Also ... it's just damn entertaining!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Before embarking on a creative writing career, I was actually a professional fighter, having won championships in kickboxing and full contact karate. This gives me a bit of a unique flavor in action scenes, and allows me to get inside the heads of skilled combatants in the narrative. I was also a sports writer, with a focus on the UFC and professional fighting.
Readers say your descriptions of the world, creatures, and landscapes are very vivid. How do you pull this off?
I think this comes from dual inspirations. My prose is heavily influenced on an almost subconscious level by Tolkien. Some readers can find it a bit lyrical in nature, but I tend to find more modern, direct prose slightly distracting in epic fantasy settings. As for the visual aesthetic of my writing, I'm a big fan of animation, with particular childhood favorites including Dragon Ball Z and the aforementioned Hayao Miyazaki. I also have an appreciation for Avatar: The Last Airbender. To me, if you're going to ask people to invest in fantasy action sequences, you need to make them vivid and colorful. I want people to feel like they're reading/watching a movie when they read my books ... and then I want them to pressure every film studio this side of the Mississippi to adapt the Landkist Saga!
Cool cover. Please tell us more about how it came about.
The Landkist Saga was originally self-published with more anime-inspired, large-scale covers. While I still have a fondness for those works of art, when the series was picked up by Monolith Books, we thought it made sense to try to focus each cover on a particular character. This served dual purposes. 1) It allows the elemental powers and varied magical abilities to really take center stage on the covers and 2) fit in with the more mature, elemental epic fantasy vibe the series has. While Landkist is far from Grimdark in tone, it's also not as airy and fluffy as the original, almost whimsical covers implied. Getting Assassin's Creed concept artist Pierre Raveneau onboard to bring the Landkist cast to life was all Monolith Books, and he did a bang-up job of it, if I do say so myself.
This is book 1 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
The Landkist Saga is a heavily intertwined and interwoven series. While I tried to make each book tell a satisfying story with an impactful ending, it is absolutely intended to be read through to completion, with readers comparing it most often to epics such as The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. I've still got two more novels to write to bring the series home, but the five novels released thus far top over 1 Million words!
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
I tend to create a rough organizer with some individual scenes and character arcs I'm particularly interested in telling. Big, impactful sequences, both action-focused and emotional, that I then map the rest of the plot around.
What was your greatest challenge when writing Valley of Embers?
Knowing when to stop cutting. While most debut authors end up rambling for too long, I think I actually had the opposite issue with Valley of Embers. The original draft was over 200k words, and I was self-conscious about stuffing so much plot into my debut. I listened to the industry blogs too much, and sliced and diced over 50k words from the initial draft. The result is a book that is high-paced and action-packed, but I could have let the characters have more breathing room in that first book. Rest assured, that lesson was learned for the sequels, which have much more breathing room and, I think, display my growth as a writer as the series progresses.
Which character was the easiest for you to write for and why?
Talmir Caru, Captain of Hearth is probably the easiest character for me to write. He's one of the few POV characters with no special abilities in the series, but he still plays a major role in guiding the narrative. I find him fascinating and endearing, trying to play his part in a world where he's caught between ungodly powers and wars between realms.
I've also developed a fondness for Iyana Ve'Ran, a young female Landkist with some of the most interesting abilities in the series. She might start out in something of a background role, but she has grown into one of the most potent and electrifying characters in the series.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Writing is easy for me. Sitting down to start writing is something I struggle with mightily. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have made it very difficult for me to focus, as I feel I need changes of scenery to do my best writing. It's a constant struggle, and my strategy changes monthly to reflect the fact that I still haven't figured it out!
What are you working on right now?
Because the Landkist tomes are such grand, intricate epics, I have found that taking time between epic fantasy releases to write shorter, more movie-like novels does wonders for my creativity, and allows me to dive back into the next Landkist book with fresh motivation. I'm currently working on finishing out the Titan Online trilogy for Portal Books (a Superhero LitRPG adventure series,) before returning to finish off Landkist in 2022 with the two-part grand--and I do mean GRAND--finale.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Head on over to my web site, StevenKelliher.com to keep up on all of my upcoming books and to contact me directly. You can also sign up for my Email newsletter by downloading the free Landkist prequel short story on the web site. I don't post very often, but I read and respond to every reader Email.
Thank you and happy reading to all who decide to join the Landkist of the Valley in their revolution against the mighty Sages!