Water & Fire The Dragon Pillars Book 1 by Sanzaki Kojika Genre: Epic Fantasy
There is a legend that everyone knows- the legend of the Dragon Pillars. Every several hundred years, darkness befalls the land. The Dragons awaken and choose their Pillars, humans strong enough to withstand their powers, and together they drive back the darkness.
In the towering cathedral of Vivdaugas, students flock to study the archives built upon the legend and train to reach the glory of its heroes. Garred Conway is preparing for his test to become a true Defender when a storm threatens to destroy the citadel, and the land around it. Trapped in the catacombs, desperate to save those he cares for, he finds help from the most surprising place- the Water Dragon Aysu. Now, as Aysu's new pillar, he finds himself with more responsibility thrust on him than he could have ever imagined.
Garred was racing down the stairs instantly. He stumbled, rolling down a few steps before he was able to right himself. With scraped knees raw and bleeding, he staggered to his feet and continued downward.
A thin layer of water already coated the floor of the catacombs. He splashed through it, racing through the darkness back towards where he left Elam. Debris floated past him, and he shoved it aside to keep moving towards the dark hallway where the water was rushing in from.
The level rose to his ankles as he pushed forward. It continued to greedily rise up his leg, slapping angrily against his calves. He sloshed forward, his boots and pants heavy with the rising water. The current pushed against him, and he had to balance himself against the wall to keep himself standing at one point. He pushed back against it as hard as he could, moving as fast as he could against a racing current.
"Sir Elam!" Garred called out into the darkness. He had been walking for several minutes but had yet to see any sign of the Archivist.[G1]
He heard splashing several feet ahead. He rushed towards the noise, nearly smacking himself into the wall as he pressed against it.
Below him, he heard gagging. He reached down carefully and found Elam’s shoulder.
Elam shifted beneath him. He sputtered and shoved against Garred.
“What are you doing here? This place is about to go under!”
Garred hovered over Elam, finding a spot just above the Archivist to press against the wall. He knew their attempts to keep the water back were futile, but he couldn’t just leave Elam alone.
“You’re still here!” Garred retorted.
Elam tried to say something, but a spray of water drowned him out. Elam gagged and coughed against it, struggling to breathe.
The water kept coming. It filled the hall, rising up to Garred’s knees. Elam was halfway under water, and he shifted awkwardly beneath Garred, trying to get himself a little further above their liquid prison. Garred inched over, allowing Elam to stand beside him. Pressed together, they fought against the cracking rock and prayed it would hold.
The wall shuddered and the rest of it peeled away. They were thrown back with the current, before getting buried beneath the bricks. Garred sputtered and shoved the stone off himself. It felt even heavier beneath the water, but he managed to get free and get his head above the raging surface.
He glanced around frantically, quickly realizing that Elam was nowhere to be seen. He steadied himself against the other side of the hall and took a deep breath. He dove under the water, keeping his hand against the wall as much as he was able. He squinted his eyes open beneath the water, detritus stinging his eyes as it was flung past him.
He spotted Elam right near the hole in the wall. He was struggling to get himself free, but there was a small pile of bricks caught on the edge of his robe. He tugged at it, but between the force of the water and his failing breath, he wasn’t strong enough to budge it. The fabric was too strong to tear even against the force.
Garred surfaced briefly to catch a gasp of breath before diving back under the surface. He reached out towards bricks sunken into the ground, using them as handholds to help him move against the surging surface. The water smashed into him, and the current threatened to carry him away. The brick he had his left hand on suddenly shifted, and soon he was struggling against the stream head on.
He fought hard against it, willing himself to move forward. He screwed his eyes shut and pulled Elam's body closer together. Everything hurt, and it was all he could do to keep grip with his right hand.[G2][G3]
As he opened his eyes, he thought he saw a shape in the water. It was gone as quickly as it appeared, but suddenly he felt light. He swung his arm back in front of him and let go of his hand-hold. He was able to swim freely, and in a couple seconds, he was beside Elam.[G4][G5]
He went for the rocks first, but they were too heavy for him. He couldn’t even budge them. He quickly turned his attention to the robe, trying to tear through the fabric. He silently cursed the Archivist for using such fine materials to fashion their robes out of. It was thick and sturdy; he would need a knife to get through it easily.
Elam floundered next to him. Garred’s attention turned to the Archivist. Elam’s face was turning pale. He couldn’t hold his breath any longer. He let out a gasp, and the water came seeping into his lungs.
