Welcome to the first interview of 2019. It’s going to be a great year, and we’re getting started with A.E. Lowan. Lowan is a pen name for three talented writers, Jessica Smith, Jennifer Vinck, and Kristin Vinck. I met them at Planet Comicon a couple of years ago. Our tables were next to each other in the Author Alley and we had a chance to hang out some.
But wait, we’re starting out 2019 with more, but what’s better than more? They’ve included a couple of excerpts from their Book of Binding fantasy series.
What is your quest?
JS: To capture a vivid world and the full spectrum of emotion that swirls within it, but also not to limit myself to a single type of story. All flavors of speculative fiction make it across my plate, and so do the possibilities that accompany those genres—but it is fun to take certain conventions of plotting and turn them on their head.
KV: My quest is to invoke emotion in the reader, to communicate the emotional lives of our characters in such a way as to make them feel real, because to me they are. These characters are some of my best friends and we are sharing them with the world. It can be scary stuff. Or liberating. It all depends on how you choose to view it.
JV: As a speculative fiction author, my quest is to tell an entertaining story that doesn’t necessarily reflect the world as it is, but as it could be. I am an idealist at heart, and my stories tend to focus on the effect that a dedicated group can have on the world. Whether my stories are set in unique fantasy worlds, urban fantasy environments with magical elements in the real world, or on a space ship, my characters crave change. They sense something wrong in their worlds and are the kinds of people who can’t let that go unaddressed. They are driven to affect change. I hope that readers will catch a fever to affect change in their own world from the passions of my characters.
There have been so many speculative fiction authors who have come before me with this same goal. I couldn’t hope to list them all, but some of the most influential on me have been Anne McCaffrey, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois Lowry, Robert A. Heinlein, John Scalzi, Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood, Lois McMaster Bujold, Michael Crichton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
What is your favorite color?
JS: Setting wise … in high fantasy, referencing less-common cultures that inspiration might be drawn from. Everyone has seen a mock-up of the general British or French monarchy done time and time again, but what of medieval Germany? Ancient Egypt? Renaissance Spain? The Philippines, or even Sengoku-era Japan? There are so many ways to seed diversity within your world.
As for techniques, beginning in medias res helps get the ball rolling without relying on exposition.
KV: I am a trained poet and academic, though I ran away from that circus years ago. That being said, they both inform my prose. I seek to make even the most fantastical elements plausible (I love that word), drawn from history and science and the natural world, and I always strive to make the words themselves flow like music. I am not afraid of long sentences.
JV: I am a fan of flawed characters and the idea that redemption is attainable for anyone willing to strive for it. Our characters tend to come from traumatic backgrounds, both with traumas that have been inflicted on them, and traumas they have inflicted on others. I firmly believe that conflict is the root of story, and these types of internal conflicts—dealing with the repercussions of past action, seeking atonement—lead to stories of greater personal depth than just dealing with the crisis du jour.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?
JS: At this point in my life, carving out enough hours in my day to write (with being a student, running the family farm, and having a day job), and having those hours respected. Growling like a dragon so far hasn’t helped.
KV: I am a writer who suffers from significant mental illness, and it often gets in the way of me being the most creative and productive I can be. I find this incredibly frustrating. But, on the other hand, my mental illness also gives me a window onto these amazing worlds I have the privilege of writing about, so there is a lot of give and take.
JV: One of the challenges we have faced is changing the pace of our writing between book one and book two of The Books of Binding. We wrote Faerie Rising over the course of about seven years (though we have been developing the world of The Books of Binding for almost twenty). But we didn’t want there to be seven years between Faerie Rising and Ties of Blood and Bone. Learning how to produce a story that is just as good as the first at a fraction of the time took us some time to figure out and Ties of Blood and Bone was delayed for five months. But I think that we learned a lot about how we write and how to streamline the process from this failure.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?
JS: In Team Lowan, I tend to be the developmental powerhouse. I’m rather good at coming up with entire worlds on the fly, and with them, massive, personalized casts to populate it.
KV: Music, coffee, and snacks. I am constantly listening to music to help focus my emotional life into words, and coffee is the fuel that keeps me running. I like to say that someday I’ll dedicate this series to Hershey’s and Frito Lay.
JV: I think that the element that I am most proud of in our work is the depth of our characters. They are engaging, and readers have told us that it is the characters that keep them up late turning pages until the end of each book. We write with an ensemble cast. We don’t have one or two main characters, we have a family who all have their own part of the story to tell. One of the things we always ask readers is, “Who was your favorite character?” We are very proud that we have gotten back every member of the cast as an answer.
