Friday, August 15, 2014

Grimdark Writing Challenge

Write a short story up to 1,000 words using the picture as 'grimspiration' (art by Kai Lim). When you’re done, just post a link to the story in the comments (please do not post your story in the comments). Just giving this a try to see if it’s something people enjoy. Please make sure your story is “Grimdark”, or you will be summarily dispatched with a battleax to the knee. Deadline will be 8/31/2014, and I’ll collect all the final pieces and post them on the GFRW blog. Thanks to all who join in.

Update: The Grimdark Writing Challenge is now a Contest! Thanks to the team at Ragnarok Publications, I'll select a 1st place and 2nd place winner who I feel best meets the challenge, and each will get to select (1) eBook title from the Ragnarok Library.  Deadline is 8/31/14, winners will be notified by 9/8/14.  And for the best in dark genre fiction, check out

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Grim Interview: Janet Morris

I'm honored to have Janet Morris as our next guest. Janet has been a prolific author, with more than 40 novels, her career started in 1976 and since then, she's been offering heaping helpings of darker fantasy, scifi, and short fiction. Often co-writing with her husband Chris Morris, there's so much to choose from in their extensive bibliography. For those who prefer something darker, there's The Sacred Band Of Stepsons series, based around the ancient warriors known as the sacred band of Thebes. Or there's the Heroes In Hell series, a sprawling set of anthologies, each featuring a broad cast of characters who find their final resting place in the pits of the underworld; selected titles in the series include Angels In Hell, War In Hell, and the latest edition (currently priced at $6.66 on Amazon), Poets In Hell. And for those who want science fiction with a dark twist, there's Outpassage, a scifi thriller offering plenty of intrigue and adventure. When Janet isn't creating writing, she is a championship level horse breeder, and an advocate for non-lethal military proliferation.

Janet, thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.

Thanks for having me with you here at Grimdark, Rob. Grimdark well describes much of what I read and what I write.

Grimdark fiction is on the rise. It seems that, at least for now, fantasy fiction readers have given up on the black or white, good or evil, PG rated writing that has saturated much of the genre for years. People seem to want a true sense of the human condition, that life is sometimes brutal, and sometimes the good guys lose. In your opinion, what factors do you think have contributed to rise of darker storytelling?

Grimdark fiction has always been out there; from as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh, writers and poets and mythologists framed their worlds around struggle: struggle against Nature, struggle against their gods, who often controlled elements of nature; struggle against each other; struggle to define themselves in a hostile world. As the early Greeks evolved the novel form, writers found ways to show the human condition and tell the stories that still haunt our dreams. Once Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, Grimdark fiction had its calling card. And from there on, all great writers, and would-be great writers, tried to set their characters daunting tasks in a world where their hearts and souls would be tested. The heroic monomyth itself ( as it defines our sense of heroism and ethics and morality) defines Grimdark: if a hero isn’t faced with great trials, he is not truly a hero. At times, this model has been sweetened and softened for children and for reasons of religious persuasion, creating stories of perfect heroes in various versions of Camelot, and peopling these visions with watered-down beasties such as friendly fairies and elves and such. These elementals weren’t sweet at their beginnings. But then came warfare utilizing naphtha fireballs, plague-bearing rats thrown over the walls of besieged cities, and two things happened: the darkness of humanity’s soul became overwhelming; writers either wrote about man’s failings, or pretended those failings didn’t exist. In the 20th century alone, over 180 million people were killed in warfare. Mustard gas, carpet bombing, napalm – all these made humanity admit the increasing lethality of our species. This plus the first atomic bombs, and the threat of nuclear annihilation by a single push of a button, made people ask “Is God dead?” In the face of the unanswerable question, fiction and the other arts reacted; from Kandinsky and Klee and Sartre and Kafka onward, from horror movies and the rise of science fiction, two reactions rocked the world: tell fairy tales and stories of perfect heroes who’ll save us; tell the truth about the human condition as history revealed it and as we know it: penetrate and understand the Grimdark reaches of the human soul.