Garred knew he had to move fast. He grabbed Elam by the waist and pulled the Archivist down. The robe floated up, and Garred ducked beneath it. It was difficult to free Elam’s arms from his sleeves, but a lot of awkward maneuvering and pulling finally saw success. He pulled Elam free from the robe, holding the Archivist close against his own body.
He moved upward and away from the hole, trying to escape the water. As soon as he surfaced, Elam coughed, spitting up water. He took deep breaths, the color slowly coming back to his face. He clung to Garred, not caring that for a moment that he was showing weakness.
Garred let the current take them, only moving his free arm as needed to keep the two of them above water. It carried them quickly, and soon they were flowing past the stairs leading up. Garred tried to swim over to it, but his body suddenly felt heavy, and it was all he could do to keep them afloat.
The staircase came and went, and the darkness swallowed them up. The water carried them up and down, smacking them against the sides of the catacombs in its wild rampage. They were knocked below the surface several times, but each time Garred managed to get them back up above it, gasping for breath.
It only took them a few minutes to reach the end of this section of the catacombs, blocked off by solid steel grating and a thick wooden divider. The water slammed against it, splintering the wood and starting to drip through.
Garred watched in horror as they approached the grating. It might temporarily stop their movement, but the water level was rising. The ceiling inched closer, and they would be trapped as the water surged through the entirety of the bottom level. Their lives would be quickly forfeit.
And not just their lives; the entirety of Vivdaugas would be forfeit. The water would keep coming, tearing through the foundation that held the proud towers strong. The walls would crack and splinter; supports would tumble and the citadel would sag. All of the people seeking sanctuary in the towers would be buried as the building collapsed around them.
It wasn’t just the thousands of lives at stake either. Thousands of years of history would be lost. A powerful symbol would be lost, leaving an unstable world once again adrift without the icon that had held it together for generations.
And Garred was powerless against it. Even if he had been a true Defender, what could a human warrior do against the rage of Mother Nature? There was no way to stand up against the storm. He couldn’t even hope to protect one measly person against it, how could he ever dream of saving so many more?
He gripped Elam tightly, wrapping both of his arms around the Archivist. Elam glanced up at him. There was peace in the Archivist’s eyes. No hatred or anger, no frustration or rage, just a simple calmness that only made Garred more uneasy. Why was Elam so quick to accept their fate? Why did he have to accept it, too?
He was powerless on his own. There was nothing a mere mortal could do.
A powerful voice resounded inside his mind.
“You are not alone.”
Earth & Wind The Dragon Pillars Book 2
The Pillar of Fire Shula is left reeling with loss and a new heavy burden of responsibility. The Water Pillar Garred leads a small party into the dangerous Whispering Forest to seek out weapons that were blessed by the Light Dragon. Disaster is narrowly avoided, but it brings a dark secret to light.Once reunited, Shula steels her resolve and the journey continues. With two Dragons awoken, their quest for the third leads them to the harsh terrain of the desert. The sand dregs up a certain Defender’s self-proclaimed pathetic past and the hard feelings associated with it. Can a Dragon really chose a Pillar from an isolated people dedicated to a life of pacifism?
Aysu sat up on her haunches, briefly resting her watery claws on Garred’s head. She saw not with her eyes but rather her magic. The Dark energy was woven into the land and trickled up into each tree, spreading out into its branches. The trees were basically lifeless, the only thing keeping them moving the Darkness lurking within them. There was no single source of the Dark energy, but it was thickest nearest them, closest to the golden weapons of Light they finally got their hands on.
She settled down back onto Garred’s shoulders as he lurched forward. She let herself drift from the fighting, instead focusing on the energy running through the place. She felt Light at her side, resonating in every weapon that her comrades wielded, in every weapon that was placed neatly on the horses. Light’s magic gave her strength. She felt energized as if all of the energy she expended to help get them here was completely restored.
Light was no Healer; that was Keahi’s power. But while Keahi could heal physical wounds and soothe pain, Light offered a powerful panacea- hope. When there was hope, it cut through the Darkness, gave strength to the weak, courage to the frightened. Without hope, battles were easily lost. But with it…she had seen ordinary humans do extraordinary things.
And right now, she knew that was just what she needed. She hadn’t been feeling herself since she awoke. Her contract with Garred was not mistaken, but she had awoken prematurely, and the two of them still had a long way to go before they were fully in sync. Her power would grow until she was back to full strength, and he would grow with her to be able to fully harness her might.
She was a Dragon; she didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself. She had a responsibility to guide her Pillar. The two of them together were meant to protect the world. They were meant to win against the Darkness.