- JS: Miss Piggy for her sass.
- KV: Orlando Bloom
- JV: I love Elmo’s enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.
Crunchy or Creamy?
- JS: Creamy as in JIF peanut butter
- KV: Creamy
- JV: Definitely creamy
Favorite Sports Team?
- JS: Bulgaria’s National Quidditch Team.
- KV: Torn between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pembroke Titans, the pee wee hockey team my friend’s kid plays on.
- JV: The Kansas City Chiefs. I have stubbornly never given up hope that we’ll make it through the playoffs again one day.
Cake or Pie?
- JS: I’m partial to cake, honestly. Especially Dutch chocolate.
- KV: Always pie. The cake is a lie.
- JV: Both, as long as they’re chocolate.
Lime or Lemon?
- JS: Lime. Lemon is a bit too overpowering for me, especially on fish.
- KV: Lime. In a Coke. Delish.
- JV: Lime.
Favorite Chip Dip?
- JS: I’m partial to potato chips, and I don’t really dip those.
- KV: The spinach and artichoke dip from Sam’s Club with tiny tortilla chips.
- JV: French Onion on wavy potato chips.
Wet or Dry?
- JS: Do I get to swim?
- KV: Wet.
- JV: Wet—I love both swimming and playing in the rain.
Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of?
- JS: Erutan, and Rachel Rose Mitchell.
- KV: Who’s to say what someone has never heard of, but I like Carbon Leaf. They write great songs (“The War was in Color” “What About Everything?”) and don’t get a lot of hits on the YouTubes.
- JV: Sam Tsui (though more and more people have heard of him).
Whisky or Whiskey?
- JS: Homemade icing? Whisk away!
- KV: Whiskey. I’m Irish, second generation immigrant.
- JV: Whiskey. In my family you get in trouble for writing it any other way.
- JS: Probably Kitty Pryde. She has so many interesting arcs and an unusual ability to fuel them.
- KV: Superman. I love his optimism and faith in humanity.
- JV: I only get one?? Superman, though I’m normally more of a Marvel girl, if I only get one it has to be the man in the red cape.
- JS: Medium-rare. I don’t want a sufficiently skilled vet to be able to revive my meal, but I don’t want it to be carbonized, either.
- KV: Mooing.
- JV: Medium Rare
Favorite 1970s TV show?
- JS: Little House on the Prairie, or Bewitched. It’s honestly a tie
- KV: Buck Rogers
- JV: M.A.S.H.
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?
- JS: I’m going to go with fall, because spring in Texas is usually about a week.
- KV: Fall. The heat of summer has broken but the slush has not yet arrived. Plus, my birthday!
- JV: Spring – I love when the world starts to turn green again.
Favorite Pet? (provide pictures if you want)
JS: But the furry ones are family. How can I choose a favorite? I can provide a picture of the senior office minion, though! I bottle raised Sugar and she has been my creative companion since she was an itty-bitty kitten (though she’s still itty-bitty, 6 pounds at 11 years old).
- KV: I don’t have a single favorite pet, I have several. I won’t inundate you with office minion pictures, though Jennifer might. 😀
JV: Oh, this is hard, like choosing a favorite child. How about most photogenic? Our most handsome pet is Perseus, our office supervisor. Here he is napping on the job.
Best Game Ever?
- JS: Now that’s a tough choice. I’m going to have to go with the Pokemon franchise because of its infinite replayability and the way you can customize everything.
- KV: Calvin Ball (from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes)
- JV: Best board game would be Trivial Pursuit (though I can’t get anyone to play with me anymore.) Best video game is World of Warcraft (yeah, I’m one of those geeks.)
Coffee or Tea?
- JS: Tea. Green (citrus or mint), or cinnamon.
- KV: Coffee, without reservation. Drinking coffee right now.
- JV: Neither, please. I am a water lover
Sci-Fi or Fantasy?
- JS: Both! I particularly love fantasy with a science backing behind its lore and in-world tech. It grounds the setting so well and makes it feel incredibly well thought out.
- KV: Both. Both. Yes, both is good.
- JV: Please don’t make me choose! If I had a gun to my head I would say fantasy… but I love them both as well as a blend of the two.
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
How do you write such great books so quickly?? We are in awe of your productivity.