In the 1970s, when I started my writing career by selling the first draft of my first novel, “High Couch of Silistra,” I wrote because I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read. Any ethical writer writes that book for the self; writing less is pandering. Silistra turned into a quartet of novels exploring the link between sex and power in the human psyche, and the responsibilities that come with overwhelming power; the books were smart, erotic, philosophical and took no prisoners. They looked like science fantasy, or what is now called sword and planet. Soon Silistra, a series whose hero is a bisexual prostitute, had four million in print. This series was very dark and made me few friends among the old guard of science fiction or the woman’s movement, for it broke new ground and gored all oxen. This issue of limits to power and responsibility can be found in many other writers now thought ‘Grimdark’ at that time, the days of Stephen King’s first novel and many other anti-heroic views of humanity. Whence the anti-heroism? All around us was proof that humanity is self-destructive and hates any members of our species even slightly different from ourselves; that we can’t be trusted with power; that we are lethal to one another and every other species on the planet. This focus on the worst elements of the human condition is our way of coming to term with ourselves as recent history shows us to be: willing to destroy wantonly for reasons of politics, greed, and metaphor. Since those who grew up in the “duck and cover” days when children learned to hide under school desks before the A-bombs hit, is it any wonder that today, faced with the horror of what we have become, writers feel compelled to explore the darkest part of our fictionalized souls?

After Silistra, I then wrote “I, the Sun,” the biography of Suppiluliumas, Great King of the Hittites – not scifi or fantasy but a rigorous biographical novel about a man who raised his Ancient Near East empire from ashes, took three queens, made twenty-four of his sons kings, and sired at least forty-six children while he brought chariot warfare to a new peak, took slaves and countries, and conquered his way from the Black Sea to the gates of Amarna Egypt. The book was called “a masterpiece of historical fiction” by Dr. Jerry Pournelle, and the Hittite expert O.R. Gurney praised it as: “familiar with every part of Hittite society.” In Hittite society, if you cut off a man’s ear, you paid him twenty shekels of silver; in Hittite society, sorcery was punishable by death; in Hittite society, if two men had sex with the same free woman, there was no harm in it; in Hittite society, sack and pillage were normal tactics of warfare. That book, reprinted today, still incenses and scandalizes those who want to recast history in a kind and gentler light.

When I had just finished “I, the Sun,” Bob Asprin asked me on a conference panel to write for “Thieves’ World,” and described it as the “meanest town in fantasy, dark and gritty and filled with mankind’s worst.” Having determined he was serious, I brought my character Tempus, an immortalized son of a storm-god, and his “sister” whom he loved, and their ancient ethos into sword and sorcery-style fantasy. In the early 1980s, as the stories progressed, readers saw a man dragged to death by the entrails; another staked out over a badger’s bower while the badger was smoked out with nowhere to go but through the man’s body to freedom, and more. Some readers found Tempus a villain – I can’t think why. Any ethical writer can confront these issues of state-sanctioned incest, murder, pederasty and treachery through the right character, and Tempus was – and is – the right character. He applied historically-acceptable corrections to wrong-doers, from knee-capping to burning alive, but he also brought the Sacred Band ethos to life in fantasy. In his turn, Tempus is saddled with a female elemental of great power who has her way with him when she chooses. The Sacred Band, male/male pairs of bisexual and homosexual fighters, have since graduated into my Sacred Band of Stepsons series, which, from those early days to these, is not for the faint of heart. A good sense of history pervades all Grimdark fiction: not so much what disturbing methods were used, but why they were used, and the characters of those who use them: our heroes of Tempus’ Sacred Band fight valiantly, mercenaries of the god of war – realistic war, not a pastel childlike view of humans and their failings. Much darker than Conan or Elric novels, our Sacred Band of Stepsons fight more and worse enemies, but realistic ones. They do this because no writer of good conscience can write about anything but the human condition, and how realistic heroes deal with the horrors within us all, often worse than any dragon or demon or plague.