She let out a loud growl and sent her own energy racing downward. She found the water drowning in the mud and dirt of the forest, slipping in between deep, tangled roots. This time, her power was much greater, and despite the sludge that tainted the water, it eagerly answered her cry. The water surged towards her, and she gathered it up, collecting it into a stream.
She rushed back to the surface, carrying it with her. She dug her watery claws into Garred’s shoulder, dampening the fabric of his tunic.
“Garred!” she shouted. “Let’s barrel through!”
Garred felt her energy and her thoughts in his mind and easily understood what she was trying to accomplish. He brought the golden blade back towards him, dipping the tip towards the ground. The water hummed beneath the surface.
“Everyone, get ready to make a run for it!” he shouted. Without waiting to hear a response, he urged the water upward. It exploded through the surface in a rain of mud. He caught it in the air and sent it flying towards the oncoming trees. The water crashed into the trees with such great force that the limbs snapped and the bodies exploded apart.
The water tore through the forest, creating a round, indented path in the ground and clearing all manner of debris away. It splashed up on the sides and finally dwindled down as it stretched to the edges of the forest. It sank back into the ground, coating everything with a gentle dampness.
Senka and Charles charged forward, forcing the horses into a gallop. They both dropped the reins of the other horses they were guiding near Lady Vahan and Garred as they broke through. Mud splattered up as the horses raced onto the newly formed path. For a moment, Senka feared the horses would lose their footing, but the mud beneath them was thin and smooth. It smushed beneath their hooves, but after a few feet it was more solid and the horses sprinted even faster.
Lady Vahan and Garred snatched up the reins of the other two horses. Lady Vahan vaulted off the ground with her lance. She expertly landed on the horses back, her legs on either side. She ripped the lance out and urged the horse forward, awkwardly juggling the reins, her lance, and the shield in her arms. Her hair flew out behind her, like flames igniting the horse as it raced on. She easily closed the distance between the other two.
Garred groped at the horse, awkwardly pulling himself onto the startled beast. He carefully slid one leg to the other side and straightened up. He kept one hand on his sword and the other grabbed the reins. He yelled and the horse lurched forward. He nearly fell off, but his free hand choked up on the reins and he leaned closer to its neck.
Senka and Charles led the charge out of the forest. Lady Vahan was right on their heels. Garred brought up the rear, quickly closing the distance.
The four raced along the path carved out by Aysu’s water, aiming for the sun settling on the horizon just ahead. Dark streaks of shadows stretched over them and urged them to move faster. The wild hiss and buzz of the forest rose out about them. It whispered at them with dark words, but as the adrenaline pumped through their veins, they focused on nothing but the dimming spot of light in front of them.
The trees behind them stumbled over the broken, disintegrating bodies of their fallen comrades. The forest echoed with raspy, screeching voices trying to draw the humans and their horses back. The blackened limbs and roots quickly filled in the cut made by Aysu. They fell into a mob, and the pack of dark figures raced after their escaping prisoners.
Sensing the Darkness looming behind them, the horses took off even faster, bounding across the ground with their feet barely breaking dirt as they touched the ground. The screeching rose up around them in a high-pitched chorus. The noise made the riders want to cover their ears, but they bore with it, clinging onto the backs of the horses for their lives.
The waves of dark bodies followed after them. The earth trembled beneath their feet. The horses raced on and their exit moved ever closer. As limbs stretched out, reaching towards the charging animals, Garred brought up the water still near the surface of the ground. It felt grimy, but it came easily. He shouted and sent a splash of it backward, tearing apart the trees and branches nearest them.
Senka was the first to make it out of the forest. His horse kept running, and he had to calm the beast before they went plunging into the river. His horse skidded along the bank with a panicked neigh. It reared its front feet into the air, but Senka forced it down and back onto solid ground.
Charles was right behind him. He nearly collided into Senka, but he pulled tight on the reins and the horse stopped a few feet before the Archivist. His arms were shaking, but he took a deep breath and forced himself to turn the horse around to check on the others.
Lady Vahan bounded into view, already pulling back on the reigns. The horse fought back, but it had no chance against the experienced Defender. It finally slowed its gallop and she led it over at a trot to the other two. As she came to a stop, she whispered soft words to her beast and gently stroked its nose.
Garred was the last one to break free, and he could feel the Darkness closing in behind him. He kept racing forward, the ground streaking past him. The hum of water filled his mind as he made it into the clearing, and all at once, he felt a hundred times better. He barely stopped his horse in time, squishing it into the muddy bank as Senka had done only moments ago.