Rob’s Answer: Talk about funny timing. I was not at all productive in the fall, though when they originally sent this response back to me I was doing pretty good.
Either way, my answer is the same. Write some each day. My goal is to write a minimum of 1500 words a day, 5 days a week. That’s essentially three full novels and some short stories in a year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach that goal in 2019.
What’s next for The World of Shijuren?
Rob’s Answer: Lots! I will finish the epic fantasy series The Kreisens this spring with None Call Me Mother. Then, around Thanksgiving, I plan to release another Edward mystery novel. My intention is to aim for one of those every year, with another novel set in the world in the spring.
- I’m also planning to open the world up to other writers to start an anthology and maybe some shared world novels. It’s a big world, even if I manage to finish all of the 25 or so novels I currently have laid out in my head, I will have only scratched the surface. I love the world, and there’s so much yet to tell.
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
We would love to connect online. We love to talk with readers and other writers. You can find us here
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked what’s next for A. E. Lowan? We are currently working on the third book in The Books of Binding – Beneath a Stone Sky. It will be out in 2019. This one picks up about a month after Ties of Blood and Bone. We are also working on audiobook versions of Faerie Rising and Ties of Blood and Bone for 2019.
And add your creator biography.
A.E. Lowan is the pseudonym of three authors who collectively create the dark urban fantasy series, The Books of Binding.
Raised as a Navy brat, Kristin Vinck began writing as a child on the West Coast, learning her love of words at her mother’s knee. Kristin won her first writing award for urban fantasy in Seattle at eight-years-old for a story about a city on a boat pulled by dinosaurs. In her teens, Kristin moved from learning at home from her satirist mother to formal writing education at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. Kristin studied medieval studies and creative writing at Truman State University and now writes from the beauty of the Missouri Ozarks.
Raised among musicians in Kansas City, Missouri, Jennifer Vinck came to writing from another direction—poetry and song. Poetry was her primary creative endeavor throughout childhood and when Jennifer was twelve-years-old she was asked to write the lyrics for a song used for All Species Day (a precursor of Earth Day) in Kansas City. She auditioned for the creative writing department at the Kansas City Middle School of the Arts and there discovered a new passion—speculative fiction. Jennifer met Kristin on the first day of school at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. They began developing epic and urban fantasy worlds and have been collaborating in fiction and in life ever since. Jennifer studied linguistics and classical languages and literatures at Truman State University and spent many years as a bookseller before moving to the Missouri Ozarks to concentrate on writing.
Jessica Smith found her passion for fantastical storytelling where so many young writers do – through the masterpieces of fantasy’s renowned matriarchs. As the pile of worlds inhabited by dragon-riders, wizards, and fair folk caused her bookshelves to plea for mercy, the constellation of worlds inside her waiting for their story to be told grew. With enough ideas to fill the state of Texas where she was raised, Jessica first took pencil to paper before she hit double digits. Jessica’s love of the complexities of the universe and the intricacies of the human mind led her into study in the sciences. Her passion for writing took her to the internet in search of others who kept whole worlds in their minds. Jessica has been active on many online writing communities over the years, but it was on a fantasy-specific site, Mythic Scribes, where Jessica met Kristin and Jennifer in 2013. Her worlds and theirs collided as a whirlwind of collaboration began. The Books of Binding is the first project that partnership has unleashed on the world.
Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding
Winter Mulcahy is the last wizard in the city of Seahaven, WA and all that stands between the fractious preternatural population and total chaos. Holding the city together by the skin of her teeth, the blood of her friends, and an addiction to stimulants that is slowly killing her, the young wizard is approached by a pair of sidhe lords who claim that her city is harboring a fugitive who has kidnapped a sidhe prince, and that they are on a mission to rescue the boy.
Winter must investigate this fugitive to get to the truth of the kidnapping, discover the cause of the surges of wild magic tearing open rifts between realms across her city, and navigate the deadly waters of preternatural politics before Seahaven both figuratively and literally rips itself apart.
Excerpt from Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding
The world shifted sideways. Winter braced herself against the wall with her one good hand, the chalk grinding against the concrete as she fought the initial wave of disorientation. Something was horribly wrong. Within the rift, power was building up, as if someone had just crimped a running hose.
And she was holding the nozzle.
Nine glyphs in the warding, each unique, complex, and time consuming. Each must be drawn with precision, or the whole seal would fail. Winter had never drawn glyphs so fast in her life, her hand frantically scraping the chalk against the wall in her desperate race against… against what? It felt like a tidal wave, rushing implacably toward her. Somehow, something was affecting the balance of power.