In science fiction, I wrote Outpassage, a bleak future wherein governments and corporations collude for reasons of national security (sound familiar now? It didn’t, then.), and a Ranger outfit finds aliens where aliens shouldn’t be… But when given orders to mine the equatorial faults of a planet with nukes to blow it apart, my Rangers balk – at first. I won’t tell you the story, but having spent twenty years in government, that story seems more plausible than ever. And the dystopian Kerrion Consortium Dream Dancer books, based in science but truly about dynasties exported into space, had two volumes on the Locus bestseller list at the same time. Meanwhile, many other writers were beginning to write dark and darker still, including not only King but Clancy and Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote.

Whatever I write, whether solo, or co-author with Chris Morris or others, my sense of history and what it tells us of the human condition pervades the story. I don’t write horror per se, but what I write may be horrific, sometimes, but inspiring, always. One of the most important things about our species is its capacity for hope. All Grimdark writers realize that hope is the only justification for heroics: hope of glory, hope of love, hope of honor, hope of triumph, hope of survival. 

And beneath all subterfuge, the Grimdark writer faces the final truth: every one of us lives to die. It is the quality of that living which matters. And by my lights, this is what Grimdark is about: taking bold action in service to an ideal when you know that death is at the end of all striving. 

No doubt that you have an extensive body of work, and there's no doubt you have a broad perspective on the ebb and flow of the publishing industry. Tell us a bit of your experience with the industry, the industry at present, and direction you see it going.

When I sold my first novel, I had no familiarity with publishing as a business. I had written the story for myself and my friends to read. I was completely unaware of science fiction politics, or conventions, or its fan network. Because my books made a few bucks and publishers called me “bestselling author Janet Morris,” I was thrust into an arena where you sold books and were paid half before you wrote them, half on delivery. I took multiple book contracts. I had books go to auction in the US and England because more than one publisher wanted them. I did this until an editor, making a multi-book deal with me in a bar on a napkin, said that what she wanted in these books was “blood on every page.” In her mind what she meant, I am sure, given my body of work, was a bestseller. In mine, she had slapped me across the face: I didn’t write for those reasons. I took the contract, wrote the books, but decided that if this was where the industry was going, I’d do something else.

About then I started writing primarily nonfiction for government customers, and found it difficult to write fiction that wasn’t in some way related to my nonfiction. So for about 20 years I wrote only nonfiction, primarily in the defense and policy arenas. Because of this, I was on the sidelines of the implosion of the book business: since much of what I did for my government customers was predictive, one could stretch a point and say I took a look at what was coming and got out of the line of fire.

With the internet came book piracy, which made the old publishing model unsound. For example, one pirate had 57 editions of my work on the internet for free – probably for years, until I started fighting back. Since every writer expects royalties and is judged by their sales, piracy hurts: not only does it hurt publishers, it makes publishers less likely to invest in new writers. Big publishers died off and tiny publishers sprouted. People tried marketing on the internet. Confusion reigned.

In the first decade of the 21st century, when I knew I wanted to write fiction again, I talked to my New York agent, who said that the book business had radically changed, and we couldn’t offer a book to what was left of NY publishing without offering digital rights. So, since I wanted to keep my digital rights, we formed a small publishing company to do the kind of books we liked to read: edgy, dark, and well-written: that publisher is “”. During the time we had not been concerned with fiction, the “worldwide” bestseller became a possibility. These were and often are books written to suit youngsters-to-adults of minimal sophistication and education, books with simple plot and vocabulary. In the 20th century a book needed to be readable by a twelve-year-old; now, in the 21st, publsihers wanted to pitch to a nine-year-. Perseid doesn’t do those books. Perseid, heading into the wind as is our nature, does books for a literate audience. We’re publishing to stick a thumb into the dike holding back a newer and darker dark age; we publish the book we want to read: dark, lyric, literate, and compelling. Others like us are trying micro-publishing, and none of us “know” where that will lead us. But we are slowly publishing more books, by more writers, and getting our backlist into modern print (sometimes as “Author’s Cut editions,” revised and expanded because now we are not limited by a publisher’s contract to a certain word count) in editions with more readable print. Will this get us ‘worldwide’ bestsellers. There’s no way to tell.

