The Top Shelf got to sit down with Ian Alexander and talk to him a little bit about his book, Once We Were Kings. If you haven’t had a chance to read our review of this awesome epic fantasy, click here to check it out.
TTS: First off we would like to welcome Ian Alexander as our first ever interview on The Top Shelf! It’s actually quite an honor for me to have you here. You’re one of the first independent authors that I met. If it wasn’t for you, this site probably wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be doing this interview!
IA: Thanks so much for having me here! The honour is all mine. You were already doing reviews and I’m glad you decided to go all out!
TTS: For people who may not have heard my ranting about how wonderful your book is, please tell them a little about it.
IA: ONCE WE WERE KINGS is an epic fantasy book which brings the spirit of western legend together with eastern mythos and culture in what can be initially described as an epic clash. But the results are rather surprising, if I do say so myself. This is a tale full of courage, faith, truth and the age-old struggle of good vs. evil. Young readers will enjoy it, but because its themes are so multi-layered, adults of all ages will find meaning in it as well, thus making this a book which can be enjoyed over and over throughout life the way C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia can be.
TTS: In the author’s note, you say this book was for your son. After you agreed to write a story for him, how long did it take you to come up with Once We Were Kings?
IA: Right, well the first half of the book flowed through so quickly and took less than a year to write. But then several tragic events struck in our lives and the book had to be set aside. About three years later, with the success of Joshua Graham’s bestseller BEYOND JUSTICE, I decided I must fulfill the promise I made to my son, before I let too much time pass. The second half of the book took another half-year to complete. So in total elapsed writing time, it took about 1 year. But from start to finish, it took about three years.
TTS: You chose to write Once We Were Kings under a pen name? Why and how did you come up with it?
IA: Pen names are necessary to help readers know what to expect. It’s like different brands of beverages. Imagine if every type of Coca Cola had the same packaging, whether it was Coke One, Cherry Coke, Regular Coke, Caffeine Free Coke? You want to know what you’re getting when you pick up a can. So with a book, if you pick up a title by Ian Alexander, you’ll know you’re getting a fantasy book. If you pick up a book by Joshua Graham, you’re getting a suspense/thriller.
TTS: Are you an outline writer or do you just write and see where your characters take you?
IA: A little of both. I start with broad strokes and give myself a framework, a road map, if you will. But once the journey starts, there’s no telling exactly how it’s going to go. If something changes along the way, I can make changes to my road map accordingly.
TTS: Were there parts where you had it envisioned one way and it turned out completely different?
IA: There were some aspects of the ending which took me by surprise. Happily, what that means for my readers is that there will not only be sequels, but PREQUELS (one of which I am working on even as you read this interview.)
TTS: Do you ever feel like characters have a life of their own?
IA: Absolutely. I may be in control of what they do, or what comes their way, but how they respond—if they are true to their character—is completely determined by who they are, what their values are, and what they believe. However, I may have to intervene if things go way off from where I want them to go.
TTS: A lot of fantasy novels draw heavily on myth. What myths did you draw from for Once We Were Kings and why?
IA: Not all of what I’ve drawn upon comes from Myth. In Once We Were Kings, there is some Biblical Allegory, which I draw upon because it’s such an integral part of who I am. That said, there is some incorporation of Chinese mythology in the portion of the book that deals with the Eastern Kingdom of Tian Kuo. As far as a fictional book (especially fantasy) is concerned, I see no conflict. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia was an entire world he created which incorporated many Greek and European mythological elements such as Centaurs, Dryads, river gods, minotaurs, unicorns, pegasi, etc. What matters first and foremost is the story.
TTS: As I was reading your book, I felt this strong mesh of medieval culture and Asian influences. Was this intentional or did it just happen that way?
IA: This was intentional. I wanted to draw upon the stories and legends that most resounded with my own life and heart. Write what you know.
TTS: Did you feel that it was easier to create a world that is based on that culture and those influences than to create one that was completely different and new?
IA: Neither easier or more difficult. I wanted the world of Once We Were Kings to be similar to our own so there would be resonance with the readers, and so they could identify with it. Yet, I wished that it be different enough to be fresh and enough of a transportation to another plane of existence, so that the reader could escape temporarily and let their imagination run free.
TTS: Let’s talk about the characters a little bit. Do you base your characters on people you know or are they completely figments of your imagination?
IA: I don’t routinely write people I know into my books. Of course, if I did, they would all be the heroes, not the villains, right? 🙂 They are characters who embody traits which I admire, feel challenged by, or make me laugh. These traits are derived from people I’ve met, characters I’ve encounters in books and/or movies, and some who just leap out of the pages I write just develop completely on their own in surprising ways. Capturing these traits in a character is one thing, conveying them to a reader is another.
TTS: What went into deciding who could shapeshift into what?
IA: I had to think from the ending of the book backwards, a sort of reverse engineering. I knew which spirit potentials I wanted to see manifested at the final battle scene, so with that in mind, I let them unfold in the characters in which I placed them. However, one young character’s shape-shifting ability was inspired by my son who requested that particular one. You’ll know it when you see it, it’s quite humorous, despite the dark and tragic setting in which it plays out.
TTS: Religion plays a large part in Once We Were Kings. I don’t think it was overpowering, I think as I said in my review that it’s more to encourage discussion. What kind of questions would you like your readers to walk away from it with?
