It’s Blogger Book Fair week, and today I’m hosting fantasy author C.J. Brightley. Welcome, C.J.!
Tell us about your Erdemen Honor series.
The first book, The King’s Sword, was initially intended to be just a simple coming of age story, with Hakan, the prince, realizing that he must take the responsibility of the crown for the good of his country. The little twist I added was to tell the story through the voice of Kemen, the retired soldier who mentors Hakan. As I wrote, Kemen became more than a mentor; he was the true hero of the story, and he was much more interesting than I’d realized at first.
The second book, A Cold Wind, begins just as The King’s Sword ends, and introduces another point of view character, Riona. It’s a more internal book in some ways, but there’s also more grittiness too.
When did you realize this idea could fill a series?
Not until I finished writing The King’s Sword. I’d finished the first draft, intending it to be a standalone book. It does stand alone, but there was more depth to be explored in the world and in the characters themselves. I began writing A Cold Wind immediately after finishing the first draft of The King’s Sword.
I’m excited to see how the series develops. I’m working on the third book now, which I hope to publish in November. There’s a fourth in the works as well, set much later in history with all new characters.
What’s the first book’s opening line? Why did you start there?
I crossed his tracks not far from Stonehaven, and I followed them out of curiosity, nothing more.
Kemen is narrating, and this first paragraph is an important introduction to his character. A few lines later, he explains his fear that whoever left the footprints might be lost in the bitter cold, and his own intent to offer assistance if necessary. The whole story begins because Kemen can’t walk away if someone needs help, even a stranger.
What do you most enjoy about writing?
The characters. Even when a story is planned, the characters reveal aspects of themselves as I write. That process of discovery is a lot like the experience of reading a favorite book for the first time; something in it is familiar and loved, but it’s also new and exciting.
I also love hearing from readers! When readers let me know they’ve enjoyed my characters and my stories, it’s incredibly encouraging.
Please share a writing tip you’ve found helpful.
Write the stories that only you can write.
It’s tempting to try to polish and edit a story into perfection. It’s also easy to define perfection as something that a certain agent, editor, or publisher will want. But there are no perfect stories – every reading experience is unique. No story, no matter how beautiful or profound, will please everyone.
I hope to continue growing and learning as a writer, and so I’ll always look back on something I wrote years ago and think of ways to improve it. Critiques, workshops, beta readers, and your own internal editor can wreck havoc on your writing voice. Always try to improve your craft. But don’t think that you’ll ever reach perfection, and don’t polish any one story until you hate it. Finish it, and move on.
Don’t try so hard to write a story that everyone will love that you lose your voice. Write what you love, and keep learning how to tell your stories better.
What do you enjoy about the fantasy genre? What types of fantasy appeal to you?
I love characters more than interesting thought problems. Characters reveal themselves through the choices they make, and fantasy allows characters to experience all kinds of dramatic situations where they are forced to make interesting choices. I especially love heroes and heroism, both in crises and in small, daily choices. I like being able to root for the good guys, but complexity makes things interesting. Choices need to have consequences, but I like happy endings, or at least redemptive endings.
I also read a lot of historical fiction and international fiction. In fantasy, I’m drawn to some of the same things – that scared-excited feeling in a new place or culture before you get your feet under you.
What’s your professional background? How does it influence your writing?
I have a master’s degree in international affairs with a focus in national security, and I worked for a government contractor for several years in nuclear counterterrorism and intelligence positions. I’m interested in other cultures and how people with different perspectives and cultural backgrounds can look at the same information and see it differently. I’m also interested in the choices that leaders make when put under pressure.
I do some consulting now but I’m not working full-time. Living outside of Washington, D.C., I can’t help but be aware of politics. But I don’t have any desire to write a political thriller. I focus more on international politics and security issues than domestic political infighting. I care about the issues, but writing about them would stress me out!
Tell us about that time you hugged a tiger.