One thing is certain: as long as digital editions exist, good books will be available, sometimes for free, sometimes not.

You've paired up with your spouse Chris to coauthor a number of works. Give us an insight into your collaboration process, and what you like best about working together. And have your two hit any bumps along the road in learning each others work habits?

Chris and I fell into full collaboration naturally: he was always my first reader; he always contributed ideas. But in those days and still today a book written by a man and a woman is less desirable to some than a book written by one male. We had to fight hard to get his name on our books once it was obvious to us that this would be the next step. We sold a book at auction for a high five figure advance that we wrote under the pseudonym of a single male, and got more for it than we’d ever gotten for a book written by a woman or a man and wife team. Nevertheless, fair is fair: if Chris contributes substantial to my work, or me to his, both names go on the product.

Our collaboration process goes like this: One of us suggests a title or a story line. We discuss it, expand it. I type the draft because I am a faster typist. He then comes in o my office and we go through the draft line by line, aloud. We argue and discuss, sometimes for as much as fifteen minutes on one line, until we have each line as we want it. Then we break and eat and discuss what needs to happen in the story on the following day and how the characters will be impacted by the new events. So we both live with the characters around the clock. Then I type that next bit of draft, always early in the day. Thus it has evolved: separate work early, combined work late on any day. We take notes on good lines or points to be included for the next day. If one of us doesn’t like something, we pull it out and try again, until each line is as we want it. The result is an increasingly strong sense of presence and character. In the early days of drafting on paper, when I would finish draft, Chris would take it all the way across the room before he started reading, so I couldn’t grab the paper away from him and rewrite in pen then and there. Now, with computers, it is much easier.

My work habits are three hours of concentrated drafting per day; his read/edit mode and mine are truly combinatory, to the point where often neither of us will know who actually first came up with a line or a quip or a piece of description.

Writing and editing together creates a whole that is more cohesive than any other way. When I’ve written with other collaborators, I don’t get the seamless quality I do when Chris and I write together, or the depth of insight that putting both male and female eyes on a story can yield.

The rise of the e-book has had an enormous impact on the industry as a whole, and with that eBook piracy has also been a factor. Give us your take the effects of piracy and how your think authors, readers, and publishers should respond.

The first thing the internet brought us was piracy, which has virtually destroyed the book business as big business, and forced print publishers into e-books to try to hold onto their rights. One pirate had 57 editions of my works on the internet for free. Like others trying to make a living writing, this was distressing. And remains distressing. The wonderful thing about the internet is you can get nearly any book immediately. The horrific thing is you can steal almost any book without fear. For the midlist writer, piracy has meant tremendous privation. The writer can’t keep track of sales or popularity. “Beyond Sanctuary”, one of my most popular pirated books, has been available from numerous pirates for at least fifteen years, before real e-books existed, as ugly scanned copies. People who would never break into my house and steal my clothes or food or medicine or animals are without compunction when it comes to stealing my livelihood: my books. Because of this overwhelming piracy, we began the “Author’s Cut” series of books at Perseid Press with the “Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy,” which is expanded by fifty-thousand words over the three volumes and contains new scenes and new insights; on these editions, I am trying harder to control the piracy. I ask people not to steal my books or books of other writers: in doing so, these people harm not only the writers, who need royalties to live and write more, but other readers, who may lose access to talented writers because the piracy problem is insoluble unless readers refuse to read pirated books. Today if your book is pirated you can report the pirate, and if the pirate doesn’t remove your book, they are banned from the internet. So now the pirates ask you to sign up before you see their list of illicit titles, and often that sign up agrees abiding by their rules… which may preclude your right to report them. This is an issue of ethics and morality, person by person. The unethical will steal e-books, others will not. Thieves will always be with us. But consider: there are many free books available from young writers, fledgling publishers, and from big companies such as Amazon; there is no real reason to steal. But as long as e-books exist, people will steal them unless and until an internet methodology for banning pirates permanently is found.