IA: Here is where I would like to clarify terms. I don’t believe religion is the correct word for this book. The correct word is faith. Allow me to expound a bit:
When I think “religion,” I picture lots of sacraments, chanting, candles, liturgies, and many traditional elements, which are man-made. I’m not judging these, just identifying them.
When I think “faith,” I’m thinking of not only life-directing convictions that enable people to be extraordinary, and do extraordinary things, I’m thinking of a relationship with a real God with whom one can interact directly and experience regularly. This is what my Christian faith is like. It’s not about ceremony and sacrament, it’s about being in a relationship with a real, all-good, and all-powerful God, who really doesn’t care much for religion, but rather, cares for His children as a loving parent.
The discussions I’d like people to consider are:
1. Do we really think as humans we know everything there is to know and can possibly explain everything through what we consider “modern science?” After all, science was considered modern in 1000 AD, wouldn’t we think of scientists as narrow and naïve, if they believed everything they could prove and explain with their science was absolute?
2. What is your identity/significance based upon? Your upbringing, your wealth, your circumstance, or what others think of you? Where did Render and Ahndien ultimately find their identity/significance?
3. Are “supernatural” things really impossible just because we can’t explain them? At some point, the ability resurrect a person drowned to death through mouth-to-mouth, and CPR would have been considered “supernatural” (think, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in The Paradise Syndrome). Could it be that supernatural is all a matter of perspective, and one day we’ll realize there natural and supernatural are only separated by the veil of our own limited perspective?
TTS: Once again, I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We do hope to see you back here at The Top Shelf again, Ian. Perhaps for a guest blog or even as your evil twin, Joshua Graham!
IA: Again, the honour was all mine. Thank you for having me as your inaugural interviewee for The Top Shelf. I had a lovely time. It would be my pleasure to return for future interviews or as a guest blogger. I hope everyone will visit the official Ian Alexander website at www.ianalex.com, follow me on Twitter: @IanAlex77, and drop me a line on facebook: http://on.fb.me/IanAlex As for my evil twin, Joshua…you might want to think twice! Cheers!
Award winning writer Joshua Graham’s #1 bestselling novel (Barnes & Noble ebooks) BEYOND JUSTICE is taking the world by storm, one reader at a time. Many of his readers blame him for sleepless nights, arriving to work late, neglected dishes and family members, and not allowing them to put the book down.
BEYOND JUSTICE, THE ACCIDENTAL EXORCIST, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, THE ACCIDENTAL HEALER, and DEATH AND TAXES, have reached the top of multiple bestseller list on Barnes & Noble topping titles by John Grisham, Linda Fairstein, Scott Turrow and James Lee Burke, Ted Dekker and Steven James. Soaring to the top of the Barnes & Noble lists, BEYOND JUSTICE recently hit #1 in the Legal Thriller and Christian Thriller categories, topping by John Grisham, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Michael Connelly. It has also remained on the Amazon.com top 100 bestselling Kindle bestseller list months after its release.
Suspense Magazine listed BEYOND JUSTICE in its BEST OF 2010, alongside titles by Scott Turrow, Ted Dekker, Steven James and Brad Thor.
Publishers Weekly described BEYOND JUSTICE as:
“…A riveting legal thriller…. breaking new ground with a vengeance… demonically entertaining and surprisingly inspiring.”
Under a different pen name, Joshua has been published in three Simon & Schuster anthologies. He’s a graduate of the Oregon Professional Writers Masterclass run by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Joshua Graham grew up in Brooklyn, NY where he lived for the better part of 30 years. He holds a Bachelor and Master’s Degree and went on to earn his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. During his time in Maryland, he taught as a professor at Shepherd College (WV), Western Maryland College, and Columbia Union College (MD).
Today he lives with his beautiful wife and children in Southern California. Several of Graham’s short fiction works have been published by Pocket Books and Dawn Treader Press.
BEYOND JUSTICE is now available in Trade Paperback through Amazon.com as well as Barnes and Noble. It’s available at the Kindle store for $2.99 for a limited time, and can be purchased for other ebook readers at Smashwords. It als available for the iPad, SONY E-Reader and Nook.
A member of the Oregon Writers Network, Graham is a graduate of the Master Classes and professional writing workshops held by Dean W. Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Dean and Kris and the entire OWN, have been a major influence in his career.
Synopsis: In a world where the Sojourners, a nearly extinct race with preternatural abilities struggle to preserve their faith and heritage, destiny thrusts two youths from opposing nations into the heart of a centuries-old conflict.
Render, an orphan from the outskirts of the culturally enlightened Kingdom of Valdshire Tor, escapes slavery and seeks the truth about his true identity only to discover a web of conspiracies. This quest leads to the revelation of his uncanny ability to wield the destructive forces of nature.
Ahndien, sole survivor of a heinous raid on her peaceful village in the Eastern Kingdom of Tian Kuo, embarks on a journey to find her father, now a captive of Torian troops. What she uncovers surpasses anything she can imagine as she masters the ability to manipulate fire.
Guided by shape-shifting spirits, Render and Ahndien’s fates collide when first they meet as mortal enemies. However, to save their people from annihilation, they must unite both kingdoms against a terrifying enemy that threatens to destroy both realms.
But how can a young slave and a peasant bring sworn enemies of half a millennium together?
ONCE WE WERE KINGS: The first book in a saga of destiny and redemption, in a world of dying hope.
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