Panting, he slowly turned around to glance back at the forest. It was strangely calm now that they were outside of it. He heard no noise and saw no rustle or movement of any sort. He supposed it was what a normal forest should look like, but his time spent in the forest had been anything but normal.
He was about to turn back to the others when there was a sudden loud booming that echoed across the landscape. The ground beneath their feet rumbled and the horses fidgeted warily.
A second later, the forest collapsed in a pile of blackened, dead trees.
Fawn Szymoniak, aka “Sanzaki Kojika” has been a resident of the fantasy world from a young age, growing up in a house full of books and mythology. Her mother introduced her to fantasy works by authors like Barbara Hambly and Terry Brooks. By the age of 8, she had already written her first novel (albeit crudely). Since then, she has taken to mostly writing fantasy, following characters through magical worlds full of wonder and danger. Her series “The Archive of Sinners” stands out as her only non-fantasy, being a paranormal mystery.
On top of her writing, she is also a freelance graphic designer. Her love of art and writing, spurred her onto comics. She has several graphic novels self-published, including her webcomic “Zos Kias,” which is over 10 years old.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I write under the pen name Sanzaki Kojika. A quickie about my pen name…my real name is Fawn, and Kojika is Japanese for that. I cam up with the name Sanzaki originally by mixing letters from my real last name around. In Japanese, surnames are first.
I’ve pretty much been reading from as early as I could. My mother was big into literature and mythology, keeping an abundance of books in our house, especially fantasy-based. I fell in love with the worlds that were scrawled across the pages, so it just felt natural to create my own. I wrote my first story with a friend back in fourth grade…about talking dogs in space. Yeah, it’s about as weird as it sounds.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I’m the type who constantly has to be doing something, well moreso, at least two of something. I work with sound or TV on in the background. I’ve even managed to play videogames while drawing. I believe I developed this weird practice from being involved in hours of dance and merit/AP classes since elementary school. If I wanted to do something, I had to find time, and since I had none, so I just made it by doing multiple things at the same time. The biggest side effect to this has basically been my inability to ever turn my mind off.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I like to think I’ve had a lot of adventures and my life is hardly boring, but if I were to pick out something that happened relatively recently…my “boyfriend” at the time took me to Japan back in August last year for two weeks. Both of us know Japanese fairly well so we really got to explore the country and visit places tourists don’t normally go. We even went to a comic event and bought way too much. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the first part we spent in Osaka, then Kyoto. We stayed one day in Hakone before spending the last week in Tokyo. We went to a private ryoukan (Japanese-styled inn) in Hakone that spoke no English. At one point, my boyfriend accidentally ordered a go board. The next day, he rented some sports cars to drive down the mountains in Hakone and afterwards proposed. It was super nerdy, but definitely our thing. He rented my favorite car even to propose in front of. I have such great memories of that trip overall.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Gosh, I have quite a few. I think one of my biggest ones though actually does relate to writing. I absolutely cannot stand when people don’t use an oxford comma. I cannot fathom how someone would not want to add it in. It adds so much clarity. I’ve had people try to argue with me about this and explain their views, but this is just one silly thing I cannot budge on. Oxford comma, always. Or else.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in Northwest Indiana, right near Chicago, IL. I really like the area because it offers so many of the perks of Chicago without dealing with a lot of the excess. Rent and gas are cheaper, traffic is lighter, but we still get to enjoy some of the same conveniences. We have a trainline that goes straight into Chicago. A lot of people in the area work in Chicago but live in what’s called “the region” for that reason.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
I’d like to keep it simple. Do some things I love with people I love. Get food with my family, spend time gaming with my fiancé. Cuddle with my cat, read a good book. Just relaxing and enjoying the time I had left. I would want to leave them all with good memories, so they could remember me like that.
Who is your hero and why?
I have a rather cliché answer to this. Honestly, on a fundamental level, I have a lot of heroes, both real and fictional, that have inspired me greatly. My mother has been one of them for a long time. She taught my sisters and I about the magic in the world from a young age. She always took time out of her day to work with us, to teach us, and to read to us. She cleaned and delivered newspapers to help cover the costs of whatever activities we wanted to do or try. She drove us all over the US without complaint for competitions, then later, anime conventions. She is still the biggest supporter of what we do even after all these years.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I would want to be the type to rule with compassion rather than an iron fist. I believe that rulers who use fear as their instrument are destined to see their downfall. I would want to be benevolent and willing to make sacrifices for the greater good without condemning others in the wake. Flowery words that sound good on paper, but I’m not sure how easy it would be. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, after all.