Many of our readers are aspiring writers of Grimdark fantasy and scifi fiction. What advice would you give to new writers when it comes to writing about darker themes?
Tough question, and an easy one. The writer knows darker themes; they are a part of each of us. If the writer chooses to write a character-driven piece, rather than get caught up in techno-babble or historicity for mechanical propulsion of plot, that piece will succeed; someone will see it and want to publish it – IF that writer has enough basic grammatical skills, literacy, and understanding of dramatic modalities to create a viable story. The good editor is seeking the good writer; the good writer is seeking the good editor. When those two find one another, great things happen. However, too much of what I see today is derivative: fiction written by people who have not read the basic Western Canon, which you must read if you want to be a fluent writer of fiction, and instead take their cues from hack writers who have impressed them because some hack’s book sold many copies. To make things worse, the internet is full of scalpers who claim to be copy-editors, editors, and publishers but have little understanding of what is needed beyond how to upload a file and secure an ISBN number. Don’t use people to help you with your work who are not better than you at something; a BA in English does not make a competent copy-editor, much less a savvy editor or publisher. When I read a manuscript from someone whose editor and copy-editor haven’t done a good job, I can only blame the writer for allowing their work to fall into clumsy hands.

As for how to write dark, if you don’t feel the magic, read some ancient history. Read those who shaped literature, all the early Mesopotamians and Greeks. If you want truly dark, read Milton’s Paradise Lost: don’t skim it, read it. True ‘dark” isn’t a matter of window-dressing: it’s inherent in the viewpoint character on every line and page. Spend a bit of money and buy Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, and hear the words of those historical characters that shaped our world. Then read Homer, Xenophon, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca. You waste your time if you read derivative works for inspiration: read the source material, always, as those before you have read these works and been inspired.

What projects are you currently working on?

We’re writing a new novel with a new hero, “Rhesos of Thrace: The Black Sword” is the working title. Rhesos is a quasi-mythical hero, and his small part in the Iliad convinced me that, were I bold enough, I could tell his story. He’s a hero forgotten in modern times, whose assassination Pallas Athene decreed, for, if he fought at Troy, the DanaƤns would lose the war. I’ve done the beginning of this story, published in “Nine Heroes” edited by Walter Rhein, and fifteen thousand words beyond that. I’m also doing a new Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, a sciamachy; and a new series of “Grimdark” heroic anthologies, “Heroica,” the first of which I hope will be out in mid 2015. Speaking of dark, we’re at work on the yearly Heroes in Hell volume, this one being “Doctors in Hell.” And we have a hush-hush project with a new collaborator.

To date, what has been the most rewarding part of being a writer? In hindsight, anything you might have done differently? 

The most rewarding part of writing is drafting: being whisked away into another time, another place, another life, and seeing the world through a different temperament. The writer of a tale experiences about 90% more than he can communicate to the reader; for these pale shadowings, some of us are royally paid, some not. I love to draft; when I have been drafting for three days, my endorphins take over: after that, until I skip a drafting day, I have no discomfort, no concerns but getting back to that world awaiting; the story tells itself, subject only to the limitations of my physical body’s ability to sit still and take down what I see and hear and feel. This is what I write to accomplish: to fall through the words into another world, and hopefully take you with me.

In hindsight, as far as fictional work, I probably should have stayed with my first editor, who was brilliant and protective of me. But I was young and impetuous, headstrong. However, I am happy with what I have accomplished. And because of our nonfiction work, people are alive today who might not have been if Chris and I hadn’t written that door and ushered others through it. So we’re content enough, and busy writing using what we’ve learned.

Thanks again to Janet for taking the time to give us some insight. To win a kindle eBook copy of The Sacred Band, Poets In Hell, or Outpassage, just email us,, with the subject line JANET MORRIS, and we'll pick a random winner on August 31st, 2014, U.S. only.