She spoke each glyph as she drew it, magic resonating in her voice with each syllable. Six glyphs to go. Its name spoken, the glyph would take on a glow, casting the hole in sharp relief, bringing out each line of exhaustion on Winter’s face.
Highlighting the growing cracks in the cement around the rift.
After the seal went up, the cement became irrelevant. It could be ground to dust, and the seal would hold. Before then, however… the seal needed a matrix, something solid to hold the lines she drew with the enspelled chalk. Before then, the seal was all too fragile.
When the surge hit, it would blow the rift wide open. There would be precious little left of Winter and probably the surrounding square acre or so.
She wasn’t going to make it. Winter’s shoulders were burning, her hand beginning to cramp and shake, her hurt wrist felt like it was on fire. The glow of the warding began to fade as her magic was drained by pain and panic and exhaustion. She needed more power. She did not have time to ground and pull power from the earth… leaving only one choice. “Karen!”
There is power to control in a name. She spoke the name with resonant Command, and suddenly the cougar was there, terrified eyes wide on the wizard beside her. Ruthlessly, she pushed aside the older woman’s flimsy natural protections and pulled what power there was into herself. It was wild, and tasted of dark places, pain-filled joy, and kittens warm in the den. This was not a wizard’s gift she used, but came of her mixed blood. The spell flared back to life, and Winter redoubled her efforts.
The hole began collapsing inward, little chunks of cement falling into the flame-wreathed darkness.
The chunks were getting larger, the cracks creeping closer to her fragile chalk lines.
The surge was now audible, a tsunami rushing toward them.
The ground beneath her knees was quivering with the building pressure.
The warding blazed just as the tidal wave of magic rammed it from the other side, the whole ravine shuddering from the impact, then the lettering settled into the cement, leaving the two women alone in the quiet night.
Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding
Winter Mulcahy’s life is getting better since her brush with death in October. She has a new family and they are helping her to grieve and rebuild her shattered life. She is learning to balance family, medicine, and holding the chaos of living among the preternaturals of Seahaven at bay. She meets a wizard, Alerich Ashimar, with the soul of a poet and the heart of a demon who is desperate to escape the life and choices that have been forced onto him. This man may hold the secret to the tragedies that have plagued House Mulcahy, but time is running out—for them both.
Alerich’s family is bound to a demon in a powerful geas set by his grandmother. Kill every Mulcahy by the upcoming winter solstice and her dead husband will be returned to her. Fail, and Alerich’s father, Magnus, will be forfeited to the demon. Magnus sends Alerich to collect Winter, the last of the Mulcahys, and bring her to the demon’s gate before the rapidly approaching deadline passes.
Alerich is horribly conflicted. He has been trying to mend his estranged relationship with his father, and he doesn’t want his father to die. But nor does he want to kill this beautiful, kind woman upon whom so many depend. When Alerich does not bring the girl at the appointed time, his father, feeling that Alerich has abandoned and betrayed him, strikes a terrible deal with the demon—something the demon has always wanted in exchange for the power to kill this last Mulcahy and his traitorous son.
Excerpt from Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding
“Thank you for coming, Alerich. I apologize for my outburst. I am under a fair bit of stress right now.”
Alerich’s brows knit together in confusion. Magnus Ashimar, apologizing for something? What was going on here? “No. It’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, but it was better to be gracious than to insist his father apologize to his friends. That would be too much. “Are you at liberty to tell me what’s bothering you?” It might not be an excuse for his poor behavior, but it would be nice to know the reason. It certainly had not been the first time Magnus had shown his temper at the table.
Magnus let out a breath. “I think I finally am.” He turned from the window to face Alerich and looked for a moment to be gathering his words. “I have been under a geas for the past twenty years, but I am nearly free. I summoned you and your sister here because I need your help.”
Alerich’s breath stilled. A geas? It was one of the most powerful of magical compulsions, second only to the soul compulsions practiced by demon lords like Arariel. His father was bound to perform a task, or forbidden from an action, under pain of terrible consequence. It was a rare wizard who could perform such magic, and though Alerich knew one who could do it, he did not want to think she would.
Not to her own son.
“What do you need me to do?” Alerich kept his tone neutral, careful. He had been forced to assist his father time and again and still carried the nightmares. Magnus was a sorcerer of blood and pain, servant to the Demon Lord Arariel. Where he went, painful, bloody death followed.