What are you passionate about these days?
Writing, of course. I spend a lot of time a week writing. I do my own works and even do editing for other authors. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and not enough time to get them all out. I read a lot as well, not just for editing, but I try to read a bit before bed every night, too. I also spend a lot of time drawing, be it comics or just general art. I basically always keep myself busy, but I never lose sight of the things I love to do.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Mostly read and draw, but I read and draw what I want to for myself. I tend to do a lot of work, especially with illustration, for other people, or for specific projects, so it’s always nice to kick back and just draw something for the same of drawing. I also hop on videogames every now and then, especially games I can play with my friends. Monster Hunter World is my current to-go to.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I had been writing stories from a young age, but it wasn’t until high school when I took a creative writing class that I really felt like a writer. I wasn’t in the best place at the time, but it was a class I was interested in, and since I already liked writing, I figured, why not? My teacher was amazing. She really taught us to break out of the shells and restrictions society and English classes had forced on us. To me, it felt like the first time I was really told that it was okay to go crazy and just be yourself when writing. For our final project, I started what eventually became my first published novel “Beyond the Dancing Flames.” My teacher did private reviews with each of us on our project. She thoroughly enjoyed mine and implored upon me that should I ever finish it, she would be among the first to read it. She was the first person outside just a few close friends to ever read my writing and definitely the first to make me feel like “huh, guess I can write after all.”
Do you have a favorite movie?
A few, because I am indecisive about a lot of things. I suppose more so, I like to say “movies I can rewatch over and over.” In no particular order…Twister, Anastasia (the animated one), Jurassic Park, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Avengers…well, I’ll stop with just those. I really enjoy movies that have strong stories and strong character development. There are plenty of movies I love that I couldn’t rewatch as easily though.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I actually think a few could work, but if I were to choose the one I’d like to see most as a movie, it would be my Dragon Pillars series. Two of the three books are out as of now, but it will hopefully finish in the next year or two. It’s been one of my more popular stories, and I am in love with some of the cast. Seeing them on the big screen would be a dream come true. A dream I’m sure so many authors share.
Conversely, I think my series The Archive of Sinners would work better as a series than movies. The rest of my novels I think would do okay as movies.
What inspired you to write this book?
The basic premise of the Dragon Pillars books was just a dream. As all dreams go, there were some elements that were crisp with details, but much of it was so vague by the time I woke up. The concept of Pillars upholding the world was something I actually kicked around starting back in high school for a short story. It had no dragons, but it was a fantasy-story. It was completely different from what I ended up with here. I also knew I wanted to do a lot of things differently than how others had, or what was considered the norm. The rest fell in place when I started to outline it out. For instance, I knew that I didn’t want Water to be the healer type, I didn’t want Fire to be the fighter. I sort of mixed it around and figured out what I liked, plus as the Pillars themselves came to life, it made it much easier. I like the idea of balance of the elements, especially with things like Dark and Light.
What can we expect from you in the future?
The third book, Shadow and Light, of course, is one of my next big projects. I intend for it to be the last story in the world, though I have kicked around the idea of playing with some of the other Pillar sets, especially those that get briefly mentioned during the story. I have been looking forward most to Shadow and Light, so the first two books were me working up to that. The Shadow Pillar is my favorite character, and I can’t wait to work with his development.
Once the third book releases, I may look into doing a second art challenge, but this time including the Shadow and Light Pillars, as I avoided adding them in to the original since they were too major spoiler. There are bits and pieces of them in there, and some people may have gotten a good sense of Shadow from the one image he shows up in, but I’d like to have them showing their faces, not just vague images.
I’ve also had readers ask me about inserting some illustrations straight into the story, so the books may see another edition later on with that sort of feel. I would really like to do hardback versions if it comes to that. I also really want to get this series as audiobooks. That will probably be a big project after I finish writing the third book.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Not that I’ll ever probably write. I have ideas in my head of things that I ended up not incorporating into the books, but I’m not sure how they would really work out as written side stories. I’ve really kicked around the idea of maybe doing a write up of Garred’s first introduction to Vivdaugas and while he was in the Archivist course. I also want to work more with Senka’s backstory, though it may not need too much more added. At most, I might do an after story as a sort of epilogue thing, but it may end up just being the last chapter of book three. That mostly depends on how long the book ends up being.