Poets In HellThe Sacred BandOutpassage

Thursday, August 7, 2014

New blog banner, it's grim, and it's awesome!

A very special thanks to artist Shawn King for creating a new banner for our little corner of cyberspace. The base image is a piece by artist Kekai Kotaki, found at Shawn King's work can be found online at,, or tweet him at @stk_kreations. Shawn is an up and coming graphic artist and you're sure to see more of his work down the road.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Grim Interview: Jake Scholl

Blade Of The Broken
Our next guest for Grim Interviews is Jake Scholl. As author of the forthcoming dark fantasy novel Blade Of The Broken, Jake has traveled the road of self publishing, and offers some insights to other new authors aspiring to get their work published and noticed. Jake is a blogger, gamer, metal head, and a true fan of speculative fiction, movies, and more.

Roll call: Name, age, where do you live, and what do you do with your spare time when you’re not writing?

Name is Jake Scholl. I'm 22, and live in southwestern Idaho. In my spare time I collect comics, watch movies, and spend time with family and friends.

Can you tell us about the moment when you sat down and decided you wanted to be a writer?

It was back in 3rd grade, and it happened rather by accident. We were assigned to create a picture book, and I remember being the only kid disappointed that I had to draw pictures. I wanted to make a real novel! Thankfully that book is hidden in place I only know. It may be embarrassing, and a flagrant rip-off of Jurassic Park and Neverending Story. So to avoid a lawsuit, it will stay in hiding. But we all have to start somewhere.

What other writers or books have most influenced your writing?

Quite a few. Most people say Tolkien, but Tolkien wasn’t the Fantasy writer I read first. It was Dennis L. McKiernan’s Iron Tower Trilogy. (Those first edition paperbacks I read were well used. Definitely a good sign.) People say that series is a Tolkien rip-off, but that is far from the truth. It was darker, and the characters were very complex and layered. The story may be simplistic compared to long running series, but I’d rather read a book series that gets to the point quick than not deliver. This was the book series that made me want to be a writer for a living.

Michael Moorcock would be high on the list too. His Elric novels are some of the best Fantasy books ever written. A lot of books, songs, and of all things video games, have been influenced in some way by Moorcock’s novels. His writing style is what always brings me back.

Ray Bradbury is another. His writing style will never be equaled, and is best read out loud. And that’s why I read my books and stories to myself. If your book doesn’t sound good out loud, something is wrong.

Tell us about your new novel, Blade Of The Broken. Give us an elevator pitch. Is this the first of a series? When do you expect the novel to be released?

The focus of the book is on a ranger by the name of Stefan. The rangers in Blade Of The Broken are the only law in the book’s world. Since this world is like a medieval one, most “justice” is solved by killing, or beating the hell out of people who hurt others. Sometimes arrests happen.

He gets sent on a mission to stop someone who allegedly wants to kill a bunch of people with a magical item. Though things aren’t as they seem… And dark things from the past are waiting to strike Stefan once again.

That’s the most I can say without spoiling the book. J It will come out either in October or November. You can find out more on my blog.

With your latest novel, Blade Of The Broken, can you go into some of the details of your writing process? What were the circumstances around your initial concept for the novel? Did you do an outline, or “discovery” write? How long did it take for you to get to a completed manuscript?

I began outlining my novel around the end of July of 2011 with a character I’d been “seeing” in my mind. (I thought it would be smart to outline before I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I was thinking of writing an epic fantasy novel like the books I grew up reading.) Then in August 2011, I was rushed to the hospital, and went septic.

Real life craziness can really change plans, and book outlines. So the book became more of a heroic, and gritty fantasy tale. The fighting theme of the genre resonated even more so after the hospital, and I couldn’t read epic fantasy that wasn’t about people who couldn’t wield a weapon, or weren’t intelligent. The stories I read had to be realistic; so the story I would write had to be honest to the reader.