Magnus looked back toward the barn. “You know that your grandfather Adrien left your grandmother for a younger woman. Your grandmother remembers their marriage a bit differently than I do. She remembers the love of her life. I remember a miserable, disengaged man who hated being an Ashimar and felt trapped in every aspect of his existence. The minute—the second—an opportunity to leave presented itself, he ran away and left me holding the sorcerous bag.” Magnus sighed. “Left me with Arariel.” He turned back to Alerich. “They killed him for his trouble.”
Alerich’s eyes widened slightly. “Who killed him?”
Alerich shook his head. “The Mulcahys? I thought their line was extinct. Isn’t that what House Daly is saying in their petition to be elevated to Great House—that the Mulcahy line is extinct and would drop the Council to ninety-eight houses?”
“They aren’t quite extinct, yet, but they have not sat in their seat on the Council in years. They were pariahs who muddied their Bloodline by breeding with anything that crossed their path, including mortals and therian.” Magnus looked disgusted. “There is a rumor of one wizard girl in a cadet branch of their line being allowed to give up her magic and take therian form for the purposes of breeding with a therian bear.”
Alerich thought it sounded rather romantic, actually, but that was an opinion he would not be sharing with his father. “But why did they kill Grandfather?”
Magnus gave a small shrug, emotions chasing each other in the depths of his eyes. “I never really knew, though I suspect your grandmother does. He fell in love with a much younger woman—Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Mulcahy at the time, himself. He left your grandmother within hours.”
Alerich’s brows rose. The Mulcahy was head of House Mulcahy, just as his father was the Ashimar, and someday he would be—if he survived Celia, of course.
Magnus’s jaw tightened. “The girl, Gwendolyn Mulcahy, became pregnant but died within a few days of our hearing the news. My father was murdered soon after. They tried to cover it up, of course, but I think they decided he, a sorcerer, was responsible for her death. They seemed to believe if he was capable of trafficking with demons he was capable of killing the girl he adored.” Rage flashed in his eyes. “Cowards.”
Alerich frowned in thought. Grandmother knew? “Grandmother did this to you?”
Magnus met Alerich’s gaze and nodded once.
Magnus looked up at the ceiling and then back down. “She bid me… ‘bid me’ sounds so damn tame, doesn’t it? She forced me to wipe the family out. Every. Single. One. I have until winter solstice—three more days—to finish my task. If I fail, Arariel gets my soul.”
‘They aren’t quite extinct, yet…’ Alerich closed his eyes for a moment and suppressed a heavy sigh. They had driven this Great House to the brink of extinction to avenge an Ashimar death—how very Ashimar of them. There were days when he really wondered why he was wasting his time trying to reconcile with his father at all. Not that his grandmother wasn’t just as culpable. Alerich knew what the look in his father’s eyes was, now. It was fear. How could Grandmother offer her own son to the demon for this madness? Wait… That thought brought him up short. “How was she able to negotiate with Arariel? She’s not a sorcerer.”
“I don’t know. All I know is she thinks that if I succeed, Arariel can bring my father back from the dead.”
“It can’t do that… can it?”
Magnus’s mouth twisted in annoyance. “Alerich, if you spent half the time you spend reading Shakespeare on your magical studies, you would know the answer to that question is, ‘Of course not.’ It’s playing on your grandmother’s hopes and fears, though she refuses to listen to me on the matter.” He shook his head. “And if you paid attention to me more often, you would know that Arariel is unique, even among its own kind. It’s ancient beyond the telling and I’m sure keeping secrets from us. It’s not a normal demon lord, if such a thing exists.”
Alerich forced himself to not look back toward the dining room. He had his own reasons to hate and fear Arariel, and to think too hard about it could draw it out. He looked at his father, instead. The man who had raged at him, beaten him, and belittled him all his life. A sorcerer. A murderer.
How could he let the demon eat him?
Magnus looked out to the barn again. “I need your help, Alerich. There is one last Mulcahy and I need your help to kill her. Just one more and this is finally over. I am out from beneath your grandmother’s control.”
Alerich’s shoulders sagged and he nodded. He did not want to be part of this—any of this—but he could not let his father die. If this was truly the last, then maybe… maybe nothing. Arariel would still be there, demanding sacrifices. Demanding deaths. But maybe this one death would bring his father a species of peace. “What do you need from me?”
Thanks to A.E. Lowan for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.
Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: https://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.
Have a great day.
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels
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