The only series of mine that I have some side stories written out and eventually will get an anthology book is the Archive of Sinners. The reason that one has one over the others though is because it’s written in first person, therefore you only get to understand Vere’s thoughts and not the rest of the cast. Dragon Pillars is written in third person omniscient, which is my usual style of writing. I’d like to think everyone gets good insight through that writing style, but I suppose if I had a lot of people ask about it, I might be inclined to dig deeper.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Dragon Pillars?
The cast is quite varied, and I did so intentionally. Each of the characters come from very different places and have different habits and even ideals. Garred Conway sort of became the leader of the group, mostly because he was the first Pillar. He is gentle and good-natured, a total loyalist, and definitely dedicated to protecting the world. He sometimes teases those he’s super close to, but never in a way that causes offense. He’s outgoing and generally well-liked, which is why he picked the gloomy, anti-social Archivist as his best friend. Aysu, the Water Dragon, and his partner. She is protective and level-headed, but also gets in over her head a lot. She feels better when she has others to rely on, since she knows her own limits. They get along pretty well and are probably the best match out of the Dragons and their Pillars.
Shula is the second Pillar, the healer turned Pillar of Fire. She has a fiery personality and is very stubborn. She has a bit of an inferiority complex, especially when it comes to her healing powers…or rather, lack thereof. She also can be quite snarky. I enjoyed writing her much more than I ever expected. Keahi, the Fire Dragon, shares in her personality for the most part, but he is much more playful. Together they want to heal the world with their flames.
The Earth and Wind Pillars don’t appear until book two, so I won’t say too much about them. Simply, the Earth Dragon is a warrior while his Pillar is a pacifist; the Wind Dragon is the sweet motherly type while her Pillar is a crude brat.
The other main characters are the two Defenders, Lady Vahan and Sir Graham, who travel with them. Lady Vahan is powerful and overbearing at times. She’s the type to raise the Pillars with tough love, rather than babying themselves. Sir Graham was once Garred’s teacher, so he has his own responsibilities to his students. He believes in their abilities and helps keep them in check. The Archivist Senka Elam rounds out the party. He likes to act grumpy and keep to himself, but Garred always pulls him out of his shell. His research has been very helpful in their quest, but he doubts himself and his abilities often as the only member in their party without the strength to fight.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I knew what meaning I wanted the names to have, and even the nationality for most of them, so I actually go to behindthename.com and use that to help narrow it down. For the ones that I can’t do that with, I also will research names and the language of the nationality the character represents in my mind and use that as a base. All of their names relate back to their role in the story, even if it’s not always super obvious. I wanted to keep as much of the cultures in tack that I was basing their homes off of, so I felt it was only appropriate to use actual names and words from those languages to represent that. It’s probably easiest to understand where the Earth and Wind Pillars come from based on both their names and cultures, but even Garred and Shula represent theirs to an extent.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I’ve always enjoyed that when writing, no matter what you have planned, that sometimes, the characters seem to do whatever they want to, anyways. I was prepared to have difficulty writing some of the characters in their roles, especially Shula. She quickly became one of my favorites to write, just for how snarky she developed. I always intended her personality to be that type to a degree, but it definitely evolved in a much deeper manner than expected. And she’s not the only character that really took on their own life. Getting to write these characters and just sort of flow into what they would do and who they really are is always exciting. I think most writers can agree that stories just take over a life of their own after a while of working on them, and it’s always fun to go back and read through it and be like “wow, that really happened.” It doesn’t usually change the major developments for me, but it has changed character relationships or even the base dynamic of the cast or events.
Who designed your book covers?