So in November, I started writing, and it took one month. I didn’t follow the outline word by word, but I didn’t go full-on discovery mode either. It was a good mix of the two. The first draft was horrible, and it’s taken 3 ½ years of rewriting and having an editor to go through it to get to the point I’m at now.

Thankful I never threw the book away.
Can you tell us about how you came up with the cover art for Blade Of The Broken?

The MacGuffin of the story, if you will, is a sword called the Runeblade. I don’t want to get too much into it, but it connects all of the characters together in one way or the other. (Trust me, it’s more than an old blade with runes scribbled on it.) So I always thought it should be on the cover, and I worked with my amazing cover artist Rene Folsom, she works at Phycel Designs.

The fiery, and dark background worked best to set the mood. There are quite a bit of sword fights and carnage throughout the tale… Speaking of the background, when I got the first cover proof I could’ve sworn I saw a raven with talon’s extended. When I said I liked the raven, Rene asked “What raven? I didn’t put one in!” but said it was a great idea. So she added a raven… That’s part of the magic of a writer and cover artist working together!

How would you describe your experience with self-publishing your novel? Do you plan to stick with self-publishing, or do you hope to someday go with a publishing house?

It’s been good. I like having a direct influence on every aspect of my book, rather than having another person make all the calls for me. I’m planning to stick with self-publishing. In this day and age, it’s possible to produce a great looking book without the publisher as a middle man. I’ve been told money should flow to the author, rather than making the pittance publishers pay. The model traditional publishing uses is rather outdated, especially since we use eReaders now. It doesn’t mean you don’t need editors or cover artists, etc, but rather can hire those people directly, and make your own decisions on your books.

Speaking of blades, weapon of choice: letter opener, Swiss army knife, or Ginsu blade?
Ginsu blade. The other choices aren’t barbaric enough.
This isn’t your first self-published piece, though; tell us a bit about Demon Stone.

Demon Stone was first written back in 2009. I was reading old school sword & sorcery a lot that year, by authors’ such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Moorcock. So I decided to write a tale inspired by these stories. It started out as a hack job, but over many revisions, I had something original in my character Dagr. I kept getting rejection letters, and kept revising, changing, adding… Then I gave up, and kept it saved. I went back to it in 2011, and kept revising. Then I sent it to an e-magazine and it was accepted, and was published in the first issue of Fantasy Short Stories, ran by Mark Lord.

By that time, I’d been working on the book that would become Blade Of the Broken. And when I got the rights back, I decided to self-publish a special edition version of the Demon Stone short that had more changes, to help with the hard task of building an audience.

The story is a quest about a King who lost everything to try and save his wife. If you like sword & sorcery, and heroic fantasy, this story may appeal to you. It’s on Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and a lot of other eBook sites.

What do you find most appealing about writing darker fantasy?

Being able to explore parts that normally isn’t explored in other genres. In traditional epic fantasy, it seems to be a big no no to explore what makes the villains tick rather than just that they want “world domination” or “destroy everything”. Doesn’t the reader want to know why the villain does what he does? Or see what the other characters want you to see?

Also, with the heroes, they don’t have to be perfect in “dark fantasy”. George R. R. Martin, Gary Gygax, Michael Moorcock and many others were/are of the mind that everyone has good and bad, so why not write people realistically, rather than make the heroes saints? Even bad people at times have done good things.

I think “dark” fantasy should be called “realistic”. But that would be a weird word pairing.

What influence has gaming had on your writing?

Games have had quite an influence on me. Before I even touched a novel, I’d been enjoying playing as Mario on the SNES, and trying to rescue Princess Peach, only to find out I was in the wrong castle. Or Banjo on the N64, trying to rescue his sister from the witch… And incidentally, these games had stories just as engaging as any novel, and inspired me to dream up stories in my mind with unlimited FX budget. Thus, writing was very attractive to me.

What do you find most aggravating aspect about the fantasy publishing industry today?