I went on a mission trip in Pattaya, Thailand, during the summer of 2003. I went with some Thai and American friends to a local wildlife park / botanical garden. Safety regulations in Thailand are considerably less strict than in the U.S., and there was a tiger out in the open that you could take pictures with. There was a staff member there to supervise, but he couldn’t have done anything if the tiger had mauled me. The tiger was chained, but the chain was pretty long. So I hugged the tiger, and the staff member repositioned the tiger’s front leg so it was across me, as if it was hugging me. Unfortunately, that picture came out looking like I was a tiny fake mannequin being mauled by a tiger – my head was completely hidden! The tiger was pretty sleepy and mellow – I don’t know if he was just well-fed or sedated.
During the same visit, I was picked up by an elephant as part of the elephant show! I don’t have any good pictures of it, but I remember that the elephant’s trunk was all sweaty, and consequently I smelled like elephant for the next five hours.
What’s your favorite book?
This is an impossible question. ONE book? Aside from the Bible, I’d have to say A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), Children in the Night (Harold Myra), and The Heaven Tree Trilogy (Edith Pargeter). And Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). And The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis).
I’d better stop now.
Who is your favorite fictional character? (Any medium)
That’s hard! I’m writing a whole blog post series on characters I love… narrowing it down to one is impossible!
Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia. He’s brave, and although he’s flawed, he always does what he truly believes is right, no matter what it costs. He follows after Aslan, who represents God, with all his heart.
Sir Percival Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel. He’s brave, he’s passionate, he’s intelligent, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself for others. He makes himself a laughingstock in order to continue rescuing people from the guillotine undiscovered. The Scarlet Pimpernel books definitely have flaws, and the author, Emmuska Orczy, obviously has a lot of sympathy for the aristocrats (less so for the poor commoners who finally rose up against them). But the character she created was not only the genesis of the masked superhero, he’s also a fantastic individual character.
If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?
To be superfast so I could get everything done! I always have about 85 things on my to do list.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a supernatural thriller / urban fantasy series. The writing process has been completely different than anything I’ve done previously. It’s been entirely by the seat of my pants, with no pre-planning at all, and yet things are coming together into this incredibly exciting, complex story. I hope to have the first book in the series published before Christmas.
Where can people learn more about your work?
You can find me at:
CJBrightley.com – my blog, excerpts of my books, sneak peeks into upcoming books, etc.
Facebook – stay in touch!
Google+ – I tend to post about writing, publishing, etc. as well as fantasy.
And you can find my books at:
Amazon – my author page, with my books and some short stories
Smashwords – other formats
Please tell us one fun fact about yourself.
In my free time, I teach karate. I’ve been involved in one martial art or another for over nineteen years, and I am a black belt in taekwondo, chidokwan karate, and okinawan kobudo (weapons). Also, I have to brag – my daughter is not quite two years old, and she can already bow and do a recognizable front snap kick! She needs to work on keeping her guard up though.
Thank you, C.J.!
And here are the blurbs for her two books:
The King’s Sword:
A disillusioned soldier. A spoiled, untried prince. A coup that threatens the country they both love.
When retired soldier Kemen finds the young prince Hakan fleeing an attempted assassination, he reluctantly takes the role of mentor and guardian. Keeping the prince alive is challenging enough. Making him a man is harder.
As usurper Vidar tightens his grip on power, Kemen wrestles with questions of duty and honor. What if the prince isn’t the best ruler after all? Invasion looms, and Kemen’s decisions will shape the fate of a nation. What will he sacrifice for friendship and honor?
A Cold Wind:
When retired Erdemen army officer Kemen Sendoa helped the young prince Hakan Ithel reclaim his throne, he thought he was happy. He had shaped the future of his beloved country and earned a place of honor and respect.
In the shelter of the palace, he finds peace and the promise of a life he’d only imagined. Yet his own choices, and brewing border troubles, may force him to make a final sacrifice.
A tale of love, honor, and forgiveness, A Cold Wind follows The King’s Sword in the Erdemen Honor series.