So, on top of being a writer, I am also an illustrator and designer. I have a bachelor’s in design, so I try to use it as much as I can. I can’t always get exactly what I want, but I always get to something that I find presentable. In the case of Dragon Pillars, I wanted the focus to be the mural that is the starting scene of the book. The mural represents the legend and each of the Dragons, so it comes up often. And of course, it was specifically spaced out so it could be shifted around for each book- Water & Fire, Earth & Wind, Shadow & Light. I also liked the idea of the rest of the book looking more like a leather journal, since the journal Senka carries with him is what guides them during a big part of their quest. It was a simple design, but it accented what I wanted to without overdoing it. The dragon doodle I scribbled for use in the interior was a nice addition to pull it all together.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There was actually one scene in Earth & Wind that I was really unsure about. Specifically, it’s the scene where the Earth Pillar makes his contract. Every other Pillar makes their contract in private, where no one else is really around to hear or see, even if other characters are in the scene. This one was purposely done around other characters, but I was never sure if that was the right choice. I went back and forth with wondering if the scene was important at all, or if it should have been done as more of a flashback-type deal. I decided to leave it as is, and so far the reviews are great, so I’m hoping that was the best idea.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I haven’t actually given a lot of thought to most of the characters. I have an idea of what they all look like, and have even drawn them out, but I didn’t use one particular source. I’m also not super up on celebrities, so I’m sure there are ones out there that would be amazing that I don’t even know. The only one I have thought about is Lady Vahan. She is a powerful woman who just exudes her aura. I think Danai Gurira would be perfect for the role. She is an amazing actress and I just love the strength she gives off. She’s not quite as muscular as I imagine Lady Vahan to be, but there’s so much about her that is perfect, she would be my number one choice.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
My favorite part of the book series I know won’t be until three, but I do have a scene in book two that I absolutely loved. I’ll try to keep this spoiler light, since it’s closer to the end, but I really had so much fun with the Wind Pillar, especially right before she awoke. This character particularly I didn’t want to stand out too much until it was her time to shine. I thought a lot about what I would do in her situation and how someone in her position would handle it. I had an image burned into my mind as to what would happen, and I’m happy that I was able to get it worked out perfectly. I think if you read the book for yourself, you’ll understand the scene I’m talking about.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
It would be either Senka or Lady Vahan. With Senka, I would love to pick all that knowledge out of his brain. I imagine he would get annoyed with me a lot but would also appreciate my earnest interest in learning all I could. He has softened over time during the books, so he would be easier to talk with in book two rather than the beginning of book one. For Lady Vahan, I’m not sure what I would do with her, but she just is such an amazing person in my eyes. Perhaps a lot of her is what I would like to be, but I feel I tend to fall short. I’m sure she’d have a lot to teach me, even if it’s not the quite the same as Senka’s lessons would be. He has book knowledge while she possesses a knowledge about the world that can only be gained from immense experience. Maybe I’d ask her for a training regime I could handle, but I know she wouldn’t go easy on me.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
All my characters are just made up. There is no one in particular that I can equate to any of them. And I think that makes it just more amusing. I have characters from other books that do draw from people I know, but with Dragon Pillars, I had specific ideas to the type of characters I wanted and there really isn’t anyone I know that fits the bill for any of them. Rather, the characters were formed off of abstract ideas…like Garred I knew I wanted him to be fluid like water, powerful yet gentle, and the protective type. The rest filled in based on those ideals. In many cases, they had their names and their ideas before they were fleshed out. The names helped solidify the ideas.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
My characters definitely always take over my stories. Dragon Pillars is no different. They still get from point a to point b, but sometimes the path they take isn’t exactly what I intended. I try to do a bit of outlining prior to writing, but I expect things to have to change as the story evolves, so I edit and adapt as I need to. As the characters come to life, they have things they want to do and really become their own person. It would be possible to work them into the loosely planned elements of the story, but I prefer just letting them have their run. It makes the characters seem more real, and like not so much that I’m just writing a story but rather narrating someone else’s life. It’s a tremendously fun ride since there are things I don’t even expect to happen that just do as I’m typing.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
Dragon Pillars is treated as a trilogy, but it’s simply just one long story broken into three parts. The world is magical in its own way, a variety of completely different cultures and lifestyles all built up on one continent. Each character is unique and driven by their own ideals, not just the mission they are given. The reader gets to take part in this, watching them overcome trials and hardship to all reach the same goal. I’ve immensely enjoyed writing this series and creating this world, so I hope that feeling is passed on to the readers.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Working on some that may be published in the future, but if I finish a work, I generally tend to want to publish it in some form. I have a couple short stories written for my Archive of Sinners series that will eventually be in an anthology as I get a few more additional ones written (I already know what I want them to be). I’m also working on the next Archive of Sinners book, Envy, as well as writing Hanif, a sequel to Altier that was never planned but begged for so much I finally got my butt in gear. And of course, I have the next Dragon Pillars: Shadow & Light, underway.