Probably the assumption most self-published books are crap. Yeah, there is some self-published drivel, but I’ve read quite a bit of crap published by people like Random House. Crap is crap no matter who the publisher is. It doesn’t care where it’s from. It just goes splat!

*Note to all self-publishers or would be writers: Hire an editor. Not your mother or father, or a friend or family member. We writers need editors who will say what needs to be said. No matter if it hurts your feelings.

Not only do you rock dark fantasy novels and short fiction, but you’re also a blogger. When did you start blogging? What is your blog about? Where can folks check it out?

I started blogging in ’08, originally just writing fantasy and sci-fi novel reviews, and posted them on my website called Goblins, Swords, Elves, Oh My! Then that progressed to also interviewing authors like Dennis L. McKiernan, Margaret Weiss, and fellow indie authors.

That site built up my writing confidence dramatically, so I decided to also write about my crazy life on another website called Jake’s Blog. I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life, and was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy at age five. I really didn’t have that odd of a childhood as people would think, nor am I some broken soul… I just have some definite opinions on life and writing.

Now it has a dual function of being a blog, and an author’s website. I haven’t posted much lately on either site, but there’s quite a backlog of posts dating back to ‘08. So now you can see how bad of a writer I was.

I was pleased to read that you were also a lover of cinema and heavy metal music, now I’m pretty much convinced we were separated at birth. Give us your top three movies of all time, and top three metal albums.

Another favorite’s question? This is like choosing which children I’d keep around, and which I’d put up for adoption! I was raised watching old black & white movies my parents grew up watching. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, and tons of other movies. I hope they forgive me if I don’t name any classics, haha. Plus, being disabled, movies are one thing I do to pass the time.

I would put the original, and uncut (Han shot first!) Star Wars Trilogy. (This was literally my first exposure to the science fiction / fantasy genre, and without it I probably wouldn’t be interested in fantasy or heroic fiction at all.)

Second, I would say Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a great play on traditional fairy tale films, and has a great plot and writing. It may have subtitles, but it’s worth reading through for two hours. I usually like quest type fantasy films, but at times I prefer the morality tales my mother and grandparents read to me as a child. There’s something comforting about stories about children and the small folk of the woods.

Since you asked for three movies, I’m going to have to skip a ton of others outstanding films, so here’s the third one; Mad Max: The Road Warrior. The story is probably one of the best in modern cinema, and The Road Warrior was a great improvement from Mad Max, from a writing and acting standpoint.

As for favorite Metal Albums, where do I begin?! Holy Diver by Dio is great. Summer Of Darkness by Demon Hunter. And currently 7th Symphony by Apocalyptica is a great album… And I’ll cheat and say every Iron Maiden album is amazing! (And Maiden is a fun band to write to!)

For writers just starting out, what advice or wisdom can you offer?

Listen to all criticism. All of it. Too many beginners have a thin skin, and that isn’t good when you’re a writer. Believe me, I was there too. I had my sister read my very first novel in 4th grade, and she said it was crap. I was devastated, didn’t listen to her criticism, and threw all the pages in the garbage.

Everything you write has potential to be a great novel, or story. Listen, and keep revising, and repeat. If you don’t have friends who have time to critique, find a group like Critters. There are thousands of people that use Critters, and I’ve gotten great input from the group. (Especially when I was working the early drafts of Blade Of the Broken.)

Also, watch out for scams. There are a lot of people wanting to scam writers, so I recommend checking out Writer’s Beware, Preditors & Editors, A Newbie’s Guide toPublishing, and David Gaughran’s blog.

What’s the next project on the horizon for Jake Scholl?

I’m currently planning a sequel to Blade Of The Broken, and maybe a short story or novel sequel to Demon Stone. Or maybe a Horror novel? We’ll see what the guy upstairs has in store.

You can find Jake Scholl on Facebook, Twitter (@JakeSCholl), Goodreads, and you can grab a copy of Demon Stone here for a mere $0.99. A special thanks to Jake for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him the best of luck with the release of Blade Of The Broken.