I wrote some stories that I never finished and never intend to. I had some weird ideas for stories that seemed okay until I tried to flesh them out, so they never went far. One in particular was about dragonflies and based on a silly concept I came up with as a child. I used to believe that dragonflies guided dragons through out world, since dragons couldn’t fully exist in our dimensional plane (a concept that carried over into Dragon Pillars to some extent). The story itself was about a girl who was able to vaguely see these dragons. The concept wasn’t horrible, but I honestly had no idea where the story was going. I ended up stopping it only after a few chapters.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
I do a lot of my writing in my office at work. I work at a print shop for part of the week, and we have a lot of downtime between clients and jobs. So a lot of my original drafting comes from that downtime, which means I also tend to move slow until I start throwing home time into it. NaNoWriMo is the time I get the most writing done period. I always use it as an excuse to get more writing out. I also let my readers vote on which story I will be putting all that work into, so if you follow me on social media, you’ll get a chance to vote, too. Dragon Pillars, strangely, got started because of one of those polls. It was an idea I had always kicked around and wanted to work with, so I stuck it into my voting polls a few years back with the lamest description ever, and somehow, it won by a landslide! I was excited and glad I finally got to write it.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing when I was like eight. It’s been a tremendously long time. I wasn’t very good at first, but I feel I’ve grown a lot. It’s been twenty-four years since then and still writing. I now just actually write stories rather than nonsensical words strung together. I’ve always written fantasy-based stories though, so it’s no surprise that’s the genre I’ve stuck with.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
For the most part, when I start a story, I have a main cast in mind. Not all of them are completely fleshed out, especially those that will be joining later, but I have an idea of who they are and how they will interact with the rest of the characters. Other characters, especially side characters and even sometimes villains, develop as the story moves along, so it’s not uncommon for a completely unplanned character to show up in a supporting role. As soon as a character appears in my mind, I draft out a profile for them and usually even do a bit of sketching to understand that better. My drawer at work is full of random doodles and sketches of characters as I go through them. Every character I create has their own profile, though it’s not usually super in-depth for characters that are short-term or not tremendously important.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
It really depends on the book, but I do usually do some research before I begin writing. In the case of fantasy books, it’s often just simply things like character names, the distance between places, time it would take to ride somewhere on horseback or walk, and even the basics of different cultures or religions. In other cases, especially with books like Archive of Sinners or even my webcomic Zos Kias that take place in our real world and in real locations, I do a lot of research and photograph or save photos of those locations to use as reference or just better understand the build. Archive takes place in Chicago and Schaumburg area which makes it easy for me to go visit, but I’ve never been to London or Warrick, so Zos Kias uses a lot more research. Zos Kias in general probably has the most research involved since there are also a couple characters based on real people (historically dead). I have a whole binder full of notes for that series.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I try to read as much as I can, but I haven’t had as much time as I used to. I predominately read fantasy, but I also love a good mystery, or even paranormal. I tend to be the type who chooses books at completely random. I like going to stores like 2nd and Charles, or Half Price Books, and looking through the shelves and picking stuff that looks interesting. I’ve also found great books at local author events or even at conventions. I admittedly tend to favor indie authors or small authors for what I read, but I usually don’t look for author names when buying books. The only genre of fiction I steer clear from is romance. Just not my thing.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I like to work with noise. It helps me focus and drown out a lot of unnecessary distractions. I know a lot of people are the opposite, but when it’s extremely silent, my mind just wants to do a million things at a time. The noise helps keep that in check a bit better.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I tend to start a lot of projects at the same time, but I try to give my focus all to just one at a time as I can. For instance, right now, I have Dragon Pillars: Shadow & Light, Hanif, and The Archive of Sinners: Envy, all started. I’ve been focusing on writing Hanif for now, but that could change easily. I also am always scripting out new storyboards for my webcomic Zos Kias on top of that, though I usually do it chapter at a time, which means I get a couple months between each writing. I’m the type that works better when I have more than one thing going on though.
Pen or type writer or computer?
I prefer to type on my computer, but it’s not always possible. I used to write in notebooks a lot, but I haven’t done that in quite some time. Computer is still my most used, but I also have written a lot in the notes on my phone, or more recently, just right on google docs. My current big work in progress, Hanif, had a couple entire chapters written on my phone while waiting for my fiancé to do a test drive at an auto show.
Advice they would give new authors?
Never stop writing. It’s okay to faulter and not have strong ideas, but you should always write, no matter what, no matter how weak. You can always go back and edit, but once you break that flow, it’s more difficult to begin again.
It’s also a good idea to set deadlines for yourself. Nothing too extreme that will leave you stressed, but just goals to reach in a certain time frame. It’s easier to develop habits if you push to make them.
What are they currently reading?
The Devil in the White City (Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America) is my current read. I know a lot about HH Holmes and the World’s Fair growing up so close to Chicago, but there is a lot of the specifics I didn’t know, especially the politics behind it. I thought this book would be a bit tedious to read since it’s so heavy with facts and data, but it’s well written and I’m quite enjoying it. It’s mostly been the book I’ve taken with me to physical therapy appointments, which always makes for strange conversation. I already have a small stack of books lined up in order to read next.